Archive for October, 2015



The reading finished before 9:30. I left the bookstore and crossed the street. At the bus stop on the bench was a woman, whom I know, who bought a book off me but an hour before, whose house I’ve visited, and whose name I could not recall. Even now, thinking of that night last week, I still can’t pull it. I begrudgingly had to sign a chapbook over to her without writing her name and never policing my ego enough to just Ask.

I sat next to her, her with stark white hair, a swirling cloud bank beneath a small worn-leather cowboy hat.

You looking for the 18? She said.
It should be here in five minutes. I said and sat down.

The bookstore glowed brightly directly across the street from us. Its light mirroring off the black asphalt as if it were slick with water.

I asked what she’d been doing. She mentioned attending a salon where people who practice sculpture gathered in an artists back yard to work. She said she liked going and hanging out with them for a few hours and painting.

I asked if she ever practiced sculpture and she said no, it wasn’t her thing. Painting was. Her family, she said, was full of sick people. So she had to spend a lot of time alone and quiet. And painting was something she could engage with fully.

I forgot that’s what fueled my early days of poetry. Taking care of my mom and grandfather and after they’d passed out for sleep, I’d lay on the floor of my bedroom if too bored for tv and write. No weed, no alcohol, no friends. Just paper and pens.

As we sat talking about making art, what we really seemed to be talking about was permission. The permission to practice and keep practicing. What I felt compelled to tell her was how interested I was in visual art, even as I’m bad at it. I told her I’d been recently spending time coloring and confessed how years ago I took a visual art class only to quietly drop it after struggling to paint my first assignment: gray scale.

No one said it wasn’t good. I said it. I looked across the room and promptly fired myself.

She shook her head gently even as I felt like taking my heart out of my chest and crushing it in my hands.

Sounds like you had a bad teacher, she said. You don’t need to do it right, you can’t. You just need to keep going.

As she told her story I saw a small girl, drawing, painting at a huge table lit by the morning while her mother, sister were collapsed by illnesses in other rooms. I had no sister and had to motivate myself.

You don’t need teachers to make art. She said. Teachers sometimes get in the way because you end up creating things to please them when you should be making art to please yourself.

I couldn’t even recall whether the art teacher I had was male or female. I just remember leaving that class as if I was on fire.

Like you, she said. Your poetry. Who taught you to do that?

I looked back over to the bookstore we’d just left, where I was one of four people reading before a woman celebrating her newly published book. I sat quietly, thinking for a long time. Unable to speak. Who taught me to write poetry?? No one… Thinking of it, I realized it was a process. A building of something one brick, one moment, one lesson at a time. Until finally, something was just: THERE.

I don’t know, I said finally. My parents bought me a typewriter when I was in the sixth grade. I taught myself how to type, I said. I would record sit-coms off tv on a audio cassette and type a transcript to see how things were written, I guess. I don’t remember what happened or what was said that made them buy me a typewriter at that age. I certainly wasn’t trying to write poetry back then. I didn’t know what that was. Or cared.

The people at the reading we’d just left, all were artists, mostly writers. I knew several of them and despite my low bank account, bought books from two of them. Were any of them taught to be artists? Who taught the youngest poet there, taller than all of us, his unique blues-rap vocal style? I hugged him and told him how beautiful his voice was and he hugged me tighter. He seemed to have to bend well over me as if he were about to pick me up off the ground. Who taught the woman whose book we were celebrating to write poetry? Would she say anything other than the relationships that fucked her over, indignant anger over things beyond her control, the years of tears she had to swallow? Who sat me down and taught me… anything?

The bus finally appeared, though it took my eyes a long time to know it was the right one. We got on and I sat with her. The bus smelled awful, like fresh corn chips or soiled wet feet. A woman dug into a huge plastic bag on her belly, holding it as if it were an infant.

Less than eight blocks, the bus stopped across the street from the artists apartment. I’d been there once, and spent the afternoon in her kitchen writing with her sister, while she sat on the back porch and painted. We said our goodbyes, warmly. I felt awful, old. A week later and I still couldn’t remember her name.


