Voice (26)

Image via this old man

Image via this old man

TOWARD NIGHTFALL
— by Charles Simic

The weight of tragic events
On everyone’s back,
Just as tragedy
In the proper Greek sense
Was thought impossible
To compose in our day.

There were scaffolds,
Makeshift stages,
Puny figurers on them,
Like small indistinct animals
Caught in the headlights
Crossing the road way ahead,

In the gray twilight
That went on hesitating
On the verge of a huge
Starless autumn night.
Once could’ve been in
The back of an open truck
Hunkering because of
The speed and chill.

One could’ve been walking
With a sidelong glance
At the many troubling shapes
The bare trees made–
Like those about to shriek,
But finding themselves unable
To utter a word now

One could have been in
One of these dying mill towns
Inside small dim grocery
When the news broke
One would’ve drawn near the radio
With the one many months pregnant
Who serves there at that hour

Was there a smell of
Spilled blood in the air,
Or was it that other,
much finer scent–of fear,
The fear of approaching death
One met on the empty street?

Monsters on the movie posters, too.
Prominently displayed.
Then, six factory girls,
Arm in arm, laughing
As if they’ve ben drinking.
At the very least, one
Could’ve been one of them.

The one with a mouth
Painted bright red,
Who feels out of sorts,
For no reason, very pale,
And so, excusing herself,
Vanishes where it says:
Rooms for Rent,
And immediately goes to bed,
Fully dressed, only

To lie with eyes open,
Trembling despite the covers.
It’s just a bad chill,
She keeps telling herself
Not having seen the papers
Which the landlord has the dog
Bring from the front porch.

The old man never learned
To read well, and so
Reads on in that half-whisper,
And in that half-light
Verging on the dark,
About that day’s tragedies
Which supposedly are not
Trageides in the absence of
Figures endowed with
Classic nobility of soul.

from Unending Blues
1986
#mightier
image via thisoldman

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“Lonely, the cars running the street”

Gary Winogrand via PST @ the Getty

Gary Winogrand via PST @ the Getty

Often when I post here, I try to consider Los Angeles less a focus and more a prism. That said: I couldn’t help but not linger on the passages about Los Angeles in the new collection of Lawrence Ferlinghetti journals, Writing Across the Landscapes.

Though there wasn’t room to cite it in my review, I keep thinking about this vivid glimpse of an unexpected Los Angeles.

This entry reads like the photographs of Gordon Parks, Robert Frank — or the photo above captured by Larry Winogrand from the same period.

Here’s a little fragment of an image/thought montage.

It’s just a moment. A 50-year-old L.A. moment

Came upon Los Angeles by bus at night … Ah the crazy hotels, crazy streets, sad signs of America –Jesus Saves!–Tom’s Tattoo–The Electric Rembrandt–Snooker Parlor–“Acres of Autos”– Hotel Small — Ice Rink–Greyhound — Los Angeles Street -TV in Rooms –eat–Barber and Beauty Supply–Pawnshop–“Shave Yourself” —
Might as well be on the Trans-Siberian Railway
Strange people waiting in Greyhound Bus Depot: One all-leather cat with cowboy hat — tight motorcycle pants with zippers on slash pockets and lithe padlocks on each zipper–same on tight jacket — all black leather ….Animated, talking to a Negro also in cycle suit only much less flashy.

And lonely the hotel doors, gaping. And lonely the lobbies, lonely the beds! Forever & ever…Lonely the lunchrooms, lonely the cars running in the streets … Lonely Los Angeles, lonely world!
Sure are a lot of defeated people in this here America …”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti –Los Angeles, 1964

Letters are available at City Lights Books. The journals publish, Sept. 7

Where is the love, Los Angeles?

aloudOH, THERE’S been a big reason why things have been a little quiet around here.

Lots of deadlines and projects and talks but here’s the biggest endeavor that’s been occupying a lot of my brain space and is going to be taking off in about a week and a half.

I’ve been working on a collaboration for ALOUD with the poet Mariesela Norte about Los Angeles — life along the margins of the big frame. Also in the big mix is DJ Mark “frosty” McNeil of dublab who will be weaving a live mix to accompany our words and images.

This will be our kick off for the summer.

