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[MUSIC PLAYING] SHARON COLEMAN: So we’re going to start We have a beautiful evening We’re all going have open mic We’re going to start with some open mic of anybody who’s here A lot of the people who are here reading have been part of Milvia Street And then we’re going to have a special reading by Rosa Lane, who was an editor and a contributor, both in terms of poetry and prose and art work, many years ago, and has– we’re very lucky and fortunate to have her And she has two award-winning collections of poetry that came out in the last couple of years So we’re here to honor her success, her voice, and her spirit Let’s start off with open mic And our first reader is Julie Shackleford She is a fabulous fiction writer and the secretary of the Milvia Street club [APPLAUSE] JULIE SHACKLEFORD: All right, so this piece is fiction And it’s titled “Swiss Cheese.” Buzz sat on the back porch, his hand resting around a glass of ice water Condensation pulled at his fingertips An especially laden droplet dripped down his knuckles in the Florida humidity Normally, at 6:00 PM, he would have a gin and tonic, but he didn’t want to give the press cause for doubt An accusation of drunkenness could be easily levied, given his past indiscretions And his advanced years wouldn’t help his case He squinted at the sky The moon lay flat against the pale blue, a few wisps of cloud merging with the half-dome edge 50 years later, he sometimes doubted the veracity of his recollections when considering the event in its historical grandeur– Kennedy’s dream realized in a moment of global unity, despite humanity’s meanness Only when he recalled the minutiae of preparation that led up to his first step on the lunar surface did he trust his memory A waxing gibbous peered down at him Most people spent their moon gazing on the full moon, admiring the intense luminosity and folkloric associations But Buzz preferred the diffuse edge of the moon in this pregnant phase He liked the way the side bulging towards completion melded with the stratosphere, the delineation between the heavens and one of its many bodies faint He sipped his water, landing his gaze on his backyard The intense green of the St. Augustine grass in May was almost offensive His only daughter, Jan, actually knew the cost of its upkeep And the pool needed attention Buzz had neglected his morning ritual of straining debris from the water’s surface for a few weeks, and it had turned an amphibian green He would need help to correct his negligence so that he could resume the daily laps that he credited for his fit physique at 89 Buzz traced a circle onto the teak side table with the water pulled on his finger Cleaning the pool always relaxed him He strode over to the pool leaf rake hanging against the shed wall, dried bits of leaf still stuck to the inner net He shook it over the lawn, and then dipped the head into the water The mesh billowed out as he walked the pole along the side of the pool, providing enough resistance to tense his forearms and focus his intentions He navigated the net towards decaying hibiscus petals, turned from fuchsia to blood brown, and shards of palm frond He wondered what Neil would say As he gazed out at the black space between the astronomical bodies from the moon’s surface, he was struck by Earth’s smallness The expanse between their position on the gray, barren surface and the sprawling activity of humanity on the distant blue planet felt unnavigable He wondered if they would make it home Neil interrupted his reverie with the task at hand, and they proceeded with the list of experiments assigned to them for completion before returning the lunar module a few hours later After pressurizing the cabin, they removed their helmets and despite orders to the contrary, opened a bag of moon soil They wanted to touch it with the flesh of their own hands They’d agree that their discovery on the moon’s surface should not be shared, even with NASA Each had watched consensus form in the others’ eyes

as they returned to Columbia Reentry continued without incident Buzz now blamed the weight of the secret for his subsequent personal failures upon re-entering earthly matters His personality did not suit secrets, and he acted out accordingly He sabotaged relationships, his health, and career in the years following the moon landing If Neil had harbored regrets, he nursed his concerns privately, as he had most aspects of his life Now Neil was dead, and Buzz a step closer to meeting his maker with every passing hour He had always wondered if they’d done the right thing, making a sweeping judgment of humanity and their capacity for understanding in the face of the paradoxical The world had changed in ways beyond his own understanding, but he was glad that people kept him involved, hoping that he would understand He made a decision He had to tell the truth Everyone but Jan thought he was calling