Figueroa Street

by Jose Oseguera

Its long, serpentine body always
filthy in a compost of candy wrappers, flattened chip bags,
and stained soda bottle shards—
divine translucence of a Parisian rose window;
their glass rattles beside me like excited children,
hopping over syringes, charred stainless steel spoons,
ripped surgical gloves, and dried streams of urine—
the pigeons peck at it
and rustle away into their rooftop nests.

Old signs from the 1950s—
post-apocalyptically rusted—
hang on buildings inhabited by people
with eyes of wounded creatures
ensconced deep in their den.
An old man with a striking resemblance
to the old Florentine master Michelangelo Buonarroti
sits on a chair in the building’s dirt lawn,
picking at a scab on his head.
The tips of his fingers—
muddied in his own ketchup—
slowly detaches the dead flakes
and carefully places them on a palette
he formed on his right knee,
ranging from purple-brown to live-red;
a sign of a rebirth to come.

At night, the street is lit by red, green and purple
neon signs for stale Mexican food
and beauty nail salons emitting
noxious scents of oily tortilla chips
and chemicals frying human hair and scalp.
their ghoulish buzzing pierces through the urban
soundscape as crickets serenading the moon.

The wall paintings on the side of businesses—
as scrawlings left behind
by a civilization on the brink of extinction—
tell a story of a different way of life,
one that involved violence and pride,
colors and tribalistic enclaves,
where things weren’t always great,
but at least nobody cared that ten people
lived in a one-bedroom apartment
or that you couldn’t pay your bills,
and listened to your corridos as loud as you wanted
as late in the night as you needed.

There’s a man who sweeps the streets
and wipes the walls momentarily reclaimed
by analphabetic, brown youth
betrayed by their culture and country—
too young to be threatening,
but too old to simply brush off—
spritzing chemicals that make his eyes red,
watery not because they burn,
but rather, because there’s nothing more he can do.

He gives me an acknowledging look,
but says “hi” to my dog—
a cheerful yet picky golden retriever
that doesn’t get excited with just anybody.

It makes me happy to see how she wags her tail
as he approaches to give her a pat on the head;
“My friend” is how he welcomes her
into his soiled jumpsuit embrace;
he must be a good person—
in his faith that these grimy streets will someday stay clean,
and in the inner kindness
that only animals are pure enough to detect.

 

•••

Artist: Victor Plazma

Jose Oseguera is an LA-based writer of poetry, short fiction and literary nonfiction. Having grown up in a primarily immigrant, urban environment, Jose has always been interested in the people and places around him, and the stories that each of these has to share. His writing has been featured in The Esthetic Apostle, McNeese Review, and The Main Street Rag. His work has also been nominated for the ‘Best of the Net’ award (2018 and 2019) and the ‘Pushcart Prize.’ He is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection ‘The Milk of Your Blood.’