Hit & Run
What happened on that Sunday afternoon
to make instinct suddenly kick in
transform her from stick-in-the-mouth
happy-go-lucky lab to timber wolf
in a heartbeat? When the vet pronounced her dead
from internal bleeding, my mother said
“That’s it. I’ll never have another dog
as long as I live.” And for thirty-two years
she kept her promise. She’d never run
so wild before, oblivious to shouts and whistles
pursuing her vanishing shape. Hours passed
and we assumed she’d find her way back home
eventually—but then the phone rang
at dinnertime, gently informing us
Sasha had been hit by a car and lay
at the intersection of York and Padonia roads,
her ribcage crushed. To make things even worse
it was a hit-and-run. We left the food
half-warm on the table and hurried out.
The road was only half a mile away—
minutes by car—but it was a thoroughfare
and traffic still intense as we approached
the scene of the accident. She lay wrapped
in a blanket, panting heavily, hanging on,
eyes an apologetic shade of brown
every last trace of wolfishness erased
from her guileless face. I leaned over
and stroked her soft comforting velvet ears,
still perky with life. As they lifted her
into the ambulance, I took her side
and kissed her coat until her world went black.
We spent the summers at our doomed skatepark
scraping our egos, learning to fly
over ragged decks stacked twenty inches high
slamming on the hard cement
of a repurposed basketball court
knees swelling with pus and pain
as we pushed past miles
of suburban sprawl ‒ hellbent,
wheels clacking over slabs of sidewalk
shades of Sahara, gas station after
gas station after gas station
abandoned and reclaimed
by imagination. We’d grind
blocks perilous with motor oil, slide
rails erected for the disabled.
Chaos announced us to pedestrians
darting this way and that
like fish before an encroaching menace.
Our stomping grounds were asphalt parking lots
with slick red curbs marked BUS or FIRE LANE,
shopping malls rich with skate shops, walls ablaze
with dragon skulls and horrored talismans
of prepubescent ire. “Skate and Destroy”
admonished stickers on our tattered boards
t-shirts screaming out metallic logos
of our favorite bands. We were misfits
in the public eye, our passion punishable
by law. Lutherville was the one place
they gave us ‒ or we took from them
depending whom you ask. We’d flirt with girls
hair jubilant as fire-licked Easter eggs
crosslegged on the chained-up picnic table
graffitiing its snarled wooden eyes
with magic marker, heads bobbing in time
to punk rock on a portable tape deck.
Then one day, just like that, it closed.
A city ordinance proclaimed the park—
the only one in a hundred miles of us—
a safety hazard, its gates padlocked
and openings promptly slashed
in the chain-link fence
for clandestine entry. From that day on
we skated with the throb of lawlessness
inside our hearts, till overnight
the whole dream finally dissolved
the ramps we’d hammered into shape
with our bare hands dismantled, trashed,
as the basketball players returned
to rightful ownership of their court
and we to repossession of the streets.
“Daredevil skateboarder Pablo Ramirez killed by dump truck on Seventh Street in SoMa.”
– San Francisco Chronicle, April 23, 2019
Any one of us might have died that day
blindsided by a backtracking dump truck
at 60 mph on a downhill rampage
for the cameras. It was bound to happen,
newsfeeds snickered over morning coffee
feeding the grist of another bad day
in skateboarding. They’re crazy, anyway.
Death must be corkscrewed into our genes,
ensnared in our DNA. What else makes
a person leap a car, then bomb a hill
in a city built like a rollercoaster
past indifferent intersections, traffic lights
regulating all but one’s booming pulse?
The papers said he came to San Francisco
from New York City, on the trail of speed.
A drug, yes, but it’s not necessary
to snort it, shoot it, manufacture it.
It’s right there in plain sight—four urethane wheels
strapped to a maple deck.
………………………………………….You find a hill
like the gentle one snaking down my street
drawing a gravelly S-curve of asphalt
before my bedroom window, hold your breath
and go—the rest is in the capricious hands
of Fate. I’d jump off in the grass, tumble
like a football player, head tucked, shoulder arced
to the ground, get up and walk back up
to where I’d come from, the crest of the hill
at the cemetery gate. I’d scan for cars
before the rubber of my soles left Earth
and coasting I’d begin to taste the wind
inside my mouth. Slowly carving, sliding
to modulate my speed, calculating
a thousand data sets unconsciously
my adolescent brain a supercomputer
engaged in saving my body from disaster.
