Los Angeles, City of Poets

By Sesshu FosterOctober 24, 2018

Los Angeles, City of Poets
ONE DAY, when my brother Paul was 12, he came home wearing a shirt made from the American stars and stripes. My uncle caught him — my uncle owned the East L.A. house we lived in at the time and he reminded us of this fact regularly. He beat Paul to the floor and tore the shirt off. That same year, they put Paul on a Greyhound bus at the old terminal on Sixth and Los Angeles Streets and sent him up to Northern California to live with our dad. After a couple years, Paul was out on his own, moving through a series of hippie communes, Big Sur cabins, and foster homes, where he started reading Allen Ginsberg and the Beats.

In high school, I hitchhiked to visit him, riding up Highway One through Monterey, where he gave me a copy of the City Lights pocketbook of Howl and Other Poems. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the angry negro streets at dawn…” Ginsberg’s Whitmanic dithyramb was a revelation. Here was language unafraid to address the diciest realities of the world. This civilization was mounting an accumulation of genocides and potential apocalypses, the missiles already in their silos (as indeed they still are), the newspapers full of obvious, horrendous facts like the war dead in Vietnam, the Symbionese Liberation Army, or the CIA coup in Chile, with tens of thousands of tortured and disappeared.

I remember it rained a lot that winter of 1973, as I walked the mile and a half to high school, wearing a Vietnam vet’s cast-off fatigue jacket, always a poetry book in the pocket. Only the poets seemed willing and able to address the truth of this world directly, speak it as they saw it, without the “once upon a time” fictions of storytellers or the equivocations and evasions of official pronouncements or ordinary conversations. The poets have been with me ever since, truth-tellers (whether slant or cant, I’ll take it either way), utterly faithful yet.

I asked a bunch of L.A. poets to reflect on their neighborhoods, to get that perspective of Los Angeles, a vision you won’t get anywhere else. For me, the light of these poets — like that of Wanda Coleman, Manazar Gamboa, Jayne Cortez, and Charles Bukowski before them, and Carlos Bulosan before them — cuts through the city like the last orange light of the afternoon, when shadows go long and 10,000 walls and windows shine.


Brent Armendinger:

Joe and I had our second date at the top of Barnsdall Park. I brought homemade pot stickers. After watching the sun go down over the palm trees we made our way to The Other Side, a gay piano bar on Hyperion that had been open since the early ’70s. A truly intergenerational space, I remember feeling like I could grow old and still belong there. We were talking about the upcoming election, and Joe said he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Obama again. He was too disappointed in his support for drones and the continued operation of Guantánamo. His politics turned me on. “I think I’m falling for this guy,” I told another patron when Joe went up to use the bathroom. About six months later, the bar shut down because the owner couldn’t afford the rent anymore. Now it’s a so-called “community pub” that sells overpriced burgers, craft beer, and truffle mac and cheese.

We moved in together a couple years later. We found a place on Sycamore Park Drive, a dead-end street in a skinny parcel of land that hangs from the neck of Highland Park like the wattle on a rooster. Our landlady lives downstairs; she’s a teacher who grew up in Cypress Park. When I look up from my writing desk I can see the forest of solar panels on the otherwise parched and scrubby hillside — 1,441 of them were installed in 2011 to generate electricity for the local nursing home.

Our neighbor to the right is a friendly retired guy who’s often in his front yard tending to the leafy greens he grows, even though the 110, the city’s first freeway, is coughing up dust from only 500 feet away. He’s always there with a sweet toothy smile and a wave hello. Apparently Joey Terrill, the queer Chicano artist, used to live a few doors down from us. We saw his address on a postcard from the ’70s at the Axis Mundo exhibition last year. He’s famous for the maricón and malflora T-shirts he created and wore in the streets with his friends, and Homeboy Beautiful, a mail-art magazine.

Just a block up Figueroa is Sycamore Grove Park. The outer bark peels away in patches, unable to grow as fast as the insides. Its most recognizable feature is a scar, which must be a metaphor for something. The trees used to drink directly from the arroyo before the government paved it over in the 1930s. When we first moved here, people would sleep in their RVs along that stretch of Figueroa, but the city pushed them out a couple years ago. Just like the folks who were living along the banks of the arroyo in the great sweep of 2014. One spring I did a little project called “Walksongs for the Arroyo.” I wore all red, except for my black rubber wading boots, and carried a red umbrella while doing walking meditation in the water. Then I sat down and wrote a mesostic, a form invented by John Cage. Here’s an excerpt:

It didn’t take long for me to realize that we’d moved into a neighborhood in crisis, with more and more people losing their homes and businesses, and that in some ways, as middle-class white folks, my boyfriend and I were a part of that. I joined the LA Tenants Union. The Northeast Local meets twice a month at Avenue 50 Studio. When the local started out, we were small, maybe four or five people — now there are at least 20 of us at every meeting. It gets hot in there in the summer and the Gold Line barrels through every 10 minutes.

When I get there, I hug Lupe, who stopped her landlord from trying to bully her out of her rent-controlled apartment. And Jen Hofer, a dear friend and poet who co-founded Antena Los Ángeles, who’s usually interpreting the meeting in Spanish and English. Her house in Cypress Park is like a living, breathing museum to radical forms of publishing, and I mean more than literature. I mean, she is making public our experiments in being. One summer, a bee got into the kitchen and Jen taught me how to catch it with a glass and a piece of paper, releasing it into the bounty of her garden and beyond. I had the release party for my first book there, and Gelare Khoshgozaran performed a powerful piece about migration, citizenship, and queerness. Jen’s the one who suggested I check out the union in the first place. Then there’s Jessica Ceballos y Campbell, another poet, friend, and community arts advocate who grew up in this neighborhood and has watched the onslaught of displacement. Rosemary, who’s currently on rent strike in a building on Avenue 64 that was bought by a Silicon Valley investor. She’s a single mom and can’t afford what they want her to pay. Luz Elena, who has a voice of gold and likes to end our meetings with a song. Kiké, a new friend who’s teaching me how to be an organizer. New folks at every meeting trying to figure out how to stay in their homes and how to support their neighbors.

I teach at Pitzer, out in Claremont, one of the last cities on the edge of L.A. County. I can look up from my office window and see Mount Baldy. The Tongva call it Yoát, or Joat, meaning snow, and the top still freezes over in the winter. Walking up there, you can be in a whole other season. I love my students and feel lucky to have a stable job, when so many poets and artists I know are just scraping by. I’ve finally made peace with the fact that it’s hard to get a lot of my own writing done during the semester. Teaching takes up a lot of creative energy, but it feels right to be nourishing the imaginations of young people, especially in a world that’s increasingly hostile to their survival. My students write the kinds of poems that I can’t, and that feeds me.


Jessica Ceballos y Campbell:

Welcome to the Northeastern non-East L.A. part of Los Ángeles, or 90042, or area formally known as Chumash and Tongva land, or look closely you’ll notice the arroyo ya no está seco, our neighbors fill this place and call it home. If you listen closely you can hear the displaced parrots singing, or maybe they’re weeping, echoing our neighbors, looking for answers, finding prayer, wanting to return home.

