City Speaks

Episodes 1, 2, 3 & 4

City Speaks 2

“Put your seat in our seat … please.”

  • What: A sculptural poetry/sonic installation
  • Where: 1199 S. Fair Oaks Avenue (S.W. corner of W. State St. and Fair Oaks Ave.)
  • When: Daily, December 20, 2013 through today
  • Hours: 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM for sonic experience
  • Parking: Limited street parking on Fair Oaks. Please respect parking signs on residential streets.

seatart-c“City Speaks” brings together the talents of Southland poets, a concrete ghost of a Morris Chair and an ambient sonic environment in a contemplative al fresco living room. Sit a spell, relax in dappled shade and enjoy poetic reflections on the Crown City of the San Gabriel Valley.


The poets (see tabs above for specific artists and their information)
Rima Snyder (City Speaks 1 – 3) and Guillermo Guzman (City Speaks 4), Sound Designers
Alessandro Thompson, Sculptor
Thadeus Frazier-Reed, Electronics Design

City Speaks is part Pasadena’s Rotating Public Art Program. For more information, click here click here


“City Speaks” is one of the three site-specific artworks commissioned by the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division and Pasadena Department of Water and Power.

Featuring the following artists:

Kamaria Shepherd | Polly Geller | Gerda Govine Ituarte, Ed.D.

NewTown is pleased to present the fourth and final iteration of City Speaks, featuring poems by Kamaria Shepherd, Polly Geller and Dr. Gerda Govine Ituarte. Listen to the poems as installed.

Listen to the Poems

Kamaria Shepherd

Kamaria Shepherd is a poet and painter, currently teaching and painting at Exceptional Children’s Foundation in San Pedro. Her work revolves around issues of identity, memory, race, culture, womanhood, and femininity as an African American woman in the United States and beyond. She writes about her work and the thoughts surrounding its processes in a hybrid of poems, personal narratives, and short stories.

Here is the text  of her poem Inna House

Sookie sookie nah
Whenever I look good
Sock it ta me cake
What my grandmother made
She wanted me to come to her
Grape Kool-aide
Grape drink
Gape drank
She wanted me to drink
She wanted me to replace
Her face with foundation
Between brown blaze and brown sugar
Warm chocolate browns with red undertones
Deep browns with red undertones
Nutmeg, hazelnut, toffee, java
A hot drink to consume
Black people consume and are
Candy, chocolate, liquorice root
What is Pure Brown?
Deep brown with neutral undertones
Under the soot skin
Oh shoot! Oh Shoot!
In the fields
In the farms

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Polly Geller

Polly Geller is a writer, poet, photographer, literary translator and singer, currently teaching at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. As she says, her goal is to find the story and then figure out how to tell it.

Here is the text of her poem, That the year is sugar:

To the grain
From salt to sap

That the batter pertains to silt
And its silk remains a soup

That technology can be pursed
Yet in ones hands
Over candlelit dinner
The dance is in the gaze
Of radiant status blues,
And caged hellos
Err the vinyl and undertones
It’s a choreography
That paso doble which marks promise within the bars

And how in search of snow, off-seasons, of a hawk
High on tableaus, requiems of time not-traveled

And how swiftly the hurdy-gurdy plays on
Till next year then, play on play on
When eyes are locked and hearts are present
Pursed and noble
Vulnerable and quiescent
From salt to sap
Herb and root

Here, the river
There, the night in which we dip our thoughts
To parcel hope for a catapult,
a tome, cantilevered.

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Gerda Govine Ituarte, Ed.D.

Gerda Govine Ituarte, Ed.D., is a poet, art curator, columnist and CEO of G. Govine Consulting. She writes, “As We Speak,” a column for the Pasadena San Gabriel Valley Journal, is a guest writer for The Pasadena Weekly newspaper, and is a board member of the Pasadena Youth Center. “I reflect, illuminate and connect with others using words to create a sense of place. I am in love with words that anchor, touch and nourish my spirit and soul.”


