Psalms and Lament for Los Angeles
On the streets of Hawthorne I sat down and wept.
Yes, wept as I remembered it.
I came to the asphalt country of my childhood,
to revisit the precincts of memory.
I walked the old boulevard, where the shops
had been condemned and demolished.
I passed the bankrupt mall, defaced and boarded.
And all was vacancy and squalor.
Where was the drugstore where my parents met?
And the neighborhood park with its Indian palms?
Where was the Plaza Theater with its neon beacon
taller than a church spire?
I wandered the silent ruins of my city.
What was there to sing in a strange and empty land?
If I forget you, Los Angeles, let my eyes burn
In the smoggy crimson of your sunsets.
If I prefer not the Queen of the Angels to other cities,
Then close my ears to the beat of your tides.
Let me stand on the piers of Malibu, blind
to the dances of the surfers and the dolphins.
But, O Los Angeles, you dash your children against the stones.
You devour your natives and your immigrants.
You destroy your father’s house. You sell your daughters to strangers.
You sprawl in the carnage and count the spoils.
You stretch naked in the sunlight, beautiful and obscene--
So enormous, hungry, and impossible to pardon.
Psalm of the Heights
You don’t fall in love with Los Angeles
Until you’ve seen it from a distance after dark.
Up in the heights of the Hollywood Hills
You can mute the sounds and find perspective.
The pulsing anger of the traffic dissipates,
And our swank unmanageable metropolis
Dissolves with all its signage and its sewage--
Until only the radiance remains.
That’s when the City of Angels appears,
Silent and weightless as a dancer’s dream.
The boulevards unfold in brilliant lines.
The freeways flow like shining rivers.
The moving lights stretch into vast
And secret shapes, invisible at street level.
At the horizon, the city rises into sky,
Our demi-galaxy brighter than the zodiac.
Surely our destinies are written in this zodiac,
Whose courses and conjunctions govern us.
Look down and name our starry constellations--
Wilshire, Olympic, Santa Monica.
In speeding Comets or sleek Thunderbirds,
We traveled the twelve Houses of the Heavens
Ascending Crenshaw, Sunset, or Imperial,
Locked in our private worlds of lust or laughter.
Who will cast the charts of our radiant sorrow,
Or trace the secret transits of our joy?
The traffic shimmers in its fixed trajectories,
Dense and indifferent as nebulae.
Though you resist the gaudy spectacle,
You can’t escape the city’s sortilege.
Move away, if you wish, to the white Sierras,
Or huddle in the smoky canyons of Manhattan.
You’ll miss the juvenescent rapture of LA
Where ecstasy cohabits with despair,
Lascivious and fitful as a pair of lovers.
Let someone else play grown-up.
Here the soul sings like a car radio, and no one
Asks your age because we’re all immortal.
Inhale the spices of the midnight air
Drifting from Thai Town and Little Armenia.
Here on the hilltop, the city whispers to you,
“Come down and play in the traffic.
Merge into the moving lights, our myriad,
The luminous multitudes that surround you.
Join their fiery orbit. Shine with us tonight.
Where else can you become a star?”
Psalm to Our Lady Queen of the Angels
Let us sing to our city a new song,
A song that remembers its name and its founders—
Los Pobladores, the forgotten forty-four,
Who built their pueblo beside a small river.
They named the river for the Queen of the Angels,
Nuestra Senora Reina de los Angeles.
Poor, they were forced to the margins of empire,
Dark, dispossessed, not one couple pure.
Let us praise the marriages and matings that created us.
Desire, swifter than democracy merging the races—
Spanish, Aztec, African, and Anglo—
Forbidden matches made holy by children.
I praise myself, a mutt of mestizo and mezzogiorno,
The seed of exiles and violent men,
Disfigured by the burdens they shouldered to survive.
Broken or bent, their boast was their suffering.
I praise my ancestors, the unkillable poor,
The few who escaped disease or despair—
The restless, the hungry, the stubborn, the scarred.
Let us praise the dignity of their destitution.
Let us praise their mother, Nuestra Senora,
The lost guardian, who watches them still
From murals and medals, statues, tattoos.
She has not abandoned her divided pueblo.
She has been homeless with a hungry child,
A refugee fleeing a brutal warlord.
A mother, she held her murdered son.
Her crown is jeweled with seven sorrows.
Pray for the city that lost its name.
Pray for the people too humble for progress.
Pray for the flesh that pays for profit.
Pray for the angels kept from their queen.
Pray in the hour of our death each day
In the southern sun of our desecrated city.
Pray for us, mother of the mixed and misbegotten,
Beside our dry river and tents of the outcast poor.