Sam by Jason Baldinger

Sam was from Saudi Arabia
at least his parents were, Sam was born in New York
I never met his parents, but Sam sounded like me although his skin was darker
who really notices, this was before 9/11, before Muslim’s were evil
Maybe they were always evil, maybe I didn’t notice that Sam was different
race disappears when you spend time in proximity with someone
who, at the surface is different than you

Sam and I worked together in big box hell
We worked three to eleven most nights
I worked sporting goods and automotive, I think Sam worked pets

After work a group of us would pile in a car head for Eat & Park
We drank coffee till four, find a parking lot to run, burn off caffeine
There were 5 or 6 of us: Sam, me, my brother, a few others
We were too young to drink legally, we didn’t care
We wanted to be young, run around all night
we were a little crazy chasing no consequence
running like hell before responsibility took over

One night riding with Sam
doing donuts, doing neutral drops
we traced parking lots that tied malls together
having fun, no traffic, no one hurting anyone
except the transmission of Sam’s parents minivan

Cop cars direct traffic nearby, ongoing construction
a cruiser rolls down, lights on, tongue out in the dark
Sam pulls over

I don’t know when the cop realized Sam was an Arab
Sam tried to be polite in the face of rough accusation
Sam continued to be polite as the cop opened the door
ripped Sam out of the front seat, tossed him head first
into the side of the van calling him a “sand nigger”

I never heard that set of together words before
I wouldn’t hear them again for five years, only then after towers fell
the cop’s partner shines light in my eyes asks if I have a problem
powerless, seasoned by a run in or two with jackass cops
I only tip my hat and say no

Sam now in an arm bar, the cop’s partner writes the ticket
Sam tries to be polite, not crying out, saying sir
finally Sam’s let go, with a ticket, a heavy fine and a sore arm

I apologize as we drive away, not sure what to do
Sam is less concerned about cops
more about parent’s, tickets and dents
We ride silent to get coffee
dour at the table, no one asks, no one needs explain
The system points out differences maybe we wouldn’t notice otherwise

I lost track of Sam thereafter
I lost track of almost everyone from that summer
still some of those seasonal lessons have stayed with me

Jason Baldinger
Jason Baldinger has spent a life in odd jobs, if only poetry was the strangest of them he’d have far less to talk about. He’s traveled the country and written a few books, the latest of which are The Lower 48 (Six Gallery Press) and The Studs Terkel Blues (Night Ballet Press). A short litany of publishing credits include Blast Furnace, The Glassblock, Lilliput Review, Green Panda Press, Pittsburgh Poetry Review and Fuck Art, Let’s Dance. You can hear audio versions of some poems on Bandcamp, just type in his name.
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