Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Magu. Review: Madonnas. La Palabra. On-Line Floricanto.

QEPD Magu. Gilbert Lujan.

2010's Festival de Flor y Canto: Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow, used a Magu prismacolor drawing as its signature graphic. A woman speaks flowery symbols to a futuristically attired man. She is a poet. The glyphs coming from her lips literally say "in cuicatl in xochitl" in American, "flor y canto" in Spanish, "poetry" in English. The piece exemplifies the eloquence of Magu's genius in superimposing cultural referents, creating an aesthetic vocabulary to make a point about chicanismo and expression, yesterday, today, tomorrow.

At a party one night, I asked Magu to sign it on the front. He refused. "You can tell by looking at it that it's a Magu." Ay, Magu, I laughed, how do you know for sure it's a genuine Magu if it is signed on the back, but that's concealed inside the frame?" It became a running joke between us.

Magu and I will never resume our running controversy about how signing in front ruins the design, not in this life. Magu died Sunday, July 24, 2011.

My daughter has already declared she is getting this Magu when I die. She's welcome to it. By then, Magu and I will have resumed our mental menudo on how do you know for sure it's a Magu? It's sure to be an endless platica.

Ave atque vale, Magu.

Magu and Mario Trillo, August 2010

Pomona's DA Center Hosts Magulandia Fundraiser

An event designed to commemorate a life in art instead serves as a memorial to the life and art of Gilbert Lujan, Magu. The family opens Magu's archive to friends, associates, and collectors the world over, but especially those attending the event in eastern Los Angeles County. Per the website, the event, "A Benefit for the Preservation of a Legacy," runs August 13 –30, 2011, with a gala benefit the evening before.

Per the site, "We cordially invite collectors to attend a special preview reception on Friday August 12, 2011 at 7:00-9:00 p.m. to get early access to some of Magu’s never before shown original artworks. Enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres to the mellow music of Maria Elena Gaitan aka “Chola con Cello.” Reserve your tickets now, www.magulandia.com.

Review: Madonnas of Echo Park

Brando Skyhorse. The Madonnas of Echo Park. NY: Free Press, 2010.
ISBN-10: 1439170843 & ISBN-13: 9781439170847

Michael Sedano

Much as its title, The Madonnas of Echo Park, calls to mind images of la virgen painted on street corner walls, this Brando Skyhorse novel’s title comes from the singer.

The novel intertwines stories of a handful of Echo Park lifers: The estranged father, the abandoned woman and daughter, the gang father, his two sons, a self-hating bus driver. Skyhorse puts his characters through drive-by murders, gang rituals, prison, lost dogs, jornalero jales, coming-of-age, sometimes together, sometimes just one of them.

The author prefaces the work with a lengthy confession, framing the novel’s essential melancholy before getting to read the first word. I’d advise readers to skip the ten page Author’s Note and start reading the novel.

Only after digesting the work, turn to the self-disclosing preface. Back when Skyhorse was a kid in Echo Park he couldn’t figure out his ethnicity. He made some bad identity mistakes. Today, a mature social elite, a more self-defined person, this author’s filled with regret. But with it comes perspective. With Madonnas of Echo Park, the hometown boy extends his apologies and expiates his sins.

Too bad the publisher doesn’t talk sense into the author and make that confession a postscript. Publisher Free Press would spare a few trees not appending the apologia at all. Let the novel speak for itself. The story’s entirely successful in expressing the writer's penitence. It infuses the ethos seen in each character. The once-father who threw away his family fully comprehending the waste. The mother daughter he left behind with a demanding void in their existence. The scion of a gang leader, gone straight but weird. The scion of a gang leader, born bad y que? An asshole is always an asshole. A near-miss survivor of drive-by shooting struggling her whole life with survivor's guilt.

Skyhorse obviously labored to craft a writerly prose that smells of the lamp. It's entirely readable for all that. For the most part the first person narratives flow smoothly, straightforwardly. For example, a character’s concise account of a critical moment where she can accept her place or continue to pretend she has no currency in the memories of Echo Park:

Then he offers his hand and we shake. He's waiting for me to offer my name, which I don't. He knows who I am. Why say anything? Isn't it better this way? That wonderful feeling of seeing someone after a long time has for me always been replaced by a sinking, uncomfortable dread, a silence that says there isn't one way to reestablish that connection we once shared and will never share again.

