I lived in the poor part of town
where the hookers hung out on the street corners at night,
and sometimes,
when I'd swing my battered Datsun
off the bright avenue
onto my obscure side street,
they'd trip around the corner after me
on three-inch heels, in luminous spandex jeans
(whose taut sheen threw back the corner streetlight),
inevitably a bit disappointed when I,
climbing out of my car,
would comically shake my head,
as though to say, “No, no. I live here.”
(“Like you. In the poor part of town.”)

I lived in the poor part of town
above a large plumbing shop
whose show window, long after closing,
displayed, as though through fluorescent waters,
an exquisite bed of pearly white bathtubs,
chartreuse marble washbasins with solid brass faucets,
wine-colored toilets with lacquered rosewood seats;
such beauty! —and sometimes,
long after closing time,
I'd stand on the darkened pavement,
palms on the window,
before this pure aquarium,
and feel desolate with a longing
for the nicer part of town.

I lived in the poor part of town
where the graffiti on the neighborhood walls
wasn't even U.S. out of Latin America
or CIA Puta
but  WSB
  V               LsR
so that I, no scholar, had to write
the State Attorney General's office
requesting the Report on Youth Gang Violence in California
with its illustrated graffiti guide
(V  =  vario, neighborhood of gang; WSB =  West Side Berkeley;
L’s  =  Varo Locos, Crazy Ones, actual clique; R  =  Rifa, rule;
14  =  fourteenth letter of alphabet, “N” for “Norte ” for
La Nuestra Familia of Northern California)
and its practical-minded prose:
  Although graffiti is an eyesore, it allows the police
  to keep track of pending gang conflicts, serves as a
  roster of gang members, and will often lead to the
  suspect of a gang-related crime
   in the poor part of town.

Yes, I lived in the poor part of town
choosing comically to misunderstand it,
relishing—just a bit—
my “'urban marginality.”
(Yet I really was poor!)
Poor, yes, me—
me and the other “honest poor”
along with the dishonest poor
who, too (like me),
had their reasons
in the poor part of town.

I lived in the poor part of town
where, at night, I preferred staying home
watching reruns of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
rather than drive all the way across town
to catch Hans Syberberg's Karl May
followed by a lecture
in the better part of town.

Ah, in the poor part of town
where in poverty I thought I had discovered the world!
—and the few friends who came to visit
would bring a six-pack of Bud
or a bottle of Zinfandel
which we might then share
in the poor part of town.

Yes, in the poor part of town
where the houses are nondescript
and the landscape featureless;
where the streets seem endless
and the sky feels low;
where, after a rain, the slick wet asphalt
glistens like the scene of a crime;
where, late at night, there is always
one crack of light
beneath one door;
where, in the early morning hours,
someone smokes a cigarette
just inside a darkened doorway;
and where, just before dawn,
the mongrel dogs bark angrily
at the slightest stir
in this part of town.