Jacob Saenz Author Pic.jpg

Jacob Saenz

The origin of this poem began in the summer of 1999. At the time, I was 17 and taking a poetry workshop course at Columbia College Chicago as part of their High School Summer Institute program. I rode the Blue Line (now the Pink Line) into the south loop for class and encountered the gangbanger in the poem twice, as “Frustration: Off Chest” indicates. The original draft is really just a rant addressed to the gangbanger specifically but the anger of the poem is born out of multiple incidents with gangs. Growing up, I guess I looked the part of a gangbanger so I would get questioned and checked a lot about my gang affiliation, which was none despite the many gangs in my neighborhood. I grew tired and frustrated with those encounters and took it out on the page. For the workshop, I’d bring in a poem in a different font every week and, that week, I was really feeling the Bold Impact or some such font. The font seemed to fit the tone of the poem.

Years later, after enrolling in the Poetry program at CCC, I revisited the poem with new skills and technique I had learned. I wanted to slow down one of the encounters with the gangbanger in the poem and give him more voice. I focused on sound, rhyme, and line breaks as well as metaphor. The bunny in “Blue Line Incident” is a reference of the symbol used by Two-Six Nation but it also works for showing how helpless and scared I felt at the time. I cut down a lot of the curse words used in the original but I still wanted to maintain some of the anger and frustration I felt at the time, hence the violent fantasy. I didn’t intend to have it end as a “pen is mightier than the sword” motif but it seems to fit the poem.


“Blue Line Incident” originally appeared in RHINO magazine.

< draft >


Blue Line Incident


He was just some coked-out,
crazed King w/crooked teeth
& a tear drop forever falling,
fading from his left eye, peddling
crack to passengers or crackheads
passing as passengers on a train
chugging from Chicago to Cicero,
from the Loop through K-Town:
Kedzie, Kostner, Kildare.

I was just a brown boy in a brown shirt,
head shaven w/fuzz on my chin,
staring at treetops & rooftops
seated in a pair of beige shorts:
a badge of possibility—a Bunny
let loose from 26th street,
hopping my way home, hoping
not to get shot, stop after stop.

But a ‘banger I wasn’t & he wasn’t
buying it, sat across the aisle from me:
Do you smoke crack?
Hey, who you ride wit’?
Are you a D’?
Let me see—throw it down then.

I hesitate then fork three fingers down
then boast about my block,
a recent branch in the Kings growing tree;
the boys of 15th and 51st, I say,
they’re my boys, my friends.
I was fishing for a life-
saver & he took, hooked him in
& had him say goodbye like we was boys
& shit when really I should’ve
gutted that fuck w/the tip
of my blue ballpoint.