Latin Freestyle
by David-Matthew Barnes

I remember the rhythm at night:

Your hips wanting mine,
to grind our street-smart
lust into the crush of summer
heat. The beat of lives
never fulfilled. In the dark you say,
“Keep it on
the QT, down low. Slow, go slow.
Just like that, baby. Yeah.” I say,
“When you hit it,
I’m yours siempre, chulo.”

Our love is different during the day:

The tattooed thug boys
in the park with their sparks,
ankle holsters, packing. They pick
up on the bad girls with halter
tops, hair spray, razor tongues.
I get sliced with fear as you present
me to your neighborhood, your
surrogate familia. They suspect

the whole affair is a white
joke. I try to laugh off their eyes, claims
of their tongue and territory. I sip from
a stolen bottle of O.E., aware I’m out
of my element, zone. My intrusion
is forgotten when I share a common love

for the music bumpin’ from your sound
system. It makes us dance at Southside, makes us
forget about zip codes, colors, rivals. Makes us pound
and throb like the concrete threat of imagined guns
to our heads, knives to our throats. We know that
when the song is over, we will bleed

for each other. Slowly.

SOURCE: This poem previously appeared in the collection Souvenir Boys  (Pindelion Publishing, 2013), and in the 2012 anthology Image Out Write: A Celebration of GLBTQ Writing. The poem received third place in the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Contest.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: In this photo I was 17 and about to start my senior year at Sacramento High School.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This was a tough poem for me to write because it required me to write from a simultaneous place of memory, honesty, and vulnerability. It was a poem that insisted on being written. I felt haunted by it for three years before I finally gave in, sat down, and wrote it. I feel the poem really captures my life at the age of 17, being a young gay man and growing up in Sacramento, falling in love with someone from a different culture than my own, discovering the joys of lust and danger.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David-Matthew Barnes is the award-winning author of several novels and collections of stage plays, monologues, scenes, and poetry. His poetry has been featured in The Comstock Review, The Magnolia Review, Memoryhouse, Sonic Boom, The Southeast Review, and more. He was selected by Kent State University as the national winner of the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Award. He has been an arts educator for more than a decade. For more information, visit