I knew him. He ran the lathe next to mine.
Perfectionist, a madman, even on overtime
Saturday night. Hum of the crowd floating
from the ball park, shouts, slamming doors
from the bar down the street, he would lean
into the lathe and make a little song
with the honing cloth, rubbing the edges,
smiling like a man asleep, dreaming.
A short guy, but fearless. At Margie’s
he would take no lip, put the mechanic big
as a Buick through a stack of crates out back
and walked away with a broken thumb
but never said a word. Marge was a loud,
dirty girl with booze breath and bad manners.
He loved her. One night late I saw them in
the kitchen dancing something like a rhumba
to the radio, dishtowels wrapped around
their heads like swamis. Their laughter chimed
rich as brass rivets rolling down a tin roof.
But it was the work that kept him out of fights,
and I remember the red hair flaming
beneath the lamp, calipers measuring out
the last cut, his hands flicking iron burrs
like shooting stars through the shadows.
It was the iron, cut to a perfect fit, smooth
as bone china and gleaming under lamplight
that made him stand back, take out a smoke,
and sing. It was the dust that got him, his lungs
collapsed from breathing in a life of work.
Lying there, his hands are what I can’t forget.
Source: The Art of the Lathe (1998), published by Alice James Books.
The son of a lathe operator, B.H. Fairchild grew up in small towns in Texas and Kansas. He’s won numerous awards, including the William Carlos Williams Award, Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the California Book Award. This poem will also appear in The Blue Buick, which is forthcoming from Norton in July.
The City Breathing
The City Breathing
Consider three a.m. when the city begins
to breathe without labor, its inky exhalations
unfolding around the custodians of night:
doorman, trash picker, street sweep,
caretaker, cook. The woman making a bed
from slatted bench, the man rattling iron grates
to summon the comfort of echoes.
A bus driver carves a path up Broadway,
carries his fragile cargo away from
the city center where these guardians tend
its injuries while we sleep.
Let them be cloaked in the phosphor
of a falling star. Let them be warmed by
the breath of a world made new.
Source: First published, in slightly different form, as part of Terry Wolverton/Writers at Work “Common Prayers” Poetry Postcards Project, supported by a grant from the City of Los Angeles.
Candace Pearson’s “Hour of Unfolding” won the 2010 Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry from Longwood University. A multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, she has had poems published or forthcoming in leading journals nationwide, including Crab Orchard Review, Bellevue Literary Journal, Cimarron Review, Ploughshares, 5 AM and Poem/Memoir/Story. She lives in the Los Angeles hills.
Trouble Down the Road
Trouble Down the Road
At the flat top grill, he was all business,
flung raw eggs dead center into the corned beef
hash like a strapping southpaw.
In the alley, with me, he was all ideas.
Said he’d be leaving soon, had a shot back east—
a tryout for the big leagues.
Said his sister would loan him a Buick convertible,
and he’d fill it with malt beer and tuna.
All he needed was a woman to hold
his cat while he drove.
I like animals, I told him. Then I dropped
my cigarette into the dusty clay,
ground it out, slow,
felt the road under my foot.
Source: Luvina, Issue 57 (December 2009).
Cece Peri’s poems have appeared in journals and magazines, including Luvina: Writers of Los Angeles Issue (University of Guadalajara), Gift of Words: Poems for the Iraqi People, Malpais Review, Speechless the Magazine, and NoirCon 2010 & 2012 (Busted Flush Press). Born and raised in New York City, she has lived in and around Los Angeles since 2003.
Read the Writing
Read the Writing
Read the writing on the cinder block wall:
Joker, Jasper, Dopey, Termite, Tokes, Crow.
It’s not an “is it art?” debate, at all;
these are the monochromatic zip codes
of my gangster, tattooed, sharp-creased cousins.
Scribbled in black on a bus bench, strangled
names crossed out, over names crossed out again,
red under yellow under green tangled
like wire. Memo, Cowboy, Flyboy, Topper.
Neil Armstrong planted a flag on the moon;
it can’t be seen from their clearly marked world
where, if you don’t live there, you better run.
Tight fence of paint, like barbed wire that’s hidden.
Trespassed borders end lives, I’m not kidding.
Source: My Name on Top of Yours (2013), published by Silverton Books.
Yvonne M. Estrada is a poet and photographer. She works as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the County of Los Angeles. Her photos have been exhibited at the Vincent Price Art Museum and Avenue 50 Studio. Her poems have appeared in publications including Pulse Magazine, Verse Wisconsin, and Talking Writing, and anthologies including Mischief, Caprice and Other Poetic Strategies. Poems and photos are brought together in her chapbook My Name on Top of Yours.
Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014
A bag of oranges
to be heavy
but hold one
yourself and count
cars driving by.
As she stands between
the stack of salty
peanuts and dusty
grapes, the bag
gets heavier and it
retains that heaviness
when it’s passed through
the window; and the driver,
hoisting it onto
the passenger’s seat,
thinks, this is a lot of
fruit for two dollars.
Source: “Complexities” first appeared in CQ: California State Poetry Quarterly, Winter 1986-1987; Volume 13, Number 4. It was subsequently selected as one of the poems for the 1988 SMARTS (Santa Monica Arts) Poetry on the Bus project. It also appeared as a spoken word track on Vehemence (New Alliance Records, 1993).
Bill Mohr is an associate professor in the Department of English at California State University, Long Beach. His books include Hidden Proofs, Bittersweet Kaleidoscope, and Holdouts: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992. Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center recently gave him the George Drury Smith Award. A book-length translation of his poems into Spanish, Pruebas Ocultas, is forthcoming from Mantis Editores in Mexico.
Vocation of the Chair
Vocation of the Chair
It longs to be the one
who holds you, keeps you
from falling, its curved legs
shapely as a bride.
