travel vignette

uganda sunrise
Sunrise in Uganda 📷:

Still in Uganda:

I climbed into bed at 2am last night, and I could hear the neighborhood dogs barking. Then a man’s voice, yelling passionately in Luganda and English, “I WILL NOT DIE!” Everything seemed to stop, even the dogs. Out of the silence the voices of men and women rose in the most delightful chorus I have ever heard. A clapping, complicated and brilliant, joined and halted. A woman’s voice finally rose above the rest, soothing and restful, clear in the night air. I fell asleep smiling.

travel vignette

Uganda, 2014. In a van, full of strangers:

Thatched roofs cap mud huts. One cow, flayed and hooves crossed, horns of pride attached by rope, strapped to the back of a boda boda. A man sold a newspaper with a headline that read, “I was paid 100M to poison so-and-so with a hyena’s liver!”

A boy danced by the side of the road while his cows grazed in a ditch. The view from the equator—tree tops in every hue of green, and a panorama of white sky. The doctor, still a resident, said, “people come in and die of things they shouldn’t be dying of.”

grandpa poetry

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couple of poets

 

Freddy read poetry to me. Freddy is my grandfather, but his name wasn’t Freddy, it was James. He was too young to be called “grandpa,” so that’s what he chose instead, after some character off a TV show I can never remember the name of. I would sit on the dining room table, all knees and elbows, over his meticulously placed pile of notebooks, next to his can of O’Doul’s and his ashtray, and we’d read together. Shakespeare, Poe, Dickinson. My tongue between my teeth as I tried to copy my favorite passages.

Like my mom, he could recite poetry. Together, they’d perform Poe’s “The Raven” like they were on stage. Beginning with a hushed, “Once upon a midnight dreary…,”and building suspense until my mom would grab me, tickle me, and shout, “nevermore!”

But my own, personal relationship with poetry took off with Tupac’s The Rose that Grew From Concrete. I spent the summer of 16 with him in a library in Maryland, not far from where he studied at the Baltimore School for the Arts. It felt like I had stumbled upon some hidden treasure. Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 11.48.43 PM

What a singular voice. A specific collection of thoughts rising from the streets of America. He talked about what he was interested in— self-discovery, the tragedy of Van Gogh’s career in art, the exploitation of Marilyn Monroe, the impact drugs and alcohol has on the American family, political issues, maintaining hope in the face of adversity. And he did it all with his own set of rules around content and grammar. He drew an eye instead of using “I.” He used “2” in lieu of two, to, or too. He built his own house when the spirit of his words couldn’t fit into the one they had built for him. He helped me learn how to build mine.

Still, I carried a lot of preconceived notions about poetry into adulthood. I thought I had to rhyme. I thought I had to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. I thought I had to do a lot of things. When I found Whitman, I found freedom in free verse. I didn’t have to stay within anyone’s rules for poetry. I didn’t have to seek poetry-worthy things to write about. I could just take a look around and write.

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Minor Golden

I still keep notebooks, like Freddy. His love for poetry sparked mine, and 25 years later I was able to write a poem about my paternal grandfather, Minor Golden. I never knew him; I was young when he died, but now he’s a part of the fabric of me through a language I can understand. Like I’ve said before, poetry is time travel, baby. It can take you anywhere you want to go, and you can heal on the road.

I am deeply honored to have “The Searcher” in this issue of Sky Island Journal. I know my grandpas would be proud.

the skylark

Buick-Skylark-1982-3

My first car was a true exercise in character-building. She was a 1982 Buick Skylark, given to me by my parents when I was 17. I didn’t have a license, but I drove it anyways. When I turned 18, I drove it to my high school, and dropped out. I also accidentally hit Mr. Mole’s car in the parking lot, and had to pay him $100.

When I finally did get my license, I had been driving for some time, and I felt pretty comfortable. I didn’t realize the car was going to be inspected. She had a tendency to overheat. Somehow the fan and the headlights had been rigged together in a clusterf@ck of wires and nonsense. In order for the fan to work, I had to twist two wires together hanging by my feet. Anytime I was driving during the day people would make flashing light signs at me with their hands. When the instructor said, “Okay, turn your lights on,” I pretended to drop something while I twisted the wires together.

I peeked above the steering wheel.

“Okay, turn ‘em off.” The wires were already hot, but I pulled them apart. I was wishin’ and prayin’ she’d last the 15-minute road test without overheating. She did. I got my license.

I locked my keys inside constantly. Constantly. I don’t know how many times my friends and I stood around shaking our heads, waiting for a jimmy or a tow truck or a miracle. The lock worked back and forth, not up and down, so it was a real bitch to break into. Someone did break into it once (well, I left it unlocked); they went through my CD collection, and only took what they liked.

