You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2015.
for a moment, i sat on the top step and looked three stories down ransford avenue
i rode my bike to the rose bowl (three times around)
i looked up at the agave spikes about to flower on the high hillside
i looked at the people jogging and walking
i drank iced coffee out of my steel bottle
i waited at the crossing for the light rail train to pass
i looked at the white clouds over the mountains
i thought they were beautiful, just like my wife said
i kissed the small of her back while she cooked chile beans
i scratched her back as we watched a dvd about sebastiao salgado
i scratched the dogs head and muttered something to him
i washed the dishes with soap and hot water thinking that it’s some kind of privilege
every little thing increases in wonder when you see the main stem crushed and broken
i drove 900 miles to clean out your place and make your final arrangements
it’s an honor and a privilege to have shared this life with you
thank you for 57 years, my brother
rain blowing through the cypress and pine forest across the peninsula/ but it was sunny the day we went to wendy’s memorial atop jack’s peak, first time i’d been up there/ i told wendy’s sisters i was very moved by their testimonial at the church in salinas/ you were tired, chose to rest in the car when dolores and i walked in the woods/ we looked south along the coast/ carmel valley below/ post-op, no chance for your stomach to heal, you were drinking again/ exhausted, napping in the front seat/
someone said you looked ten years older/ beard gone gray/
monterey bay unfurling to the north/ open to the pacific/ light and shadow on the water/ haze across the north/ i gave your computer to alba and little omar/ alba said big omar, deported to oaxaca because of dui’s, is drinking his life away/ little omar took the laptop to his room with his little buddy/ sabro and i delivered orchids to neighbors who helped you out, brought you food, filled your fridge, carried a new bed to the third floor for you/ gave you rides to doctor’s appointments/ helped you finally secure disability/
you felt better about your situation for the first time in five or more years/ you wouldn’t have to ask me for rent/ you’d be getting your own money (from disability) for rent and food/ taking some loose ends of your life in hand/ finally you had some luck/
a month later, you died/ that was always your luck/ sabro and i walked upstairs to the third floor/ you often sat there at 5 or 6 AM smoking/ no more/
berta brought your drawing of andrea and a photograph of andrea so i could see the fidelity of your work on the drawing/ alba and berta had returned to the apartment repeatedly because john told them we were coming/ alba was in tears/ did i hug her? i don’t remember/ i didn’t know exactly what to do/ what to do first/ people had asked if i needed help/ i said no/ it’s too late for help now/ there’s nothing to be done now/ on the website for hope services, it said they offer “end of life electronic recycling”/
we took your dead electronics (dvd and vhs players, remote controls, boomboxes, a big TV that must’ve weighed a hundred pounds lugged downstairs, dead computers and keyboards, an old round iMac) to the office in seaside/ clothes, dvds, cd’s, boxes of boots, shoes, socks (neatly washed), to the goodwill truck in an alley off broadway in seaside/ a full load of trash bags of clothes from under your bed and the closet to st. vincent de paul in p.g./ the little boutiques and cute shops of downtown p.g./ del monte avenue/ past the parks, where you worked on clean-up crews 4 days every month to qualify for “general assistance” checks of a couple hundred dollars/ homeless people, families, encamped in the underbrush of the ravines/ homeless family sitting on a pile of redwood chips as if for a picnic/
dozens or hundreds of hours of cassettes you recorded with friends (some with zeus from the 70s or 80s) poured into the recycle bin/ sabro and i spent the day cleaning out your place/ denim jacket that you never left the apt. without hanging by the door/
debbie had boxed up most of your things/ she was there while i asked john about your last days/ john burke, who found your body and called 911, didn’t want to be found, he disappeared/ according to john, 911 told john burke, “we don’t deal with that.”/ john burke told them, “there’s a dead body here!”/ john got out of bed after paramedics and police arrived/ john burke had put your body on the floor “to make you more comfortable”/ your last 2 days spent in bed, in pain/
your body is still at salinas coroner’s office/ unlike on TV, they wouldn’t let us see you, not to identify the body or say goodbye/ detective schumaker said, “we’re not set up for viewing the body. that’s an arrangement that will have to be made with the mortuary.”/ she—like the people at the mortuary, said, “we’re sorry for your loss.”/ the transfer of your body might take till next week because of the holidays/ (“I was PUSHED out into this world. I didn’t asked to come. I didn’t choose my name, my body, my time or place.”)/ overcast, fremont avenue seaside ca, business strip/ all changed since you were a teenager, now ford ord closed, the bars, strip joints and heroin dealers have moved on/ there’s one “adult bookstore dvds” across the ave from the quality inn where we checked into #108/ hot motel shower/ steam/
my hair wet after the shower/ at the door of 108, looking out on the parking lot at night/ new houses under construction across the street/ a few rundown old bungalows/ oaks/ teenagers back and forth to the motel vending machine/ teen crosses the parking lot on a bike/
once, we gave rides to the lonely soldiers hitchhiking around town looking for girls and parties, sharing white boys’ marijuana/ by then i’d stopped smoking, you were just getting started/ debbie told me you said, “he turned out all right, why did i turn out like this?”/
in those days we were the same/ the sea lions barking from the breakwater at night/ lights of fisherman’s wharf/ lights on the water/ seagulls in the dusk/ i had a lot of anger/ i told you, “what’s the point of happiness when there’s revenge?”/ uncle bill standing over you when you were 12, he knocked you down—whipping you with your stars & stripes shirt that he ripped off, screaming—fucking kids like you were destroying this country!/ on your own from age 13 on after dad took tina and carmen north, fired for no fault of his you said/ still, when he moved out he left you behind alone/ hitchhiking from carmel inn to carmel high school age 13, living by yourself in basement room/ doing groundskeeping to pay rent/ highway patrolman asked you, “how old are you?”/ “eighteen,” you told him, but when he asked what year you were born, you couldn’t figure it out./ in jail your cellmate said he was in for stabbing his father/ he asked you what you were in for/ you said, “because i couldn’t do the math.”/
psychedelic jimi hendrix mural at marina high school/ that photo still pinned to your wall/ the mural itself long gone, though nobody has checked/ it was something you were proud of/ before the devastation of the last decades/ the shame of it/ shame/ to drink yourself to death/ and fail/ struggle to get your life back together/ and fail/ die/ stomach and organs ruined by alcohol/ heart affected by malnutrition/ two days of pain/ many days of pain/ then another night/ like any other/ then the morning/
seagull cries/ misty halo street lamps/ cypress/
i kept boxes of your papers/ i gave john your raincoat, the new green one i gave you, never worn, tags still on/ mom wanted your sketches or drawings/ sabro’s keeping your paint brushes and art supplies—he took up painting after ethan died/ we gave your musical instruments to alicia/ drove north, slowed by traffic accidents in the rain/ pickup truck upside down on highway one by the freedom exit/ we headed back to l.a. in the rain, sabro on his cell phone the whole way playing games as i drove/ rain blowing through the cypress and pine forest/ of course, the clouds unraveled in a chill night wind before we hit the grapevine/ by the time we crossed over at lost hills road, 46/
Paul Foster, 1956 – 2015
Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015
Myopia, part 741
Thanks for the postcards.
The book, ‘AUSCHWITZ AND AFTER’ is great. (Charlotte Delbo)
I haven’t gotten all the way through it.
Sidetracked into ‘THE GREAT GATSBY.’
Sidetracked again into ‘LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING’ by Tolkien.
Got stuck on that, through 388 pages —3/4 of the book.
Intermediately: Bukowski, like a fresh hot pizza.
John just took off for MPC, the community college, to play on their library computers.
Last night I made boneless pork ribs, browned them and then stuck them in the oven with barbecue sauce, on low heat for hours, covered with aluminum foil to keep the moisture in. With rice. The guys liked it. 3 lbs. of meat gone.
I’m waiting for my computer to come back from Ohio or some place like that, wherever Toshiba lives. Paid thirty bucks for postage and the box. They said it would take maybe two weeks.
Can’t really eat too much since the recent surgery. My belly is all swollen up and it looks like a basketball stuck in the middle of a stick figure. When they took my intestines out, I don’t think this body liked that.
But I still enjoy cooking.
I ask John: “My baby is coming out soon, do you want a boy or a girl?”
John says: “It’s probably an alien.”
Refugees and migrants tramping across europe, drowning in rickety boats, running into fences and guns In Hungary, trying to make it to somewhere… They are really “Getting Out.”
