arnoldo garcía: No longer Oakland

Pandemic era mural in Oakland. Photo: arnoldo garcía (September 2021).

Three poems by Arnoldo García

No longer Oakland

The smell of Oakland,

Trash-strewn wind

The rotting smell of hamburgers mixing

into the tail-pipes of carbon-monoxide

a street-curb sewage sludge

of leaves, discarded clothes and legs of chairs

tilting the natural world over us

I walk to work

Alongside the streetwalkers

The only ones who smile at all the passers-by

They show us fortitude,

They break apart the solitude of bodies

They are the Buddha

That breathes in

That breathes out

Oakland’s musky aromas of blues

And pleases the men’s suffering

Men who do not know how to smile

Without ravaging her shadows first

And then their bodies smolder

Nothing is free

Hourly, contract work

Day laborers you can pick up

To feign love at first sight.

I keep on walking west from the eastside

Oakland changes colors

Feigning security and sisterhood

Pretending we are all human

Privatizing the suns that do not care

West Oakland is no longer west

East Oakland is lost to the gentle ways of suburban kids

The flatlands are being roughed up,

Renamed block by block

Oakland smells different

My neighborhood is being starved out.

I have to drive farther and farther to find unspoiled food

The buses go everywhere except where I need to be

The new neighbors call the cops who show up instantaneously

To arrest the black children for being black:

Get a job

Go to school

Land in prison

Rub the pigment off your eyes

And you will see we are different after all.

East Oakland is sweaty,

Sunburnt indios

My big working class mamatriarchs

Los muchachos las muchachas writing code

With blue red black white purple yellow

Oakland peels off her walls

Reveals moons and graffiti

Warnings we have a short fuse and a long gun of rage

We are code- and culture-switching interlocking hands and eyes

We are not virtual

We are not living in your lands

We are the digital coyotes of hunger

I keep on walking past 82nd,

Where there is an invisible wound of crack murders

On the chartreuse scream of my home

The walls teach the kids to box

Houses, apartments, concrete flailing lungs asunder

Next to oil-fumed mechanic garages

The PVC factory spewing death into the air and sidewalks

Crossing over from side to side

Of International, the boulevard formerly known as East 14th

to avoid the police and the men that take up all the space

The streets and neighborhoods are being renamed

So that when we return from work, from our dreams, from our roots

We will not find our way back home

We will be lost and the neighbors will call the police on us

To arrest us or at least throw us out of our place

For trespassing against the pigmented gates,

Homelandless again . . .

* * * * 

Oakland: human rites for all.

Oakland writes, here are
My day laborers,
My sex workers,
My paleteros,
My taco trucks,
My refugees
My tamaleras
hidden from view in the neighborhood street corner
or by the BART station competing with Vietnamese cafes & other micro-vendors pushing their carts full of snacks that all get doused in lemon and chile powder or salsa when you buy from her.

Here are my working class, indigenous migrant people, the Ohlone invisible people over whose lands we fight.
African Americans, Latinos, Mexicans, working class whites, Chinatown,
Jingletown, the Lake, the Hills, North, East and West and the 15,000 year old Ohlone embrace of reeds, shells, mounds pregnant with ancestral dreams.

Oakland writes:
But there’s a new gang in town, believes tagging is art:
One of them using white spray paint,
wrote: Viola Pface
fancy calligraphy
not the delusional FIRME of the brown boys with real guns
not the ESO locos with blood in their dreams
not the norteños hunting and being hunted
Not the jornaleros selling their bodies for food and shelter on High Street

These are the New G’s
Who are pushing out the OG’s into the valley or into the jailhouse
The New G’s cruise looking for the cuisine taco bicycle
Not cholos, but Xolos
Selling the same mean taco for $3.95
When you can get one for $1.00 or so somewhere east on the flatlands.
The new G’s will never be OG’s, they are the willing middle class day laborers called consultants, the professionals, the commuters with a ship for an anchor around their necks, working to death:
disposable labor is disposable labor
a dispossession of us is a dispossession of us
a foreclosure of cultures…

Oakland rites:
I will build an altar on every street corner of Oakland
Candles and photos for those killed by their neighbors
Candles and art for those driven crazy broke & unhoused by banks
Red, blue, black and white paintings for the brown boys and girls
mixing their colors into a new gang called humanity

A potted plant, flowers for the occupiers and their gang of police.
An altar of hope for those that moved from San Francisco because they could afford Oakland 
An altar of guaranteed income for those pushed out of the cosmic west and east.

