Boy Talking Back to Houston by Steven Leyva

In the 90’s
I’m asking how not to be
an apparition
these missives avoided like parents leaving
divorce papers unsigned on the empty side of the bed

It’s the 90’s
In a clutch of memory everywhere I turn
I see a bayou without end,
forever behind our history
of roach ruled apartments
humidity hung like a carcass of wind
that’s ceased swaying
summers spent slumping on concrete slopes
edging water the color of beef stew
torturing a few crawfish with a sharp stick
the crickets annoyed at my own immense
boredom and fear
what good was it to be young here

In the 90’s
chopped and screwed
in the mixtape of ethnicity a slow beat
down on my own sense of blackness
latch-key around my neck
big frame glasses slipping
down my Honduran sloped nose
like a pair of refugees down a sea-cliff
watching my parents grind in the kitchen
while the biscuit burned
one side looking like dad one like mom

After the 90’s
where was the boy that made an ark
of the sleeper-sofa and danced undignified
like David lips anointed with red Kool-Aid
before an audience of pose-able action toys
all the arms spread as if ready to slap
or embrace
                     I am found half grown on a high
school step team thrown forward by the decade
trying to break
              a stage with nothing
                            but the body’s music

When did the 90’s not appear
in smoke
blunts all over my Rocket City
the swish of breath so sweet
I imaged the cops raised hounds on sugar
like horses
so when they busted a friend’s face
with blue-red lights and dog breath
for half an ounce on school
grounds I knew it was for how he dipped
his pinkie to taste
something pure through the white
wisps of burning cannabis

Sure the 90’s cavalcade
was every FM wave broadcast
from 9.79: The BOX blowing up
the speakers in our used cars
even my shadow gatecrashing private school
proms doing the South Side
knees rocking side to side
everybody’s face in their palm
the party line erupting in simultaneous
“ooooohhhh!”at a backflip
that lands in splits
This is the shit
you can’t make up

That ’95 finals
locked in a dream, no one could leave
the T.V. for more than a minute
Olajuwon shaking the shorts
off the whole NBA
amid the mid-decade euphoria grabbing
everybody by the throat
And oh Houston how proud
were your sons to hammer
the concrete with old sneakers
shivering along the edge of an outdoor court
awaiting a turn to hear
the soft Thwip of worn nylon
and how insatiable those same boys
hungry as Adam
I among them
naming nets
panties
we had no idea what we wanted

The 90’s end
and the city gives us Beyonce
how could we not think  
we were Destiny’s child

In the 90’s
we could no longer act like we didn’t know
how to find Kuwait on a map
even at six
a classmate winning a t-shirt contest
his 1st place slogan read: if you’re not a patriot
you’re a scud
spilled oil and spilled blood
were not equal
and we knew this at six
as we knew our city bled black and crude

Oh the 90’s
that very minute
they were no longer on the calendar,
and the mother of all computer glitches
ended with a whimper
I exited my childhood
church yelling where’s my Apocalypse

and if I make it to ninety
I’ll say I grew up
In the decade of dot com
boom and bust
and remember this letter
with whatever’s left of my remembering for you
Houston my midwife city
clutching me between star-shine
and a boy’s reflection in bayou


Steven Leyva was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised in Houston, Texas. His poems have appeared in The Fiddleback, The Light Ekphrastic, The Cobalt Review, and Little Patuxent Review. He is a Cave Canem fellow, the winner of the 2012 Cobalt Review Poetry Prize, and author of the chapbook Low Parish. Steven holds a MFA from the University of Baltimore, where he teaches in the undergraduate writing program.