A poem like this
By Luis Rivas
(Dedicated to the memory of the three young children, Dasani, Alexia, and Jayden, who were killed in a home fire started by a space heater after their family couldn’t afford to pay the gas bill)
when we were young, we were bold enough to break into
vacant buildings sometimes abandoned, sometimes for sale,
sometimes just unguarded.
and most of the time we didn’t care.
we were young, obnoxious, arrogant punks, recent high
school graduates—somehow managing to accumulate
passing grades—all while overdosing weekly on speed, pills,
vodka and anything else we could overdose on.
we would break into houses and crash for the night, invite
friends over, drink and do drugs in peace.
but it would get cold at night, and since we had no sleeping
bags or blankets, we would cut up sections of carpet with our
pocket knives and wrap ourselves up like desperate vagrants
(which we were, but only by the privilege of affording the
more than a decade later on january 10 i hear the news of
three children in indiana dead from a fire after the family
couldn’t afford to pay utilities, and so they opted for a
propane space heater.
when the firefighters pulled out the small bodies, it is said
that the oldest two, brother and sister, ages 3 and 4, were
found embracing each other; their 7-month old sibling was
five feet from the front door, dead.
after hearing of this, i remember back to breaking into
buildings and how cold we thought it was more than 10
years ago inside these places, sleeping in sliced carpet not
knowing that that families, perhaps poorer than ours, in the
midwest were also resorting to desperate measures, and that
many would die.
but not because of the cold.
we had a vague understanding of oppression; we, ourselves,
were poor, used blue-and-yellow meal tickets throughout our
entire pre-college education, had family members behind bars,
understood that (most) teachers were spineless collaborators
and that the administration, the police, the courts, the
landlords, were racist and somehow part of the enemy.
dasani was 4 years old and his sister, alexia, she was 3, and
jayden, the youngest, was 7-months old.
the father ran into the burning building to save them but
caught on fire and fell to the snow screaming for someone to
save his babies.
but the family in indiana was like ours in california’s san
fernando valley, and their children did not die because of the
cold or the subsequent fire that was started by the space heater.
what took this family’s three children away was not fire, not
the cold, not poverty; what took dasani, alexia and jayden
away was economics; it was just doin my job ma’am; pay
your bills and everything woulda been all right; sir, sorry for
your loss; did you know there are state programs that help
low-income families pay utilities—that is, you know, as long
as you can afford to pay the deposit; for that, you’re on your
own; i know it’s cold; i know you work all the time; i know
your wife, girlfriend, or whatever, complains that the house
is a mess, i know sir, i know, i know, i know, but i’m just doin
what took away dasani, alexia and jayden was that, that
capitalist narrative: that we all should be working, paying
bills, and not question the structural arrangement
that allows poor families to resort to walmart space heaters
hooked up to propane gas tanks because the gas bill is too
high, because rent is too high, because raises don’t come
quick enough, because kids need to eat, because the world
doesn’t stop to ask, you need a few days off to get your
money in order? you’re a little short this month? no prob.
how are the kids? and the missus? good, good to hear. yea,
i tell you, it aint easy but as long as we got each other, as
long as we know that it’s all bullshit but we have to look
out for each other, as long as we know that, then will be all
but it doesn’t work that way. no, each day is money earned
or paid, or further in debt. the world runs on the
arrangement of capital, where the consequences for not
paying can mean death
and that is not freedom; that is bondage.
so in the memory of alexia, dasani and jayden, as future or
present-day parents, as brothers or sisters, we should honor
their memory by creating a world where you don’t have
to read a poem like this anymore.