Charlotte Ashlock

I love you West Oakland

May 18, 2014 My Poetry Social Change Writing 4
A mural I see and often wonder about.

A mural I see and often wonder about.

I live in the ghetto, and even though many people ask “how can you live there?” I really enjoy living there. ┬áThis poem is about that experience

I love you West Oakland.
I love this abandoned little park I am sitting in now with the wrappers tossed and grass overgrown everywhere
I love how the activists put poetry in the concrete of the plazas
As if that would make a difference.


I love how the man jokes as he orders his Subway sandwich
Although the bullet proof glass that protects the Subway employees from the Subway customers
Makes me feel a little awkward.
(Plus, they have trouble hearing my order.)

I love you West Oakland
I love the beautiful social justice murals on the abandoned walls
Although their message frequently bewilders me
(What does a pink wall that says
“Born with love- raised with a fist”
really mean?)

I love you West Oakland
I love how the elementary school crossing guard says hello to me
Every day on my way to the train stop
And I love with what pride they dress
The pint-sized children in their pink and purple clothes
And the Disney princess backpacks
Although sometimes I worry
Watching them play though the fence
Whether they will ever go to college

I love you West Oakland
I love the mystery of the tall walls with their barbed wire
Once behind those walls I found a hidden soul food restaurant
With waitresses that called me “honey”
And served me candied yams
I was the only white person there
And the walls were covered with posters of Michelle and Obama.
I loved it, but I never went back.

I love you West Oakland
I love how the man at register of the corner store
Is totally comfortable smoking pot
While he rings up my order of chips and Ben & Jerrys
And makes fun of how much ice cream I eat.
And isn’t it nice how he sells meat and vegetables
Along with the snack foods
Is he fighting the “food desert
Or do his customers just have nowhere else to shop

I love you West Oakland
I love my backyard with the chickens and the tall stalks of kale
I love that no matter how loud the music
They will never call the cops
I love that the landlord doesn’t care
How much livestock we own or how many roommates we have
Because the landlord just doesn’t care

I don’t love the tall fences in front of every house
(Giving the postman no way to deliver packages
Other than hurling them over the 10-foot spikes.)
But I do love the ladders my neighbor and us
Put up, so we can climb over each other’s fences whenever we want
And I love how my other neighbor feeds all the stray cats
(Though sometimes I worry about those cats,
Those skinny scared shadows in the night)

I love walking the little dog
And saying hello to the other people
Walking their little dogs
Princess Amelia is so brave
She always tries to make friends
With those big guard dogs
Who bark and slam against the fence
And could probably swallow her sweet little furry body
In one big bite

I love how I can sit on my back porch
Smelling the morning and eating pancakes
And listening to the happy murmur of my roommates talk
One roommate is fretting over lead in the soil
And wondering if we should really eat those lettuces
But I’m sure it’s fine

I love you West Oakland
I love you partially because no one else seems to love you
And my quixotic soul is enamored
With the unloved, the picturesque.
(After all, hardship is so picturesque
When you’re not living it)

I love you West Oakland
And I will destroy you
With my crisp blazer, my precise hairdo
Click-clacking my way to the train
To work my nine to five job in the city
Someone painted on the sidewalk
“No white people,” and someone else rubbed
Out the word “no” so the sidewalk now just says
“White people.”

My grandmother says they should have painted,
“Know white people,”
But is it really realistic
That any of us should know each other
The black people make friendly remarks
And the white people laugh nervously
And watch their wallets

And I know I am colonizing this place
But I just love it so much
But I won’t be sending my children to that school
Will I?
I keep saying I will volunteer in the neighborhood
But I never do, because people
Who look like me
Like to look at problems
From a comfortable distance

Unless they can ride their snowy white horses
In to save the day.
Someone put a flyer in our gate,
“Attend a meeting to stop gentrification!”
You summon the gentrifiers
To stop gentrification?!
What will we do
Sit in a circle
Patting each other’s backs
For how much we care?

The Beatles told me all you need is love.
That might be true,
But it’s not nearly
so simple
as it seems

4 Responses

  1. Julie O'Mara says:

    Beautiful Charlotte. And when I think of West Oakland I think of when the freeway collapsed in the earthquake and the Black Panthers. And I will respond to your other posts on privilege — need to think and reflect more on those.

  2. cedrixclarke says:

    Wonderful.

  3. Wendy Ashlock says:

    I just finished reading “Call the Midwife” by Jennifer Worth. It contains a similar theme to this poem, but about the Cockneys in the 1950s. Their culture was destroyed in part by the process of tearing down and rebuilding substandard tenement housing. The defective buildings HAD to be destroyed, but they could have preserved community-building features like courtyards and inward facing balconies. Maybe the trick to gentrifying West Oakland is to identify what is most precious (as you have done in this poem) and make sure that is not threatened.

    • The Crazy Idealist says:

      I think the main issue with gentrification is people who are not here to stay making this their community. A neighborhood changes a lot when long-term families live there vs. short-term yuppies on their way to something better.

      I like what you’re saying though, mum.

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