Portrait in Deep East Oakland
A boy is drawing
by the lockers
in the linoleum hallway
that smells like Doritos and rain
but there’s always some sound
jabbing at his ears,
the rolling garbage can,
He’s drawing his eyes
his hair green, like grass
growing, he says—
some kid grabs the construction
paper. Balls it into trash,
I’m watching him shake.
off another marker
and draw himself again:
eyes just as blood blood red,
hair still green.
We are all rooting for the sinkhole.
It already ate one car.
That little creek,
tired of running past old shopping carts
and graffiti battles
and houses people had to move out of
and into their cars, or to Antioch, or to Modesto,
that little creek is pulling the whole street down.
The police are there but
they have to keep moving their cars back
to avoid the edge,
and in the evening
with the rain pouring down,
one of the workers, grinning at my kid
who is grinning back,
moves the portable fences
through the inches of water flushing over the concrete
and lets us right in,
right up against the big loud yellow machines roaring.
We step over the fat tubes
that are pumping out the water, but not as fast
as it’s falling, everything is falling—
even the freshly painted houses
that sold for so much money—
into that measly little creek that is roaring
and muddy now, and we might live
to regret it, but we go right up to the edge,
the place where everything we have known breaks off,
with the rain falling so hard we can barely see,
even under the portable bright lights that might be about to fall into the creek,
my kids in their raincoats and the worker in his fluorescent vest and me,
me with something getting watered and waking up deep down
in the packed soil of my soul, we are laughing,
all of us, in the pounding rain, louder than the big yellow machines,
and we might live to regret this but right now,
we are all rooting
for the sinkhole.
Author Bio: Carolyn Norr lives with her large extended family in Oakland, CA, where she works with young people on poetry and climate activism, two different versions of telling the truth. Her poems can mostly be found in classrooms and community centers, but have also sometimes appeared in literary journals. Her two young children inspire her with their passionate defense of frogs, Monarch butterflies, and justice.