A Neighborhood of Glass Windows

david romero

There’s a street in this neighborhood
Much like any of the others
It’s got one and two-story houses
Full of locked doors 
And closed windows
They’re houses of glass windows
With curtains held inches open 
By delicate hands and suspicious eyes
Always scanning the street 
For anyone and anything 
Considered undesirable.

There’s something new on this street 
That has caught everyone’s attention
It’s a food truck parked on the corner
A taco truck
A rectangular prism
With bright colors
And bold fonts
It’s parked in front of a house 
On this street 
In this neighborhood
And most believe it doesn’t belong here.

Everyone saw them move in not too long ago
That Hispanic family
A syllable or two away from something old
But much too crass to say aloud
They’re not so different 
Mostly quiet
Mostly keep to themselves
Live in their house with glass windows.

But that taco truck on the corner though
Is irregular
Is an eyesore
Must be against regulations
A homeowner’s association
City ordinances 
The neighbors agree
People must respect boundaries
Somebody must do something.

Neighbor Jane leads the charge
A hero with a landline
She calls the Department of Public Works
Just a stone’s throw away
Testifies what an orderly street
Her and her neighbors live on
What a disturbance this taco truck has caused
Can it be towed?
Can someone from the city at least
Come out and take a look?
Gossip travels through whispers
A date is set 
Anticipation builds 
A city official is coming
The neighbors reckon 
This will be a day of reckoning.

The city official arrives 
Turning the corner onto the street in this neighborhood
Passing the taco truck
Immediately noticing violations
One door down 
A car permanently parked on cinder blocks on the lawn
Two doors down
Neighbors pouring chemicals into the storm drain
Three doors 
Neighbors cut down a tree belonging to the city
Four doors 
A retaining wall built without a permit
Five doors 
Neighbor Jane receives five tickets 
For five separate violations.

The city official barely restrains himself 
From writing on the back of one of her tickets
An old phrase about throwing stones and glass windows
But that’s all pretty common here.

The taco truck remains parked on the corner
The Hispanic family 
Continues to live in the house on the street in this neighborhood
They live 
Mostly quietly
Windows intact
Moving their taco truck only for business
And for the street sweeper on Thursdays.

And soon enough
They aren’t the only Latinx family in the neighborhood.

        A Safe Place to Live


This is a safe place to live
Windows without bars
And distance
From any highly populated city
This is a safe place to live
Top-rated schools in the country
Friday night football games
Town center
With programs for seniors and children alike
This is a safe place to live
In this city
We fear no earthquakes
Fear no neighboring wildfires
Nor housefires contained to a house or two
We laugh at memories of our most infamous local gang
And the stabbings
And muggings
They once perpetrated in this town
We do not fear our past
We do not fear the overgrown haunted cemetery of Spadra
Spotted from the 57
Engulfed by the trees
That once fit tightly between the headstones
We do not fear ghostly balls of light in Brea Canyon
As children
We feared urban legends
Like those my sister’s high school boyfriend
Told me
Of men who had escaped from Chino State Penitentiary
Men who roamed the tall weeds in the dead of night
Men who had hooks for hands
Or were missing an eye
Kid’s stuff
That kind of thing doesn’t happen here
This is a safe place to live.

Richard Ramirez
Claimed one of his victims
And assaulted another
August 8th, 1985
On Pinehill Lane in this town
Not too far from where I’m writing this now
A cul-de-sac
Full of one-story houses
A view of the San Gabriel Mountains
From the north side
That night
A last quarter moon hung in the sky.

November 2nd, 2018
A Diamond Bar native
Murdered his parents
And the family dog
Set the house ablaze
Before escaping into the hills
Friends and neighbors
Saw him roaming the streets of South Diamond Bar
In the weeks
Leading up to the murders
But seemingly harmless
Another unfortunate victim
Of the onset of early 20s schizophrenia
We went to school together
My best friend was once his next-door neighbor
Rumors abound his parents
Didn’t believe in using antipsychotics to treat his illness
Perhaps they believed nothing could ever go wrong here
Everyone who lives here 
This is a safe place to live.

Crooked Creek Drive
Is a street with two-story houses
With front-facing two-story windows
Like the eyes of sleepy and melancholy giants
Southbound on Crooked Creek
An opening to Brea Canyon
A waning crescent hung in the sky that night
As the curtains were set afire
On windows
Like so many here.

