Afro-Seattleite Fragment #9: Ode to Rainier Beach

“My heart says do it for the South End streets and parks.”
—Khingz, “F.U.T.U.R.E.”

Praise the blues
of this gray-sky city,
the sweat-stained t’s
sticking to the chest that labored
to keep your heart inside
after almost getting jumped,
the trembling twigs that replaced
your skinny legs.

Praise the skinny legs
that didn’t let it happen,
learning to hop fences,
plop back down,
and speed
through the South End.

Praise the South End,
the ball courts laced
from Genesee
to Othello,
the shouts of
“Souf End!”
pouring from every street,
from every boy.

Praise the boys
on Rainier and Wabash,
whose shouts mutated
from Black vernacular
to black African
languages over the years.

Praise Rainier,
concrete river
from the CD
to the South End,
all the way down
to Henderson,
where men barked catcalls
to every woman whose hips
swayed just the way
they liked;
where South End war stories
were exchanged,
accusations of
punk ass
and bitch ass
and you ain’t real
tainting reputations
across the street
from Rainier Beach High.

Praise Rainier Beach High,
the school clinging
onto life
like the ivy clinging
to its blue-lettered walls,
school you took
the 7
and the 106 to avoid,
a simple act
seen as treason by any
who happened to board
with you,
steps pounding concrete
as they stared you down.

Praise the concrete,
street names Vampire
and Leech,
for all the blood
it consumed—
from the lip you split
on Cloverdale
to the skin
of a teenager split
by bullets
on Fisher—
every blood-soaked corner
of Rainier.

Praise the corner
of Rainier and Wabash,
the drug dealers who crept down
to avoid the cops,
the sharp snap
of footsteps
snapping you from sleep—
how you don’t sleep sometimes
because you can still hear
the echo.

On those nights
when the echoes are loudest,
when the hum of streetlights
is drowned out
by footsteps
pounding the pavement
of your mind,
praise Rainier Beach.

Malcolm Friend