Tough Kid I
Red faced, cheeks puffed.
Serena screams “You’re not my father!”
I’d like to give the little snot a smack,
but she has issues, and hyperventilates.
Her father, Pupi, died in jail.
She takes it out on me
whenever I’m in range.
“And you’re STILL too old
to run around in underwear.”
“Oh?” she asks,
startled back to now.
“Yeah. You’re growing up.”
Tough Kid II
Serena throws her books, coat, and self
on the couch. “Men suck!”, she says.
“Yeah,” I think, “and women blow.”
But I don’t want to say that.
“There’s this boy…” she starts,
“And I like him. He told EVERYBODY!”
My sigh resounds from here to Cleveland.
“WHAT?” she snaps.
But it would take ten years to answer
and I’d get it wrong.
Tough Kid III
The box of condoms on the kitchen table
says Serena kept her date at Women’s Health.
She’s on her bed, turned to the wall.
“Where’s George?” I ask.
“I take it he did not show up?”
“Just please go back to hell.”
Next morning as she leaves for school
she snaps to attention like James Brown.
“I feel GOOD!” she sings, and laughs.
Kid’s got funk.
But it ain’t over for anybody.
Tough Kid IV
Serena stumbles from a car,
shuffles like a black bear in a parka,
trips on the curb,
fumbles at the door.
“But did you have a good time?” I ask.
“You’re a fag,” she spits. ‘That’s why Ma left.”
Sometimes I think I should snarl back
but we’ve been there.
I point her to the shower.
There are chunks in her hair.
Tough Kid V
Like a food seeking missile
Serena hits the fridge,
scores blueberry yogurt and a Coke.
”How was school?”
“Crappy. We had to write a poem.”
“Can I see it?”
“I can tell it:
I’m a brown girl in a white world
It’s not the right world
What can I do
I’m not like you.”
Recovering from that left hook to the liver,
I want to hug her into forever,
brown skin, blueberry lips, the works,
but she’s already closed in her room.
Tough Kid VI
Serena buries her face in my coat.
Linda and her lover are headed to Texas.
The bus station reeks of diesel
and ill will.
“It’s just a few days,” Linda says.
“You’re a liar!” Serena cries.
Her voice cuts clearly through rough wool.
She knows a lot more than I do.
Jim Aitken, a veteran of Vietnam, colo-rectal cancer, three wives, two divorces, two MAs, and est, is seriously retired and lives in Colorado with his son, Joe.