When the Pioneer speakers I had installed stopped working, I got a pink boom box that rode shotgun. A lot of Living Legends and System of a Down was played.

aceventuraWhen the windshield wipers stopped working, I literally Ace Ventura’d it around town. I have a specific memory of exiting the freeway with my head out the window wondering how it all came to this.

It’s the only car I’ve ever really loved. And as much of a death trap as she sounds, she was a tank. We had some crazy times, and a lot of it was just us. Eventually the gas gauge quit, and then the speedometer. It was a slow, noble death. I got a new car, and we gave ol’ Blue to charity.

Sure, I could tell how fast I was going. It had the fancy *bleep bleep* key fob, and power windows, but it never had soul.

frog memories

The stories my mom would tell me about Christopher’s father, her first husband, Erasmo, made him an almost mythical figure to me.

She was 18 years old when they met. He was new to LA from Honduras, and she was new from Brooklyn. While they were dating, they would leave their houses at the same time, and walk to meet each other. One day, on her way to meet him, she was stopped and harassed by 3 men in the street. When she started to panic, she looked up, and there was Erasmo, running towards her. When he got to there he knocked one guy out, and chased the rest off. Mom, beside herself (and really impressed), thanked him. He replied, “Mary, I have only my life to give, but I would gladly give it to you.”

Once they were married, Erasmo bought a set of glass frogs for them at Knott’s Berry Farm. She was 21-years old, very pregnant with Chris, and he affectionately dubbed her the one with the big belly.

frogs

Every time I visit, I look at them. They were given to a woman I never knew. I can only imagine her as a 1970s hipster, madly in love with a man from Honduras, in a little apartment with succulents in the window, and a son on the way. Life went its own way, but the frogs made it through. They sit as contemplative as they day they were bought. Almost 40 years old, they belong to a time and a place I never was. Keepers of her love stories.

my pack

I’m in Huntington Beach with the loves of my life, Babbi, Glenn, and their two dogs, KC and Kayla.

Babbi and Glenn were my regulars at the diner for a long time, and then we became friends. Babbi came with me to visit the campus at CSUF, and they were at my graduation two years later. I stayed with them the summer before last, saving money to move to Los Angeles. Once every couple of months, I come down for a few days to visit. We mostly sit in the backyard and talk for hours. And I bring all of my laundry.

I’m here this week to spend a few days writing. I’m in the backyard now. It’s dark, but I can hear the wind through the chimes and the hedges. I’m hoping to get some work done for a few longer pieces, and to generally hang around KC, my main Golden Doodle squeeze.

Tomorrow Glenn and I will grab breakfast, and then we’ll come back to the backyard. I’ll write in my favorite spot, Glenn will paint in his shed, and Babbi, the best of us, will probably be at the gym like the badass she is.

Do you have a favorite spot to write or get work done? Magical people or places that aid creativity?

spacehead pt. 2

heavymetalstars

Einstein, the most gangster scientist of the 20th century, thought of space and time as one and the same. His theory of relativity is complicated, but one of the solutions to his equations is, if an object in space is heavy enough, it will cause spacetime to bend, like a bowling ball on a trampoline. And if two heavy objects in space were to act in a violent way towards one another, like black holes merging, or neutron stars colliding, this would cause ripples through the fabric of spacetime. Hellooooo, gravitational waves.

A century later, instruments have been built that have proven Einstein’s theory; we can detect gravitational waves, we have detected gravitational waves, and you can find the instruments we are using to achieve this in America’s backyard. Light-splitting technology in pipes like arms outstretched, miles long, barreling through Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, built to experience something only ever theorized, an unstoppable force rippling through the universe.

“I am an acme of things accomplish’d, and I an encloser of things to be.
My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly travel’d, and still I mount and mount.”
–Walt Whitman, Section 44, Song of Myself 

We’ve got new eyes (or ears) with which to look at the universe. And scientists all around the world coordinated to capture the cause of the latest gravitational wave detection–two neutron stars colliding. From Washington to Chile to a town outside of Pisa, Italy, every telescope alive turned toward the same spot in the sky, and caught the same thing.

 

Neutron stars live long, solitary lives, and I think they must have body issues. They’re the size of a small city, but they used to be bigger than our sun, and they retain their mass. The two we caught colliding had been hurtling towards one another for 11 billion years. They met 130 million years ago; it was a dance at the speed of light, fireworks like you’ve never seen. Heavy metals like gold and platinum ejected into the void, spacetime momentarily warped, the makeup of future planets scattered to the universe.

For a long time, we could only guess where a large part of the periodic table came from. But now we know it comes from something like this:

And sure, this all went down a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but there’s an intimacy to these kinds of discoveries available to everybody.  I can find flecks of gold in the phone I use to help connect to the world, or in the necklace my grandmother left to me. I don’t need to understand the astrophysics to marvel. Wonder’s free.