the press conference to announce some terminal illness NASA had already asked if he would like to see one of their specialists He took another sip of water “It’s time, Dad.” Jan stood, framed by the glass sliding door She’d avoided his eyes since he’d told her, but kept her word, not contacting Andy and helping him coordinate the press conference He and Jan had their disagreements, but she’d done her part over the years, keeping him surrounded by his grandchildren when no one else could tolerate his moods and helping him run his business and his home Buzz shook the collected detritus onto the sand at the base of the palm tree, snapping the pool rake back onto the shelved wall He felt calm as he walked up to Jan She gave him a weak smile and made room for him to pass “Thanks I’ll be done soon.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and kissed her cheek Buzz emerged out his front door to a cadre of reporters He squinted against the bright lights pointing down at him, silhouetting in the long, black microphones pointed towards his position A camera flashed, followed by a cacophony of reporters with greetings and questions “Good to see you,” Mr. Aldrin “Colonel Aldrin, how are you today?” “Are you feeling all right, sir?” “Never miss the chance to talk with you, sir.” Compared to his typical speaking engagements, this audience of reporters, a few NASA representatives, and a couple of curious neighbors was sparse Space didn’t engender the interest it used to “I want to thank you all for coming here today, especially without much explanation It makes an old man feel like he matters.” He stuck his hands in his pockets The evening sky was invisible beyond the lights He wished that he can still see the moon, but he’d left it behind the house Maybe it would make a good photo– Buzz Aldrin reveals all with the moon resting over his right shoulder He rubbed his nose “People always joke that the moon is made of cheese,” he chuckled The audience chuckled with him “Well, it’s true.” A camera flashed They laughed again “We– Neil and I– didn’t think the world was ready Now I know that decision was wrong I don’t know how deep it is, or if it’s made of cheese like on Earth, but the moon is made of cheese after all.” Silence flooded the front lawn Even the gulls, so persistent in their conversations at the nearby beach, stop to absorb his words And for a moment, he was back in the vacuum of space, staring out into the magnificent desolation [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: Our next reader is Julie Southworth And I’m also going to circulate this around for anybody who hasn’t signed up yet for the open mic Maybe we could get Liz McCall to come on up JULIE SOUTHWORTH: I’m reading this poem in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, “Rules for the Mentally Ill.” Never, ever neglect medication If you do, warn all within posting range of the danger When debating Sherlock, sociopath or psychopath, never offer neither, because neither diagnosis exists Why crush the fun of those standing next to you? You’re no sociopath or psychopath Never make a parent cry on the telephone If you do, the other will disconnect you from the cell phone plan Do not confuse transitive and linking verbs

You do not have a mental illness You are one Never object to discussions of Donald Trump which declare him mentally ill Your situation is not comparable You have already assented to your limitations Avoid all appearances of strength Never employ clarity in writing Try painting instead Dabble in Surrealism, but never say you are a Surrealist Never trouble enthusiasts of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with benefits of electroconvulsive therapy or psychiatric drugs And remember, hospitals can only ever be punishment Only declare Frida Kahlo or van Gogh your favorite artist, Sylvia Plath, your favorite poet Trust employers with details of your medications and their side effects How else would they know when to slice your hours in half? If you must write, poetry only, and always employ “I.” Prepare to move in with your parents if you must ask them for financial support They have a right to gauge their investment Every time your mother whispers, without making eye contact, that too much Facebook, or too little fish in your diet, or too many bad life choices cause mental illness, quickly assure her the doctor agrees If you cannot hide your mental illness, hide yourself Thank you SHARON COLEMAN: Next up is Thomas Hesketh THOMAS HESKETH: So my name’s Thomas A couple poems here– first one’s “Crome Bumper.” SHARON COLEMAN: Get a little closer to the mic THOMAS HESKETH: “Chrome Bumper.” I believe I wrote this in one of Sharon’s classes We’ve had several students from those classes and don’t remember which semester Chrome bumper, between heat-cracked white crosswalk lines, under a silent, blinking green street light, beneath a low coastal cloud, light gray sky, on a