Michael Mlekoday

Self-Portrait from the Other Side 
The woods behind
my elementary school
held ghosts and gang members.
We studied the carvings in the trees:
GD, Gangster Disciples
or some spirit afraid of GOD.
We weren’t afraid of neither
until we were alone.
My friend carried a gun to school
and we all believed
we were magic. That year
my grandfather died.
That year I found a Pete Rock tape
and twisted my hat backwards
like an exorcism gone wrong.
Not wrong meaning wrong, but.
Not to say I was hard, but.
Not that you asked, but
I wanted you to know:
when I write the letter O,
I imagine it burns through
the paper, that to praise
means to open by force.
The dropped jaw, the bullet hole,
the neighborhood
I can never leave.

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