Sunday, November 24, 2013
Below are some snippets of things from the novel I’ve been working on. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I fail my creative writing classes because I’m busy working on a novel?
Anyway, the novel is sort of a fictional travelogue across an LA that is only half real. LA is a great settling for that because LA is really only about half real most of the time anyway. The novel is both prose (which I admit is very raw at this point) and poetry (which is not just raw but would have gotten me stoned in an earlier age). Below is a section that occurs as the narrator and his (Dr. Who-esque) companion, Viv, leave the Getty Center and head into the Valley. In a fake travelogue I think it is important to be able to distill history into fast little narrative bits. I’ve written several of these so far but I especially like this one. I know it is going to require a lot of tightening up, but hell, you try to write one and then come talk to me about tightening up when you’re exhausted.
An Entirely Subjective History of Los Angeles and The San Fernando Valley.
by james bezerra
The best metaphor for understanding the way in which modern Los Angeles has grown is the metaphor of cancer.
If cancer is, at its simplest, just the rampant and uncontrollable division of mutated cells, then remember that Los Angeles, in its pre-mutation form, began more than a thousand years ago when the Tongva people gave it a name: Iyaanga. It means something along the lines of, “place of poison oak”. Some people who know about these things believe that the Tongva actually descended from tribes out of Nevada which migrated to the coast of southern California fifteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, or roughly the same time that Cecrops I was founding Athens. There is some evidence that the Tongva forced out a different prehistoric tribe which had been in the area for six thousand years before that, grinding grain at the base of the San Gabriel mountains while farming was only beginning to take place in the Nile River Valley. So who can really say where a cancer starts? Maybe it is always just a latent memory.
When the Spanish ships arrived in 1542, they were greeted by the Tongva’s ocean-going, twelve-man canoes. The sturdiness of those canoes was attributable to three thousand years of experiments in engineering and also to the thick black pitch from the La Brea Tar Pits, which today have a gift shop.
It was the Spanish who named the place El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula, which means something like “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Porciuncula River”. By that name, of course, they were referring to the LA River which is now a dry chasm of concrete. The Spanish built missions and cleared ranch land, and little changed even when it passed to Mexican control, Mexico was still called New Spain in 1821. A blurry and sometimes bloody twenty-six years passed with little changing but politics and loyalties. The United States took control of the whole place on January 13, 1847 with a military treaty signed at the Campo de Cahuenga, which still exists. It is across the street from the Universal Studios movie-themed amusement park. Both Universal Studios and the Campo de Cahuenga have gift shops.
There are two changes which are generally indicative of the cellular mutations that cause cancer: the unchecked multiplication of cells and the diversion of blood flow required to feed that malignant cluster.
In 1892 oil was discovered 460 feet below what is now the corner of Colton Street and Glendale Boulevard, less than a mile from the present site of Dodger Stadium, which has a gift shop. The resulting oil boom and its concurrence with the waning days of the California Gold Rush caused the population of Los Angeles to multiply until it had swelled to more than one hundred thousand by 1900. The resulting pressure on the city’s water supply became manifest in the Federal legislation which created the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which would, over time, drain the Owens Valley dry. That same legislation gave Los Angeles access to the aquifer below the San Fernando Valley, over the hill the north. Provisions of that legislation prevented the City of Los Angeles from selling that water back to the farmers who grew wheat and grapes and citrus fruit in the Valley, because they were not within the city limits. Quickly the little farm towns which sat at the bottom of the 260 square mile bowl of the San Fernando Valley begged to be annexed into the jurisdiction of the City of Los Angeles. With the economic and population booms that followed World War II, LA needed somewhere to keep its people, having already filled its own space. The San Fernando Valley was ripe for suburban sprawl as it was already connected to the Los Angeles Basin by a natural gorge through the Santa Monica Mountains called the Sepulveda Pass. In 1957 construction began on the 405 Freeway which would forever forward link LA to the Valley like a hardened artery. Nested atop the southern edge of the Pass, above the freeway and looking south to Downtown and West to the Pacific Ocean, sits the Getty Center which gleams white like a mirage when the sun is out. It has a gift shop. Through the 1950s nearly all of the Valley farmland was concreted over to make space for a shockingly inefficient grid system of streets and for subdivisions of single-family homes which were built with the same energy and interchangeability of parts which had so recently served the war effort to such great success. There are still a few tiny ghettos of citrus farmland in the modern Valley. Tourist brochures refer to them as open air museum groves. One of them is a small stand of orange trees on the campus of California State University Northridge, it is located on the south side of campus along Nordhoff Street across from a gas station and a Cupid’s Hot dog stand. The hot dog stand does not have a gift shop but the CSUN bookstore sells all manner of branded commemorative trinkets.
