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A Blanquito In El Barrio
by Gil Fagiani

UNDER THE FERRIS WHEEL

I looked up to them:
Count--his real name,
Heriberto Colón Hernández--
warlord during the glory days
of aristocratic, street fighting gangs,
and Nandy--Dandy Nandy--
former second tenor
of the 103rd Street Latineers,
a guest once on Symphony Sid's radio program.

Together they'd schooled me
--college dropout, utopian do-gooder—
in the ways of the streets:
la buena gente, la mala gente,
the trustworthy, the honorable,
the whores, hustlers,
títeres, and cutthroats.

They taught me
how to slap five,
make verbal jive
en español:
¿Qué pasa?
¡Vaya¡
¡Qué chévere!
Estoy en algo.

The best place to cop
piraguas,
pastelillos,
rellenos de papas,
pernil
sandwiches,
bags of chiba-chiba,
cut-rate jugs of fruit-flavored wine,
Orange-Rock, Lemon-Rock,
Tito Puente and Machito albums.

Things to say to muchachas:
preciosa,
tú me vuelves loco,
¡ay mama!

But Count and Nandy changed:
long sleeves in 100 degree weather,
legs that couldn't stay straight.
They laughed less,
took off without warning.

I saw them together for the last time
at the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
on 3rd Avenue and 116th.
Squeezing through a crowd
of fine Italian and Puerto Rican mamis,
with a cerveza fria in one hand
and a sausage hero in the other,
I scoped them out under the ferris wheel
picking through weeds,
metal piling,
cardboard boxes of pizza crusts.

“Qué pasa?” I said,
a boss lid cocked over my left eye.
"Something fell out
when we rode the ferris wheel,"
Count said, white-lipped,
the bones of his shoulders showing.
"Like what?"
Nandy turned,
dropped to his knees,
staring through the holes
of a sewer grating.
Next she chowed down on two blood sausages
thick and black as a policeman's club.
Then she picked up a fried pig's tail
and ate it like an ice cream cone,
strips of pork sticking out the side of her mouth,
lips a blaze of yellow grease.
I sat quietly nibbling on a potato ball.
"What's the matter, no tiene hambre
you're not hungry?"
I smiled as a drum roll by Tito Puente

 
 
 
 

 

 
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