Past Event 2002
L.A. Poetry Festival
Poems, Readings, and More
Los Angeles Poetry Festival Fin de Millennium
Poetry Contest Winners
Thomas Lux, Judge
Grand Prize: Dorothy Barresi – Los Angeles
(Thomas Lux told us he was moved by this work, and impressed by the
seamless quality of the complex transitions)
Baby Grand: Len Krisak, Newton MA ($1,500)
(Our judge was charmed by these elegant, contemporary sonnets)
David Olivera and Jackson Wheeler, judges
1st Prize ($1,000) Holly Prado – Los Angeles
2nd Prize ($600) Jeanette Clough – Santa Monica
3rd Prize ($300) Amanda Turner – Orinda California
Honorable Mentions: ($120)
William Archila – Los Angeles
Ron Koertge – Los Angeles
Matthew Lippman – Brooklyn, New York
Special Commendations, from Thomas Lux:
Susan Browne – Oakland, CA
Roy Jacobstein – Chapel Hill, NC
Matthew Lippman – Brooklyn, New York
Special Commendations, from David Oliveira and Jackson Wheeler
Michael Datcher – Los Angeles
Joel Brouwer – Madison, Wisconsin
Sherman Pearl – Santa Monica
Sample Poems from Winning Manuscripts
It is hard to please the dead,
they have such high standards.
Mint sauce? Pearls? The window seat or aisle?
They sleep deeply,
the sleep we met as teenagers
curled in the rich
silt-beds of new pleasure.
It is hard even getting them to answer.
Banana Maple Marble Fudge
or Cherry Vanilla?
It takes 206 bones to make a complete
human skeleton, but it has to be
the right bones. Lord,
do we live only to pass on our DNA?
Saint Sebastian was thrown into the Roman sewer
after his martyrdom by arrow,
though of course he didn’t care
by that point. (That’s a joke).
The dead are alert to joy,
make no mistake, though they waft & sigh & flutter
and will not pay attention.
We with our bodies are here to serve them, and so
it is not their contempt but their peace
that makes us nervous.
My mother once made a lovely broth
with floating marrow bones
like tipping islands
of grease, sun-flecked and steaming.
A lovely broth.
When I miss her I know
I will never get enough to eat.
One way to learn about faith
is to lose it completely.
You crumb, you magic pain in the neck!
It should be illegal
to die so completely.
The x of y, the will of time
cannot bring you back.
Come back. I’m blushing. It has been too easy
lately, talking to you.
I keep spouting off: I care, I care.
I must insist on eschewing you, whole cloth.
I kneel and cannot protect myself.
On these bad days
I am a student of divinity
with a head cold,
reading the yellow candle of myself down to the stub
of the light of one blank book: you.
I’m near-sighting myself, missing you.
I’m nearly as invisible as you are.
Damn dead, comfort me.
Today of all days, when I have almost decided
to dump you like a bad habit
of forgetfulness forever,
what news? What counsel
from the heaven of your complacency?
Like looking down an airport corridor?
You wait to see her face, and never look
Away. Soon, one appears, then more and more,
And still you do not blink, but read that book
As if a page once blank but covered in
Invisible ink were coming up at last —
Fresh characters that make you think think fast!
She isn’t there, and — faintly — you begin
To doubt, when suddenly she is, although
You could have sworn you surely would have seen.
My God. What could have made you miss her so?
Then slowly you give in, give up, and throw
Your arms around her like a libertine,
Or child, or lover. You know what I mean.
The dishes done, the wash hung out to dry,
She wrings another moment’s peace from where
The morning’s left her. High outside, the sky
That’s waiting honks, as geese disturb the air.
Their skein flies on. Her half-smoked cigarette
Goes out, as if to urge her on her way.
While wind and wash contend at Dry-or-Wet,
And how their little flap will end this day.
This day, she wants to scream, above the whine
Of vacuum, blender, child. Her empty blouse
Waves wildly to the geese, who hold their line
And then are gone. But back behind the house —
A modest cape — two sleeves reach out for air;
Their cuffs beseech, in shapes of clean despair.
I guess it’s thirst, a cactus who insists on shape
can even bloom. And standing on the parks far side I see,
I’m sure, as far as Santa Monica, white statue of the saint
before the ocean starts. Here’s everything I’ve learned:
take it in by gulps. Think of Christ, His fish and bread —
why not thousands fed from nada, zilch, impossibility?
Jan, my neighbor, died a month ago. I think about her
sitting in her car some evenings after work until
her breath came back and she could walk up to her door.
The faith to sit
and wait to live a little longer.
This climate takes our tough ones in its stingy heart,
gives them that croaky laughter Jan was really good at.
I can’t get grief to hurt me;
she’s still my neighbor Jan, her ashes in the ocean but her tall
self on the stairway, step by labored step.
Everybody’s stubborn, mythic trials. This week, a woman
I have liked has given up. A saint could help. Monica’s
right at the end of Wilshire Boulevard, waiting for the ones
whose tears flow freely, who get so tired of holding on.