The reader wants to take her by the shoulders and talk sense to her. The unembellished prose doesn’t call attention to itself, doesn't get in the way of a reader's participation with story. Straightening her out will be Skyhorse’s job. Gloriously. The man, who had been in loco parentis when the little girl was growing up, places a sticker in her dismissive hand. Later she understands it is companion to a sticker he’d given her back then. He remembers that little girl and still loves this pain in the ass outsider. And forgives her.

Some paragraphs I want to go, “nice one, Skyhorse.” Other times writerly excess calls attention to itself. With a smile, for sure, but a raised eyebrow now and again at a toss-off fact--a girl asks a vato, I hear you’re a maricon. Only for money, he answers, not for love. When the writer indulges himself in literary ornament, stand back and watch, like this grown daughter observing her mother with a long-time lover:

Her pain rolls in and out like the tide, sometimes a patter on damp sand, other times a torrent that could knock grown men off their feet. It makes her forget who she is, but it never forgets where she is. Vince pulls her close and folds her hair behind her ears. They embrace like two people trying to untangle themselves from a collision, something I can see only from a distance, as I'm walking away.

Then there’s an extended riff on Morrissey, evidently a singer with a dedicated chicano fandom. Engagingly, the author doesn’t overdo the occasional excess, and most them pass quickly as Esperanza’s story takes over the novel. Across the eight chapters, she is one with hope. It’s an old chicano joke, Esperanza/Hope, and almost obligatory in this type of memoir. For the other characters, they are losers.

The author is not on his high horse about failure and sociopolitical development. For some characters, Skyhorse reinforces the stereotype of chicano fatalism, for others it's anomie or depression that drives losing the struggle to keep up. For example, the author's helpless to advance the cause of los jornaleros, stuck at the edge of the economy:

Nobody wants to take a job from a new boss. All the young men--those who have a choice--know it's not worthwhile. The pay’s miserable (six or seven dollars an hour instead of the usual ten), and they think they've rented a slave instead of hired a housepainter. During the day, they're the ones ordered around. Out here, they get a taste of being in charge and get drunk on it. If you're not careful, a simple driveway paving job can turn into a landscaping job, a garbage collection job, a disposing of paint cans job, or a "suck my dick, maricón" job, and you'd better do it for the same fee you negotiated for one job because, really, who are you going to complain to? That's why you need to be smart about whose truck you get into. Get into the wrong one and you're broke, deported, or dead.

If you don't have a choice, like these men out here in their sixties who still wear cowboy-style straw hats with brims instead of baseball caps and long, dark dress slacks coupled with funeral dress shoes instead of jeans and sneakers, you risk what's left of your body. You know it's not worth much to a white man who needs a roofer, but it may be worth something to a Chinese lady who needs her lawn weeded. Slow and feeble, "los hombres del país viejo" can't be picky."

The aging man is stuck in day labor hell, in the end confronting the irony that telling the truth will get you in deep trouble.

The asshole pinto was born that way and will never be straight-up.

A vencido is a vencido; confused at best, deserving of scorn at worst.

But Esperanza, named for the last person dragged from her home back when the city razed Chavez Ravine to build Dodger Stadium, can still make a choice. Esperanza of all these homebodies, has the option to control her outcome As a little girl, she set course on the Sirius decal that glowed in the darkened corner of her little girl’s room. She finds a Sirius star decal in her hand today. She can set and follow her own course.

La Palabra Hosts Debut for Young Poet

Sunday’s La Palabra reading brought one of those once in a lifetime events. A boy performs, for the first time, his own poetry for a live audience. It’s the every-fourth-Sunday reading organized by La Palabra and hosted by Avenue 50 Studio in northeast LA’s Highland Park.

