Welcome to the Neighborhood

First things first, I offer apologies for not having posted anything new for a while. Today’s poem touches on part of the explanation for my long absence: February saw me moving for the third time in two years. There may be those out there who have mastered the art of the seamless transition, but apparently I am not one of them.

Anyway, this latest move took me from Pasadena to (shallow) South Los Angeles, where I encountered a rather unusual welcoming party, as described below. (For any of you inclined to worry, please rest assured that this experience seems to have been an anomaly.) In the weeks since the move, I have begun to settle into my new community, and I eagerly look forward to seeing how the next season of my life will unfold…

Welcome to the Neighborhood

The darkness seems to deepen every moment
as I drive slowly down
what has just today
become my street,
gearing up to spend my first night
in unfamiliar
and reputedly dangerous
territory.

Reaching my new lodgings,
I inch along a narrow driveway,
then wiggle into a muddy parking space
at the edge of a bedraggled
and foreboding
courtyard
in the back.

As I step gingerly from my car,
my nameless, shapeless anxieties
take startling physical form,
as I am immediately accosted
by a swarthy young fellow
bleeding profusely
from one hand.

He tells me that he gouged his palm
trying to scale a fence
(a claim I see no way
either to verify or disprove)
and wonders if I would be willing
to help him clean his wound.

“I don’t mean to frighten you,”
he hastens to assure me,
and while I appreciate the sentiment,
the part of my brain still capable
of rational thought
wonders whether his repeated assertions
to this effect
ought to do more to extinguish
or to fuel
my smoldering alarm.

Although the entire contents of my residence
are in a state of boxed-up disarray,
from the jumble I manage to procure
a bottle of drinking water
a tube of Neosporin
and a roll of Charmin:
just enough in the way of supplies
to establish a fly-by-night first aid dispensary
on the sidewalk.

Before my minimally treated patient
takes his leave,
he politely inquires whether I have any objection
to his hopping the fence
that borders the rear
of my landlord’s property.

I find myself taken aback by the request—
certain that if I were he
I would now make every effort
to stay as far away from fences
as humanly possible—
but I muzzle my naïve astonishment
and simply tell him that as far as I am concerned,
he is free to make his own choice
in the matter.

Then, too flustered to wait and see
how the youthful hurdler fares
against his chosen obstacle,
I ensconce myself within the fortress
I will learn to call my home,
replaying what has just transpired
and hoping I have done enough
to earn a passing mark
on this first test
of neighbor-hood.

© 2012
Alexis Spencer-Byers

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4 responses to “Welcome to the Neighborhood

  1. Nicely done, Alexis! When I first viewed this, I thought, “This is way too long.” But I started reading and you pulled me in. I really enjoyed this. Many of us are pulled between helping others and protecting ourselves. It’s a tug-of-war in today’s society…and these anxieties and fears are valid. I’m glad you didn’t let them stop you. And yes, I think you passed your first test….with flying colors! Well done on all fronts!

    • Julia, thank you so much for reading and for your very kind words! I’m delighted that you enjoyed the poem (and that you feel it “earned” its length). I just hopped over to your blog and loved reading some of your beautiful posts there. I’ll be reading more, and I look forward to learning much from you as you share your experiences and insights!

  2. So great to hear about your experiences through your artistry, Alexis. It helps all of us reflect on our own assumptions and fears. Keep it coming… -Thanh

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