‘Barbara Cartland, the queen mother of the romance industry, comes on several times in
a film-stealing cameo. Mrs. Cartland (”I give women beauty and love”) is an
eye-blinding presence. Now in her mid-80’s, she’s always dressed in kewpie-doll
splendor (pale blue tulle, feathers of a color no bird ever grew and more jewelry thanis absolutely necessary except for one’s own coronation). She has written 362 romance novels that have sold more than 350 million copies. When she speaks, romance readers and writers pay heed, though, apparently, they are now going their own way. “I am the best-selling author in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records,” Mrs. Cartland announces right off, holding an armful of roses and staring at the camera through
lashes dewy with makeup. She’s appalled by the current trend toward more explicit
sex in romance novels. ”It’s soft porn, which is really a mistake,” she says.
How does a woman hold her man? It’s perfectly simple, according to Mrs. Cartland.
”You have to make his prison, which is his home, more attractive.”
And on an entirely different (i.e., noncommercial) direction:
In the 1970s women writers influenced by the women’s movement (and their practice of
‘consciousness-raising circles’) organized writing workshops for women—organizing
“the women’s community,” including founding The Women’s Building in Los Angeles.This
building hosted literary reading series and writing workshops, mostly for women but
not exclusively, and installed and operated printing presses in the rear, publishing
letter press quality chapbooks, posters and broadsides and providing instruction for
women in printing and operating presses. As a young single mother, my friend Gloria
Alvarez organized and hosted probably the first bilingual Spanish/English women’s
writing workshop in the city at the Women’s Building.
One of the founders of The Women’s Building was writer Deena Metzger, who runs writing
workshops for women: http://deenametzger.net/
“The Woman’s Building became a North Star on a dream map for women who were looking to redefine their lives and work. And its history—rich, splintered, groundbreaking—is the
subject of a new book.” – Los Angeles Times
The year 1934, his thirty-fifth, was a significant watershed in the life of Andrei Platonov. He had already written The Foundation Pit and Chevengur, the novels for which he is today best known, but neither had been published in full. Soviet readers knew him mainly for a few short stories and, above all, his semi-satirical account of collectivization, ‘For Future Use’, which had been met by a storm of official criticism when it appeared in 1931. For the next three years, Platonov was unable to publish anything. But in the spring of 1934, he was included in a brigade of writers sent to Turkmenistan to report on the progress of Sovietization, and the same year was asked to contribute to a series of almanachs. Under Gorky’s general editorship, these were to celebrate the completion of the second Five-Year Plan in 1937; but they never appeared. The text reproduced here was written for one of these, titled ‘Notebooks’; it arrived on Gorky’s desk in early January 1935—a month after the assassination of Kirov, an event which unleashed a wave of purges that presaged the terror to come. Within a few days Gorky had rejected Platonov’s text as ‘unsuitable’ and ‘pessimistic’; in early March the organizing secretary of the Writers’ Union publicly denounced the unpublished article as ‘reactionary’, ‘reflecting the philosophy of elements hostile to socialism’.
The text was probably written in the first half of 1934, after Platonov’s return from Central Asia; a notebook entry from mid-April—‘dialectic of nature in the Karakum desert’—makes clear he was already considering its key themes there. Many of these relate directly to the concerns of Happy Moscow, the novel he was then writing; certain details would also be re-used in the screenplay ‘Father–Mother’ (see NLR 53). The text is, among other things, a riposte to Gorky’s own views on nature: ‘our earth is ever more generously revealing to us its countless treasures’, intoned one article from 1932. Platonov, a hydrological expert in his native Voronezh region during the droughts of the early 1920s, had an altogether different conception, combining faith in technology with knowledge of the harshness of the environment on which mankind depended. ‘On the First Socialist Tragedy’ occupies an unusual place in Platonov’s oeuvre. In generic terms, it belongs among his many journalistic writings. But those from his Voronezh period (1921–26) are more agitational in character, while his literary criticism (1937 onwards) focuses above all on aesthetic questions. Philosophical texts, as such, are very much a rarity—though it is possible more may emerge from an archive that is still, sixty years after his death, not fully catalogued. The manuscript of this text was first published in Russian in 1991; a second, typescript version appeared in 1993. The latter, which is what Gorky would have read, places much greater emphasis on the problems facing the USSR’s ‘engineers of the soul’. The translation that appears here is based on Platonov’s original manuscript—terse and prescient in equal measure.
