Patricia Dubrava

Another young black man fallen

For De’Quan Walker-Smith

You can’t stop evil. You can only mark it.
— Laurens van der Post

Across the park from Manual High,
we circle his curbside memorial:
flowers, balloons, and teddy bears.
Where balloons now bob in the breeze, he stood.
A car drove past and someone pulled a trigger.

Maybe 100 people gather, mostly black,
splattered with a fourth of us whites,
mostly middle class. The blacks
are mixed middle class and poor.
What’s the tell for class in America?
What clues give it away? Bad teeth?
Baseball caps? Hoodies?

Darrell, coffee dark in his gray suit, tie
and camel-hair coat, gives me a hug,
came straight from work, where, he says,
ruefully, they make him dress like this.

A loose knot of young black men—smoking,
sagging—hang beyond the range
of our peace-making fire, wary as wolves
finding their territory occupied.
They don’t look like they came to grieve.

We share the flame, passing it on,
but though hands cup them,
chance winds keep blowing our candles out.

In our flickering circle, community leaders
plead against retaliation.
Across Fuller Park, security idle their SUVs
before the school doors like palace guards.
Police hover at the intersections:
here on business, their faces masked.

A lean man in a black do-rag, the father speaks:
“I got three sons, so had a lotta gang stuff ta deal wit,
ya know wha’ I’m sayin’. This ‘as my baby,
ya know. Thank y’all for being here for us.
I don’ know what else to say.”

We’ve walked these streets thirty years
and never felt afraid, yet each time the sons
of our black and Latino neighbors
leave their homes, we shiver:
they are the ones at risk.

In the Post this same old story
merits passing mention
the day after it happens, then disappears.
Denver has a new quarterback, after all.
What’s the tell for class in America?
The notice we grant when you die?

— Patricia Dubrava

March in Denver

Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. —Kenneth Grahame

Glancing over our shoulders
from the view six days into March gives,
February was a long cold time this year,
more snow in the city than even old timers recall.
The emerald spears of tulip and crocus
surprise us: winter makes us forget
the possibility of any other weather,
comes to seem the sole season of our lives.
A block up the slope of our street,
beyond the high school’s playing fields, the view
of the Front Range culminates in Long’s Peak,
high country deep in snow, its white purity
shimmering against blue like the mirage
of another world.

Here the yellow tips of the lilac swell,
begin to turn chartreuse, and warming sun pours
pale blessings over our heads and down our arms.
Yes, winter will return, as soon as tomorrow.
But today, we blink in outdoor air like newborns,
relish the tart taste of wanting again
what we listlessly abandoned weeks ago.
We consider impatiens for that place beneath the peach tree,
widen our eyes at the divine purple of dwarf iris,
and think we might make something of ourselves after all.

– Patricia Dubrava

November Hay Bales

On the autumn road to Kansas City,
towheaded corn fields wear rough crew cuts,
the artificial turf green of winter wheat glares
amid brown and rust colored rectangles
on rolling plains beneath forever blue,
beneath long lines of flat-bottomed clouds—
but the thing you notice most are the hay bales,
their round barrel ends smashed flat
where they rest on the ground.

Sometimes your eye travels to distant islands,
their foliage punctuating a palomino sea,
those trees in a treeless land
a sure sign of human habitation.
You count the few churches that rise
above the horizon, gray stone monuments,
cross-capped steeples, their trees huddled close.
By hour five you tire of grain silos being the only structure
to regularly do the same—at every town
those cold white cylinders, the likes of ConAgra,
are first to announce human industry.

But in eastern Colorado and western Kansas,
your gaze returns to the hay bales as obsessively as Monet’s—
some saran-wrapped, gleaming green-streaked silver,
others fuzzed and tawny, stacked like wooden kegs,
their short, thick cylinders as uniform
as mechanical balers can make them.
They lie white-frosted in the chilled break of day,
golden at noon, sliced by blue-black shadows
on their far flanks as the sun falls to the west,
dotting six hundred miles of fallow fields—
what you notice most are the hay bales.

— Patricia Dubrava

Funeral for a Magpie

In the sunny breakfast room,
I am finishing the comics, still bitter
over their dropping Doonesbury,
when the magpies create a cacophany.
Magpies are raucous by nature,
but this flap is an outburst beyond the pale,
even for them.
I go to the back porch, thinking
these scavenger bullies have again cornered the neighbor’s cat,
find three of them fluttering from branch to branch
of my peach tree, peering down and screaming.
I cross the yard to find a magpie
at the peach tree’s roots, full grown,
freshly dead, already covered in flies.
The mourners raise their raspy din a notch.
Returning with a bag and shovel, I look up
into branches quivering with noise and say,
“I’m sorry for your loss,”
(cliché, but all I can think of)
carry the carcass to the alley
for dumpster burial in plastic, shut the lid,
turn to see not a black and white feather in sight,
and listen to sudden silence.

