Addendum and etcetera

Announcing: Californios

So the estimable poet Timothy Bartel and I have started a literary journal named after the old Spanish term for natives of the Golden State: Californios. Our first issue is available for free download HERE. It features poetry by Phillip Aijian, Anna Barber, t.a.b.carroll, and myself, as well as Fiction by Christian Bearup and Jayne Meyncke and Special Music by Benjamin E. Bartel. Also, there are a couple of my own poems. Enjoy!

-Jonathan Diaz, Co-Editor, Californios

Fragment (Walk in Closets)

            The new house was an immense and clean-walled palace at the edge of the somber vastness that the Real Estate people had come to call the Inland Empire. The lawns were kept close and small, split up and divided by stone walls of dusty rose, interrupted by lithe and narrow saplings of indeterminable trees. Inside, the dim-set lamps and soft-toned paint schemes blushed through the rooms in soporific extravagance. The stairs were swathed in the lush down of discount carpet, and the rooms had walk-in closets.

            Peter and Melissa regarded them in the same way as they did each one of the house’s abundant luxuries: with disinterested consumption, filling it with themselves and their possessions.

            To their son, Jacob, the closets were places of deep and profound wonder. On moving day, he scurried into the sun-filled master bedroom, diving behind boxes and into a dusky corner where he curled up and watched the settling of innumerable kingdoms of dust on the edges of ragged cardboard canyons.

Hardly the Same

            The mountains here run north to south. I noticed this because the sun was setting, and it was disappearing behind the black peaks, still casting fire into the sky as it descended out of sight. Back home, my mountains, the San Gabriel mountains, run east to west and the sun never dips behind them, but goes in the same direction, so that when it sets, it hurls its flames on the hillsides, so that everything is ablaze and golden until the last minutes of dusk.

            My mountains are named for Saint Gabriel, the messenger of God. The Talmud calls him “The Lord of Fire,” which I like. The mountains here are named for a quality, an adjective: the Rocky Mountains. Steinbeck would approve. He preferred the American way of naming things to the Spanish. The Americans, both European and Native, give descriptive names, names for stories that happened there. Wounded Knee. Shirt Tail Canyon. Mustang Grade. Rocky Mountains. The Spanish brought their geography with them in leather books, crucifixes, rosaries, and the hearts of men, taking our hills and giving to them the Gospel and the Saints.

            You must understand, I am not saying that one is the better way. It probably is so, that one is better, but I’m not interested in that just now. I’m interested in the differences of places, the distance between us and how we manage to live somewhere in that distance. These things, rocks and air and soil: they are hardly the same. You and I: we are hardly the same.

            And yet, we cope somehow. In some deep mystery, wholes are made of disparate things. Somehow, one Great Schism, a Reformation, and an infinitude of rebellions later, and we are still a Church. Somehow.

            I do not know how.

            I have come to Colorado Springs this summer, to the Focus on the Family Leadership institute. I came for so many reasons, I could not tell you all of them. It would not be false to tell you I am here because of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the murdered King of Mexico: because they have taught me that virtue rests in humility and obedience, and I have come to learn. It would also not be false to tell you that I am here because of Adventures in Odyssey and the mountains: because they have taught that wonder is an activity of a well-ordered soul, and I have come to see. I am here, however, for more than these.

            One of the problems of being here is that I am as far and as near to this place as my mountains are: so similar and so unlike. These mountains, though miles more vast, are the same textures and ridges as my own, the same dim edge of pines and boulders: but they run north to south. They hide the sun at dusk, and worst of all, they have no Patron Saint.

            As far and near as these.

            I am an Evangelical, and I am not an Evangelical. I hope that this is not alarming, and that it is not offensive- I am not angry at anyone. This is simply that fact of the matter. I wish it wasn’t.

            I know this man, who is a little like my brother and a little like my father. I found him the first month of college, when for the first time in my life I felt conspicuously Mexican, despite my pale skin. I went to him because his name was Spanish and he was a writer and professor in the program I study in, and I wanted to talk to him, to talk to anyone who knew what it was like to be hardly the same. He told me he was sorry, that he grew up surfing in Orange County and didn’t know what to tell me: but he did not let me go. I tried to play it off, as if it was a passing interest, but he called me on it: he could see that I was desperate to know how to go about this, being so far and near to a thing, a thing you love, a community that has borne the Very Grace of God to you.

