one street dreamyard/l.a.
For all those who have faced death â€“ and chosen life. â€“ from a Buddhist prayer
ONE STREET DREAMYARD/L.A.
THIS BOOK ... captures the spirit of DreamYard/L.A., through photographs, inspirational words and original poetry born within our workshops. Poetry is the language of our community. It is how we communicate with each other, with our truest selves and with the muses that move us to create. The poems included in this book represent the fabric that connects us to each other. It is through poetry that we open our hearts to each other, that we share and heal our wounds, that we celebrate our personal growth and journey together. On paper, DreamYard/L.A. is a non-profit arts-based violence prevention/intervention program empowering youth and young adults in the juvenile detention facilities, schools and streets of Los Angeles County. But since our first poetry workshop began at a juvenile probation camp in 1995, we’ve evolved into a broader healing community that reaches beyond program, uniting different racial, ethnic, and socio-economic segments of our city around the transformational power of the creative process. In recent years, we’ve travelled as far from home as Germany and Hungary to share our methodology with others working to address the issue of youth/gang violence. Street Poets United, our violence prevention-themed poetry performance group composed of formerly incarcerated youth and young adults, has performed for audiences throughout California and the U.S. since its formation in 1998. We continue to work primarily with incarcerated youth, middle school at-risk youth, pregnant teens and teen mothers, but we don’t stop there. DreamYard/L.A. creates circles. Poetry circles. Drum circles. Multicultural multi-generational circles. Creative healing circles within which people of all ages and backgrounds can breathe, write, laugh, cry and rediscover their authentic voices. This book is our collective response to an American culture increasingly ruled by fear and permeated by violence. These are the voices of our community: profane, profound and prophetic – dancing on the frayed nerves of a nation both divided and divisive. We hope this book finds a home in your heart and serves to remind us all who we really are. One Street One Heartbeat One Love.
Chris Henrikson, Director, DreamYard/LA
Soldier Poet Last week I strip-searched the streets For a soldier poet Struggling to make life rhyme With a bullet-splintered shin And one long 25-to-life knife to the forehead He’s still alive blind in one eye Rushed from pimp-walk to gimp-walk By a symphony of sirens Heartbeat who-bangin’ on his ribcage Only 18-years-of-age I found his homeboy Dying from the same disease Dry eyes screaming please Release me from this two-bedroom tomb This dope smoke-filled emergency room This prison skin Rice paper-thin Tattoos like open sores Toe-tagging in the AIDS ward Still trying to be hardcore Don’t call me doctor I’m not one I don’t laugh at jokes But I got one About a kid with no father I taught one His enemigos rolled up He shot one They fired back He caught one Now he’s looking for answers I brought one An empty notebook with lines I bought one For $1.99 Less than a gun Last week I strip-searched the streets For a soldier poet Struggling to make life rhyme with hard time I found him on page three Right next to me Scratching his way back to the beginning With nothing but a pencil for protection In this mad house of correction We all call body
–Chris Henrikson, 35
Last week I stripsearched the streets For a Soldier Poet Struggling to make life rhyme with hard time 07
Street Poet I’m trying to rebuild the community In which one day I will die My hood is your hood And your hood is mine Jumping over barricades Ducking yellow police tape Tiptoe past white chalk Fanning gunsmoke out my face My vision is pigeon-toed no more We need help down here Supporting Cali streets Like we all in New York Trying to rebuild the community In which one day I will die My hood is your hood And your hood is mine L.A. got Twin Towers too Packed with poets like me and you That’s me you see on the sidelines Asking questions Walking infants to safety Passing out first aid On a bull horn Losing my voice Going hoarse Trying to rebuild the community In which one day I will die My hood is your hood And your hood is mine Horseback-riding the Metro With the freeway as a lasso Hog-tied in harmony From Beverly Hills to Baldwin Park Encino to East L.A. It don’t matter where you stay Love’s gonna get there someday!
–Keith Jones, 21
I once heard a saying “You are what you believe you are.” Then I’m constant evolution Like the sun, moon and stars. I move from belief to deceit From deceit to belief From standing on my feet To victorious defeat But I refuse to let life pick on me. From believing what I see To perceiving the unseen. From being completely clueless To knowing exactly what you mean. From my realities to my dreams Comedy to tragedy I’ll make you happy Then I’ll make you mad at me. From a seed to a tree From a leaf to a seed Life is a process that is bound to repeat From the darkness I’ve walked through To the enlightened people I’ve talked to The future always seems scary And the past will always haunt you Regardless we’ll always be here In the right now Learning how To accept ourselves To accept others To accept Now Before we leave it all behind The day I die But by then I’m just a blink of an eye A star in the sky A memory for your mind To search and go find Release your soul from its binds And become one with Life.
–Chris Corona, 25
the writer does not learn to write so that he can “write,” but because without the necessary tools, he cannot dig his way out of prison. –Allan Swallow
Inside Me Inside me lies A 5-year-old boy Dying to be free Pleading with the world To just let him be Stuck in the past Eyes bruised like rotten fruit Extension cord cuts Bullet wounds to his soul The hospital nurses Couldn’t make him whole Scared of what his future holds Heart so battered He can’t wait for it to shatter Life or death Does it really matter? The world tries to make me Something I’m not My Mother wants me to be a saint My homies want me to be a G My father’s ghost is all I see His twelve-gauge pointed straight at me
Sitting here in fear While life passes me by Trying not to get high Because somewhere deep inside Lies an evil demon People catch glimpses But they can’t really see him He’s the one who makes me fall Like an eight-ball into juvenile hall He hides waiting for the right time To take advantage of me And anyone else he can see Thanks to him I’ve been able to survive But I’ve paid a heavy price For allowing him to remain Inside my brain Slowly going insane In search of something beautiful To hold on to Beyond my crew That I know is true
–Jason Quezada, 17
walk poet Walk Poet walk Beyond that thug life you left in the distance Ignore those double-barreled stares aimed at your back Because you’re different Use that pencil as your flashlight Born inside lines you scribbled to expose your last life Don’t act like you know it, Poet Because you’re not a Poet until you can admit You don’t know shit Walk Poet walk Down streams That flow beyond cream Push up your self-esteem Catch that dealer’s lying smile Because the hustle really hurts And broken glass cuts both ways But which is worse? Crackheads reduced to bones beneath baggy muscle shirts Breathing deep through sucked-up cheeks Walk Poet walk Write a poem to celebrate your empty pocket Set free from a fictional world An ex-convict of false dreams Make your own reality As life unfolds You’ll grow older & wiser We can go higher Just watch me fly And never don’t ever Be afraid to ask why. –Brian Quezada, 15
You bless me With a tear that drips From your chin To the arm of this faded couch A tiny blue river of you That dries with my sighs As bad jokes spill On hearing ears Fears fall away I pray to Miles Davis God enough for now To keep us alive ‘cause You bless me With angry salt water Push my Kleenex hand away Let the rest of me stay close To the girl in you Who’s man enough to cry A hot-tear potion Of resentment and relief As we hunger for love and tepid tacos Just a couple of wackos In the office at midnight Forgoing the crack-pipe We crack-up and pretend fight Two women Different and the same Powerful and slightly lame We hop and hobble Across an apocalyptic sunset roof Final proof that we can cobble Our figures from this earth Watch tapes on self-worth And call to say We got home safe.
