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when I held __________ in my hand, I could feel __________________________
when I was reading the NYT, _______________________ had been imprisoned ______________ years
when I let the fish go and it swam off, that’s about all I knew about it.
when I took care of business, it all seemed quiet and moonlit.
when the first draft was finished, I felt noncommittal and had my doubts.
when I hear the out-of-date idioms and phrases in movies, I look at the cars, phones and architecture.
when the teens walked up the driveway, they asked for my daughter’s contact info.
when we talk of the 60’s, it’s as far away as the Civil War from the 20th century.
when I had ___________ in my hand, it was _____________________
now hear the 20th century:

The last time I cut the brush off this hillside, I got tired in the heat and sliced my left thumb open, running the saw across it with an overhand right.
I had to wrap my shirt around it and sit down in a shade a while to think on it. I went to get a tetanus shot and a couple stitches.
This time I stopped by Home Depot, picked up a couple Quiche Maya from Guatemala (when I asked them, they told me the towns where they were from, but I don’t remember). I was impressed by the the young guy’s open smile, and by his deference to some unwritten code of day laborers when the older guy presented himself as next in line to be hired (and the others all stepped back).
I asked if they were related; the younger guy said no, just friends.
They asked ten dollars an hour; I said very good: three or four hours.
They worked very hard so I didn’t have to, the older guy, who was not very friendly, worked especially hard, only resting when I suggested they get drinks out of the ice chest.
When we were finished, I’d tossed the bundled sticks and brush into a pile almost as high as they were tall, and piled black trash bags of leaves and debris as tall as me.
The street was clean, the hillside clear of brush; I paid them and bought them lunch. We chatted, my broken Spanish, their Quiche-accented Spanish.
I asked them if they needed a ride back to Home Depot, but they said no, they were done for the day.
They waited at the bus stop together.

“Steve Abee is a gas station”—Dolores is the tree-lined road I’ve tried to remember (Cooper Road, Sebastopol, 1963), Ben is the eroded banks of the dry wash we quickly cleared looking for the trail to Henninger Flats in the oaks and brush, Marina is the years driving California to Chico to revisit Ray after he faded, rising stiffly, surprised when we’d drive up to find him on the porch or sidewalk of First Street, downtown San Jose, Lisa is the traffic snarled on the freeway to the Bay Bridge at rush hour, Umeko is a moment of bright muskeg, while Ryan steers the boat or throws things onto the boat, Umeko and Dolores are showers of cold rain hurtling through the tall cedars and firs, while Ray is lines from Vallejo’s Black Stone on a White Stone that come at me or go out across the Tonto Plateau in the Grand Canyon, Citlali is a steak dinner driving through Hudson, WY toward the river in the Upper Green River Valley, WY where the wind catches the Landcruiser door and flings it open into Umeko’s mouth, knocking her backwards—into the summer grass in the endless wind—(certainly Doctor James Lew is not the big red dog whose muscles once rippled and curled like the Monterey cypresses at the mouth of Soberanes canyon, we knew that Naomi is not the moment when Paul gets into the passenger seat, clearly it was not me (my name) at the moment in some Brooklyn morning who awaited Citlali’s call or who was the restless buffeting wind off the water of the winter’s night)—

implants, IUDs called best choice for girls in the wan forthcoming dusk of worlds
tucked between a Metro Transit cleaning facility and the western bank of the Los Angeles River,
under the massive web of Southern California Edison electrical wires, momentous unobtrusive grief
man accused of killing handyman with an axe handle as he slept, 7 goes 7 infinite times
a fire tore through a mobile home in quiet area town Wednesday night, killing 2, as I paid $5,000 for an engine
cranes moved metal casings that formed footings for the project, part of a metal casing dropped into place
while workers from Malcolm Drilling greased one of the casings, 3,000 injustices glowed radioactive green
2009 pizza shop robbery led to the shooting death of a bystander by a police officer, midst triples and fives
midst storms and nines, midst rooftops and quarters, midst corruscations and divisions, midst calls and sixes
as I neared thirty, as I neared forty, as I neared fifty, as I neared sixty, as I neared eighty, as I neared 100

