“Wanda Coleman/Los Angeles”

Hill Street, Santa Monica
TOO MUCH saying “goodbye” of late — or trying to find the right words to do so.

I still haven’t found mine.

I sat for hours yesterday on a black plastic chair in weathered street-corner church in Santa Monica listening to remembrances about the poet Wanda Coleman.

Some were poems. Bouquets of anecdotes. Vignettes. The very edges of decades-faded fragments. There were digressions. Revelations. And of course, music. Even her own. Just the way she spelled her name in a video outtake made me remember the control and breath. Modulation.

All these shared stories cracked open old memories. I saw my former self sitting in the very back of a tiny, fire-hazard crowded Santa Monica bookstore decades ago and listening to Wanda read/sing her way through a trail of poems and essays for the very first time — lines about a workaday Los Angeles that was so very familiar to me. Streets and faces and routines. Same sky. Same trees. Same radio-station tuned in — even the between-stations static. This was long before I was calling myself a writer out loud but knew that that was what it was I wanted to be but hadn’t quite figured out what that would mean and what it would take. But she knew. wanda2

The collage from yesterday’s memorial/tribute pieced together just that — in image/memory: floor-to-ceiling binders of rejection slips, watching “Seymour” (Seymour!) on TV with her daughter, doing the poet’s turn around Los Angeles and beyond, speaking your razor-sharp mind (tongue) and your soft, open heart. Balance. We heard how much work it took to do the work, but also heard how much time she found in those tightly-scheduled days to give big gifts — keep your head-up/”No-You’re-not-crazy” encouragement — that would last into this all-too-brief forever.

Just last week I found a list of “just-in-case” story ideas — black ballpoint on pink scratch paper– she had pressed into my hand after an hours-long lunch. Thankfully, I’d gotten to a couple of them before she vanished, so she saw that she was still guiding — me and others — toward great things, making connections on and off the page.

The quote from yesterday that I walked out with/woke up with was an answer to a question posed to Wanda: “Why write?

Her answer:

“To provide context for my being.”

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