dark gray Long Beach surface street, a red light flashed from the ambulance A movie or live television– it must be It cannot be me at the center of the commotion There was no movie screen, no popcorn We did not own a color television I stood by a car, my bicycle in the intersection, wrecked There were no screams and no commercials The confusion was in slow motion Witnesses, what had happened? Is that the kid? Where’s the driver? “Sit down,” orders the officer “I’ve seen people walk on broken legs.” My parents told me I was a brave young lad, not mentioning the lack of fuzz on my 10-year-old upper lip They said I was not hurt There would be no fuss, no lawsuit– that I would get a new bicycle, any kind I wanted My uncle, with his white neck brace steadying his head, told me to spit on where it hurt Though the days have dissolved calendars and tides, turned bluffs to beaches, I remember still the dark chrome bumper looming inches from my head, shadowed

cover to a metal casket, sun blocked a swipe of the Reaper’s scythe A car passes to white line My red-line pulse rushes, rising rage My hand goes to the keys in my pocket to gouge the vehicle as it moves obliviously on The incident happened just after I had received my first hardback book, a history of the Civil War illustrated with period etchings of battlefields and generals But I also still played with plastic soldiers, organizing campaigns in the dirt by the tree That day– it has a date and a report I have since read, but it has no anniversary No one else remembered the accident a week after my new black Schwinn bike arrived, with an electric horn mounted inside the frame, especially after I abandoned the plastic streamers I had inserted in the hand grips I had not been seriously hurt– no broken bones, no blood lost, no scrapes Yet, while my spine and hips carry my weight, my memory is torqued All the shock has not been squared It lies dormant, yet alive in each crosswalk line violated by a bumper or screeching car collapsing time Now, as then, again, I am 10 [APPLAUSE] It’s a little more recent poem, “Library Chaos.” In modern libraries lies danger– in the clickety clack of keyboards tossing type against time; in the dust of worn tomes pulled from hibernation, away from another age, silence shredded; in the rustle of newspaper pages wrestled into submission to expose a day’s crime or a puzzling crossword A ventilation shaft comes alive, circulating the city’s current diseases As squeak squawk from a door, a muffled cough crowds the air A chair returns to its seat, masking the hum of photons in flight, rebounding from ebony type on ice-white dried tree mush tickling or taunting gray brain cells fixed on a blank writer’s-blocked page, as crossing coffee– stained deceased carpet, sunlight crawls, reflected off high-rise windows, patient as a snake tongue tasting for prey, illuminating invisible breaths with a light touch Just when fallen, volume disturbs faint breath Horizontal books conspire against vertical spines Dictionaries rail against defective grammars A thoroughly thumb-indexed thesaurus illiterates back at a brawny brontosaurus– no end of swampy armored tails Punctuation marks conspire to allocate white space while fonts parade themselves in disguise without point Minuscule moments seek greater majesty Religion spits in philosophy’s eye History stutters, stammers, repeating itself Foreign language babbles with dissenting declension Shelves are classic or contemporary Tongues lashed against gnashing teeth Whispers violate sacred space A cemetery voice, if you please? Chaos consumes well-ordered space– futile attempts to bring order to itself Dewey decimals, rules, rights and don’ts, congressional repositories, repositioned tooth, left and right goose step Doors slam, barring unwashed entry Food for thought, but naught are sated Colored books do not equal books of color, nor noir as blanc as blank and white A prism hides a rainbow within Readers read English from left to right, counting Arabic numbers upward from right to left, multiplying Roman numerals not at all This makes sense from top to bottom until it makes no sense at all [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: Next up is Tauno Hagelberg TAUNO HAGELBERG: Ni hau How are you doing? This poem is entitled “A Passenger Waits.” It’s dedicated to [INAUDIBLE] I wait for you and stand up tall under the bus stop sign You arrive, invite me to come into safety And inside, you warm me up with conversation

