On October 31, 1984, I hopped into a Datsun
with three other boys and cruised
the neighborhood next to the Country Club
just to see what the rich kids dressed like on Halloween.
No one believed I’d jump out the car window
and press the point of a dull, four-inch blade
against that chubby kid’s belly and tell him
Hand over the bag. I was a good Catholic boy;
I wanted to convert the disbelievers. So my threat to cut
that kid down was quick: I flashed a five-dollar balisong
and my best altar-boy smile. I don’t care
what you say. New Jersey is beautiful at dusk. In winter
I love the insinuation of its cities through snow,
as if the white contours can’t hold all our dangers down;
the stiff chimneys sear into the sky a hole the size
of your hand, the portal, perhaps, through which heaven
snatches up small children or sends down vivid dreams
of butterfly knives and rich boys swinging bags
full of sweets. Come on. People go missing
all the time. No one cries for them. Even if I give you
the neighborhood back, the country club, the rich fat kid
dressed like C3PO. Listen: I’ll give you the whole bloody
New Jersey sky, that night, starless, magnificent. It don’t matter,
because somewhere in the world I still brandish a knife,
though I go by another name, and with three of my friends
I’ve disappeared into the smoke of a banged up
Japanese import. I keep thinking if I just tell the story
again out loud, I could bring us all back to make things right,
but there’s no trace, no knife, no stick-up kid or three boys
shamed into silence.  I’m telling you, I hopped
into the Datsun and threw the bag of candy in the backseat
giggling. My friends said nothing. We were afraid of nothing —
for we were reared by a generation that could make
whole nations simply vanish. And like any good crew,
we kept waiting for an angel to come down through
a hole in heaven the size of a hand made in god’s forsaken
image and shackle us to each other for good. It’s no use.
You can retrace every inch of all the places I’ve ever been.
Trust me. I’ve looked. We’re nowhere to be found.

TAGS: , ,

PATRICK ROSAL is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, which won the Members' Choice Award from the Asian American Writers' Workshop, and more recently, My American Kundiman, which won the Association of Asian American Studies 2006 Book Award in Poetry as well as the 2007 Global Filipino Literary Award. Awarded a Fulbright grant as a U.S. Scholar to the Philippines in 2009, he has received teaching appointments at Penn State Altoona; Centre College; the University of Texas, Austin; and Drew University.

His poems and essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies including American Poetry Review, New Orleans Review, Harvard Review, Crab Orchard Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, The Literary Review, Pindledyboz, Black Renaissance Noire, Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Non-Fiction, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art , Language for a New Century, and the Beacon Best. His poems and voiceovers were included in the Argentine feature-length film "Anhua: Amanecer," which screened at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival. He was the scriptwriter for the documentary film "Camp Roxas," directed by Alex Munoz. He has also appeared on the "Leonard Lopate Show," PBS’ "Asian America," and the BBC Radio's "World Today."

His invited readings include the Dodge Poetry Festival, WordFest in Asheville, the poetry reading series at Georgia Tech, Poetry @ MIT, the Carr Reading Series at the University of Illinois, the Whitney Museum, Sarah Lawrence College (where he earned his MFA), and hundreds of other venues that span the United States, London, Buenos Aires, South Africa and the Philippines.

The son of immigrants from the Ilocos region of the Philippines, Rosal is a New Jersey native, a life-long amateur musician, an old-school b-boy and DJ. In the late '80s and early '90s, he produced music for Metropolitan Recording Corporation, working with acts like April Kelly, Laissez Faire, and Joey Gold. He appeared in the music video, "Makin' My Move" by Phillip Alexander and can still uprock and do baby swipes.

4 responses to “A Very Jersey Halloween”

  1. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Patrick, this made me cry. Specifics are a stupid redundancy. This poem is brilliant. I’m a Jersey girl born-and-raised. Left Jersey City five years ago and haven’t returned. Until I read this.

  2. Carl D'Agostino says:

    34 years 11th grade history teacher, inner city, Miami.. The callousness, volatility,human disregard, consequence immune(so they think), and putting status in the very worst society offers is embraced by too large a slice of the pie chart of this generation, esp. minorities. Yeah, and often just over a bag of candy. And you better not accidentally step in my sneakers, in the densely overcrowded school hallway. That’s an intolerable provocation. Sadly, the good kids must display as much uncharacteristic viciousness to survive.

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    Man. I read this, then saw the track, then listened, and thought ‘What? Where is this cheery guitar coming from? This can’t be right. Someone, somewhere, has made a mistake.’

    But no. Everything was right on the mark. This worked perfectly for me, in content and creation.

    TNB has been single-handedly responsible for getting me back into poetry, spoken word, and performance.

    Welcome aboard, Patrick!

  4. Your shit is so fly. So constantly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *