Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Old Kentucky Hangout; Mailbag; February's Final Floricanto

 Review: Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club

Michael Sedano

Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club. El Paso TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-935955-32-0

I thought Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club was Benjamin Sáenz' new Young Adult novel. Surprise! It's not.

Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club collects seven stories about love, suffering, courtship, suffering, torment, suffering, pain, and suffering.

Something’s changed in novelist Sáenz’ art—he appears to have taken a lot of the art out of his writing, and that takes a lot of art. Unlike the author’s Carry Me Like Water, a wonderfully beautiful novel that explores relationships with tenderness, friendship, love, and complexity, Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club pounds on relationships like a ball peen hammer dappling soft aluminum. Pound pound pound and every blow leaves a mark, by design but not always pretty.

Sáenz doesn’t endeavor to craft a unique voice for the seven first-person stories. One story the narrator is a teenager, another he's a would-be painter, or a high school counselor, or a guy named Al or Charlie or Neto. In every case, the same empty frustration echoes throughout the character's world and the character himself lives to be tormented, if not out of anomie then by his choice in partners.

There’s a sameness to the characters: abuse, cryptic lives, refusing to commit nor admit the word “love” into a relationship, a handsome man who attracts sex but leaves love out of it.

The stories are tightly wound like the characters. Drugs, danger, brutality contribute to the messy lives Sáenz creates. But there’s something beneath the surface the author wants to dig out of these gay Chicanos’ lives: a sense of decency, an urgency to do good and be happy despite the conspiracy of events that strike at the characters’ sense of well-being.

Fathers are brutal monsters who appear and reappear in horrific cycles. In the final story, “The Hurting Game,” for example, Mr. Michael Steadman is a high school counselor surrounded by violence, some obvious, some a not unexpected surprise. When a boy shows the counselor the bruises, Steadman gets a social worker involved to rescue the boy.

“Where will I go? Where will they take me?”
“Wherever it is, you’ll be safer. Gina won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
“What about my dad?”
Shit, why was it thata kids like Danny were always trying to take care of a parent who didn’t deserve to be taken care of, that didn’t deserve their love, that didn’t deserve to be called Dad? It was too common and too sad to talk about. (205)

Steadman is himself a refugee from that kind of father, so Danny’s endangerment becomes a causa for Steadman, a beacon of hope out of his battered past for this child’s future. In fact, Sáenz gives Danny’s foster family the name Lucero to emphasize the point. And, when Steadman abjures the gratitude Danny wants to assign, Steadman declares there’s no extra credit for doing your job. “Mr. Steadman, I’m on to you” are Danny’s parting words.

Then Steadman’s lover, Tom, reappears after a period of unexplained, but typical, absence. Tom’s strung out and paranoid, needs Michael to rescue him as he’d rescued the youngster. It's a parallel of hopefulness contrasted to consequential behaviors.

Now Sáenz pulls a ray of hopefulness out of the depression that permeates the collection—but not really. Tom has seriously messed up—he’s going to prison. But might there exist strong likelihood of life with Michael after exiting prison? Sáenz sets that up as a ruse, proffering an imagined happy ending:

“I can almost hear his voice as he tells me about his dream, 'You were sitting at the bar of the Kentucky Club and you looked like a fucking angel.' I’m imagining me sitting there and I do, I do feel like a fucking angel, and I’m waiting for him and then I picture him walking in, and he says to me, “See, babe, it’s true, everything begins and ends at the Kentucky Club.” I look at him and say, “No, not everything, just your dreams.” (222)

Relationships, in these characters’ lives, do not end with a bang but a whimper. And of a sudden, what appeared to be simple pain and suffering becomes infinitely complex, à la lady and tiger, and that takes a lot of art.

Mailbag: Kentucky Coincidence 
Marketing a Chapbook: We'll Print What We Sell

Kentucky's Finishing Line Press emailed recently to share the news that La Bloga friend and Guest Columnist Thelma T. Reyna's upcoming chapbook, Hearts in Common, would be available for pre-ordering from the publisher, with a catch.