Artichoke Bruschetta on totopos de maiz, hummus and Ritz crackers. Little pieces of this and that. A little at a time. Salad with baby spinach, leaf lettuce and tomatoes with a good vinegrette. Animal flesh. I cooked a large rib steak (1 1/3 pounds) for John burke the other day. It was the biggest and best steak I ever cooked. John Burke at it all. $18.00
Social Security gave me some money—
bless their little federal heart.
I took John out for fish and chips at The Crown and Anchor, a British pub. It was excellent. 50 bucks for the two of us.
I remember when fish and chips was $1.75 but that was thirty years ago. (Still tastes good)
Hummingbirds come and sit in the avocado trees outside the kitchen windows, their necks shining metallic ruby and green.
I don’t get out much.
If I get 3 blocks from home
it’s an adventure.
Mostly I go to the grocery store—
—Ice cream (for John)
That’s my list for today.
hope you are doing well, I’m always grateful for you writing,
*Good Morning— Thursday, Oct. 8 2015
It’s always morning somewhere, 9:30 A.M. Sunshine
Sometime. It’s beautiful here on the kitchen table,
except for the guy with the blower zucchini, tomatoes,
doing the parking lot and alley next bananas, french
door. I just finished killing fruit flies. and rye bread,
a daily ritual. I smack them. Corn tortillas.cookies,
I got 47, not all of them. cornflakes, carrots,
I called mom this morning, a can of “sprats”
she sounded good. some kind of fish
Washed and dried Amir’s dishes. from Latvia.
He brought me dinner last night. John Burke’s herb
On a tray: a bowl of rice collection. A box
a bowl of beans, some steak, of See’s Candy.
some pickled green lemons or A new book I
limes (with the peel still on) bought yesterday
and pickled carrots and turnips. for 1 dollar.
The pickled lemons are especially
good, strange and tasty. “Contemporary
John agreed to stay here today FICTION – 50 Short
to help me clean the kitchen table, Stories Since 1970.”
Organize everything, all the stuff A bottle of
in boxes under the table, canned Chardonnay from
food and boxes of food and who knows my neighbor
what else. Under my bed Alba put Amir (from Egypt).
a whole bunch of boxes full of my stuff Jello. Earwax
while I was at the convalescent place. removal aid.
I don’t know what’s in all those boxes.
Today I’m going to pull them all out Potato chips.
and find out what’s in there. Raisins.
John’s got a three o’clock appointment Breton health
with Zacharia to take the plastic food crackers.
bottles and aluminum cans up the hill. brushes + pencils…
13 large black plastic bags full.
Some lady is singing a Neil Young song on K-PIG. I am enjoying the Bukowski collection very much. My computer stopped working, I probably broke it somehow. I’ll call Anthony this evening and ask him about it. I had found a free internet connection at the laundromat when I was doing my laundry. It worked fine for two days, and then NOTHING. It won’t do anything now. Jackson Browne and Bonnie Rait singing “Kisses Sweeter than Wine.” The avacado trees have lost almost all their leaves outside the kitchen window, over where Debbie and I buried my cat.
Thanks for the postcards, I just got a new one yesterday.
Yesterday I went to the shopping center, turned in a medicine bottle for a refill, bought some artichoke bruschetta, something like a dip. It tastes really good. Then I ran into a shopping cart full of books outside the thrift store, anything for 1 dollar. I bought one and went to Subway for a pastrami sandwich that I ate in the quiet wooded patio behind the bank (with my new book). Then I went to the grocery store and bought John some hummus dip, that’s what he wanted. And some rock cod fillets that I’m gonna cook for lunch.
My cat would have gone crazy over that.
Hope you are doing well.
Thanks for the books.
I need to clean this place up.
What’s in all those piles? Paul
[on the back of the envelope: –————————IMAGINE]
HEY SESSHU———— TUESDAY MORNING SUNSHINE
OCTOBER 23, 2015
John Lennon’s voice is coming out of my new laptop.
John Slobodin is sleeping.
Yesterday two Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. I didn’t recognize them. One was Russian, one was black. That was a suprise. They asked me if I was a Slobodin. I said no. I told them I have a friend of theirs that comes and does bible studies with me once a week but Brent hasn’t shown up for two weeks. Hope he’s alright.
How are you? Are you alright?
I got to check out facebook a little bit this morning, I’m still learning how to work this machine.