–ALISON TATLOCK, 35
My Community My community gets through to me When I’m hostile Shooting the breeze With my alter ego I’ve got my guard up “Don’t touch her!” But they reach for hugs Like they gang-banging love Switching off and trading emotions Spit-shining corrosion Taking turns with frustration Embracing moments When we all feel connected And protected by each other’s Deep hearts That acknowledge red lights Our struggles and fights Rooftop recovery to stay alive It’s a cold world down there I won’t lie I won’t die from fear ‘Cause we control The temperature up here –Darlene Chavarria, 18
WHERE’S THE LIGHT? I remember when I was five I used to play outside But then we moved to L.A. I couldn’t even step on the sidewalk Too many gangstas up the block And damn it hits the clock When people get shot The next day I have to come out Go to school Outside my room I’m already scared I walk through the hallway With tears in my eyes And wonder when the sun will rise The only light here is the moonlight That’s how I feel When I get home There is no meal My Mom is sick I go to sleep with hunger in my eyes At 1:30 a.m. I hear thunder & lightning Or maybe it’s just the neighbors fighting So I sit here all night and write Wondering where In this world Is the light –Josue Jimenez, 12
Let it Go Out of sight Out of mind A giant billboard blank reads Stay aboard – don’t walk the plank Give up smoking dank No more gulping that liquor drank Like another hate T.K.O. I guess I better let it go God, let it snow Cool off this California sun Making sweat run into my eyes Those aren’t tears I’m just surprised I guess I better rise With the midnight moon Coming soon like peace to my angry heart That aches with aftershocks From off-the-scale earthquakes Whatever it takes Past mistakes drowning In rivers and lakes I guess I better let it go Start to show This growing boy Can put away his toys His anger and hate And stand like a man Before it’s too late. –Alden Gonzalez, 21
Do Right Trying to succeed in this world of do-rights I hurdle barriers like back fences That only seem to appear when my legs ache Constantly reminded of that dull state of mind No longer mine But still not hard to find I clutch higher hands to escape the potholes Whispering sweet discipline to soothe my whiplash soul Bracing – pacing myself to accomplish set goals I know it’s not easy but I’m tired of playing roles Trying to succeed in this world of do-rights Wearing a ‘do-rag to shield my untamed tendrils From the streetlights I just might break the locks of set back As I step forward off the corner out of my shell Like an extinct dinosaur Plagued by poachers Trying to trespass on my rehab dreams Forking my road Covering my eyes with counterfeit dollar signs Confused by white lines I refer to my Thomas Guide for direction Looking past the sunset I see my son standing at the intersection Between my life and the high life Together we turn right.
–Irie Reyes, 24
I manifest pain from the struggle Of a broken and humble man To remain intact with his soul On the grounds of a troubled land I ascend from the depths of gutters And darkest corners of the streets Where niggaz die every day Searching for the light we call peace I’ve come to recognize in time It’s not my destiny to be a killer There’s a child who’s still alive Who wants to grow and get bigger So I walk a thin line Through the flames of controversy There’s nothing you can do That hasn’t been done just to hurt me I paid with my life to learn How to believe in myself So I will never again Put my trust in any wealth Even though I’m still cursed With the wicked tendencies of a thug I will love the world when it hurts Cause I was created to breed love These stone walls I sit behind Ain’t cold enough to change me I’ve reached a new level of understanding So I’m no longer angry I meditate to free my mind And rejuvenate my soul Behind the power of my Spirit I will finally become whole
–Taylor Maxie, Jr., 25
I paid with my life to learn How to believe in myself
“never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world. indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret mead
Vision of Love Like a hand-me-down sweater Love fits me better The more my heart grows I can feel it speaking Leaking out my pours like salty sweat It spreads like wild fire or a common cold Soul to soul Bold enough to get in my face Beam into my being Embrace dark place by dark place It traces me back to my bare beginnings Before I was sinning Before I was winning or losing Before I was choosing Between life or death Before I was left Stretched between different missions I have a vision of love Chasing me home Inside my own bones Where I can hold That half-naked born-faded baby boy Playing hide-and-seek In the neighborhood cemetery Deep in my heart Where love is buried.
