Always Running

All night vigil.
My two-and-a-half-year-old boy
and his 10-month-old sister
lay on the same bed,
facing opposite ends;
their feet touching.
They looked soft, peaceful,
bundled there in strands of blankets.
I brushed away roaches that meandered
across their faces,
but not even that could wake them.
Outside, the dark cover of night tore
as daybreak bloomed like a rose
on a stem of thorns.
I sat down on the backsteps,
gazing across the yellowed yard.
A 1954 Chevy Bel-Air stared back.
It was my favorite possession.
I hated it just then.
It didn’t start when I tried to get it going
earlier that night. It had a bad solenoid.
I held a 12-gauge shotgun across my lap.
I expected trouble from the Paragons gang
of the west Lynwood barrio.
Somebody said I dove the car
that dudes from Colonia Watts used
to shoot up the Paragons’ neighborhood.
But I got more than trouble that night.
My wife had left around 10 p.m.
to take a friend of mine home.
She didn’t come back.
I wanted to kill somebody.
At moments, it had nothing to do
with the Paragons.
It had to do with a woman I loved.
But who to kill? Not her–
sweet allure wrapped in a black skirt.
I’d kill myself first.
Kill me first?
But she was the one who quit!
Kill her? No, think man! I was hurt, angry. . .
but to kill her? To kill a Paragon?
To kill anybody?
I went into the house
and put the gun away.
Later that morning, my wife came for her things:
some clothes, the babies. . . their toys.
A radio, broken TV, and some dishes remained.
I didn’t stop her.
There was nothing to say that my face
didn’t explain already.
Nothing to do. . . but run.
So I drove the long haul to Downey
and parked near an enclosed area
alongside the Los Angeles River.
I got out of the car,
climbed over the fence
and stumbled down the slopes.
A small line of water rippled in the middle.
On rainy days this place flooded and flowed,
but most of the time it was dry
with dumped garbage and dismembered furniture.
Since a child, the river and its veins of canals
were places for me to think. Places to heal.
Once on the river’s bed, I began to cleanse.
I ran.
I ran into the mist of morning,
carrying the heat of emotion
through the sun’s rays;
I ran past the factories
that lay smack in the middle
of somebody’s backyard.
I ran past alleys with overturned trashcans
and mounds of tires.
Debris lay underfoot. Overgrown weeds
scraped my legs as I streamed past;
recalling the song of bullets
that whirred in the wind.
I ran across bridges, beneath overhead passes,
and then back alongside the infested walls
of the concrete river;
splashing rainwater as I threaded,
my heels colliding against the pavement.
So much energy propelled my legs
and, just like the river,
it went on for miles.
When all was gone,
the concrete river
was always there
and me, always running.

Luis Rodriguez , "Always Running" from The Concrete River.  Copyright © 1991 by Luis Rodriguez.  Reprinted by permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services.
More Poems by Luis J. Rodríguez