Desert breath blows,
tree tops twist.
Sweat salts my skin.
All it takes is one
I kneel down—watch
as the wind
picks it up. I withdraw,
at what I’ve unleashed
on every channel
No one knows.
Nothing can stop it.
I don’t need anyone,
closer now—so high
I can’t stop.
Marilyn N. Robertson’s work has been published in Speechlessthemagazine, The Boston Literary Magazine, Chopin with Cherries, A Tribute in Verse, and is forthcoming in The Poetry Mystique, to be published by Duende Books. She was a featured reader in “Viva Poetry,”
Benjamin Gamboa doesn’t know John Arnold, but they are linked by a shared concern over the fate of public-employee pensions in California.
“I’m proud to have a pension,” the 30-year-old Gamboa says. “I believe every American should have a pension.”
The two men live in very different worlds. Gamboa is a research analyst at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California. Arnold is a hedge-fund billionaire from Houston, Texas.
There’s another difference between them: Arnold recently had a representative present at a secret “pension summit” held at a Sacramento hotel, where strategies to limit public employee retirement benefits were discussed; Gamboa, a union member, did not – representatives of labor were specifically not invited.
“Pension reform” has become the latest battle cry in a seemingly endless war that has ostensibly been declared against tax-dollar waste, but whose single-minded purpose has been to slash the job protections and benefits enjoyed by California’s working middle class.
See original feature by Gary Cohn, “Interpreter Bill Would Help Save Lives Lost in Translation.”
No one ever said housemaid or domestic. Pride matters more
And here’s the truth of it: she was Tantie, a grand-mothering
substitute chained to Miss B., a former Hollywood come-hither
and Tantie’s final mystery. I couldn’t name a single movie
Miss B had starred in but Mother told us she was a 1st-class bitch.
Thirty years later, watching late night television, I recalled:
I met that bitch once. Ill-preserved on celluloid, she fluttered
there amidst her ersatz brood but not in the same way I’d seen
her flutter decrees upon my Tantie. And my Tantie, once a muck-
a-muck in her own right (having flown an airplane solo in days when
most women and Negroes were grounded) half-fluttered in return—
to make sure her family had dimes and nickels. Tantie didn’t tell us
she was Miss B’s maid and I never knew a thing about it until I saw
this black-and-white movie with Miss B—half a star among stars—
given third place billing—nearly unrecognizable as the cold shrew
I remembered flaunting dipped pearls,
Maria Guevara had been trying to get pregnant for three years when she saw a doctor at Los Angeles County General hospital in 2008. She was understandably thrilled, then, to learn she was indeed three months pregnant at the time of her visit. As Guevara later recalled, when the doctor asked her in English if she wanted to keep the baby, “without hesitation I replied ‘yes’ to his question. Before leaving the hospital, the doctor prescribed me medication that I thought was prenatal care. That lack of communication between the doctor and me has changed my life forever.”
Guevara took the prescribed medication, and experienced violent pain and bleeding. She returned to the hospital, where another doctor told her the bleeding was the result of a miscarriage.
“My baby was dead. The medication the initial doctor prescribed to me was not prenatal care but medication to induce an abortion,” she told a press conference in April at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
The baby was lifted in its flowing shroud
And carried through the red-lit streets,
Floating above the raised fists of men
In headcloths. The wrapped body a cloud,
Pall burden so light, it seemed weightless
Crowning the mad cortege. That shape
Once living in her arms—that shape
I mirrored, newborn at my breast. Shroud
So light it became an unsupportable weight,
As TIME fell open before me. I was the street
Going up in flames, but couldn’t see it, in the cloud
Of fire, her face. What dark veil or wall of men
Hid her? TIME opened to the images of men.
I couldn’t see her; just her grief, unraveling shape,
White streaming from the breast. That cloud
Of chants, bitter witness to the small shroud
Held high. She stood away from the fiery street—
The monument of her shadow,
Cathy Ellorin has to fight for each and every hour of her job. In fact, she has to fight to convince the people who pay her that what she does is a job at all. It’s not as though she works short hours; actually, she gets no time off at all. Her job isn’t easy, either.
