the riots


One of my favorite pieces of writing to emerge from the 1992 Los Angeles riots is a poem by a writer named Nicole Sampogna, called “Another L.A.” In it, the poet traces the odd dislocation of living on the Westside while so much of the city burns. “They send us home early, again,” she begins, “supposedly for curfew sake, / but I know it’s to beat the traffic.” And then: “over there the smoke rises, / horns blare, streets scream, / shoot, loot, / bash windows, bash heads, / lights out / knocked out / by a black & white with a baton. / but, here / will the pizza man deliver after sunset?” There it is, the dislocation that so often marks Los Angeles, and never more profoundly than when the not-guilty verdicts in the LAPD beating of Rodney King came down 20 years ago. Depending on where you lived or the part of town in which you found yourself, the atmosphere was static or chaotic, suspended or engaged. I remember, on the second afternoon of the conflagration, watching as a Fairfax district neighbor sunned herself on her small front lawn, while in the distance, sirens screamed. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, perhaps in the way it reflects Sampogna’s sense of the city as disoriented, in which we connect (or don’t) “to the other LA with the flip of a switch.” How in such a place do we evoke the larger story? How do we find common ground?

more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.