I am not from here either
I have been a migrant all my life
Yet I am not a gabacho
(Note: Gabacho means “those who have fat toes and do not watch where they walk, who step on plants and animals without noticing, who urinate and defecate into the water and kick us with their feet.” Gabacho means “ecological footprint,” and has other synonymous equivalents like “wasichu,” those who take the fat, meaning those who live way beyond their means taking what belongs to many more)
I consume too many books
that is my only offense that I am willing to admit
(Maybe I am responsible for destroying public libraries because I didn’t check out enough books and those I did I returned years later?)

Oakland writes:
Houses, fresh lofts, restaurants, trader José, bicycle lanes, work-from-home-computer jobs for strong young men and women, beer and wine bars, boutiques…
I have seen the future and will it work without me?
Probably yes.
Where are we going to be?
Where are we going to go?
How will we make a living?
Forced into the graveyard shift or just into the graveyard?
My grandfather was right:
Tranquility is only possible when families and communities unfold together, planting their own seed in the land they take care of.
Stopping deportations, evictions, criminalization, unemployment, feeding hungry children, loving the other, is tenderness, is indispensable.
we can do it together, OG’s and New G’s.

Oakland writes to you and I,
what if we shared?
what if we cared?
what if…
Where will we go next?
I came here to struggle
and I have struggled
I came here to make a revolution
and have to learned to fight a counterrevolution
I came here uninvited, too, yet the Ohlone welcomed me while the police followed me everywhere I went.
I have lost everything except that which cannot be bought or sold by me or anyone:

my people, my community, my place on the land, my pock-marked skin, my wild laughter, my unruly, untamable love for you.

Oakland writes:
It’s only been about 150 years since the gentrifiers showed up.
It’s not too late to revert to the old ways
where clean water, clear sunlight, healthy fish and soil abounded
Oakland encinalado
Oakland slowing down to stay at the horizon longer
Oakland Ohlone
Oakland a sister of the region
Oakland the human rite of survival
Oakland the fault line of the blues
Oakland mixtery…

April 29, 2014


Soy del otro lado

Soy del otro lado
del lado bravo
del lado tuyo
del lado izquierdo
donde tengo el nido
para tus abrazos
Soy del otro lado
donde los muros
son las sombras
que persiguen
a los policías
que defienden
a los tiranos del mercado
Y el sol está
a nuestro lado
el lado de la tierra
el lado de las lágrimas con sus sonrisas
el lado de la luna llena y vacía
el lado que es combustible para las estrellas
el lado donde somos íntegros
el lado que divide a las bestias
adomándolas con nuestra luz
el lado que nos abriga
contra la rabia del dinero
Soy de ese lado
con sus seis direcciones y sus siete espacios
donde los abrazos abren cielos y puertas
donde los llantos espantan a las fronteras
y las mujeres nos dan su espalda
para cargarnos y sobrevivir
Del lado donde nuestros desaparecidos
Soy del otro lado

del lado izquierdo
del lado tuyo …

[Abril 2016]

| * |

I am from the other side

I am from the other side
from the side of the Bravo
from your side
from the left side
where I have a nest
for your arms
I am from the other side
where the walls
are shadows
that chase down
the police
that defend
the tyrants of the markets
And the sun is
on our side
on the side of the earth
on the side of tears with smiles
on the side of the of the full and empty moon
on the side that is fuel for the stars
on the side where we are whole
on the side that divides the beasts
taming them with our light
on the side that holds us
against the rage of money
I am from that side
with its six directions and seven spaces
where our embrace open up skies and doors
where our cries threaten borders
and the women give us their backs
to carry us and to survive
From the side where our disappeared
I am from the other side
from the left side

from your side . . .

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