On the First Socialist Tragedy
One should keep one’s head down and not revel in life: our time is better and more serious than blissful enjoyment. Anyone who revels in it will certainly be caught and perish, like a mouse that has crawled into a mousetrap to ‘revel in’ a piece of lard on the bait pedal. Around us there is a lot of lard, but every piece is bait. One should stand with the ordinary people in their patient socialist work, and that’s all.
This mood and consciousness correspond to the way nature is constructed. Nature is not great, it is not abundant. Or it is so harshly arranged that it has never bestowed its abundance and greatness on anyone. This is a good thing, otherwise—in historical time—all of nature would have been plundered, wasted, eaten up, people would have revelled in it down to its very bones; there would always have been appetite enough. If the physical world had not had its one law—in fact, the basic law: that of the dialectic—people would have been able to destroy the world completely in a few short centuries. More: even without people, nature would have destroyed itself into pieces of its own accord. The dialectic is probably an expression of miserliness, of the daunting harshness of nature’s construction, and it is only thanks to this that the historical development of humankind became possible. Otherwise everything on earth would long since have ended, as when a child plays with sweets that have melted in his hands before he has even had time to eat them.
Where does the truth of our contemporary historical picture lie? Of course, it is a tragic picture, because the real historical work is being done not on the whole earth, but in a small part of it, with enormous overloading.
The truth, in my view, lies in the fact that ‘technology . . . decides everything’. Technology is, indeed, the subject of the contemporary historical tragedy, if by technology we understand not only the complex of man-made instruments of production, but also the organization of society, solidly founded on the technology of production, and even ideology. Ideology, incidentally, is located not in the superstructure, not ‘on high’, but within, in the middle of society’s sense of itself. To be precise, one needs to include in technology the technician himself—the person—so that one does not obtain an iron-hard understanding of the question.
The situation between technology and nature is a tragic one. The aim of technology is: ‘give me a place to stand and I will move the world’. But the construction of nature is such that it does not like to be beaten: one can move the world by taking up the lever with the required moment, but one must lose so much along the way and while the long lever is turning that, in practice, the victory is useless. This is an elementary episode of dialectics. Let us take a contemporary fact: the splitting of the atom. The same thing. The worldwide moment will arrive when, having expended a quantity of energy n on the destruction of the atom, we will obtain n + 1 as a result, and will be so happy with this wretched addition, because this absolute gain was obtained as a result of a seemingly artificial alteration of the very principle of nature; that is, the dialectic. Nature keeps itself to itself, it can only function by exchanging like for like, or even with something added in its favour; but technology strains to have it the other way around. The external world is protected from us by the dialectic. Therefore, though it seems like a paradox: the dialectic of nature is the greatest resistance to technology and the enemy of humankind. Technology is intended for and works towards the overturning or softening of the dialectic. So far it has only modestly succeeded, and so the world still cannot be kind to us.
At the same time, the dialectic alone is our sole instructor and resource against an early, senseless demise in childish enjoyment. Just as it was the force that created all technology.
In sociology, in love, in the depths of man the dialectic functions just as invariably. A man who had a ten-year-old son left him with the boy’s mother, and married a beauty. The child began to miss his father, and patiently, clumsily hanged himself. A gram of enjoyment at one end was counterbalanced by a tonne of grave soil at the other. The father removed the rope from the child’s neck and soon followed in his wake, into the grave. He wanted to revel in the innocent beauty, he wanted to bear his love not as a duty shared with one woman, but as a pleasure. Do not revel—or die.
Some naive people might object: the present crisis of production refutes such a point of view. Nothing refutes it. Imagine the highly complex armature of society in contemporary imperialism and fascism, giving off starvation and destruction for mankind in those parts, and it becomes clear at what cost the increase in productive forces was attained. Self-destruction in fascism and war between states are both losses of high-level production and vengeance for it. The tragic knot is cut without being resolved. The result is not even a tragedy in a classical sense. A world without the ussr would undoubtedly destroy itself of its own accord within the course of the next century.
The tragedy of man, armed with machinery and a heart, and with the dialectic of nature, must be resolved in our country by means of socialism. But it must be understood that this is a very serious task. The ancient life on the ‘surface’ of nature could still obtain what it needed from the waste and excretions of elemental forces and substances. But we are making our way inside the world, and in response it is pressing down upon us with equivalent force.
