You can be the hard faced titan in Timberland
boots, a bomber jacket, chained
to a corner of your choosing. You can scope
the city from the shattered windows
of high rises with inviting names:
the Gardens; the Courts; the Homes.
Don’t bother asking your mother
who your father is, but you can become
the boy women can’t wait
to become a man and then become
a boy again, clutching their sides. You can claim
you made love to the most beautiful women
South Shore has to offer on the edges
of its lakefront on a cool day in August.
You can hold a second eviction notice
and sleep in summer’s blaze without
the electric bill being paid. You can steal
the flames from the warmest parts
of the city you aren’t allowed in, but to give
the flame’s contents away, the potency
of the fire, is a sucker move.
The Swelling Scene
Starts with the leaking bathroom faucet that keeps you up most nights. Missing window blinds covered by the clothes you have outgrown. Roaches scattering when you turn the lights on at 2am. Matchboxes next to the gas stove. Your mother’s blood pressure and diabetes medicine laying on the mahogany table with a gimp leg. Rusted TV antennas in fixed positions—you pray no one disturbs them. Neighbors upstairs making a type of love that forces you to listen. The torn couch you have been sleeping on with its springs digging into your spine. Helicopters cutting through the sky, spotlighting a beam of light. Streets you bravely walked through in your youth before caution was the word that lingered on everybody’s mind. The bus stop with the lovely black woman with the eccentric hats who wished everyone a good morning before boarding. The blue hue of police cameras flashing on corners as young girls jump rope in the parking lot of the Currency Exchange. The barber who taught you how to woo women: “it begins with a clean haircut.” Rest in peace tattooed into shattered walls on every corner. Beauty Supply Stores with wanted posters—you recognize some of the people. Grease pit restaurants with bulletproof windows separating you from the cashiers who always ask you to scream your order. Slaughter and Son Funeral Home; the son always reminds you “Chicago is good for business.” Park benches still etched with your initials and the year you became bold enough to carve into anything that let you.
Cheswayo Mphanza was born in Lusaka, Zambia, and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He earned a B.A. in English from Middlebury College. His work has been featured in or is forthcoming from New England Review, American Literary Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Vinyl, Prairie Schooner, and RHINO. He has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Hurston/Wright Foundation, Callaloo, Cave Canem, and Columbia University. A recipient of the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers, he is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Rutgers-Newark.