and yet, at the same time, charge me no fare whatsoever I have become your one and only passenger In my hard wish, I blurt, “May it always be this way.” I loosen up my jacket’s hold on my reality while clutching onto your holds with grasping thought I do not know where I go when I am being driven, neither how quick, nor slow I have lost day and night when I ride, thrilled to top over the sound of your voice I am bussed to think, inappropriately, that I’ll die here today– but not really today We pull away from all past tenses and ride to the second scheduled stop in our vehicle of time [INAUDIBLE] [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: Next up is Lisa Graves LISA GRAVES: This is called “You Kill Lice with Kerosene.” Fritz liked to issue plot proclamations We had to take responsibility for all our food if we were a true commune My mother and Larry, lesser members of the household, spent the day gathering The meat locker in town was empty Our last out of season deer hidden in the clapboard shed was spent Larry, with little left to shoot, decided to set traps and snarled one lone squirrel, yet to fatten up on spring’s treasures My mother forged the land behind our leaning farmhouse pulling tender fiddlehead shoots and miner’s lettuce Dinner time rolled around, and the day’s harvest was laid out on an antique oak table Adults pondered the division of one skinned squirrel, boiled fiddleheads, and miner’s lettuce among four children and five adults Later that night, my mother made us scrambled eggs and toast, her mouth held tight, foreshadowing our return to Long Beach by summer Fritz had sweet talked her and her welfare check up to Canada, trading our apartment with running faucets, light switches, in for a foam pad on a shared living room and Fritz’s company whenever his wife Karen was away The next day, after our feast of none, my mother took her welfare check and made the two-hour drive into town and bought a mess of groceries Early spring ferns so tall we’d get lost running through the sea of green to cut out the tallest stalks for fiddlehead fights, slicing the brilliant spring air with bright fringed swords Thank you [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: Next up is Carla Shickt CARLA SHICKT: Good evening I’ll read two pieces First one is “Rules Were Never Meant for Surviving.” Don’t walk so close to the invisible line down the sidewalk You might get crossed Don’t read so much Your eyes might go askew, lose focus, blur into sunlight overshadowed with smoke Remember, your hands are meant for rough work Fists into walls are scrawled Don’t look at the boys snorting crystal meth in the back of a school bus They might bump into your head, cause your brain to splatter Watch their words form the same way they pummel Jewish boys on a Friday night observing Shabbat Watch the shape of their lips throwing curses out a school bus window at a black man waiting on the corner for a light to change Learn to slide down the dirt lot of broken glass and used needles Learn how to blow smoke in perfect circles Don’t walk alone in the dark And if you must, stay in the gutter, where street lights shine Stand up Throw bricks when they pull out their metal knuckles

on the Puerto Rican guy waiting for his dad to wave him into the car Masquerade your body beneath plastic jackets and three layers of shirts Flick your cigarette into the car seat of the guys who beat you, the guys who snickered at men who couldn’t catch them, at women who drank their spirits Watch the split frames spread ear to ear Wipe the smile away Disappear Reemerge in another lifetime so no one will notice acts of sabotage [APPLAUSE] The next one’s called “Dear Coroner, Finding a Woman in All This Mess.” And it was based on– The “Chronicle” puts stories from the past in the Pink Pages every Sunday And so this year, they’re putting stories in from 1919, 100 years ago And so this was about Anita Pearson, who was from 1919 So it’s called “Dear Coroner, Finding a Woman in All This Mess.” They might have called me crazy They don’t know My daughter’s hand slipped from her father’s, so far from me, slipped beneath No, I do not say 14 years after my life began, she was born Her father once painted her body, bundled in blankets, in crafted line and points from my heart I have not lost the art of letting go, as now my blood flows, filling a deep bath I cannot stop 16 years of devotion– my girl, tracing her lifeline on crooked cobblestone streets The horses beat a rhythm of our wants alongside rattling trams Collision of generations– her father, once my husband, sends decorated postcards, slants sentences of East Coast dinner parties I squint to interpret Don’t tell me how she died, not the death of soldiers shipping off the New York Harbor to war and returning riddled with shrapnel and bloodshot eyes They don’t write their own obituaries My girl was only 16, not a warrior– pressed crinoline and shiny Mary Jane shoes, the ones I always wanted and never saw Call me mad, as madness captures the sonnets I write to life along Geary street to the blasted earthquake rows of homes rebuilt, from Geary to Locke and Polk Women who walk from bar to bar, women who declare their loves in writing, scorn Lose the eye on newly built curbs Clang in the ear Street shadow, fog sitting over the hills’ layers I dropped my daughter’s palm at the trainside Her bonnet covered her