Cathy is currently employed as an in-home caretaker to her daughter Natalia, who has cerebral palsy. California State’s In-Home Supportive Services program (IHSS) provides Cathy with financial support to enable her to stay at home with Natalia and keep her safe and happy. But Cathy has to fight to keep this support coming.
From the first years of Natalia’s life, Cathy could tell something wasn’t right. Natalia’s tremors were disconcerting enough, but the daughter’s inability to feed properly was far worse.
Cathy took Natalia to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles for a wide range of neurological testing,
In my job I use
a tiny torch
it opens and closes as I stitch
metal with a syringe of light
bright as a drop of sun. I try
not to look but two white spots
burn at the back of my eyes.
In one I see
the other jobs I’ve had –
cleaning up inn rooms
— someone else’s stain.
In the other: years
nearly starving on the farm
never enough, no wheels, no
way to town.
these two spots the men
who wanted something and me
just trying to make it work.
implies something remains,
but want is all it is.
in little squeezes of light
that whisper and cut
are months and years my history
in this brazier that captures and holds,
hardens and glows.
Source: The Dos Passos Review,
(They drive our trains and buses, teach our children, repair our roads and protect our safety. Public employees perform these and countless other jobs, although they remain mostly off the radar of the public they serve. With our new “Pro Publica” series, Frying Pan News presents the lives of these men and women front and center.)
After 10 years of marriage, Aisha Blanchard-Young’s husband is still shocked by the amount of time Aisha spends in her kindergarten classroom teaching. He jokes that if someone really wants to find out what it is like to be a teacher, they should talk to a teacher’s spouse. As a quality control technician for a stadium electronics company, he never has to take his work home. Aisha isn’t as lucky.
During the school year Aisha gets up at five in the morning to ready herself and the couple’s two boys (one 5 and one 2) for the day.
you want dogs? I walked all four shepherds
in the park, by day and dark
and nobody dared come near; bark?
all they had to do was walk,
the four big shepherds in the park
love? you want love? I hardly miss her;
but her dogs I walked
by day and dark, yes,
I miss the dogs, the four
big shepherds in the park.
Source: Intensifications, published by Red Hen Press (2010).
Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Austin Straus has been drawing and painting since childhood, but began writing seriously in his mid-thirties. His poems and illustrations have appeared in such literary magazines and anthologies as Caliban, Grand Passion, Jacaranda Review, Red Dance Floor and The Maverick Poets. Known as the host of KPFK’s The Poetry Connexion,
Last November unions won a resounding victory when voters defeated Proposition 32, a ballot measure that would have crippled labor’s political influence in California, partly by barring public-employee unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. The initiative, which enjoyed a huge lead in early opinion polls, was heavily funded by wealthy conservatives and far-right groups.
Union leaders were overjoyed by its defeat.
“You can’t buy California,” Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association (CTA), told an election-night victory party in Sacramento. “We’re not for sale.”
The celebration hasn’t been long lived. In a little-noticed move in April, a conservative legal organization that has pushed to overturn the 1964 Voting Rights Act filed a lawsuit in federal court in Santa Ana that could accomplish in the courts what Prop. 32 couldn’t at the ballot box. The players behind the suit may not be household names but the millionaires and private foundations covering their legal fees represent a familiar klatch of extreme libertarians who,
Valley after valley,
as if some primeval fiend
dragged its talons here
as it fell from the coastal shelf.
Eighty years ago, after the gold
and copper towns ghosted,
before Gunsmoke came to Vasquez Rocks,
William Mulholland’s dam gave out
and flushed the canyons clean
54 miles to Ventura, and the ocean.
We’ve seeped in, bloomed
like thrush in hollows
flecked with rust-capped roofs,
and bone-white stucco.
Now, across the 14’s eight lanes,
vast scabs of sooty earth
and blacker scrub proclaim:
the land finds ways to slough infection.
David Eadington is a fifth-generation Southern Californian who lives in West L.A. His work has appeared in several places, including Xelas Magazine and Check Other. He was named one of Los Angeles’
See Gary Cohn’s article, “Why Charter Schools Are Tearing Public Campuses Apart.”
