Spots – a poem

When you come back to Union City, there are spots that people warn you about.

New spots.

Layered over the old ones.

The new generation and the elders know them; you know a spot when you were there to hear wind carry the news.

In that moment, the where isn’t as important as the who and the what:


Carmen’s son.


Got stabbed by a Crip.

Only later, when the sirens pass and the foot traffic returns,

bags bearing empanadas

and fresh sneakers

and sweatshop labor clothes,

does that corner become

a Spot.

Every hood has spots.

There’s the one around the corner from Edison Elementary, the one that stained the sidewalk.

Right there in front of an apartment building.

Right there, across from the Auto Zone where Elias worked.

Right there, at the intersection of




a Spot where Something Happened.

On the basketball court at 3-9.

The street along the monastery, before José Martí.

Outside of Emerson.

That one

That spot

Where Jessica’s brother

happened to be with a friend who

happened to stab a guy and run away

That spot where Jessica’s brother – who everyone called Nemo because he always seemed a little lost – got booked.

Even if you weren’t there at the time that It happened, if you know the setting, you can play the tape in your head as the details unfold into gossip.

Like a memory you dreamed.

We hold our breaths as the sun glints off a silver pistol, the man behind it striking a pose of such conviction I used to think it only existed in comic books.

The cops around him freeze – they were ready at their places here at 39th street, a block with more spots than a Dalmatian.

I gasp

And Adam sends my eyes daggers as he swivels toward the backseat to distract the baby;

she will not remember it this way.

We hold our breaths and wait for

minutes that feel like days until

They say the neighborhood is changing.

Mr. Perez called it when The Thread condos popped up just outside Weehawken. He saw it happen growing up in Newark and Hoboken, a word we couldn’t pronounce.

Later we learn that we are not the gentry;

We are the ones to be pushed out.

The playground behind what used to be the Toys ‘R’ Us parking lot before the recession.

The project staircases during Mischief Night.

When we are gone,

When the blood is scrubbed away,

When only time remembers those spots,

When the neighborhood is “better,”

When the disenfranchised flock, desperate for

stable work and

stable housing

and a neighborhood of promise,

New spots crop up in new hoods.

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