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pot of beans boiling or simmering, reading about beans or thinking about beans, beans of thoughts, little heads of beans, Anasazi beans and sangre de toro beans, black beans of little eyes of small animals, beans cleaned out for debris and rocks, dirt, beans that taste of earth and steam, with sliced pan-fried anaheim or hatch chiles, “lost all patience for people who primarily think about food, particularly their own. it’s solopsistic and boring,” cara b. said on facebook, i met her on the top floor of a big hotel overlooking the zocalo in mexico city, where i clomped out on the balcony on crutches with broken ankle from backpacking cascades in northern washington, we were there with a bunch of writers, harry gamboa, ruben martinez, reed johnson, karla diaz & mario ybarra, luis valdez, tom hayden sneering early in the morning as we gathered for nice breakfast buffeet on the high balcony across from Palacio Nacional, we’re all just beans, beans simmering or boiling in our pots together or alone, steam of thoughts rising in the kitchen of the world, on the fires of desire, on the wings of heat, red beans, pintos, cooking those beans not bullets, paper beans and beans of electric words, not for killing anyone, not suicidal, but simple—rip a tortilla in half, eat some beans

peiltisch

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We arrived in the town, everything—even us—obscured by and emerging from fog we’d traveled in since mid-day, all the way through Oregon, across massive bridges over the Columbia hanging in foggy night. The town still had no sidewalks. Hard to tell. Midnight, a guy in a yellow plastic hard hat and orange reflective vest stood in the trench, looking down at another guy working. Backhoes at either end of the trench. I was following directions, left by Safeway, straight a couple miles through the dark, down the road to another turn off, another road. Houses dark through the trees, some limned by exterior lights, garages, driveways, obscurities of much vaster night. At least one house through large picture window flashes neon red green colors of giant flat screen TV. Then the dark trees. Nobody knows me here.

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The Missing Picture is a movie about the Cambodian Genocide made of mixed media, carved wooden dioramas, and newsreel footage. The Black Dogs is a cartoon about the Armenian Genocide made of cast lead and cast gazes, unknown lives hidden by secret skies. Prognostication of Rotten Luck is a performance piece about the 2nd Coltan War, the Great War of Africa, made from dancers on hot sheet metal, the sizzle of intense money, and burnt out literatures. The White Hospital is a movie about King Leopold’s Belgian Congo, starring a tour de force of powdered human molars, crying mouth windows, feather-like certitudes. 3 Stars Over Sand Creek is a podcast about the genocide of up to a million California Indians, called digger Indians, produced via a newly invented process of sublime holes, dragonfly dreams, wings on genitalia. The Red Numbers is a pelicula about the Middle Passage made of childhood Brazilian charcoal, windy sheets, polished floors stretching to infinity.

 

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Dad was a World War II vet, heading for North Africa as a teen, escaping his cop dad/ head of security at Mare Island shipyard and schoolteacher mom and the Barbary Coast shipyard town for a wider world (on the troop carrier, young and excited, reading the Russians? Biography of Nijinsky?), stringing communication lines across North Africa. Jumped off telephone poles when shot at, broke his ankle. Fond memories of recovering in a desert tent, Arab camp women (prostitutes, I assumed).  So in his last years at the convalescent facility, they framed a picture of him—blasted white by age, by alcoholism—by his bed, captioned, “US Army 1942 – 1945, Rank: Tech 5th grade, stationed in Africa.” I carried the box of his ashes from that Northern Calif. town and tossed them in three parts—one at the foot of a big tree above the General Grant tree in Sequoia National Park, another third in the Pacific surf at the mouth of the Golden Gate on a bright windswept beautiful day (then crossed the Golden Gate into S.F. and checked into a hotel, read at City Lights Bookstore), the last third under a citrus tree in my backyard. Some of course swirled around my vehicle driving across Calif. Dad named me after a 15th century Japanese Zen painter, and I grew up around art ideas, looking at art, thinking things like, “We have artists in the family.” But, really, dad was a failed artist. I used to think that you could not fail as an artist—because every artist, writer, creative thinker, fails sooner or later. So even if you have nothing to show, success remains incipient, because you have survived, so I used to think that as an artist you are really that much more alive—you have done something, created something as an artist. The creative impulse remains alive within you, like DNA. But maybe that’s not true. Because a countervailing force—his alcoholism—worked to erase that creativity and every artistic idea and ideal he held in his life, till at the end, nothing was left of it. Recently, someone asked me what’s left of his paintings, where are they? “They all got thrown away, somewhere along the way,” I said. Long before that, he had disappointed, debunked and destroyed everyone’s faith in him, his promises, or his “art.” It’s true, my sisters kept a couple paintings. One sister chopped up a painting into small pieces, which she framed. That’s what I think of Socialism.

