Monday, October 31, 2011

A Thief Sleeps on the Couch Downstairs

This fear seems awful silly now,
this acid belly flood
when Dan the piano man says how
he found your money blood

We talked and talked like fans of Bird
so many weeks ago
of antics Dan had played absurd
it was not just a show

Some creeps on this side of the night
are not so very bad
but when he followed her with fright
they knew they had been had

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eager Visions

“In the land of Janaki, there exists a tall cylindrical edifice covered in alabaster that serves as both a tomb and a monastery for fertile academic minds. First built in the decades following the ill-fated Keshite invasion, it did not become a tomb until centuries later. The insectivorious King Grimmage III committed his life to quiet study in the building and when he died he left strict instructions to be buried in the structure that was from that day forth to be known as Grimmage Tower.

“Grimmage Tower developed a reputation as the most prestigious refuge for those citizens of Janaki blessed with enormous gifts of scientific, analytic, artistic or literary character. To be invited to Grimmage Tower is a great honor, and many of Janaki’s brightest lights spend years working in its catacomb cells before eventually being buried in its mausoleum. The admission of an individual working in a field heretofore unrepresented inside Grimmage signals a new respectability for that endeavor, as was the case when Prasad Venedin entered for his pioneering work in information analytics.

“Prasad usually had a drink at Alexandrine’s after work, but after receiving word of his invitation he decided to head home immediately to dress up for a night out in celebration. He wore a caerulean cape hand dyed with smashed bodies of a type of beetle found only in the rain forests of the tropical region of Janaki. While wearing the cape prior to this day had made Prasad feel insecure about ostentatiously displaying aspirations of fully joining the intelligentsia, he now felt that he truly earned its lush appearance.”

Carly Bryann Young took her hands off the keyboard and leaned back in her chair. Her mind had been focusing on three things: the text she had written, what she planned to say next, and an idea of how her as yet non-existent readership would interpret each sentence she had composed. But now as she paused from these cognitively intense tasks, anxiety washed over her. She felt nervous about borrowing the name Janaki for the imagined country that was the setting for this story. She first heard the word in a song and liked how it sounded, but she knew little about the Indian subcontinent and therefore could not determine what connotations it might carry for those that did.

She also worried about dealing with ethnicity. Yet it was an exciting worry. She had completed a 500 page hard fantasy trilogy when she was ten years old that after a generous referral from author Leonard Colbeck was reviewed by an editor at Crooked Timber Books. At fourteen, her glo-fi play almost won a national playwriting competition in New York City. Almost. She had learned to loathe the word. She had been told that in this industry (she always used the term ‘industry’) that one can die of encouragement, and she felt that was true. She didn’t need any more pats on the head. She was nineteen and way beyond that. She felt ready for the next step.

For some reason she felt that next step was to attempt to invent a new genre. She wanted to combine the otherworldly color of the work she had come to love as a kid with more realistic politics, ethnicity, and social criticism all written in a tense, journalistic prose style more often found in nonfiction. Time will tell if she succeeds.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Invective Incitement

Robots and Monsters huddle around
the embers of our campfire
fiends gnashing their teeth
in your unimagined paradise
with the Red Army here and the Blue Army there
a tremendous wiggle loosed on the lot

Guillermo Credenza
that most magical bishop
yields before the developing
world of business disasters
wishing most earnestly to be described
as ursine

How to react to these foreseen
machinations? drink my laughs
you old plate of soup
before we prepare for murders
Monsters must burn
Robots must burst

When Credenza sings
"The Maltese Jew"
at Christmastime
Sweet Jumpin' Christmas Time!
Oh how we feel ready
to carry out his dark designs

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Great Rock Hunt Tour Adventure

An abridged version of this article I wrote just short of a year ago was originally published in the zine Connect the Dots. The online supplement to Connect the Dots can be found here.

When my editor called with an assignment about a rumor she had heard in Solano about some Ohlone shaman who had apparently carved mystical Kuksu inscriptions on five great rocks in the hundreds of years prior to white settlement in what is now North Berkeley, I was intrigued. Knowing the Ohlone – famous for their giant shell mounds as well as their skill at dancing on the rim of the world – I was certain I had a killer story on my hands. So certain that I briefly considered hiring a semiotician to assist me in decrypting the strange Ohlone symbols before abandoning the idea because I did not want to go overbudget on my very first assignment for the publication.

My editor directed me towards the Friends of Five Creeks, who have uncovered some of the history of Berkeley’s major rock parks as part their conservationist efforts. While these mysterious geophile Friends did not respond to requests for an interview, I gleaned some useful background from their website. Berkeley boasts five splendorous rock parks made of lavas from the last few million years: Great Stone Face, Indian, Mortar, Grotto and Cragmont. I resolved to uncover the hidden secrets of each in turn.

In a past life, I had already encountered Indian Rock and its intoxicating views but the others were unknown to me up until this point. So I would need a map if my rock hunt tour adventure were to succeed. Scorning my usual method of printing a map off a website called “The Google Maps,” I drew my own plot with all of the important roads and landmarks set out in pencilstroke. I planned to set off in a Northwesterly direction from Shattuck and Hearst and return to civilization via Euclid Avenue. On a chilly November day, I snaked past Safeway and over a large tunnel to arrive at The Circle, a magical font of suburban spirit waters and also the source of ALL ROADS in Berkeley. Choosing among dozens of drives, alleys and avenues, I followed Arlington Aven. This took me to my first destination.