The ocean says, surrender. The desert says, survive:
Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus, Saguaro, Millers Pincushion, Barrel,
Buckhorn, Devil’s Fingers, Rainbow, Prickly Pear.
Dry, hurt throats. I understand Jan’s friend — loyal,
not a jerk — sneaking into her apartment, 5:00 a.m.,
to carry out her microwave. It’s not perfection which makes
character. It’s letting nature take Her course: Jan died.
Her buddy has to eat. We have to think of Christ who feeds
the least deserving of us all. That’s why I’m here:
for contradictions. And for miracles, those Biblical amusements
with our puny faith. The way the cactus grows. Los Angeles, you
show me everything exists at once and multiplies. Good fortune
in your fractured, milky wings.
A gallery phones: did Picasso paint
a picture of a ham during his Cubist
phase? Sometimes I parley these questions,
but I take a number, say I’ll call them in a day
or two. Checking ham in the indexes
doesn’t work. I settle for a book
of Picasso thumbnail photographs,
reading each caption in case
I misidentify a deconstructed
object. I find the first ham,
then five more on the same page.
Ham solitaire; ham with newspaper,
with knife & fork. The ham gets smaller.
For awhile he paints fruit.
More pages; more hams. I count
117 pictures. Oil and sand
on canvas; oil and sawdust on
cardboard. He paints it over and
over. Maybe none of them
is exactly right, or they all are —
the many ways a ham can look,
every angle and plane into which
it can break and still remain itself.
I leave a message with the gallery,
don’t hear back. It was
a trick question anyway, as if
there is one way to see a ham.
When he tells her that he is leaving, may not return,
she says nothing. She knows language
can betray sadness. On the train, she sits
next to a blind man reading The New York Times.
His hands move slowly across the pages, return
to certain phrases. She imagines her own native alphabet
or Urdu, that lovely, flowing Indic alphabet, raised
like Braille, wonders what would seduce her own fingertips.
The last story he told her was of Simone de Beauvoir
and Sartre. Though lovers, they returned to different rooms,
or different floors of an abandoned hotel at night.
The woman wants to know the ridges and curves, ascents
and descents of this. Not only what the words mean,
but how they feel and what this means.
What would we speak if we could feel language
as a body resting against our own, collarbone, pelvis,
the warm skin of a lover’s dark thighs.
Like that of Federico
underneath an olive tree,
like blood or wine
on the broken lips of Allen,
like Neruda or Whitman,
leaves cracking into ashes – into graves,
born neither in Spain nor New York,
but a tiny republic, a stain
tattooed all over his body,
chased by firing squads in Cojutepeque,
the military boots of his comrades,
the hurling rocks of jealous husbands,
like that of a cloud passing without weeping its rain,
without a grave to be found on this piece of map
I search for you Roque.
In memory, you’re still running
through a rain of dead birds falling over the city.
You’re still whispering when you know
that I have died, do not say my name.
In dreams you chase Sor Juana
through avenues of eucalyptus trees,
whispering pretty words into her ears.
I would walk from Los Angeles to San Salvador,
leaving a wet tomato at every step
only to see you come home,
kiss your sunken bones and whisper
How can I write it Roque,
nothing has changed.
We know who rode them, but not who took
care of them. Destruction with his noisy
saddlebags? Not likely. Famine with his one oat?
The sooner Pestilence is out of any stable, the
better. While Death is not the type to take
off his sulphurous cloak and muck out a stall.
So when the big guns dismount at the end
of their apocalyptic day and clatter into
the house, a stable boy with a limp pats each
elegant nose, lifts every hoof to look for stones,
waters them out, washes and curries, all the time
saying under his breath the names he knows
them by: Big Boy, Jojo, Suzie Q, Sam.
I got fat.
I don’t know how it happened.
I opened my pants one day
and a whole mess of stuff fell out.
The next morning my jowls were zeppelins and my hands floated to the ceiling.
I thought, I have enjoyed myself all the way to this fat spot — steaks and onions,
platters of shrimp in a nice cocktail,
some twenty four thousand ravioli in fra diavlo.
What did it say about the world, my fat?
The guy down the block looked at me and sneered, only in America.
Goddam right, I replied, go Bulldogs.
It was another in a slew of exhibitions that I had learned to put on
to keep myself from feeling slim.
When my buddy Mike called from the carphone
he told me he was headed down the road for a couple of cheeseburgers at McDonalds.
We’ve always been on the same page like that.
Americans with a taste for a rack of ribs when the goings get tough
and somewhere out there in the green pastures
our mothers are feeling the hurt of another herd of violent men.
It’s a thought, you know, that we kept ourselves from inheriting the rage of our fathers
by dipping into the Hollandaise.
That’s what I’ll name my son to keep him from destroying the women
he will take to the dances.
I’ll name him Hollandaise.
Hollandaise, go do your homework.
Hollandaise, go talk to your mother.
But I got a ways to go before that.
Tonight it’s biscuits and gravy with a side of pork the Iowa farmers sent
from the middle of Iowa,
just to make sure we get our USDA approval
on getting big.
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