As gentrification sweeps the city, Sesshu Foster has quietly become the poet laureate of a vanishing neighborhood
LOS ANGELES — In this high-turnover city, the Eastside, more than the moneyed west, has seemed to hold on to its past. There are eccentric bungalows and blanched murals, and shopping corridors with the foot traffic and feel of a village market. Neighborhoods such as Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and City Terrace have thus far escaped the peculiar affliction of the upscale coffee shop. Their residents and business owners are still predominantly Latino and Asian, and largely working class — though perhaps not for long. According to trend-spotters, East LA is the molten core of gentrification, full of hipsterpreneurs with backing from friends in venture capital.
To see the real Eastside, ask the writer and teacher Sesshu Foster to take you on a little tour. He’ll pick you up downtown in his Toyota SUV, air conditioner whooshing, a Ry Cooder track pulsing. You’ll cross the LA River — thin puddles in a long concrete ditch — and keep going down Cesar Chavez, originally named Brooklyn Avenue by Jewish émigrés. Every few blocks, you’ll glimpse a faded mural and Foster will explain the story behind each one. If there’s graffiti, he’ll denounce the taggers’ “total disregard for their grandparents’ social art” in his unhurried Angeleno drawl.
Foster, 58, the author of four award-winning books of poetry and prose, is an encyclopedist by nature, the Diderot of the neighborhood. His writing is political, experimental and consistently local, even unfashionably so. A family man and full-time public school teacher, he’s never focused on self-promotion, yet he is praised within literary circles and counts U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, novelist Karen Tei Yamashita and poets Claudia Rankine and Amy Uyematsu among his friends and peers. Herrera says Foster might be better known if not for the day-to-day “pressure [on] working-class writers, writers of color… writing for the community.”
The project currently on Foster’s mind is a multimedia, quasi-fictional history of East LA, which he’s compiling with his friend, artist Arturo Ernesto Romo-Santillano. Their research includes a lot of driving, walking, looking and talking, and so in March the three of us drove to Boyle Heights and parked in view of the Sears tower, an Art Deco complex slated for mixed-use redevelopment. We’d come to see the murals on the Estrada Courts, a grid of two-story public housing. “The Chicano movement always had artists as cultural ambassadors,” Foster said, gesturing at some their creations.
We passed walls depicting a pointing Che Guevara and a haloed Jesus on our way to the “Black and White Mural” by the renowned Chicano collective ASCO. In humble monochrome, abstract scenes from the Chicano Moratorium, the radical, Mexican-American movement against the Vietnam War, read like frames in a strip of film. Like ASCO, Foster and Romo-Santillano see their approach to art making as “by and for the people.” In a city “where everything gets constantly built over,” Foster described their experimental history of East LA — already more than five years’ work — as an attempt at salvage.
East LA is Foster’s assembly and holy land, where he was raised and where he raised his three daughters. Not far from the home he shares with his wife, Dolores Bravo, is the house in City Terrace that he and his six siblings grew up in, and where his mother, a 90-year-old second-generation Japanese American, still lives. She brought the kids to the neighborhood after leaving their father, an Anglo painter who was thudding his way through the Beat era.
The Eastside that groomed Foster in the 1960s and ’70s has little in common with the polished, commercially cool destination featured on food blogs or portrayed on “Maron,” comedian Marc Maron’s sitcom. As a kid in City Terrace, a rough neighborhood prone to violence, Foster neglected school and ran the streets with a Chicano gang, avoiding his abusive uncle and the chaos of home. Though he is hapa, half-Japanese and half-white, he came of age in a Mexican American milieu, at the cultural and political peak of Chicano activism.
Since his teenage years, Foster has had an unwavering partner. He met his wife, an East LA Chicana, on a high school science trip and just kept “following Dolores,” says his cousin Tom Ogawa. In college, Foster stayed tied to Bravo while bouncing from one University of California campus to another. His jobs were as varied: In Palo Alto, he was a strip-club bouncer; in Colorado, a summer firefighter — the best gig he’s ever had, he says. “I was reading Mao, Stalin, Che Guevara, anybody, Carey McWilliams or novels or whatever and waiting around for fires. And then you get called out on fires… There’s a certain element of risk to keep you on your toes.” He only quit on account of their firstborn, Marina, who arrived when his wife was a graduate student in Seattle. “I wasn’t going to do what my dad did, which was never be there.”
Above: A sampling of the dozens of postcards Foster has sent to penpals in 2015. Mouse over the cards to view the opposite side.