The chair that would be saint.
martyr, acolyte. Your little
sins of omission and false pride
cannot sway it — the chair believes
in you. It grows taller in the dark.
Soon it will fill the room,
its cushion of praise all you need
in the crude and faithless light.
Laurel Ann Bogen is the author of 10 books of poetry and short fiction. In 2016, Red Hen Press will publish All of the Above: New and Selected Poems 1975-2015. From 1996 until 2002 she was literary curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She is an award-winning instructor of poetry and performance for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and is well-known for her lively readings and her work as a founding member of the acclaimed poetry performance troupe, Nearly Fatal Women. Her work has appeared in more than 100 literary magazines and anthologies.
The Passionate Suitcase
The Passionate Suitcase
I fall out of the door on my way to you, and the passionate
the old one, so many times strapped back together—
comes unstrapped. The leather ties slap at my calves like
tongues. The five silver dollars I got from my uncle for spelling
Mediterranean Sea roll along the ground. I believe the moon
I fall out of the door on my way to you one terrible night and the
passionate suitcase unhinges its mouth the way children sob. My
clothes lie in puddles at my feet. Pools of rice, pools of soft
lingerie. Which is more than the traffic of leaving; more than I’d
wanted to kneel, gather up.
I fall out of the door on my way to you with the passionate suitcase
I’ve carried so long flapping its one broken arm in the breeze. It
spills all the words in the street like coins. The words for desire
and regret. I fall out of the door on my way to you. The night slams
shut. I don’t look back.
Source: Late (2003), published by BOA Editions, Ltd.
Cecilia Woloch is the author of five acclaimed collections of poems, in addition to essays, reviews, flash fiction, autobiographical prose/memoir and a novella. A celebrated teacher, she conducts workshops for writers across the United States and around the world. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, among numerous other awards, and was the founding director of Summer Poetry in Idyllwild as well as the Paris Poetry Workshop.
— East Berlin
There is a pen scratching across a wall.
It is a white wall inside a white church
inches away from faces, crowds, the tumult
of history, but right now, there is only a pen,
bumping along a wall, no meaning
except the rise and fall of this nib,
a needle from an outdated gramophone,
playing each ridge and trough,
a landscape of chalk and moon.
Pireeni Sundaralingam is co-editor of Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry (University of Arkansas Press, 2010), which won both the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles National Book Award and the 2011 Northern California Book Award. Her own poetry has been published in journals such as Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner and The Progressive, anthologies by W.W. Norton, Prentice Hall and Macmillan, and has been translated into several languages. Sundaralingam was born in Sri Lanka and currently lives in California.
Marina woke me up and told me the garage next door was on fire
I got off the couch and climbed on the brick wall with the hose
I pointed the hose at the neighbor’s smoking garage
Its walls emitted white light and exploded into sheets of flame
Marina did as I said and pounded on the window of the house, but
no one seemed to be home; those neighbors never said hello
I put water on their roof, which was starting to smoke as the garage
was wholly consumed, flames thirty feet in the air and even across
thirty or forty feet of concrete the roof of the house was catching fire
I yelled at Marina to tell someone to call the fire department, which
arrived and the house was saved
Marina only six or seven, leaning over the couch to shake me awake,
running across the lawn to bang on the window, yelling there’s a fire
Source: World Ball Notebook, published by City Lights Books, 2008.
Sesshu Foster has taught composition and literature in East L.A. for 25 years. He’s also taught writing at the University of Iowa, Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, the California Institute for the Arts and the University of California, Santa Cruz. His work has been published in The Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, Language for a New Century: Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond, and State of the Union: 50 Political Poems. He is currently collaborating with artist Arturo Romo and other writers on the website, www.ELAguide.org. His most recent books are the novel Atomik Aztex and World Ball Notebook.
Recycling the City
was a time I would eat anything
torn from my body, as a city
recycles its bricks after trauma.
so I would eat the bitter black things,
those brittle wound stones. was a time, torn,
I’d eat anything from my body,
those yellowed bark ridges. a city
recycles gypsum after trauma.
I’d eat anything, pale crescents torn,
those Moor-less swords. after, a city
recycles. green things from my body,
those rotting gems. those sour gray things—
wasted clay. city, after trauma,
recycles its iron, those bones torn
from a city as though—a body:
those swords and bones, gypsum, gems, trauma:
a torn time recycled. a body
as a city, torn into a thing.
Source: The Black Automaton (2009), published by Fence Books.
An award-winning poet, performer and librettist, Douglas Kearney teaches at CalArts. His third full-length collection of poems, Patter, will be published in March 2014 by Pasadena’s Red Hen Press. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Altadena, he lives with his family in California’s Santa Clarita Valley
- EducationSeptember 7, 2016
Moonlighting Teachers Learn Hard Lessons from Uber
- Conversations on Trump’s AmericaNovember 29, 2016
Conversations on Trump’s America: Robert Reich Previews a New Era of Savage Inequality
- Labor & EconomyNovember 16, 2017
Robert Reich on Trump’s ‘Dangerous Tax Bill’
- Labor & EconomyNovember 20, 2017
Saving Private Enterprise: Director Jacob Kornbluth on His New Robert Reich Film
- Andrew Puzder NominationJanuary 23, 2017
Investigating Labor Secretary Nominee Andrew Puzder’s Fast Food Empire
- Labor & EconomyMay 25, 2016
Aging in the Fields: Retirement Followed by a Return to Work
- EnvironmentAugust 26, 2016
California Doubles Down on Its Green Economy, But Kicks Cap-and-Trade Down the Road
- Labor & EconomySeptember 25, 2017
Kicked to the Curb: How USC Drove a Bicycle Repairman Into the Street