If you feel closely, the ghosts become burning, the burning becomes water filling the cracks, and the water becomes a mass, and the mass becomes hollow.

It takes hollowing to become sadness, it takes sadness to want like the parrots do.


Cathy Linh Che:

Nopales      the sun
bleached each paddle    we scavenged
        iron filings from the dirt––

after the spring rains
        indigo rising    what searchbeams
shined over the water's cobalt

         in the city of the future, whose land
and whose land-locked prism?      in the refugee camp
clobbered by monsoon rains

         then boredom     we ectomorphed
we countryless      the rice rotten
the unfresh meat      I gathered opa seeds 

         and dried them     in my pockets
planted them uprooted     a new garden
         to feed the hungry dirt

I lived on Aldama Street in Highland Park until I was 10. The neighborhood was deeply poetic: the historic homes, palm trees, streets that rose and fell, heat and smogged sunsets, children everywhere. We were Vietnamese, Mexican, Salvadoran. My brother’s godparents, Martha and Lorenzo Sanchez, still live there, next to our old house. They owned a taco truck in the ’80s and now run a restaurant called Taqueria El Tapatio in Glendale. I was raised on this food, cooked in the backyard when I came home from school.

I loved everything about Highland Park — swimming in the pool at the Highland Park Recreation Center, karate lessons taught by the Black Karate Federation, summers spent at the Arroyo Seco Regional Library. Art was everywhere: in the murals and graffiti, in the bright oranges sold in bags when we exited the freeways, the painted liquor store signage, the piñatas, the dresses my mother sewed, the birthday parties wild with children biking up and down the driveways.

It split off a part of me when my parents moved us away. When I come back, remnants of the old neighborhood are still there, but so are the million-dollar homes up the hill. The white hipsters with their beards and stripes and top knots on York Street at the coffee shop, at the bar, the acai place, or the yoga studio. The chain stores popping up on this or that corner.

I think about the art that raised me in those formative years: the art of building an immigrant and refugee community, the art of sharing food, of taking down the fence between the houses so that the kids could run from one to the other unimpeded. The art of making children know that they are loved and cared for, that there are resources all around them.

These days, my Los Angeles home is the SGV Food Club, a group of writers who eat together every week, or every other week, or every month, as the missing-each-other grows urgent enough. Kenji Liu, Vickie Vértiz, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, F. Douglas Brown, Jean Ho, Soraya Membreño, Muriel Leung, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, Andrea Gutierrez, Jen Hofer, Neelanjana Banerjee, the list goes on. We eat at a restaurant somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley, usually family owned, by people of color. We break bread together. We eat and we don’t talk about writing, necessarily. It’s like family dinner; it’s how we connect and continue to care for one another. That in itself feels like a poem.


Kenji Liu:

In the old days, […] they went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud. And left the secret there forever.

— Chow Mo-wan, In the Mood for Love

Because I am not originally from Los Angeles, or even California, I do not know the names of most trees. There seems to be a wider variety — in summer where I grew up, outside the window was often green from ground to sky, walls of birch, maple, oak, alder, dogwood, spruce, pine, and holly. Everything feels more spidery and shaggy here, or toothy and pointy. Trees sit in my eyes differently. Even trees with names I do know, like oak, have a different shape. Not knowing them, I have yet to learn the best way to offer them my whispers.

In our current summer, the nameless trees in our El Sereno neighborhood are turning brown fast, leaving mounds of dead leaves piled up between cars on the street. These piles are taller than most urban animals. Gardeners blow the leaves toward each other, and the wind redistributes. The tradition of jumping into leaf piles does not seem to be strong here. It is the wrong season anyway.

I have a recurring dream of a busy avenue lined with eateries and bookstores that passes by a university. It is a taxidermy creation combining several places I know — Seattle, Tokyo, the San Francisco Bay Area. Who can explain the logic of a dream? Maybe somewhere, I am a tree being whispered into, and this dream is the result of innumerable secrets.

A “secret” originates from Proto-Indo-European roots sed- and krei-, which amounts to “without, apart, aside, on one’s own,” and “to sieve” or “discriminate, distinguish.” Dreaming is the way we sort, sift, strain, and separate the quiet clouds and glitter of our subconscious.

In one iteration of my dream avenue, I am at a boba shop that offers mouth-watering flavors. This brings us to the San Gabriel Valley. Aside from Little Tokyo, Valley Boulevard has played a big role in my settling down here. If I am a tree filled with secrets, I must tell you that many hearts are broken over black tea milk boba, full sugar, full ice.

South of Valley, the yards of Monterey Park offer useful trees. In this neighborhood, I know their names — loquat, lemon, orange, kumquat, grapefruit, pomelo, longan, persimmon, papaya, pomegranate. There are also non-trees — dragonfruit, winter squash, bitter melon, choy sum, chives, mustard greens, cilantro, yam leaves, chiles, chayotes, verdolagas. For the most part, their Chinese names are secrets to me.

To me, palm trees are not even trees. They are giraffes. Jacarandas are waterfalls. Pepper trees are limpias. In them, I see parakeets and hummingbirds. And woodpeckers — what do they put in the holes they drill, banging their heads against the world each day? Does the woodpecker ever come back around and gently, tenderly return an insect?

No, the woodpecker, like so many, flies to the cool neighborhoods looking for bougie brunch. It wants to install horizontal, unfinished wood fences so it can pretend to not see their neighbors’ belongings thrown out on the street. I have not lived in the LA-SGV area long enough to be a local, but maybe I am not very new, either. Now that we own some property, the unregulated market whispers seductively in our ears. The secret is, it makes us anxious. The secret’s secret is, sometimes the woodpecker looks like me, like you.

In Ascot Hills Park, we find an elderberry tree just past flowering, working hard to make berries. I am learning some basics of Western herbalism, and looking forward to collecting ripe berries in another month or so. The elderberry tree has serrated leaves that grow opposite each other, with tips and bases tapering to points. The flowers and fruits cascade downward in a lush umbrella, and its not-so-secret secret is, these will become immune-boosting teas and syrups.

Many years ago, an astrologist analyzed my stars, and recommended against ever living in Los Angeles. According to him, Southern California would not be a very productive or creative place for me. Every day I live here is a refutation. Any place that has people and trees, has secrets. Consequently, any place with people and trees, has poetry.


Steve Abee:

El Sereno is a trip to me. It’s dusty Western Southland. I don’t see it as Los Angeles. I don’t feel it as Los Angeles — not in the way that Echo Park was or Boyle Heights or Pico-Union, or Koreatown, or Hollywood, East Hollywood. El Sereno is its own. Bordered on all sides from its neighbors. It’s L.A. so it’s not Alhambra, even though that’s where everyone goes for Costco and IHOP. It’s hella not South Pasadena — they made sure of that with the Van Horne border wall. It’s L.A. but there’s a border of mountains between it and its closest L.A. neighbors — Lincoln Heights and Highland Park — and there’s a freeway and industrial valley between it and the rest of East L.A.

