Friday, May 8, 2015

1 Poem - "Legacy Tattoo"

If you ever want to check out a truly gorgeously made magazine, the Catamaran Literary Reader is it! Sumptuously produced, it features beautiful paintings on almost every spread, many of them local to Santa Cruz, where the magazine originates. The Spring 2015 issue features Rebecca Faust and Melissa Stein. Thanks to Zack Rogow for including my work in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue, a poem entitled "Legacy Tattoo."

Back story: the title originates from a time I spent with my sister a couple years ago. I visited her where she was living in Mynot, North Dakota. That spring in 2012, the ice pack up in Canada had held off melting until past its usual time, and then, suddenly in April, the ice melted with a vengeance. The waters thundered down from Canada and flooded the banks of the Souris River (yes, it means mouse in French). My sister had bought a house down in this area, and it was flooded to the point that it was uninhabitable. When I visited her, she was in a temporary rental.

One day, I went out running by myself, down to the Souris River. Even 500 feet from the river's banks, all was swept-over gravel, as if smoothed by once had been the river's rough and wild hand. It was still a vast, silent empty. The few businesses were closed, detritus of lumber and branches stacked to the side and in the front, clearly speaking to the nonoperational quality of what lay within.

One shuttered business, in a two-story wooden house with a porch, bore the sign, "Legacy Tattoo," in red letters on a white background, the lettering like that of a saloon. It was too evocative, that old tattoo parlor shuttered with the high plains eerie light hitting it. It got me moody, intrigued, and reflective on our legacies--ancestral and creaturely--and how they imprint us.

Read the poem here

2 Poems - "Sita and the Orangutans Sumatra Sutra" and "Lully Lullay"

Thanks to Alvin Pang and Ravi Shankar for publishing a couple poems in Drunken Boat, a special issue on the theme of Union, including poets from Singapore and the United States. I took the occasion to consider orangutans in Sumatra in "Sita and the Orangutans Sumatra Sutra."

I also included a poem "Lully Lullay," written Dec. 24, 2014, a jazzy livestream of upsetting headlines and songclips (Joni Mitchell and mournful Xmas tunes) and my neighborhood happenings including migrant birds' journeys, all against the background of the culture winding down to a standstill on the day before the holiday.

Read and Listen to the Poems Here

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Coqui Frog Gets Smaller, Song Gets Briefer & Higher

I am always curious about how our little creatures deep in the forests are experiencing changes due to our creation of more carbon dioxide in our global air. Let's take a look at the little coqui frog in the forests of Puerto Rico. The coqui has existed for more than 11,000 years and is a beloved protagonist in Puerto Rico's folklore, songs, and children's books.

UCLA Professor of Biology Peter Narins has been studying the coqui for 41 years. In 1983, he began a longitudinal study of the coqui, studying male frogs at 28 different altitudes, from near to sea level to up in the highest hills. Checking back in two decades later in 2006, he found that frogs had grown smaller, which is consistent with moving upward in elevation due to a rise in ambient temperature. Basically, the frogs found their current elevation too hot, so they moved upward in elevation, thus causing their offspring to be smaller as they migrated upward. During this same time period, the temperature had raised .5 degrees.

Not only had the frogs migrated to a higher elevation, but their songs had changed. Usually in Puerto Rico, the frogs at a lower elevation are shorter with a higher pitch in comparison with the lower, long songs of their brethren in the hills. Narins and his research partner Sebastiaan Meenderink found that, within a certain elevation, over the 2 decades, the frogs' song pitch had risen and also had grown shorter in duration.

The song is used for two purposes: the "co" part of the song is for territorial defense against other males, while the "-qui" part of the song is intended to impress female coqui frogs. Since the purpose of the latter song is to attract females to mate with, scientists predict that the briefer, higher-pitched song will decrease the coqui's reproductive success. In other words: briefer & higher song, fewer coqui females attracted, fewer baby coquis grown. This spells potential trouble, since the coqui exists within an entire interdependent web: the coquis are the prey of other animals such as "owls, snakes, land crabs," according to Stuart Wolpert.

Read the original research here

Ross Gay on Gratitude, Ancestors, Compost & Peace Knee Deep in Terra Firma

Ross Gay is a poet who digs gardens. That is, he really digs soil, gets knee deep in compost, nuzzles insects and aphids. He finds in the muck and unabashed fecund mix--love and the endings and origins of everything we need. Social justice swims in his gardens.

Check out this excerpt from his long poem "Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude," which appears in the beautiful online journal Waxwing.