Antonio Ometeotl is the emcee’s son. Luivette Resto, an accomplished poet, introduces Antonio with restrained pride. Inside, she must be exploding.
Later, I ask Antonio what he liked best about his reading. He gives some thought then relates his satisfaction at the applause and the feeling of commanding the floor. I ask him what one thing he’d do differently next time he reads. Different work, he declaims. Not simply edit today’s two pieces but future work.

I encourage Luivette to bring Antonio--and his friends—back to read. To invite other kids who are writing poetry to come read at La Palabra. Uau, what a beautiful thought, child poets developing their oral competency. Eddy Bello-Sandoval is the sole open mic reader today. Eddy writes passionate work about love and womanhood. Afterwards, we talk. She laments her dependence on writing in Spanish. She emigrated from Cuba as a teen. In a fit of passion she marries her much older lover. They are still together. We chat about Agustín Lara, self-disclosure—she reads deeply intimate lines about piernas abiertas and bloody thighs--how language defines its own audience—if they don’t understand Spanish the poem isn’t for them. She contrasts unextinguished passion with aging bodies and physical decline. Ya no puede. She puts that passion into her poetry, now. “I’m not done,” she smiles.

Two featured poets of the day are powerful writers whose presentation skills will mature quickly. Rolando Ortiz and Dennis Cruz are big guys with a good sense of physical presence. Both possess great voices. Resonant, deep, potentially expressive. Even in mostly monotone, they sound great.

Given their physical size, the two could become masters of projection, learn to expel vigorous volumes of air behind key words and phrasing. Cruz already possesses a keen awareness of vocal variety that has yet to emerge in Ortiz’ less interpretive style. Ortiz’ powerful words could do more. They would soar given his attention to the oral interpretive resources available to him.
Dennis Cruz, like all manuscript readers, needs to print the reading in 22 point type, maybe double spaced. Cruz and I talked about that and he plans to chunk the text to the oral performance. He will build white space onto the page. When he comes to the white space, he’ll look up and make eye contact. A glance at the opening line of the following stanza, then eyes down to read from the page until the next chunk break. That will work. Memorizing the pieces and using the printed page as an aide memoire will produce personalization with an audience, give the words an ethos that Cruz’ work deserves.

For both, eye contact is the most immediately available resource. Rolando Ortiz exacerbates the problem using an iPhone display. I’ve seen other poets attempt the same technology and it doesn’t work. Ortiz needs to memorize--or extemporize--if he cannot print out documents. His sardonic humor and well-honed cynicism would benefit from examining and developing the oral resources already in the words and that expressive voice.
Among the side benefits of attending La Palabra at Avenue 50 Studio are the current exhibits. Right now, the Joe Bravo tortilla arte exhibit fills the small gallery, and in the main gallery the exhibit, “Glass Gourd Mosaic,” run now through August 7, 2011. Bravo originated the painted tortilla style; the exhibit includes several iconic tortillas and a series of indigenous themes. The mosaic show features several breathtaking human figures. A mosaic’d bottle gourd makes a delightful statement about natural objects and artifice. Prices are attractive.

Avenue 50 holds its semi-annual silent auction and tardeada on August 6. It is one of those reliably cool and bargain-filled art events that draws a chatty crowd of friendly art lovers out for the fun it. For more information on the art bargains, the silent auction says it all.

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto. 4th Tue of 7th Month 2011.

1. "An Ode to Los Jornaleros" by José Hernández Díaz
2. "¿No Te Conozco? / Don’t I Know You?" by Jabez W. Churchill
3. "The Jet" by Michael Rothenberg
4. "Simple Truth" by Meg Withers
5. "Remolinos / Whirlwinds" by Ramón Piñero