Here’s the thing: the separateness is palpable when you drive back from somewhere West, like say East Hollywood, or even Downtown, and you drive up Main, past Dogtown William Mead Projects (last remnants of Sonora town) through little old Italian town Lincoln Heights, the Brewery, Dino’s Burgers (what spiced lard do they put in that burger meat?), past Lincoln Park and the County USC Medical complex, and then you are on Valley, named for the San Gabriel Valley that it takes you to, and you go under Soto Street Bridge and you are out of the city. It’s just dusty train tracks and factory walls, and the backside of Hillside Village, with the bare brown hills of Ascot Park, the last empty hillside of inner Los Angeles, and you’re done with the City of Angels. There’s stuff, yes — King Torta, and Olympic Donuts, muffler shop and the statue man with his plaster Virgin Marys and Guadalupes on the sidewalk — but the city is done and then you hit Eastern and it’s brown hills with some 1950s houses and some older shack places but mostly open hillside, and it’s like you are in a new place, a place where the houses are just starting on the outskirts of the town.

Sure, I’m coming at it from the Valley side and not the Huntington side, but that’s what I’m thinking here, dusty hilled heat and then up Alhambra with its machine shops and auto dismantling and anodizing, and the trainyard, kinda halfway trainyard, where trains get built and broken down for the ride into or out of L.A. Alhambra Avenue with its lonely curve looking up at Mount Baldy, the way the first L.A. settlers came from San Gabriel Mission and the way they went back and forth to mass every week until the Plaza Church was built, and yes there are the artists living in many of the warehouses now, and the Holy Grounds coffee house, which is a jewel — I mean I’m not going to get into all the gentrification talk that surrounds the place, but it’s a jewel — sit in the garden with your not-bad coffee and wonder at the flora and fountain that man has planted for you to wonder at.

Okay, Huntington is larger on the north side of El Sereno and that’s where the shopping goes down, Food 4 Less. I mean, you know you are on the edge of the universe if Food 4 Less is your mainstream market, but that is where all the action is at. Newland Hardware, Huntington’s Route 66 Camino Real bells, and of course the street so wide ’cause it held many, many lines of Red Car going into the San Gabriel Valley, and now much commuter traffic doing the same. El Sereno was first part of the San Gabriel Mission tract, known as the West Hills, and that is what it is: the West Hills of SGV, as much as the Eastern Edge of City of Angels, which it is, the furthest east edge of the city, but in its soul it is the Western dust town of the Southland, here we are in the midst of the Southland, the great San Gabriels and further east the brother San Bernardinos, trumpeting the dawn with the their muscular shoulders and crevices. Oh hail Wilson, San Antonio, San Gorgonio, at dawn in late fall and winter you can see the Gorgonio and Jacinto in strong silhouettes on the eastern horizon showing you clear the mountains arms north and south, east and west that make this Southland the Mediterranean climate that it is.

Stand on the hills of El Sereno and you can see it all, from the desert to the sea, to all of Southern California; stand on the hills in springtime and see the green weeds cover everything fresh; stand on them in summer and see the burnt dry dirt hills, hard and eternal; stand on them at dawn, and see the mist, the low fog, the Sereno, cover everything, sometimes so thick you can’t see the street at the foot of your driveway. Stand and listen in the thick mist to the trainyard clanging the first trains of the day (I had to get the train in there again). Stand on the hill and watch the world explode on the Fourth of July for miles and miles, right in front of your face. But it’s the silence that really defines El Sereno, the middle of the night, man, that is where this place really shows you its soul — so quiet, coyote yowling, maybe a party blasting some kinda mariachi disco banda but still the quiet. Or maybe left over blockbuster fireworks, but still the quiet is strong, and the rest of the world — SGV, L.A., Southland — sparkles distant and over there, not right here, just over there. Roosters at dawn, but over there.

El Sereno home for these 15 years for that I am grateful. You are alone in your silent fog dusty Western hills, silent in your coyote silence, in this mad changing world, and for that I am grateful. The close end of far. The far end of close.


Vickie Vértiz:

Eastern Avenue

What were you before we arrived?
Dusty TV repair shops and chipped nail polish
Un cielo de humo
White biker bars
Neighbors lured by beer, dipping
In and out of pitch

During the summer, Loveland Avenue lined
With jacaranda, we carry a black umbrella
And our legs and arms tan to cajeta, burns like it, too
Swimming in a plastic pool only me and my brother fit
I like it, my color, a caramel in the mouth

Someone built a white-walled minimall
And the white folks moved out, took their ATVs
My best friend goes off with her blond mom
Takes her Mickey doll, forgets to say good-bye

And they left behind their board games: MAD, LIFE
We take them home and play like we can win
So many parts are missing

When they tear down the filmy blue apartments
I am twelve
Maybe we’ll move in if it’s town homes, live in a place
like E.T.’s family — cul-de-sacs and dead ends

Pero no
A dollar doughnut place in its stead. That? I got lots of
The golden arches and soft serve
A shoe store for paying less, but too much dignity
And the biggest thing:

I will have my first period
In the toy store bathroom
Where I know
I can still


Ramon Garcia:

I cannot drive through that crux of freeways (where all the freeways meet) in Downtown Los Angeles and not think about Maria Wyeth in Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays — Maria driving on Southern California’s freeways, in the throes of her existential Hollywood nervous breakdown, shelling and eating hard-boiled eggs at 70 miles per hour.

And yet, to me, imaginatively and culturally, Los Angeles is not dominated by the movie industry. Los Angeles is a Mexican, a Latin American city — and not just because half of its population speaks Spanish or descend from people who did. It takes a deep cultural and historical dissonance to not see that we live in a Latin American landscape, physically and culturally. When Los Angeles is referred to as “the city of angels,” the angels I think of are the homoerotic angels of the great Mexican modern poet Xavier Villaurrutia, whose “Nocturno de los ángeles” depicts a nightscape of cruising and eroticism. When I feel the sea breeze on the West Side, and I imagine the Pacific Ocean, the beaches stretching from Venice to Malibu, I think of Luis Cernuda’s exquisite “Málibu,” a poem that sounds out the name Malibu and imagines it as a sensual fairyland. While the stereotype of a dystopian Los Angeles overrun by freaks and freakery is seductive, I prefer the city’s occluded reality — a Latino metropolis, almost tropical in its sensuality, a product of Spanish-language poets who didn’t need to mine the city’s historical roots or create a foreign reality.

