#POETMOM: The Earthquake
By Heidi Siegmund Cuda
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world….”
William Butler Yeats
Why we choose to remain comfortably numb as things fall apart, as noted 100 years ago by W.B. Yeats, will likely be studied in history books for years to come, buried under plastic rubble and particle board made in China.
I have a gnawing sense of dread as once again I eschew gainful employment in news to exercise my trapeze artist skills in a free-fall descent (ascent?) into art. Must escape “news blues” (the pain of corporate news jobs). Must extend bird-watching hours.
A text comes through from my daughter, the poet, whose team just won Get Lit’s 4th Annual Classic Slam. It’s an address in Brentwood, where she and some other artists have been invited to perform at a “Social Justice Coffeehouse.”
My daughter has been my muse into the thriving world of contemporary spoken word, and with her I’ve been chronicling a circuit of some of the best teen poets in L.A. County. Every now and then when she thinks I am just being a stage mom, I assure her my love of poetry is credible. I say, “Hey! I was a poet back in the ‘80s, Skippy. Shoot! I made it from here to Riverside!” She shakes her head in confusion.
When I saw her text come through on that Friday, I knew I’d be in for some spiritual uplift, and I cruised to the canyons of Brentwood as invisibly as I could.
I am a flower star child of the ‘60s, and I know a good “be-in” when I see one.
A special group of people and a special group of kids, with the added bonus of free tamales. The event was a fundraiser for the Southern California Crossroads Film & TV Program, and the talent pool was exceptional. The evening was curated by a lovely woman named Barbara Williams, who opened her home to the special occasion.
When I finally got the chance to thank her, I jokingly complained about the view, a magnificent outlook of the infinity of the canyons where birds soared for miles.
In between performances, I was chatting up a poet-actor, a cross between Sal Mineo and Ralph Macchio. He introduced himself, “Manny Jimenez Jr.,” and I blurted out in excitement, “Dude! I know your Pops.”
Just then, in walked Manny Jimenez Sr., my old chum, subject of the long-runnning Fox 11 series Thug Life, which I produced. It chronicled erstwhile tough guys who had completely turned their lives around. Manny was the owner of Suspect Entertainment, an agency that got parts for tough-looking hombres, a true salt of the earth kind of guy. We had loads of catching up to do. Before I could begin my hundreds of questions, Jr. shouted out, “Hey didn’t you write that screenplay Dead Air, about zombies in a newsroom?” I had sent it to Manny Sr. to review. Guilty as charged.
“Guilty,” I muttered, and he said he liked it. I told him, “Keep it up Mineo, it’s being reviewed by a studio, and there’s a role in there for you.”
His father and I had created shows together back in the day. Pops was a former shot caller, who was watching Quentin Tarantino on The Tonight Show one night and got inspired when he heard Tarantino say, “Hollywood takes anyone….” He started hanging out on film sets instead of gang turf, and an entrepreneur was born.
While the Mannys and I were catching up, I heard the opening lines to “Earthquake,” a poem by two of my favorite Get Lit poets, Raul Herrera and Gordon Ip, and I made a beeline to the living room to hear it more closely.
I was feverishly taking mental notes because Herrera was dropping knowledge lightning fast.
“An earthquake named Gandhi told me even revenge has aftershocks.”
His words, keeping us from falling off mental precipices:
“Even a whisper can cause a revolution.”
“Do not underestimate the Hercules behind your tongue.”
“If earthquakes can destroy lives, our voices can rebuild them.”
“Your voices are the reason this planet’s axis is tilted, but your silence is the reason this planet is dying.”
“Malcom X-ited this world believing that his earthquake would cause repercussions…. I have a dream, my dream wasn’t heard. Today, I have a dream, but my dream was deferred…. the world is violent, while we stay s…..”
Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Snap snap snap.
There’s a moment of silence for his silence, and then the crowd erupts with tears and cheers and another poet maestro has spoken. And the whole night goes like that.
One of my favorite solo poets and a finalist from the Classic Slam, Andreas Lara, who attends John R. Wooden High School, stood up to perform “Tainted Velvet,” a poem so beautiful it could be set to a stunning Los Lobos beat and be heard around the world in discoteques.
“Allow me to see starlight, without being followed by street lights, hovering over street fights, complimenting ghetto nights….”
And I’m just snap snap snapping away. Girl can’t help it.
My daughter with the confidence and presence of a champion goddess in a thrift shop sundress got up there and spoke of love and friendship in a poem titled, “Lakota.”
And then she and two of her teammates performed their profound poem, “Countdown to a School Shooting.”
This had been a pleasant evening until that zinger, but after the audience caught its breath, the girls got some very nice applause.
Whispers echoed throughout the room and into the canyon of all the incredible talent in that lovely house on that lovely evening. Being a professional snoop, I walked into each room, observing the warmth of the abode. One thing that I kept noticing was each room was filled with love, loving books, loving thoughts. The power of positivity.
I thought, “I like these people.” I saw a man in a dark corner with a book in his hand stage right and I thought, well I’ll just leave him be. He seems to be enjoying himself right there.
As the night wound down and the final tamales were being consumed, I heard our hostess say: “Let’s get Tom out here for a poem.”
And from stage right entered the guy in the dark, who’d had a book in his hand, the man of the house.
I studied his face and realized, that’s Tom Hayden. The revolutionary. The activist. The former California state senator. The director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center.
He read us a post-war Bertolt Brecht poem.
Indeed I live in the dark ages!
A guileless word is an absurdity. A smooth forehead betokens
A hard heart. He who laughs
Has not yet heard
The terrible tidings.
Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime…
I earn my living
But, believe me, it is only an accident.
Nothing that I do entitles me to eat my fill.
By chance I was spared. (If my luck leaves me
I am lost.)
Snap snap snap.
And so our task at hand becomes clear. In the words of Raul Herrera, time to resurrect poets from graves. Time to bring them to life. But they were never dead. And they never will die. This is a true, authentic literary tsunami. And I love Get Lit for helming the ship. Most of this world is beautiful, and people love each other.
Writer Heidi Siegmund Cuda’s daughter Mila is a former Get Lit Player and the current Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles.