#NationalPoetryMonth 24/30

I strip, listen
To the sound of my skin scrape against the earth,
And dance to the music of the only instrument
I ever learned to play: the dirt.

— from “Cemetery”

Today’s read: Calendar Of Dust by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – Broken Moon Press – 1991

I always wanted to be a b-boy. I wanted to make music out of all the things I grew up around in the Bronx. A Bronc that was around before there was a name for hip-hop.

We didn’t know what to call it but we knew you could pull out a cardboard box from the side of any bodega counter, take it to the front sidewalk, flatten it out, and you had a spot to bust a move. Not dance. We knew it was a dance but it wasn’t the hustle or salsa. It was its own thing without a name. And if you needed some music then you plugged a radio up to the nearest lamp post. You just wedge a quarter into the side to pop off the aluminum lid and just plug right in. And if you didn’t have a radio then you just found a milk crate and somebody could conga a beat. And if you didn’t have even that much well then you just tapped out the beat in your head, slap your thigh, pop your lips, smack your tongue, to bring out a rhythm that didn’t have a name.

I wanted to be all these things because my father was an early architect of sound. A DJ at the local college radio station which was even more freedom then we had. He had access to Hector Lavoe, Manu Dibango, Miles Davis, Ruben Blades, James Brown, Fleetwood Mac, the Jackson 5, Celia Cruz, Stevie Wonder, Herb Alpert, and all the remaining Fania All Stars and Motown hits. He would sneak in all the 45s into the house. This would be the mix and we just knew it was music. And I broke them all. Each 45.

The story is that I did some kind of mischief in the house. In return, I got a spanking. The old kind. No lesson. No words. Just a lot of slaps of belt until my dad thought I had learned something. Which I did. I learned the payback, the big payback. I took some classic wax and found out that it just snaps in your hands. Even when you are little and don’t know how to make a proper fist. Your hands can still make things break. I found out that my hands could make things disappear.

Then we started to really dance. We got into the deep mix. I got whooped some more and then more records would turn to shiny dark crumbs. And back and forth. Whips to break, slaps to shards, lesson to lesson. This was the rhythm of my education. I didn’t have a name for it.

I guess then I was always a b-boy even before there was a name for being.

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