Los Angeles, for me, is encapsulated in Los Cinco Puntos, a little corner of Boyle Heights at the edge of Evergreen Cemetery, where East Cesar Chavez Avenue, Lorena Boulevard, and Indiana Street intersect. Los Cinco Puntos designates the Los Cinco Puntos/Five Points Memorial honoring Mexican-American veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The Chicano Moratorium protest march against the Vietnam War, on December 20, 1969, started from this corner of this working-class neighborhood. Los Cinco Puntos is also the name of the carnicería on the southern side of the intersection. It is a Michoacán-style carnicería, which means the carnitas taste of the rancho, and so do the homemade tortillas. The dried goods are what you would find in a pueblo in Michoacán — monolithic cinnamon sticks from Vera Cruz, jamaica the color of dried blood, tamarindo, piloncillo. The fall from vegetarian grace is assured, but in carnitas heaven there is no repentance, just a coming home.


Terry Wolverton:

Los Angeles is ever reinventing itself. Favorite places disappear, transforming into something else, and yet they echo through our memories. In “Into Eternity”, Eloise Klein Healy writes, “The new names drive the old / deeper and deeper into the dust/layering over each other…”

A three-story, red-brick Beaux Arts building stands at 1727 North Spring Street, in a neighborhood known as Dogtown. It is nestled beside the concrete-lined L.A. River, at the northern tip of Chinatown. From 1975 to 1991, this structure was occupied by the Woman’s Building. Call it a revolution-in-an-edifice, the Woman’s Building insisted that the diverse voices and perspectives of women constituted a culture that had been deliberately hidden and erased. For the people in that building, this culture had the power to remake society. During those years, the rooms and hallways of the Woman’s Building were filled with classes and readings and art exhibits and performances and political organizing. Even across decades, I can still hear the buzz and energy of women converging to discover or reveal their authentic selves, their differences, their commonalities in poetry and painting and song.

During those years, the backyard of the Woman’s Building was a vast trainyard and switching depot for the Southern Pacific Railroad, functional since 1875. A woman I knew once caused a wreck when she accidentally left her car parked on the tracks on her way to a New Year’s Eve dance at the Woman’s Building (mind-altering substances may have played a role). Before there were “homeless” people, hobos would jump off freight trains and sojourn under the North Spring Street Viaduct, frequently used as rehearsal space by Woman’s Building performance artists.

The structure itself was built in 1914. Before it was the Woman’s Building, it had been occupied by the sales department of the Standard Oil Company of California. In the 1800s, this land was called the Cornfield, perhaps because corn dropped from train cars and sprouted beside the tracks. The Cornfield was home to the Zanja Madre, an aqueduct powered by a water wheel, that irrigated the farmland until 1904. That land is now Downtown Los Angeles. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the land was part of the Tongva community of Yang-na. Each incarnation layered upon the one before.

A year after the Woman’s Building left North Spring Street in 1991, the trainyard closed down, though the tracks remained for several more years. The Cornfield lay abandoned, a desolate and contaminated brownfield; various interests fought over the property, the last plot of unused open space in the Downtown area. In 2005, artist Lauren Bon reclaimed the land for her Not A Cornfield installation, hauling out the contaminated soil and planting a million seeds of corn. Corn has the benefit of decontaminating the land in which it grows. The installation, which existed through one growing cycle, brought attention to the land and became a gathering place for people from the surrounding communities. The state purchased the property and opened it as a state park.

Later, Bon would open the Metabolic Studio in a warehouse abutting the state park, just two doors down from what had been the Woman’s Building. The Metabolic Studio utilized the area under the North Spring Street Viaduct as a gathering and performance space. In 2003, the Metro Gold Line began transporting passengers along the western edge of the Cornfield. My spouse walks in the state park and waves to the conductors on the Gold Line; they usually wave back. In 2016, the Metabolic Studio funded and hosted an archiving project with artists of the Woman’s Building as its focus. Old bones stir in memories of a new life.

Although the Woman’s Building no longer occupies 1727 North Spring Street, the structure that housed it was recently designated a historic and cultural monument by the City of Los Angeles, due in large part to its legacy as the Woman’s Building. The North Spring Street Viaduct has been rebuilt and widened. The Metabolic Studio has begun a project, “Bending the River Back into the City,” which will involve building a water wheel in the Los Angeles River, diverting the water to a wetland and cleaning facility, and then distributing the water to the State Park and the future Albion River Park.


Harry Gamboa Jr.:

I grew up right on the other side of it — the Sixth Street Bridge — I crossed that bridge a million times. That’s why I have a million stories about that bridge, you know, I crossed over it so many times, ran over it, walked over it, made love on it, rolled over it, nearly was killed on it, I nearly died on it. I first heard about the demolition from Glenn Kaino, who got a million-dollar commission to do some art related to it, that’s how I heard the bridge was going to be demolished. I hadn’t heard anything about it till then.

For me, this bridge was an example of the way architecture links places and people in the city. I have this performance troupe — I’ve had a troupe of about 70 people for two years — we go out, I feed them, take care of them, tell what to do, we make art, and some of it ends up in museums. So, I took them out to the bridge, posing people, throwing their arms up, off-balance, counter-balancing the imbalance of forces that are arrayed against us on all sides. I directed the performers to pose as if thrown off-balance — these pieces involve post-modernism and ritual — because if you’re walking on the bridge that’s being demolished, as time goes on, if it’s a half-bridge, it’s half of a bridge that goes nowhere. By the time the L.A. Times reporter showed up there was no bridge, it had all been torn down. For me, a lot of the work from ASCO forward, was about public space, for even just a fraction of a second, it’s about being in violation of all the infractions, rules, borders, and regulations increasingly imposed on public space (for example, in Antwerpen — I was in Europe earlier this year — I managed to convince some people to go out and perform in public. They believed that public space in their city is free, but they were surprised because no sooner did they get out, soldiers with bayonets appeared. So sometimes the space that you think is free is not as free as you think). Walking half a bridge that goes nowhere is signifying an existential presence — your presence — in the face of all this continual demolition.

The bridge is literally a representation of the public space being denied or destroyed all around us, during these times, in the face of these overwhelming forces. When this bridge was first built around 1932, it had this sort of Assyrian Roman Gothic facade that was like a magic portal toward Boyle Heights on one side and Downtown on the other, like a magic portal that was supposed to de-Mexicanize Los Angeles. I am absolutely certain, with Frank Gehry and all these other people associated with whatever billion-dollar project they replace that old bridge with, that they’re not doing it with any thought for the people who live in that neighborhood. Even if they install a little public park at the end, soon it’ll be a dog park and our kids won’t even be allowed to go there, guaranteed, it will not benefit anyone in the neighborhood.


Eric Howard:

Los Angeles erases its history, so I try to counteract that by writing poems about L.A. through my own personal history. I've written about my house in Silver Lake and people I’ve known here, not being shy about mentioning street names and landmarks.

The cross street is Riverside, but nobody says cross street anymore, since they use phones to find their way now. It’s the busy street on one edge of the neighborhood. The other edge is the L.A. River. The L.A. River bike path — it’s why I chose this neighborhood. I’ve written poems about it. Figueroa and Fletcher are the cutoffs on the south and north. But the street that really runs through the neighborhood rather than past it is Blake, a residential street that you can take from one end of the neighborhood to the other. As for the street that people go for walks on, it isn’t a street, it’s the L.A. River bike path. That’s where people hang out and say hello. 