Here is the text of her poem, Well Come | Come Well:

Ancestors’ fingerprints claim us
Tongues tell stories written on forehead
Faces radiant
Forest of hands sway
Symphony of voices calm
Body bear witness
Strong shoulders carry us
Shadows listen
Humanity lock arms
Connect thread of possibilities
Cadre of feet steady
Tree of friendship bears fruit
Perceptions wrestle truth
Actions anchor communities
Taste words flavored with memories
We grow in the shade of our dreams
With intent to make them real
Our eyes are open
Images glide by revealing the
Wonder that we draw from
Well Come | Come Well.

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Featuring the following artists:

E. Amato | Conrad Romo | Terry Wolverton

About E. Amato

“unapologetic feminist, dulcet-toned poet, activist, film-maker, editor of Zestyverse”
– Aki Schiltz/LossLit

Published poet, award-winning screenwriter, and established performer E. Amato was a member of the 2011 L.A. Slam Team and has competed at Poetry Slam Nationals and the Women of the World Poetry Slam. From LA to Edinburgh, she has produced numerous live performance events including two 5-star shows at the Festival Fringe Edinburgh and Sariyah Idan’s solo theatre piece Homeless in Homeland at Brighton Fringe 2013. She was associate coordinator of Youthspeaks’ Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Nationals in 2004, as well as coach of the Peace4Kids team. She has three poetry collections released by Zesty Pubs: Swimming Through Amber, 5, & Will Travel, and is published in numerous anthologies and zines. She edits and publishes the Zestyverse, which features positive and proactive lifestyle and culture articles, and is a content writer for The Body Is Not an Apology.

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There is a black box.

There is a red alarm.

There is a being.

There is a black box. Indestructible.

There is an alarm with a glass panel.

There is a being a woman deeply hidden.

The being, she, of woman
inside black box, opaque she
dreams of the alarm sounding


There is a pinging
there must be
but can it be heard
or only registered

Is there a way to sound the alarm —

the box itself
a black hole
the being firmly gripped inside

the black box a dress
a coffin
a trap

Where is the alarm

there is a tiny hammer
to break the glass
somewhere in all this


The story of everything
is inside the box of course

but no one knows it is there
nor the woman absorbed
by this perfect vault. This
archive that enshrouds. No one
looks for it. No one even
knows there was a disaster.

the woman becomes
someone else
becomes no one

Before she was woman
With limbs and tastes. Now
she is contortion of matter
energy subsumed by this
exoskeleton of infinite weight.

Was there a before?

Does no one hear the pings?

Is the alarm not red, not in plain sight?

Is there a woman.

The monster wants to get out.
The monster is only a monster
because there is a box.

What if we open the monster’s box?
Shine Socratic sunlight — does she flower
grow stretch arms to the warm wave
particles or —

before the impregnable box is uncased –

do the sensationalists, the fabulists,
the fantasist fundamentalists, the
monsters who chain their humans in
boxes –

do they reign terrible sky upon the being
she was contrived to be? Is she denied
the transformation of freedom by the
ones who ruin everything?

It is only thus for her:
let me out.

As far as she can think or will.
There is no after.
There is only now.
And the perpetuity of silence.

“Break my silence!”
she screams, but
there is nothing – not
even oxygen to vibrate
thoughts into sound.
thoughts so loud
so impenetrable
everything impenetrable.

Whatever happened to permeability?

Break in case of emergency.

This is Emergency. The hammer of it
pounds inside her —

“Shatter the glass around
me in a cascade of
tingling shards, a sparkling
chandelier of broken;

Sound the alarm with its
gas chamber music —

I want to hear,” she
cries, absent
sensation of sound
those reverberations
that let her know
she is alive.

Or perhaps
this is
what death
feels like

a stark awareness
that everything is gone
as identity wraps itself
in eternity.

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About Conrad Romo

Conrad Romo is the co-founder of LitCrawl L.A and the host/producer of Tongue & Groove, a
literary variety show, now well into year 12. He grew up in N.E.L.A. short, stocky and swarthy.
He earns his daily bread as a salesman. His writing has appeared in Los Angeles Review,
Huizache, Latinos in Lotusland, Tu Ciudad, Silver Birch, Palehouse, Splice Today, Literature for
Life + Coiled Serpent. Find him here:

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Jack & The Transformer

Jack thinks he’s a healer. Ever since the accident he believes he’s got the touch. He lives at the end of a cul-de-sac in Shadow Hills. A transformer looms large a few hundred feet behind his place. It puts out a faint steady hum.

