It’s Gardena, late Saturday afternoon
on Vermont Avenue, near closing time
at the thrift store, and my father’s
left me to rummage through trash bins
stuffed with used paperbacks, 25¢ a pound,
while he chases down some bets
at the card clubs across the street.

The register rings up its sales--$2.95,
$11.24, $26.48 for the reclaimed Frigidaire—
and a girl, maybe six or so, barefoot,
in a plaid dress, her hair braided
in tight cornrows, tugs at the strap
of her mother’s purse, begging a few
nickels for the gumball machine.

She skips through the check-stand,
runs toward the electric exit, passing
a fleet of shopping carts, bundles
of used-up magazines (Ebony and Jet)
stacked in pyramids in the far aisle,
reaches the bright globe of the vendor,
fumbles for her coins, and works the knob.

My father comes in from the Rainbow
across the street, ten hands of Jacks
or Better, five draw, a winner
with a few dollars to peel away
from grocery money and money to fix
the washer, a dollar for me to buy
four pounds of Pocket Wisdoms, Bantams,

a Dell that says Walt Whitman, Poet
of the Open Road,
and hands it to me,
saying, “We won, Boy-san! We won!”
as the final blast of sunset kicks through
plate glass and stained air, firing through
the thicket of neon across the street,
consuming the store, the girl, the dollar bill,

even the Rainbow and the falling night
in a brief symphony of candied light.

:: Garret Hongo, Yellow Light (1982)

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