tears, melted my news story I needed to finish before I came to San Francisco I have not lost the art of telegraphs from unknown origins, mysterious men behind cigar stench Story due in an hour– stop And death sits inside me Women who are called crazy seldom wander back alleys to talk to themselves into breath I took a man’s hand and spent years alone with words and a child’s wishes for food and laughter I read my hopes in new lines I invented The tint of ink across my brow rubbed off my fingers I know someone saw my name, if not in lights, then in penned headlines and pain Today, I write my final news, meet deadlines, and send undelivered messages to my daughter, buried somewhere on the coast of the Atlantic A book of my last sonnets– I make the first cut and then the second What I don’t know about arteries– my next book’s theme So I turn on the gas, shutter the window, and wait, weightless, worthless, a spirit slipping away Dear coroner, submit this obituary as an official document, and pack up whatever trinkets remain Thank you [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: We’re going to have Diana Benson come on up DIANA BENSON: Hi, everyone I don’t really write poetry I write songs So this is a song I don’t want to sing the whole song I’m just going to sing a little bit of it And that’s it Sometimes, maybe all times, I’m insecure Lately, only lately, I’m going crazy

Not talking to her, or to him, or to them– isolating all of my friends I shouldn’t have done that [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: Many, many different writers, poets, fiction writers have been launched here from Berkeley City College and the Peralta, other Peralta, our sister colleges as well So I just want to say how strong we are and how happy we are to create this kind of community that nurtures writers [APPLAUSE] So we’re going to have a second set of open mics And our first up is going to be Carl [INAUDIBLE]—- [APPLAUSE] –an incredible writer and poet who’s been taking my class for about– he’s in his fourth semester, and sadly the last because of how the system works So we’re just so– I’ve been just amazed at how his writing has zeroed in, it has focused, it has expanded, and how much it has grown over the semesters CARL: I’ve been a little sick I’ve been sick this past week So I didn’t actually– and my mind is rebelling I think my mind has been rebelling because I think I– like, I forget the words you used, but about Sharon being this something to– SPEAKER: Yes, the poetry angel CARL: The poetry angel– there it is Yeah So I think I’m sad that I’m going to lose my poetry angel after this fourth session So my mind has rebelled, and I’m not letting me finish my work Like, I haven’t been able to get through it Somehow, I’m stalling SHARON COLEMAN: You [INAUDIBLE] into a book CARL: That’s what I’m going to have to do, then So I didn’t pick a poem And so I– also, for lack of wanting to look at what I had left to do So I’m going to read an old one This was just the one that came out And I’ve read this one before, and it rhymes It’s fun to hear, I think It’s also a little serious So this is one of– maybe the second? We had to do forms, ballad “Just Us.” Move this a little bit Just us– just– just us These– let me start again Just us– these rough, tough times that we got, real tough times– they grind us down When Klansman rally round the flag, the devils mask a clown The clock of life says almost 12:00 The water’s set to boil And psychic demon vampires suck the blood up out the world Now, you say that it’s just them, not you You care You’re so concerned, yet never raised a fucking hand as the wicked tide, it turned Now, I’m not saying that I’m bitter It’s hard to raise your head when rent is always just past due, and your friend just got found dead And the war machine keeps growing on our heart and in our minds And we concede the battle lost, one dollar at a time And our anger at injustice gets twisted up, confused We hunt and maim the innocent The guilty duck abuse And slavery never finds its end Their grip, it tightens still, ’cause ain’t nothing so damn tasty as to eat what you just killed [APPLAUSE] Yes, times are tough, so goddamn rough I can barely catch my breath We got one more chance to turn to life before they choose our death And dragons– yes, they long for home, though prison doors are locked So I’m not giving up just yet I’m not saying that we’re fucked It’s a communal delusion that we must stand aside The power lies within us It’s us can turn the tide