Daniel Cacho, 21
Release the peace from our brother deceased So it ripples like a river over concrete streets Like a wave over slaves to death & deceit Leaving nothing but respect for every heartbeat
Horse Power Dreaming of me 454 SS Big Block in my hand Under the hood I’m a different man My garage is my world My own land Where everything depends on one man Me – with tools in my hand And a master plan to build The most graceful racing machine Cars have been my thing Since the white ’91 Mustang Saleen The finest ride in the world It seems to me Hands-on work brings peace to me Homies preach to the beast in me But my peace is not held in a waistline Or the back of my mind It aligns with a 3/8 ratchet That my son passes Saying “You better catch it Before you scratch the paint.” My peace grows bold untold Once put on hold When I lost control of the wheel And grabbed that 9mm steel Instead of a monkey wrench Found myself on a County bench Facing a long stretch For trying to be a rep So now I take a sec to think When I’m in that driver’s seat Shift into first and blast up the street Will I maintain or lose control? With my seat belt on Now I’m ready to roll. Eric Henderson, 1/26/86-1/26/05
“COMMUNITY IS THE FRUIT BORNe OF SHARED BROKENNESS.” –M.SCOTT PECK
Love Vs. Pain I felt pain when my thirteen-year-old body Was brutally beaten and raped I felt pain when I had to keep it A secret for nine months I felt pain when schools kicked me out Because all of a sudden I became bad They didnâ€™t know I was crying for help I felt pain when I walked to school And saw the guy who raped me Smiling with his friends Messing with young girls who walked by I felt pain when I told my mother I was raped And nine months pregnant I felt loved when she said Do you want me to go to jail, or him? I felt loved when my baby girl was born Two days after the perpetrator Was sentenced to fifteen years Love and pain together Love and pain together.
Son, You’re Understood If my son were to write a poem About his bastard father It would be full of anger Confusion, hatred, loss of respect, questions About why the man chose prison bars & barbed-wire fences Over building him a home with a white picket fence Showing him how to ride a bike Giving him advice on how to deal with the school bully The questions that a son could only ask a father Leading – raising him to be a man But instead he’d say The motherfucker left me here To raise my damn self And curse the day he begged to ride alongside him Rejected He sees him behind glass made of steel But no matter how hard he kicks it He just can’t set his daddy free Then he sees him in court Shackled from head-to-toe Laughing ‘cause he thinks it’s a joke Then after what seems like a long time Another man comes home He wonders where’s my Dad Or why Mom’s kissing that man I behind prison bars & barbed-wire fences Writing about my father Telling my son I understand Hoping I get a second chance.
–Jorge Nunez, 19
A Letter to My Enemy I wish I could pry into your mind Ambush all your hate and vengeful ways Distribute small thoughts of truce Carve an incision in your heart and fill it with peace Cut the bondage loose We’re bound by street corners and colors Sign language symbols Representing ‘hoods That on convenient days abandon us You’re caught up in the adrenaline rush And so am I But for different reasons Although I’m a recovering addict of the disease From which you still suffer You see I’m still in recovery Not fully free Part of me wants to relapse But a bigger part wants a full shot at motherhood Beyond my neighborhood I understand the unconsciousness of your actions But that doesn’t mean your unintended scenes Don’t cause anger and pain I could easily provoke the same in your direction But I’d rather find the intersection Between our separate lives So over time we will survive Even if you continue to ride Life will take my side when push comes to shove One street, one heartbeat & one love
–Cassandra Gonzalez, 21
INNER CHILD Using my pen & paper as paddles On this river of madness I struggle to resuscitate my battered soul Make my mind whole Picture me a piñata Fallen down My insides emptied by children of the dark My blood runs cold every time I think of getting stripped naked and lashed with a switch Then being forced to tell the doctor I fell and busted my own lip It seems as if the kid in me Got gone with the wind Left me broke-down Straight living in sin Getting all my self-worth From rocking my Tims I’m tired and fed up With these constant visions of being wet up This bitter paranoia got me walking around jumpy I think I’m being set up It’s hard to keep my head up But I just can’t let up Simon says “GET UP!” Try to love another Hard as it may be, boy Try to trust somebody You ain’t seen in awhile Your inner child Now that boy got tears That could fill up the Nile Let him cry away those lies That clogged up his eyes Then you and he and I Will see the sun rise.
–Daniel Cacho, 19
I Can Feel Anything I can feel anything I can see colors not yet seen I can hear voices Deep voices Screaming words I don’t understand I see faces of creatures still unknown Holes in dirt where I can be on my own I am alone But without fear I am afraid When my thoughts become clear I want to think and feel out loud I want a world where I am found I want to escape from shadows that consume me I want to understand what others want from me I want to escape the clutches of loneliness And re-enter the world into which I was born I smile Because I’m trying to hide what I feel Because I’m happy for a micro-second Then again I’m sad Because I feel things inside Stupid but wonderful things Because I have a crush on a boy Because I did something bad Because I’m proud to be alive And have such a beautiful mind
–Melina perez, 12
“The greatest times in our lives arrive at the points when we gain the courage to rebaptize our badness as the best in us.”
