by Sesshu Foster
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.
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. Read Rest of Article Here