Our weekly poetry feature brings Los Angeles to life through the words of artists spanning every part of the metropolis.
I knew him. He ran the lathe next to mine.
Perfectionist, a madman, even on overtime
Saturday night. Hum of the crowd floating
from the ball park, shouts, slamming doors
from the bar down the street, he would lean
into the lathe and make a little song
with the honing cloth, rubbing the edges,
smiling like a man asleep, dreaming.
A short guy, but fearless. At Margie’s
he would take no lip, put the mechanic big
as a Buick through a stack of crates out back
and walked away with a broken thumb
but never said a word. Marge was a loud,
dirty girl with booze breath and bad manners.
He loved her. One night late I saw them in
the kitchen dancing something like a rhumba
to the radio, dishtowels wrapped around
their heads like swamis.
It’s 10 p.m. when the taxi glides
into the rain-slicked parking lot.
A woman in slippers gets out
bundling a baby in her arms.
Next, comes a small boy dragging a shopping bag
filled with a jumble of clothes.
“Your room is Number 9,” I say pointing,
and the woman hurries towards it.
As we follow, I lift the bag from the boy,
his face and neck dark with bruises.
When we reach the door, he stops, asks,
“Will he find us here?”
I want to say, No, honey,
that bastard will never find you here.
Instead, I whisper, “Who?”
His voice, a twist of worry and hope, he says,
Cece Peri’s poems have appeared in Gift of Words: Poems for the Iraqi People; Luvina: Los Angeles Issue (University of Guadalajara);
the age of the innerview dawns and the need
to be first is muted by a
multitude of passings/desire honed so sharp
the edges bleed, lips and hands
assume a silent patience/at rest as a savage
brilliance is reborn in this ancient ravaged griot
who am i? what am i? are no longer important questions.
knowing that i am is finally enough
like discovering dessert is delicious following a disastrous
meal, a sweetness that reawakens
the palate, or finding that one’s chalice is unexpectedly
filled with elixir of euphoria
and i stumble happily into the cornucopia, arms
outstretched, upturned, drunk
my heart athrum, bones full samba. the night
blesses me with his constellations
baptizes me with his deathless autumnal chill
and i invade the moody indigo
full-throated and singing
Woke with a start, the dogs
barking out by the fence,
yard flooded with
light. Groped my way
to the window.
Out on the road a dozen quick
figures hugging to shadows:
bundles slung at their shoulders
& water jugs at their hips. You
could hear, under the rattle of
wind, as they passed, the crunch of
sneakers on gravel. Pollos. Illegals
who’d managed to slip past the
Border Patrol, its Broncos
& choppers endlessly circling the
canyons & hills between here & Tecate.
Out there, in the dark, they could have
been anyone: refugees from Rwanda,
slaves pushing north.
Palestinians, Gypsies, Armenians, Jews….
The lights of Tijuana, that yellow
haze to the west, could have
been Melos, Cracow, Quang Ngai….
I watched from the window till they were lost in
as women before us have stood,
looking back at our burning cities,
watching the smoke
rise from our empty homes.
It was quiet then. And cold.
We heard their cries, the caged birds
clawing at their perches, our daughters
naked in the hungry mob.
Such death. The smell of justice
drifting on the burnt wind.
We saw it all,
saw the fire fall like rain,
saw our tears
track stiff, white veins
down our bodies,
saw the brine crawl
through salt-cracked skin.
Now, turning in the restless night,
we dream we stand there still,
alone on the hill’s black belly.
We, the forgotten,
whose names were swallowed by God.
This poem first appeared in Ploughshares,