I read as part of Litquake SF this weekend in the Mission, reading with the group Cave Canem. I went with Stewart, my friend and fellow CC member, who reached out and asked to join me when I went to the city. We made it to the gallery exactly on time, but first mistaking it for its neighboring shop. We fell into the shop like flies, though the space didn’t immediately make sense. There was no space for performance or audience. But this was the address given, Right? Everything on the street was open as we walked down, we saw readers standing in glass display windows at shoe stores and mysterious raves/gatherings in much too dark alleys for ya boy. Stewart looked back out towards the sidewalk and saw Arisa, my contact and the event organizer, standing Right There like a movie star, tall and regal, on her phone. I didn’t push for a mushy greeting. No warm shakes or hugs; being on time was love enough. It was the right address, but we didn’t see the sandwich board at the entrance to a long dark alley lit with rope lights. The Incline Gallery is indeed built with two inclines. Arisa loved explaining how it was once a morgue and indeed its an odd building, a vertical gallery with long inclines leading upstairs with wire and string art suspended along the walls. I made my way up to the top and met the gallery owner Christo, who immediately jumped into a story about his name and why he owns a gallery. He apologized for being so tired and explained his sunken eyes and asked our forgiveness if he sneaks out before the reading ends for a quick drink and a bed. When he asked if i needed anything i immediately said bathroom and he opened a glass patio door leading down a dark long hallway that seemed diabolically without light fixtures. It was near sunset and I was able to follow what little light leaked through the dimness to find the restroom as if the thing glowed in the dark.

The Incline Gallery had two level landings and Arisa placed the readers at both; myself and roger reeves used the middle landing, robin coste lewis and Arisa used the top. Us introducing one another so the audience, mingling all around us, could just move their heads from one person to another. No microphones. Poems came from every direction, it seemed. It was quite beautiful. I was the first reader and stood in the center of the incline facing audience standing or seated on the floor going up towards the top level and back down towards the street. An older couple came in with two dogs on leashes and they flanked me on either side while I lifted my voice to the upper level. We were to introduce one another so I introduced Robin standing at the top of the gallery behind a web of white yarn, and she introduced Roger who was standing with me, and the night ended with Arisa back at the top.

We all performed with audience standing at our shoulders, creating this great intimacy. It reminded me of poetry readings from years ago. Odd little art gatherings in living rooms, on street corners, on public transportation. Then it was over and wasn’t so awkward, people flowing out of the gallery like water draining from a container. Neither Stewart nor I mingled very much. We left the gallery and when we got to the sidewalk, I immediately recognized a woman coming towards us. She was scheduled to read and breathlessly told us she’d driven in from Tracy and the traffic, we already saw earlier, was awful. God knows where she parked, if she parked. I didn’t ask.

Is it over already? She said anxious.

Yeah, I said, defeated. I hugged her and introduced Stewart who’d said earlier he wanted to meet her, wanted to meet another local Cave Canem member. Earlier I told him she and I went to grade school together.

She shook her head exasperated over the traffic and briefly said she’d come from her brother’s event in Tracy. I told her to check in with Arisa who remained at the gallery wrapping things up. She spun away from us.

God, she is gorgeous, Stewart said.

Yes, she is. I said.

We walked over towards the Elbo Room and went into the bookmobile from the SF Library that was parked out front. I barely noticed the dude at the door was holding a clicker in his palm, taking an informal census. Inside there was a woman stationed at a laptop whom he knew. We ought to do this every year, the woman said. We had hundreds of people visit tonight. Hundreds.

Stewart smiled, pleased because earlier he had said the same thing.


We separated soon as we got back to Oakland, him vanishing into the night to meet up with a friend he’d been texting, me jumping a bus home, having sold a book and snagged a burrito. The night was fun. My heart felt full. Watching Stewart be absorbed into the night, I didn’t feel abandoned or alone. I didn’t wait long for my empty, late night bus. It felt good opening my voice and delivering poems in that place. And I saw you there in the crowd! You with your supple, gorgeous face, your luminous eyes. How I appreciated your presence and applause and love.