Sunday, November 30, 2014

Literary Triggers

Olga García Echeverría


This past October, Wendy Oleson, Pat Alderete, Cheryl Klein, Bronwyn Mauldin, and I gathered in the lobby of the North Hollywood Laemmle's. It was a Wednesday night, and we had come to participate in the NoHo Lit Crawl. From the onset, the allocated space for our reading seemed awkward. A narrow strip of carpeted hallway had been reserved and bordered off by retractable belt barriers. Yet despite feeling a bit corralled, we (both the readers and our audience) managed to successfully squeeze in and do what we had come to do—participate in a literary event, The LA Word: Exploded Guns.
No real guns exploded that night in the lobby of the movie theater, but around the world bullets were blasting, thundering, ricocheting through time and space.
Guns are not the source of all evil, we know. There are other evils. Greed. Racism. Misogyny. Classism. Homophobia. The quest for domination and power. But the gun (fueled by these other evils) has been and continues to be a tool used for some of the most heinous crimes committed against humanity. The legacy of gun violence in the Americas can be traced directly back to colonization. When the Europeans first conquered and “settled” the Americas, they brought with them the mighty gunpowder. The West was “won” with the help of guns. What would Manifest Destiny be without guns? Entire peoples and nations have been subjugated and enslaved at gun point.
Despite the common misconception that the passage of time = progress, gun-culture today is alive and thriving, interweaved into every aspect of American society, transcending race and class (one has only to examine the numerous suburban school shootings perpetrated by White males to realize this). We are a culture that glories guns on TV, in movies, in music, in video games, in toy manufacturing, in our weapon industries, and, of course in our legislation. The sale of high-powered weapons to other countries, even when illegal, goes mostly unnoticed and unchallenged. And despite the growing number of people who support gun control, the powers-that-be in this country, seem to remind us all: Don't mess with “our” Right to Bear Arms or we'll shoot you!
In the midst of all the gunpowder, The LA Word: Exploded Guns was merely a moment to pause and reflect. These short excerpts from our reading in October are literary snapshots of the casualties of the American gun culture. We share them with you today.

The first selection is from a ghazal poem written by Bronwyn Mauldin. Every title included in her poem is a gun model taken from an actual gun catalog. The names of these guns speak volumes: 
Rodeo cowboy action, colt mustang, wild bunch,
Saddle shorty, Indian bureau rifle.

Lady derringer, ladysmith, Baronesse Stutzen,
Brittany side-by-side, lightweight stalking rifle.

Multipurpose weapon, executive carry,
Professional success, business rifle.

Predator, super X pump marine defender,
Versa max zombie, counter-terrorist rifle.