The Day You Were Born
(Dedicated to Street Poet Keith Jones on his birthday 7-18-03)
The day you were born Blown like an acorn From the branches of Mother Africa Onto concrete streets paved with deceit You braved the heat in bare feet Seeking to complete your first sentence Apprentice of peace Homies deceased Released into forced freedom To force-feed ‘em Truth Pencil poised to crease the chaos With each flick of your wrist A new twist on a language unlearned But burned back to beautiful by you The dutiful son even on the run The day you were born The streets felt a shiver A sliver of cracked sidewalk hope Nope – we don’t have to be perfect I learned that from you Just be true, and you are CRESCENT MOON SCAR On a little kid’s chin Saying here’s where I been To pain and back rooftop salutin’ Rootin’ for the fronts to drop Knowing when to stop for air Pull up a chair to yourself The day you were born Hospital hands got tired from writing All your aliases on your birth certificate Nurses hurried to hear the baby Who cried in iambic pentameter You brown-bagged your bottle And filled it with ghetto juice As you were carried Down the hospital halls Graffiti gardens lit up the walls Fluorescent lights flickered at your energy The day you were born A kite in the thunderstorm A gift to us all. Written by: Chris Henrikson Alison Tatlock Justin Heimberg
Ocean View Below my feet I dig a hole And let myself fall in A complete circle around me My breathing room has found me In a space I can’t explain I’ve never been this sane Or cooperative with my brain Today I’m glad to be alive To watch these waves crash & die Below my feet Under my seat And away from me Then be reborn amazingly Like follow my lead Breathe The wind blows for you too Fresh and new This way Inter-be today Right here – right near yourself And that seashell under my hood A well of wisdom Learn how to heal How to deal a new hand to fate Self-destruction can wait Tossed into the ocean Sifted between waves Like raw emotions Below my feet Under my seat And away from me Along with my doubts My cries, my hunger, my lies Thrown to the birds With all those hateful words I wrote to my Mom Turn my poetry into beautiful songs Drown my pain into passion It’s gonna happen With a combination of peace and humble beginnings I’ve been given extra innings Another chance to inhale life And exhale yesterday Let all my old pain drain away Until there’s nothing left to say –Darlene Chavarria, 18
In the Beginning I joined a street gang at age twelve. The gang became my family. My homeboys always took care of me. I always had a place to stay, food to eat, clothes and girls. I was rarely home. I came to trust my homeboys with my life. If they said something was right, then I knew it was, because I believed they would never do anything to harm me. So when they introduced me to a lawyer who happened to be a pedophile and who later molested me, I accepted it because my older homeboys said “all the homies do it.” But part of me knew it was wrong. I was troubled inside. The rage grew so fast. I wasn’t exactly innocent before, but now I was out of control. I was capable of anything. At the age of twelve, I had GTA cases stacked against me, car chases, stabbings, a few assaults. I started getting high and began to build a reputation. The other homies would come to me for favors, for cars, or to collect. My childhood was gone, snatched from my hands. I became suicidal and stared death in the face many times. I wasn’t scared to die because inside I was already dead. I was an empty shell, running around enemy territory hoping a bullet would end my pain and put me to rest. I wanted that big funeral with all my homies there and my best homies carrying my casket. I imagined that people would cry and that finally I would feel that love I wanted so badly. Someone had to love me, because I hated myself. I never got killed, but I did lots of juvenile time. While inside, the encounter I had with the lawyer would always pop up in my mind. I would hear other guys talk about how they had sex with their girlfriends and I would tell similar stories, but in my mind I knew that my only sexual experience was with this old man who molested me. I felt so much shame. I used to imagine that on Judgement Day when I stood in front of God, he would ask me why I was with this old man, and all the people standing in line would gasp when they heard. I felt so small and embarrassed. When I was released, my Mom moved back to my hometown, not where my gang was located. I was fresh out and wanted to do good. I asked my Mom to enroll me in school. She took me to the school district, but they said they couldn’t allow me on their grounds because of my record. So we went to a probation school and everything seemed cool until the lady at the desk saw that there wasn’t any social security number on my enrollment form. She asked my Mom for it, and my Mom explained I didn’t have one because I was born in Mexico. The lady was ignorant and began to yell at my Mom like she was retarded. She said something about how we were
