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Three young boys, barely teens, walked ahead of me
on Forty-Ninth one night. Though I was ashamed, I crossed the street.
And at first we just walked south together, each on our own side,

shadows sliding over darkened row homes, but when I passed them
they stopped talking. Then footsteps came behind me.
Hey oldhead, a voice called out, you want to go?

No, thank you, I said and raised my hand as if he’d asked me
to sign a petition. At the corner I turned on Springfield,
but the tapping of their shoes came too.

You following me? I asked and watched them
hesitate, nervous as hatchlings at the edge of the nest—
who would want this to be their sky?—until one stepped forward,

and spread his arms as wide as a fourteen-year-old can.
What are you going to do? Call the police?
Of course not, I thought, you little shit.

Later, at the park, Joey told me how he was jumped
in a different city. The kids wouldn’t back down,
not even when he pulled a knife. He said

he saw himself, as if from outside, with this gleam
pointed at a child, then put the blade down,
let them have everything.



Caleb Nolen completed his MFA at the University of Virginia and has received support from Blue Mountain Center and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where he was a work-study scholar. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Fence, Georgia Review, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife in the Shenandoah Valley, where he is working on his first book.




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