We Are Not Alone
On the corner of San Pedro and 23rd St.
There is “Rábano” and his mother,
nicknamed “Rábano” by my Apá,
because his face turns coral red when
he stands in the sun too long. They sell
framed portraits of La Virgen María,
red roses with the words Te Amo, angels,
oceans. One for seven dollars, two for ten.
El elotero wears zebra-patterned pants.
He sells corn out of a gray pickup truck.
Three for a dollar, twenty for five. I watch
him dance by himself as he blasts his car
stereo. Norteñas fill the sidewalk.
There are also the passing vendors.
The paletero sells Drumstick ice cream,
Ninja Turtle shaped popsicles. I like
the chocolate flavored popsicles
that taste like Nestlé’s Quik.
The raspado man with his blue cart
shaves ice into small mountains, drizzles
syrup on top that flows down like lava.
The champurrado lady sings Pedro
Infante’s “Cielito Lindo” as she pours
the thick hot liquid that keeps me warm
on cold days when the air inside me
comes out like smoke.
Erika performs at the Historic NoHo Walking Tour with Poetry (June 2017)
Erika Ayón emigrated from Mexico when she was five years old and grew up in South Central, Los Angeles. She graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in English. She was selected as a 2009 PEN Emerging Voices Fellow. She was also a 2016-2017 Community Literature Initiative Fellow. Her work most recently appears in the Wide Awake Anthology, and Coiled Serpent Anthology.
These poems are about her experience of growing up as a street vendor in South Central Los Angeles. They are included in her forthcoming poetry collection published in 2018 by World Stage Press.
The Ride There
On the way there, a slow drive down San Pedro,
the sky sleeps, the streets stand desolate.
Storefronts remain shut. Empty bus stops vanish
in the rearview mirror.
The parking lot of the Numero Uno Market sees
no cars in sight.
The rows of vacant bleachers at the football field
of Fremont High School cast shadows.
I lay my head on the armrest of the car door, look out
the window. The white button moon follows me.
Lampposts disappear and reappear above me. Traffic
signals flicker. Street signs unwind like a filmstrip.
No one speaks. The only sound is the drawled-out
sigh of the car’s engine.
I look toward Lorena and Joel, their eyes closed,
heads bowed as if praying.
I glance toward Apá, his eyes still red from yesterday’s
sun. He stares at the darkness that swallows the road ahead.
Fire in the House
When we come home after a long day’s work
with Apá selling fruit on the street corner.
Amá holds our sunburned faces in her hands.
She motions for us to sit at the kitchen table.
We sit engulfed by yellow walls,
around a metal 1950’s dinette set.
She pours us iced water into blue plastic cups,
wraps wet towels around our foreheads,
places ice cubes in our cupped hands.
They melt into small puddles in our palms.
Nothing can take the heat away from our bodies.
“Son como lumbre,” she shakes her head,
touches our arms, flicks her finger on our skin
as if striking a match.