How Young Boys Survive the Ghetto: 101

By Taylor Byas

—after “Ghetto Boy, Chicago, Illinois,”
by Gordon Parks, 1953

Play house. Climb on a chair of shit-stained paisley
in an alley, avoid the broken bottles. Cut
your momma’s housedress, make a cape that’s maybe
a size too big. Pose for this camera, strut

like the pimps that limp these streets in zoot suits, caned
and gold-toothed. Know the power of a stuck-out
hip, its demand for respect. Practice your slang,
and call the women shorties until you luck out,

get slapped upside the head. Don’t turn around.
Don’t look behind and see the world’s kept going,
that Eldorado dropping down to the ground,
its rims still spinning, pool-hall lights still glowing—

boy look into this lens, let me remember you
like this, carefree, acting a fool like you always do.

Taylor Byas is a 23-year-old Chicago native. She’s spent her last six years in Birmingham, Alabama, where she received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and she has begun the Ph.D program in creative writing at the University of Cincinnati. Her work appears or is forthcoming in the journal Sanctuary and High Shelf Press.

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