Thank you the ancestor who loved you
before she knew you
by smuggling seeds into her braid for the long
journey, who loved you
before he knew you by putting
a walnut tree in the ground, who loved you
before she knew you by not slaughtering
the land; thank you
who did not bulldoze the ancient grove
of dates and olives,
who sailed his keys into the ocean
and walked softly home; who did not fire, who did not
plunge the head into the toilet, who said stop,
don’t do that; who lifted some broken
someone up; who volunteered
the way a plant birthed of the reseeding plant
is called a volunteer, like the plum tree
that marched beside the raised bed
in my garden, like the arugula that marched
itself between the blueberries,
nary a bayonette, nary an army, nary a nation,
which usage of the word volunteer
familiar to gardeners the wide world
made my pal shout “Oh!” and dance
and plunge his knuckles
into the lush soil before gobbling two strawberries
and digging a song from his guitar
made of wood from a tree someone planted, thank you
--Ross Gay excerpted from his long poem "Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude"

Photos are from the Bloomington Community Orchard, where Ross volunteers, site of inspiration for much of his poetry

Read Ross Gay's whole poem here

Friday, July 4, 2014

F--- - The Cup?

Mixed feelings about the World Cup. Totally excited to see Brazil and Colombia play. However, I’m dismayed at the manner in which protests at the start of the cup were brutally put down--to the point that we don’t see such protests now. Military force effectively created a climate of fear, which suppressed protest.

This might not be so worrisome if we hadn’t noticed other recent antidemocratic moves: for example, when the Supreme Federal Tribunal ignored constitutionally required processes of consulting indigenous people before approving enormous hydroelectric projects, including Belo Monte Dam.

According to the People’s Portal of the Cup, “the level of political repression of protestors during the 2014 World Cup, put on by FIFA, has proved to be beyond the level acceptable in a democratic state.” (July 1, 2014) Read more in Portuguese.

Here's a poem by my friend, Alex Simoes, poet & activist. Even before the cup, he and other citizens of Salvador, Bahia, were struck by tear gas as they tried to protest.

hell, I’ll tell ya, fuck the cup! “damn,
you’re messed up.” I’ll tell all, notwithstanding
I have so many reasons for screaming thus,
that it makes me happy to not have near at hand

such a grenade. skin open
& tears spouting are not the whole of the complaint.
it’s that I’m run rough trying to express
myself where, on the contrary,

protest is not possible. only because “in the end
it’s one immense political boondoggle”: coverup.
hell, I’ll tell ya, “there’s no need

for the use of bombs for moral effect
nor deployment of tear gas as a creed.”
yup, I say: fuck the world cup.

This World Cup in 2014 in Brazil has cost more than the last 4 World Cups--why?

ora (direis), foda-se a copa! “certo,
perdeste o senso”. e eu vos direi, no entanto
que para assim gritar eu tenho tantos
motivos, que me alegra não ter perto

de mim uma granada. o peito aberto
e a lágrima escorrendo não é quebranto,
é que tenho passado pelo aperto
de me manifestar onde, no entanto,

não é possível. só porque, “no fundo,
tudo é uma imensa ignorância política”,
ora direis, “que não é nada crítica

a utilização de bombas de efeito
moral e o gás lacrimogênio é bem feito”.
eu digo: foda-se a copa do mundo.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Before World Cup, Forced Removals of Salvador, Bahia Residents

You’ve probably heard about street protests in Brazil around the World Cup. But what exactly are the protesters’ complaints? One critique that hasn't reached the global media, but has been much discussed via word of mouth, is the following. In pre-World Cup preparations, Salvador's government conducted illegal removals of residents, sometimes to sanitize an area of poor residents. I had occasion to have a little glimpse of the “after” effect of such removals, and I'll share what I've heard from friends in the World Cup host city of Salvador.

In Jan. 2014 in Salvador, Bahia, I observed firsthand evidence that the government had cleared the area of poor residents. My hosts, Dalila Pinheiro and her partner, Sereno, were driving us along the low road that hugs the border of the Bay of All Saints. Salvador is divided into what locals call the high city and the low city, Cidade Alta and Cidade Baixa. There is actually a geographical fault that divides the two parts of the city, making the high city rise quite abruptly over the low, like a castle overlooking lowlands.

As we drove on the low road, Sereno (yes, it does mean Serene—his parents raised him in a hippie alternative community on the edge of Salvador) pointed out notable features.

Sereno gestured far up toward a structure jutting out from the steep escarpment above, and connected by a thin, high column to the lower city. This is the Elevador Lacerda, at 236 feet high the main transport between high and low city. The Elevador transports people to and from the Plaza Cairu to the Plaza Thomé da Souza, where a central market is located, and major free concerts take place. A week or so later, I would hear Brazilian pop giant Daniela Mercury play in the lower plaza.

Elevator seems a strange word for what is, since every other elevator I’ve known has been inside a building, guarded in its core. This elevator is 236 feet high, a stand-alone, straight up and down column. From its well-fortified base in the upper hillside, a long “hallway” juts straight out, in width and depth mirroring the column it adjoins, forming in shape something like half a picture frame.

Later that week after New Year's 2014, when I was up at the top of the Lacerda, waiting to go down to the Daniela Mercury concert, I stood in line with hundreds of others, the line filing through the upper hallway, surrounded on both sides by glass. The line is enough of a fixture that a small stand sells coffee, soda, and snacks for your wait. To the left was an orange smear over the Bay of All Saints. Dimly perceived was the fact of boats in the bay. The view was less than clear, as the slightly tinted glass was greased with swipes of what must have been a day of body parts nudging nearer to the would-be spectacular view.