It’s been months since I’ve been to his place. The reason for the visit today is my black Lab named Maggie. I knock three times quickly on the door and after a pause knock again.

Jack yells from somewhere inside his house.

“C’mon in through the back door by way of the garage!”

Inside it is warm and cozy. A burning log crackles in the fireplace. I take off my heavy coat and hang it on a chair. The smell of sage hangs in the room. Jack is sitting at a computer in his bedroom. Opera music by Puccini is playing on the stereo.

“Hey man, I’ll be right with you. I just need to close something out. Coffee’s brewing, help yourself,” he says.

I get a big mug, fill it and add some half and half from the fridge and artificial sweetener in yellow packets from a jar on the kitchen table.

Maggie finds a bowl on the kitchen floor and laps up some water.

She is only 5 yet her left hind leg has gone lame. Nine months ago she favored it in a way that was hardly noticeable. At first I thought she had stepped on something, a piece of glass maybe, not that I could find it. Soon she was limping, which over time, only got worse. Now her leg hangs useless and withered.

I sip from my coffee and look at pictures on a living room wall of his boys Jesse, Jordan and Jake mugging for the camera. I always thought Jack looked a bit like Michael Caine. Jack claims to have the touch and today he will lay his hands on Maggie. He swears his dog Stella had a similar problem and he cured her. He is convinced his new found power came to him after he broke his neck ten months earlier. It happened on the eve of his 20th wedding anniversary. He and his wife JK got into a spat during dinner at a fancy restaurant. Jack took the car, leaving JK to catch a cab, and less than a mile away he smashed into a telephone pole, nearly killing himself.

Jack moves a little stiffly now – when he turns to look at me, he turns his whole upper body rather than just his head and winces. His hair falls on his forehead to hide indentations left when the screws attaching the “halo” brace to his skull were removed.

Maggie is pacing and makes excited whimpers and grunts. She seems happy to be around someone else and Jack tells her to calm down. “See her circling like that? D’ya know why she’s doing that? All dogs circle like before they lie down. Do you know why?” he asks.

“It’s instinctual,” he says. “They’re looking for snakes. It’s genetic programming and she doesn’t even know why she’s doing it. They are making sure none are around before they lie down. They’ve got layers and layers of habituation that become who they are until they’ve forgotten the how and why. Good old nature, huh?”

I have no idea if he’s making it up or if he read it somewhere or if he just figured it out on his own but, it makes sense to me.

Jack slaps his palms together and starts rubbing them quickly against each other. creating friction. After a minute or so he then places his hands on both sides of Maggie’s hind leg. I silently pray for a miracle. So far this year she’s endured blood tests, x-rays, bone-scans, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, psychic readings and a long list of homeopathic medicine.

Jack massages her leg and says it feels hot, and again says how much he’d like her to get better. The ever present drone of the transformer out back is almost soothing. I wonder if whatever Jack had is spent. I hope it’s not and I hang on with all I’ve got to a thread of hope that he has something, anything left in his hands.

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About Terry Wolverton

Terry Wolverton is author of ten books of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, including Embers, a novel in poems, and Insurgent Muse: art and life at the Woman’s Building, a memoir. She is the founder of Writers At Work, a creative writing studio in Los Angeles, and Affiliate Faculty in the MFA Writing Program at Antioch University Los Angeles. She is also an instructor of Kundalini Yoga and Meditation.

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Lightning in the Blood

Let us make a cosmos, and not a chaos.
— Osho

White light surrounds my outstretched hands;
I hold the breath in, chant har, har, wha he guru,
mantra to balance earth and ether
matter and spirit, energy.

Breathing out, streaks of lightning
shoot from my fingertips,
this meditation called
Thunderbolt of Shiva.

Shiva, Auspicious One.
Shiva, Transformer.
Dancing Shiva.
Slayer of Demons.