Sending you a small token of my gratitude to you for all you’ve done. Next month I will be poor again and my carriage will turn into a pumpkin, my horses into mice.
Just want to say thank you while I still can.
No prince charming coming in my direction…
Hope you have a good day.
Hope you are writing.
Monday, October 5th
Thank you for the CHARLES BUKOWSKI book.
Went to the Bagel Bakery at noon today with Debbie, got a cup of coffee and asked for their internet password. (bakery PG)
It only works over there it seems.
Went to the laundrymat next door and asked the busy, impatient guy for his internet code. He typed it in for me. That one works at home in the kitchen. (At least for today.) The slumlord bitch lady Elizabeth called me today on the phone (She refuses to talk to John). to tell me she hadn’t received the rent for this month, and that we would have to pay a 50.00 late fee if she didn’t get it today. I told her John mailed it on the 2nd. She said it should have got to her but if it doesn’t by today we have to pay the fee. I’m going back to the laundromat to wash my clothes. It’s breezy and cool. Had a nice conversation with mom on the phone yesterday. “I’m slowing down,” she said, but she sounded good. Cooked Bul Goki and white rice for John & I with Kim chee and some for our neighbors downstairs, Zacharia y Selsa. Zach, has done us numerous favors but he won’t take any money (for his time, using his truck & gas) but I wanted to say thank you somehow. Checked out facebook— there were some nice photos of you and Alicia and Umeko.
Hope you are doing well.
——-dead fruit fly blood (SMACK.)
thanks for the books.
i got to page 78 in “the Great Gatsby.”
it’s fun to read.
Nothing’s really happened in the book so far. affluent indulgence on the east coast, 1920s. John Burke said, “spoiler alert: nothing does happen.” But I like his style. Maybe Fitzgerald is just setting up the scenario. Rich people hanging out on the east coast in the 1920’s.
I’ve been making sure John gets breakfast and dinner. He left a little while ago to see his sister Katy in Watsonville, or maybe Castroville. They have a big restaurant there called “The Great Artichoke.” They serve deep fried artichoke hearts, one of the best foods I’ve ever eaten.
I’m thinking about seeing a dentist.
I used to have a list of dentists my doctor gave me. I have to find one that accepts new MediCal patients. That will probably be in Salinas somewhere. That option is more limited than ever, although Obama finally got me MediCal coverage. And he got me a free phone. So I can’t say he didn’t do anything. He helped me out.
I’m working on a portrait of a 9 yr. old girl. Andrea. Been working on it for a week. Not Happy with the results yet. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses an amazing vocabulary, adjectives and stuff. It’s an interesting story of jaded life from back in those days. I hope he’s setting me up for a STORY.
Hope you are well. Paul
Got your postcard—Talked to mom for too long on the telephone and she hung up on me. Like Zeus sang “A bicycle is a mighty fine thing.”
Sesshu: an overcast Tuesday morning 10 AM breaking the heat wave of recent days— I was reading Dylan’s lyrics from the early days, I don’t have that music. Got up to “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” and I closed the book.
Have to take a shower and wash the dishes and clean the bathroom sink and kitchen, the toilet: John Burke throws up in there a lot and doesn’t clean it up.
John Slobodin is supposed to come back today from the bay area after a week and a half. I bought some T-bone steaks to cook when he gets back. (We eat so much chicken.) Last night I was walking back from the grocery store, I came by Debbie’s apartment and a black cat ran up the stairs. He looked at me. “Hi Dylan,” I said. I knocked on Debbie’s door. She asked who was there. I said “It’s Paul, there’s a guy out here waiting for you.” (Dylan’s not supposed to be out.) She opened the door and he ran in. “Good night.”
I had bought some good pastrami sliced deli style and some french rolls. Made a sandwich, a fat one, ate it and went to bed.
The avacado trees—their brown leaves shiver in the breeze. Hope you are well! Paul
When I was young (part two)
I was PUSHED OUT into this world.
I didn’t ask to come.
I didn’t choose my name, my body, my time or place.
I stumbled through Los Banos, Sebastopol.
I fell off a bridge and landed
stuck in a trash can in East L.A.
Hungry for love and acceptance.
I bought terrible clothes.
My uncle tore the shirt off my back.
He said it was a desecration of the
I tried to fit in.
He kicked me out.
Sixto gave me a postage stamp.
“Write to me” he said.