Driving now with Dalila and Sereno below the Lacerda, I followed his finger as he pointed up the steep hill toward it. Beneath the form of the signature structure, a green lawn adjoined its base, running in length perhaps an 1/8 of a mile.

The lawn cued my U.S. self, trained to see green lawn around public edifice—say, a capitol building, a stately Frank Lloyd Wright-designed public garden—as a mark of the distinguished quality of said edifice.

“Nice!” I thought, as I craned my neck up toward the wall of the upper city edged by a swath of green unusual in Salvador.

If I’d thought a moment, I might have wondered: In a city crowded with poor, where every meter is contested and used territory, how would such an unfenced section of lawn have come about, here in the center of Salvador?

The unasked question found its answer in the next moment. Dalila explained that the government had expelled the poor families who had been living in crowded buildings, which were razed. The relatively tidy green, to which my U.S. self responded as a marker of beauty and social order, in fact indicated the opposite, an unseemly uprooting of families, many of whom had been living in the spot, growing community for generations. These families had been on this spot in the descriptions of novelist and son of the city Jorge Amado, who wrote his famous novels on the city and its denizens.

According to my friend, Salvador resident, writer and activist Alex Simões, the residents were removed in the middle of the night from their houses. He cites about 70 persons being removed from their houses in the area around the Ladeira da Preguiça, made famous by Brazilian classic singer Elis Regina. A ladeira is a very steep street, a kind of alleyway. The city government claimed, as pretext for the residents’ expulsion, that the path moving through the community had been unsafe and filled with crack users. My friend, poet Nilson Galvão, also a Salvador resident, adds that he heard that some of the people removed in the middle of the night were taken to shelters. Alex reports that some others are in very simple hotels (probably our equivalent would be SROs or boarding houses), which, for now, the city is paying for.

After this first wave, uprooting families who had lived in the area for generations, the city implemented other actions to clear the area. I was shocked to hear from Alex Simões that the city arranged for a big truck to go through the streets, literally washing, with high force water jets, the streets. Anyone living on the streets was literally washed away. As Alex ironically noted, "Solution: no beggars in the city center." And then, quickly were put on the city's books two ordinances that allow for dozens of buildings to be appropriated "for public ends." Public use for these cleared-out buildings has yet to occur, leading Alex to suspect collusion between city government and private hotel companies, which have long wanted to create a hotel zone of this area.

Dalila reports that, since I visited, even more removals have occurred around the general area of the Avenida Contorno, near to the Marina Bahia. The removals include the Ladeira of the Mountain. When I told her I couldn't find much online to do with the removals, she noted that this is not by chance, as the media channels in Salvador have observed a blackout on the theme.

These removals in Salvador are part of a larger trend of pre-World Cup actions. According to the Portal Popular da Copa in an article dated March 4, 2014, on that day in the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Giselle Tanaka, from ANCOP (National Articulation with the Public Committees of the Cup), would present briefly on forced removals made in the context of preparation for the World Cup and for the Olympics. ANCOP would ask the Council to demand that the Brazilian government stop all forced removals of people, make a plan to give removed residents reparations, and a plan to guarantee human rights in the future in unforseen removals by act of nature. To read more in Portuguese, click here.

Later that week in Jan. 2014, after I heard Daniela Mercury play a night concert on the Plaza Thomé da Souza, packed body to body (most of them taller than mine), I was grateful to push through the crowd to stand in line to be elevatored back. Once securely back in the Plaza Cairu, I took advantage of the sudden availability of extra oxygen, not returning right away to Dalila and Sereno's apartment in Santo Antônio Além do Carmo, but tarrying a bit on the ramparts to the side of the Elevador Lacerda. With the other night lingerers, citizens of Salvador and Brazilian tourists, I leaned against the stone wall and looked out across the distance to the little lights of small boats in the Bay of All Saints.

And every so often, which is to say often, I looked down the steep incline to the lower city, where new, white lights illuminated the bright green lawn below, impeccable as a park.

Thanks to Dalila Pinheiro, Alex Simões, and Nilson Galvão for their reportage.

Monday, May 5, 2014

2 Poems in Poetry Magazine

I am thrilled that two of my poems appear in the Nov. 2013 issue of Poetry magazine.

One poem is based on my experiences in Rio de Janeiro in June 2010, in a community (some would say favela) called Chacara do Ceu. Roughly translated, it means "little ranch in heaven."

Read "Samba in the Sky" here.

The second poem, "Medusa on Sansome and Pine," is set in San Franciso's Financial District, and features a conflict of perspectives about what it means to be successful.

Read "Medusa on Sansome and Pine" here.

Thanks to Don Share, Lindsay Garbutt, and Fred Sasaki at the Poetry Foundation.