So dust off your old tool kit, and put on some good shoes These are the final moments And we got work to do [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: Next up is Vernon Small, who’s both been my student and is a Peralta– or has been a Peralta– chemistry teacher [APPLAUSE] VERNON SMALL: “Beauty to the Dark” is a 13-chorus rap opera of siren love rights, uber-edited by my seven-year ex-life partner and working muse, Stephanie, who Sharon met because we all took class together with Richard Silberg, which was great The collection’s over voice is a Tina Turner-inspired anima anime overbearing guardian goddess This is anticipatory Tupac and a resolute community college chemistry professor vocabulary So this is chorus 1, and it’s unusual because it consists of one poem, “Ebony Says,” and it’s the introductory poem And it’s based a little bit upon how Stephanie and I first started to go together 13 years ago over now Ebony says, how many mana tongues do we speak lust in? We needn’t even talk Ebonics to be Ebonic by him Just you go smack these lips Smother vowels your wishbone way Locution, locution Tell him your other name tomorrow Rake his leg over the facts of race Slap your beslandered fig I stroll [INAUDIBLE] side on chopsticks before more petals fall Sax on terrace hum along at jam samplers, rave tango mango, but dip his [INAUDIBLE],, knowing he’ll soon jam you back, fuming all waters down for his lotus Offer my arms, not as such But enough of you Lady him off across swan’s pond all summer to misdemeanor on, shameless passing water lilies West meets west [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: Our next reader is Dena Rod, who was in my class last semester, who’s a rising star in our community of writers in the Bay Area [APPLAUSE] DENA ROD: Hi everyone So I’ll be reading some new poems I hope you enjoy them “Liminal.” The space between boy and girl is where I exist, where lipstick stains bow ties, and glitter falls on mustaches I was raised to be female, with two targets sprouting from seeds buried in my chest, torso ticking Look at her figure The building of my body stacked against me, mocked with short, short haircuts Pleasure derived from clippers against my scalp mirrored the way stealing my father’s ties made me feel Swimming in flannel, a tomboy, being a cuticle ripped too deep, the tender place between skin and nail meeting Liminal here, in this third, fourth, fifth, too many to count spaces, existing on fringe spaces Not folklore, but fact, blurring between male and female, instead of two opposing pole magnets that repel each other I am not imaginary I am sore you can’t stop pushing down to feel the hurt to make sure you’re still alive [APPLAUSE] This next one is called “Sparks Flying.” Fierce wind blowing from my lungs, the wind knocked out of me by a punch to the stomach The punch was the election, when I lost my breath crying, seeing the red meter pull forward for that man Now I read the news, knowing he’s not the best for my brain cells It’s still breathing life into those cells so I can find stark relief against honeyed light Am I still giving you life, honey? Because that’s what we queers say But honestly, it comes from black folks, like most things we think are cool do With this microphone ripe in my mouth, I give you life, with the air coming from my lungs

over my larynx, and how I work to tell you how much pain I am in And does it give you life? Because that’s what we queers do We excavate our trauma for your consumption What am I if I’m not writing about my tears, my blood spilled from my pain? And does it give you life, seeing blood spilled on Instagram Live, how another is shot again? And does it give you life? Are you dying and reviving and dying? Because you were slayed when you see another motherfucker indicted But does it give you life when you see someone who makes you squirm in discomfort, with hair on their face and tender timber vocals? And does it give you life, honey, when you go home and settle in, like so many cannot, locked in cages, closets, behind borders, still waiting for our lives? Thank you [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: We still have a few more people Claire Heinselman is going to be up next Anybody else has not yet got onto the open mic list and wants to get on? I will pass the list out And just sign on up And Claire is up next CLAIRE HEINSELMAN: First of all, I want to share with you a little bit of my thank you that went into my recent manuscript Thanks also– I thank Sharon Coleman, skilled teacher who knows just when to praise and encourage and when to challenge to greater depth I also thank fellow students of Berkeley City College poetry classes for our workshopping, and your boldness to tell your stories honestly has inspired me Thank you This was from a little photo prompt that Sharon provided She be sharp Perched on a hip, her rheumatoid hand soft, filial on skin-swaddled arm, loose from years of smoke-veiled rooms Skin and veins shout out transparency Fuscia dress complements a wholly inhabited smile– just a touch, so you know she commands those keys– 52 ivories, 36 mahoganies– all hers No-nonsense tilt of the head, her pale eyes on you No shit Listen, you can hear it Honky tonk, rag and jazz, Tin Pan Alley– the blues in shocking pink [APPLAUSE] This is inspired by our wonderful internet “Golden