I’d pass Mr. Leland in the driveway
washing his lime-green Corvette for the tenth
time that year. He’d wave as I sped by
heading down the most treacherous stretch
of road in my suburban neighborhood.
I’d spy the cars a hundred feet ahead—
the Volvos, Chevys, hatchbacks and sedans
approaching my foreshortened field of vision
and think: these will be my undertakers.
Just then, I’d say a little godless prayer
and veer off into the last flowerbeds
of my neighbors’ yards, upturn the topsoil
then stare out into traffic, holding myself,
shaking—ready to do it all again.
With Our Bare Hands
We were strong then. We were makers of worlds.
Our ramp went up in an abandoned field
between my old elementary school
and the newly-minted public library.
Wedged in among the weeds, a screen of trees
protected it from polite indiscretions
of busybody neighbors, bored police,
and county board members in off-hours.
What wood we could we stole—the rest we bought
with money earned from mowing local lawns
on Saturdays, Air Jordans stained grass-green
from mulch, pounding back the Gatorade
the volume on our Walkmans deafening
against the lawnmowers’ pastoral roar.
At fifteen, the fundamentals of carpentry
ran in our blood—keen eyes surveyed the land
for scraps of metal coping, 2x4s,
whatever patched a hole or scratched the itch
inside our souls. We were industrious
and rarely bored, constantly tinkering,
sawing, planing, drilling, hammering,
our backyards more like Nantucket shipyards
or the Tower of Babel nudging heaven
in rickety glory than what they were:
a social experiment. Parentless teens
armed to the teeth with deadly power tools
didn’t revert to monsters like Jack and Piggy
but set themselves goals and completed tasks
as if they were stipended office hacks.
Ramps sprang up everywhere: in cul-de-sacs,
backwoods, at the dead-ends of dead-end streets,
in rural hamlets teeming with horse farms
and sleepy cattle grazing under clouds
every one of them built by hands like ours—
hands that on other bodies packed switchblades,
shot heroin. Some were our classmates, peers
snatched from sycamore-clad suburban homes
by alien fingers, vaporous nemeses
that seeped in through open summer windows
and siphoned life from them one by one by one.
My closest friend would slip a makeshift noose
around his neck in a Baltimore jail cell
sick of the getting clean, the relapsing,
the sisyphean tasks and fool’s errands,
the 12-step programs amounting to dust.
Last time I saw him, he’d gone purple,
his face bloated, a mop of sandy hair
over one eye like a strung-out Beach Boy.
My father died that winter. By mid-spring
I was back at the ramp working up lines
smacking my lip tricks with an added crack
of anger. Life had veered off the rails. My grades
suffered the shock. Skating was all there was
to hold, but could I make myself believe
in its fuzzy logic of transitions,
its dogmas of asphalt, its stone-hard promises
of polyurethane? What was to be done
with wild orphans of godless parentage
spinning 360 flips in parking lots
of churches while worshippers bent over pews
psalter-in-hand, passing around the hat
for alms? We were a most unholy crew
of argonauts, scraping by on thin wits
driven half-mad by an unconscious quest
for air, the ethereal thrill of flight
as if, like fallen Icarus, we might
flirt with the gods just long enough to singe
our wooden wings, then perish in the sun.
© Marc Alan Di Martino
Marc Alan Di Martino is a two-time Pushcart-nominated poet and author of the collection Unburial (Kelsay Books, 2019). His work appears in Rattle, Baltimore Review, Palette Poetry, Rivet Journal and many other places, including the anthologies Unsheathed: 24 Contemporary Poets Take Up the Knife (Kingly Street Press, 2019) and What Remains: The Many Ways We Say Goodbye (Gelles-Cole, 2019). His second collection, Still Life with City, is forthcoming from Pski’s Porch in 2020. He lives in Italy with his family.