1992 Los Angeles Riots (cc) waltarrrr
NO MATTER THE WEATHER OR TIME OF DAY, when I crisscross Los Angeles, I travel backwards through time, recall the faces, voices and sounds that defined the dramas and dreams of my young womanhood. Long-vanished landmarks appear — the churches, clubs, cultural events, liquor stores and nightspots that once catered to a booming Black clientele — a static sprawl extending into the surrounding reaches of Pacoima, Diamond Bar, Duarte, Long Beach, Victorville, Riverside and some spots east in the Inland Empire, but largely concentrated in South and Central Los Angeles. The snatches of stomp-down blues and rollicking gospel emanating from storefronts, the cacophony of radios and stereos cranking party favorites, the canned chatter of TVs blasting showdowns and soap operas echo about me as I drive, ignoring backfires and disembodied boisterous shouts of "Hey!"
Occasionally, I speak to the person sitting in the passenger's seat: a friend, a literary colleague, my husband or son. I extend my arm, point, and describe the particulars of some long-gone moment crowding in on me, my tone of voice prompting their concerned question: "What's wrong?"
Frequently, as if from a parallel nightmare, a second scene from a more recent past superimposes itself over this vast urban specter. It plays to the hypnotic thunk-swoosh of wiper blades clearing away the rain of love bugs against the windshield as the SUV races along a Mississippi highway at sunset, three Black women sheltered inside. In this flash forward, I am the passenger. America has survived the Y2K scare and 9/11, and the new century is progressing nicely toward economic collapse. But for the moment, a false prosperity reigns. Looking out the window on my right, I am enthralled by the miles of giant leafage that blankets twists of bushes, moss, vines and trees. It, too, is a vine, a beauteous terror smothering everything beneath it. Hushed, I stare too long and too hard.
"That," says the driver, "is kudzu. It's everywhere Down Here Abouts."
"Yeah," says her friend, "They cain't kill it hard as They try."
"Um-hmm," I say, as if saying "thanks for the info," not wanting to be impolite or flip, not wanting to offend. I don't say that I've waited for more than a generation to see this scourge imported from Japan; have read articles on it, and, in the late 70s-early 80s, submitted poetry to a literary magazine, now defunct, called Kudzu. I simply stop staring and relax into the rhythms of the road and chitchat with my new companions, who go on to educate me on the particulars of their home turf. However, throughout my visit, I am haunted by that kudzu. Visions of it follow me home to SoCal, trouble my thoughts in the months and years ahead. From time-to-time, I speculate that I'm subconsciously writing a poem about it — a poem that never emerges.
As of right-now-today, it's 46 years since the August 1965 Watts Riots, and 20 years since the April 29th 1992 riots following the acquittal of 3 police officers in the Rodney King Beating Case, and the jury's failure to reach a verdict on the 4th officer. I have grown up and grown old. Once again, I am called upon to make note and speak out, as the city pauses to plumb its memory in this bizarre ritual commemorating the single largest episode of urban ...read more