            It is such a terrifying thing, being seen. 

            This man I know, he told me what he tells so many, that we must learn to live in the tension. He repeated it in class several times. Probably not so many as I would think: we have come to know him by this, and we repeat it to ourselves when we feel the pull of opposite things, things we could not reject if we tried, so strong that they might undo us. 

            It would be a facile thing to say, except that it isn’t. It is the truest thing he says, this man. From someone else, it might be a rescinding of the very point of a question, an abandonment of the answer: but he says it with conviction and without irony, because it is almost a sacred thing, this tension: it is like the arms of the cross, stretching and pulling God the Son so tight he might be torn in to: but, somehow, He is not.

            And, somehow, this is how we are meant to live: ever about to be torn in two. This is what it is like to love in a disparate world. This man, who is a little like my brother and a little like my father: he has this love for his wife and their two sons that is all quiet and raging and vast. And it is such an impossible thing, to love like this, when we are all as beautiful and as vile as ever. And it is such an impossible thing to belong anywhere, by yourself, let alone with a family, the magnificence and terror of tying yourself to another person, soul and body, and bringing up these new things, glorious and flawed and beloved of God, and all the while, you are being torn in two, trying to make sense of belonging and not belonging and being hardly the same.

            Somehow, you remain whole:

            This man I am speaking of, he knows this. It is his daily life, this tension, this paradox, this somehow.

            It is this that I have come to learn.

Fragment (Et In Arcadia Ego)

From a short story I’m working on:

             Seasons come late to Southern California: Spring comes the latest, but also largest and liveliest, touching alike the fist-tight buds at ends of trees and the fresh-set freeway billboards. Spring is a surging season, a time for gods to raise their heads and set their hands to the quickening of all things, paper and steel no less petal and bough. Alex Sandoval held no gods in his heart, but he felt this quickening, felt it in the brightness of the poppies along the 57 south, felt it in the loudness of the late afternoon concerts and farmers markets near his home in Monrovia, and felt it, most of all, in the sanguine and intimate corridors of his own flesh.

Agony in the Loveliest of Gardens

            The signs of spring are smeared all over my car. A few days ago, I parked underneath the berry tree in our front yard, and the tiny flowers and buds showered down and stuck to the ghost-white hood and windshield. Even now, I cannot get rid of them: they cling, irrevocable pieces of green that no speed can tear off. I am afraid they will take root, even in this glass and metal, and turn the car into a mound of silent foliage with me inside it.

            The day the flowers fell, there was such brightness and wind I could not stay inside: but also, I could not think of anywhere I wanted to go, so I sat on the trunk of my car and read Annie Dillard and thought of how all her mountains, in Oregon and Virginia are so unlike these mountains, these Archangel announcing mounains. While I thought these things, the wind wrapped heavy around me and flung the petals of my mother’s roses, large and pink onto the concrete and lawn and gutter as tender as matrimony.  

Across the street, the felled and hollow trunk of a tree sat neglected in our neighbor’s yard: it is still there. It has been there so long. The tree it used to be a part of was squat and whithered and hardly held any leaves, but what leaves there were would turn crimson and violet in the fall. Now, it can only be burnt brown against the young-wheat green of unmowed lawns. A few weeks ago, almost a hundred dandelions were surrounding it; full, round, un-wished on dandelions.

            This is the Holiest of Holy weeks, and tonight the night of the Agony in the Garden. Tonight, after holding up the cup and promising his continued self-outpouring for us men and for our salvation, God went into a garden and poured out his blood, weeping it out of his eyes.

            The garden, it would seem, must have been beautiful. It must have been as bold as spring could ever be: and yet, we remember its name with fear, because it is holy and because it is terrible.  The sunlight, the green, the surging palm and eucalyptus in eternal hossana, the rose-swept concrete: it is only fitting that this, the most tender and lovely of all times is the time of these Sorrowful Mysteries. 

