I’d walk the empty rooms,
go up on the roof and watch the evening
around Pico and La Brea braid into night.
I made paper-mache wolves there,
figures of women, the front room
filled with torn newspaper and flour-water glue,
everyone facing the windows.
I’d gone alone there to find work,
stayed on the top floor of a forties duplex.
When I’d call home, my father would say
‘it’s a means to an end’ but I couldn’t
tell what the end was.
He worked the stockyards, carried a knife,
crews drinking their way through each shift,
fighting over the meat they would steal.
I wanted some clue but couldn’t find one,
pasting on the inked paper at night,
my hands caked with the blackened paste.
They’d come every Wednesday evening
and I began to wait for them when the dark seeped,
their rumble of vowels rippling across the air
as the shapes appeared,
silhouettes floating what grey light
remained between the apartments.
The children walked ahead, scouts calling back
what the next building had left for garbage-day,
lifting the dumpster lids,
picking from the bins along the sidewalk.
Words scraped the air like the hushed rasp
of palm branches wind pushed across the stones.
They pulled an ironing board out, a frying pan.
The woman rolled a shopping cart
and the man loaded what they found, a tricycle,
a rake, scavenging Sycamore Avenue.
I wanted to walk the evening with them,
search together, be part of their tribe.
When the groan of police helicopters would wake me,
searchlights scouring the alleys,
I’d crawl back through a scatter of dreams,
gusts of a song about a river blowing through the room.
I’d swim with the current
until I’d make myself get up,
cast my morning vows
and promise to talk to the first woman I saw.