I only know the best of you:
dolphins that arch in the bay,
clouds that turn water an aching
blue, the smell of surf, the sting
of salt, broad sidewalks and shiny
silver parking meters.
I know the half-hour wait for pancakes
and the best bacon ever, the restaurant
open for breakfast only and all the people
lining up after church—
I know the markets where coconuts
are already shelled, tomatoes
are sliced with gorgeous onions
and olive oil from foreign countries.
I know the tourist dives on the pier
where toe rings fight with sand dollars
for pocket change.
I know the sun on the dry Los Angeles
river but not the broken trees, stench
of debris and urgency on the coattails
of storms. I know the mountains but
not the fires. I know the fireweed but
not the fear of loss. The desert
but not the heat. Or the ferocious cold.
I know the morning birds, the house
finch who taps on my window,
the baby mockingbird who wakes
with the sun and therefore wakes me.
And the crows who circle cut lawns
for specks of something only they know.
I know the beauty of catching some
stranger’s eye at a red light and sharing
a secret smile between the two of us.
And the man who plays accordion
through the open door of his parked
car and wants nothing. The homeless
woman with cheekbones chiseled by God
whose smile lights up the ghosts
beside her and everyone who passes by,
and the neighborhood bartender
who calls cabs, even at 9:00 a.m.
I know the Los Angeles of no judgment.
The merciful, beautiful, outline of a city
whose insides are unknown and private.
I am not the one to diagnose and dissect
those hidden places. I am the photographer,
the painter, the writer, the scientist
catching her in a pure dream light and calling
Poem by Tobi Alfier
Photo by Flickr/Richard PJ Lamber