Tyler Barton

1.          On that Fishtown roof we laid down cardboard from the Papa John’s dumpster and danced. Two b-boys, but you were better. The sun had just set, the sky all about that smoky purple light. I set the camcorder on the AC unit and framed you. Thumbs up. Your shirt off. Your face never not ready to be legendary, Wheaties box, movie poster. Elbows loose. Gravel shifting beneath the cardboard, so on 6-steps it looked like we were skating, floating, still but still moving. We didn’t even play a song, I just clapped, because Fuck it, we’d add the track later when something worthy dropped, the new Nas, who knows. This tape, your ticket, my street cred, that bandwagon, or at the very least our guarantee readymade nostalgia like Holy shit Oh my god when we’d find the film decades later in a box after moving to the suburbs, our kids saying, “Daddy, what is?” What did we do? We were teenaged but we knew the tape was the thing, to have proof, to hold in your hands what you’d made. To be named. Like those all-city writers who bombed the maroon SEPTA trolley tour, foreigners gawking at all the thousand city murals like Bitch you got one right there, out the window where your hand hanging, haha. We could see them from the roof. We had a laugh. It was fun. It was more than that, breaking. It was … what’d you always say about dance?


2.          Then that night manager wanted us down. We yelled down on some dumb shit like we were allowed, legit. He sold pizzas. He had pimples. He — I can only see this now — was a kid just doing his job. But we hated his tone, his acne scars. We talked back in kicks, freezes, downrock, windmill, suicide, tossing our arms around like dirty jokes. And when the police showed you grabbed the camera, needed just one lone frame of the lights blinking. A perfect resolution to our tape’s story, despite your mantra, that white tee you sharpied with softy letters: EVERY STORY IS A DANCE WITH NO BEGINNING. We were gonna sell that design. But the cop called us down. He said, “Now.”


3.          And he didn’t help us. No, just called for backup and watched our asses climbing backwards down the gutter. I hit the ground, sprinted deep down the alley, but then he cornered you at the dumpster, threw you to the blacktop. Broken glass in your braids, remember later how I tried to pick it out, you slapped my hand away? We walked home over sidewalks in silence. You had the slightest limp. I didn’t bring it up. I said Peace. You never said Peace.


4.          My daughters asked me why I used to breakdance, which (Praise Jesus) is an easier one than Why don’t you still. I remember I broke to stay sober, needed an addiction different than my dad’s, but you, K, you were always the reverse: drugs made you a poor dancer. You can’t leave out of North Philly without talent. We put our energies into these tapes, these moves, crimes but victimless. We could b-boy anyplace. We only climbed that roof for the view. As if anybody watching the tape would be able to look past you.


5.          That night, the door to your aunt’s building. You turned to me and made a face. You turned it inside out.


6.          Our tape scared the fuck out my girls. “Daddy’s on a roof?” They’d seen a neighbor fall from one. Sits crooked in a wheelchair under the carport now. They giggle at him from our frontyard but pray for his ass at church. You never did have the leg looked at, never watched the video either. Even though I called your aunt’s house on the daily, asking you to come over, let’s watch it, and I had this application Mrs. Raines wanted me to give you for UArts, but you swore: They don’t wanna let us dance there. They just wanna choreograph us. You always sounded right. But that was the problem, lot of times it was only the sound.


7.          My girls, tonight, on the back patio — they’re trying to be you. I’m grading papers. Kia’s tucked in a ball on the concrete, and Becca’s turning her in circles. Backspin. You knew that move. You still know that move. It’s the last one on the tape before the sirens. I know that cop said shit to you, whispered in your ear, bent your arms back like an airflare, kicked your knee. You didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything, standing back fifty feet. We hadn’t done anything. They didn’t know what we were doing. We knew what we were doing. They kept looking around at the ground for dice. Motherfucking dice? A one hitter, baggies. Roaches. What’s it matter? Then he looked right at your body. Stared at your sweat. Like a shirt the way it covered you. You did nothing. The sun’s gone tonight. We’re out of light.


8.          You still ain’t done shit with yourself, with life, your body, the way it can move, freeze, break. With me. I found you online, your name listed in a short article. With mug shots. They got you. With a shotgun. Regardless of whoever did whatever it was. With the tape, in my old notebook, I found your email — bboykk@aim.com — but it bounced back. With gibberish. Now I’m writing on yellow paper. With a pen. Like the way I wrote my rhymes, thinking that since my moves were weak I’d be a rapper. With swagger. But you were right when you said I couldn’t go even eight bars without lying. Like I did just now: cus I don’t know if you did the stick up. They frame your ass? Maybe. I don’t know anything. Another lie: I don’t know if you did shit with your life or not, cus I left, stopped visiting, and you used to call me at my job, after my night classes, the phone blinking red beside the register out at that West Chester Wawa, your dumb drunken crank calls, how I always hung up.


9.          Kia asks why Mommy’s the only one with friends. I gotta chat politics and basketball with their husbands. I don’t know the rules to basketball. What color’s a fucking basketball? One time back in college, when she was just my girl, she asked me to list all the people I’d kissed. I laughed, I don’t know. “You seem upset,” she said.


10.          All that mattered was letting it go. But Mrs. Raines — remember her History class? — she knew too. Said all that matters is being true.


11.          Remember picking our b-boy names from a thesaurus? Sharpies on our arms, you did mine, I did yours. I remember cutting the sleeves off your orange windbreaker. Trendsetter. Vanguard. I’ve never seen another body move like yours. Did we call that night manager Faggot? We were laughing, but did I threaten his life? Did he ask what we were doing on the roof? Was he just curious? Why were we afraid? Was it for no reason? Why did you stay? Some kind of statement nobody could decode? Did that squad car follow us home? Did it follow you alone?


12.          My wife owns every season of So You Think You Can Dance on DVD. Calls it comfort food. I did a shitty 2000 at our wedding, turning on my hands like a top. She pop-locked. I wish you’d been there. Ripped a tear right through my jacket. Fucking breaking in a tux. You believe this? You were the better dancer. But you needed me next to you for proof. Beside me you shined. Your fingers were callused but still soft as communion bread. I’m drunk off pinot. Wine. In the motherfucking suburbs. And almost out of paper.





I was gonna leave it at a twelve-bar, give you the last four, but I forgot about the video, the whole reason I’m writing …

… forget your sweaty braids whipping like branches in a storm, white kicks scuffed grey and brown, the fact that camera wasn’t even centered on us, or ours. Think only of your two legs and an arm held stiff in the air, making the shape of your first initial — K. I made this four-second clip, K. If we’d had more time, K, if the cop call hadn’t gotten through, if the pimpled kid wasn’t scared, K, if police couldn’t speed, if I hadn’t run away, K, you would keep dancing through every letter. Until the whole city knew your name. It plays over and over on my desktop. The girls clap every time it’s done. K. They’re never not clapping for you, for you to finish the sentence.


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