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Back when there was a Southern California Living section of the L.A. Times, they did a series about poets writing about their neighborhood. This one was published by Aleida Rodríguez, author of award-winning Garden of Exile and 2018–19 City of L.A. (C.O.L.A.) Literature Fellowship recipient.

I never knew its name until a few years ago, when it came under threat of development

and the community rose up to protect this gentle slope. But we’ve been staring at each

other, locked in a visual embrace, for more than thirty years.

 It’s what I see when I gaze up abstractedly from my desk, trying to distill the right

word from the air. And always it’s there, opposite me, gazing back, attentive. At the

bottom of the ravine between us runs Echo Park Avenue, the crease in the center of our

Rorschach, on either side of which we turn and face each other. We have been fixed in

this gaze forever it seems: my squinting across at it to better make out what I’m thinking;

it calmly waiting for me to read its mind. Concrete steps furrow it like a contemplative

brow, mirroring mine. Those steps are the place where my street wiggles right up to its

base then pulls itself upright suddenly like a zigzag concrete cobra. And at night—now

that street lamps have been added at each landing—the jagged steps alternate from light

to dark to light like patterned snakeskin. At the top, I swear, I’ve seen it part its pointy

mouth to sip at the dark blue lake of sky. Full moons—silver and gold—float up from its

throat like coins escaping a bank and arc across the sky. When I’m lucky enough to catch

that, it’s the only currency I need.

 From what I’ve been able to learn, this hill—my other half, my counterpart, my

doppelgänger—is an undeveloped northwestern flank of Elysian Park, which was once

known collectively in the mid-nineteenth century as the Rock Quarry Hills. It was not

named Elysian Park until the city dedicated it formally as a park in 1886. It is said that

the locals used to fly kites on this bright West-facing slope, which is how it got its name.

And I imagine them, at the waning end of a wind-swept spring day, with burnished faces

and sore necks from craning up at the flapping kites, lingering there, kites in hand, to

watch the red sun balance briefly on the silver tightrope of the Pacific. You can still see

the ocean, on a clear day. And the city still bolts westward and lemminglike from there,

still flat but for the purple-silhouetted outcroppings of Mid-Wilshire, Century City, and

Santa Monica. But across from my desk, when the sun starts to set and my own eastern

flank is already submerged in a blue shadow, Kite Hill is incandescent. It’s the last place

day clings to before it disappears, its rosy-golden light a swelling river of blanc de noir

that night’s trees have to hoist up their skirts to cross. It is the light of antiquity, of the

golden fields once depicted on fruit crates, of El Dorado, of memory behind a veil of


 “And there it is again, that Dutch landscape, unchanged,/ as though I’m passing it

once more in a gallery./ But the shadows are now a bit greener, the houses slightly

pinker.” That’s Kite Hill, intruding into one of my poems after a rain. It has been making

such cameo appearances in my poetry for years. When I glance up from a poem about

landscape painting, it offers, “The houses… are nestled/ into the soft grassy slope like

ornaments on green frosting.” One night, as I stared across at it following a break-up,

trying to raise a feeling to the level of language, Kite Hill invited me to view it as film

negative and suggested: “The tunneling/ beams of cars look like snowplows/ of the

underworld pushing dark drifts out—/then down. Something used to be there,/ but now

it’s money in a dream” Then, after years of bit parts, it finally got to inhabit an entire

poem, called “The Powerful Green Hill,” after a line by Muriel Rukeyser: “And then I

arrived at the powerful green hill.” I knew exactly what hill she meant, though of course

hers was somewhere else entirely. In my poem, Kite Hill conjectured: “What would

happen/ if we made it easier/ for what’s trying to reveal itself/ to make contact?/ Like that

hill across there:/ blushing green with all it wants to say./ What would happen if we

turned/ every window to face it, until its green/ became the secret room/ at the center of

our house?” And then, driving the point home, it ends the poem, “Listen, something is

calling.” But that was not its eeriest communication.

 All the windows along the eastern length of my house face Kite Hill. One spring

morning, after sleepily walking the length of the house, opening windows, pulling up

shades, never once glancing across at the hill, I drew up the final shades with a snap, and

there, against its bright green ground, white sandbags were arranged to spell out: I LOVE

U. Instantly my eyes welled up. There was no doubt in my mind that the hill had finally

found a way to write back after all these years. Sure, it could well have been that

someone was proposing to someone else, but who’s to say the hill didn’t make use of

those people for its own purposes? To requite my affection.

Rilke says, in a 1925 letter to his Polish translator, explicating Sonnets to Orpheus,

“Nature, the things we move among and use, are provisional and perishable; but, so long

as we are here, they are our possession and our friendship, sharing the knowledge of our

grief and gladness, as they have already been the confidants of our forebears.” He goes

on to say that some things “pass away in the infinite consciousness of the angels” while

“others are dependent on creatures who slowly and laboriously transform them, in whose

terror and ecstasy they reach their next invisible realization.” I am one of those latter

creatures Kite Hill is stuck with this time around.

 While other associations fail the test of time, Kite Hill endures, stolid, Buddha-like

across from me. And though my life has been comprised largely of loss—my homeland

of Cuba among the most significant of those losses—Kite Hill offers me a chunk of land I

climb every morning at dawn and make mine. As an antidote for my grief it urges

playfully, Come fly a kite.

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