I left my friends and family..
I was gone.
Years later I went back.
Uncle Bill said:
“I told you never come back.”
I said, “Uncle Bill—
It’s noon in Pacific Grove,
overcast with rainshowers
yesterday… full moon in the
western sky at 5 am…
How many roads must a man?
How do you barbecue a
How is Jimmy Lew?
How I love my new toy,
my laptop, that I spent
260.00 yesterday to get it
fixed by microsoft—
How is it that Windows sucks
when it is everywhere?
How the loquat trees bloom
outside the window!
How I miss not feeling pain!
How big and smiling Umeko looks!
How fast the time goes by!
How are you?
tick tick tick…
Sesshu: I LOVE BROCCOLI—
It’s very grey outside this morning.
No gulls. Small birds dart across the sky, chirping.
Yesterday I carried John’s 200 lb. suitcase downstairs, walked with him to the bus stop and watched him get on.
He’s gone to be with his sister in the bay area.
Anthony left me a big jar of kim chee so I’ve been eating kim chee and rice.
It’s quiet here. NPR: A new poet laureate for the United States, reading from a scrap of paper. The son of Mexican farmworkers.
Watching a movie John Burke gave me, “The Giver.” I think it was made for teenagers.
It reminds me of “The Maze Runner,” a series of books Alicia gave me while I was at the convalescent place. For young readers.
It was at my level, I could understand it.
I miss Charles Bukowski. Walt Whitman. Allen Ginsberg. You had a beautiful collection of Bukowski poems somebody bothered to bind in custom paper. When I read that, it felt like he was talking to me.
I woke up at 6 AM, took my medicine, went outside to smoke a cigarette.
I counted the lights in the apartment windows. Five people seemed to be up.
Maybe getting ready for work.
I listened to the birds.
Sat by the geranium blooming happily despite my constant neglect.
Hope You Are Doing Well!
“You believe what you want to believe…” —Tom Petty Song. A lot of people believe what is convenient for them. Something that doesn’t disturb the furniture of their mind. Things that don’t recall change, or action. The easy path, ignorance is bliss, but not really.
It’s Saturday morning— 8:30 AM
No gulls crying outside, a few songbirds—
John is sleeping, til noon perhaps.
John Burke has gone to work, my room still smelling of his tasty toast from trader Joe’s
Some kind of bread with every kind of grain and nut in it
Yesterday I cut up a bunch of vegetables, carrots onions celery zucchini and made friend vegetables, with some bulgogi beef from trader Joe’s.
Mimi and Anthony had come down from the south bay to visit us. Anthony took me shopping for a laptop, I got a good one I think, thanks to his computer expertise and shopping prowess. Mimi made way too many spaghetti noodles. “She always cooks too much,” Anthony said.
So I mixed the stir fried vegetables with pasta sauce to serve over spaghetti pasta. John’s going up to see his sister Jennifer in the bay area maybe tomorrow for a week and a half. Have to eat the pasta myself.
I’m supposed to draw a portrait of Andrea, the nine year old from downstairs. Maybe I’ll work on that while John is gone and the apartment is quiet.
John just woke up, breathing heavy, shuffling around the kitchen in his drool drenched pajamas, slamming the dishes around, putting them away. I listened to NPR—what’s happening with the migrants, the refugees from Syria? What did Obama say? What kind of shit did Donald Trump come up with now? How are you?
Tuesday August 18, 2015
—Walter Mosley talking ’bout the riots in Watts 50 years ago (he used to live there after moving from the south) on NPR.
—i lost my glasses so most things are blurry now, but i can still read. Living with eye-strain.
—the giant baby seagull cries incessantly for food from the flat top of the apartments across the street where it was probably born.
—i made pork and beans (first time) with pork and beans and ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, green hot sauce. The Johns liked it.
—Debbie came to visit me the other day, last time I sent to visit her at her apartment her husband came out and yelled “YOU’RE A PEST! A PEST!” So I haven’t gone back, I don’t want to bother him.
—The welfare dept. cut off my food stamps, so I’m learning to buy food with money. I send John to the store with a list. I always ask him, “what do you want to eat? I can put it on the list.” It’s interesting. He comes back with strange stuff.
—it’s been very warm lately. Sleep with the windows open at night, wake up with mosquito bites. Over a dozen wildfires burning in California now due to the drought and heat.