The direct connection a tumor establishes to the bloodstream provides it with more than just a means of sustenance, it also creates a highway through which mutated cells may travel through the rest of the body.
Portions of the population looking to escape the suburban sprawl of the San Fernando Valley moved north over the Santa Susanna Mountains into the Santa Clarita Valley, which was formerly notable only for the Newhall Pass through which the Southern Pacific Railroad moved its trains between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and for the 262 acre Six Flags Magic Mountain roller coaster amusement park built there in 1971. The amusement park offers numerous gift shops. Other population booms have occurred to the west in the Santa Clara River Valley along State Route 126, where citrus and fruit farmland has been rezoned to serve the expansions of Santa Paula and Fillmore. Further to the northeast, population expansion has metastasized into the Antelope Valley which is a desolate high desert of more than two thousand square miles named for the pronghorned deer-like animals - unrelated to but resembling eurasian antelopes - which lived there until being hunted out of existence in 1888. Most of the Antelope Valley grows little food and possesses even less water.
Cancerous cells which leave their initial cluster and spread throughout the body can eventually form their own new clusters in new locations through the perversion of the natural process angiogenesis, thereby allowing the new clusters to begin siphoning off blood supply on their own.
Population growth in the Antelope Valley has depleted the existing ground water aquifer to such a degree that land subsidence has begun to occur, whereby the ground level itself is dropping. From it’s main population centers of Palmdale and Lancaster, it is impossible to see across the desert and mountains back down into the cancerous cluster that is Los Angeles, but the fragility of the very ground there is indicative enough of its presence.
Viv eyes me in the cab, “I only asked where we’re going.”
“Oh, right. Sorry. We’re going to The Valley.”
Below is something I hesitate to call a poem. Thank the Baby Jesus for Open Form poetry, right? I have been working on this for a little while. This is a character wandering around the CSU Northridge campus at night. The novel I’m working on is both a love note to and a fuck you to the greater Los Angeles area.
A Walk Across the Campus at Night
by james bezerra
At night the campus is an other city.
At night, I’ve found, it’s empty
but for the muses who I hunt there.
Its empty parking lots sprawl like
an asphalt Serengeti. Its empty well-lit
garages with their concrete angles
suggest complex mathematical
models about weight and shadow.
Its silent broad buildings lit by
yellow aura low pressure sodium lamps
like modern castles quiet and abandoned
before some advancing horde which
always follows the moon. Its quads sit empty,
ashamed town squares after a massacre or
an oppressed protest.
The library in the center of campus
glows brightest of all. Its square heavy stone
facade the color of a rocky desert. It almost
hovers like an ancient Egyptian starship,
it’s wide high steps lit up like a landing strip.
Oh, and here’s my sad gaunt English building.
It has a clock on its tower to remind the wayward
poets of the invincibility of time, and that class
is inexorably approaching as is their future
of professional obscurity. Poets so often
lose their power when they leave here,
the world of rent and bills, of stocks and bonds,
of Stafford loans come due and office jobs
retires every hope they’d learned here
how to hope and how to name.
Beyond that: recall what Jimmy Stirling said
of campuses as architectural zoos: the
Film and TV building like half a boat with a hat.
The Math Department rendered in the most boring
sort of boring red brick and even its boring courtyards
are open up to the sky, which somehow is made
to looks boring 73 and a half percent of the time.
The Performing Arts building, which sells tickets
that students can’t afford, looks like a spaceport
made of light and glass and recycled oxygen,
or maybe like one of those boxes
that radio stations put you in, filled with tornados
of money which you can never seem to grab ahold of.
The manicured grounds around it are lit like
a garden party with a moat. Nearby, and unlit at night,
the concentric rings of the earthquake memorial
are surrounded by broken benches made of rubble.
The older building have all the joy of Soviet
apartment blocks, but the botanical garden is
luxuriously overgrown with plants whose
latin names adorn metal plaques stained by rain,
and it is positively infested with feral cats,
who always adore me: because
we always recognize our own.
I like sometimes to sit in the old orange grove
at the edge of campus along a street that
wasn’t here in 1929 when the first trees went in,
maybe as a windbreak against the Depression
blowing in from the East like so much dust.
What once was one thousand five hundred
acres of Mandarin oranges is now one acre
of Mandarin oranges. 400 trees still
in pretty rows: that’s a survival rate of less
than seven percent: A genocide of oranges
has taken place on this hallowed ground.