The Great Stone Face, contrary to its name, appeared less imposing then my memory of Indian Rock. However, when I tried to climb it, I came to understand its magnitude. As I squeezed its side desperately, my breath becoming short, a woman named Julia appeared and asked me if I smoked cigarettes. Julia told me she had spent the previous summer in a hospital where she met Biggie Smalls and Method Man among other notables. This half crazed rambler subsequently distracted me from my mission by offering me avocado crackers and a pint of beer while she went to find a knife that she said she needed to make guacamole.

I sat on the park’s lone bench debating whether I could afford to tax my serotonin levels so soon after last weekend by eating the mushrooms I had hidden from myself in my jacket pocket. It may be the only way for me to operate on the same manic wavelength that Julia inhabits while allowing me a chance at the holy moment I knew I would need to make my article great. But before my professional side could offer a riposte I was interrupted by two traveling magazine sales-ladies that Julia had made vague reference to in our earlier conversation. They had come to meet Julia and drink her beer and I did not stand in their way. While they explained how houses of the Berkeley Hills were some of the nicest they had ever seen in their extensive exploits across America, I noticed the sunlight dwindling and remembered the other four rocks I was meant to investigate. The day was growing ancient and I had not found a single hallowed mark yet. With that, I took leave of Great Stone Face but not before Julia returned and insisted I take some photos of the three of them in an absurd one-handed pose that eludes further elaboration.

Sailing back to The Circle with all deliberate speed, I walked up another spoke on its wheel of routes: Indian Rock Avenue. As the sun dropped rapidly towards the horizon, a grand vision appeared before me of a spiritual watchguide of half-Ohlone, half-Friends-of-Five-Creeks-cultist descent. The luminous Archana Ram told me to skip Indian Rock as I approached it, as I already knew it well enough from earlier romantic rendezvous and anyway it was currently occupied by a gruesome nest of jackasses I would not care to encounter. She led me onto Mortar Rock where she explained that the Ohlone once used thick pestles to grind acorns into flour on this rock eventually forming hollows in the outcrops. Hence the name Mortar, I surmised, but as I did she disappeared into the thick brambles and trees surrounding the boulder. Sensing the swift encroach of forboding darkness, I climbed up the many necks of an enormous tree-like serpent, an arboreal hydra that intersected with the crest of Mortar. I surveyed the holey rock, looking for shamanistic carvings but finding only grinding indentations. When I peered into a shimmering pool in one of these hollows, Archana’s face appeared and then emerged into the temporal world to send me sliding back down the smooth nape of a thick tree arm.

I hurried down the street at her exhortations commanding me to get to Grotto Rock before sunset finally expired. I was glad I did because it’s a truly magnificent geological sight to behold. It’s much larger than any of the other rocks, and a web of enticing crevices and caves complicates its broad face. After I scaled it using the helpful stone stairs cut by one parks service or another, I looked out at the gorgeous one hundred eighty degree view of the San Francisco Bay and its surrounding environs. Disillusionment clouded the resplendent colors of the setting sun as once again I found no Ohlone glyphs anywhere on Grotto. I had a smoke and suddenly noticed some markings in blue, white and black. Excited at first, I quickly realized they had been drawn with spray paint. Perhaps these were the only purposeful symbols I would find: those of the wild-eyed contemporary Berkeley ruffian. But that’s not so bad, I thought as I noted the groups of worshippers who shared Grotto with me that evening to commemorate the daily passing of Ra.

When nightfall had taken hold and the others had left, I began to spelunk in the grandest crevasse that Grotto Rock had to offer. Shimmying and sliding with zeal, I heard the distant sound of a gruff voice intoning, “You’re making me mad, I’m tryin’ to be here with my friends!” Now will I in the chink see the phantoms of the crevasses here in this ghostly grotto? But no, as I tumbled out of the cavern and onto Santa Barbara Road, I realized it was just the voice of just such a ruffian as I mentioned earlier. Onward.

I made my way due east. It was quite dark when I reached Euclid Avenue, off of which Cragmont Rock was supposed to lie. I scrambled around in the gloom looking for the final stone park to complete my journey, but every shadow started to look like a rock. I was deceived by large bush here, a sloping driveway there. When I finally stumbled upon the park that contained Cragmont, I was greeted by a sign that read, “Barbecue Safely…Please Make Sure Your Coals Are Out !” And so it was that I discovered the holy rites of Berkeley’s great rock parks. Shaman had left no secret messages. Instead, what was once a place for Ohlone women to grind seeds and berries had become a place for the modern American rituals of barbecue, graffiti and sunset watching with friends. Archana Ram tried to tell me, but I didn’t listen. Now I know, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dripping Noise (From Your Damn Mouth)

The sounds you create anywhere are
repeated every minute of every day &
if I can hear the hands of the clock then
I will ignore those sounds you pro-duce at
dawn and dusk because too much else is
gaining and losing my attention thus
I have none left for you except
a thank you a God Bless You but
he say you didn't believe in
those old tales only the new stories that
you tell Strings lonely with doubt out
of the past crying dangerously for
more of those hit pops off
the record left to you by
that wicked corpse you call a
father.
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