After Marina came Umeko, then Lali — three daughters spaced almost 12 years apart. The girls were raised on their parents’ schoolteacher salaries, first in a house near City Terrace, then in Alhambra. Between his work schedule and young children’s needs, writing became a jigsaw, which was just as well for someone who refused to be “a lonely poet writing in an attic, starving.” There were unclaimed minutes here and there, around the edges of family, teaching and the teachers’ union. On Saturdays, Bravo gave Foster time to write. Summer breaks were sacred.
Foster’s craft is inseparable from his day job and family: “None of the work I’ve done would have been done without our collectivity,” he says. In his most recent volume, “World Ball Notebook” (City Lights 2008), he presents a collection of numbered “games” that allude to his daughters’ soccer matches as much as his own wordplay. One of my favorites, Game 114, reads in part:
the mayans failed, civilization collapsed.
dinosaurs failed, became birds.
the sun went down, came up on a foggy day.
the moon failed, so shut up.
dirt failed came out in the wash.
your mom failed, look at you, kid.
In 1994, on the heels of heated union talks, Foster, Bravo and the girls, then ages 2, 9 and 13, decamped for Iowa City and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It was the nation’s most revered MFA program and a Midwest respite from the chaos of LA. By that time, he had already co-edited an anthology of poets of color, “Invocation LA” (West End Press, 1989), and published a book of poems, “Angry Days” (West End Press, 1987), which bears the characteristic tensions in his work: the funny, grotesque and polemical, on the one hand (“agribusiness required a constant surplus / with wages controlled”); a gentleness and naturalism on the other (“little halfmoons of dirt / wax underneath my fingernails). As someone who zigzags between poetry and prose, Foster turned out to be a poor stylistic fit for Iowa. “He was different from the other students,” says Warren Liu, a former classmate and a professor of English at Scripps College. “He wasn’t out to prove anything to anyone.”
By the end of this MFA, a poetry project long in the works was set for release. “City Terrace Field Manual” (Kaya, 1996), Foster’s most popular collection, is a paean to the East LA of his childhood. Published by a small press specializing in the Asian diaspora, the stanzas are rich with references to local landmarks and people: the Santa Ana Freeway, Arthur Buell, Priscilla, Highland Park, Chemo, Xochitl, Manny, El Sereno, Areceli Cruz and Wanda Coleman. After two years in the Iowa snow, Los Angeles beckoned:
I would dream about City Terrace and
my friends in East L.A. They kept coming back, talking
to me … the same old things.
The success of “City Terrace Field Manual” might have tempted another writer to shake off his geographic fixation. Foster, though, wasn’t yet done documenting East LA. “This is what I’m going to do because who else is going to do it?” he says. “Even Chicanos who want to do it don’t do it. [Representing the community] is one of my principal tasks.”
In his basement study, as on countless pages and screens, Foster is an artist of accumulation. He says Facebook deactivated his first account, mistaking him for a spamming robot. He’d posted too many aphoristic scribbles and links to articles — about education, Mexico, Palestine, poetry, capitalism, the immigrant rights movement and criminal justice, to mention a few. He’s constantly blogging, sending emails and participating in poetry readings and political fundraisers. “He’s a worker,” says artist and fellow teacher Romo-Santillano. “Being an artist is about working.”
Foster is prolific on paper as well, particularly when he’s in epistolary mode. He grew up exchanging letters with his dad, a Dharma bum on the road. “That was really our basic, tangible relationship, one of correspondence,” he says. These days, he mails up to 20 postcards a week, inked with grocery lists, diary entries, dialogues and literary family trees in arty spirals of red. Lisa Chen, a Brooklyn-based writer who met Foster at Iowa, estimates that she’s received well over a thousand of his postcards since the mid-1990s. Her fridge is covered in them. “It’s a form of diary or journaling, reflection — and also a way of saying ‘hi’ to people far away,” Foster explains. He delights, too, in how postcards allow for an “often arbitrary juxtaposition” of image and text: “I don’t think in linear, standardized, ‘First they woke up. Then they walked out the door,’” he says. “Things come to me out of order.”
The same might be said of his books, which resist a neat progression from one to the next. “City Terrace Field Manual” raised Foster’s profile and helped define him as an Asian American poet, yet his next volume would be an avant-garde “Chicano” novel. “Atomik Aztex” (City Lights 2005), which won the Believer Book Award, imagines the life of a slaughterhouse worker in an un-colonized America; the prose is shot through with invented dialects and pages-long paragraphs in italicized script. “It was sort of hard on purpose,” Foster says. “I was in that mood.” The language is by turns zany and brutal, especially in the slaughterhouse scenes: “Esophagus tracts raw from chlorine… The sky might already be lightening, backlit that cool electric blue.” It’s a futuristic Aztec civilization — the indigenous people now ascendant — yet still oppressive, empire all the same.
