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Lions Roar : July 2015
When I was young, I got picked on a lot, a Peter Parker-type before he got bitten by the radioactive spider and started kickin’ ass. For a while I took it. I buried all that hurt, that rage, inside, and there it sat building and building. Then one day, in third grade, the Southside me came out unexpectedly, like a Chicago gust. He unleashed himself on Dan Flavin, class clown, who had called his mom something not right earlier in the day. Rule 1: Don’t ever mess with a Southsider’s mom. People die for shit like that. So when Dan Flavin stood in line to go potty, the Southside me rabbit punched Dan Flavin in the back and watched Dan Flavin crumple to the ground. When the teacher asked what happened, Dan Flavin pointed at the Southside me, but I transformed back to the goody-goody everyone knew; the teacher didn’t believe a word Dan Flavin said. But that punch—it felt good, you know? It felt like the Southside me could fuck anything up. So, at nine, he enrolled in Tae Kwon Do and got a black belt. He studied Muay Thai at temple, though he despised the other students, a bunch of Sally Northsiders, a bunch of doctors’ brats. He watched boxing and practiced his jab and right hook against walls; no joke. Made his knuckles callused and hard. The Southside me was getting himself well-versed in the fine arts of terminating, even though he was Buddhist, and as a Buddhist he shouldn’t hurt an ant. He fucked ants up though, by the mound, and it didn’t matter what his mom said—the thing about coming back as an ant in the next life—because the Southside me, he believed only in the moment; he was never seconds ahead of himself. Secret Identity Most of the time, I’m quiet. I smile. I listen. I’m the guy who manages to say nothing and remain memorable, like it or not. It is not an act, I assure you. It is residue from a past I’m still try- ing to piece together. Why is it I seek the back of a room? Why is it in large social gatherings I feel trapped? I was a shy and anxious boy, but some of that sifted away, and what is left are these particles I cling to. Most of the time, this is the person everyone sees. The gentle fat man. I am cordial to strangers, quick to say hello in the hallways of work, and like to leave presents for people just because. It is not an act, I assure you. It is, at times, a hindrance. Moments when the other me is needed, he doesn’t come out. He stays in his cave, and I find myself smiling and apologizing too often. Most of the time, I preoccupy myself with frivolous things, like my image. It’s not an act, I assure you. I dress well—sporting nice long-sleeved shirts and stylish jeans. I wear hip black-rimmed glasses—Versace—and sport different types of hats—the fedora, the Kangol cap. I’m obsessive when it comes to shoes. I own at least thirty pairs and each is coordinated with an outfit. Most of the time, everyone describes me as nice. I like the simplicity of the word, though my wife always says, “Before I met you, everyone considered me the nice one.” At this I laugh and think, They don’t know the whole truth, do they? Talk the Talk A Southsider doesn’t finish the ending of his words, doesn’t enunciate his consonants, and often times mumbles. He ends his sentences with questions, you know? His voice dwells in his throat, and his mouth barely opens when he speaks. A Southsider shortens everything. He doesn’t like Ira; he prefers I or Suke. He has mastered the word “fuck”: “That Sally, fuck”; “What a fuckin’ D-bag”; “Stupid, fuck-o.” On average, every third word is “fuck.” It’s the clearest word in a sentence, a word that has a variety of meanings depending on inflection and body language. “Fuck you” with a laugh means ‘’Are you kid- ding me?” “Fuck you” with a stiff pat on the back means “I love you.” “Fuck you” in the lowest of tones means ‘’I’m gonna kill you.” That’s another word a Southsider doesn’t take lightly— “kill.” We don’t joke about it. Once when my wife and I first dated, she said she’d kill me in jest. I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t. But there must have been a look on my face. Of confusion, of fear. I could feel the hair on my neck rise. The last time someone said that to me, the Southsider came out and had to bump a few heads before someone broke the skirmish up. But here was this long-haired woman from the prairie, this poet, and I was falling for her. ‘’I’m kidding,” she said. “My family says it all time.” “Oh.” “It’s part of our language.” “Oh.” “I love you,” she said. And if there’s another word a Southsider fears, even more than “kill,” then it’s this one, “love.” Another four letters, sharp like a blade. Landscape The Southside me is like the Southside neighborhoods with the cracked and weedy sidewalks, the eroding brown brick build- ings, the abandoned factories. The Southside resists any type of change, unless it’s for the worse. Ask my father who was laid off after twenty years. Ask my friends, who are still there, trying hard to make something for themselves. Ask the closed down industries. But amid the deterioration, there exists loyalty. It’s like a tiny flower sprouting in a mound of shit. Who Are You? In my junior year of high school, I had an English teacher who challenged students with wit, sarcasm, and difficult questions. I IRA SUKRUNGRUANG’s first book of poetry is In Thailand It Is Night. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of South Florida. SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2015 48