Opportunities in a Connected World.” The news and not so news– 24/7 Berlin, Beijing, London too Information right in my pocket– encyclopedia, dictionary, courtroom docket Find a flight or a room with a view Reserve a table in Timbuktu Games galore on my device– numbers outscore Vegas Tic-tac-toe, Pokemon Go, poker in variations With nations of gamblers, I build a habit, ambling around with cell phone or tablet Read my favorite book or another soon to be While I’m at it, I just might download the whole library Pull up a poem that elicits a sigh Listen to music on cellular hi-fi Check my health Time myself Wake to the alarm Or chart the feet my feet have taken me Pay my bills Bank a check via phone app– just one click Order pills Get movie thrills Buy and sell some stocks real quick Facebook, Instagram, Hangouts, Twitter– new ways to stay in touch, but too, too much information Details of another’s breakfast is excess communication But then occasionally, a friend arrives A friend of a friend requests to be a friend This friend sees one who’s lonely, venting on common screens A virtual host of friends, it seems, begin to plot his plight, ground of his history found on the endless social sites, indestructible as the Pacific

Gyre is tilled by bright young minds hired to reach out groom this friend Turn up information Turn him into a relation that will produce What story will seduce? When begins the ruse? This new friend– she is a starlet, it is said, proven by her picture lifted from actual starlet’s web She needs his help to pay her bills Her agent will not fulfill his promise He’s a rascal, a mean monster Can you help me, babe? That newfound friend sends a gift card to the gentle maid Oh babe, I need another favor That game you love to play? My little brother broke his Game Boy and cries throughout the day The friend sends a generous cash through vast and virtual space Oh babe, I am upset with you That gift card that you sent had already been spent Naughty boy, I need another Another gift, a larger cash amount, is cast in to her cache– another, then another Oh babe, you are so sweet Come to LA and live with me But first, send to me your ID and your social security so I can pay the rent for our first apartment Click With the camera on his phone, one more golden opportunity in a connected world fulfilled SHARON COLEMAN: Awesome Our next reader is Suzanne Hitomi Let’s give her a big, warm welcome [APPLAUSE] SUZANNE HITOMI: Good evening SHARON COLEMAN: Get a little closer SUZANNE HITOMI: OK, good evening I’d like to share with you the two poems The first is “Lily of the Valley.” As she sits in the hot, sultry shade, she fingers the lily in her grasp– lies down on the lush carpet of grass In the bosom of her pocket dress, I scan words from a diary Her vision glides in rest She is sleeveless, with tattoos that keep her warm among the bees that swarm– her lacy dress, so decorated, a bit torn Tattoos keep her warm But with every subtle breeze sends a chill down my bare arms of an impending storm I am not so cold because just seeing her tattoos keeps me warm She just lost her friend She mourns each night, before she dims the light She recites a prayer in the snow, with a chill in the air so still As the storm brews, her floral tattoos keeps her warm She lives her life with tattoo strength For if danger lurks, she fends it off at length Without meth or opioid, she tries to avoid– her life, not empty, but full She meets with others as they silently read verses Some, with expressions sullen and terse, meet with evil Barriers against the bees’ sting, worn Her tattoos, deep, protect her to keep her warm [APPLAUSE] “Tattooed Woman Meets Man.” Man in black leather coat reveals tattoo– arms of a ship and crossbones– with a body, muscle toned, in a black t-shirt, sweat-soaked On the other arm is a serpent, and heart of temptation lures him to sin– breaks his heart in two as a swift dart He hails from the Hells Angels Wrath bespeaks his breath “Ha.” He uncovers a life beneath, a rough, rugged road of meth and opioid That’s a habit he’s been trying to kick and avoid He’s addicted as if it’s his mistress– brings him thrills and chills of euphoria and distress He’s enslaved like a noose So every day, he struggles to get loose of hallucinations like roller coaster up to the sky,

