jr mahung


it is something of a religion

cubs fans will tell you their team may not win
often but there is no kind of magic like a hot dog
with ice lemonade & at wrigley there is always next year
anywas the cubs have not won a world series since 1908

the same year ford made the first model t pk wrigley
inherited the franchise nearly 25 years later he
renovated the stadium under the premise that you can’t
guarantee the team will win but you can guarantee

the park will be clean there will be good food &
nice facilities i cannot stand baseball or the north side
or most anything the cubs represent but gram’s been a die-hard
fan since she left home for good to help raise my siblings & me

gram never spent a day not cleaning or cooking or giving
more of herself than she had to keep us comfortable
or at least safe but some things you cannot control
like when kids lost lives shooting hoops at the playlot

in the morning before school gram spilled ghosts
of dead boys from her mouth like the glass of holy water
i dropped by her bedside once was too slippery to catch
so it all slid & soaked into everything

grandma said ayyyyyy heeyyyyy seuuuusss
bwai which is her omni-exclamation but also
how every word she says sounds like prayer
how all she does seems like supplication

the way grandma scoops rice & beans from the center
to the edge of the pot so everyone tastes the burnt
crunch of sacrifice how with arthritis now each move
she makes is sacrifice i didn’t understand when i walked out

from my brother’s baseball games to get ice cream
missed him hit a grand slam then make the winning catch
kid quit the sport at season’s end in part cuz i kept asking
when he would but it’s not safe for a black boy to be so salient

round all the bats & cracks & white folk calls
for him to carry their kids home without them thinking
bout all the ones who did not make it there or maybe did
too early you know those kids carried too much already so

maybe the weight of this black is too much for either of us
to keep from spilling maybe gram knows & she stays praying
for next year & this is what she means when she is with me
& my brother she repeats it over & over like a prayer

my boys my boys my boys

my cousin asks me about home

& i say the cold starts well before winter where i’m from october means get your coat & gloves save the hat for november you gonna want to wait til at least thanksgiving to cover all the way up cuz the cold don’t stop til after it’s supposed to & we like it that way i say there’s only a few times we know we’re alive for sure & one’s when we feel the freeze in our bones a shiver some aching ask of our frame to be preserved at its worst the cold is deadly & at its best the cold is killing someone other than you & how can you not love a city so honest it’ll hold you with its icy knuckles & whisper in its winds how it wants you gone over & over again so when it starts to warm & everyone starts to come out & kids start falling dead like snow we can look back to the first green we saw in the field at washington park when we drove past & said like we do every year that if we survived that last winter we can make it through anything

the trouble with writing about skin

is that there is so much of it one can hardly be specific
when simply saying skin it’s like saying someone touched
you on your body which has numerous parts a head maybe
some molars a left pinkie toe to touch these parts of you

one would have  to touch or puncture your skin so even when
you do not mention skin you are still talking about the mass
there is history inside the skin all of it contained within
even that is not specific enough the problem with history

is that there is just so much of it an example: i once watched
my birthmom clap both her palms at the empty air my sister’s
face had filled just a moment before & for the longest time
we called those hands our home the same ones that once ran

themselves over a stomach swollen ripe with my life our birthmom who
i call ‘birthmom’ to acknowledge that i fell out of her body once
& all of us are still unsure of how that accident came to be
she told my dad she knew how to beat us without making a mark

proved it real good one night she took my own skin for that of a drum
& played rhythm all across my body & that song became my history
heard the same number as the earth slapped my palms back
soft as i ducked punches from the neighborhood boys & again

when a knuckle connected with my jaw & that song sounded like grief
each tune our skin knew sang pain when we packed our clothes up in
plastic bags to move in with dad we stayed in our rooms to keep from
the playlot where basketball games stopped for kids shooting rounds

lethal like a lil wayne punch line & two blocks the other way where boys
turned cold into bodies between breathing the south side air & falling back
into the earth that bred them i remember one spring i watched 3 caskets
lowered into the ground the same month of my birthday and i wonder

what that does to a boy who knows this as the eventual end
& that end could come any day & i think a casket is a container
for a memory & we can never truly lay those memories to rest
& what is this skin but another container another empty thing

to fill with a trauma & what is this trauma but another song to bury
inside myself & what an organ this skin truly is how it holds together
the chaos of these tunes & all the body contains & each time it is played
it plays its own song


JR Mahung is a Belizean-American poet from the South Side of Chicago. He is based in Boston where he helps organize the Louder than a Bomb MA youth poetry slam, co-coaches Northeastern University’s slam team & is currently working on his second collection of poetry. His work has appeared  in Moko Literary Magazine and Freezeray Poetry.



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