In any other city, and in any neighborhood besides East L.A., it’s unlikely that a half-Japanese, half-Anglo poet would be so enmeshed in Chicano cultural production. “His culture is L.A. culture, which is fluid; a mishmash,” says Chen. “His Spanish is better than his Japanese.” Herrera calls him “a sci-fi Argentinian. He’s like Borges.”
To be biracial or mixed race is to be permanently neither. It’s also distinctly Angelean, says Ruben Martinez, a professor at Loyola Marymount University: “Sesshu’s mixed parentage and geographical weaning in East LA made him, like, post-Mestizo.” Because of this, Foster worries that his oeuvre has a narrow reach. “Being mixed — that never puts you in solid with one group. That means you’re always kind of on the border, you’re on the margin, one or the other. Inasmuch as my work plays to Asian Americans and Chicanos, that’s the minor leagues,” he says, adding, “If I’m not doing some crossover thing with white people, I’m always going to be [minor].”
To those familiar with his work, however, Foster is vital; one of the “iconic voices writing from Los Angeles,” says Elaine Katzenberger, his editor at City Lights, the bookstore and publisher founded by beatnik Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Like everyone interviewed for this story, Katzenberger spoke of his unassuming industriousness — “as a teacher and activist [he’s] making all kinds of cultural connections, but he’s such a quiet presence, not tooting his own horn.” Foster’s rootedness also sets him apart, says journalist Ben Ehrenreich, who befriended him while writing about “Atomik Aztex”for the Village Voice. “He’s extraordinary today in his quiet, humble insistence that writers can and ought to relate to the world around them [in a way] that’s not just dictated by the market, agents and MFA posts — that whole world of bullshit.”
Foster’s commitment to write about the world he sees is matched by an equal impatience for the commercial cultural establishment attempting to whitewash it. Last September, just before the closing of “Made in L.A. 2014,” a biennial exhibition at UCLA’s Hammer Museum, he paid a visit with his wife and mother, who trained as a painter. The show featured 35 LA-based visual artists, mostly young and “emerging,” working in photography, video, painting, performance, installation and sculpture. Foster was unimpressed by what he saw, in part because his companions were so disappointed; alienated, in fact, from the purported art of their city.
He went home and wrote a poem about the experience, posting it to the blog he’s maintained since 2008. Like much of what he writes, this was a textual doodle; aesthetic and institutional critique in a lowercase, stream-of-consciousness style:
it’s okay that the artists are all white, even the nonwhite artists (2?) are kind of white
it’s okay that the curators are all white …
it’s all right because the ucla hammer museum curated and hosted ‘now dig this! Art and black los angeles 1960 – 1980’ which exhibited from october 2011 to january 2012
so it’s okay, because ‘black los angeles’ had its day …
it’s okay that the apartheid imagination remains in place and is not disrupted
His real target was “racism in the institutions of LA,” Foster explains. And the blog post went viral, provoking an extended debate within the city. Even those aligned with Foster accused him of being too prescriptive and orthodox. In the Los Angeles Review of Books, writer Nikki Darling pointed out that 11 artists of color had been part of the Hammer biennial and criticized Foster for “expecting artists of color to produce work that explicitly addresses identity.”
Foster stood by his critique. The blog post was not journalism; it was a poem, he says. And it did what so few poems do: spark controversy.
In the weeks following, a local art space hosted “decolonizing the white box,” a public forum inspired by his post. More than 150 people turned out; there had been a hunger for conversations about race in the art world. “His work was able to draw out such ire and tension,” says Raquel Gutierrez, the young poet and activist who moderated the event. Foster is “very terse in his online presence and his work,” she said, but he is “our [Juan Felipe] Herrera, [Sandra] Cisneros, Junot Diaz, [a writer] who endured the whiteness of the MFA machine and raged against that machine.”
Foster has always seen words as “adjunct to political activity.” He never wanted his fiction or verse to exist only in a white box, far from the street. “I’m politically involved in the things I write about,” he says, “and my politics are informed by actual experience, not just things I saw on the news.”
His work can be incredibly funny, as he is in person, but it’s also sincere and serious in purpose, much like the Chicano murals painted during his youth. His fondness for that era’s art leaves him open to accusations of being retrograde, an “identity politician.” Yet Foster’s work isn’t “preachy,” says Lauri Ramey, director of the poetry center at Cal State LA. “The aesthetic sensibility of his work serves his ethical vision. … That’s what keeps it from feeling like a polemic.”
