Out of Oakland Ashes [AUDIO]

in Audio/Ghost Ship/Obituaries by


After the music fades, fog moves in
as it always does, seeking
any vacancy. The way a silent
poison overwhelms the air.
We mourn for the fire-blistered
soul of a city, for the brilliance
and the laughter we have lost, the art
that will never be born.

East of the Bay, artists dare
to claim the Promised Land
despite the giants, tech lords
unmapping their futures, a real estate
market on steroids. What rich
stories they warehouse, craft
out of remnants of material
time and space, out of their
hunger, out of what they fight
to believe in. Fruitvale,
one more place no one noticed
till artists made a home of it. Till death
pinned a star beside its name.

Across the aisle of America,
here in the Bronx, I spend the nickels
of my nights, the dimes of my days,
coaxing words into flame
in a loft without a fire escape,
where music used to live.
Old enough to be tired
of roommates, young enough
that I’m still reaching for
what is said to be impossible.
A ceiling three times higher
than my ladder. My bedroom boasts
no windows. While I sleep,
a smoke alarm’s red light
flashes in the dark above me,
slowly, like a distant plane.

Wherever artists gather
to warm their hands, there I am
with them. Threading together
lives we cannot afford
not to live, a breath away
from the electric edge—
the price we pay for being wired
as we are—where else can we go?

Out of the ashes, out of the bitter
smoke, out of our flammable dreams
and all that cannot burn away,
what can we build now
that may survive us—that will,
if nothing else, carry us through today?
The battered ship sails on,
crowded with the ghosts of grief.

Read More:
Rising Prices in Oakland Push Artists Into Risky Housing  [NY Times]
Oakland Fire Leads to Crackdown on Illegal Warehouses Nationwide  [NY Times]
The Oakland Fire: Tenants Living in Warehouses Face Eviction  [NY Times]

Emily Ruth Hazel is a New York City-based poet and writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature, Kinfolks: A Journal of Black Expression, and Ruminate Magazine. In 2014, she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship to develop a full-length poetry book manuscript during a residency at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences. Her previous collection of poetry, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press), was a New Women’s Voices finalist.