What catches my eye in the publisher's announcement is Finishing Line's plan to limit the print run based on pre-orders: This limited-edition book can be ordered now. The number of books printed for public purchase nationwide will be determined strictly by how many books are ordered between now and APRIL 5.

I'm not sure I understand what that all means. If only a thousand people pre-order, will the publisher print only 1000 copies? Maybe there's a different formula. There's a principle in customer service management that a complaint represents at least 15 people with the same issue, but who remain silent without complaining; they just go away.

Paralleling that complaint formula, perhaps Finishing Line Press will print 15,000 copies if they get 1000 pre-orders by their April 5th order target?

Surprisingly, the publisher's come-on doesn't offer a sample of Thelma's poetry, making all the more problematic their decision-making process.

La Bloga is happy to share "Rosita's Hands" that appears in the upcoming chapbook. The poem moves from drudgery to dream, not like some raisin withering in the sun deferred, but the product of Rosita's deliberate doing. "Rosita's Hands" is a Dreamer piece. Reyna's poem lifts a lamp to light the path through the rapidly opening door of immigration reform. You don't realize a dream by dreaming but as a result of dedication and labor.

by Thelma T. Reyna

Rosita’s hands soaked in early morning suds,
the scalding pinking her skin as she
swooshed and swirled the scouring pad and
scrubbed pans until they sparkled.

Then her prune-skin hands wiped baby’s
face, peach oatmeal sticking on Allegra’s
chin and rosebud mouth, dangling like mushy
earrings on the child’s pale curls as she
cooed and grabbed for Rosita’s Gerber wipe.

At noon, Rosita’s hands folded linens with
precision, her fingers pressing creases in lines
straight and pure, stacking sheets and cases in
the master rooms while baby dreamt of
dolls and Rosita dreamt of vows.

At four, Rosita’s hands waved to Allegra and
her mother, gathered car keys and canvas purse, then
lay still on the manicurist’s table as her nails were
freed of jagged edges and transformed to
ruby nuggets of promise.

When I raise my hand tonight, Rosita said to
the manicurist, and, smiling, raised her free hand
to demonstrate, when I take the oath, I want my
hand to be beautiful. She inhaled radiantly:
And when I sign the paper at the end, when I sign my
name, my hands will be beautiful.

Rosita’s hands lay on the towel on the table,
pristine, the tiny salon fan whirring its breath on
the red-tipped hands that tonight, tonight,
tonight would be American hands at last.

Click this link to order the chapbook for under $15.00. Finishing Line Press welcomes mail orders at Finishing Line Press, P.O. Box 1626, Georgetown, KY 40324.

About Thelma Reyna:
Thelma T. Reyna’s new poetry chapbook, Hearts in Common, was a semifinalist in a national poetry competition, as was her first chapbook, Breath & Bone. Thelma is also author of The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories, winner of four national awards. Her stories, poems, essays, book reviews, and other nonfiction have appeared in journals, textbooks, anthologies, blogs, and regional media. Thelma’s fourth book, Life & Other Important Things, will be published this spring. She is an editor, ghost writer, and writing consultant with her business, The Writing Pros, and holds a Ph.D. from UCLA. Contact: www.ThelmaReyna.com.

Mailbag: Mysteries' Re-emergence
Henry Rios On the Rebound

6th novel in the Rios series
La Bloga friend Michael Nava forwards word from epublisher Open Road Media that Nava's exciting and infuriating Henry Rios series is available for a variety of devices.

Rios is one of those characters who's his own worst enemy, taking the lumps that come of bad decisions, then making more knuckleheaded moves.

Struggling with father issues that complicate his life, Henry Rios' career keeps readers on edge like lookie-loos staring up some pendejo on a ledge threatening to jump. Except Henry isn't threatening to jump. In most stories, he's in mid stride with no idea how far down the bottom lies, and he doesn't think he can fly.