Fragment (Regarding Herons)

I was driving home the other day, after having been awake for several days; excepting only the few hours I spent half-asleep in an armchair. I wanted to get home as quickly as I could and sleep. It was not too long after five o’clock, and the people were coming home from work and I should have known not to drive, but you understand I desperately wanted to get home. The exit ramp on the 10 East was so clogged that I continued on past it, out of Baldwin Park and past Azusa and Irwindale to the 210. I was in the exit lane, but when a space opened up in the fast-moving lane next to me, I took it and drove off into that sunset-singed stretch of the 605 between the 10 and the 210 where cranes rise out of the gravel pits like the immense necks of beasts and where the cancer hospital sits, a fortress defiant against the deepest of fears: but before I do any of this, I sit on the exit ramp onto the 10, somewhere in El Monte, looking at the narrow edge of dusty weed-wrecked ground and at the rusted stable and a trough that are in it. Besides them and under them and across a chain linked fence from them, there is a narrow irrigation canal, and in it I see a bone-white thin necked heron, spearing food from the withered bushes, and as I inch along down the ramp, I see another.

So Many Things

            I have not written on here for quite some time, and that is such a shame really, because there are so many things I want to tell you. I want to tell you especially, because it will make no difference now, about the times when I was afraid someone would see me. Like the time when I went, by night, to this image of Jesus Christ we have painted on brick with a bright red robe, only that then it was not bright red but fading to rose. I went up to it and thought it odd that we walked and argued about it but never seemed interesting in loving it, and I thought it beautiful and touching the way I had seen other men treat the images of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin and I held my hands to the slick paint and ran my fingers through the ridges around the bricks. I dragged my hand over my face and shoulders and chest in an uneasy cross and said a prayer I had heard and kissed the image of Christ and the brick was cold against my lips and also I hoped that no one would see me.

            I have wanted to tell you about the time, also by night, that I got pulled over by the police. I was driving not too fast and Johnny Cash was telling me about the apocalypse and I saw a police car slow down and I began, as I always do upon seeing police, to be afraid. He pulled up next to me and asked me to roll down the window and I couldn’t because it would fall out if I tried, but I could not explain this to him because the window had to stay closed and, as such, he could not hear me. So I went through the light and pulled over as soon as I could, but then I tried to do things like turn off Johnny Cash and find the registration from the glove compartment and while I was doing these things I drove onto the curb.

 Given this, I could not blame him for thinking I was drunk but I could speak very clearly and respectfully when he asked me for my license and I was very very careful to end every statement with “sir.”  I told him who I was and that I had not had anything to drink and I would gladly take any test, sir. It was at that moment that I thought it was almost through, and it was at the very next moment that he asked me to step out of the car.

I was expecting a sobriety test and perhaps a search, but still I was surprised when he grabbed my hands behind my back and walked me to his car. It was in front of your apartment, by the way, and as he told me to interlace my fingers and put me against the hood of his car I was hoping to God that you would not look out your window or walk anywhere where you could see me. He asks what I am carrying, who the car is registered to, where I am from, why I am out so late, and then he put me in the back of the squad car, where he asked me if I am Hispanic and I said “Yes, sir” and when I answered this he left me sitting with my fingers hanging on the black grate that separated us and my fingers arch like spider’s legs. He was typing things and sitting, not saying anything and I hoped that you were already asleep and not going to look out your window. Eventually, he let me go and told me to fix my headlight and I drove away, ecstatic to be free and not to have been seen.

Though, now, I think it might have been better to have been seen, even when I was being foolish and kissing Jesus on a brick wall or when I was holding hands behind my back and trying not to sound criminal. Once, I would not have cared to tell anyone either of these things: but now, there are so many things I want to tell you.

The Obligations of #Kony2012

I am obliged, since I am online and generally a caring person, to tell you to support Kony 2012 and stop the atrocities of Joseph Kony.

I am obliged, since I am dedicated to education, discernment, and sustainable initiatives, to tell you that Kony 2012 is more hype than help.

I am obliged, since I am trying to have a tender heart and resist cynicism, to tell you to stop picking on Invisible Children, and to take the time to research the LRA and effective ways to solve this crisis.