dogs kill 82-year-old, speeding through black and gray wastes
soldier walks proud at tomb, mullein skeins unfolding in disarray
suspect runs through neighborhood, confronts disturbing distinctions
Tucson construction worker injected women with ozone in bogus gynecological treatments,
fostering marvelous blank panels, a varied skein of lies
undocumented immigrants block traffic near near Trevor G. Browne High,
engendering rhythmic striations of subduction and declination
the Stryker brigade, 5th Infantry Regiment, gave wives an opportunity to ride in vehicles,
fire small arms, participate in a close quarters engagement drill at the shoot house,
voluminous portents of circumstantial redirection fleshed out in the offing
Sotheby’s is putting up a complete mammoth skeleton for sale,
witness to the tremulous broad gleaming years

man jumps off zoo train, mauled by tiger
man looks at clock, waiting for time
man drives 90 MPH, head-on into CHP
man sits on a bench, waiting for time
man glances at clock, trying to make the time
man drives to Boulder, Co, to teach at Naropa
man floats the river, through Gates of Lodore
man flies to Brooklyn, to do stuff
man pays $1640, gets notification maybe
man goes over there, talks to Ruben Mendoza
man flies thru 4D space, bumps into Harry Gamboa
man eats rhubarb pie slice, revealing nothing
man eats lemon, fights whole world
man looks at clock, trying to make the time

Reading Poetry

Wednesday, October 17, 12-1 p.m.
Orbach Science Library, Room 240

University of California at Riverside

California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and poet Sesshu Foster will be reading from their work on Wednesday, October 17, from 12-1 p.m. (Orbach Science Library Room 240). Light refreshments including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will be served.

Herrera is a poet, performer, writer, cartoonist, teacher, and activist. His publications include collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children. Herrera was awarded the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for Half the World in Light. In 2012, he was appointed California Poet Laureate by Gov. Jerry Brown. Herrera is a member of the faculty of the Creative Writing Department at the University of California, Riverside.

check this out too:

Foster is a poet, novelist, activist and teacher whose work has often been set in East Los Angeles. His works include City Terrace Field Manual, Atomik Aztex, and World Ball Notebook. Among his awards are The American Book Award, The Asian American Book Award, and the Believer Book and the Tunafish Sandwich One.

Just take the 60 from LA to Riverside. Get off the freeway making a left onto University Ave. Go past a light then make a right into UCR. There will be an info kiosk on the right that can direct you to Visitor Lot 10 on the eastside of campus. The Science Library is just west of lot 10.

Plus it’s like free.

So, go for it.

The bus waited on the dense wet black asphalt parking lot, in the intense dawn or dusk of silent trees. It would carry me south through green cities I had known, to see my daughters again.

Intensidad y altura

Quiero escribir, pero me sale espuma,
quiero decir muchísimo y me atollo;
no hay cifra hablada que no sea suma,
no hay pirámide escrita, sin cogollo.

Quiero escribir, pero me siento puma;
quiero laurearme, pero me encebollo.
no hay toz hablada, que no llegue a bruma,
no hay dios ni hijo de dios, sin desarrollo.

Vámonos, pues, por eso, a comer yerba,
carne de llanto, fruta de gemido,
nuestra alma melancólica en conserva.

Vámonos! Vámonos! Estoy herido;
Vámonos a beber lo ya bebido,
vámonos, cuervo, a fecundar tu cuerva.



Intensity and altitude


I want to write but it comes out froth,

I want to say too much but I’m blank;

there’s no code spoken that’s not a sum,

no pyramid written, without a core.


I want to write but feel the puma,

I want to laurelize myself, not with onions.

There’s no cough spoken that doesn’t end in mist,

there’s no god or son of god, without development.


Let’s go, then, this way to eat grass,

flesh of weeping, fruit of moans, jam

and jelly of our melancholy soul.


Let’s go! Let’s go! I’m wounded;

Let’s drink what’s already drunk,

Let’s go, crow, and fertilize female crow.