Dissipator, downsizer, decocker,
Persuader, enforcer, traveler takedown rifle.
The following selection is from a prose piece written by Pat Alderete.
          Ronnie lay on the ground, blood pouring from the gunshot wound in his 15 year old forehead. The blood was pooling around his head with big red clots mixed in. He moved slightly, as though his body was very heavy, and started vomiting. His eyes opened weakly but he didn’t say anything.
The paramedics got there at the same time that Ronnie’s mother, Rita, arrived. She inched her way carefully through the crowd, growing more nervous as people dropped their eyes as she came into sight. Spotting her son laying on the dirty pavement, she threw back her head and wailed, kneeling by his feet. The paramedics grabbed their cases and started wrapping gauze around Ronnie’s head but I could see the utter hopelessness on their faces. You didn’t have to be a doctor to know Ronnie was bad off.
          Princess, who was 8 years old and had a crush on Ronnie, was sobbing uncontrollably, snot running into her mouth, her tears washing clean spots on her face.
“Some car drove by,” Princess cried, “and when I heard the bang I looked up and saw the blood spurting outta his head!”
          The paramedics lifted Ronnie onto a gurney and put him in the ambulance, Rita climbing in with him. Princess pounded on the door but they pulled away. We stared as the ambulance turned up the street, its tires and siren screeching. Dumbly I turned towards the sound of water and realized that the man in whose yard this had happened had a water hose and was washing the blood and vomit off his lawn. I watched it drain into the sewer like so much trash and I felt my stomach get tight and my head get light. I wanted to cry but I bit my lip and forced myself not to, even though it would of been okay since I was only a girl.
The next piece is an excerpt from, “Hey, Little Man,” written by Cheryl Klein.
          There are five of them in the car, four heavy black weapons, a few dozen tattoos. Jordan feels like a weapon. There is a spring coiled in his chest. There are devil horns tattooed on his shaved head, and a word like a brand across the back of his skull.
          “Move, you crowding me,” grouches Tiny Ninja, who has the middle seat. He is the newest and youngest. Last summer, Jordan had the middle seat. He’d felt like a kid stuffed into a parent’s car on the way to the movies, and he’d secretly been fine with that. Now he is bigger. When he doesn’t feel like dealing with the streets, he stays in his room eating chicharrones. He has a belly pressing against the waistband of his boxers.
          “You move,” Jordan says. “Stop trying to touch me where my bathing suit covers.”
The other guys in the car laugh. “Fuck you,” Tiny Ninja says.
          They turn onto the street where their enemies hang off porches and take girls down alleys. It looks like their own street. Government brick and metal window frames from the 1950s, sidewalks veined with weeds, tsking grandmas pinching clothes onto clotheslines, smug in their own quiet violence. It looks the same, but it feels different. A parallel universe where everything is just a little lopsided, or brighter, where alleys hang left instead of right.
          Who will make himself a target first? Who will step away from his kid or his mama or his six homies? Jordan holds his gun just below the rolled-down window. On the street, people look without looking. Everyone knows why they’re here.
          A guy Jordan knows as Painter offers himself to them. He’s on Jordan’s side of the car, between the pistol’s bloodhound nose and an open garage.
          Painter is his. He is glad. And also, he is sinking. It’s not as if anyone really gets away with it. You go to jail or your enemies find you. He doesn’t mean to pause before squeezing his index finger, but his homies are yelling and grumbling. They’re following a script, but maybe they’re glad, too. For the pause. Because prison is one thing and murder is another.
          The bullet skims that line. Past one parked car, through the windshield of another, so close behind Painter’s head that it would make ripples in his hair if he had any.
          Jordan is as surprised as anyone. In the gap of time between the rise of his arm and the embedding of the bullet in old Señora Castillo’s flower box, his devil horns sprout. They push against his skull and then his skin, emerging sharp and bloody. There is no turning back. There is a box he will have to check on job applications for the rest of his life, and no nice girl will ever love him again, but technically, no one dies.
This is an excerpt from my prose-poem, “Flores for Brisenia”
The morning radio speaks of wars, “over there,” far away. And here? The roosters started crowing at the break of dawn. I’m in the kitchen imagining the falling of a bomb. Ceiling blasted into smithereens. Sparrows murdered in their trees. It’s the radio making me imagine the silencing of songs, the crumpling of walls. There are the walls of people’s homes being knocked down. And the walls of nation-empires being built. Everywhere. Apartheid walls. Border walls. Prison walls. Memorial walls. Which remind me of how we like to make monuments of things we kill. Soldiers. Children running down the streets with angry stones, fighting tanks. Who’s there behind the gunner, behind the missile, behind the barrel, behind the bullet?

This morning I can’t stop thinking of Brisenia Flores, that little girl murdered in Arizona. Minutemen vigilantes broke into her family’s home. A woman and two men plagued by hate, stealing, shooting, killing because they could. In America people love their guns. The weight, the steel, the metal extracted from the earth. The lever of power. The trigger. The trigger happy. He shot her in the face. The little girl who pleaded, "please don’t…"
And although Subcomandante Marcos was not physically present at our poetry reading in October, he was there in spirit. I leave you with these words that I am sure will resonate with all of you out there, who like us, are grappling with the current horrific violence in the world. Violence that, although complex and full of intricate layers, transcends geographical borders and nationalities, asking all of us to take a stand, break silence, and fight for a more just and peaceful world.
I have a dead brother. Is there someone here who doesn’t have a dead brother? I have a dead brother. He was killed by a bullet to his head...Way before dawn the bullet that was shot. Way before dawn the death that kissed the forehead of my brother. My brother used to laugh a lot but now he doesn't laugh any more. I couldn't keep my brother in my pocket, but I kept the bullet that killed him. On another day before dawn I asked the bullet where it came from. It said: From the rifle of a soldier of the government of a powerful person who serves another powerful person who serves another powerful person who serves another in the whole world. The bullet that killed my brother has no nationality. The fight that must be fought to keep our brothers with us, rather than the bullets that have killed them, has no nationality either. For this purpose we Zapatistas have many big pockets in our uniforms. Not for keeping bullets. For keeping brothers.





Amelia ML Montes said...

Wow-- such a powerful posting today, Olga. Thank your for these poignant, tough, important pieces. Y tambien thank you for sending a little bit of that fabulous reading to those of us who could not be there. Literature saves lives, tells truth! La verdad.

vivalizvega said...

You explode in your awesomenessearch and I revel in the words!!!!#