ESSAYS

GABE BUMP

MIDNIGHT IN LISBON AND THE WORLD IS ON FIRE

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I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to have kids. I don’t want to see anyone, talk to anyone, grieve with anyone, pick up my phone, let them know I’m okay, even though they didn’t ask and, back there, back home, the sun isn’t up.

I want to stay in this room, in this apartment, in this city I know almost-well, not as well as I know home.

I want to hear Portuguese forever. I want to remain silent and listen to the waiters talk in Portuguese about my sweating face, my bad accent. Disculpe, Disculpe, nao falo.

I want to walk past handsome Portuguese cops standing outside banks. I think they won’t kill me. I think I’m right. They look at me, these handsome cops, of course they look at me: I’m sweating and nervous and scared and homesick and sick of home. Yes, they look at me. I think they won’t kill me. I think I’m right.

Nobody is perfect; no place is perfect.

When I took the number six bus downtown—close to perfection: All that time to read, all that window to look out of and all those trees, all those frozen moments at red lights, all that speed on Lake Shore Drive, all those people, all that segregation I didn’t understand, all the difference; nothing is perfect.

I don’t want to go back to Chicago. I want Chicago to come to me. I want to leave Rahm Emanuel on his Ferris Wheel and watch him spin forever. I’m spinning now. All these hills in Lisbon. I want Chicago on these hills, behind me, holding me, so I won’t fall backwards forever. I want Chicago in bed with me now. We’ll let each other know when it’s safe to go outside again.

I want Dallas. I want Minneapolis. I want New Orleans. I want bunk beds the size of continents.

I want an apology. I want you to call me when you get home, let me know you got back safe, let me know you’re all right. You’re all right. I know you’ll be all right. Faith in you: they can’t take.

Lisbon isn’t perfect. All these hills, food too fresh, all those stomach aches. All this sun. There’s a rooster out my window that suffers from insomnia. He’s trying to tell me something. He’s asking for help. I can’t leave this room. I can’t save him. I can’t hold him and tell him it will be okay, in the long run, when all is said and done, when the sun finally comes up. I can’t lie to him. I can lie to you. Nobody’s perfect.

I want children, children stronger than me. I’m afraid we’re all too weak. In black and white pictures, everyone looks strong and confident and frozen and prideful. There’s Tommie Smith and John Carlos with their fists in the air. There’s Sojourner Truth rocking her chair into outer space. There’s Paul Robeson smiling right through me. There’s Cassius Clay: pure, stone, bulging, indestructible.

I want your meme to save me. I want to tell you I understand: you’re white, you’re trying, you’re an ally, you can’t sleep either, you like black poets, you like white poets too, you like poetry, you read novels about Africa and the Old South, you read articles about Diaspora; I understand you, I hear what you’re saying. I know this isn’t easy for you, way out there, way out in Massachusetts, powerless, removed.

You vibe with the message. You fuck the cops too. You like black poets. You love James Baldwin. You don’t know much about Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois. You don’t know much about this conversation. You have one thing to say, to add, not as an expert, as an ally, as a friend. What do you have to say? You think a fire is coming next time? You think Giovanni’s Room is the best novel of the 20th Century? You haven’t gotten around to Go Tell It On The Mountain?

I forgive you. I want to forgive those cops. I want them to trust me like I trust them. I want them to help me change my tire. I want to forgive myself.

I want to go home. I want Chicago underneath me. I want her beside me. I want to feel her waves and grids, her changes and vibrations. I want to pace around this apartment when she doesn’t call me back, when she changes the locks, when she has to think about it—give her some space, give her some time to forgive me for leaving.

I want Massachusetts and the woman I love. I want my family everywhere. I want to know when I’m going crazy, like now, right now. I want to feel the world and all its twisted girth, its knotted and strained heart.

It’s all over but the encore.

And what a party we’ll have. When I’m everywhere I want to be. And you’re there too.

SUNSET IN LISBON AND THE WORLD IS A LITTLE BETTER

After Ross Gay. After Eusébio.