That wasn’t quite enough for someone though,
so they’ve put in a water feature: a rock fountain
and little creek that’s filled with clipped-wing ducks
which you can feed for a couple quarters in the dispenser,
or for free if you bring bread, like me.
It is pleasant enough here though, the trees and water burble
deaden the city sounds, or maybe, make them sound
like wind. The orange scent always reminds me
of persimmons and persimmons always remind me
of a woman in Ohio who loved me for a week or two
and who always ate persimmons after we made love,
while I smoked a cigarette out her window, and
who when she put me on a train, shoved three
persimmons in my palm and said:
For the trip.
Walking back across the other city
on paths that seem to make no sense but
which probably look nice to birds, and
think of DC or Paris and of boulevards
which move at angles. Crossing the dark think
how nice the moonlight looks across these buildings
and thank I.M. Pei, who never worked here
but who thought a lot about light.
Cross Cleary Court which would look quite
at home in Brasilia: so pretty, so clean,
and so vacant. Juniper Hall with square windows
which look like castle loops for cannons and
the little Noski auditorium at the end of the court,
always so well lit and with its roof jutting
at such a shocking angle as to suggest
a Roman temple has just crash landed.
I cross back across that asphalt Serengeti
and I know that I’m leaving the city empty.
Empty now because I am gone and I am -
I think - its last known citizen. It joins
the ranks of Troy and Machu Picchu,
Chernobyl and Varosha in Famagusta,
Atlantis and the base at Orford Ness.I am gone and the city is empty without me.
So if you got here by reading the posts above then you know that what’s below is a bit of a novel I’m working on. In this (dare I call it a) poem, one of the characters goes to The Getty Center, which if you have never been there, is one of the most bestest museums in the world! Oh, and an “illuminated manuscript” is one of those books that Indiana Jones and Monty Python are always finding, it’s like a giant old book with ink and gold leaf illustrations illustrating the text.
Five Thoughts I Had at The Museum
by james bezerra
I find a wide dim room of medieval
illuminated manuscripts, so called.
Each one illuminated too by a single lamp,
looking then like beacons
glowing through a dark age.
One must remember that oil money
bought all this history here and built
these buildings around it too.
Millenias’ old black liquid dinosaurs
without which there would be fewer
fortunes in the world. Nor any of these buildings.
Nor this strange city that spreads like strawberry runners
rendered in bituminous pitch through the natural canyons in the hills.
An episode from the Getty family history:
In 1973 a grandson kidnapped in Italy.
A seventeen million dollar ransom refused.
An ear arrives in the mail.
Demand drops to $3.2 mil.
Getty again defers. Decrees: $2.2 only,
the max that’s tax deductible. The IRS
has rules about these things, after all.
All this beauty bought by business.
All this art afforded by oil.
Dead painters had patrons.
Who are the patrons now,
while painters starve? And so
do the rest of us. How much
money at the top, can our
skinny poor shoulders prop up?
At least they give us these beautiful
places and we’re placated.
Manuscript parchment was made from animal skins.
Skins soaked in lime water to loosen hair and flesh.Then stretched and scraped and stretched and cut.
These glittering old books once breathed.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Even if I’m wrong about god and his interventionist tendencies I still can’t imagine that he’s without a wye sense of humor and so I’m left to think of a moment in the future when I’m standing at the pearly gates and Saint Peter (who I imagine has no sense of humor whatsoever)looks down at me and asks, “So do you want to answer for this rather long list of sins or do you just want to go straight to purgatory and hang out with Sinatra and George Clooney and the tailor who makes their suits and the bartender in a skirt who always remembers what you’re drinking?” And for Peter’s sake I will pretend for a moment that I am thinking about how to answer. If you ever need to find me though, I’m the guy by the bar getting his inseam measured.
Monday, November 18, 2013
by james bezerra
The Girl in my bed
is breathing quite softly now
and dreaming dreams of moths.
Those slight gray butterflies
who’d be so beautiful in a world
of black and white.
The Girl in my bed
is breathing so softly now
her dreams aglow with pale light.
Her moths like clouds around a sun
circling and circling, but nothing to be done.
The Girl in my bed
is breathing slow and softly now
her dreams all flutter
The Girl in my bed
is breathing very softly now
to slow the beating wings
The Girl in my bed
is breathing softly now.
The Girl in my bed.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
As I said before, I am in the midsts of trying to complete a NaNoWriMo novel right now (50,000 words in a month!) and the story I’m working on requires me to write snippets of poetry and such which are part of a fictitious collection. Below is something of a flash fiction/prose poem I cranked out the other day and I’m not convinced that it completely sucks. So I have that going for me.