5th and San Julian

The heart of Skid Row,
a place where so much
pain is concentrated,
is also the site
of so much
so many people
willing to share a
friendly word,
a nod,
an acknowledgement
of mutual
human things
that are hard to come by
in neighborhoods with
green lawns and gates
and shiny cars in the driveways

Makes me wonder
what we lose
when we have so much
that we are afraid of losing


“Real poverty is the belief that the purpose of life is acquiring wealth and owning things. Real wealth is not the possession of property but the recognition that our deepest need, as human beings, is to keep developing our natural and acquired powers and to relate to other human beings.” –Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution

7 thoughts on “5th and San Julian

  1. I like your poem and I agree with you. I have to add though that even this humility, this sense of appreciation for “human things” feels like a privilege, a result of having a stable environment, a stable upbringing, an education, etc. How worried about “human things” would someone be if he’s facing famine or running from war? I think that in order to have this perspective on “real wealth”, one’s life needs to not suck really bad in the first place.

    1. Skid Row is where many of the least-privileged, least-stable people in this city and this country live, and those “human things” are normal. You’re right that the appreciation is a result of privilege– I appreciate rather than take for granted that someone I say hello to will say hello back to me. That’s because in the midst of all the privilege, that connectedness between people is harder to come by.

      In many terms, all the people I’m talking about who say hello to me and acknowledge my existence– no, I don’t think they “appreciate” the “human things.” But I don’t think it’s because they don’t have time to sit here and write a poem about how they appreciate it; it’s because it is not so rare for them to experience it as it is for me. Isn’t that… something?

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. :n)

  2. Narinda, you mean to tell me you get less hellos than someone who lives on the streets? Aww man, I thought transients had it bad. Talk about not having your existence acknowledged.

    1. The main point is not at all lack of acknowledgement for me personally. I’m talking about general acknowledgement of humanity by people in the Skid Row community, a community that exists as it does today because privileged folks would rather not have or deal with homeless folks in their own neighborhoods. Skid Row is one of the highest concentrations of people living on the streets in the country. And they acknowledge me, and acknowledge each other, more than I see in most places. So, the comparison I’m making is not about me me me me me and whether people say hello to me; it is about the way that people living in conditions which most Americans never, ever see or deal with take the time to say hello, to speak, to extend acknowledgement to the people around them as fellow human beings. If you are interested and can make it to 5th and San Julian in Downtown LA one day, I can show you what I mean and we can talk more about it.

      How likely is a man in a suit walking down the street (who probably has no immediate concerns about war or famine) to say hello to anyone he passes? This is the difference I am highlighting.

  3. I hear what you are saying. I’m sorry if I’ve upset you. That wasn’t my intention. I do love your views and your poetry :) I’m not in LA too often but thank you for the invite. I’d still love to hear from you.

    1. No harm done; your comments created an opportunity to clarify my meaning. I appreciate that you’ve kept up with my writing. If you’d like to continue this discussion, drop me a line via the Contact page. :n)

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