Age of Discovery by Matt W. Miller

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shadow of skateboard - rider doing ollie (jump)

“Colonialism hardly ever exploits the whole of a country.”—Franzt Fanon

We did nothing to make those kids hate us, the four or five Puerto Rican boys who strutted up to the busted fountains by Kennedy Plaza where we were skating between section eight housing and city hall. Just skating—my buddies, brothers, and I—grinding concrete corners of marble benches, red-brick steps, railings of wheelchair ramps—all we lacked up our hill of just-cut grass and dad-designed half-pipes slid snugly between hemlock and blacktop. We did nothing to make them hate us, those boys who walked over, roughly dressed, wild haired, hard brown shoulders muscling through Lakers and Nicks tanks. My crew closed ranks at first, just in case, but we did nothing to make them hate us. Soon all of us were hanging out, talking easily with these boys who didn’t go to our school, who didn’t have Bones Brigade decks, Gullwing trucks, Vision shorts, Vans kicks, and Slimeball wheels (so good for carving across paved roads and emptied autumn pools). We said nothing to make them hate us.

The biggest boy rode a rusty beater bike, and he jumped the same steps we ollied over. We laughed, trying to out-trick each other. And everyone was chill and the sun stayed out past eight, and the breezes of coming summer swirled. I missed what set it off, who said or did the thing to make one of them, their youngest, hate us. But suddenly he suckered our youngest, my brother Paul, in the nose. By the time I looked up from a failed kick flip, Paul was bleeding, holding his face, so I skated up to the kid and snatched his Yankees cap and dumped it in a puddle. To get even, not to start a fight, not to make them hate us. Their biggest leapt from his bike and got chin to chin with me, his hot breath yelling about his cousin’s cap. He wanted me to swing, to bring it, sling it, but I didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t. He shoved my puffed out chest, my ratatat heart leaning forward into his hands. What the fuck did we do to make them hate us? I locked my jaw, tried to look mad, knowing that if I threw a punch all this would end badly. We would lose and I would lose. I would have to beg him to stop in front of my friends and brothers who thought I was the tough guy I was pretending to be by giving this kid the satisfaction of a scrap, letting him shove me. But he never threw a real punch either. Why, I could never figure. Then an even bigger kid came from around a corner—their littlest kid had gone to get him. And this kid was actually a man: thick-muscled, bearded from neck to nose and so dark to us against the dusk. We did nothing to make them hate us, and yet their man advanced. And that’s when we knew to scramble, bail and bolt into the stale of city hall.

We found the room where the school committee met in all their suits and skirts, all their faces pale as powder, where parents from up the hill were trying to kill a bill ending all our rec sports. We ran to my mother and tried not to be noticed. Quivering at her feet we watched for those boys to muscle in, to drag us back into their downtown. But they never did find us. They likely never tried. Mom asked what made us run inside. She scowled at us and asked what we must have done to make them hate us. We were so righteous in what we didn’t know.

Matt.Miller.HeadshotMatt W. Miller is the author of the collections The Wounded for the Water (Salomon Poetry), Club Icarus, selected by Major Jackson as the winner of the 2012 Vassar Miller Poetry Prize and Cameo Diner: Poems. He has published poems and essays in Harvard Review, 32 Poems, Narrative Magazine, Notre Dame Review, Adroit Journal, Southwest Review, and crazyhorse, among other journals. Winner of the River Styx Microbrew/Microfiction Prize and Iron Horse Review’s Trifecta Poetry Prize, he is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University and a Walter E. Dakin Fellow in Poetry at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He lives in coastal New Hampshire.


STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Warren R.M. Stuart

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