Originally from Moscow, Russia, I was born a dual citizen to an American father and a Russian mother. My father relocated the family to Southern California to begin a new life nearly 20 years ago. For the last 6 years I’ve lived alone in a small apartment in the San Fernando Valley. Almost all of my neighbors are Latino, few speak English, but they’ve always looked out for me. Taken out my trash when I forget about it on my porch, helped me carry heavy bags, done repairs on my car. This has never been a dangerous neighborhood.
The night between August 6th, 2019 and August 7th my neighbor, Enrique, age 25, was killed. Early Wednesday morning his mother, a couple other neighbors and myself were led to his body by the stranger who found it. We followed. Through a recently established homeless encampment at the end of our cul-de-sac, through a gaping hole in the gate that separates our hill from the 170 freeway below, through a junkyard. We walked wordlessly, crushing cans and broken bottles, until we found his body. He lay, curled up on plateau of flattened garbage, eyes black and blue, flies already swarming. We would later find out that he was shot.
My first thought before calling 911 was fear. Fear that if I called the police this family’s tragedy could result in their deportation or detainment in an American concentration camp. The realization that LA is a sanctuary city was an indescribable relief, to say the least. By the end of the day the LAPD, FBI, CHP and LAFD were on the scene. From what I could tell, they treated the incident with severity, respect and dignity.
The entire community has rallied around Enrique’s mother, younger sister, brother, and his son. My neighbors have since begun to teach me Spanish, and have graciously included me in their grieving process, a gift which immeasurably outweighs whatever they imagine I did to deserve their thanks. A gift that has been essential to my personal healing. They called me ‘familia’. They’ve taught me more about what it means to be an American (not to mention a human being) than I’ve read in any history book, learned in any political science class, or heard in any president’s speech. This poem is dedicated to Enrique, his family, his friends and to my neighborhood.


I’ve spent

every minute of my life


I was somewhere else,

Sometime else,

Where I’d be


other than I was;

I soothed my inability to love

what is

with the promise

I’d love

what could be

what would be;

The things I’d fix

when I got rich,


It took finding


in a wasteland

for me to understand

that no amount of


will fix what’s

breaking in us,

No amount of


will give any grieving mother

her son back.

The realization that I’d sacrificed

my art

my heart

and my soul

at the alter of the very force

responsible for our


for our cages,

revealed an internal


that perfectly mirrored

the scene where

we found him,

where he died.

I could not look away

I would not look away

I would never be able to

forgive myself

if I turned my back on

hell today,

If I didn’t face it.

Rumi called it a field,

with grass;

Mine was a wasteland.

The place I found God,

I mean.

A junkyard

carpeted by the

excrement of my capitalism—



and broken glass.

In the absence of common tongue

we breathed.

We inhaled our


and exhaled our


For the young man,

the oldest son and

new father,

who lay here.

Who died here.

I knew God

opened heaven up for him

even though he died

on this bed of garbage,

and trash,

and broken glass.

I knew because I could still

feel it.

Heaven, I mean.

And see it

and breathe it.

I’ve wondered

for a long time

whether good really does

conquer evil,

in the end.

And thank God

I didn’t look away.

Thank God I faced it

because I got my answer

that day.

What could be more


than finding


in the middle of hell?


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