Paul Hendricks

Winner of the Louise Louis / Emily F. Bourne Student Award in 2005

Waverly 216

Wednesday, September 22, 2004:
7:17 a.m. Anthony Wilkes, a 16-year-old African-American youth, was dealing drugs out of a screen window in his home in the 2100 block of West Fayette Street in West Baltimore's Midtown-Edmondson neighborhood. A shooter put a gun through the screen and fired several shots. Wilkes was pronounced dead 20 minutes later at Bon Secours Hospital.

7:48 p.m. Twelve hours later, officers found Trevon Smith, a 19-year-old African- American man, lying in the 700 block of East 36th Street in Waverly just a few blocks from the former site of Memorial Stadium. He had been shot numerous times.
Murders week of September 20: 7
Murders this past year: 215
—City Paper's "Murder Ink," which reports the murders committed in Baltimore each week, and the toll for the year.

In the blue mouth of midday,
     a white shadow shivers on Greenmount.
Troy drives. In his reflective shades,
     my teeth grind themselves.
From the low buildings men emerge
     the color of rust.
It's the same film clip today
     as all the other days—the laughter
giving in to gravity, falling
     limp on the asphalt.

At the light, Arab letters
     dance off the storefront
where the fruit blinks like a casino.
     I think god gave birth to neon.
Hey man,
     what color is it now, I can't tell—
     just go, you'll be all right—
     looks like a rainbow, man—
     and it is:
a rainbow hangs over 31st Street,

coloring the floating front page
     of the City Paper, whispering
about those more than two hundred killed
      in the last few months
who left rowhomes
     crying their open doors.
The radio whispers.
At the bus stop the pavement whispers,
      though it's spit upon and tastes
like nicotine.

Passing now one church, then another,
     the stained glass casts tie-dyed
psalms on the smoke.
Hey man, a stained glass windshield!
     Troy parks. It was at these courts,
when I was thirteen, too young
     and too high for the steel men not
to steal my eyes with a blackened spoon.
     I walked home barefoot; the bouncing
of basketballs sounding like heartbeats.

Our man dances over. Red, black, green
     trade places and intensities before me.
The kids trailing his robes have stashed
     their schoolbooks
and traded with hands fast and small as bats
     their mothers' hallway screaming
for this Moses,
     older than video games—
who calls white kids "baby,"
     this man who isn't daddy.

Drowned out by the bus's engine, our ritual
     explodes. Gone, in a cloud of exhaust.
Troy turns the key in the white shadow.
     Our man touches his cap, remembering—
     Yeah, baby, I'm down with them Beatles, man—
     It's the Stones, man, but it's all good—
he smiles and white light bleeds into the car.
     Ask me now, and I'll say I never saw it,
and you can't ask Troy, you can only
     find him in the papers.

Major Jackson on Paul Hendricks

The author of "Waverly 216" possesses a developed awareness of the shadowy correspondences between the known world and the sublime—more, how mutable, how volatile our lives. What comes under this poet's gaze is the tragedy of urban violence among youth, America's old-new ritual, and thus, the elegy finds its way to the streets once again in story and song. With an exacting, lyrical eye, the language here is fluid and charming and exposes how a landscape is changed by so many deaths and how the loss of a friendship under such circumstances, although clinically reported and tallied, encourages us toward a greater understanding of ourselves.

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