—John doesn’t believe in the drought, because it’s inconvenient for him. He says “It’s just a political scam.”
—Even the great sequoias are showing signs of stress (although the survivors have lived through hundreds of years of changing weather and fires)
—John went to St. Mary’s Church to get a bag of free food. They gave him a can of Spam, two cans of tuna fish, five unripe pears, canned vegetables, a bag of white rice and a box of spaghetti pasta. (I like cooking with rice and spaghetti pasta.)
—The environment Protection Agency released three million gallons of water laden with heavy metals into some river that heads into lake Powell.
—Our reservours are almost empty. Our water supply comes from local rainfall in the mountains above carmel. No big pipe like they have going into L.A. from far away.
—a cool breeze blows through the window over my bed coming in from over the ocean, cooling things off, cooling me off, this evening.
—hope you are writing and doing well,
SRO, actually, they’re sitting in the aisles. good acoustics,
nice room, stadium seating, nice kids, some on laptops or
cell phones. some are tired, some squint hard into a distance
behind me. they come out of fast food days, in aspect lightly fried.
i’m getting the same fee bukowski got 40 years ago, i think.
he stood at a podium on the stairs in a 1970s building no longer extant,
at csula. we sat or stood below, looking up as he chugalugged beers,
went through poems. 40 years later, the fee schedule seems stuck.
the students paying attention fix on a point somewhere behind me.
i chugalug nothing, speaking sometimes to my dad’s ghost.
it’s the same ghost as when he was alive. while i read poems to the kids
and try to get them to laugh at selected intervals, i describe for the ghost
the route here to a new campus on the hills northeast of san diego,
tract houses, malls and freeways through corona, pomona, chino and
temecula, mcmansions arrayed across ridges overlooking these vistas.
A Parallax View
Jen Hofer: What is “transPacific” in the context of Los Angeles? We share a Pacific (an intraPacific?) with Tijuana. We situate ourselves (or are situated?) in relation to a body (bodies) of water both to the west and to the south of us. We look west and face the east. We stand in the north and speak south. Is it antithetical or perpendicular? You said Antena (www.antenaantena.org) seems “intercontinental (like the name of the hotel where journalists stayed in Managua during the fall of the Somoza regime).” I would like to do an investigation of all the places called “intercontinental” (hotels, cafes, theaters, etc) to track political or skeletal linkages. A parallax view.
Sesshu Foster: Is a north south orientation antithetical to transpacific? Although immigrants’ rights are obviously one big umbrella under which all communities sooner or later shelter?
JH: These are Los Angeles questions: our pacific, our trans. How does the immigrant umbrella (or being in immigrant status—i.e. a state of being where immigrants and immigrants’ rights are the shape of how we move—as a weather) affect what we experience as “transPacific”? Do we need shelter or exposure?
SF: To be literally transPacific, to resist transPacific. In my case, one set of Anglo grandparents originally from Ohio and Illinois met in Los Angeles; my grandfather was supposedly Chief of Police of Long Beach, married my grandmother when she was a teen, sixteen or so playing keyboards with sheet music for the soundtrack for silent movies in theaters on Broadway. They moved to the Bay Area from South Central when it was whites only in the 1920s because L.A. was “too dangerous.” My Japanese grandparents were recruited as peasant farm labor from Hiroshima province (as documented later in Carey McWilliams’ excellent Factories in the Field, 1939), whose marriage was arranged around 1916. They worked the fields of the Central Coast—strawberries, etc.—living in houses they never owned, often without utilities, with outhouses, sometimes with a wooden tub (ofuro) with a tin bottom that my mother’s chore was to fill and heat with a wood fire. My grandfather soaked in the ofuro after working all day. After Executive Order 9066 they were sent to live in horse stalls in Santa Anita racetrack and helped construct the third largest town in Arizona at that time, the internment camp Poston, on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. After the war, when my grandfather was disabled by strokes, they returned to Santa Maria, to live in a room rented beside a church parking lot (churches helped relocate returning Japanese Americans to areas where they weren’t excluded). When she was not taking care of her nine children (two had died in their early twenties of TB in the 1930s) and my ailing grandfather, my grandmother worked in the fields. They ended their lives with nothing to their names—except that they did, indeed, leave a common Japanese American ethic of decency and hard work. I feel pretty much their grandson, in spite of everything.
