EDITOR’S NOTE: This the second in a series of stories intended to offer another perspective on the homeless of West Hollywood. The first was “Streets” a series of photos by Martin Gantman, an artist and member of the West Hollywood Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission, which can be seen here.
Burt Bachrach and Hal David said it in a song recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965:
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
“It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
“No not just for some but for everyone.”
“This famous line from the ’70’s … keeps running through my head,” says Dawn Moreno-Freedman, “and I’ve tweaked it: ‘What the world needs now is love sweet love, homes for the homeless, and poetry’.”
Moreno-Freedman is a member of the West Hollywood Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission and a familiar face to those who frequent the West Hollywood Library (she works there). She also is a poet in the making who took part in workshops at the library conducted by Kim Dower, the City of West Hollywood’s poet laureate in 2016-2017.
“She asked me to attend,” Moreno-Freedman said. “Up until her workshops I hated and dreaded poetry. I didn’t understand the art form. As an arts commissioner, I felt it was my duty to show up and support her project. For one and a half years I showed up, wrote poetry and read it aloud to some heavyweight poets in the class.
“Kim always told me in front of everyone that I was not writing poetry. But she kept inviting me back to class, and I kept showing up. What I noticed was that I was having fun! And this deep and profound appreciation for poetry was beginning to develop in my life.
“She gave a homework assignment and asked everyone to write what they saw in their neighborhood. Everyone came back writing about cars, traffic, and traditional neighborhoodie stuff. That week I saw a cop stick his hand down a transgender sex worker’s bra. When I read my poem in class, Kim finally told me that I had written a poem.
“The part of WeHo that I live in is a street opera. It’s a big heartache seeing people sell themselves, trying to be a different gender without the means to do it right, steal, mentally crack up in public and shoot up. But there is a strange force once you learn how to see it in terms of the power to survive.”
Felice Picano, the famous author and West Hollywood resident, labels Moreno-Freeman’s work as prose poetry. “He refers to them as portraits and thinks of my work as fresh and original” she said.
Here are a few scenes by Moreno-Freedman of life in West Hollywood in a series of poems that she titles “This Ain’t Mr. Rogers Neighborhood No More.”
The prettiest sex worker in this part of town is a celebrity.
She’s on Instagram.
Billie doesn’t have the same body parts as Playboy’s Playmate of the Year.
Her customers don’t care.
She’s beautiful, curvaceous and only wears hot pink.
It’s the kink factor that makes Billie the highest-paid Madam of the Street.
What Happened to John?
It happened one day where John found himself living on the street.
He asked himself, “How did I get here?”
It happened one day where John could no longer recognize the person that he had once been.
It happened one day where John started deteriorating fast.
It happened one day where a cleanup crew discovered John’s body on an abandoned mattress.
The Cop and the Transgender Sex Worker
The cop’s hand dived into the transgender sex worker’s stuffed bra, at the bus stop on S&M Blvd.
He was searching for drugs or a weapon.
Handcuffed, she smiled and swayed to the silent anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”
Her sisters in crime watched from the bus stop.
Two hours later, back on the street, gone was her smile.
They were homeless.
And just kids.
He strangled her.
His face was the last thing she saw.
A man discovered her body in a fountain when he was walking his dog.
Her 21-year-old body lies in a Jane Doe grave.
He’s doing time for murdering the girl he loved.
Her son discovered her body.
She O.D.’d in her new Section 8 apartment.
When she got the apartment, her homies told her she won the lottery.
She raised her son on the streets.
He was now a man of the streets.
She was proud of him
She’d been sleeping on concrete for so long.
Her body couldn’t take it no more.
The system came through for her.
They found her a home.
You’re doing it again!
You’re doing it in public in front of everyone.
You did it last week on the steps of Urgent Care.
You’re shooting up today on someone’s apartment stairs that you don’t even know.
You don’t care.
You got your heroin high.
How did we get here?!
Dawn’s poetic portraits of the homeless bear witness to a society in decline while Weho rebrands itself an “Urban Oasis”.
Yes to more poetry and to immediate housing for the homeless now!!!
Beautiful poems Dawn!! Wonderful that they tell touching stories.
WOW!!! Dawn’s poetry are very vivid and literally puts a knot in my throat!! The transgender singing ‘we shall overcome’ while being searched by a desensitized cop was so disheartening , while “john” who was found dead on a mattress was just another sad reality…You’re the bomb, Dawn!!!
It’s exciting to read Dawn’s vivid portraits – heartbreaking poems about the homeless. Our ability to see and humanize people we so often ignore, and write their stories through poetry is a gift, not only for the poet but for the reader as well. Thank you Dawn for turning sad images into art.
West Hollywood Poet Laureate 2016 -2017
Dawn, I love your prosems!! In their undecorated simplicity, they reveal complex truths. COMING HOME & HOMELESS LOVE are my favorites! Wow!
Dawn has an extraordinary way of tackling dark, real-world issues and bringing them to the forefront in artistic, beautiful forms of poetry. It’s thrilling to see her work gaining the recognition it deserves!
I really appreciate Dawn’s work and really enjoyed seeing it highlighted here. Thank you, Dawn!
Just wondering, we are still looking for Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, where is that? Also, why does the world not get, ‘love, sweet love’?
Wonderful poem portraits. Great work, Dawn!