Swapping cigarettes, jabs, chips,
they drift like Rockaway waves
from the boys home into the classroom,
ninth graders no one would bet on,
discarded by split parents.
The deck of misfortune they inherited
keeps shoving them to grow up
the hard way, hustles them
to hazardous fringes,
rips off their blooming.
A hot tide of easy dope
has begun to nettle attitudes,
submerge questioning minds.
And yet their feisty, undefeated spirits
grapple with prison sentences
of poverty; shirtless torsos
flaunt scars, coded storylines
of tested identity,
graffiti pledges of belonging.
Their dicey hands are mauled,
notched, and zigzagged from brutal
battles to breach a barbed-wire fate.
Jumpy after all-night bangs
with gangs prowling Times Square,
they dodge and gamble to exist,
smell like a crowded gym, fists ready
for fast money, to get over
on teachers, settle scores,
stay afloat in the system chiseling them.