Rain on Parade Street
It’s like the rain’s already dirty when it comes down on this side of town. The dust don’t settle, there’s no fresh smell. The windows on the buses and the bars just streak yellow-brown, covered as they is in the gritty filth of the city. Nothing here gets washed. That’s why nothing bad ever washes away, and nothing ever, ever comes to be made new. I guess you could say the leaves on the trees sprout each Spring and, yeah, the grass does come in. Eventually. But even then, that green seems dull and dingy when it comes. Like the grass and the trees got that sickle-cell like I got.
I live on Parade Street. But I’ve never seen a parade. Ain’t been no parades on this street for as long as I been here—15 years. My grandma often makes a joke: “I hope it don’t never rain on YOUR parade, child,” then she smiles and laughs like she just seen Jesus. But living in this house, I laugh very little. I ain’t never seen a parade and ain’t never seen Jesus. And on days like today, when it rains like it’s raining now, seems damn sure to me I’ll see the one long, long before I ever see the other.
The Girl Who Wishes Her Spiky Black Hair Cascaded
Her Christian name is biblical
and simple like the wide, faceless hordes
she swims against through the halls.
Ignorance and discord assail her
every day, the cacophony
of the Great Unwashed conceals
her pride, insulates her hate, protects better
than the thorny ends of her two-tone hair,
or the thin promises she keeps
in a battered folio of charcoal sketches.
Anonymity is a hollow god, fickle and cold.
Trust is a brittle outer shell. Love is a lie
easily told, like the one she tells herself
about her looks, what none of the boys say
when they’re naked in the dark or throwing back
shots or searching for another abandoned house
where they squat in search of normalcy. Deceit
is truth, reality a farce. Faith is a razor slicing
scarlet skeins down the length of her bikini line.
Her Christian name is wrong, itchy like
disease, a cruel unchangeable joke
that only feeds the bitter truth that her family name is
worse. In the flickering black of another stolen bedroom
she accepts this as freedom. This is comfort.
The swell of adrenaline when cops drive by
offers a welcome respite from the boredom of home,
from the rising bile of foster care, and the only truth
she ever finds flows freely through the mascara
to stain again the filthy pillows that muffle
her screams, that catch her tears, that listen
like an addict lover who showers her with nothing
but the blessings of impermanence.
She’s on the floor, spotlit and still,
the auditorium speakers just now
decrescendoing into a pregnant pause
each of us knows is coming.
None of us knows what’s coming.
She sits at center stage, a spirit
inanimate, more intimate
than any of us could expect
when the arc of her spine
her arms begin to sway,
and the serpentine grace of her
body: her neck, her jaw line,
the sweep of her blue-black hair
sends shivers through the audience,
her movements as fluid as a willow
through an August wind but
three times as lovely. She is rising now,
on her toes, twirling, spinning,
swaying to a violent, soaring paean
of haughty violins, the milky spotlight
throwing sixpoint shadows
across the stage and every eye
in the dusty auditorium is riveted
to her form, to her flow, to her
synthesis of movement and music
while the man in the front row,
finger-thick lenses streaming
the spotlight to defiant cones and rods
in his retinas, blinks hard, blinks often,
disbelieving, shaking his head “no,”
mouthing it over and over, disbelieving:
not my daughter, not my daughter”
until the final wrenching screech
of violins collapses daddy’s girl to a heap
in the suddenly darkened stage
brings each of us, save him, to our feet,
by this performance out of nowhere
by the shock of what we’d just seen
movement that proves the existence
of a loving and compassionate God,
of a cruel and taunting God who keeps such secrets
from us foolish children as we trudge through
our days, eyes downcast, knowing
we know all we need to know,
knowing everything but what lies here
in front of us, everything but what’s important
like our students’ passions, our daughter’s
potential, the inevitability of beauty, and the grace
to take it and keep it and share it so that
it too will one day dance and spin, careening,
carefree and careless, so out of control
as to catch one more needy soul,
snatching them, even for a moment,
out of mediocrity. Into exultation. However
transient, however temporary on the face
of things. Eternal at their core.
Like a father’s pride.
Ron Hayes writes fiction and poetry when he isn’t teaching history, coaching varsity football or girls’ basketball, or watching his son play lacrosse. He recently served two terms as Poet Laureate of Erie County, Pennsylvania, and later this year his first short story publication, longlisted in the Nivalis Short Story contest, will appear in an anthology of short fiction from Fabula Press.