Word Poetry

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Sample Poems by Christian Thompson


From "Smell of Poverty"

I.
Rochester, N.Y. 1964
city of wards
on either side of the Genesee-

Rt. 490's Inner Loop
around the business district
south of High Falls

once power for flour
tool clothing mills
turned fortress of skyscrapers

filled with bankers
insurance execs
ad men lawyers

Kodak Xerox Baush and Lomb
surrounded by suburbs
Pittsford Brighton Henrietta

Irondequoit Webster-
Seneca of the Iroquois Nation
lived along the banks of the Genesee

before the Erie Canal
built from Albany to Buffalo
interlocked waterways

to promote easy & cheaper transfer
of goods to the mills along the route-
On Tremont St. in the 19th ward

the woman who cleaned
my parents' home, Thomasina
lived in a house with her son, Mazzo

a gifted dancer & baton twirler
in a marching band
that moved in a complex

rhythmic wild
but disciplined joy
I'd never seen


until one night
in the War Memorial Arena
On a Sunday

when my parents were away
Thomasina brought me
into her home

while she prepared for church-
In the clean house
the smell of poverty-

curled edges of linoleum
in the section without walls
that was her kitchen

next to her bed
in the middle of the room
on worn shag carpet

infused with the odor of Crisco-
stale air from locked windows in the heat
moved barely by a small fan-

hung within the dimly lit space
around a picture
of Jesus

confusing
the already
confused boy

Services lasted all day
breaking only for lunch
of fried clams at Howard Johnson's

with Thomasina
the Pastor & his wife
after a glass of lemonade

in their apartment
above the church
When worship resumed

Thomasina stood
clutching the folds of her stomach
& with a deep sigh wailed

"Thank you Jeesuus !
I woke this mornin'
with an ache in my belly so bad

I didn't think
I could get out
the bed

but praise be to the Laauud
He moved me & I came
Thank you Jeesuus !"

Among the wailing,
cries of others who stood
& those who hollered back in assent

the boy tried to disappear
until Thomasina stood again
"Lauud I work in a dark house

but there's a light that shines
with the power of the Almighty Himself!"
she howled as she placed a hand

on the bowed head
of the blonde-haired kid
trying to sink into the wooden pew

"Praise Jeesuus it shines
in this little man
blessed I see it

with the everlastin' light!"
"Amen" ! the congregation
shouted in unison
Three months later
not far from the church
on Friday July 24th

at a block party a drunk
19 year old
approached by a gang of cops

with a K-9 unit
was according to accounts that spread quickly
beaten savagely

causing riots
throughout the ghetto wards
for three days

killing four
injuring three-hundred fifty
resulting in over one thousand arrests

until the New York National Guard marched in
The City acquired the land
where the riots erupted

bulldozed
the shacks
the people lived in

& within a year built
the first public housing project
in Rochester

named in the American tradition
of denial through euphemism
The Chatham Garden Apartments