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Heading East

February 22nd, 2022

Poem by Carter Cumbo

Artwork by Carter Cumbo

There are no black people left in east Denver, Josh told me, as we drove from downtown. I never saw a white woman with a stroller as a colonist before. And in the starkness of her stride against the red brick row houses, I felt a vast emptiness pushing itself as a wind strong enough to blow Denver back to a boom town, a flattened facade of casino fronts and brothels, the earlier displacement of who was there first. I wanted to remind everyone we are on a field, a big fucking field, a stolen one. But mostly I sensed a nervousness in the car, in myself, driving towards Aurora with a passenger mourning something lost, eclipsed by my vision of nothing but cracked earth and cement, repaired. That time I drove Josh home with an empty car seat in the back, he had picked it up from an apartment while I idled outside. I couldn't tell you the street, I do not know this city, I am a fair-weather face in a knot of one-ways and dive bars. Of confusing bus routes, of underpass murals and restricted chain-link lots, of Colfax Ave and its legacy of sex work. It has known me in the dive bars, the small stages in the back, the larger stages of the Roxy and Cervantes, that bush in five points sucking off a foil, and the basement of The Church, where I first saw a circle of b-boys alchemize bass and send rhythm through their bodies with the power to marry water and bone in a continuous break. I know the fringes, the wasteland of Motel 8 and dispensaries all named “Mile High'' something, the worn-out billboards and the reek of Commerce City smokestacks. I know I was at one moment an Emcee on stage, half spilt into the mesh of a microphone, and at another a hooded co-ed in a brisk strut down Walton Street, the evidence for two men on front steps wondering out loud where their city had gone, naming me the omen of its absence. But still, I don't know this city, not the same as Josh, I could never know… how would I ever know, hand signs elude me, the affiliations of my peers, the way survival makes the ego do funny things, how the last time I saw Josh he was engaged, he was full in face and body, cheekbone with a fresh tattoo of three red dots. He was in love; he was again an expecting father. We ate at Torchy’s Tacos. It was the last time. If I could ask him now, I’d ask, how does it feel? And he’d lift his shirt up and I’d touch his ribs where it entered, a belly button scar on his side, the tattoo of a single pink dot. 

          I mean it when I tell you, I never stay long in the city now, I drive clean through and carry on, left with the vacant recall meant for a memory. He was shot in September, I learned in November, Josh and I had no mutual friends. I googled his obituary.




The east, to travel east in the new white of Denver, there is a world I’m not meant to see and it's right there in the brick, bleeding-out in the arms of an expecting mother, the bearer of immediate reincarnation, the spitting image of what bleeds into the cracked street. 

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