Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Review: Between Heaven and Here. I-DJ Off-Broadway. Aural On-line Floricanto.

Review: Susan Straight. Between Heaven and Here. San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books, 2012.
ISBN: 9781936365753 1936365758

Michael Sedano

You take a wrong turn off the freeway and find yourself driving through the bad part of town.
That pair of stretch pants looking at you from the darkness, golden brown skin and beautiful face when she leans into the light, you almost want to but you press the gas to get away from that crack ho, that street whore, somebody’s strawberry.

Susan Straight pulls the key out of the ignition and has you look again. Her name is Glorette Picard, a thirty-four year old daughter, sister, mother who belongs somewhere. She’s a member of a family and important to other people. Addicted to rock cocaine, the woman is not evil. But she will do you for a rock. She’ll get in your car. “She sells sex for cash, other women get dinner,” asserts Glorette’s 17-year old honor student son, Victor. It's a job, Glorette thinks.

Glorette’s death marks a fulcrum between past and future for these people. Between Heaven and Here looks back on a family saga grown from racism and killing, then pivots on another killing to look forward to breathing life into Victor and Lafayette, Jr.’s opportunities.

Disguised as author Susan Straight’s exquisite literary velorio for a dead woman many would think insignificant, Between Heaven and Here makes the future of those two students all that matters. “Attention must be paid!” a friend says at Willy Lohman’s grave. Susan Straight pays attention to Glorette, because she was, because kids matter, and because stories like these don’t get told. Theirs are useful lives, their stories interesting, and attention must be paid.

Set against the orange groves of a Southern California city called Rio Seco, the novelist details perspectives on racism, privilege, family, and opportunity springing out of dangerous ambiguity: what killed Glorette in that alley, did Alfonso or did the competitor in the brown van "got" her? Squeezed into 234 pages, Between Heaven and Here doesn’t have space for moral imperatives or high horses. The story spotlights multigenerational family members who dig a hole and in the middle of the night to bury a murdered daughter in the back yard.

Sadly, they’re right to keep it inside the family. The extraordinary death of Glorette Picard would set off the system. Get picked up, lose your job, do time, marked for life. If you’re a 17-year old honor student and you miss your SATs because you’re picked up “associating” when all you needed was the ride, your future is City College while your white and hindu friends go to Cal. Go Bears!

Straight makes several explicit scenes about accountability, to point out the crud that comes down in black life isn’t all random eventuality or result of down home racism with palm trees. When a jailed relative gets assigned into Clarette’s wing of Juvie, the kid’s father tells Clarette “it’s on you” to protect the boy. Clarette wonders where this parent has been the boy’s first 17 years? Clarette catches hell from another side, too, a comfortable Afro Studies professor shaming the Sister, making the employee with benefits accountable for the ills of their world, "doesn’t it hurt your soul to be there?"

The family will bury Glorette and maybe granpère will track down the killer and kill in return. Life continues, the two brightly academic boys have their futures in jeopardy. Cerise worries a fight with Cody on Lafayette Jr.’s record marks the bright boy as a thug and a caution to teachers. Victor’s forced to accept community college but feels the lure of income keeping him out of the classroom at the same time his street friends keep coming around.

Grim as the world develops for this family--a decaying body to be washed, the killing avenged, the boys at a life’s precipice--Straight makes sure to provide comic relief. For instance, kids draw a cereal box stabbed through with a bloody knife because they hear “serial killer” on the news. A more archly pointed scene arises from Cerise’s sense of inferiority and a grandmother’s protectiveness. Grandmère Felonise is feeding her high dudgeon when she learns Lafayette, Jr. has been expelled because the other boy called Lafayette Jr. a nasty name, called him a “wigger.” Disarmed by the absurd name, it's not the first time names made a difference.

when Lafayette first started at the school and Cerise told her that she’d overheard the mothers at the back gate saying, “I can’t believe someone would name their kids Lexus and Chanel. Oh my God.” Cerise did the imitation perfectly. She heard these voices every day. ‘And I was thinking, Dakota, Cody, Cheyenne—you name your kids after what, places you’ve never seen?’

As a girl, Felonise flees Louisana under a tarp to escape the droit de seigneur practicing landowner Mr. McQuine. He will die for that. Felonise has spent a lifetime at odds with those people, and at the schoolyard gate, she’s fuming at the way these white people carry on, one in particular who’d talked about Felonise as if the black woman weren’t present.

This kind of woman made Cerise cry. She made Cerise cry and hide in a hallway and swallow the burning that came up from her chest. She might say welfare mama when she told the story tonight. Crack ho.
Felonise folded the woman's fingers over the ball of wet cloth and looked up at the blue eyes. Saliva. A crime. Black lashes like brooms for a tiny doll. She said softly, "These ain't contacts. My grandmere get them from a wigger." She pointed at the boy hidden in the truck. "He know," she said. "That my grandson, and when you see his mama tomorrow, in that meeting, you remember me." Her own eyes burned hot-she gave the woman the look that Raoul used to say could start the back of some one's head on fire. All she ever had-that look. And her teeth.

Grandmother Felonise gives the overbearing woman a private moment of accountability for raising her boy, Cody, to this moment, while offering the woman insight into the consequences of privilege by calling out the woman’s rudeness. For Straight, the perverse humor of the white woman’s dreadful moment culminates a lifetime of unfinished business in Felonise's life, and one of many highlights the author achieves in this superbly crafted story.

Dale gas! Floor it, and check out the scene in your rearview mirror. Objects are closer than they appear. Those people are in another world, but pay attention. Lives matter. Between here and tomorrow, our trajectory heads with deliberate speed into a single path, all other things being equal.

Mail Bag
I-DJ To Break a Leg Off Broadway

La Bloga friend, Gregg Barrios, shares great news about his stunning play, I-DJ: A queer Chicano DJ / actor spins the soundtrack of his life on the dance floor by night and by day in a gay send-up of Shakesqueer's Ham-a-lot set to a dub-step beat of ecstasy, tainted love, Rollerena and Herb Alpert.

Gregg writes, This is the first time that an original play from San Antonio has a legit run in a commercial New York City theater venue. It is also a great moment in my life as a playwright - my first show in New York City.

Visit the play's website for additional details.

Aural On-line Floricanto: Migrant Lament by Ricardo Sánchez

The Other, the character of the Anglo, occupies a substantial portion of movimiento poetry. Migrant Lament by Ricardo Sánchez' is the movement's most outspoken poem on the theme. Sánchez invests rich emotion and voice when he reads. Click here to view a video of the poet reading in 1973 at the Festival de Flor y Canto at USC. His is a virtuoso recital.

The reader in this recording disarms the poem's anger through understatement and restraint in contrast to the assertive language. In the text, Sánchez capitalizes the closing scream, "love thy master…" Sadly, I do not have the text.

Click here to hear the reading of "Migrant Lament". The reader's name has been lost, with apologies to her. She worked incredibly hard on this project.


Concepcion said...

Ricardo Sanchez powerful poetry is relevant today as it was 40 years ago.

Thank you, Michael, for making us aware that these videos are available to the public.

Concepcion said...

Ricardo Sanchez's powerful poetry is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.