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The Lot: a poem

October 6, 2008

Blessed by abundance of sunshine, butterflies
framed by eucalyptus trees,
a barranca, ravens scavenging from electric lines–

A van pulls up Mondays, Wednesdays.
Windows down, men eat lunch in shade.
The clinic’s security guard takes a breather
from anti-abortion animosity.
Others cool off, sleep in cars,
nap in leaves or face the trunk
with that particular attentive hunch men get.
In the barranca, workers in orange shirts
move earth with yellow caterpillars
preparing for winter.

A fair man with cloudy face
shirtless muscled black shorts ballcap
sits on abandoned concrete blocks
picks at pieces, uncovers nothing
tosses rubble like another
would stones into streams.
She joins him, they smoke:
silent mouths move.
Knives glint in sun.
She wears black jeans crop top sunglasses
walks away and comes back
like she does on the street.

He lives here, neighbor, drinks water
from my faucet through a hose to his camper,
eats pizza and drinks cokes at the corner.
His name is Ken and he doesn’t want an address,
doesn’t need an address.
He throws knives into a tree trunk
one after another after another.
They land in me. I am
powerless to do anything but watch.

Helicopter hovers, buzzes the barranca.
Butterflies, kittens scatter. Windows, nerves
rattle. Fugitive out there, the policewoman says.
Later, my neighbor, his camper
various derelict vehicles gone.
Hose, cushions, odd socks remain.

Sun will rise on the lot tomorrow,
wake butterflies from homes in trees.
Earth waits for what washes up.

c. by Gwendolyn Alley aka Art Predator

Background: I wrote this poem not long after I moved into this house about the lot between my house and an abortion clinic. Activity in this lot and area at the time included prostitution, drug dealing, and illegal dumping.

I read this poem to the newly formed Midtown Community Council and got their support to clean up the lot. I wrote and received a grant to turn the vacant lot into a wildlife demonstration garden, and the community helped make it so. A Scout troup worked on hooking up my water to a drip irrigation system to get the plants going.

Ten years later, the two sycamores are large and beautiful, the shrubs have filled in, the wildflowers have naturalized, and the avian diversity  has increased significantly. The abortion clinic has been torn down, and while there are plans afoot to develop the area into homes and they leveled the trees, they also intend to landscape with butterfly friendly plants, call it Paseo de Mariposa, and the city is turning their part of the adjoining land from a dump into a city park–all because of my visioning and advocacy. This poem and other writings I have done and shared in City Council and local media have changed the land here for the better.

This poem was published in ARTLIFE Limited Editions November 1998.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2008 12:47 am

    Unsettling and carefully crafted, those knives landing in you a sudden shock. The natural setting and the unnatural events, some disjunct between nature and humans, knives in trees, knives in you. Humans digging holes in the planet. Disturbing cool balanced and thought provokingly clever.

  2. October 7, 2008 11:21 am

    Beautiful — you make me know these people in a few lines. And the end is great — the repetition of these lives connected to the way the monarchs live.

  3. October 8, 2008 4:17 am

    thanks for your comments, paul and nathan.

    it was unsettling, living here, and these experiences. this poem is based on observations out my window and interactions.

    yes the digging, the disturbing–the man digging, the city workers digging, and the digging in the abortion clinic too…

    btw, after you commented, i added a few background paragraphs

  4. October 8, 2008 8:47 pm

    This shows the many ways in which art can prove itself powerful

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