Manual Arts High School Blues by Andy Lara

The prose poetry of Andy Lara captures the sights and sounds of the City of Angels, from the buoyant energy of schoolkids to the shuffle of homeless street scavengers.

It’s 8 a.m. and I hear an elementary school chorus shout, “Good Morning, Ms. Tubman!”

At night I hear the throaty bark of the upset man next door. From my window in South L.A., I hear it all. I hear police sirens. I hear car alarms, and the ice-cream man, the neighbor fumbling with dishes, cabinets, knives and, hopefully, some pastry: a chocolate donut, or soft cookie, a pop tart or strudel. I always try to find an artificial sweet-thing for the absent sweetness here at the cliff of South Central, on the edge of downtown. I hope they would do the same.

From my bed at night I hear the woman next door’s moaning, her pleasured whimpering — mmmmmph, mmmmph, mmmph.

And I think about masturbating.
I think about killing myself.

From my window, I can hear a car drive by and “California Love” is setting off alarms. Immediately another car drives by playing Los Bukis “Como Fui A Enamorarme de Ti” even louder. Are these the new Southland smooth oldies? Whose shuffle mode is this? Am I L.A.’s answering machine? Its secretary?

City of Angels, can I take an internship in your bosom? I am taking notes on your setlist tonight under the setting sun.

I’m tuning in to your heartbeat, and the sounds that make you shake, with a skunk in town, and all the kids out for bike rides. I take notes on the cold, dead moon that sends the homeless migrating between the day camp and the night camp, getting up at 5 a.m. to start scavenging, the early bird gets the recyclables. Are these L.A.’s Canterbury Tales? Nahhhhhhhhhh …

Do you know how to tell the difference between a gunshot and a firework?
Do you know how to spot a streetwalker?

Down the street, a nice guy paid $25K for floor seats to Kobe’s last game. Outside my door, random trash, homeless cats and worried ladies pushing strollers, and a nice woman taps her stomach and asks for 25 cents. Can you blame the sleeping man on the sidewalk why he doesn’t care about today?

Note to self: Beware the street sweeper, give smiles, give change to meters and to bums. Don’t wake the sleeping men, don’t take up a parking where two cars can fit. And when you get a chance, get the hell out of L.A.

Is South Central sad and beautiful like us? Like the rest of the world?

Or could this city be nothing but a sick, stinky garbage can? Like me, like you, reader.

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Andy Lara teaches writing in Los Angeles. His work has been published in local journals including Telos, Enjambed and Watermark. He can be found spending time in libraries and bookstores and is currently at work on a science-fiction novel set in Downtown L.A.