down to the depth of the sea in waves As he blows smoke, he prays his soul to save– seeks platitudes and Bible’s passages of Psalms He clasps his rugged hand, clutches a rosary in prayer, hopes his life will be with less error [APPLAUSE] Surely certain, he knows who the bearer of truth, not in vermouth or meth [APPLAUSE] SHARON COLEMAN: Our next reader is Nina Cestaro NINA CESTARO: How you doing, Berkeley? SHARON COLEMAN: Hey! NINA CESTARO: How y’all doin? SHARON COLEMAN: How y’all doin? NINA CESTARO: OK Thank you, Sharon, for everything you’ve done for us And thank you, everyone, for coming out to hear us Hey, can you hear me? Yeah SPEAKER: Louder NINA CESTARO: Louder? SPEAKER 2: Move closer NINA CESTARO: OK, the first is entitled “Acceptance, Whatever Youth Deserves.” I was in a daze, wearing hospital tags and blue scrubs, and getting pumped with antidepressant drugs I didn’t need How would I escape? It had not been a completely terrible semester as a freshman at Plano high school, home of the Panthers I met Nick, a new transvestite neighbor of mine– half punk, half new wave, queen of Plano high, with long black Mohawk and pink lipstick, white foundation makeup We spent time listening to “The Cure” or “Black Flag.” “What does it matter what anyone else thought of me?” I thought I was here now, and I was going to make the best of it So I befriended the two pale hardcore punk girls, Leah and Rebecca, in that sinkhole of a recovery psych ward My parentals only visited me once, to send a second-hand Shirley MacLaine book for me to read, I guess to compare my life to My dear mother had sent me here as a last resort for my 14th birthday for having shoplifted makeup A sheltered lonely tween girl, I was seeking both attention, acceptance, and to express my own fashion sense from the west poor side of Plano, an affluent suburb of Dallas in the ’80s I was living with a dozen other misfits, who were either self-reported drug dealers, suicidal, or in there for almost killing their parents I was crushing on guys like Mike from the daily counseling group meeting, struggling to express themselves amidst a changing hand of group counselors She, Jen Cestaro, had let me down again How was I to recognize myself? Was I really the girl who couldn’t get along with any roommates, such to the extent that they had to give me my own room? Yep The cold blonde psychiatrist, Dr. Anderson, said to my parents that I certainly had some version of borderline personality The only way to prevent imprisonment later in life was to spend some time in a psych ward now Why did they choose her? Because she was the only county insurance psychologist They swallowed her lies whole I was told I’d be there for only two weeks I was actually locked in there for 4 and 1/2 months The day we moved out to Mariposa, California was the same day I was released from Plano General Hospital– no chance to say a real goodbye to my high school chums While locked up I decided writing is the only thing that mattered That’s it [APPLAUSE] The next poem’s kind of a silly poem It’s called “There Must Be Something in the Full Moon Time.” Mark Ingles and me– before we were a couple, before we broke up– were sunbathing on [INAUDIBLE] Beach near Santa Barbara in preparation for his friend Hector’s wedding to Molly We’d slept in a one-level white Motel 8 We exited exactly at noon, which gave us two hours to frolic So we donned our new sunglasses, bathing suits, and happily skipped down to the turquoise water All week, I’d been thinking of dolphins and their health, with all this 3.85 microns per day plastic pollution reported for this stretch of the coast As soon as I headed out into the cold Pacific, I incredulously encountered a dolphin and her calf not 20 yards from me Once they saw me, they seemed to stop and look at me– from one eye, and then both– and then go out deeper to sea, as if beckoning me So I swam back to shore to tell Mark my good news, who had mischievously placed an empty lobster shell in my Birkenstock shoe He didn’t believe me, so I quickly sent another telepathic message to the mother dolphin, telling her, “Come back! Come back!” So again, I threw my lithe, un-wetsuited body back into the mysterious blue-green algaed water And then the family came swimming near me again I was so ecstatic Ever since I’d been a little girl, I drew, loved, worshipped, imagined talking dolphin language to such a degree

that it was probably not normal That August day, I got to see how large, powerful, and beautiful these creatures really are in person [APPLAUSE] And one last– SHARON COLEMAN: Is it short? NINA CESTARO: Yeah, very, very short It’s called [INAUDIBLE] Get a boy in silver Chevy gray shirt magic brews at 1:40 AM Winds whip violently at 2:00 AM along the pearly ocean’s edge Baker Beach, lit by stars and bridged orangeness for romantic strangers, whose green eyes pierce my veils of self-doubt Boyish demands, but he compliments my voice I couldn’t get away I’m giggles, blown over by his long dirty blonde mane and b ball player spryness Get a boy in my bed at half past 3:00 Velvety pale touch of leopard and dragon– musk of unknown cologne embrace intensifies my loneliness I’m small in his sculptor hands I hear the hollow ring of his accusations echo through the apartment after we’ve wrapped up [INAUDIBLE] fires up the engine again at 4:30 AM I text him, “I hope you’re safe.” He texts back, “Thank you.” he hammers in more loneliness Here comes the sun We’ll likely be done Time to sober up [APPLAUSE]

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