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People drift by… half of ’em look defeated. They look used up, harried by infirmity, conformists slouching into numbers they’ve been handed, into the lines set up for them. Checkpoints, the features of the airport. Bit by bit, the world has meted out destinations for each of us; we have accepted a ticket. The little girl I sit next to is different from everyone, all going the same way—the young women fiercely concentrating on their hand-held screens, the paunchy men and their splotchy faces, diffident hipsters paying no attention. This girl has the face of an old woman, but her body is tiny. She looks old, but she’s young; it’s not Down’s syndrome, it’s something else congenital. She chatters non-stop, softly—sometimes to her father who sits large and silent beside her. Mostly to herself. She hugs her pink backpack, she pats it, she rocks in her seat and kicks her feet. Her old face, her sweet voice. Poems by Saadi Youssef in one hand, I listen to her voice. She tells her father, “I want to go, I want to go, I want to go.” He says softly, “No, no, no.”

pelican skull

“I’m burnt out from delivering the bad news,” one telephone pole said to the other, “it’s all right,” Needles said to Kingman,”Baker told me cities of America pop like popcorn in the stupidest weather,” while raven flew away like a crow, crow dropped down close and was a raven, the dead dog rolled over and was a palm frond, the golden promise of dawn was a postcard, “it’s canceled,” said the stamp of the future, “we are advancing toward Communism—or something,” said New Year’s Day 2015, and I wrote everything they were saying with tiny crackling letters of sunshine that sparkled like tin foil in the sun.

photo by Chiwan Choi

photo by Chiwan Choi

1.

Etched lines of specks of ice crystalize out of the blue sky on the other side of the airplane window, almost invisible Runic numbers. Below, low fog quarters into a grid array of cloud puffs, shattered and flowing away. Wisps and streams of clouds layered over the Sound, neighborhoods and towns and waterways darkening. The plane rises. White spaces. I wake as the plane descends over mountains behind Ventura—are those dirt tracks curling through oil jacks? Flatlands sectioned and divided, chopped up and fenced, acres of plastic-covered crops white and glinting, rectangles of variant green, ochre, dark brown. Lines of roads, filigree of gray freeways, infestations of tract housing. Shimmering ocean beyond.

photo by Lindsay Bolling

photo by Lindsay Bolling

2.

The surface of the ocean shimmers like vast skin trembling below. Taut, shining, aglow, variegated with infrequent striations like stretch marks once in awhile that rivulet blue uniformity. Like rivers of currents flowing underneath or maybe over the surface, maybe it’s the wind. Maybe the variations of surface tension are not upwellings or flows, but vagaries of the sky leaning down at points on the vast bubble of shining water. Toward the horizon, in the distance the haze merges with clouds over islands, white obscurity broken by specificities, distinct contours of the gleam of eye or teeth. An island doglegs in a kinked sloping fold, perhaps another channel island beyond. The plane banks, the vast sweep of blue ocean, the Santa Monica mountains hunch and roll down into that sea.

photo by Lynell George

photo by Lynell George

amache

I like this club, we go on outings to the edges of abandoned desert cities, the fields of jets and bombers that will never fly again, the nuclear facilities, other secret or underground areas. Some of these people really believe in UFOs, believing that they’ve been kidnapped by aliens, maybe in some other life, experimented on and raped by aliens. Some are aliens and believe in crazy people, believe that we can turn off Route 66 somewhere into portals of Western Civilization that extend backward and forward in time. Like you drive into a one street town, with motels and a couple diners, a couple of gas stations, maybe it looks spic and span but abandoned, like a B-movie set with tumbleweeds on Main Street, you can’t quite put your finger on what rings inauthentic about it but there’s a ringing as if the characters in a movie can hear soundtrack music in the distance. You get a soda from a machine at the gas station, put a penny in an unusually large scale with very round dial looming over you, that when you step on it tells you how much you weigh on other planets, and it also tells you your fortune. In this universe, apparently everyone is white, you are white and everyone thinks they are white even if they are not white. For example, a movie poster on the empty theater is curled by the breeze, depicting Godzilla destroying Tokyo, but if you look closely at the people in the movie poster, the only actual faces you can make out (with human expressions, in the retouched black and white photographs that the poster is based upon) are white actors, and the Japanese are just shadowy figures scurrying in the background, merged with shadows and crushed by falling buildings. Godzilla spits fire on them. In this UFO club (you don’t even know how you joined) even the aliens who think they are white hate Mexicans and don’t believe in them, believe that they should be denied drivers licenses because that way they will not be able to drive into this universe, they can disappear into the vastness of deadly deserts on another planet and its stretches of abandoned cities and nuclear missile silos… now open to the cold desert wind, dark desert winter night winds…

campamache

January 2015
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