The Fish He Fry
Slogging up Broadway in a cold rain, I see
a middle-aged black—army jacket, no legs—
in a wheelchair, shaking a cup of coins that
just then slips from his hand, the contents
scattering on the sidewalk. “I’ll get that,”
I say, crouching. He looks away, nods his head.
I pick up the dollar, six quarters, two nickels
and a dime and replace them in the paper cup,
which, soggy and overused, collapses in my hand.
So I do the deed again, handing the tattered cup
back to him with both hands. He takes it in one,
looks to the side, nods. I walk a block, duck
into a pizzeria, wash my hands in the washroom,
get a slice for dinner, then, as I’m leaving,
grab a waxed-paper soda cup. I walk back to the
double amputee. “Here,” I say, “this should work
better.” Nods, takes the cup, transfers the money.
And then, because I’m embarrassed I didn’t
buy him a slice, and because I want, I suppose,
some sort of verbal closure, and because
I’ve just lost one more friend to cancer and
am feeling sideswiped, I say, “What
do you think: Does God care for us? Or
does He maybe have bigger fish to fry?”
Looks sideways, hawks up some phlegm, says
quietly to the mailbox, “We the fish He fry.”
He said, Render unto Caesar
my ass! Whose money is it,
He said, Blessed are the peacemakers.
I own a piece myself—a Colt 45.
He said, Blessed are they that
hunger and thirst; God will take
care of them. My administration
sure as hell won’t.
Build the wall! they shouted.
He said, Blessed are the sick.
We have a terrific country, and
if some of these people don’t
have health insurance, there’s
always the emergency room.
He said Megan Kelly “had
blood coming out of her eyes. Blood
coming out of her . . . wherever.”
He said Ted Cruz’s father
was with Lee Harvey Oswald
shortly before Kennedy was killed.
He said Hillary Clinton
ran a child prostitution ring out of
a D.C. pizzeria.
Lock her up! they chanted.
He said, I’ll bring back waterboarding
and much, much worse.
followed him into the wilderness.
Inscribed on a Bathroom Stall at Yankee Stadium
Take me out of this brawl-game!
Beam me up from this crowd.
What’s with these wing-nuts and crackers, Jack?
I’ll be damned if I’ll ever come back. . . .
Yeah, it’s root-toot-toot for the home team:
tribe, sect, state—it’s the same:
If you’re not like me, then you’re out
at the old ballgame.
How I Learned about Racism
In 1960, my fifth-grade classmate Warren
tagged along with me after school to the prewar
housing development I lived in—a place that,
I had recently noticed, didn’t seem to have any
blacks or Puerto Ricans living there. We hit
the playground with the tall monkey bars.
As we surveyed the world from our roost in
the upper bars, a housing authority policeman
motioned me down. “You may not know it,
but Negroes aren’t allowed in here. Is your
father going to take responsibility for him?”
(Warren, by this time, was standing upright,
striding around on the topmost bars in his
leather wing tips, eight feet above the cement.)
“Of course,” I said.
That evening at dinner,
partly to distract attention from the uneaten
peas on my plate, I told my father what the cop
had said. Dad had taught me years earlier never
to call a Negro a nigger; had deplored the angry
white crowds spitting on the first black kids to
attend the main high school in Little Rock—and
Governor Orval Faubus, who had called out
the Arkansas National Guard to prevent those
kids from attending. Dad finished chewing his
boiled sweet potato. “I hope you said ‘No.’”