It was the first time I saw a ‘Mohawk’ haircut.
They were strolling down the choppy sidewalk
next to the row of trees beside the truck route in front
of the old farm house that we rented in Grand Ledge.
They all had black T-shirts and tight black slacks
and black penny loafers, and the other two guys
had their black hair swept back in pompadours
that came to be known as duck tails or asses.

I, of course, had never seen anything like them before
But as if to fill in the wonderstruck blankness of my
mind one of the other kids who lived on the block said
whispered, “it’s the Black Cats,” which figured you see
there was at once something so fearful and yet adulatory
in the tone of that hissed phrase that I marked the effect
                                                 but denigrated its meaning.

Here were boys large enough to be grown men
whose carefully chosen costume and attentive detail
announced a world previously totally unimagined
and the possibility of a way of living if not being
that demanded, even necessitated attention. Though
we would never be them they carried us with them.

Later my father compared them to zoot suiters of WW II
and the Bowery boys of the thirties urban youth gangs
but how those big city antecedents found their way
to our little 8 block crossroad town was only prophecy
of the style defying change just waiting to explode the land.


James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.