by Karen Lillis

From high ground, I watched you surrender to a ladycop
while two young women were pushed to the asphalt
and roughly cuffed, hands behind their backs.
More uniforms were chasing the guitar player across Liberty Ave
while some copper shoved the comedian towards the paddy wagon
and the accordionist was folded into the back of the squad car
with his squeezebox still strapped across his ribcage.

Moments before,
we’d been folk dancing
among the bike punx and the straight edge
and I wondered what was more perfectly Pittsburgh:
shimmying to a Balkan brass band under a midnight bridge
in a full moon glow on May Day
or the VU cover band we’d seen the previous evening
Andy Warhol smirking down from his grave
How does it feeeel
to be loooooved?

Three songs into Balkan gypsy,
bright headlights flashed on, and I knew.
Cops, baby, let’s GO. I thought you were right
behind me, but I was mistaken. Instead,
the cops had cops behind them. Quick on the heels
of the first car, two more cars drove up, then two more, then two
more, then two more, so fast and so many that I could no longer count.
I wondered what terrible crime they thought
they were responding to. I wondered
what actual crime they were missing
by raining down on the music lovers
after park curfew.

It looked like a scene
out of West Side Story or Jungleland
a cliché decades out of date.
Only, the Sharks were the cops and their K9s
and the Jets weren’t fighting back.
The Sharks said: WALK AWAY. Walk Away Faster.
You’re Coming With Us. Who’s in Charge Here?
You Fucking Idiots Are Going to Jail. I Don’t Have
to Give A Fucking Warning. Everybody Stay Here.
GO. GO NOW. Back Up or Get Pepper Sprayed. Tell
Your Friends I Could Shoot Them All If I Wanted To.
I’m Going to Bash Her Fucking Head In. WALK AWAY,
MISTER. Sit down on the curb and put your hands up.

What the Jets said to land themselves 26 hours in county jail:
Stop, You’re Hitting My Friend Too Rough.

Before I left you for the night
I yelled, “I LOVE YOUUUUUU!”
from up high on the bridge behind the chain link
to you breathless below on the sidewalk
and then I really felt like Maria
or Marlon Brando.
Sirens continued screaming in your direction
as I ran uphill to our house
to sleep alone.

Nine arrests, 31 citations, and a few weeks later
the Zone Commander invited us
for a de-escalating chat at the Precinct.
He told us he grew up in the South Hills, a young thug
turning over cars, finding trouble, trading fisticuffs
with the local police.
Tent said it as we drove away: The cops and the criminals,
they’re just two sides of the same rotten coin. But us freaks,
we’re the ones they really hate—people who still think
for themselves, people who don’t play their games, people
who keep asking the persistent questions.


Karen Lillis is the author of four short novels, most recently Watch the Doors as They Close. She has been a writer-in-residence at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris and is at work on a memoir of her years behind the register at St. Mark’s Bookshop, Bagging the Beats at Midnight. She blogs about the small press and indie bookstores at Karen the Small Press Librarian.