JH: I write this in a bowl (cuenca) of desert that once was water, knuckled between Death Valley and Sequoia and Inyo National Forests. The wind dunes the dust into particulate ridges. The ocean is a dream away. A parallax view. On my dad’s side I am the child of an immigrant who is the child of an immigrant. I’m here because they made it out. There’s a lot of trans in my history, but not much Pacific, except in flight from perceived danger. My parents, of different strains of Eastern European Jewish heritage, one from the non-Pacific Southern Cone and the other from the non-Pacific Northeast of USAmerica, felt New York—where they met through the intersection of modern dance and Argentinean friends—was “too dangerous” so, like your grandparents, they moved to the Bay Area (neither had ever been west of the Mississippi—or even west of New Jersey, I don’t think) and hence I am a California kid. Though not much of a kid anymore.
Sesshu: A transPacific fusion (transfusion?) occurs of course in my parents’ volatile and finally ruptured union. My parents met when my mother was a UCSB art student, mid-50s. Like my father, who’d served in the army signal corps during World War II, my mother was a Navy vet. They married in a Zen Buddhist ceremony, followed by a car caravan of bohemians to the reception party in the Santa Barbara hills. My father, born in 1922, the same year as Jack Kerouac, never liked Kerouac’s self-conscious romanticism and as a thorough-going individualist would reject any such marketing label like “the Beat Generation,” nevertheless embraced the study of Zen Buddhism, abstract expressionist art, and other wine-drenched cross-cultural practices on the bohemian 1950s West Coast. For a time (everything was short-lived for them) while dad studied painting with Clifford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, and Mark Rothko at the San Francisco Art Institute, he attended lectures on Zen and art by Saburo Hasegawa—also attended by poet Gary Snyder and radio commentator Alan Watts—and drank red wine provided at poetry readings by Allen Ginsberg and others active in the San Francisco Renaissance, fomented by Kenneth Rexroth. Rexroth’s translations from Chinese and Japanese poetry are seminal landmarks in cross-cultural fertilization, and literary birthmarks of that transPacific influence can still be seen in the Chinese calligraphy used in Copper Canyon Press’s logo, in the (1999) selected and (2007) collected poems of Philip Whalen (abbot of the S.F. Hartford Street Zen Center) and in Bill Porter’s translations from the Chinese (as Red Pine, 1983 to the present) in Port Townsend, WA. There was, I feel, an important moment of transPacific cultural exchange going on. Not just Asian labor recruited to California fields, but a real open, active interest in world views countercultural to the Judeo-Christian. My dad was one of those white people reading D. T. Suzuki, Chuang Tzu, in the translations of Arthur Waley and others. In part, due to Saburo Hasegawa’s love for the work of Sesshu, fifteenth-century Japanese Zen painter, my father named me Sesshu, and later, named my younger brother Sabro. From birth, like an ancient Chinese or Japanese painting is stamped with the artist’s stamp, I was stamped with a transPacific stamp in that moment.
My parents met and married less than ten years after the 1948 repeal of California’s racist anti-miscegenation laws under which their marriage would have been null. Pressures to assimilate on Japanese Americans were immense, ranging from legalized detention, internment, “relocation,” prohibition of “aliens” from “outmarriage” with whites or Asians from citizenship or owning land in Calif., to confiscation or theft of their property and violence against their persons. My father’s brother also married a Japanese American woman—and her sister married an African American, so I discovered in 2013 when I interviewed and spoke with the writer Luis Rodriguez at L.A.’s Last Bookstore, and by chance met my 85 year old aunt’s sister Eiko Fukamaki Koyama, when she showed up with her daughter and grandson (Peter Woods, who worked at the bookstore), two generations of part-Japanese African American relatives who previously had gone unmentioned in family circles. Japanese Americans are reported to have the highest rate of outmarriage among all ethnic groups, partly in response to a history of dispossession and violence against their communities, such that many of their communities such as Crystal Cove or Terminal Island Furusato were dispersed and erased, the properties “legally” confiscated by whites, with organizations such as the Western Growers Protective Association engaging in an active campaign of “ethnic cleansing” and expropriation. The “transpacific” curiously braids histories of arrogance and naiveté, wishful thinking and hopefulness, atomic bombs and farm labor, dispossession and erasure. Part of my identity as “transpacific” is looking back at histories of forced displacement, denial and erasure.