Shiva, the Red One.
Shiva, Pure One.
Shiva, Lord of Three Realms.
Shiva, Who Has 10,000 Names

Crescent moon weaves
through his matted hair.
Skin smeared with ash.
Serpent curled around his neck.

This serpent of rebirth,
reminds us we all shed our containers—
the body and its story,
the feelings of today, this world—all temporary.

Sometimes the serpent holds an egg in its mouth,
sometimes it takes flight,
sometimes its body zigzags like lightning,
the vital energy of Kundalini,

word drawn from “serpent” and “time.”
Three-and-a-half coils hum at the fourth vertebra,
spiral, magnetize the spine,
the Maya called it, “lightning in the blood.”

Lightning, the child of polarity
warm air and cold collide,
create visible plasma,
branching tree-like patterns

that split the sky.
Lightning strikes 40-50 times
per second on our Earth,
has been observed on Venus and Jupiter.

The cloth of this universe is energy,
woven parallel and perpendicular.
Like cloth, the diagonal makes it stronger,
the zigzag, the Z, the serpent, the lightning,

Sometimes I live in chaos, enter
the trance of matter. Then I remember
nothing is solid, matter doesn’t exist
except as it appears in consciousness.

So I breathe in—
radiance surrounds my outstretched hands,
breathe out—lightning
sparks into cosmos through my fingertips.

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Featuring the following artists:

Pat Payne | Mikael Hakansson | Gwendolyn Alley

About Pat Payne

Pat Payne aka The Velvet Hammer is ‘OMNICREATIVE’ an artist who enjoys creating in any and all disciplines. A Caribbean-American multi-media installation/performance artist, poet, visual artist, costume designer, reluctant shaman, and self-avowed troublemaker. She retired as the reigning Taos Poetry Circus Heavyweight Champion, after back-to-back wins in 2002/03. Her one-woman shows and poetry have been presented at numerous venues including REDCAT, the LA Women’s Theater Festival, Wordfest Calgary/Banff Poetry Festival, University of Stirling, Edinbrough, Beyond Baroque and was part of the Inspiration House Choir at California Plaza’s Grand Performances Series.

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Water Poems

she who walks upon water and the sea

An amazing vermillion vision
Levitating on the biceps of Blackamoors
Her feet, unseen, ruffle sand
A diaphanous swathe of swaying silk,
Her lyrical hem imitates a Ming figurine,
Hair feathers whisper in the breeze
Consorts, attentive to her mellifluous flow
Orient her beatific smile to the moon

Where can the sea bathe unashamed
Without green eyes of moonlight haunting her

 Startled gulls spiral into confetti updrafts
As she lifts the ocean’s petticoat of foam
To test the temperatures of arching waves
A carpet of grunion glitter between sandalwood toes
Saline mist engulfs her elegant entourage
As the cerise mirage vanishes into silent fog

goddess of sand beaches

ocean mother of all creation

Water is woman is water
swelling, ebbing, birthing, seeping, melting, freezing, crystallizing,
boiling, vaporizing, shrouding, embracing, always adapting
woman is mother is living water
half our earth, portal between dimensions of manifestation
and dreams, prayer and life
mother is water is prayer is life is a mirror is beauty
is breath of mist, secret of alchemists
mother is water is goddess is water is
restorative, rejuvenating fountain of divinity, Red Sea
woman is water, water, water, water, water, water
quenching wave upon wave of infinite thirst
woman is water is mother is goddess is magic is…

rain, rainfall, rivers, a water‐spirit

These droplets are beads in my story belt
a way to remember dances that brought rain
and love to my barren heart

an Oriyu water‐spirit channeled over my body
chose its way over the sweetest parts of me
following curves, flowing into crevasses
washed away more than dirt and dust
it soothed my scorched soul
when my hands were steepled in prayer

water nymphs, sprites, goddesses of love, a water‐spirit

your birth was prefaced by water
spilling out of the cavern you’d hidden in
months spent floating in dreamstate
named before your first tear
first bath, squirmed as if water was unfamiliar
as if you hadn’t breathed fluid
in your indescribable amniotic sea
before lungs were introduced to air
before your rainbow crowned my world

storms, icebergs, destruction, and wisdom

power is a pastel‐colored matrix of illusive containment
valves, tubes, knobs, tanks, levels, electric lawns
capricious nurturer, gifting or withholding
power lies in knowing everything is malleable
that butterflies wing can cast winds into waterspouts

water is the muse of form
the droplet eternally suspended over an infinite pool of desires
one descends, another is poised to fall

water wears masks of rain, river, spring, deluge
takes on the expressions of your desires
and pours ice into your cup

