you and me and this island of hope

Its 9:45 and drizzly, I'm bunched in a winter jacket, hands in pockets, not even thinking about the irony of shivering cold in the middle of summer as I walk to my neighborhood bookshop. One of the many things I love about where I live is how I can still go to a bookstore late at night. It's comforting to know that whenever I feel the need to be surrounded by books outside of my own, I can just walk a couple of blocks and there I'll be, browsing through the poetry section, stealing words from Rilke, Lorca, Haas, Plath, Neruda.

Tonight I saw a homeless man smile at his reflection on a window of a Japanese restaurant. He turned around when he saw me and said have a nice day. I was too caught up in taking mental notes of the moment that I forgot to say anything back. Only when I was already a couple of steps away from him did I realize it and by then, he was already walking towards the opposite direction.

Further up another homeless man was talking to himself while pushing his shopping cart. I don't know why every time I see a homeless person I keep wondering about their families. They could be a son, a brother, a father, a husband, an uncle, a grandfather, a friend, and my heart aches just so, but I still walk away.

At the bookshop, I grabbed the first book that I laid my eyes on: Essential Keats. Just reading the title brings me joy. I haven't been writing or reading poetry lately and I feel like an errant lover, lost in my days filled with summer festivals, concerts, road trips, family gatherings, longing for a time when I will finally sit down and write. It's always a tricky balancing act, the need to experience everything and the need to step back and write about it.

Last Friday night at the poetry festival, someone was reading her poems in Chinese and I started tearing up. I didn't understand a word that she said and I struggled with reading the English translations through my tears, but the way she read it struck a chord deep inside. Wanting to hold hands with you, wanting to be the shield you can't avoid. These words sounded so much more beautiful in another language.

(Photo from ffffound via the rockstar diaries)


  1. Beautiful post, Odessa. You always have such a way with words that makes us readers feel and see as you do.

    Yesterday, on my way to a press event, I passed by a homeless man slouched and sleeping in a cart. I wondered how could that be comfortable. A few feet away was another man sleeping up against a fence, with a Diego doll (of Go, Diego, Go fame) propped up beside him.

    And I've felt the same way as you do with experiencing vs recording the experience. It's happened with both writing and photography. I aim to keep the scales tilted towards experience (and then dashing to record it later on).

  2. Odessa, your prose is poetry. It's a real treat to read about these moments in your life.

    Is that a photo of you on the beach? I love it.

  3. dorkys, i also wondered about the same thing about homeless people, how they can just sleep anywhere, anytime -- i know its silly because obviously they don't have a choice, but i still ask myself these questions.

    christine, thanks. and no, that's not me in the picture, i wish it was me, she looks so serene. there's a photo credit at the end of the post.

  4. Odessa, this is so beautiful!! I love the picture. I also think your description of the homeless man is beautiful. I am a big advocate of volunteering at shelters, and you are so right. He is somebody's son. Or father, brother, husband, friend, etc. Your description of how he smiled at his reflection then spoke to you would make a beautiful and powerful poem.

    I agree with Christine and Dorkys. Your prose is poetry:)

  5. julie, thank you. yes, i want to write that poem too. also, i've volunteered to work with the homeless before at the Skid Row in L.A. and you won't believe the verbal abuse we got from some of them. it was really sad how angry they were at the world but at the same time it also discouraged me from going there. its tough.