We’re completely sold out but you can try to fly stand-by.

Info here.

oh, and PS: I should be getting back to regular posting very soon.

Stay tuned.

Voice (25)

cullen
Incident

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

“We walk forward into a new story…”

I REVIEW poet/essayist Elizabeth Alexander’s poignant new memoir The Light of the World, in the Los Angeles Times. The book is a deeply explored meditation on loss: the passing of her husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus, and her notion of the world — but more it is a personal roadmap back from the wilds. Gorgeous and difficult to let go of.

It was excerpted here in the New Yorker a couple of months back and is where I got my first glimpse:

The idea of throwing away his paintbrushes makes me queasy. They are somehow biological, his DNA in the brush fibres. I find a box of the very best paintbrushes, which are made of sable. I have long been fascinated with the story of the frozen woolly mammoth, how scientists used a blow dryer to thaw it and extract DNA from its flesh and fur. Now I read they have found liquid blood inside a ten-thousand-year-old woolly mammoth. They will extract the DNA and eventually fertilize and plant an egg inside an elephant. Ficre’s DNA is everywhere in the studio, and in the paintbrushes he held for so many hours.

After the studio, I clean deeper in the never-ending house, facing it bit by bit. I clean my pantry cabinets and find Ficre’s baking supplies: two brands of yeast and powdered-milk solids, wheat and white and rye and spelt bread flours, rice flour to experiment with gluten-free bread. I throw away all the expired flours. They smell ever so slightly rancid, but not unpleasantly so. They smell biological. I am reminded that grain is alive, a host for bacteria. Things grow and live in it.

Soon after that, we walk forward into a new story, each of us carrying the old ones across our shoulders in bandanas tied to sticks. My sons and I move to New York City. Today, we look out our window at the Hudson River and wait for another hurricane as the sky turns lavender and orange, Ficre colors. When the rain is most dramatic, we feel him close. The boys grow taller than everyone around them and become young men.

From my review: “How does one usher someone — their very meaning — back from the ether? How does one make the unreal real? These are the urgent rhetorical questions that loom over Alexander’s narrative: “Lost implies we are looking, he might be found,” she writes, “I lost my husband. Where is he I often wonder?”

You can read the rest here.

Sincerely, Langston

MY REVIEW of Selected Letters of Langston Hughes for the Los Angeles Times is now live.You can find it here.

The book comes in at nearly 500 pages and is a vivid sampling of an archive of letters that could fill perhaps 20 volumes, according to the editors. Hughes was a prodigious letter writer. How he found time to do so (and with such detail), amid his other writing — short stories, poems, plays, librettos, children’s stories and poetry — is mind spinning.

From the piece:

Mail arrived from many corners of the black experience — from the first bloom of Harlem Renaissance stretching well into the trenches of civil rights era. The specific details and texture found within them granted him entree — and lent him gravitas as an informed eyewitness who helped to shape a deeper understanding of blackness in a global sphere. Through letters Hughes cultivated a circle of literary cohorts, business associates and patrons (Countee Cullen, Alain Locke, Carl Van Vechten, Arna Bontemps, Blanche and Alfred Knopf among them), some of whom remained close nearly the entire arc of his professional life.

There is a Los Angeles tie in this. Not in terms of his letter-writing life, but about his relationship to the city.  Hughes didn’t very much care for the city. langstson He’d swing through town for meetings or work and at one point took a brief stay downtown at  Hotel Clark on Hill Street. However, much of his distaste for the place had to do with his frustrations with work in Hollywood and an on-going battle that had been waged against him by Sister Aimee Semple McPherson founder of the Foursquare Church. Hughes had made mention of McPherson in a poem “Goodbye Christ,” in which he charges that she is both “materialistic” and an “exploited.” Although he would  later retract the poem from publication, it wasn’t over, for McPherson whose publicity arm organized a group from her Angelus Temple congregation in Echo Park to protest the poet’s appearance at Pasadena’s elegant Vista del Arroyo Hotel in November of 1940, on the occasion of the publication of his memoir, The Big Sea. It was a poem, as the letters suggest, that would tail Hughes throughout the rest of his career. Click here to read more. Also, here’s black-owned newspaper, the California Eagle’s take on the imbroglio.