NaPoWriMo #12: Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy


port authority
Originally uploaded by Ralph Hockens

The following poem comes from a writing exercise where I had to “interview” one of my classmates about a serious life event. We were given a couple of topics we could talk about: early sexual experiences, when we were born or near-death experiences. We weren’t limited to those topics but they were the main ones. I asked my classmate about their near-death experience and got a whopper of a story that went off on a few tangents but that’s ok cuz I do the same with my own stories.  I think part of the exercise is to listen attentively but I skipped that part and started jotting down notes since I do that in the real world anyways.  After we finished, I told my classmate about the time I was born which I traced back to leaving Ecuador and arriving in the loving arms of Idlewild Airport.  A good story with (you guessed it) a ton of tangents including an Ecuadorian diplomat, a Code Pink, deep in-law beef, and one confused little kid in a powder blue 70s tux complete with wide lapels and ruffle shirt. I’m still waiting for the poem to come back to me.

Once again, for those keeping score at home, the exercise goes:
• Find a person to interview
• Ask them to relay a story about their life
• Listen attentively
• Craft into a poem

Here’s the poem (with residual tones of the insistent cop from the last NaPoWriMo joint) for today.

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Are three words loaded with meanings
The simple truth is that it’s a dull ache
Set to rest in the corners of my bones
Another way to look at it is it’s a squatter
Who put up camp in the trenches of my nerve endings
But that would set this story in a political direction
And that’s not how I cross the street

Which is how we got into this mess to begin with
I was on my bike navigating the smog soup of Jersey
When a random hit-and-drive became my call
Into a manhood where the questions don’t matter
As much as the canned soup responses

I digress but only to give you perspective
Let’s view it from a poetic lens

The ring of insistent questions lives in my marrow
My face pasted together with forget and numb
This message of pain travels from the brain
With no rush hour schedule to speak of
Not so much the vehicle of my enlightenment
More like a backseat driver with an expired map
Or an expired license but now promoted
Passenger seat status with all the privileges
And deniability that office and title carries

Another version, courtesy of an unreliable witness
Claims I was riding my bicycle in the wrong direction
150 miles an hour in a slow your role zone
Coming and going at the same time

This is not a cool story or an appropriate way
To signal the onset of puberty
This is about lessons learned with a crushed
Windshield as my blackboard and an IV needle
Scrawling testimony on the edges of my spine

This is old news, at best, but to keep it modern
I will switch the channel and put on COPS
Shot on location in my memory with real life
Officers dedicating themselves to protecting
Me from harming myself in an attempt to grow
As a person and get past this recollection

We join our scene already in progress:
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    The crosswalk.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    The crosswalk.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    I was in the cross, saying prayers, then I walked.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    I was walking towards a cross. Yes.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    I was the cross, not walking, more floating
    on the chorus of my prayers and moans.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    The crosswalk.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    My parents can attest to the validity of my character
    and the quality of my education and assure you
    I know the difference between a crosswalk and street.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    1’m 99% percent sure-the crosswalk.
  Not entirely sure?
    Sure as history.

The leap in the story involves how I learned
To walk on crutches without touching the ground
A modern Passaic Messiah with no congregation
To say “Flock off” to but of this Earth
And in a Heaven of my own making

I cross streets with an eye on the road, street,
Crosswalk and above so I know I earned
A Guardian Angel in all this
One who walks the righteous PATH train
To all the dead end stops and busts a cul-de-sac
Turn whenever Port Authority rears its head
Out it’s own assumptions of who I am
And where I’m finding myself

Author: Oscar Bermeo

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below, and To the Break of Dawn. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.

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