Old houses get sold, fixed up, and usually a flip fence put in. It’s like watching mushrooms pop up on a lawn. Down the street, someone built a second, new house on the lot. I didn’t do a reno on mine — didn’t have the money. The chain-link gate that doesn’t stay shut like it is supposed to is still there. I’ve been here nine years, and I’ve gotten a new roof, bathroom, exterior paint, and kitchen, though.

When I moved in, the two houses to the left were occupied by long-time residents, Latino, the man in one most likely a member of the neighborhood gang, Elysian Valley Riverside. He was nice, usually outside fixing cars, so I saw more of him. He and his girlfriend were friends with a homeless white man with prison tats who hung around. He flagged me down on the bike path one time — stood in my way so I had to stop — to chew me out for going too fast on my bike. I could hit a kid! I didn’t like being threatened, but I did my best not to show fear. I had a feeling I was being tested. I rode slower after that. The guy was right. There were too many kids south of Fletcher. Someone I was riding with actually did hit a kid one time.

The old woman next door wasn’t nice, but she did give me a bag of figs one time. It was funny — I could tell she didn’t want to be nice to me, but she hated the idea of the figs going to waste. I think her family once owned the house I bought. I heard her arguing with the old man of the house (her father?) about it in Spanish. He died shortly after that, and she moved out and rented the place to a Section 8 family (the father was black, the mother white, four young kids) who were cool, but like most people on the street, they kept to themselves. Then the house sold, was fixed up, the possible gangster and the other people moved out, and the homeless man disappeared.

I’ve talked with a few other neighbors, and one thing they often say is how long they’ve lived here. Some have been here for 30 years, maybe more. If I remember right, one man said he moved here in 1965.

Now Uber and Lyft cars deliver young white people to the neighborhood. They don’t interact with me, even to say hello, which was the minimal stuff before. One Asian woman seems to have the big house to herself. I’ve spoken very little to her. I hear her working in her garden during the day; I wonder if she works a weird schedule or what. I’m around during the day now because I got sick and couldn’t work. 

Across the street, there was a Latino family of five sons crammed into a little house. They moved out, the house sold to a white, retired schoolteacher who is slowly fixing it up. He’s like a skinny Jimmy Carter. Very sweet, good guy. For a short time his granddaughter lived in the house. She had an alcoholic boyfriend who would get drunk and launch into rants that included every nasty word you can think of, many directed at her. He was fresh out of prison and soon went back in for something he did in a liquor store. He was the one scary neighbor I’ve had so far.

Gentrification is happening, and I am part of it. I moved here from Silver Lake after selling my house there to flippers. The real estate people won’t tell you, but I think I outbid the neighbors who wanted their house back. Now once again I’m considering moving as house prices keep going up. Another three-unit place at the end of the block got flipped and has the horizontal fence and young white people living there. 


Mike Sonksen:

When I lived on the Westside, attending UCLA, I loved Venice Boulevard and Olympic because they were both extra wide and so much faster than most of the others. I remember when I learned that Olympic was originally 10th Street but when the 1932 Olympics came to Los Angeles, 10th Street was changed to Olympic Boulevard because the 1932 Olympics were the 10th Olympiad.

I loved taking Olympic east all the way Downtown from West L.A. I enjoyed passing through all the areas like the skyscrapers of Century City, the southern side of Beverly Hills, the Miracle Mile, Country Club Park, Koreatown into MacArthur Park before arriving Downtown. Sometimes it could almost feel like a freeway.

The same is true of Venice Boulevard. I spent a lot of summers on the Venice Boardwalk and I used to love rolling Venice east from the beach. Driving from Venice to Mar Vista, Palms, Culver City, Mid-City, the edge of West Adams, Koreatown, Pico-Union, and then Downtown. Venice once had a streetcar in the middle and it is one of the most direct routes in Los Angeles. It cuts through so many pockets.

I lived in Inglewood for a while and taught just south of Leimert Park. I loved driving on both Van Ness and Crenshaw back and forth to my school. I love how Crenshaw curves as it enters Inglewood from the Hyde Park district. Van Ness is mostly residential but it goes from Torrance all the way to Franklin in Hollywood. The name changes from Van Ness to Arlington at 54th and then to Wilton north of Olympic. It also changes on the southern edge down in Torrance. It is quietly a very long street.

I had a single apartment in Koreatown for $425 a month from 2000 to 2002. I know that same place would be about $1200 now if not more. I have watched corporate culture take over the city in the last 25 years. One of the main things I have seen is luxury condos everywhere. In Downtown, it’s the high-rise condos by Staples Center. There are about seven or eight cranes building more as we speak.

I have lived all over Los Angeles County. I am now in the San Gabriel Valley and I have love for all the pockets, whether it’s the South Bay, the San Fernando Valley, Inland Empire, and even Orange County. All the area codes too whether it’s the 562, 213, 818, 323, 714, 909, 805, 626, 310, 619, or 424. It’s all SoCal. I have friends in all the locations.

I see my role as one who heralds forgotten voices and also researches hidden histories. Oral history is also a big part of my work. I enjoy celebrating the margins of the city. I love Central Library, Point Fermin in San Pedro, the Griffith Observatory, Elysian Park, Leimert Park, Inglewood, Little Tokyo, Sawtelle in West Los Angeles.

Atlantic Boulevard is close to my heart. I live just a few hundred feet east of it in Monterey Park. I was born off Atlantic in Long Beach at St. Mary's Hospital, 20 miles south of where I live now.


Bruna Mori:

From Urban Citizen: Writing Los Angeles, CalArts seminar by Jen Hofer and Bruna Mori:

“If writing is one of our primary ways of responding to and interacting with the world around us, a crucial foundational task of our process as writers is to develop, and spend our lives continually redeveloping, modes of perception, description, and dialogue — what we might call being-in-the-world. And if citizenship is a process of being willingly and wakefully a part of varied overlapping communities and nonconcentric circles of relationships, there is a conscious acknowledgment of both responsibility and response ability (sensory and empathetic and affective). We might think of our writing selves — that is, our selves — as urban citizens. And we might construct a practice of reading, writing, and conversation via an approach to understanding what an urban citizen is, what an urban citizen does, and how an urban citizen writes.”

Little Tokyo

Anime Jungle — boys dedicate weekend nights to sparring at foldout tables, and Lucien and I collect cards one at a time.

Kinokuniya — meeting Yami Yamauchi, author of Yami’s Origami; passed on last year as a generation of postwar, interned Japanese Americans pass on.

Koyasan Buddhist Temple — its hidden spaces with doors wide open.

The Japanese American National Museum Library — where my Noguchi piece was penned for OFFRAMP and A Thousand Waves yuzu spritz was purchased.

George Porcari’s Little Tokyo Lofts loft — to forever finish collaborations.

