“Tell It Slant”

Poet Marsha de la O

It was my day at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Yesterday, I went with Martine and two friends: All my time was spent in coordinating when and where we should meet, eat, and greet. At such a large, centrifugal event, people tend to separate going to different locations based on their various interests. So today I returned—but this time all by my lonesome. It was an altogether different experience. I bought several books, and for sheer enjoyment attended two poetry readings at the Festival’s Poetry Stage, sponsored by Small World Books on Venice Beach.

My favorite of he two readings I attended was by a Ventura County poet named Marsha de la O. With her husband Phil Taggart, she published a poetry journal called Askew. Under the masthead, she quotes a line from Emily Dickinson, “Tell the Truth But Tell It Slant,” based on the title of the following poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Marsha de la O read from her latest collection, Every Ravening Thing, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. In the cool of the morning, it was nice hearing powerful verse in the dappled light of the Poetry Stage. The audience wasn’t as big as some of the sessions of more “general interest”: The people who were there were there because they wanted to be, and because they loved feeling those frissons caused by the magic of poetry.

Marsha de la O’s Latest Collection of Poems

Following is one of the four poems de la O read this morning:

Space-time Tsunami

If most of the universe is dark energy,
why should we be any different?

Pick a wave, any wave—it’s just energy in motion,
shock, or plasma, or the wide ocean shrugging
its shoulders when space becomes time
and ‘time is not the root of our problem’.

The good ship Charon’s anchored offshore, laden
with otter pelts—soft gold they call it.
Our tsunami strikes during the Napoleonic wars,
but what’s California to Napoleon
that he should weep for her otters?   Nothing.

I had a friend who raked her fingers through my hair, gathered
a hank in a great knot, Hey, Strange Attractor, she used to say,

my binary star, my pristine, my flammable—how we orbited,
each to each.
I had a friend who convened the dead. When we spoke,
water seemed to leave the beach—the sea scrolling backwards and her,
strolling right out onto newborn land—that reckless.

Hey ferryman, come on over here, ferry, ferry, ferryman …

We now exist as thirteen egrets in the canopy of a tree
so far from water that at first they look like
paper lanterns
to the observer who has no place to stand

and still I walk through the great hall of swallows swirling
like Valkyries, like volute, like alley oop,

we do not speak, I’ll trail after for a hundred years.

 

 

 

The Pacific Red Cars

Martine at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum (2016)

If you have ever seen the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), you’ve heard one theory why the best intraurban transportation system in America was destroyed. I think I can assure you that Judge Doom’s hatred of cartoon characters was not the reason why the Pacific Red Cars stopped running around the 1950s. If you’re looking for a reason, you could blame the construction of new freeways, the desire of General Motors to put every American behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, or the aging of the Pacific Electric rolling stock.

My late friend Bob Klein even wrote a novel in which the Red Cars figured—The Road to Mount Lowe—an enjoyable work (if you can get your hands on a copy of it).

The Pacific Red Car Network at Its Height

For whatever reason, the Pacific Red Cars were replaced; and, L.A., which once had a world class public transportation system, wound up with bupkis. When I first came to Southern California, there were the buses of the Rapid Transit District (RTD), which were grossly inconvenient. For instance, going from West Los Angeles to Long Beach took upward of three hours or even more. Then the RTD gave way to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), and things slowly began to change for the better. First of all, the old Red Car right of way between downtown and Long Beach was rebuilt as the Blue Line. Two subway lines were built: the Red Line, connecting downtown to North Hollywood/Studio City, and the Purple Line, from downtown to Western Avenue. (The latter will eventually extend slightly west of the UCLA campus.) Then there was a Green Line connecting Norwalk to El Segundo. (Why didn’t they run from Norwalk to the airport? Politics?) Finally, the Expo Line now connects downtown L.A. to the beach at Santa Monica.

I am a regular rider of the Expo Line, allowing me to go downtown for thirty-five cents instead of paying twenty plus dollars for parking.

Although the present network is still nowhere as extensive as the original Red Cars, it’s nice to know that the public transportation scene in Southern California is no longer going into eclipse.

 

Along the San Andreas Fault

The San Andreas Fault Cutting Through the Carrizo Plain

Yesterday, as we were motoring along the Soda Lake Road through the heart of the Carrizo Plain, Bill Korn said something that made me sit up. “Those mountains on the right have nothing to do with the ones on the left.” The truth of that remark hit me between the eyes. The Plain was a boundary between two tectonic plates—the North American Plate on the right, which was moving ever so slowly to the southwest, and the Pacific Plate, containing most of the population of California, was as slowly heading northwest in the direction of Alaska. And Bill was right, the two mountain chains, separated from each other by only a few miles, had no resemblance.

The movement amounts to an average of only a few millimeters a year, but there have been times that the motion has been more catastrophic. In 1857, the Fort Tejon Earthquake created the strange Chinese scenery of the Devil’s Punchbowl on the north slope of the San Gabriels. Then there was the 1906 temblor and fire that leveled San Francisco and the 1989 Loma Prieto quake. There will be more, a lot more, but hopefully spread over many years. I have lived through the 1971 Sylmar Quake and the 1994 Northridge Quake, both of which had me gelid with fear.

A Map of the San Andreas Fault

Perhaps I dwell too much in my blog posts about volcanoes, earthquakes, hundred year floods, and other disasters. That is because I realize how fragile our lives are. Most people would rather not think about such things, even if they are inevitable. So they build unreinforced brick houses on fault lines or live on the banks of rivers that frequently overflow their banks. Then there are those Guatemalan peasants who live on the slopes of volcanoes because the earth there is so conducive to growing coffee beans and other crops.

