love letter to the east side

your streets have scraped my knees and scuffed my sneakers.
there is a map of you ingrained in my soles and so i say i know you very well.
ever since i remember, this place has been home.

when i picture you, i do not picture the headlines.

i see toddler me with wet-knee jeans
playing in the mud at the park after a fresh rain has washed the baseball diamonds.
you look like karen drive,
my grandma’s house,
where i saw my first gun,
where i learned my religion.

i see me growing inside of those rib cage walls,
more comfortable than in any skin on meridian street.

i picture the rival high schools’ annual football game
boys battling it out on turf under your twilight skies
and the fall breeze sets in
blue and red light accents the sky,
sirens pass by, and it is all left on the field.

you are sam at every east side sports event, doing his little dance in the stands

you are the parties,
where east side teens cry “RIP lil matt cause that’s my brother bitch,”
and sing other songs only we know.
screaming eulogies at the night sky as an act of defiance,
knowing the kids on the news could’ve been us.

you sound like marcoo5k after he got out of jail and released “bond money”
because he was free despite.

you’re the jiggalate that has not yet been gentrified,

all of us in one motion
bobbing to your heartbeat
and when they see us they already know how we what.
but lawrence, you are far from perfect.

your voice cracks under the pressure of crime statistics
dead bodies clog your arteries
you hug so tight that you never let go of some of us,
stuck between these blocks.
though for most, your embrace is the only one we got

in a world that can’t stand to see us live
we live on the east side where each day of life is a reason for celebration.

especially in the summer,
and you summer like no other;

all the girls out to the park
to watch niggas hoop,
to see them alive
oh how their skin glistens, dripping with sweat that shines like immortality,

though we know statistically that some of us won’t make it to august,
lawrence you have a way of bringing all the black babies out.

lawrence, you are not a quiet moon dancing across a lake as an audience of one face basks in
your beauty,
you are a beating sun, banging from ghetto to geist
a raw heart bleeding all over the sidewalks
a crisp-white airbrushed t-shirt
a cap to the side
a new candy-paint job that fingers have yet to touch
how beautiful.

you are a graveyard and a bumping house party
your cemetery, your sidewalks
your ground, sacred.
people die on the east side,

but oh how we live here too.

Alyssa Gaines is a poet, writer & photographer. She is the 15-year-old Youth Poet Laureate of the city of Indianapolis. She has been writing spoken word poetry since she was in the third grade, and she seeks to use her art as a vehicle for political & personal change.

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