Doreen Van Lee

An Inner City Tale
(Ode to Cabrini Green)
(With Special Dedication to Curtis Mayfield and Maya Angelou)


Born into a tenement in the heart of the windy city in the summer of sixty-nine,
Fourth small mouth to be fed and second girl in line.
A time just after the assassinations of Malcolm, Medgar, JFK, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
A time when proclamations like "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," were the in thing.
When Bell-bottomed jeans and afros swayed effortlessly against the wind,
En era when Motown was king and Stax was In! Our guardians were diligent and always instilled in all of us the need to get ahead
Stressing that there is strength in numbers and to stick together no matter what was said.
70' school bells, limited teaching apparatuses and burned out teacher and no recess,
Escaping boredom, through reading autobiographies always held my interest.
Benefiting from RIF (Reading is Fundamental) reading Angelou, Hansberry, Morrison, Moody, X and Cruz.
Discovering and rediscovering, Richard Wright, Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes.

Brown scarred knees from repeatedly falling upon thick blacktop.
Corner stores, liquors stores, ice cream, pickles, Now-n-laters, barber and beauty shops.
Loud sounds blaring to break through red glistening project walls,
Aretha, Chaka, Diana, O'Jays, Jackson, Curtis Mayfield and Lou Rawls.
Broken elevators, and broken dreams, straightening combs and ice creams.
Mayoral candidates making mockeries out of project residents by handing out
V-necks, turkeys, and miniature Christmas trees in exchange for votes.
Some project residents coming undone and always at each others throats.
Skateboards, hopscotch, jump rope, Red Light Green Light and Mother May I?
Young men masquerading as gangsters on street corners, over already-conquered city turf, why?

Soon childhood laughter is silenced by gunshots and young bodies dropping.
Caskets, tears, sensing my own mortality at 13, anticipating my own heart stopping.
Guardians' tenacity paid off in the spring of '83 they rescued me,
Before our transition out of the ghetto, I noticed young women making spaces in their bellies for little ones,
completely throwing caution to the wind,
Yeh, babies having babies starting the cycle all over again.


Streaming down my copper face

Drenching my pupils

Strengthening my will to live

Releasing my anxiety

Making my human



<align=right> (a child's view of adult alcoholism)

I will be by your side if you need me night and day,

I will be the one that wrecks your family life, is that okay?

I will swerve and curve your emotions and cause you to trash your car in the street

I will make you say things that you'll soon regret and like a drum on your children you shall continuously beat,

I'll make you appear unattractive, and slowly cause you to lose the ability to constructively think,

I am that cheap, 80-proof bottle of poison that you so willingly drink,

I thought that you were a genie when I was a child because of your ability to stay in a bottle,

And I can say or do anything that I want to you because you won't remember this tomorrow

Page created on 8/15/2014 4:30:42 PM

Last edited 1/6/2017 7:34:22 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Hero's Hero Curtis Mayfield - One of Doreen Van Lee's heroes is Curtis Mayfield.

Author Info

I am often moved by the work of our visiting authors. I am extremely proud to introduce Doreen Van Lee to our readers. Her search on the Internet for work that was like hers led her to MY HERO. She has submitted wonderful poems and also has given MY HERO support at a critical time for our project. Without any encouragement she sent a money order to help support MY HERO along with a note expressing a sentiment I have long believed--that we live in a world that needs heroes--and she was thankful to have found MY HERO. It has been a challenge to get corporations and foundations to support MY HERO, but DOREEN has given me hope at a time when I was not sure that MY HERO could go on. I am deeply moved by her generosity and her poetry. I am sure you will agree that she is a wonderful poet hero.

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