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Excerpt from UNDER BERLIN (from the Open Mic anthology

The subway’s kinda like
Watching reality TV—
you see all kinds.
I’ve seen the clothes change
from season to season since we got here:
Shorts and pork pie hats and flip flops
in summer
become heavy coats and fur caps and boots
by winter.
There’s funny looking people:
hipster artist types trying to act all Euro-cool,
workers reading big ol’ novels,
students bopping to their iPods,
tourists looking lost and confused.
But most of all,
old people.
Lots of ‘em.
I don’t think I ever seen
so many old people before.
Daddy says they ain’t that old,
they just look it.
Ex-communists
who lost their way of life
when the Wall came down.
You’d think they’d be happy,
but the older ones aren’t.
They like making your life
miserable
‘cause they can’t have it their way
anymore.
Daddy says, just kill ‘em
with kindness.
But they never smile,
or give us the time of day.

Daddy looks around for a place
to park our butts.
The train is jam-packed—
No place to go.
But he smiles,
winks at me
and nods toward
two older women,
all uptight with little glasses
and what they think passes
for style: beige pants, beige jackets,
a colorful scarf
 and poofy colored hair.
To me, it seems
they all dress the same,
like they in the same old people’s club
 or something.

There is one empty seat
between them.
Or at least
Daddy thinks there is.
It’s more like a small gap
but it’ll do.
“Honey, it’s on,” he says,
pointing to their row.
“Not funny, Papi,” Mom says,
frowning.
I look at the old ladies,
especially the one
with a bright red mop of Lola hair
who holds a small dog
as sour as she is.
I laugh. “Good luck with that.”

Daddy shrugs. “I didn’t invent the rules.
I just play the game.”
“Some role model,” Oscar pipes in,
taking mom’s side.
“Mama’s boy,” I say.
“Daddy’s girl,” he says, all cutesy
‘cause he knows I hate that.
Daddy puts his hands
on our heads.
“Y’all missed
the freedom bus protests,
so you have no idea,” he says.
Mom clears her throat.
“Papi, you were two years old back then,”
She says, blowing his cover.
Daddy gives her a look and shrugs.
“Just sayin’. Now let your man
go to work.”
He adjusts his tie,
smoothes back his goatee
and heads towards the two old ladies,
all smiles and southern charm.
He tips his invisible hat
and says in his best Alabama-German:
”How y’all doin’, fraw-lines?”
then motions to the empty spot.
They grimace,
like they just swallowed
something bad.
Dan-ka, ma’ams,” he says politely,
not waiting for an answer.
He wiggles between them,
Clears his throat
and waits
for the next move…

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