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Foster gazes at the Chicano collective ASCO’s faded “Black and White Mural” in the Estrada Courts, an aging housing complex in Boyle Heights. The Eastside is famous for its tradition of art and activism. Joyce Kim for Al Jazeera America
At some point soon, in some form resembling a book, City Lights will publish Foster’s collaboration with Romo-Santillano: a multi-genre assemblage premised on a fictional corporation, East Los Angeles Dirigible Transport Lines. Borrowing from the Beats as much as Melville, the project includes a faux-tourist website, letters, advertisements, interviews, drawings, complaint forms, doctored photos, commercials and mail catalogs stamped with the company’s oblong seal. It’s a thought experiment and travelogue through a real, imagined, lost and found East LA.
On a hot Saturday in late June, Foster invited a dozen or so friends to Romo-Santillano’s house for dinner, poetry readings and a short PowerPoint presentation. We sat around a large dining table and watched images projected onto an ersatz screen, a white sheet tickled by the ceiling fan. The guests were unwittingly impaneled as the official board of directors of the ELADTL, and so, following our hosts’ lead, we slipped in and out of character, chuckling at old-timey images of zeppelins, earnings projections and bar charts depicting “growth in daily ridership.”
In this “real history of a fake transportation company,” we glimpsed actual snippets of a bygone city: a mural effaced, incompletely, by white paint; the 1930s tombstone of an African American stunt pilot. The older artist-activists nodded in recognition at the slides. “Oh, there’s Willie!” or “Hey, didn’t a bank used to be there?”
Toward the end of the night, we watched an earlier product of the ELADTL: a silent, rickety video from 2011 entitled “Pollos Rostizados.” In it, Foster and Romo-Santillano walk along a freeway overpass, chatting about chicken, hot dogs, pickled eggs, old murals, a long-gone gas station and our aerial destiny, the velocity of their mouths mismatched to yellow subtitles. Airships, Foster tells us, are the future of Interstate 10. Soon enough, like the streets and sidewalks that came before, these “fourteen lanes of blackouts, migraines, auditory hallucinations… revolutionary fervor, the ghosts of people buried underneath the asphalt” will fade into the history of East LA.
E. Tammy Kim is a Features Staff Writer at Al Jazeera America. She was previously a lawyer for low-wage workers and an adjunct professor. Write her with tips or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
so what if i outlived you, acrid sweat stench of your blue-lined pillow
so what if i outlived you, sharp male camp barracks ammonia of loneliness
so what if i outlived you, gestures, expressions, phrases, moments, feelings
so what if i outlived you, urine-drenched piles of clothes sabro and i threw in the washing machines—all stolen later, you said, unwatched in the same laundromat (exasperated, because who would wear any of your clothes?)
so what if i outlived you, wabash street storefront rental space
so what if i outlived you, phonecalls saying you’d been found in the street somewhere, taken to ER
so what if i outlived you, calling up from the sidewalk in front of chinese restaurant in vallejo, walking around trying to find you, you answered laughing, from the dark upstairs window
so what if i outlived you, night ride sitting behind you on a motorcycle through a 20th century monterey
so what if i outlived you, sitting in front of the desk of a mortuary man who says that the coroner does not allow us to see the body at the coroner’s, you have to pay extra and wait days to transfer it
so what if i outlived you, sea lions barking down on the breakwater at night
so what if i outlived you, seagulls calling
so what if i outlived you, photo of you standing in front of mexican hat rock—only now i noticed you look beat up and washed out (maybe i was ignoring it, maybe i am noticing again)
so what if i outlived you, your boots that were crap (that fell apart right away), the boots that did not fit (free), the boots that you liked
so what if i outlived you, radio station KPIG 107.5 still playing
so what if i outlived you, we met a writer, supposedly a friend, at the campground at monument valley when nights went below freezing (we were the only ones in the whole place, we had it to ourselves on late winter afternoons—he stayed in nearby kayenta motel), he took me aside, told me he had to leave—he couldn’t take the way you looked—you scared him away—never heard from him again—
so what if i outlived you, that american country where some of my students live, where millions still live
so what if i outlived you, your clothes in black trash bags deposited at thrift stores
so what if i outlived you, california coast like your flushed face and grin
so what if i outlived you, and nobody knows any of these things about you except maybe zeus (in our rush, sabro and i threw all the cassette tapes away)
so what if i outlived you, i tried to say some of it at the memorial
so what if i outlived you, john and his roommates can use your pots and pans (john still writes me little notes, he still owes me money)
so what if i outlived you, your jackets and coats hung unused in the closets, so that when looked in the daylight, it was this strange sort of orange color that reappeared in a photograph 20 or 30 years old
so what if i outlived you, turkey vulture over the coast range
so what if i outlived you, i told mom there was nothing that needed to be done now
so what if i outlived you, sabro and i drove up one last time
so what if i outlived you, fucking cheap beer can with cigarette ashes on it
so what if i outlived you, something you said comes back to me
so what if i outlived you, i have boxes of letters from you both
Paul was a very gentle and humble person, and he loved, and cared about other people. Every time he saw me he would greet me with his enthusiastic “HI!,how are you today?” And then he would listen, really listen, because he cared. With his gentle and caring nature he even won over a surly roommate!
