My First Alexander Hamilton
The repairman exits the elevator, hurries
past through my lobby, his eyes aimed
at something in his hands, each as large
as a baseball glove. He looks like a father:
highways of wrinkles fork on his forehead.
A ten dollar bill lies on the elevator’s
floor, its six inches a mile of money.
Hamilton smiles at me; my pupils
enlarge. I never liked Aaron Burr.
The city built the Projects in 1950,
each building a brick fortress.
The elevator only accepts my Schwinn
when I turn its front wheel in. I peer
through its outer door’s porthole.
The repairman’s right hand touches
the handle on my fortress’ front door,
the metal monster a two-arm strain
for kids my age. It springs open.
I watch him depart. My mind duels itself,
“Stop!” never near my lips. The elevator
whisks me to the safety of my apartment’s
obscurity. Guilt plants a seed. I own one
pair of shoes. Each Friday evening, my
mother gives me one George Washington.
I’m nine years old. Another school day
ends. I return to the lobby. It’s empty.
The elevator’s elsewhere. He could
be in it. I scamper up the stairs.
The Projects house war vets and their
families. My father served in the cavalry.
The bill disappears beneath my money box.
Inside, pennies, nickels, one quarter.
My Hamilton departs: comic books,
candy — Tarzan, licorice. I can’t remember
the repairman’s face. The seed flowers.
“Keep Off the Grass”
The kid sprints past me. I don’t know him.
I can hear his heart pounding. I cover my ears.
He isn’t older than sixth grade. I am. My building’s
behind me, its shadow a comfort.
Seconds later, a locomotive in a housing cop
uniform rumbles by, the level sidewalk an uphill
climb. His right hand presses against his holster;
his gun wants to pop out. I want to touch it.
The kid steps onto Avenue V, part of the asphalt
moat enclosing the Projects: He’s beyond
the Projects’ bounds. The cop crosses the street.
My jaw drops. I push it back in place.
The kid glances back. A wind arises, blows into him.
I smell his fear. Rotten eggs smell better. The cop
yells “Stop!” — the kid can’t: His mother can’t afford
the two-dollar fine. I have only a quarter. I need it
for an ice cream pop (banana).
Flames soar from his sneakers’ soles. I notice
the green stains: The kid was playing on the grass.
I peer at my Keds. They’re still clean. I hear sirens.
Fire engines. They turn onto Brown Street.
I run to Avenue V, halt at the curb. Water is gushing
from hoses, their spray a cloud of foam. I see the cop.
He’s plodding toward me. His lungs are racing;
his uniform’s soaked. Unseen weights drag down
his face. The kid’s not with him.
—Howard Rosenberg, Sewell, NJ