— for the family of Trayvon Martin
This poem wants to write itself backwards.
Wishes it were born memory instead, skipping
time like a record needle stuck on the line
of your last second. You sit up. Brush not blood,
but dirt from your chest. You sit up. You’re in bed.
Bad dream. Back to sleep. You sit up. Rise and shine.
Good morning. This is the poem of a people united
in the uniform of your last day. Pockets full
of candy, hooded sweatshirt, sweet tea. This poem
wants to stand its ground, silence force
with simple words, pray you alive, anyone’s
son — tall boy, eye-smile, walk on home.
Tara Skurtu is a Teaching Fellow at Boston University, a Robert Pinsky Global Fellow and recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize.
For more than 30 years each, Cheryl Smith-Vincent and Cheryl Ortega have shared a passion for teaching public school in Southern California. Smith-Vincent teaches third grade at Miles Avenue Elementary School in Huntington Park; before retiring, Ortega taught kindergarten at Logan Street Elementary School in Echo Park. Both women have been jolted by experiences with a little-known statewide policy that requires traditional public schools to share their facilities with charter schools. Ortega says she has seen charter-school children warned against greeting non-charter students who attend the same campus. Smith-Vincent reports that she and her students were pushed out of their classroom prior to a round of important student tests – just to accommodate a charter school that needed the space.
“It was extremely disruptive,” Smith-Vincent says of the incident.
The practice of housing a traditional public school and a charter school on the same campus is known as “co-location.” Charters are publicly funded yet independently operated,
Helicopters hover like hellish hogs
an infra-red shakedown.
We are the enemy, the face on the radio;
burnt petals cluttering the sidewalk.
We are daylight’s demise, dancing between
discord & distrust. All is bitter harvest,
betrayal and bewilderment;
all is seed for the fields of retreat:
bullets punctuate every poem.
Source: Trochemoche, published by Curbstone Press (1998).
Luis Rodrίguez has won numerous awards for his poetry, including the Poetry Center Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, and a Paterson Poetry Book Prize. He is best known for the 1993 memoir of gang life, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. (paperback by Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster).
Judy West is a founding member and current president of Local 741 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME). She also works for the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks as a recreation assistant and teaches “parent-and-me” classes. The department’s only fulltime employees are its directors and other administrators – assistants like West work halftime. Frying Pan News reporter Luke Dowling sat down with her to talk about the state of unions in Los Angeles.
Frying Pan News: Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be president of AFSCME Local 741.
Judy West: I was one of its organizers and was treasurer for a while, then became president. We had nothing before we organized. When a union rep came in and said, “We’ve been asked by different rec assistants to organize a union,” I said, “You got me!
For days before Thanksgiving, 2009, Santa Ana winds had been blowing up ash and dust from the massive Station Fire that recently burned north of Los Angeles. The scorching, high-pressure weather system seemed a suitable climate for L.A.’s financial meltdown as the city entered the third year of America’s recessionary slump. Inside City Hall on that Wednesday before the holiday, government representatives and members of the news media listened to the testimony of a man who was on his way to becoming one of Los Angeles’ most powerful figures. He was only 40, held no elective office and had started his job as the City Administrative Officer just three months before.
Yet on this Thanksgiving eve Miguel Santana held the rapt attention of the City Council and journalists as he delivered shocking news: Los Angeles faced an imminent shortfall of $98 million and, based on his projections, the city could be burdened by a $1 billion debt by 2013.
The ripples continue to spread from Frying Pan News reporter Gary Cohn’s piece on California’s enterprise zones, which were created in 1984 to help small businesses and create jobs by giving tax breaks to companies in the state’s economically depressed regions. Last Friday the Fresno Bee called for reform of the zones and today a Los Angeles Times editorial declared that nothing less than pulling the plug on the program would do.
The zones, said the Times, “were a well-intentioned experiment that was tried, failed and has been kept around too long. This is one experiment that should be ended, not merely mended.”
Cohn’s May 28 article appeared at the same time Governor Jerry Brown was maneuvering to reform the program out of existence. The Frying Pan News story emphasized that 61 percent of the enterprise program’s beneficiaries are companies with more than $1 billion in assets,