He was friends with everyone in the apartment complex, and loved the children. He was the first one to introduce himself when we moved here and I still remember meeting him for the first time.
When he was in the hospital he made friends with the nurses and knew them all by name. He would greet them with his usual enthusiastic “HI, how are you today?” They were sad to see him go. I doubt they get many patients as pleasant as he was.
He also made friends with an old man who was a permanent resident there. He never had any visitors and didn’t talk to anyone. Of course Paul got him to open up and they had several conversations.
He appreciated little things, a songbird, a beautiful garden, a drive around the bay, or a hike with his brother.
He had a quick wit and I could always depend on him to cheer up my day by making me laugh.
He will always have a special place in my heart.
I will miss you my dear friend!
Dear Uncle Paul,
Where have you gone – and what is there? And even as ask I ask you now, I imagine you raising your palms and shrugging, in a funny ‘I dunno’. My memories of you blend into conversations we perhaps never had, like now, when I ask you where you have gone, and you smile raising your shoulders to your ears… And you are tall, your hair is still dark with only sprinkles of grey, your face is ruddy, in the denim shearling coat, you smell like nicotine and light beer and the ocean.. I didn’t know that smell as a kid, but as a tugboater and Alaskan – I know it well now…
Goodness, I haven’t seen you for at least five or six or seven years. After college, I drove through Pacific Grove with my boyfriend Ryan – you know that he is my husband now, and that we are expecting. You know because you comment on my facebook every once in a while, and you liked my Wild Things mural, calling me a “wild thing”- making me smile. I couldn’t drive through town (heading to Big Sur maybe) without stopping to see you- but as always you were hard to find. Maybe a new phone number, or no phone, and unanswered emails, but finally I found you. You were so surprised I would be there, and I had brought you a sandwich, and sort of interrupted your world by coming alone without my Dad, instead bringing some strange other guy – my boyfriend. But you were courteous, and invited us inside, and smiled bashfully. It was a short visit – and we went back to the campground up on the hill where it was like 25 dollars and we weren’t allowed to light a fire, or throw rocks at the raccoons. Really pissed Ryan off.
I guess I don’t mean to rehash memories, I want to talk to you and see if you remember the visit like I do. I want to tell you that Ryan really liked you – because you were kind, and genuine, and quiet, and he is sort of like that too. You are a constant figure in my mind, watching sea otters off Lovers Point in Monterey, looking at the ground and the tree tops for all the little creatures, with crinkles around your eyes. But if you are still that guy, then I am still a messy haired tomboy – trying to figure out why my Dad who loves you so much, gets so mad at you. I think I am still that messy haired tomboy trying to figure it all out. So you are still scanning the sea, watching the otters roll in the kelp.
I want to let you know that I think you were one of the brightest souls in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe you were on the outside of a busy, buzzing, self-helping and over diagnosing society- battling your demons alone, or with art and words.As a kid, I knew you saw the funny, tired, strange things springing from soil, the hiding stray cats, other lonely people. Things that busy people on the ‘inside of society’ don’t detect. I would never tell you this in person, because, well, you’re my Uncle, and I’m your niece, and there are some things I just wouldn’t ever say. You are my Uncle Paul, always so kind to me – seeing me- shaking your head and laughing. Your grins would make my Dad happy, or your shrugs would piss him off. I think your leaving has really pissed him off now, worse than all the shrugs, the biggest shrug of all – but I would like to think maybe you fell asleep and left all your hurt behind too. Please let us know. Do you need art supplies where you are? Are you lonely? Are you at peace? Are you tending a garden? In my heart you are relieving a new plant of its dead leaves, putting out your cigarette, and kneeling to pet the stray cat that came out of hiding just to rub against your shins.