T.O.T. — a large bowl of spicy noodle soup with poet Jennifer Tseng.

The Italian veggie sausages in that new place I can’t pronounce.

The best sandwiches in town at the Old Bank deli.

Blue cheese fries at the old Pete’s with architects

Ryan Gosling served me coffee at the old Banquette.

Richard Edson laughed at an experimental poetry reading.

Stalkings by Roger Guenveur Smith.

Stars I knew were starlike but didn’t know they were stars official.

SCI-Arc — the long depot hallways where I taught for 10 years, and scooters.

REDCAT — (the smell of) CalArts

The Smell — (of) nostalgia

The smell (of) urine. 

The chronic bronchitis.

A sense of solitude. 

A sense of freedom. 

A sense of (no) place in the universe. 

Senior citizens still walking after housing was approved for them in the ’60s and ’70s, thanks to activism in the face of redevelopment.

I watch them disappear around corners.


Will Alexander:

Los Angeles being an anomalous maze from which spill diverse languages, peoples, and social forums. In this sense, it seems to spawn a higher Fahrenheit of consciousness. Los Angeles being a realia that is half the square acreage of Luxembourg, that is the “third largest metropolitan economy in the world” having a GDP of 700 billion dollars. For me, the city registers via various psycho-social reaction zones. In comparison to northeastern enclaves like Boston and Philadelphia, there are no contained demarcations inside of which the city respirates. Instead, it sprawls with incalculable fertility. Its 200-plus tongues, its cuisines stretching from Portugal and Malaysia, to Ethiopia and the southern lands of Africa and the Americas, Los Angeles has appointed itself as an intrepid enclave of nomadism.

In Los Angeles, the visible merges with the invisible, all while hurtling forward as an unclassifiable entity, powered by seeming emptiness. To use the eastern seaboard fails to honor its insatiable capability. My experience with this, my home ground, has been one of spectacular intervals. I remember, one odd Saturday afternoon departing the heights of Beverly Hills for the kinetics of Skid Row to do a poetry reading. This is not some abstract to my system, but, in the deepest sense a contorted continuum that continues to persist in this far western enclave. Perusing pages of Salgado’s photography at the Taschen store on Beverly Drive, then on my way to work, zigzagging through inebriated bodies on the throughway of Alvarado and its attendant side streets, seeming to spew a more feral life-giving flux in spite of its obvious flaws.

The Westlake area not only evokes the hypnotic powers of Buñuel, but the wonders of Louis Malle’s Phantom India, where the wayward blend as ciphers with vendors, who at times seem scalded by grime. On the surface, this seems to be a caliginous portrait reaching beyond scale and number, yet, on the other hand, for a poet like myself, it is an endlessly giving gift. It is not wrought by like communities of overbearing wealth, fraught by (what I’ll call) interior stationary fatigue. Instead, areas like Westlake thrive via the voltage of the unpredictable. It fosters itself as the hallucinatory outcome of what the future seems to be. A staggering masquerade of energy that simply overwhelms the old balances and studies. It remains the symbol of the Occident in our present moment, turned, in its own anomalous manner, to Indigenous psychic habitation.

When I hear experts on fire control attempting to control blazes by means of indigenous methods, it signals a shift in reflex from the linearity fueled by European cognition. It signals another psychic recognition. Not some utopian misperception, but instead, evoking a circular pragmatism that has allowed the race to emerge from prehistory psycho-physically intact. As state capitalism begins to turn into another phase of its telling, as the builder of Arcosanti, Arizona, once told me, it is those out of the cataracts that will begin to spur new direction. Attempts at incalculable gentrification can only go so far, and the profundity of democratic shift from Saxon priority to the southern global wave takes on the profundity of psycho/physiological meaning. Particularly when contrasted with the demographics of the original 13 colonies.

Of course, I am not at this time presiding over a kind of short-time assessment but taking into account long-term reconfiguration. Let me say, in passing, that the future has no boundary. Just as individual souls bound by the vicissitudes of prehistory could never evince unheard-of particulars such as fax machines and population data, we remain in much the same position when attempting to focus on an unscripted future. We are now so replete with projection via lineal boundary, collective neurology has no possible inkling of experience concerning the boundless cosmos. Instead we have human physical projection onto Mars, as if it could be turned into a mall, replete with specialized eateries. Given the species knowledge we have internally accrued since prehistory, this kind of projection seems entirely comical, linked as it is to extraneous habitation. Since there exists little if any vocabulary for the seeming riddle posed by internal technology, the mind, which has been trained by exterior reality, remains taut and unreceptive. With this tautness being our dominant psychic persuasion, Los Angeles seems a sweltering exception given its unruly range, say, in the short run, from Aldous Huxley to Rodney King. A hallucinatory range to say the least, spanning a seemingly inchoate context.

What seems to chronically conjoin my thinking as I close is our central lingual engine — English. With Los Angeles now suffused by other psycho-lingual experience, English now seems in rapid transmutation due to pressure from the “Other,” be it from Malaysia or Belize. English is no more solely infused by Anglo/German social experiment. English now hallucinated from other psychic suffusions that range from Tagalog to Mayan to Spanish. To paraphrase the late Canadian painter Jack Wise, we on the farther coast are no longer looking to Brussels but facing China. There is another psychic persuasion that suffuses our atmosphere, endemic with turning toward the aboriginal tenet spawned by the Chumash and Gabrielino.


Randy Cauthen:

I’m in Playa del Rey, not to be confused with Marina del Rey on the other side of Ballona Creek, and not to be confused with Playa Vista on the other side of the PCH. (Playa Vista by the way was built on top of a Tongva burial ground. The construction company ended up finding 411 graves, and kept all of those remains in a trailer until they negotiated a settlement with the Tongva. Playa Vista is now, according to a woman I had a couple dates with whose mother lives there, and who works as an aquachiropractor, enjoying the consequent well-deserved poltergeist phenomena.)

People here just call it Playa or The PDR. I’ve been trying to talk various people into calling it The People’s Democratic Republic of Playa del Rey (The PDR of PDR), so far without success.

The town is pretty sharply split between us ordinary folks and the rich and the dividing line is inscribed in the US Congress. I’m in Maxine Waters’s district (go Maxine), and on the west side; the beach side of Pershing is Ted Lieu’s district (go Ted also, but to a slightly lesser extent). When I meet people and tell them I live in Playa, I make sure to tell them I’m not at the bottom of the hill (at beach level), and not at the front of the top of the hill, I’m at the back of the top of the hill.

But I can still get to the beach in three minutes on my bike. That’s one of the reasons I’m here. There’s zero chance of me being able to afford to be this close to the water elsewhere in L.A. County on a teacher’s salary. One of the others is that Playa still has wabi-sabi, and feels like a small town — cut off at its ends by Ballona Creek, the Pacific, LAX (after a while you learn to breathe the half-burnt jet fuel deeply, like sea air), and the PCH. When you turn off of the PCH into Playa at night, it gets dark. Except for the backlit horizon.