She Who Turns the Spigot, controls your reality
but water lies low,
adopting the contours of any vessel that seeks to hold it
always disguising its depth by evening its placid surface
respects no boundaries or weakness
disappears but is never truly gone
escapes as stealthy molecules driven by wind

who truly rules water?
it answers only to the Moon

fountains, springs, wells

time erased by repetition
moon’s unseen baton orchestrating choirs of gentle waves
the bright bay of midday sun peeking through
mesmerizing mummified air
dark, damp, cool hypnotic subterranean pool
corrugated light in the cistern water
abstracted patterns on undulating surfaces
animated pixies of color and contrast
my eyes float, unfocused
absorbing it all
longing to plunge in

she who walks upon water and the sea

© PAT PAYNE, 2013
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About Mikael Hakansson

Mikael Hakansson is originally from Sweden, and came to the US in 1984. Since then he has resided in Pasadena and has found a wonderful home and life there. Mikael has been writing since his middle teens. His work includes poetry, short stories, 3 novels and several movie scripts. In 2002 he self published a poetry collection, called RainDances in the Sahara, and a short story collection called Red Lights. Like many, he is still waiting for one of his titles to be published or for one of the scripts to be sold.

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The Power of Water and the Power of Wind

Water and wind,
a weak man lives a life full of sin,
while a strong man
find his strength within.
Strangers and kin,
love gives way but it never gives in,
like an energy
stronger than both muscles and will.
The yang and the yin,
is both in the loser who eventually wins,
and in the one who dreams
of the happy ending but never begins.

Wind breathes out
and wind breathes in,
like a force that never ended
and never begun but always exists.
Wherever it blows, it surely knows
why and to where the clouds are riding,
or what the shadows
between our dreams keeps hiding.

Water flows out
and water flows in,
like a power unyielding,
stronger than what will be and has been.
Wherever it goes, it surely knows
to whom the oceans are waving,
or which reflection
that keeps them from raging.

Water and wind,
stand or fall, sink or swim,
in the energies
that becomes your virtues or your sins.
Strangers and kin,
the relationship between both,
hides the truth of you within.
The yang and the yin,
is universal water and cosmic wind.
Your flesh and bone is so the water,
while you spirit is the wind,
and together they become the balance
in both Her and in Him.
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About Gwendolyn Alley

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The Key and the Crown

Aqua. Agua. Apa. Awa. Ama.
Vada. Vasser. Wasser. Water.

water is everywhere
in everything
water is everything
in everywhere.

Batchelard tells us:
A/ah is the water vowel.
A/ah is the first letter of the universal poem.
A/ah is the letter that stands for the repose of the soul.

Language is filled with water, he says.
Listen as the liquid syllables of flowing language
carry off lingering moments of memory.
Listen to the stirrings of the stream.
Listen to the stream laugh and the laughter stream.
Listen to the round words roll over stones.
Speak to the river and it will teach you to speak.
Feel whispering onto your face the beauty born of murmuring sound.

Water dissolves all barriers.
Water brings everything together.
Water carries everything everywhere.
Water weeps with everyone.

Water flows in the air between us.
Water flows on the ground beside us.
Water flows deep underneath us.
Water flows within us:
in every breath (breathe),
in every heart beat (feel).

Water cycles
from sea to sky
from body to body
from sky to stream
from body to body
from stream to sea
from body to body
from being to being:
the same water
in the first beings
flows in our bodies.

We’re all made of recycled water:
water recycled since the beginning of time.

Without water
we cannot smell:
the membranes in our nostrils must be moist.
See the glisten on a dog’s nose.
Get your philtrum damp and sniff.

