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Photo credit, Jill Talbot

My daughter, Indie, and I sit on the back deck at night in the hour before she goes to bed and I go to worry.  She’s usually just out of the shower, her blonde hair still wet. She stretches her long legs from a plastic chair we found in the shed. I sit on the top step. We moved here last August, and three months from now we’ll move again.

***

There is history here. Indie and I sense it in the creak of the pine floors, the groan of the heavy branches hovering over our roof, the way sifted dirt settles on the kitchen counter, fallen from hidden gaps in the vigas.  The adobe home we rent in Las Vegas, New Mexico, the oldest in town, is one of nine-hundred buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The row houses along our street were once the last stop on the Sante Fe Trail before settlers and searchers drove their wagons over sixty miles to the big city.

When my worry has worn itself out, I climb into my bed hours after Indie has fallen asleep on the other side of the house. Both of us often wake in the dark to the sound of footsteps and pauses in the pine. Out on the deck, we share stories of the way we sat up for a moment the night before and wondered about the noises. I never tell her how my wonderings fall fast to worry, and I tiptoe through the dark to check the empty living room. I never tell her how I press down on window frames and tighten latches, how I open doors and shut them again, turning the key.

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Have you ever done a self interview?

No, and I don’t like it. I am the last person in the world I would want to interview, live with or have to deal with on cleaning day. Nothing is ever clean enough. There is not enough bleach in the world and Swiffers are the devil’s contraption.

 

Why Pittsburgh?

I am a lifer. I love this town like people love the Outer Banks or Disney (people do, you know). I love the rivers like arteries, the bridges like bracelets and the industrial skyline that shuns gentrification — the mills, the steel, the labor, the blessed tunnels. I love its compartmentalized neighborhoods and how we are proud of never crossing to the other side. We are self-sufficient. I love the hills and the grey weather — how I never crave anything flat.

One blue hour simmers on the stove, steam rising
like a slow train up and over the mill line —
still-life burnt in coal, black heat, skin cold-split
in the third shift. The radiator hisses.

Flurries dance on the wind in spun madness. She
presses her hands to the hot pipes, looks out across
the Pittsburgh grey, soaking it in, spreading it like a blanket
across her memory — thick like miner’s dust, an iron door.

She wears gloves to bed, wakes to the itch of wool,
startled by how her fingers feel like someone else’s,
how rough they’ve grown — like a man’s — inside
her winter skin. She pictures the man, bright within

her childhood dream-head like the light at the end
of a shaft. He is twice her size and she can’t see
around him. Warm bourbon breath that melts the snow
before it lands. The game will be played in the big wooden house,

Tammy Delatorre-Headshot 022015Seated in the darkest booth of a steak joint, Nora couldn’t help but stare at Bill’s broad forearms resting on the mahogany table. Bill was quiet, thick-boned, and not her boyfriend.

authorphoto2So you’ve published your second collection of stories, Big Venerable (CCLaP Publishing, 2015), after publishing one a while ago called Why God Why. The people who read Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013) seemed to like it. Why not finish on a high note? Why write another book and risk failure again?

Because I’m greedy. I want to write all the books. Unfortunately there isn’t enough time. Maybe one day…

 

That’s nonsense, that’s a nonsense answer and you know it. Give me a real answer.

Yes, it is nonsense. You know me so well! But here’s something that is true, I wrote some of the stories from Big Venerable much earlier than any that appeared in Why God Why. So really, Big Venerable, as a book, is just the culmination of that effort. It’s interesting to see how your work evolves. especially with respect to character development, something that was largely absent in the flash fictions of Why God Why.

