Copyright © 2016 by Alice Walker
If gentrifiers do not despoil it
which means getting rid of poor
and black and people of color
Oakland can be what it has been
for a long time: an urban Paradise.
It is a place where
the young blonde woman
crossing the street in front of your car
would look like a threat
to the neighborhood
except she’s frowning
over some deep issue in her inner life
and wearing outrageous vivid blue shoes.
It is a place where
as you sit on the grass by the lake
a tall black man of a certain age
blowing his saxophone.
You smile and bow,
he bows back,
with his horn. His day is mellow.
He’s in the sun.
He has given mellowness
and sun, free of charge,
I have found a previously
love of sports.
At least I love the Warriors.
Something about basketball
is so graceful, the players so serious,
and intense; I sit grunting and groaning
like everyone around me; We are
for a short time, family, and these are our brothers
engaged in peaceful war.
I love it that the state house
wears blue and yellow
in long emphatic lights
the whole season
the team is playing
and that our waitress
wears blue and gold earrings
and shakes her curly dark hair
to make sure
we notice them.
Frida and Diego would have.
Frida never liked Chicago and actually suffered
in New York City. In Oakland she could spread her
lovely dresses around her on the grass in that new place
designed for sitting and lying
at the far end of the lake.
Diego would appreciate the murals
that are sometimes several stories
high. He’d want to paint his own.
Of course he would!
Whoever said “there is no there there,” and I think we are
wrong to think Gertrude Stein
meant this and wasn’t joking
(though who knows what Oakland was in her time; or what
she was in Oakland’s time)
when she is alleged to have said this
Because, and thanks, many claim, to Jerry Brown’s
foresight about cleaning up the lake,
there is plenty of “there” in Oakland.
It is not just its streets, its good places to eat and play
with one’s children and families,
not just the lake, which people love
with so much devotion (though they might never
call it that); it is that smile that hits you in the heart
every time it happens
when a total stranger greets you on the path;
the way the hefty sistahs are admired
by all who see them as they hustle by, arms swinging,
knowingly improving the view
by making it real
and completely enjoying
their daily exercise; it is the sense
that something that was alive
for a very long time
is still alive. Not yet beaten into
by those who kill everything
In Oakland I have developed a practice that I call “Three Pieces A Day.” It means I will pick up at least three pieces of litter every day. If everyone does this, our city will be not only worthy of poetry but reflective of our love. And I can assure you: we will be loved back! Even more than now. That is how, in my own experience, The Universe works.