Without water
we cannot speak:
our tongues must be wet to work.

Without water,
we do not hear:
air carries sound through water.

Without water
we cannot see:
we must blink blink blink
keep our eyes constantly rinsed.

Our brains too must be bathed:
without water
we explode in pain.

Our constant companion carries us
through in above with about.
So embedded are we in water
we must look for it to see it:
water is both mirror and window.

No wonder Poseidon was pleased to be King of Water
when baby brother Zeus chose the heavens
and brother Hades, holding the short straw, got the underworld.

Headline Pasadena:
Poseidon King of Water Dammed
by key holding Hades at Devil’s Gate!

In a Dionysian rush
to join the sea:
water races roars down
precipitous San Gabriel Mountains
rocky, rugged, steep, sharp
ravaged by fires from Hades
prone to Poseidon’s floods
the intense racket rises
disturbing the sky home of Zeus.

From 32 square miles of
upper Arroyo Seco
rolling stones gravel sand stop
land creating an alluvial plain:
“Hashamongna” the native Tongva named it–
“land of flowing rivers, fruitful valley”–
geologists call it “the Raymond Basin”
the Spanish said: “the key of the valley”
the Indiana Colony decreed it “crown of the valley”
or, in Ojibway Pasadena.

From Devil’s Gate
Arroyo Seco emerges
steep descent slows
cuts through water soaked bajada
dyked at the south by one of Poseidon’s faults.

Undaunted by near desert conditions
only 21 inches of rain yet ferocious flash floods
elfin forests flourish: gray green coastal chaparral
fragrant purple and white sages, feathery chamise
palm leafed lupine cups droplets of water and blooms indigo spikes.

Hundreds of artesian springs and streams
flowed from an underground aquifer
fed by immense beds of gravel:
cool delicious water leaping out of rocks in little cascades
enough to allow Dionysus to make wine in the 1880s
from grapes grown without irrigation.

Exporting water from Devil’s Gate for agriculture and urbanism
first in zanjas, then tunnels, a three mile long pipe, plus many wells
these graves sank the water table down down down all the way to Hades
who now delivers our liquid refreshment in plastic.

No longer do we drink from the same well in public fountains.
No longer is water the peace that integrates.
Time for communion of Poseidon and Hades.
Time to walk in water.
Time to know the living intelligent force that is in us all.

Aqua. Agua. Apa. Ama. Awa.
Vada. Vasser. Wasser. Water.

With acknowledgements to Marialidia Marcotulli for her ecopsychological thinking on water, to Marialyce Pedersen for her lifelong experiences in the Arroyo Seco watershed, to Tim Brick for his history of Arroyo Seco water development, and to Gaston Batchelard’s essays on water and dreams.
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Featuring the following artists:

Don Kingfisher Campbell | Matthew Shenoda | Kath Abela Wilson

About Don Kingfisher Campbell

Don Kingfisher Campbell, MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, poetry editor of the Angel City Review, publisher of Spectrum and the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly, organizer of the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival, host of the Saturday Afternoon Poetry reading series in Pasadena, California. For awards, features, and publication credits, please go to:

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Three-Sixty From an Artistic Seat

look straight ahead

six trees try to walk
in a sea of grass

glance to your left

a rusted control box is
a long-term sidewalk resident

nearby a composite pole lamp gazes out
across the street admiring titanic steel steam stacks

search behind you

a row of palms dance above
brick-facaded corner store for lease

turn to your right

white-shuttered bungalow sits surrounded
by birds of paradise

as a wood slat chair leans
against stucco

stroll to the south end

a red diamond warning sign symbolically pleads
please don’t crash into this little park

flip around and see a father gently teaches
his helmeted son to cul-de-sac skateboard

walk up to your car

SUNDAY 8AM-8PM (whew, that was close)

finally wave to the portable hoop on a house walkway
with a basketball in the bushes

on the drive away

notice police cars’ brake lights below
black Rose Parade banner

overlooked by blue sky
littered with silver-lined clouds

say goodbye to the State of Fair Oaks in Pasadena
we’ll be entranced by your entrance again
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About Matthew Shenoda

Matthew Shenoda is a writer and professor whose poems and essays have appeared in a variety of newspapers, journals, radio programs and anthologies. He has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his work has been supported by the California Arts Council and the Lannan Foundation among others.

