World entered on April 24th of 1943-
Into a home divided by
Religious fanaticism, alcoholism,
Spiritualism, male chauvinism
And the broken marriage of two poor working people
Who were many times out of work.
Into el Asilo de los Pobres
In Mayaguez, Puerto Rico-
Nuns and shelter of the poor-
Attempts at infantile institutionalization
Resisted by bed wetting,
Food snatching, tantrums
And doubt of religious instruction.
Humiliated and abused;
Pervert performing oral stimulation
On my childish organ.
Into arrabales, shanty houses,
Curly haired barefoot boy
With dirty hands and face
Listening to sexual ecstasy
Of father and stepmother
Through a cardboard wall
Sleeping half awake
In an unwashed canvas hammock,
Watching candles aflame to stone idols
Sanctified by the church as saints,
Dreaming with half erected penis,
Not understanding sex.
Into a plane hitting air pockets
All the way to New York,
Frightened half to death like a runaway
From a colony become an undefined commonwealth
Of the Free Associated State of Puerto Rico;
And I, a Puerto Rican,
Now a “little white spic”
With a dark uncle and Indian grandmother.
Into a roach-infested apartment
In front of the Daily News building,
Watching from a window
Americans with cars and money
Passing by while bums roamed the streets.
Watching, listening, learning
A foreign language by ear and memory;
Mimicking American talk in bars,
Americans laughing at me,
Enjoying themselves, giving me nickels and dimes-
My early hustle.
Into public school
Sleeping in the back seat,
Trying, in moments of wakefulness,
To remember a little something-
Words like Oxygen, food, sex, money,
Naked and poor.
Fainting and banging my head against the wall
Saying: “estupido! estupido!”
Making the teacher worry and the others laugh.
Into a Pentecostal church
Drinking coffee and eating crackers,
Listening to gospel songs,
Looking at people jump around
Speaking in strange tongues,
Saying: “sazy zaca suzza su foo la roo!”
Still trying to understand;
The holy and angelic tongues reminding
Of my English mimicry.
Hearing sermons on the burning hell
Of fire and brimstone
Reserved for dummies like me.
Falling asleep in a back seat
And pissing all over the floor
While Christians prayed for my cure.
Into a hospital called Bellevue
With boils all over by body
Which the Chinese doctors could not define;
Sick unto death and saved only
By my faithful praying mother
Anointing me with oil.
Then into Bellevue again
For falling from a fourth floor window
While playing Superman-
Jumping from a fire escape, thinking I could fly.
In the hospital probed by psychiatrists,
Labeled “problem child”,
Refusing to eat my green peas,
Arguing with the nurse,
Flinging peas on the floor.
Bed covered with a fishing net,
Reach out, razor blade in hand,
Cutting the net.
Going to a window
Threatening to jump out,
Thinking I could fly
Like the little angels of heaven
And like Superman on television.
Into the neighbor’s apartment
Through the fire escape window;
Stealing a flashlight, seven dollars,
Jewelry, other things,
Leaving a cigar in his mouth
While he slept his drunkenness away.
Stripped by a fanatical preacher stepfather
And whipped with a belt till blue,
Left alone and naked.
Taken to children’s court
And signed away to Wiltwyck,
School for problem and troubled children,
Upstate, away from home.
Mixing, integrating, learning crime,
Watching and enjoying homosexual acts,
Beaten, abused, anglonized
In name and education.
A wild and runaway child,
In fear, dread, trembling,
Confused and then set loose.
Into gangs, school brawls,
Hating whitey as all spics and niggers
Are taught to do by the American way of life;
Yet having white friends,
Black and Puerto Rican brothers,
Confused like me;
Trying to survive in a hostile land,
Learning to fight in order to live
In the cruel American world;
Dancing to Lord Price, Presley, The Platters, The Teenagers,
Drinking wine and smoking pot-
The unprescribed medicine for pain-
Jitterbugging my way to Puerto Rico again.
Into the island, into Mayaguez,
Land and town of my birth,
Living in squalor,
Without feeling the pain in me;
Seeing a stepmother hang while a rope from my hammock
Squeezed her troubled soul out of this world;
Indifferent to pain and poverty,
Smiling at those Puerto Ricans who kept the watch
All night long over her dead body
Shedding their funeral tears and praying
So that her soul might rest in peace.
My father scolded me for not believing
In disembodied spirits
While he drank bottled spirits to ease his pain.
Trouble all around.
My girl calling me a hoodlum,
Smacking my face in public,
And I, drunk over puppy love,
Getting into a fight,
Trying to cut another boy’s neck,
When he threw bottles at me.
Arrested and sent away again,
Into the industrial school in Mayaguez
With bars on the windows.
Forced to work, refusing, resisting,
Loving Puerto Ricans
But hating institutions,
Hating tough guys
Because I wanted to be tough and rough;
Beat up again by administrators,
Refusing helping hands,
Cursing gentle voices,
Becoming hard and strong,
Fighting off sexual advances,
Making love with some,
Slowly becoming a person-
Alienated from all but myself.
Escaping again and again
Till escaping at last;
Not willing to be criminalized
Nor penalized nor institutionalized,
Like a runaway slave
In flight for my life.
Into New York again,
Joining the Mau Maus at Fort Green,
Stabbing, drinking, schooling,
Fooling, rolling, desperate and angry
At something, someone,
Stealing a car, put on probation,
Never reporting, always on the run;
Facing the cruel world-un macho at last
With leather jacket, brass knuckles,
Chain, knife, gun and all;
Gang fighter, street rumbler,
Rebel in an unknown cause,
Run out of Brooklyn by white boys,
Learning to hate in generalized terms
Anglos, Blacks, Ricans
And all those who needed my hate-
Half devil, half saint, part time pimp,
Part time male prostitute,
Part this and part that,
With a little spice and a little nice
But never complete.
Into a playground with a gang
Bearing a knife that I never used
And wearing a cape to look sinister and cruel.
Taking the blame for what I did not do,
Wanting to strike back at a cruel society-
Losing my soul in infamy.
Fading into a bloody night away from the world or reality,
Seeking importance and immortality.
Trapped by a legal system which believed the story
Of a wild and crazy child;
Which sensationalized crime in newspapers, movies, TV,
Never looking at the truth,
Believing the lies of a sixteen year old
With the mind of a twelve year child’
A system ready to kill a mentally disturbed child
In the electric chair
To take public revenge and appease public uproar.
Into a prison, a mental hospital,
Strip cells, beatings,
The Caped Crusader went, innocent of mind’
For eighteen years he struggled
For life, liberty, dignity;
Educating himself, rehabilitating himself,
Revolutionizing his mind and body
In spite for dehumanizing
Concrete, steel and iron penal systems’
Redirecting his hate intelligently,
Changing souls and conditions around him
Fighting the pigs,
Struggling for life.
Have I not earned the right
To freedom and flight?
Into Fishkill the revolutionary went
With fist and book,
With pen and need to reveal,
With courage for sacrifice,
To protest those injustices that persist.
Call me what you please-
I work and fight for the poor.
I must continue like this until you understand
That someday I will return
To pick up the struggle where I went wrong.
Into the streets
Better and ready I come’
Ready for struggle, liberation
Through power and love.
Freedom belongs to the strong.