JH: The injection or intervention of a new substance, originating elsewhere, belonging to a foreign body. “Transfusion” suggests that this kind of mixing is crucial to our health, to our circulation—and it is. Which is not to say that it’s simple or simply salutary. But it seems to me that any notion of “purity” (geographic, racial, social, moral) is a total fantasy, which then must be scaffolded with more and more baroque (perhaps medieval? perhaps inquisitional?) structures to maintain the rigidity of the fantasy. To protect it from the “dangers” from which one might flee to the safety of the Bay Area.
SF: The stereotypical critique of Californians and of people in Los Angeles in particular focuses on East Coast white people Anglocentrally critiquing local whites for their supposed superficiality, their lack of historical and cultural vitality and complexity, their lack of engagement with the ideologies and ideological conflicts of Europe. Overlooked in the East-West national banter about L.A.-la La Land and California as the land of sunshine, cults, and airheads is the Faulknerian density of local history. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the bohemia of the Barbary Coast, the San Francisco Renaissance, the People’s Republic of Berkeley, of the Back to the Land movement, and communes like Black Bear Ranch in Northern California or Sunburst by Santa Barbara, or Ken Kern (Oakhurst CA author of a dozen self-published how-to books like The Owner-Built Homestead) are gone or forgotten, and twenty-first century Californians may view such locavore small scale proposals as quixotic, if not quaint. Mention hippies to kids these days and they laugh, if they recognize the word. The transPacific for me relates these overlooked or erased mostly Anglo bohemian countercultures to an Asian American history going back to Japanese immigrant Kuninosuke Masamizu, himself the survivor of a failed gold country agrarian commune, who married Carrie Wilson, the daughter of a freed slave in 1877. Their African American descendants in Sacramento reportedly thought their great grandfather was “some kind of Indian.” TransPacific relates an Asian American history of the West that is an open secret, erased or denied or merely forgotten—say, a black and white Library of Congress photograph from 1934 titled, “Chinese Store (ruins), Coloma, El Dorado Co., CA” or the evicted and erased communities of Terminal Island Furusato or Crystal Cove or Lover’s Point (site of a burnt out chinatown) in Pacific Grove—to the living, on-going dialogue.
JH: And that dialogue takes place in this L.A. Pacific/transPacific space in active, cacophonous, disorderly ebullience under a great and transtemporal and non-unifying and ungeneralizable and anti-universal immigrant weather system. Here is the beginning of a list of L.A. spaces/instances/phenomena I would like to study as “transPacific” and collaborative:
Chuco’s Justice Center
Tuesday night reading series
Writ Large Press
Would it have been better to structure this piece through visits to all these spaces (and/or the books-as-spaces they instigate)? Perhaps. But instead perhaps you will add to this list and it will remain part of the eternal to-do, to be done or undone as time allows, or doesn’t.
Sesshu: That sounds like the next phase, the next step.
The Community and World Literary Series Presents:
Thursday, November 5, 7 p.m.
Markstein Hall 104
California State University, San Marcos
Sesshu Foster has taught composition and literature in East L.A. for 30 years. He’s also taught writing at the University of Iowa, the California Institute for the Arts, Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and the University of California, Santa Cruz. His work has been published in The Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, Language for a New Century: Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond, and State of the Union: 50 Political Poems. Winner of two American Book Awards, his most recent books are the novel Atomik Aztex and the hybrid World Ball Notebook.
The Community and World Literary Series
Literature and Writing Studies
California State University, San Marcos
333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Rd.
San Marcos, CA 92096-0001
based on lines by Julia Stein
goodbye missus rain
goodbye horned toad
goodbye mister bluefin tuna
goodbye all you polar bears
goodbye hammerhead shark
goodbye miss Pacific Ocean
goodbye coral reefs
goodbye one two three
goodbye good luck
goodbye ocean horizon
goodbye honey bees
goodbye ancient nahua maiz
goodbye miss Joshua tree
goodbye Sacramento River delta smelt
goodbye hello missus dolphin of the Colorado River delta
goodbye hello to the high hills
goodbye hello to the old night
goodbye hello miss axolotl
goodbye hello to missus cold universe
goodbye hello to mister frijolitos
goodbye hello to missus ancient forest
goodbye hello to mister of the little frogs