I’m in one of the oldest of the dozens of apartment buildings, originally built for flight crews at LAX. It’s from 1954, and the kitchen has not been remodeled since, and I am afraid I will detonate myself if I try to light the heater. My neighbors are retirees (one of them in much better shape than I am because he plays volleyball every day with kids a third his age), a plumber-general handyman, a modelmaker for films (Titanic for one), a psychiatric nurse, and a lot of folks I don’t know what they do. I liked my building better before the Health Department came by, the next week the pool was filled with concrete.

The scene in downtown Playa, at the end of Culver Boulevard. leading to the beach, is half-wabi-sabi, half-gentrified. There’s The Harbor Room, which bills itself as L.A. County’s smallest bar and has an octogenarian bartender who takes no shit, and there’s another place right across the street that used to have a bartender missing the top two knuckles of her right ring finger, who would say, “Yeah, that’s a long story,” and would take no shit. Don’t know what happened to her. The place she worked I’ll leave unnamed. By rumor, it was the West Side’s primary Mafia hangout back in the ’60s and ’70s, and whenever I go there I wonder if I’m seeing anybody from those days. The crowd there tends so much toward old folks that the kids who invade downtown PDR from Loyola Marymount every weekend never set foot in there.

Then there are the new places. The biggest one is one block from the beach and should also remain unnamed, except to say: it is Playa Provisions, where about two-thirds of Manhattan Beach stops every weekday evening to wait out the southbound traffic on Vista del Mar, and where the men’s room smells like Hugh Hefner’s grave opened up, releasing a lifetime accumulation of cologne.

More gentrification coming. Across from Playa Provisions is a lot that’s been vacant ever since I’ve lived here (almost eight years now — the longest I’ve lived anywhere) except for people selling Christmas trees. The lot is owned by a company called Legado, which has been planning for years to develop it into a four-story complex, retail on the ground floor, and 72 condos above — despite the fact that the condos that are already down in that neighborhood ($1.6 million and up) seem to be mostly empty. Besides cutting off the view for all the people up on the hill and making the already doomed quest for beach parking even worse, the problem with this place is that construction of it might — might not, but might — tap into an underground cache of trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene left behind by the old Playa Cleaners. This possibility is, they say, under study.

Playa is very white already: 72.6 percent, it says here (but that makes us more diverse than Santa Monica or Venice or Manhattan).

That’s during the week, though — and during the winter. Every summer weekend, thousands of people head west on the 105 to Dockweiler Beach at the south end of Playa and have an enormous multicultural beach party. We start looking a lot more like America — kids and frisbees and kites and boom boxes and bikes, and a lingering Proustian smell of wood smoke and lighter fluid. We’re the only place you can legally have a fire on the beach between Malibu and Huntington. The flags: American, Mexican, USC, Dodgers, Raiders, rainbow, Christian (“Seek n’ Surf — Good News for South Bay Surfers”), Jolly Rogers, many variations on “I am drinking,” a red crab on a yellow field flown by a big large family that comes from Riverside in about a dozen campers, and one sad dude who flies both a “Blue Lives Matter” flag and the banner of the US Marines.

There are actually plenty of blue lives in the parking lot trying to matter, and kicking everybody out at 10:00 p.m. so a little subtlety with the booze and weed is called for. The cops don’t otherwise seem to dampen anybody’s spirits.

Drop by there sometime. Or come by my place and we’ll hike over a couple blocks to Palisades del Rey, an old subdivision condemned in the ’60s for being due west of LAX and fenced off — but breaking in is easy, and the old streets are Twilight Zonishly still there with the jets going 20 feet above, and there are hundreds of endangered El Segundo Blue Butterflies.


William Archila:

I live in the Highland Square area of Tujunga now, a neighborhood on the border of La Crescenta — what I like to call Northern Los Angeles. It’s peaceful up here with the congregation of crows hanging on the front lawn, the oak trees standing like kings, and the majestic view of the mountains. This proximity to nature is reminiscent of my days in Oregon, but antithetical to my urban days. Because of Blake, Keats, Wordsworth, and Shelley, I look for roots entangled in the city, a tree to patch the potholes and tar, black asphalt. Nevertheless, I’m still hungry for Los Angeles, my own metropolis, out of my poetry, out of my history and memory. Every morning, Monday through Friday, I descend on the 2 freeway toward Downtown, the buildings looming, like monsters out of the Odyssey.

For me, Los Angeles begins with Mario De La Fuente, shooting over the mountain through Coldwater Canyon Avenue, all the way to the Westside, listening to Tom Waits, Nick Cave, The Cramps, and, of course, Los Lobos. We were two immigrant kids spending too much time at the movies — the old Beverly Cinema to be exact — for a nightly themed double feature of classic, foreign, or independent films. We were cinephiles looking for rebirth, and of course, a bit of illumination. We were stuck in Van Nuys without a sense of culture, identity, or center.

We were born-again Angelenos, assembling ourselves from the ordinary debris of L.A. life. After a road flick, it was down to Canter’s on Fairfax for a patty melt and a cup of coffee where our conversations always began with the hitchhiker, his thumb leveled high along the highway line. Then a stop at Molly Malone’s for a night cap before heading back to the Valley.

All our wanderings led to the idea of getting back, back to the soft, moist smell of our native lands, the land of Latin America, Mexico, and El Salvador, but the volcanoes did not come back, come back not the coffee and guitars. Instead, we filled our heads with poetry, Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems, the Latino poets of the ’90s, such as Francisco Alarcón, Martín Espada, Judith Ortiz Cofer, and, of course, Gary Soto. I carried the anthologies After Aztlan and Poetry Like Bread up and down Los Angeles, the pages frayed and stained with the sweats and smells of the city. I particularly began to find solace in the Central American poets I was checking out at the Downtown library on West Fifth Street, poets like Claribel Alegría and Roque Dalton, and the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

I remember May 28, 1994, going to McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica to see the old bard Allen Ginsberg perform his poetry-cum-music work from Collected Poems: 1947–1980. For us, it was the closest happening to the Beat generation, more specifically the famous reading in 1955 at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. That tradition continues today. In Los Angeles, readings pop up all over, from open mics, spoken-word nights, and readings at venues such as Beyond Baroque in Venice and The World Stage in Leimert Park Village.

I gave my first poetry reading at the Onyx in Echo Park. I discovered my greatest strength was my memory, and language was the greatest weapon to employ it. I found an energy and fury in the city that fueled my poetry. It was the network of freeways, the smog and buildings Downtown, the hustle and bustle of a people looking for shade beneath the raggedy palm tree. Eventually our presence as two young Latino men living in the shadow of the Hollywood sign began to grow and we were engaged in claiming Los Angeles as home. All this time we were trying to find a road back to our native lands without realizing we were building a city out of our music, out of films and language, a city we could call our own. We were small voices rising above the noise.