But mostly, I am obliged as a lover of Christ and of his manifold image in the suffering people of the earth to pray with fervor, speak with wisdom, and act with courage on the behalf of the oppressed.

Miserere Nobis.

A Place for You

            I wonder how long after a little girl dies in a car accident we feel justified in removing the sidewalk shrine we placed at the lamppost where she died. I had grown accustomed to the mournful spectacle, long after the flames had departed from the candles of the Sacred Heart of Christ and the Virgin of Guadalupe, long after the breath had escaped the once-tightly stretched balloons.

It’s all gone now. I can’t remember which lamppost it was, but the whole stretch of road is haunting. I used to pray when I would pass the place; I should have prayed even more now, but I didn’t. I kept walking until the sky darkened to an electric blue and said a benediction of a subtle wind over the streets.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about place and what it means belong to a place: to Los Angeles, to Covina, to the Americas. In a culture where we live in one city, work in another, and go to church in yet another, we have perfected the ability to be in a place without belonging to it. We built a world where we thought we could love our neighbor without ever meeting the family next door, a world in which there is but little provision made for presence and belonging, and it has filled me with an abiding sense of discontent.

I have been reading Salinger and Ginsburg this summer, and their works are steeped in this same discontent. Holden Caulfield and Ginsburg’s “angel headed hipsters” are alike in their wandering, in their hunt for meaningful human interaction. They are perhaps the best literary examples of “America’s hungry mind for love”, as Ginsburg puts it. Our generation has been steeped in this poetry, and we are deeply aware of the fractured loneliness of our society. It is evident in the causes we champion, in the spaces we build, and the art we create.

Walking from my house to downtown Covina, I thought I understood something of this discontent, this restlessness. Before I reached the place where the dead girl’s shrine once was, I walked past the local mega-church, a sprawling utilitarian structure with brightly colored phrases emblazoned on the windows: “A Place for You”. I was unsettled by the phrase. Over the years, that church has been many things to me. Its parking lot has been a place for me to learn to drive, and its bookstore/coffee shop has been a place to find a CCM album or a caffeine fix; but in spite of all this, it has never been nor will it ever be a place for me.

 In light of our culture’s massive loneliness, the church has sought to answer our need for community, and it has been right to do so: but I sometimes wonder if we have been so eager to provide a community that we have forgotten some of the essential realities about what community is. Real community does not come into existence because people decide to start hanging out together. Real community happens when people find themselves brought together by love. People don’t create community: they fall in love. A man loves a woman, and there is a family. A people love a place, and there is a city. A God loves his children, and there is the Church.

Belonging to a place is not an easy thing, and it is not formulaic. It is easier to talk about community than it is to actually become one: because real community, real belonging, involves pain and suffering. To belong to a place involves more than moving there: it involves loving it, putting something of yourself into it. There is a stretch of road now that is forever haunted, forever tied to the little girl whose life ended there. Belonging is like that: it is a thing wrought by living and dying, not by the facile declaration that this is now “A Place for You”.

We Help People

A few weeks ago, I was walking down the street, when a woman asked me for change. To buy a meal, she said. She was dressed like any other middle-aged woman you find in Downtown Covina, chasing after inexpensive antiques or overpriced pastries. She only had two plastic bags besides her on the bench, and her white pants and visor were stark and clean. If she hadn’t asked me for money, I never would have thought she needed it.

I pulled out my wallet, murmuring something, embarrassed by her embarrassment: she was new to this. I handed her three dollars, and probably said something about Jesus. I don’t remember. She thanked me and I smiled at her as cheerfully as I could to make up for the murmuring.

As I turned to leave, I noticed a man in his mid thirties, sitting on the stoop of a storefront with his daughter, a little girl blonde of five or six years, wearing that sort of pink dress it seems little blonde girls are always wearing. The man smiled at me, a wide grin I couldn’t account for. He nodded, and, still smiling at me, spoke to his daughter: “That’s what we do, we help people.”

In my wallet were three crisp fives, folded tightly around one another. I felt sick, and kept walking.