An Ode to Los Jornaleros
by José Hernández Díaz

They rise at dawn
And cross themselves
La Virgen knows
She knows it well

They sit and wait
On crooked curbs
For dirty work
They sit and wait

And when work comes
Trucks pick them up
They rush and shout
Like sheltered dogs

These jobs they get
Are hard and cheap
They twist and sweat
They bend and bleed

They push and mow
For daily bread
They stack and build
For milk and meat

Behind the wall
They send the cash
To México
They send it all

The laws that stand
Cause them to fall
To hide and squirm
This county’s hell

Before they sleep
They cross themselves
La Virgen knows
She knows it well

¿No Te Conozco?
por Jabez W. Churchill

No conozco tus fronteras
ni cómo es cruzar
pero sé cómo quererlo
y no poder pasar.
No conozco la nopalera
ni tampoco el maizal
pero sé pelar nogales
y pizcar peral.
Sé laborar por menos,
de luz a luz obrar,
tener hambre y tener sueño
y no poder pagar.
Asaltado por gabachos,
abandonado a morir,
preso sin derechos
y desesperado aguantar.
Conozco a los buenos
y cómo suelen dar
también a gente mala
que se dedica a quitar.
No conozco tus fronteras
ni tampoco tu hogar.
Solo lo que aprendí
en mi propio andar.

¿No te conozco?

* * * * * * * * * * *

Don’t I Know You?
by Jabez W. Churchill

I’m not familiar with your borders
or what it’s like to cross
but I know what it’s like
not to be able to.
I’m not familiar with cactus
or with cornfields
but I know how to husk walnuts
and pick pears.
I know what it’s like to be paid less,
to work from dawn to dusk,
to be tired and hungry,
and unable to pay.
I’ve been beaten by supremacists,
and left alone to die,
locked up without rights,
and survived without hope.
I know good people,
how they give,
and bad
who only take away.
But I’m not familiar with your borders.
I don’t know where you’re from,
only what I have learned
along my journey home.

Don’t I know you?

by Michael Rothenberg

The jet is now perceived as a weapon
The boat is now perceived as a weapon
The house, a weapon
The car, a weapon

The tree
The toy
The air

Vehicles for poison, explosives
Film, magazine, song, propaganda

What can’t be used for killing is frivolous

One drop of water is one holy jihad

Seeds of love in your enemy’s heart
Walk away!

Security is perceived as a weapon
Fidelity is perceived as a weapon

Prayer, a weapon
Goddess, a weapon
Vegetarian cuisine
Yoga, a weapon

Art & religion in the hands of a villain is black magic

Orgasm, a weapon
Nation, a weapon
The tribe, the hive, location is a weapon

Now I’ve got the money to travel beyond time
But no place is safe the weapon is mind

Simple Truth
by Meg Withers

I put on the jade bracelet.
I mark my skin with ocher and white clay.
The snake is charmed and I am wed.

I dance with others in circles ancient as the rocks,
wielding hawk feathers, droning ancestor chants.
Many are saved from certain death – we are healed.

I know that many have died of omens.
I know that I have wed for less than green bracelets.
I have seen with my eyes how touch draws tears,
heals pain.

I have watched lightning flash and rain made
with applications of dance and colored sand.
I have seen truth bring food and love, and watched a lie
starve a miracle.

I put on the jade bracelets and am wed.
I dance in circles with hawk’s feathers, old songs.
The snake is charmed – we are healed.

"Remolinos / Whirlwinds"
by Ramón Piñero


En un cuarto
la maestra
se encuentra
rodeada por
todo sus
son memorias,
algunas felices
otras llena
de tragedias.

En ese
la madre
se encuentra
de familia
y amigos
aún sola
en sus

las memorias,
de arena
dando vuelta
sin lógica
de infancia
de alegrías,
de amor

En un cuarto
rodeada por
paredes sin
por los
que son
los sueños
que es
la memoria.

ella busca
entre las
en su
quien es
cuales son
cuales imaginarios
cuales son
cuales son
gritos de
el tío
o el

En el
remolino que
son sus
los momentos
agrados vuelan
por su cabeza
de rápido;
los momentos
de amargura
de tragedia
los momentos
dolorosos ( pasan
muy despacio)
la tiene
sola en
ese cuarto
de memorias
sin saber
cuales son

En un cuarto
lleno de familia
no los
se pregunta
¿quienes son?
¿por qué están
¿Ha muerto alguien?

ella vive en
su mente
ella vive
en su
tierra natal.
entre momentos
de alegría
y momentos
de terror

en la jaula
de sus recuerdos
en ese torbellino
del pasado
no sabe si debe
saludar o

de las sonrisas
de sus hijos
y las
risitas de
los nietos
los hoyuelos
de sus

El remolino
de memorias
le sopla y
es su plazo
las muertes
la molestias
como niña
el trabajo
para el
pan cada

Esa maestra
sola en
de torbellinos

por quien
las aman
aun sin


In a lonely
the teacher
sits; surrounded
by students
of years gone by.