bigvenerablecoverfinalThe Bureau of Everything Fitting Into Its Rightful Place

My friend Penny phoned and asked whether we’d go to the rally, my family and me. I told her I wasn’t sure. And in fact, I wasn’t. I knew that Burton wanted to cook again, meaty foods like steak or ribs. “Fire up the grill,” he said about what he was going to do. He encouraged me to go get the cauliflower and so I did. I went to the grocer and I picked some up, along with a few other items. The cashier had been friendly, didn’t even ask about my purchases. I liked to be left alone and not subject to inquiry when it wasn’t necessary. Among a few other unnoteworthy items, I was buying cauliflower as a delicious side for the meal we’d be eating that evening. Nothing more needed to be discussed. She probed instead about my day, about the rally, whether I was going. I said we might, my husband and kids and I. I wasn’t sure –much like I’d earlier told Penny. She said she was going and implied it would be good if I went too, with the family. She didn’t say it like she was trying to scare me. Still, I had to be getting home.

Luis Rodriguez 2013 - credit CGP

Questions as if Anne Coulter or Bill O’Reilly were asking them—assuming, of course, they’d let me get a word in edgewise.

 

How does a Mexican get to be a poet, let alone “poet laureate”?

Nobody becomes a poet or poet laureate just because they’re Mexican. Still Mexico has contributed world-renowned poets like Octavio Paz, Jose Emilio Pacheco, Juana Ines de la Cruz, Nezahualcoyotl… I can go on and on. In the United States, poets of Mexican descent have won National Book Awards and are now poet laureates of the United States (Juan Felipe Herrera), Arizona (Alberto Rios), San Antonio (Laurie Ann Guerrero), San Francisco (Alejandro Murguia), and yours truly in Los Angeles. Other Chicano writers of note include Sandra Cisneros, Victor Villasenor, Ruben Martinez, Ana Castillo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, and Luis Alberto Urrea. Our literary peers have recognized our value to U.S. letters, even though we are still highly marginalized in publishing and academic circles. But we persist with powerful work (mostly in English, but many are also writing in Spanish).

“Oppression makes even God smell foul.”—Felipe Luciano

Reading the newspaper I feel like an accomplice;
a voyeur is also guilty of something.
So the murders, the corruptions
and calculated larcenies against the spirit
reside in me too.
It’s easy, I suppose, to pretend
I don’t pay rent to the conspiracies.
And that the church is immune
because it’s tax exempt.
But from a landfill or cemetery
grow multi-colored flowers.
Who can say then
from what polluted soils
my blossoms will spring?

jerry.gabriel.high.rezJerry Gabriel’s second collection of fiction, The Let Go (Queens Ferry Press, April 2015) is old school. The reader is transported back to a golden age of the long, simmering short story, with its distinctly American milieu—the working class rust belt, boys at the cusp of adulthood, simmering cold war politics. As writer Charles Baxter notes, Gabriel’s characters are “barely hanging on and fear the let go”—of jobs, of identity, of innocence. And yet it’s hard not to feel the affection Gabriel has for them. The collection is less a suicide note of the American dream than a love letter to the tenacity of those caught it its clutches.

 

JEN MICHALSKI: The first thing that struck me after finishing The Let Go (and this is something my girlfriend points out to me all the time, for I do the same thing in my writing), is that, in addition to their mid-western milieu, so many of your characters are at the cusp of manhood (late adolescence or early twenties). Do you feel that your own crossover into adulthood had an impact on your writing life that is reflected in your choice of younger protagonists, or do you feel you are finally at a safe, wise distance to examine the folly of youth (and too close to write about, say, parenthood and mid-life). Or is it something else completely that drives you towards the troubled young souls in your work?

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Why do you hate interviews so much?

Because I don’t know how to answer these questions without feeling like I’m lying in one way or another. Which isn’t to say that I am lying, but how could I ever possibly tell you the whole truth of me when you are there and I am here? It makes me sad that we are not dancing right now or laughing over drinks on a rooftop in a city. I want to be small in the world with you. Interviews are a tangible reminder of the space between us and I would like whatever is the opposite of that space.

