Voice (30)

Westside

“West Side” — image by Lynell George

Grocery on Venice Beach
by Denis Johnson 

Thank you salesperson I see your heart

quivering redly in its gossamer

I with this fiery  whirling atomic

symbol where I used to have a stomach

lighting my dead shoes

down the aisle

Briefly the gauzy but legible

future veils the place and is beheld

I can talk inside the mind

of my great-grandchild Oh unconceived

monster hurting your teeth on our dead Disneylands

we were here we touched this radioactive food

We didn’t have the claws and then something in our hearts sufficed

We didn’t have X-ray eyes we knew what was inside of everything

Descendants

I have paid and I have left

walked out of the little store onto a white beach

the light declining and lavender

walked past two women

as they knelt covered with gooseflesh

beside the Tarot dealer

past a man pretending to be a machine in a circle

of laughter

alongside but not too close

to people who no longer

live indoors or hide their thoughts

past the child

born in a towaway zone

the mother’s eyes like

a creek

numbers

and curses going by in the water

I leave you this record

of an invisible monstrosity and this

report of sadness

a semi-truck against the bruised roses

of sunset

emeralds in the velvet wound

the lights

of Malibu the cold

small lights

from –The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly — Poems Collected and New

Denis Johnson, 67

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“Watching, Thinking, Listening, Assessing”

SOME NEWS:

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Excited to now officially report that I’ve been awarded the Huntington Library’s Alan Jutzi Fellowship to support the next leg of my research this summer in the Octavia E. Butler archive. I’m so grateful that she’s left so much of her story to learn from. Now looking forward to delving deeper.

It has been an honor to spend time in the archive and see a much more complex portrait of this Southern California native slide into view.

Stay tuned for more info about Butler here.

 

 

Jamming to the 70s

JOIN US tomorrow afternoon at 826LA Echo Park for Roar Shack. On the bill: Chip Jacobs, Dana Johnson Geza X, Steve Hodel, David Kukoff and yours truly. The event: “I Remember That: L.A. in the 70s.” We’ll be reading pieces looking back at when L.A. was a bit more open, wild and it took only 30 minutes to get just about anywhere…. See you there.

Details here

Voice (28)

toni1

“In the meantime the Bottom had collapsed. Everybody who had made money during the war moved as quickly as they could to the valley, and the white people were buying down river, cross river, stretching Medallion like two strings on the banks. Nobody colored lived much up in the Bottom any more. White people were building towers for televisions stations up there and there was a rumor about a golf course or something. Anyway, hill land was more valuable now, and those black people who had moved down right after the war in the fifties couldn’t afford to come back even if they wanted to. Except for the few blacks still huddled by the river bend, and some undemolished houses on Carpenter’s Road, only rich white folks were building homes in the hills. Just like that, they had changed their minds and instead of keeping the valley floor to themselves, now they wanted a hilltop house with a river view and a ring of elms. The black people,  for all their new look, seemed awfully anxious to get to the valley, or leave town, and and abandon the hills to whoever was interested. It was sad, because the Bottom had been a real place. These young ones kept talking about the community, but they left the hills to the poor, the old, the stubborn–and the rich white folks. Maybe it hadn’t been a community, but it had been a place. Now there weren’t any places left, just separate houses with separate televisions and separate telephones and less and less dropping by.” 

from Sula, by Toni Morrison

 

Tuning in for Radio Imagination

A FEW MONTHS back, I posted a note about being poised to go down a rabbit hole.

I didn’t realize how true that was going to be.

I apologize for the radio silence, but I’ve been working on “Radio Imagination.”

Since the beginning of this year, along with my other usual reporting, writing and city wandering, I’ve been doing weekly research at the Huntington Library, preparing for a big project for Clockshop, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit art organization. Clockshop’s founder, filmmaker Julia Meltzer approached me, and several other writers, artists, academics, to discuss an idea that she’d been fleshing out for sometime.

Her plan was to create a year-long series of events, spanning the city all dedicated to the legacy and impact of  San Gabriel Valley-based, science fiction writer, Octavia E. Butler.  Going in, I only knew the boldfaced details about Butler and her work, but I was tasked with creating a “posthumous interview.” Though I wasn’t quite sure what that would look or sound like, I liked the places it allowed my brain to go.

A few weeks into the Octavia E. Butler archive at the Huntington Library, I knew it would become less and less clear before it would  find focus. She had a big, busy life and there were many possible paths to travel — I  just had to trust the process.

I’ve never quite been inside someone’s head the way in which Butler has allowed us  to be in hers. She was a avid and honest chronicler of her life — her work, her surroundings, her worries, her triumphs and disasters. Moving through pages of journals, letters, commonplace books,  mimics the effect of her whispering to herself as she goes about her tasks. We’re eavesdropping on process, the roundabout road in building narratives — both on the page and in life. Tomorrow four writers, Robin Coste Lewis,  Tisa Bryant, Fred Moten and I —  will premiere new pieces inspired by our time in the archives, listening to Octavia spin stories about life on so many different planes.

I can’t express what a gift this experience has been.

We are sold out (!) for tomorrow night’s event at Clockshop, but if you want to try to fly standby,  those waiting will be admitted if ticket holders do not show. A podcast of the event will be forthcoming so stay tuned.

Type, Writer 

TO CELEBRATE this year’s Big Read title,  Fahrenheit  451 —  and its author, the late Ray Bradbury — we’ll be convening 4/17 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum to chronicle  your L. A. stories on the spot. The event  “Type Writer: An Afternoon of L.A. Stories Typed Before Your Eyes” will be held from 4 to 7pm in the Museum courtyard. Bring your typewriter and join in. For more information about the event and The Big Read click here.

I’d better get my “home row” fingers limbered up.