Of all the things I’ve tried to do

I was probably worst at selling weed — 
robbed weekly, used too much
of my own product, cut each bag
with a dash of oregano — 
but then I have to consider that summer
Matty asked me to help him boost cars,
his dad called me a liability — 
too paranoid to be lookout,
too shaky to use the slim jim,
didn’t even know how to drive stick — 
oh yeah, & let’s not forget
that time Mo almost lost an arm
after I convinced him to pay me
twenty bucks to stitch his wound
with fishing line instead of going
to the hospital, or that time
I convinced Aliyah to let me
tattoo a cross on her ankle
with a safety pin & a ballpoint — 
& then there’s that time I swiped
a Stentor from Carl Magee’s locker
& tried to set myself straight
by becoming a violinist,
but of course, the noise complaints,
the neighbors banging the portraits
off the walls, the boys talking shit,
calling me prodigy, fancy chink — 
& I wonder if they’re still having
a good laugh, like when they found out
I wanted to be a poet & so they glued
roses & violets to the hood of my Kia,
& so maybe I wanted, for the first time,
to prove them wrong, prove
I didn’t belong there,
& so maybe I made new friends — 
friends who wrote poems,
who sat around talking about poems,
who went to school to study poems
and lived in off-campus apartments
where I crashed on nights
I got too fucked up on white boy drugs
to drive back to the Eastside,
where, even without me, the rosin glow
of junkers trace the block, where Mandy,
three years sober, tucks the kids
into bed, where Lee,
first in his class, spray-paints
the fleet of stolen bikes gold,
where Andrew stands in the kitchen
reading the Bible in the dim light
from the microwave, where Nikki,
years later, coming home
after a double at Champps, calls
to wish me a happy birthday,
& I am, of course, too busy
to answer — somewhere in a different time
zone, at a swanky party celebrating a man
I do not know, who just won an award
for a book I have not read
& the woman who smells of citrus,
who’s been raving to me all night
about how much she admires my work,
excuses herself to use the bathroom,
leaving, in the seat beside me, her open purse.

More Poems by Hieu Minh Nguyen