It got so hot last month you could hear the pine cones cracking open on the trees. The pine seeds fly down onto my porch from quite a distance on their little light brown wing.
A giant turkey vulture gliding effortlessly in circular patterns over P.G. in a blue sky.
The morning glory cuttings that Debbie and I planted outside are looking well and sending up new leaves, little sun worshippers.
The Lord of the Rings movie “Fellowship of the Ring” part of the story by J. R. Tolkien, filmed in New Zealand.
The bathroom floor covered in pee. My other room-mate always seems like such a sober fellow but I think he gets really drunk at night.
Debbie’s kittens Samantha and Dylan have already grown to the size of my cat. Dylan still likes me but Samantha is already bored with my presence.
I’ve seen no T.V. for months, no internet either.
The first monarch butterflies have started to filter in on their long migration.
I’ve seen four doctors.
I saw a newborn baby/ with wild wolves all around it/ I saw a highway of diamonds/ with nobody on it/ I saw a black branch with/ blood that kept drippin/ I saw a room full of men/ with their hammers a-bleeding/ I saw a white ladder/ all covered with water./ I saw ten thousand talkers/ whose tongues were all broken/ I saw guns and sharp swords/ in the hands of young children…/
5 AM: a black and white cat, strange, looking up at me from the driveway below, looking very much like my cat.
An old man gathering youthful memories and blooms that youth itself cannot.
Now only do I know you
O fair auroral skies—
O morning dew upon the grass!
And these I see, these sparkling eyes, these stores of mystic meaning, these young lives
Building, equipping like a fleet of ships, immortal ships, soon to sail out over the measureless seas
On the soul’s voyage.
Only a lot of boys and girls?
Only the tiresome spelling, writing, ciphering classes?
Only a public school?
Ah more, infinitely more;
…And you America, cast you the real reckoning for your present?
The lights and shadows of your future, good or evil?
To girlhood, boyhood look, the teacher and the school.
—fresh bear paw prints in the mud, at the edge of Shasta lake
—a coyote walking up Ransford avenue in the afternoon.
—a cat bringing me a live mouse and dropping it on my belly in my bed.
—a whale breaching while Marcia, Alicia and I ate lunch at Point Lobos
—“The Bird Lady,” owner of Stones’ Pet Shop killed in Pebble Beach by a drunk driver.
—Bertha cooking me Mexican dinners almost every night while I recovered from my surgery, walking her little dog every day with very little English
—seagulls waking me in every morning with their calls —“Paul! Paul!”
—Polar bears playing with a fallen camera case at the San Diego Zoo.
—A parrot landing on my arm in East L.A. when I was maybe 13, then flying off again.
—the blind lady on the bus with her guide dog, heading for the Center for Freedom in Seaside.
—Debbie and her two cats, kittens, Samantha and Dylan, bigger than my cat ever got. Dylan likes me a little.
—the baby rattlesnake in the Big Sur campground I took up into the hills while eating lunch with Marcia and Alicia.
—Fishing with Omar, never catching anything, Omar caught a beautiful rainbow perch and some rockfish I cooked.
It’s Friday, June 5th—
Morning, the sun trying to break through the wet grey sky.
Some days John can walk, some days he can’t. I share my pain medicine with him. Make him food. He’s gained alot of weight back. Today he’s in bed at 11 AM but he’s thinking of going to the Seaside library. He might make it. Sometimes he crawls down the stairs. I feel okay, but not healed all the way inside. I listen to NPR and K-PIG (for music). K-PIG is supposed to be on the internet, so people all over the world can hear it. I’ve been watching the DVD’s you sent me (thank you) about this planet. So many things I have yet to see…
Blacktop Ecologies: Los Angeles Poetry and Poetics was a one-day symposium of writers active in Los Angeles November 21, 2014. (“Though largely drawn from the interaction of poetry and teaching, the poets range from highly experimental, even “conceptual,” writers of lyric, narrative and political poetry, as well as translation and performance writing. There is no “subject” for the symposium — it is not concerned with Los Angeles or even its poetical history — but a snapshot of poets in Los Angeles today, how they think and make their work. Each poet will make a short presentation of their recent thinking and read selections of their work; each “lane” will be followed by a question and answer (for passenger loading only) period.”)