        The 286


These were the years of the 286
Whirring motor and compressed air
Refuge and wait
The limbo between worlds
Paid my way with bills and change
Three cities 
Two counties
A route northeast
To that community named after some ancient goddess
That near neighbor
Like border town
Like privileged kids slumming it
A place of everyday people
And everyday struggles
But for this passenger
Of danger and intrigue
A place for dreams
The second
To that county south
We once celebrated
The mall and the theaters
An air-conditioned heaven
Of casual dining and the promise of Disneyland
Not too far in the distance
And where should this bus take me to
But a seemingly dead-end job in the same city
Of dangerous machinery and physical labor
To side hustles in the early morning hours
To offices to sign countless documents
To pay bills for crimes that lingered and lingered
A life caught between stops
Requested only by something broken in me
Or never fully functional in the first place
How long could I ride my life?
Stare at my phone or look through windows
Watching Pomona
Diamond Bar
With their streetlights and street signs
Deep nights
And early yearnings pass me by?
And car riders

Those privileged enough 
To have never relied on the 286
To have never waited on that train of an automobile
Chugging and whooshing
Would ask,
“How do you do it?”
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
And each question 
Illuminated like route marquee
Just how different
The lives of people
Intersected by route 
Those who would never know bus
And those who would never know car
Because this is California
And public and transportation
Meet at different intersections
And should some experience
Unexpected hardship
To commit white collar crimes
To consume prescription pills
Until they die
Anything to avoid the stench
Of passenger
The sharing of seat 
The exchange of conversation
The abrupt confrontations 
That could break out at an any moment
And no escape except
The next stop
A few blocks up
And who knows how long it could take
To get back on?
Or how hot or cold it would be
On the walk?
And you
I know you
You wrecked your car
Lost your license
But I still see you from the 286
Behind the wheel of something new
Because your money never knew penance
Your checking account never knew change

You borrowed more money from your parents
And had the nerve
To give me lectures 
About how I needed to learn how to save
And for you riders still riding
I see you too
Sitting tight clutching purses
Earbuds in singing
Or quietly nodding
Those leaning over seats
Engaging in impromptu interviews
Of your fellow passengers
Like it’s your own late night show 
And though you would never admit it
This is the best your day is going to get
I promise I won’t forget
When car riders and drivers
See measures on ballots
See funds proposed towards transit
Lament corruption
And euphemisms for what they think of your lives
I will vote “yes”
For the renovations 
The seats
The heaters
The air-conditioners
The wheelchair access
The bike rack
The wheels
The motors
May they carry you
And ferry you to your destination
Because the 286
Connects these cities
With a whirring motor and compressed air
You may ride it someday
Look at the schedule 
Anxiously awaiting
Gazing at road, anticipating
Future’s arrival.

I wish you well on your journey.

                   Summer at the Movies


You should’ve seen this place when it was new
The glass on the admissions booth
Was spotless
The doors covered with posters
And cut-outs for new releases
And when you opened those doors
A wave of fresh popcorn greeted your nostrils
Turn left
There’s concessions
Turn right
The arcade alley
When they brought in games
Each was an event
The talk of the town
The type of thing to make you wish you could 
Conjure another quarter from your pocket
And beyond
The T-section
That led to where the magic really happened
The ticket counter
With the girl my older brother had a crush on
Bright-eyed and braced-faced Jackie
In immaculate uniform with bright copper name badge
Ushered you in with a warm greeting
That was when the floors were clean
When all the seats folded up properly
Before the upholstery was covered in gum and torn
Before much bigger theaters opened
Just miles away
Before businesses in that same shopping center shut down
There was definitely something in the air that summer
But all the better for us
The moviegoers
Between middle and high school
Adolescence and adulthood
Tara and Ignacio 
Were my best friends
Had been
Since the theater was brand new
This was the perfect place for us
Close enough to walk or ride our bikes to

