Mark Ali is an English teacher, program coordinator and Bay Area Writing Project teacher. His work has appeared in several literary journals, including Big Muddy, Cimarron Review, Digital Paper, Forge Journal, Lalitamba Magazine, SLAB, Superstition Review, The Penmen Review and Verdad. He has attended the writing workshops A Thousand Words, Room to Write, and Gather, and has studied with Stephen D. Gutierrez and Marty Williams. In his spare time, Mark likes to cook, listen to music, and is an amateur cartoonist. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife and two sons.
Westside of Lithuania
We ran hard, on the balls of our feet.
We couldn’t afford our heels hitting the ground; we were forerunners.
We hadn’t been juveniles since we knew the word for a boner was an erection, and by the actions of police officers and school administrators, shopkeepers and store owners, that people in positions of power seemed to have a hard-on for fucking with us.
As friends, we formed a brotherhood, curated a bond beyond bloodlines.
Our collective desire was to be the deviation in the control.
The Commons, the houses we lived in, were like a stranded island, the middle of nowhere, but the center of somewhere, both at the same time. We made a pact to be survivors of the project we were subjected to. Yeah, we were from the Westside, and no matter where we went, we knew that’s what we would always be thought of, as Westsiders. It didn’t matter if someone considered us to be flotsam or jetsam, we knew if we were going to sink or swim, we had to outthink our environment to escape it, whether it be Lithuania or some local place that seemed as foreign to us as a Baltic state even if it was just a toll bridge away. We were voyagers on a crusade, and knew even when our bodies were still, our minds had to always be racing.
Our runs up hills were strategic, tactical.
We weren’t running from, we were running toward.
We were all digging in as we kicked up dirt, trying to break ground.
We were going to be pioneers.
We might not be yelling “Eureka!” but we were going to strike gold.
We lived on streets named after dead presidents even though we were dead broke.
We realized our American tender was our flesh and blood; our bodies were what we had to barter, what they could produce, pump up, or push out. It’s something we still have in common with our ancestors, our foremothers and forefathers who were treated like faux folks, who picked cotton for Massa and busted up chifforobes for Ellie Mae and Mayella, who breastfed babies they didn’t want to be suckled by or ones they were forced to conceive. Our forefolks didn’t have the privilege to grandstand, so they stood the hell up. It was our turn now. The legacy we shared was the sum worth of our physical frames, the physical pain we could endure, the physical prowess we could exert. We owed it to them, to ourselves, to not only survive but thrive, pitch a new course, cross bridges that seem foreign to us but should be familiar.
At the fork in the road we were going straight ahead, not right, nor left.