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Before the Last Shot

What was I doing at fifteen?
Face down on the pavement,
nostrils tinged with bullet-smoke,
the brick-dust falling around
us like fresh snow or white
chalk, I watched the kid stalking
the sidewalk. It was summer
in Brooklyn. Nothing ever happens
until it happens. That’s how my brother
and sister-in-law described their tours
at war after our dinner in Manhattan.
Assuming we were a world away from
Iraq, we decided it was a good idea
to take a shortcut through Sumner
projects, until we heard the sound
that tore through the story I was telling
about a lunchtime fight on the blacktop
of my high school, a sudden flash
of lightning: no one believed it
was happening. They forgot their army
training, rubber-necked towards
the source of the thunder. And then we
tumbled behind the parked cars.
Waited. For what, we were not sure.
Between the cars, I could only make
out his narrow back and the dark
steel clutched in his small hand.
I needed to see his face, half expecting
to see my own. We are all the shooter.
We stand on the corner aiming at something
that is never quite there.



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