Tara would come over
After practices at 1na Dance Studio 
The theater was a place we could stop in
For a game or two
Or spend entire afternoons in
Watching those images flicker across the screen
To the steady hum of the projector
We’d buy a ticket
Or sometimes
Just candy or a drink
Sneak past the now empty ticket counter
Head into the next one
We watched whole movies
Sometimes just pieces
Ones we knew the dialogue to
And new releases
Sometimes Tara would stand up on a chair
Half of her body lit by the image
Her shadow cast upon the screen
She’d shout
Re-enact a scene from the movie
Nacho was the ringleader
The one who showed us
How to move from theater to theater
He’d learned how to do it from his older sister
Who’d stopped going to the theater a long time ago
That summer of mundane magic
Of the sticky spots on the floor
That made our shoes squeak
They greeted us like old friends
That summer we would leave in evenings
That were still warm
At first
Twilight more of a suspicion
Than a reality
And months later
“It’s getting dark out”
Still meant it was time to head home
We each had nights that summer
Tara’s dad 
Nacho’s mother
My dog Ginger
When we didn’t want to leave the theater
Urged the others to stay
To watch another one
The air was still ripe then

Someone pulling a knife
High schoolers having sex
40s and weed
Played in our theater as coming attractions
One day we arrived
And the doors were closed
A notice posted on the glass
Framed in clear tape
“Changing ownership”
The admissions booth and theater were dark
The projectors inside
Still and silent
Nacho was the first to leave
His father had a new job in a county or two over
Tara and I had moments
We held hands
Even kissed a couple of times
But really
Had different interests
Found different cliques
You wouldn’t have known 
What we had once meant to one another
If you had seen us walk by each other
In the hallways of our high school
That winter
When they finally opened the doors to the theater
Just to clear everything out
I heard from one person
That when they went inside
And shone their flashlight
On one of the walls
There was a silhouette 
Behind where one of the movie screens used to be
They said it was a silhouette of a girl
In a dancer’s pose
Just a little reminder
Of that summer at the movies
Before The Krikorian shut down.

                  It Washes Us Away


History is a river
Indifferent to our names
Our lives caught in its current 
It washes us away.

Black hair and auburn eyes
Pale skin
Half-Caucasian by way of an estranged father
Half-Vietnamese by way of a single mother
And refugee grandparents.

My father was a Vietnam veteran
US Army
Artillery division
Loud booms and empty shells
Over lush fields and mountains
My siblings saw it as an act of rebellion
To be dating Bev
Because even in a city that is majority Asian
Some people see Charlie everywhere
Equate immigrant with enemy
Don’t understand 
There are multiple sides to every conflict
And who were her grandparents?
The people the Vietcong accused 
Of exploiting their own people
Bev told me a story 
Of how when she was a little girl
On a family trip to Vietnam
On a rainy day
She stood in front of a bronze statue of Ho Chi Minh
And flicked it off with both hands
“You ruined my country!”

On dusty afternoons in Chihuahua
My great grandmother 
Would put my grandmother into a laundry basket
Cramp her limbs inside the weave or burlap
To hide her away from soldiers 
During the Mexican Revolution
My grandmother married a hotel owner
They fled to El Paso
My great uncle left Mexico with them
To avoid fighting in the Mexican Revolution
He left the US 
To avoid fighting in WWI.

Can come from multiple sides of every conflict
And whether their story is epic 
Or somewhat farcical
Often depends on who’s telling the story.

I didn’t date Bev
Because her grandparents
Supported Ngo Dinh Diem
Or I support Ho Chi Minh
I dated Bev
Because of the punch of her jokes
The fullness of her laugh
The comfortable weight of her body on mine
A body once exposed
Black hair and auburn eyes
Pale skin
In the open air 
As I laid on a blanket
In a rain gutter
Shaded by pines
On a cliff overlooking the 57.

David A. Romero is a Mexican-American spoken word artist from Diamond Bar, CA. Romero is the author of My Name Is Romero (FlowerSong Press), a book reviewed by Gustavo Arellano, Curtis Marez, and Ulises Bella. Romero has appeared at over seventy-five colleges and universities in thirty-three different states in the USA. Romero’s work has been published in literary magazines in the United States, England, and Canada. Romero has opened for Latin Grammy winning bands Ozomatli and La Santa Cecilia. Romero’s work has been published in anthologies alongside poets laureate Joy Harjo, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Luis J. Rodriguez, Jack Hirschman, and Tongo Eisen-Martin.


You can listen to David’s spoken word poetry on Instagram!

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