illegal immigrants and that Proposition 187 had just passed. My Mom tried to stand up for me, but she spoke English with this big accent, and I was embarrassed and asked her to leave with me. My Mom wanted to fight for me, but I said “Let’s just go.” I felt this old rage building up inside. I told my Mom that I wanted to do good but that the System was against me and that I had decided to just keep doing what I did before. This decision led to a lot more trouble, more cases, and more juvenile time. But this time I did have girls. One in particular, who later became the mother of my two kids. She was only a few months pregnant with my son when I went back in. I had to do 14 months. I was sent to Camp Fred Miller. By this time, I had stopped claiming my old neighborhood, for obvious reasons. Upon arriving at camp, I was assigned a bed next to one of my former homeboys. Though I kept it cool with him, because I wanted to get out as soon as possible, I considered him my worst enemy. One day he invited me to the DreamYard poetry writing class. I was like: “Poetry?! To hell with that.” His ego was tested and he said, “Nah man, I just go to pass the time. It’s cool just to kick back for awhile.” So I went. I never thought that someone from the same group of people who took my life would one day hand it back to me … in the form of a pencil and composition notebook. -Jorge Nunez, 24
“the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” – Joan Didion
STREET POETS PRAYER God, give us the strength To be people whose actions match our words To be soldiers of truth Shedding light on the darkest corners Of our own souls and the streets around us Give us the courage to look fearlessly Into the eyes of others To meet anger & hatred with love Ignorance with understanding And fear with friendship Give us the wisdom to see deeply Into our own hearts To be truthful in all that we do Faithful in all that we are Grateful for all that we receive We come together before you today To sharpen our skills To deepen our voices To strengthen our bonds to each other And to the community we serve.
One Street, One Heartbeat, One Love.
This book is the result of the collective spirit of the emerging artists and poets of our community who have generated so much beauty in the face of violence and fear. To all of our youth, volunteers and family, thank you for your courage, strength and inspiration. Editor’s note: The number next to each poet’s by-line represents the age they were at the time the poem was written.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------published by re:active magazine, inc.
“One Street” is printed on Sappi Lustro Patina 80 lb. text and cover. Printed by WestCan Printing Group, Winnipeg, Manitoba This printing was made possible by an “Ideas that Matter” grant through Sappi Paper. Both Dreamyard/ L.A. and Inkpress would like to thank them for their generous support of programs like ours. Thank you. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------“one Street”© and the poetry/images contained are copyright protected, 2005 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
image contributions: Art Direction & Design:
Michael Etter Photography:
Jennifer Boggs Michael Etter Sara Harris Chris Henrikson Jonathon Hexner Sybil Hogan Leigh Kilton-Smith Kevin Ramos Alison Tatlock
[ pp. 2, 4, 16, 21, 24, 25, 26, 34, 37, 39, & 62] [ pp. 40 & 43] [ pp. 32 & 55] [ pp. 15, 18-19, & 61] [ front cover, pp. 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12-13, 29, 41, 42, 50, 51, 56-57, & 58-59] [ pp. 27 & 33] [ pp. 20, 22, 46-47 & 52] [ back cover, pp. 1, 17, 23, 28, 36, 38, 44, 48, 49, 53 & 63] [ pp. 30 & 31]
To learn more about DreamYard/L.A.’s ongoing arts-based violence prevention, intervention and community-building work in the juvenile detention facilities, schools and streets of Los Angeles County, visit us at www.dreamyardla.org DreamYard/L.A. is a 501c3 non-profit organization. All donations are 100% tax-deductible.