 

The Carrizo Plain

Welcome Sign at the South Entrance

My friend Bill Korn and I have been talking about seeing the wildflower blooms at the Carrizo Plain for several years now. As long as I worked doing taxes, however, I was never able to go before April 15; and by that time, the show was all over. Now, being retired, I jumped at the chance. Bill and I met at a Western Bagel in Valencia—he started his trip in far-off Altadena—and we set out in his Prius.

On the way, we passed through Frazier Park and the high country around Mount Pinos before descending some four thousand feet to the level of the Carrizo Plain.

The AT&T Cable Runs Through the Park

The Carrizo Plain National Monument is different from most national parks I have visited. There is no one to collect admission fees at the entrances, and no park rangers were in evidence (though I suspect they exist). Though it was a Monday, there were a lot of cars, particular in the northern part of the park. Most of the action is along the main route called Soda Lake Road that runs the length of the park, paved for approximately half its length, and oiled dirt and gravel for the other half. There were numerous dirt roads that led to subsistence ranches and places that were inaccessible because of deep mud lingering from the heavy rains earlier in the year.

One interesting feature of the park is that Soda Lake Road runs side by side with the San Andreas Fault. I plan to write about this tomorrow if I have the time.

Wildflowers in Great Abundance

This park is probably the largest single section of California grassland that is more or less intact. I didn’t get the feeling that the few ranches we passed made much of a negative impact on the wildness of the place.

Wildflowers Close Up

I will not soon forget the beauty of the Carrizo Plain. I hope I can return some day after another spectacular peak wildflower bloom.

 

Victorian Los Angeles

The Ford House at Heritage Square

On Saturday, Martine and I re-visited the Heritage Square Museum in Highland Park. We had been there many years ago, when it was a struggling attraction in the process of coming into being. Most of the old Victorian houses that had been moved to their location just off the Pasadena Freeway were not yet furnished. In the intervening years, we would pass by the site visible from the Freeway. I am glad that Martine suggested we give the place another chance.

We don’t think of Los Angeles as an old city, despite the fact that it was founded as a Spanish pueblo in 1781—some fifteen years before Moses Cleaveland founded the city of my birth. But whereas Cleveland has shrunk into relative obscurity during my lifetime, Los Angeles has become one of the great cities of the world, and the second largest in the United States. One of the reasons we think of it as a new city is that we have made too liberal use of the wrecking ball to clear away old building to replace them with new ones.

The Main Entrance to the Hale House at Heritage Square

The only real way to visit Heritage Square is to take one of the tours that begin on the hour. The ours themselves last upward of two hours and are quite informative. Our guide explained how, even after they have been moved, two of the houses are subject to paranormal phenomena. Most of the incidents were in the octagonal Longfellow-Hastings house, at which an apparition appeared during one daytime tour. There have also been occurrences of table-tipping; and, one time, a latched door opened by itself just as the tour guide was planning to release the latch. No spirits made a ruckus during our tour yesterday.

 

 

When the Desert Blooms

A hill at the California Poppy Preserve in Los Angeles’s Antelope Valley in Spring 2003.
The California Poppy Preserve in the Antelope Valley Spring 2003

In a post I wrote a few days ago, I remember saying that tulips and California poppies are my favorite flowers. This rainy season has been unusually good, with the result that the wildflower bloom this month is utterly spectacular.

That was also the case in March 2003, when Martine and I visited the California Poppy Preserve with its gentle hillsides blooming with millions of orange flowers.

On Monday, my friend Bill Korn and I hope to visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument in rural Santa Barbara County, where there is another spectacular set of blooms. We had hoped to do it in previous years, but so long as I was racing to prepare tax returns in time for the April 15 deadline, that was a virtual impossibility. For the last twenty-odd years of my accounting career, I typically worked seven days a week in March and the beginning of April.

Close-Up of California Poppies 2010

Never having been to the Carrizo Plain, all I know about it is that it is in a remote area and does not even have paved roads throughout. Several of the roads in the park are currently closed due to mud. Its best known physical feature is that the San Andreas earthquake fault runs right through the middle of it.

Tulip Time

Red Tulip Blossoms Close Up

Today, despite the vaguely threatening weather, Martine and I went to Descanso Gardens to see the tulips, which are at peak bloom right now. They were magnificent! For Martine, it was even better, as we dined twice at her favorite Glendale eateries: Sevan Chicken and Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant.

If I were asked which are my favorite flowers, I would answer tulips and California poppies. Roses are nice too, but I have too many memories of having to pick off and kill Japanese Beetles from my parents’ tree roses in Parma Heights, Ohio. Moreover, roses never look quite so perfect as tulips and poppies do.

This Tulip Reminds Me of a Venus Flytrap with Its “Teeth”

Next after poppies and tulips come camellias. At Descanso Gardens, this has been a bumper crop year for the camellias, which are still at peak bloom throughout the park. We have had a relatively wet and cool winter, and the camellias has responded in great profusion.

Descanso was more crowded today than I can recall from any of our previous visits. The parking lot was full, and hordes of people were positioning themselves in front of the tulips with plastic smiles while others pointed their smart phones at them and clicked away.

Purple and White Tulip Blossoms

I have always hated posed photographs, particularly in front of flowers. Is it because my mother and father always had me positioned in front of flowering plants with an artificial smile? Ever since I have started taking pictures, I have avoided posed pictures, preferring always to shoot candids. One gets more natural facial expressions when they are not expecting a picture. In the end, I got even with my mother. When we were visiting the former Marineland in Palos Verdes, I posed my mother to the right of a sign pointing to the right with a large arrow, with the sign reading “To the Walruses.”

By the way, if you like tulips as much as I do, I highly recommend that you read Alexandre Dumas Père’s novel The Black Tulip about tulipmania in Holland.