Cat Lady

By Sarah Xerta

Poem

And it wouldn’t be the strangest thing
if I never had sex again, but that’s because I’m having
sex all the time, my eyes like two clits, my ears
like two clits, my mouth. . . Today I’m drinking
coconut tea and looking at photos
of women I’ve never met, their spines like hybrids
between xylophones and violins, throats like galaxies, all the moons
sleeping in their bellies, and I wonder
why I’m not a lesbian, why
I don’t want to reach out and touch them.

NYE first photo

New Year’s Eve has never been a favorite holiday of mine, so I tend not to put much pressure on it. Don’t get me wrong: I love over-imbibing and celebration in general. I appreciate the idea of looking back and thinking ahead to new opportunities, but there’s something about the hype around New Year’s Eve that feels forced to me. Still, despite this aversion, I often find myself remembering the holiday mid-year. It’s possible that I do this because my birthday falls at the end of May, and birthdays seem to be a similar annual marker of celebration and progress.

None of this is to say that I haven’t had my fair share of wild year end celebrations. I lost my virginity in the wee hours of New Year’s Day to a fellow grad student. (Yes, you’re correct, I was a bit older, 22 to be exact, when I lost my virginity. Either you’ll accept the excuse that I went to theater school where there was one straight male to every fifteen women, or you’ll draw your own conclusions: that I was insecure or uptight or a late bloomer. All of these theories have at least a modicum of truth, so do what you will.) Earlier that night, before the clock turned, I’d decided to “embrace the old,” and publicly made out with a former undergraduate classmate at a party. After we rang in the new year, though, it was a current colleague that I accosted in the back of a cab we were sharing home, ready to find the “new me” of 2006. I love/hate that I lost my virginity on New Year’s Eve. It seems absolutely appropriate, like some harbinger of the year to follow, like a crux on which my life could pivot, but I hate that it sounds fake and planned, like it was a resolution I made, which it was, if only in that it was a vague hurdle I had wanted, for some time, to have already jumped. The New Year, though, had nothing to do with it.

Once upon a time in New York

I bought my Penguin paperback of Moby-Dick on February 23, 1988. I’m certain of the date because it’s scrawled on the first page, just above a thumbnail biography of Herman Melville. I used to have a habit of noting a book’s purchase date on its first page, and sometimes I would also note the store where I bought it, though I only added the city in this case: “NYC.” I remember the circumstances vividly. I bought Moby-Dick at St. Mark’s Bookshop on St. Mark’s Place while headed to see, for the third time, a Brazilian-themed production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Public Theater. Then, at a stationery store, I bought a blank greeting card with a Monet landscape on the front. The card was for Elizabeth McGovern, who was playing Helena in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and I inscribed the card at a coffee shop cater-cornered from the Public Theater on Lafayette Street. “I’m an actor and writer in town from L.A.,” I wrote, “and I’m planning to see the play tonight and I’d like to say hello afterward,” describing myself briefly—“I’m tall and wearing a black leather jacket”—so that Elizabeth McGovern—or “Liz,” as she was known to friends—could recognize me after the performance. I listed a few mutual acquaintances without mentioning Orrin, as I’ll call him, who was also in the cast of Midsummer and had advised me against trying to contact Elizabeth McGovern, and I certainly didn’t mention that I had seen the play twice already. She might take me, rightly, for a stalker.

  Sleep’s tentacles loose and tickling
should not be the enemy
nor the medicine. And when Day
stands in its way, it collapses under the demand.
  Parables, too, reach beyond night,
never stay taped with snapshots
on wood paneled walls and turn history
even in the present.
  Dreaming to understand them only means
understanding will never happen.
Sleep can never be the enemy; not the medicine
unless it’s supposed to last forever.

Chris Leslie-Hynan is a very busy man these days. With the success of his first novel, Ride Around Shining, he has been touring on and off for well over the last year. I caught up with him somewhere around Las Vegas to discuss his novel and also some of the biases and expectations he had to confront when writing about race, class, and envy.