Our weekly poetry feature brings Los Angeles to life through the words of artists spanning every part of the metropolis.
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,
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,
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,
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,
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’