Shenoda lectures widely and has taught extensively in the fields of ethnic studies and creative writing. He has held several faculty and administrative positions at various institutions and is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at Columbia College, Chicago. Additionally, Shenoda has served on the Board of Directors of several arts and education organizations and is a founding editor of the African Poetry Book Fund.

His debut collection of poems, Somewhere Else (Coffee House Press), was named one of 2005’s debut books of the year by Poets & Writers Magazine and was winner of a 2006 American Book Award. He is also the author of Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone (BOA Editions Ltd.), editor of Duppy Conqueror: New & Selected Poems by Kwame Dawes, and most recently author of Tahrir Suite: Poems (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press) winner of the 2015 Arab American Book Award.

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Canto for Pasadena

Carved in the heart of a valley
I close my eyes to the dissipating asphalt
and imagine a river running south.

Sinking in a sea of syllables,
we seek refuge on tree-palmed streets.
At the mouth of the Arroyo Seco
a roar of rockets,
shaping a vision of earth to space,
the dream of Pasadena to orbit the earth,
to witness the topography from on high,
like the archangel San Gabriel
floating above this place.

The clouds shifting atop a peak,
standing in a valley of blue,
we gaze up,
shaded by the songs of jacaranda and pepper trees,
brick and stone,
the bougainvillea winding through cracks.

There is a calmness here,
the hum of the highway
and the ancient river sound.
If you open your eyes just right,
the midday sun will show you the desert,
will reveal the oasis surrounding you.
If you close your eyes,
and levy your body towards Earth,
you will hear the ocean,
understand the ancient plant life,
feel its presence like coral reef.

The hummingbird drinks from the bottlebrush,
and floats in space like a countryless man,
finds its route on an earthen byway,
and understands migration’s song.

We are not like the hummingbird,
fixated on our odd constructions,
unable to recognize root from leaf.
But somehow this valley sustains us,
no matter how we’ve worked for erasure.
The river gurgles in laughter
and every street sprouts something new
life unstopped by borders,
concrete or otherwise.

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About Kath Abela Wilson

Kath Abela Wilson came to Pasadena, lured by her math professor at Caltech then sweetheart, now husband, in 2001, and found here, she says, “Everything I Ever Wanted”. She created and leads “Poets on Site,” a collaborative group concept in which poets are inspired by a place and return to that place to perform on the site of their mutual inspiration. Poets on Site, has performed over 50 programs and 30 books focused on inspiring sites, gardens, museums, galleries, lectures and the Caltech campus. She leads the Caltech Red Door Poets. She also specializes in Japanese poetic forms, writing in English. She is secretary of the Tanka Society of America, and has performed and published her poetry worldwide, traveling with her husband to many locations in Iran, China, Europe and Japan for mathematics and poetry. She always returns to the cultural and scientific riches of Pasadena with great joy and satisfaction. She and her husband Rick Wilson host cultural gatherings, salons in their home. Hear her interviewed by Lois P. Jones on KPFK’s “Poets Cafe” link

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Read the Poem

Everything I Ever Wanted

I loved you
before I ever knew you,
I loved
the look of your name
on the green and white
free way sign.
I wanted
to live in your heart
before knew I could.
I wanted
to take your elevator.
I wanted
to hide
on the third floor
of an ordinary condo
on one of your quiet tree-lined streets.
I wanted
to wake up in your bed
with a new teddy bear,
listening to wild parrots.
I wanted
to be surrounded
by your mountains.
I wanted to pick flowers from
your jacarandas
and wear them as a crown in my hair.
I gazed at your swimming pool
as if it were the ocean.
Now I swim in it every day.
You were warm and cozy.
You dried my hair for me.
You let me
take my clothes off and not be cold.
You let me smell your jasmine.
You had good bagels.
It took more than half a century
to find you but…
you made everything I ever wanted
walking distance,

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