— Patricia Dubrava

Balarat Night Hike, 2005
for the graduating creative writers

Footfalls on gravel and ice,
wind through pines
and the faint squeak of stepped in snow:
no other sound.

Moon going for half,
ponderosa shadows inking
over ash
and alabaster ground.

Our waiting nightwalkers
are on their backs,
In the lodge later,
the caress of mud dries
on their coats like a badge of honor.

Denver’s luminous amber pulsates
beyond the burn,
over the white mountain flank scored
with a welter of black quills.

Michael strides purposefully past me
on his last solo,
suddenly looking in the moonlight
like a man,

and I nod, yes,
that’s what they do—
walk on alone,
until we lose sight of them.

— Patricia Dubrava

The Blond Assassin

Apparently with no surprise
To any happy Flower
The Frost beheads it at its play—
In accidental power—
The blond assassin passes on—
The Sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another Day
For an Approving God.

I recalled this Emily Dickinson poem on my fall retreat in the Black Forest the year record-breaking cold left the pines at noon looking as if they’d been filmed in black and white at dusk—a steely gray that just hinted at the green beneath. The meadow grass, its long, loopy blades gone to seed, was encased in white like a sudden crop of linguini. Hard freeze, weathermen call it. Hard time. I don’t know if they were surprised or not, but the potted red geraniums by my door had definitely been beheaded when I got home to Denver—khaki stems slumped over glazed blue ceramic. Trees whose green leaves glistened Friday, were brown shriveled corpses of themselves Monday, their chance for that flare of gold before dying gone. Hard life. We writhe on its hard bed, the blond assassin indifferent, the sun continuing to pass without a pause. And God? Emily says He approves. The day my mother died, her grandson, with his newborn daughter, was in the room. Attending to his baby girl, he did not mark when the old woman silently took her last breath, sun high in the morning sky, God nodding all the while.

— Patricia Dubrava

Manual High School’s Class of 2001

The Russian olive trees were small and solitary, in a row by the barren shortcut path at the western edge of Fuller Park. The park was separated from Manual High School by 28th Avenue, and the RTD bus rumbled past every twenty minutes. By the time the class of 2001 reached high school, that block of 28th Avenue was gone and the front of the school joined public park lawn, with a wide sidewalk to recall where the street had been. For me, living half a block away, the change was lovely, reducing traffic noise, giving me a new path to walk.

Those 2001 graduates arrived as ninth graders after 28th Avenue was vacated, must have thought of the park as theirs, to decide to do what they did. The first time I walked through Fuller after their senior gift, tiny new plants were set in beds of bright wood chips, and three new benches were bolted to pads of concrete on that shortcut path. On one of those pads, the fifteen who did the digging left the year and their handprints.

Almost a decade has passed and on the Class of 2001 garden path now, those sprigs have long since become large bushes, daylilies bloom thickly, and the indomitably invasive Russian olives arch overhead, shading benches that stood in sun before. Some years the section is cleaned and weeded; some it seems forgotten and dandelions choke the borders.

Behind those benches now there’s a fenced-in dog park, the lawn within it turned to packed dirt, the people who use it daily largely white and young, with dogs on leashes, cell phones at ears and babies in strollers. The loud dice games that used to happen in the park have moved elsewhere. Manual was closed for poor performance in 2006, reopened in 2007 as a new school, one that had become largely Hispanic.

When I moved into my Victorian house in 1984, busing was still in place and Manual was half white, half black. I went to a pancake breakfast at Holy Redeemer Episcopal Church down the street and met an elderly black gentleman who had been principal of Manual when busing began in the early 1970s. “Those kids sat in my office and told me they had a chance to do what their parents could not have done and were not going to mess that up.” The integration of the school went forward, he said, without a problem.

Some feared the school would not re-open once it closed, but now they’ve re-done the football field and remodeled classrooms and in 2011 will graduate their first class. Neighbors like me will have our exercise on the track restricted to times it can be staffed: tall new security fences surround the state of the art artificial turf with its bright new lines and numbers. I understand that: I wouldn’t want to see the place tagged or vandalized, now that it looks so good. I’ll miss the summer morning view of the front range, and my turn around the track, but still have my walk around the school building, through Fuller Park and the handprint shortcut.

Manual’s class of 2001 is pushing thirty now. They’ve finished college or military service, have jobs or careers. They’ve married, have children. But the class of 2001, at least the fifteen who left their prints, should know that some July evenings a woman sits on the west-facing bench to watch the sunset from that sweet bower. She has tried out their handprints: some are too small, some too big, and several just right. It was May 2001 when these young people went off into the world. None of us knew what the fall would bring. They didn’t sign their names, just pressed their handprints into permanence in the early spring of a more innocent time.

— Patricia Dubrava

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1 Comment

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One response to “Patricia Dubrava

  1. Emily

    ‘Another Young Black Man’ was beautiful!!! Horribly sad, but, at least you marked his passing with something beautiful…

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