East L.A. College Vincent Price Art Museum
Price’s widow sent his big art collection out of the 20th century
angular gleaming super-modern steel gray cube, steel and glass
Karen Rapp museum director says stuff, hands the mic to one voluble guy
Victoria Price daughter of Vincent Price has a haircut like Patricia Zarate
maybe this is the Homegirl Cafe of art, the bigshots speak
somebody sings a ballad about Carlos Almaraz adroit rhyming Almaraz with ademas
back of the crowd pressed to the hors d’oeuvres tables I’m passing her a glass of red wine, Vietnamese chicken spring rolls, apple strudel, kalamata olives
she is saying, “the food here is good”
we followed Reina Prado and Tisa Bryant here
they got swallowed by the crowd
white women members of the board congratulate each other like big fluffy peonies
oh I know the woman going by with a long face like an Indian pony
the lawyer whose pieces are probably part of the exhibit shakes my hand, going by—“Hello”—”How are you”—
students working at the museum are excited, finally we can enter the gallery
Is that Judithe Hernandez?
I should know, I have been introduced to some of these people repeatedly
I know their faces and their looks
Ron Baca in his salt and pepper goatee, he was my teaching assistant 25 years ago talks to me about poetry, he tells people how I gave him my car keys and told him to fetch stuff
“I should’ve took off with his car—but then I started talking to him about poetry, and he said, you should teach my classes, everything was all right after that”—
I say, I heard you retired already, what the hell?
He tells me he’s ten years older than me though we look the same age
What the hell, I say
He laughs, I wasn’t going to wait till I was 80
The Carlos Almaraz pictures are great, eh?
Ron asks, what’s the story about that painting of the Bunny Boy?
Abel Salas tells him rabbits are tricksters, they represent creativity, appetites, desires
Almaraz died of AIDS in ’89, Ron
Ron says, wow, there’s a story behind every picture
I ask Abel if Alejandro Murguia is reading at Mariachi Plaza hotel tomorrow
he says Murguia taped something, but Francisco Alarcon will be there
they’ll all read poetry at 5 PM in the cupola high atop the new renovated hotel full of sleepy mariachis
Rosalio Munoz, first Chicano student body president of UCLA in 1968, leader of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium takes a close look at the pictures—portly in his guayabera and a fixture of the CPUSA for forty years, he takes a serious look—
one-time outsider in the Democratic Party Gloria Molina (she and Rosalio view the paintings and appear to take no notice of one another), I recall Gloria forty years ago slim, dark and cute atop a car in the Little Tokyo Nisei Week Parade
In 1996 I bumped into her shopping in Pavilion’s supermarket and told her I thought her election victory to city council or county board of supervisors was an important victory; I don’t know what she’s been doing these decades in the California Democratic Party
the last thing the papers had to say about her was something about misappropriation of funds to remodel her house
she’s still county supervisor opening the meetings and handing out plaques to citizenry
Barbara Carrasco talks to “Magu’s son” who I am told is “Magu’s son” as we shake hands, I don’t get a chance to say hello to Barbara (her picture from the old days before marriage, kids, cancer, everything, is in one of the glass cases, standing with Carlos Almaraz and Los Four), as the head of UCLA’s Chicano studies department goes by with her wife, they kiss happily in front of paintings they like
—while all these people go by I’m yakking with Gloria Alvarez and Jose Lozano about Jose’s hilarious sad crowd pictures from lost Chicano lounges at the far corners of the world as Suzana Guzman goes by, looking exactly like one of the half-anonymous half-familiar faces in Jose’s pictures—she started off wanting to be a rocker but ended up as an opera singer, a different kind of diva—we’re all standing, looking, talking, staring out in front of all the Carlos Almaraz pictures just like the faces in Jose Lozano’s pictures—
oh, that’s where Jose got those faces from, they’re our faces—

a couple spruced and spiffy academics lean their heads in conspiratorially to ask me favors, “if you don’t have time for it don’t worry”—
amidst all these suits and party dresses I’m wearing shorts and my torn Strand Bookstore T-shirt that Tom gave me, talking to Luisa, Sylvia’s sister
she introduces us to Catherine Murphy who has just finished making a documentary about women in the literacy campaign in the Cuban revolution and the big change it made in their lives
while I was talking to Catherine about her movie Luisa was saying Carlos Almaraz went to Cuba with her and Sylvia on the Venceremos Brigade (there’s sketchbooks with sketches of Fidel in a glass case in another room), Luisa had some stories about Almaraz from those days but I always miss out on the good chisme when I’m talking—
and Sylvia is no longer a congresswoman’s chief of staff Luisa says, she’s back in L.A. living a couple blocks away
by the time we tell Linda Arreola about seeing her 88 year old dad sleeping in a chair in the YMCA the girls who run the gallery are flicking the lights on and off, they’re kicking us out
I’m glad when we’re in the elevator and out of the building, into the humid September night on Cesar Chavez where we parked, we’ll go out to get Szechuan—I feel like I talked to hundreds in a crowd of people and some of them might’ve been ghosts, I saw so many people I used to know but I don’t know the actual truths about their lives, not then, not now—my whole life flashing before me in squiggly Carlos Almaraz colors

—for Jose Lozano

September 2012