piri thomas

April 21, 2012

i’ve been meaning to write to you since i learned that you had your homecoming. when i read of your passing i was overwhelmed with sadness. and i wanted to write but i couldn’t. it was as if my pen needed to mourn. so i turned to my bookshelf and reached for the autographed copy of “down these mean streets.” i opened the book and skimmed through it. read a few lines and recalled that first time.

your book was the first time i read a book cover to cover in one sitting. there was something so magnetic about that book. i couldn’t put it down. i didn’t want to be interrupted. i felt hypnotized.

by this age (i was 15), i had read a few books. i was always reading. it all started with judy blume, then the babysitter’s club, then things started getting a little more mature. i read “where the red fern grows,” and “flowers for algernon” and “catcher in the rye” and then classics came in to play (pun intended) with shakespeare’s “macbeth,” et. al. And in between all of these, my grandmother would have me reading the bible to her in Spanish.

i can tell you what i liked and didn’t like about all of those books… but when i was 15 it was your book that made me want to do more than just read, i wanted to write. see piri, your book was home. literally, you where writing about my home.i found what el barrio feels like, tastes like, sounds like in each of your pages. i could relate to so many parts of it even though your book was written more than twenty years before it reached my hand. it made me both happy and sad. i was happy because i could read a book that talked to the realities of our lives but sad because that reality was still very similar to the same el barrio, when your book reached my hands.

i loved your book. even the weight of it was perfect in my hands. with every page, i turned the corners of my streets. every chapter in your book was a new-york-city block, building projects that were never projected to amount to much. there are so many beautiful stories in our documentary filmed ‘hood.

when i had the chance to meet you and hear you read in 2000, i was “star struck.”

your swag was lyrical.
to the evolution of my poetic soul.
i knew my story must be shared
because i had nothing to be ashamed of.

yes, these streets are mean, but our stories made them sweet.

you survived. i survived. we survived.
the stats were against us. but the strength of a pen
is powerful. makes you feel like you’re on the roof top of taino towers
overlooking the willis avenue bridge.

today, i light a candle to your light.
thank you for shining so bright on this earth.
you will always be un rey del barrio.