Fond memories
for the
most part,
dreams realized
for better
or worse
and others
full of
and pain.

In that
lonely room;
a mother
finds herself
among family
and friends
yet, strangely
in her

are like
sand devils;
whirling about
her head
no logic to
happy childhood
mixed in
with the
of a man
in her room,
and alone
unable to
for help

In a room
with colorless
wearing strange
she is buffeted
by the dreams
of her memories.

within this fog
of dreams
she sorts
who is who.

which songs
were undying
declarations of
which ones
her terrors.

in the
in her mind
the good
ones seem to
rush quickly,
here for only
a short time
while the
mesh into
reality or
better yet
reality because
night dreams
be real.

She is
alone in
the rushing
wind of

In a room
full of
sons and
friends and
she wonders,
Who are they?
Why are they here?
Did someone die?

She lives
in the space
of her mind
in her
trapped in
her gilded cage
between the
of childhood
and the pain
of life.
not knowing
who to
who to

she remembers
her children’s faces;
the smiles on their
children’s faces, the
dimples on the third

whirlwinds of
memories swirl
about her,
and in their
are left
the many
deaths in
her life;
the childhood
how much
she had
to work
to bring
food to
the table.

This Teacher
This Mother
This Grandmother
alone in the
windstorm of
her mind.

by those
who love her
even though
she does not
who they are.

© Ramón Piñero

1. "An Ode to Los Jornaleros" by José Hernández Díaz
2. "¿No Te Conozco? / Don’t I Know You?" by Jabez W. Churchill
3. "The Jet" by Michael Rothenberg
4. "Simple Truth" by Meg Withers
5. "Remolinos / Whirlwinds" by Ramón Piñero

José Hernández DíazJosé Hernández Díaz is a UC Berkeley graduate with a BA in English Literature. He plans on applying to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics’ MFA Program at Naropa, along with other creative writing schools. Jose’s favorite poets are those of the Chicano Renaissance and the poets of the Beat Generation. This summer José will take his annual trip to Guanajuato, Mexico,--his parents’ hometown. José has been published in The Best American Nonrequired Reading Anthology 2011, La Gente Newsmagazine, Bombay Gin Literary Journal, ABCTales, La Bloga, and has a forthcoming publication in the Indigenous Sovereignty Issue of The Peak. Jose has had poetry readings in Los Angeles, San Francisco and in Mid-August will read at The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach, Ca.

Michael RothenbergMichael Rothenberg is a poet, songwriter, editor and publisher of the online magazine, Big Bridge,www.bigbridge.org, and co-organizer of the global poetry initiative 100 Thousand Poets for Change. His poetry books include The Paris Journals (Fish Drum Press), Monk Daddy (Blue Press), Unhurried Vision (La Alameda/University of New Mexico Press), Choose (Big Bridge Press) and My Youth As A Train (Foothills Publishing). He is also author of the eco-spy thriller Punk Rockwell (Tropical Press). Rothenberg’s editorial work includes the selected poems of poets Philip Whalen, Joanne Kyger, David Meltzer and Ed Dorn (Penguin Books) and the Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (Wesleyan University Press).

Meg WithersMeg Withers is a writer, teacher, community activist and staunch civil rights practitioner. Her work has been published a lot. She has three books of poetry, the latest, Particular Odyssey: In Search, using the language of math and science, to be published soon. She believes most staunchly in inclusion rather than exclusion. She became a social and political activist the day her mother had one of Cesar Chavez' priests to dinner when she was thirteen years old. She implemented the visiting writer program at Merced Community College – Los Baños campus, and specializes in teaching the reading-deprived to understand that they have been greatly misinformed about their lack of ability to read and think. She is currently celebrating the life of her status as mother and grandmother with her family.

Ramón PiñeroEx 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 five of the coolest kids ever. Niuff said

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