Considering the Big Picture


LAST WEEK, not too long after learning of Wanda Coleman’s passing, I received a message from my friend Marisela —  “Let’s take a walk somewhere.”

Of course. That sounded right. Something communal. Where?

“The Water. Big water.”

That sounded right too.

We spent a good portion of last Wednesday out in the sunshine — meeting up downtown at Union Station, the entryway for so many Angelenos. Then I tipped us west, toward the “big water.” The Pacific. First though, we started in Venice, at Beyond Baroque, the literary art center where Marisela, who is a poet, began unearthing stories about events and readings she’d attended and/or participated in. Each recollection spurred a new name, a new thread of a memory, an attending story.


Roaming around the second floor, we happened on The Big Picture, Mark Savage’s moving photo-document of Los Angeles’ busy constellation of poets — with a nod to Art Kane’s famous jazz musicians’ shoot “A Great Day in Harlem.” We spent a lot of time hovering before the photograph, picking out familiar faces in the crowd — poets who crisscrossed all sorts of communities and boundaries; poets who stayed to themselves. We found Wanda and her husband Austin standing along the gathering’s outer ring.



Later we journeyed further west, driving by the placid canals and finally, slipped north and then west to the “big water”  — Venice Beach. The boardwalk was busy; a winter day that felt disorientingly like mid-summer. The two of us however, without pre-planning, were head-to-toe draped in gray and black, standing out against the pastels and fluorescence.. We browsed the book store, spoke to craftspeople who had reconfigured cast-asides into holiday gifts — the most striking: wind chimes fashioned out of silver creamers and salt-and-pepper shaker sprouting a set dangling butter knives. Perhaps that’s what put us in the mind for late-lunch.

For the route back, I decided to take surface streets, to pass slowly through the changing neighborhoods,  each street, intersection, cluster of homes their own struggle or story.

These are the streets that Wanda and Marisela and I have spent so much of our lives writing about, over and over and over again. Sharpening the focus, mining for meaning. We toss a page. We start again.

That endeavor, I must say,  feels just a little lonelier now.



fortune cookie say: there will always be

delicious mysteries in your life

firmness is kinky illusion. no stomping ground/the marriage

of fire and water tarpits deserts earthquakes

emotional swamps of mood. lakes of molten love. a sky of


gale winds. night rains. shifting auroras of pain

floes of anger. lusty flora. greedy fauna

a multiplicity of reds browns blacks

oases of crystalline thought peopled by ghosts. the ending

forever beginning. the yawn of shadow

struggling to burst into light

lost here.

— Wanda Coleman/Los Angeles

from Heavy Daughter Blues


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