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Everything had burned. And then: a game, an aria.

And what a party we had, out on the Liberdade with thousands we didn’t know we loved, didn’t know loved us back, didn’t know we needed, didn’t know were always there.

And how we needed those throngs, car horns, horns of all shapes and sizes and pitches, unaware children, too-aware men, roving and confused in their elation. All of us: immovable and unstoppable, unbroken.

You and me: sweetness in our ears, honey on our bread, glorious views in every direction, comfortable and secure; contained in madness.

Me and you: alone out here, so far away, so close to the water we could swim back, we could try, we could sink and live on the currents, live on whales’ bubbles and giant turtles. We could go anywhere, you say. What about the moon? Of course, you say. I believe you. What about Alaska? Of course, you say. I believe you. What about Vermont? Of course, you say. You love Vermont. We could teach at a school that makes their students work for food. We can live on a mountain. We can kayak up river, down river, doesn’t matter. You say we can do anything. I believe you. I believe you when I miss fried chicken, good fried chicken, and you say we can move back to Chicago. And I don’t know how to respond. I don’t know how to say it. I don’t want to go back. I want to stay here, on the Liberdade, with you forever. I want to feel your dress against the noise. I want to hold your hand as we look up at Marques de Pombal.

Keep it together. Keep it locked down. Keep your eyes on the cops, standing on the curb, watching, texting. Keep your eyes on their waists. Keep your eyes forward, don’t ask for trouble. Don’t give them a reason. Remember where you are. Remember their handsome faces. Feel confused and lost and out in space, floating, waiting for an asteroid.

Show me the way home. Show me to bed and close my eyes. Let them call for their Champions. Let them dance for history and civilization. Let the traffic jam. Let the horns plead for stillness. We’ll thank them later, if they noticed our faces and noticed something off, something ancient, something pressing and solid, something tragic and stone. If they noticed, we’ll thank them.

Thank you, gold-headed Quaresma, your permanent tears and your delicate toes.

Thank you, Pepe.

Thank you, Rui Patricio.

Thank you, William.

Thank you, Mario.

Thank you, Mautinho.

Thank you, Nani. Thank you, thank you.

Thank you, manufactured Ronaldo, your bronze, your adamantine thighs, your mortal knees, your Achilles smile.

Thank you, braided Eder.

Thank you, dread-headed Renato, Dread-Headed Ambassador of the World. Thank you, thank you. Thank you from Kenwood to Morgan Park, South Shore to K-Town. Thank you, thank you. Thank you from 63rd to 111th and the whole world in between and beyond.

Forgive me, coaches. Forgive my disappointments. Forgive those late nights and stiff legs. Forgive those missed shots, passes, instructions, tackles, breaths, practices. I’m better now. It’s a long story. I hope you forgive me.

And thank you, Dad and Mom, for asking if I was okay, if everything was alright, if I needed help, if that was smoke you smelled, if I needed a ride, if this was the last time, if this was a fluke, if this was something bigger, if I still wanted to play, if the game still mattered, if anything mattered at all. I’m better now. You know the story. I hope you forgive me.

And forgive me, Brother Mike, for knowing you were indestructible, knowing I could never match your speed, knowing I was watching a train dribble the ball up the right wing, knowing I was watching a bomb drop off that right foot, that right foot everyone knew and feared. Forgive me for taking your power for granted. I’m better now. I could tell you the story. I hope you forgive me. And thank you.

All these final acts. All this unfazed breeze.

Thank you.

Thank you, Lisbon, your river and your hills, your tiles and your bacalhau, your diaspora and your kings, your poets, your cobblestone, your midnights, your sunrises, your hangover, your never-ending blue drapes. Thank you, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to appropriate you in ways I won’t let you appropriate me. It’s a long story. I hope you forgive me.

GABE BUMP is from South Side, Chicago. He currently lives in Florence, Massachusetts. He misses Lake Shore Drive and Chicago Public League basketball.