Nava didn't kill Rios, Rios simply stopped appearing in print on paper. So these ebooks are not new titles, but given the growing readership for excellent Chicano literature, and the insatiable audience for top-notch detective fiction, the re-emergence of Henry Rios into the literary marketplace is great news.

Click here for Nava's book trailer and datos on the ebooks.

On-line Floricanto for February’s Final Tuesday: Love Lingers in the Air
Ramón Piñero, Zahra Zamorano, Francisco X. Alarcón, Mari Herreras, Victor Avila

"La Lenta Noche En Tus Ojos" by Ramón Piñero
"When time danced the tango" by Zahra Zamorano
"Love Blessings / Bendiciones de amor" by Francisco X. Alarcón
"she has a nopal heart" by Mari Herreras
"The Romantic Notion" by Victor Avila

La Lenta Noche En Tus Ojos
por Ramón Piñero

Te espero perdido
en esta noche lenta
ausente tu presencia
aun tu aliento
como un humo
rodea por el
cuando la
ultima vez
te vi.

Te espero perdido
en los callejones
de mi mente
el recuerdo
de tus besos
y tus caricias
como puñales
directo al

Te espero perdido
en esta lenta noche
que no llegas
ni llegaras.
Te espero
por esta
lenta noche
de mí

Espero ver
tus ojos
tu velo
tu piel
junto a

Te espero
en esta
noche lenta,
sin fin
sin aurora
sin luz.
Te espero
en esta
lenta noche.
como me perdí
en tus ojos
me perdí
en tus
me perdí
en la
que fue

Mi alma
en el suelo
como las
hojas de
una flor
el ayer
sin piedad.

Te espero perdido
en esta noche lenta
ausente tu presencia
aun con tu
memoria tachada
en mi corazón
como un clavo
de acero
en mi ser.

© Ramón Piñero 3/10/10

When time danced the tango
by Zahra Zamorano

and then they danced
to ancient rythms calling
back time to yesterday
past the tango, the salsa
into years sliding by as
steps become two, a beating
heart of the earth itself in
revolutions per minute, where
red meets black meets brown
where volcanoes erupt into
oceans of love's forbidden
adam and eve, where dark
histories are found in forgotten
books of old stories told, in
bandages shred from bloody
wounds begin to heal, inside
this beating heart of earth lives
a universal drum, beating death
into love, ancestral memories
come alive, as she saves life
in this story told to you...
now, kiss me, you fool.

by Francisco X. Alarcón

my grandma
and grandpa
blessed me

Mamá and Papá
also gave me
their blessings

kissing me
on my forehead

o every time
I am kissed
on my forehead

I feel so blessed! —
all love always is
a true blessing!

© Francisco X. Alarcón

by Francisco X. Alarcón

mi abuelita
y mi abuelito
me bendijeron

Mamá y Papá
me dieron también
su bendición

en la frente

oh cada vez
que me besan
en la frente

me siento bendecido —
todo amor siempre es
¡una bendición real!

© Francisco X. Alarcón

she has a nopal heart
by Mari Herreras

she has a nopal heart.
it bursts big
blue to green
the space
between thorns widens
when that heart belongs
to everyone along her street

she has she has she has
a nopal heart
sometimes tender, small
made purple
made easy for a hand's caress
tufts of yellow thorns
prevent this delicacy
from breaking apart

she has this heart
this nopal heart
every havelina feral creature
wants for it
a mordida
careful around the thorns
a flesh that sets even feral souls afire
no mouth can resist

The Romantic Notion
"mi corazon, te quiero infinito"
by Victor Avila

Around my wrist a red bandana
bought in '66 with Bolivian coins.
Then your memory was a soft vein of ore
that I would mine and soon rejoice in
as cigarette smoke filled still another cantina.