Before gentrification, Echo Park was more like Saturday mornings in a coffee shop: a copy of the Weekly, steak and eggs, going through the pick of the week to see who was in town or what was going down. There were many strolls with friends, chatting over coffee or an omelet at the Brite Spot or a stretch over to the Astro in Silver Lake. I lived in a 1930s bungalow in Angelino Heights, where night’s tint of blue always got down on its knees, listening to the bass line that shook the roof of my house, the moon swaying its lovely head.

Monday through Friday, over the L.A. River from Echo Park to Lincoln Heights, I drove down North Broadway, the oldest neighborhood outside of Downtown, past the bus and trucks, past the commuters; the walking mother and child, students holding back the morning, old men in their cowboy hats and buckles, mama from Shang-Hai already walking home with her bulging plastic bags from the grocery store, young men in baggy pants and black shades, wearing black sweaters with the letters RIP, In Memory of My Primo Payaso, and girls with their thick, heavy red lips, long curly strands of hair. I pulled into Abraham Lincoln High School to teach the only vehicle I know: language. 

After my sabbatical in Oregon for my MFA, I started teaching at Belmont High School in the Westlake District, a neighborhood heavily infused with Central American and Mexican immigrants. Suffering from overcrowded housing conditions and some of the worst slumlords in the city, Westlake has opened its doors to gentrification to clean up the gangs, theft, drug dealings, and extortion. This is the backdrop to Belmont High School, once the largest school in California. Since 2016, the school has enrolled about 1,000 students, 40 percent of whom were of Central American origin, the majority unaccompanied minors. Most of them are interested in learning basic English, so they can start earning a decent wage. Most of them work after school as dishwashers or busboys out on the Westside from four to two in the morning. They take the empty bus back to their apartments and get home around three, bed by four, up again around seven to make it to school. Aside from the lack of sleep and healthy nutrition necessary to perform well in the classroom, these teens are constantly absent, trying to secure legal representation and immigration relief. Only a few are interested in school, but those who are succeed with a hunger that sometimes surpasses English Only students.

Over the last two years I have found myself writing about these students, their struggles, their odysseys to find a home. I wind up revisiting my crossing nearly all the time, unable to wrap my head around their sacrifices. I can’t fathom myself separated from my mother at age 12, let alone traveling the entire length of a country alone, knowing any minute my life might come to an end. These kids’ journeys are heroic, and their courage is a virtue necessary of recognition.


Brent Armendinger is the author of Street Gloss, a book of experimental translations (The Operating System, 2019); The Ghost in Us Was Multiplying (Noemi Press, 2015); Undetectable (New Michigan Press, 2009); and Archipelago (Noemi Press, 2009).

Jessica Ceballos y Campbell is the author of End of the Road (2017) and Gent/Re Place Ing (Writ Large Press, 2016).

Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James Books, 2014).

Kenji Liu is the author of Monsters I Have Been (Alice James Books, 2019), Craters: A Field Guide (Goodmorning Menagerie, 2017), and Map of an Onion (Inlandia Institute, 2016).

Steve Abee is the author of Johnny Future (MP Publishing, 2012), Great Balls of Flowers (Write Bloody Publishing, 2009), The Bus: Cosmic Ejaculations of the Daily Mind in Transit (Phony Lid Books, 2001), and King Planet: Short Stories and Poems (Incommunicado Press, 1996).

Vickie Vértiz is the author of Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut (University of Arizona Press, 2017) and Swallows (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

Ramon Garcia is the author of The Chronicles (Red Hen Press, 2015) and Other Countries (What Books Press, 2010).

Terry Wolverton is the author of Breath and other stories (Silverton Books, 2012), The Labrys Reunion (Spinsters Ink, 2009), Shadow and Praise (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2007), Embers: A Novel in Poems (Red Hen Press, 2003), Terry Wolverton Greatest Hits (Pudding House Publications, 2002), Insurgent Muse: Life and Art at the Woman's Building (City Lights Books, 2002), Mystery Bruise (Red Hen Press, 1999), Bailey's Beads (Faber & Faber, 1996), and Black Slip (Clothespin Fever Press, 1992).

Harry Gamboa is the author of The Sixth Expanse (2018), Aztlángst 2 (2015), Vie 21, Photo Journal 1 (2014), Worker Ant (1) ( 2013), Aztlángst: La La Fotonovela (Volume 1) (2011), Pix (2011), Fallen (2010), Rider (2009), and Urban Exile: Collected Writings of Harry Gamboa Jr. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).

Eric Howard is the author of Taliban Beach Party (Turtle Point Press, 2017).

Mike Sonksen is the author of Poetics of Location (Writ Large Press, 2014).

Bruna Mori is the author of BEIGE (UPSET Press, 2018), Poetry for Corporations (Insert Blanc Press, 2018), and Dérive (Meritage Press, 2006).

Will Alexander is the author of Based on the Bush of Ghosts (Staging Ground, 2015), The Codex Mirror: 60 Drawings by Byron Baker & 60 Writings by Will Alexander (Anon Edition, 2015),

The Transparent as Witness, Will Alexander & Janice Lee (Solar Luxuriance, 2013), Kaleidoscopic Omniscience: Asia & Haiti/ The Stratospheric Canticles/ Impulse & Nothingness (Skylight Press, 2012), Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat: Essays, Prose Texts, Interviews and a Lecture 1991-2007 (Essay Press, 2012), The Brimstone Boat - For Philip Lamantia (Rêve à Deux, 2012), Mirach Speaks to his Grammatical Transparents (Oyster Moon Press, 2011), Inside the Earthquake Palace: 4 Plays (Chax Press, 2011), Diary As Sin (Skylight Press, 2011)

Compression & Purity (City Lights Books, 2011), On the Substance of Disorder. [Parrot 7] (Insert Press, 2010), The Sri Lankan Loxodrome (New Directions Publishing, 2010), Inalienable Recognitions. Tract Series #4 (eohippus labs, 2009), Sunrise In Armageddon (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2006), Exobiology as Goddess (Manifest Press, 2005), Towards the Primeval Lightning Field (O Books, 1998), Above the Human Nerve Domain (Pavement Saw Press, 1998), Asia & Haiti (Sun & Moon Press, 1995), The Stratospheric Canticles (Pantograph Press, 1995), Archane Lavender Morals (Leave Books, 1994), Vertical Rainbow Climber (Jazz Press, 1987).

Randy Cauthen is the author of Slow Night (Transparent Books, 2014).

William Archila is the author of The Gravedigger’s Archaeology (Red Hen, 2015) and The Art of Exile (Bilingual Press, 2009).


Sesshu Foster is an American poet and novelist.


Feature image by Laurie Avocado.

LARB Contributor

Sesshu Foster has taught composition and literature in East L.A. for 20 years, and writing at the University of Iowa, the California Institute for the Arts, the University of California, Santa Cruz and Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program. His most recent books are the novel Atomik Aztex and World Ball Notebook. He is currently collaborating with artist Arturo Romo and other writers on the website, www.ELAguide.org.


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