The Hobgoblin’s Guide to Indemnity

Hobgoblin Heart

The Hobgoblin’s Guide to Indemnity

__________Once upon a time,
a family with a boy my age
moved in next door.

__________That day marked the inception
of a years-long, late-night comedy series
featuring the bedroom window antics
of flashlight-haloed preteens in pajamas,
framed in harvest gold & avocado green—

for it was a day when
two eight-year-olds needed no longer
than a heartbeat to find themselves
allied in a baseball-bat crusade
on the neighborhood’s dandelion population…

__________Today, I make-believe
those weeds into having been proxies
for the bigots that were rooted
in our Northern Californian cul-de-sacs
like neoplastic glands
we somehow thought better to ignore;

though they crept about in the cover of night
defacing properties with gasoline crosses,
as if to exorcise some incognito beast that might be
masquerading as an innocent third-grader—
a ritual they performed on my neighbors’ front lawn
one night in 1979;

though the adults filed a police report,
declining in hushed tones to speculate
as to the perpetrators’ identities,
& hatched designs for disguising the scars
with green food coloring;

because, before I was through elementary school,
I’d already made an art-form of refusing
to be fazed by most breaches of decency:

__________Forged in the foundry of public ridicule
(where, once upon a time, a girl paid for her crime
of playing Little League Baseball), fueled by
the combustibles my schoolmates & their parents
knocking back hi-balls in the bleachers would purvey,
ranging from conjectures as to the nature of the equipage
my corduroys concealed, to indictments of my
supposed nine year-old prick-teasing wiles—

my cast-iron answer to the question of insult
was no different
(of this I was convinced)
from my response to the astonishment
my friend’s fastballs seared into my glove-hand,

that no matter how much it stung, I could take it…

__________The time my friend’s mom spent nine hours
taming my tawny wisps into cornrows, I took
her twist-tugging resolve for a tenderness I craved;

& when I sported my sunburned nakedness
adorned in shiny beads at the ballfield,
I took the prepubescent boys’ inspired torments
deep into the heat of my belly, billowed white
like cumulonimbus gorging on the afternoon sun,
& engulfed the horizon.

__________Once upon a time, I took everything,
assuming it was mine to take.


__________Only now as I watch my country
bending before a fascist onslaught
like a Floridian palm in a hurricane,
does it strike me to wonder about the light
my best childhood friend must cast
on his memories of me—

if he recounts in his version of our ever after
how we’d laugh-sputter milk from our noses
at an ad hoc Looney Toons riff; or how
I’d cap-off my Foghorn Leghorn renditions
with their signature disclaimer:
That was a joke, Son, I say, a joke!

__________I wonder if his heart of hearts—
my cherished idol emblazoned
on the gold backdrop of a burning cross—
can even make out its counterpart
in the darkness

of that fairy-tale world
where, once upon a time,

a young girl pretended

that giant, white cock on T.V.
was a cartoon chicken who lived in a barnyard,
far, far away.



“The Hobgoblin’s Guide to Indemnity” appears in my chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament.


Artwork by Cameren Harper @CamHarpArt

Artwork by Cameren Harper

“I’m a Black Puerto Rican,
Yes I am,
Making some peanut butter and some jam…” (Composed by Marcus P., circa 1981, age 10)

My childhood was marked by our knowing moments
that brought us to our bedroom windows at night
to speak silently across the darkness
with our faces, various antics, flashlights,
and disappearing & reappearing acts.

I was eight years old
when his family moved in,
when the boy my age toed the weeds on my front lawn,
as I watched him from my bedroom window.

Because he was black,
my first memory of seeing Marcus
has been misshapen by a lifetime
spent enslaved by the vernacular
of the prevailing collective.

Subtexts of color for a child
are still primal, unchained.
Whatever difference signified
in that commuter tract neighborhood,
we forged a bond
that was soon cemented in familiarity.

I loved how his hair sprung back like a sponge,
& how his mother groomed him
with Johnson’s Baby Oil & Q-Tips.
I loved his height, his scent,
his lanky, strong, athletic arms,
catching his blazing pitches,
& how we proudly wore matching t-shirts
with our names and baseball jersey numbers
that our moms made with iron-on decals.

Even more, I loved his infectious laugh,
his smart, brow-raising impressions
of Mighty Mouse, Woody Woodpecker,
Speedy Gonzales, and Foghorn Leghorn’s failures
to thwart his young chicken hawk nemesis,
that routinely had us both in teary,
asthmatic hysterics,
sputtering milk out of our noses.

I know my mind’s eye
has since learned to see the conjured rift
between black & white;

I perceive a difference
that even my love
because it is love
won’t deny,
though my heart tries to remember
from a place beyond sight.

I was eight years old
when the boy my age scattered dandelion seeds
outside my bedroom window––
when unsullied, my roots trembled,
& love sprang up
& leaned toward his sun.