It's now 1967.
Ahead of me lie oil fields and insurrection.
I wait in a train station in Angola.
It's an oven full of flies.

When all fails here
I'll write you from Mozambique
where the gibberish in Portuguese
is unfamiliar to both of us.

I've waited for your letters
near every airfield and in every dusty village
where the machetes that once cut the sugar cane
are now raised against automatic rifles.

I once cradled inside of me
notions of a romantic nature-
"I will die in a smokey trench
looking out toward the Rio Tama
for then maybe, just maybe..."

After two years of contaminated water,
dysentery, and stolen rifles,
I have seen through my own field glasses
that we fight battles that aren't
worthy of our weapons.

There is a pier we once walked on.
With paper arms I reached for stars
that were violently unreachable.
You were a wonderful addiction
and your girlish kiss naive.

I no longer want to die drunk
but return home instead with Lorca's poems
stuffed inside my passport.

I want to plant a silver bayonet
underneath your feet
and talk to to you for hours and days
of how I never missed you.

There's a DC-10 now landing in Los Angeles.
On it there is someone asking,
"Did we have Paris?
Yes, we had Paris.
And, aren't we both magnificently alive?

"La Lenta Noche En Tus Ojos" by Ramón Piñero
"When time danced the tango" by Zahra Zamorano
"Love Blessings / Bendiciones de amor" by Francisco X. Alarcón
"she has a nopal heart" by Mari Herreras
"The Romantic Notion" by Victor Avila

Ex Bay Area poet living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, aka Florida. Where good little boys and girls grow up to be republicans who vote against their own interest. Father of three and Grandfather to six of the coolest kids ever. Nuff said...

Zahra Zamorano is a poet/artist of mixed heritage who resides in the Bay Area of California, where she is raising her children as a single mother and working on a collection of poems. She looks at the world though a unique lens which is comprised of different spiritual disciplines and beliefs and influenced by global indigenous movements and a deep reverence for nature. "I love love and I love life. I want everyone to feel the same way." She is currently involved in putting vision into action and publishes some of her poetic commentary on her website: idreamofroses.blogspot.com.

Mari Herreras is a fifth-generation Tucsonan who spends her days writing about the weird, ugly and beautiful of Tucson, Arizona as staff writer for the Tucson Weekly. When she's not writing, she talks to friends and her heart -- her middle-schooler son -- about the weird, ugly and beautiful of Tucson. It's a vicious cycle that requires massive amounts of coffee and poetry, and a little mezcal, but someone has to do it.

Victor Avila is an award-winning poet. Two of his poems were recently included in the anthology Occupy SF-Poems for the Movement. He is also an illustrator whose worked has been featured in Ghoula Comix. Victor's own collection Hollywood Ghost Comix will be published in August 2013.


msedano said...

Thank you poets for an outstanding On-line Floricanto. Thelma Reyna, sending you best wishes on the chapbook.

Thelma T. Reyna said...

Hi, Michael. Thanks for your inclusion about my new poetry chapbook, HEARTS IN COMMON, and for including the poem "Rosita's Hands." Thanks for always supporing your fellow writers!

Just wanted to clarify a bit about how Finishing Line Press, a very reputable publisher of chapbooks, operates. Because they're a small press, they determine the size of their print runs for each of their selected authors based on how many of the new books are pre-ordered by folks. They've always done this, and their formula has worked for them. For example, if a new chapbook has 55 pre-orders, the press will publish 250 books; for 105 pre-orders, it'll be 500 books, and so on. Authors get their "payment" with books, also determined by their formula.

So it's important to us authors to get as many kind, supportive readers to pre-order our book. It helps make more books available (printed), it helps the publisher, and it helps us individually. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify. Please continue your wonderful work, Michael, on La Bloga!

msedano said...

thelma, thank you for helping me understand the method of the publisher's mission. most interesting. mvs

Johnny Payne said...

Mister Sedano. Well said about Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club.