HAPPENING NOW: Antelope Valleys Arts new initiative, the AV ArtConvo, featuring poems by Tino Garcia.
Presenting poems by Tino Garcia: “Predators” & “Rap and Bone Shop of the Heart”
SATURATION 2.0: The Arts in Conversation project at Antelope Valley Arts is now live: Local artists (painters, poets, photographers, fiction writers) have been invited to submit art and partake in a conversation on artistic influence and inspiration as the print arm of Antelope Valley Arts is going digital.
This week’s featured artist is a musically inspired and intellectually playful poet, Tino Garcia.
Tino Garcia: “I am a teacher, artist, and writer who currently teaches at Antelope Valley College. I grew up near Santa Fe, New Mexico and then attended high school and college in Moorhead, Minnesota. I studied English and Spanish and then taught English as a Second Language in Mexico City for a year, before earning a Master’s in Religion (Philosophy of) in Claremont, CA. I studied further in that field at UCSB, while also teaching ESL. I started teaching English at AVC in 2015.”
I lie on my back on a yoga mat
on my patio in Ventura,
land of good fortune,
on a Tuesday morning,
stretching my body and supine mind
into contemplative poses
and prayer recitals,
in the hour after I awaken.
Noticing the rich green
of the pine tree as it babbles
with birdsong, a faint plane
crosses my sky,
draggin in its wake
across my mental sky
an indelible image
from an magazine ad:
a model in a snow-white bikini,
and black stilettos,
lounging near a chic LA hi-rise pool,
cocktail in hand –
of Californicated imaginations –
a Skyy Vodka bottle perched
on the her side table,
luring us into her posh privilege
and luxurious repose.
The scene sizzles in a sexy, blasé
devil may care kind of way.
Oh how lovely it would be
to bask with her under that sun
forget schedules, obligations, calls:
pour some Skyy into us
and just chill…
chill until we feel
a flood of numbness
a rush of inertia
sweep our minds clean
of this dirty world
at least for a little eternal while.
But as I blink and squintingly drink
in the ad’s imagery again,
I notice a plane’s shadow pass
over her oblivious repose,
with an elongated, phallic nose
and wings with protrusions:
not engines, but bombs.
Suddenly she’s cast not
in the city of angels,
but under the hijacked plane
and gaze of predators.
Their shadow and eyes invisible,
except their embeds
in the splay of her lustrous,
raven black hair:
I gaze and am gazed at
by the unblinking,
unmistakable head, beak, and eye
of the black bird of death.
Why is this predator eyeing me, us?
I look again to the sky and see
across it a 15 year old
lying on his patio,
stretching his body and supine mind
into contemplative poses
and prayer recitals,
in the hour after he awakens
on a Tuesday morning
in a foreign land:
in al Majala, Yemen,
in Waziristan, Pakistan,
in Nangahar, Afghanistan.
The boy, the woman, and I
all haunted by homeland insecurities
and their predators: I spy
and a dove-colored Predator drone
flying invisibly over his house
at 5,000 feet
haunting his entire sky.
And on a Tuesday morning as he prays,
it buries that boy’s prayer
in a missile squawk as hot
and haughty and eternal as the hell fire
for which it is named.
And in a control room in Vegas
and in the Pentagon, if you listen
you can hear the brass squawks
of Pyrrhic victories,
as a whole world heaves and
Interview Part 1:
How does music influence, shape or fit into your work?
Music bears an intimate relationship to my poetry: intimate in the sense that they seek to speak the unspeakable to each other. They turn to and turn into each other and I can never separate them, as if they are divine twins, or shadows of each other. Most of my poems are meant to be spoken out and I often set them to music. Music is a many-voiced muse whose rhythms and sways and beats I aim to channel into my words as I speak them, whether the poem is accompanied by actual music or not. I also rap, so many of my poems are essentially raps and vice versa.
Who or what are your major artistic influences?
My major artistic influences come primarily from three forces: music, especially rap; literature; and diverse intellectual traditions (philosophical, religious, political, etc.). The figures I draw on most tend to blend these forces. In terms of rap, who comes to mind are Mos Def and Kweli, Immortal Technique, Brotha Ali, Wu-Tang, Common, the Roots, and many others. In terms of literature, diverse figures such as Sherman Alexie, Langston Hughes, Jimmy Santiago Baca, David Whyte, Junot Diaz, Rumi, Walt Whitman, Julio Cortázar, Nikos Kazantzakis, John Fowles, Herman Hesse, and others. On the intellectual tip, Nietzsche, Socrates, Jacques Derrida, Cornel West, Frantz Fanon, Enrique Dussel, and others.
Rap and Bone Shop of the Heart
I crack the question open from the start to you:
What if rap is a rag n bone shop of the heart too?
What if it were true?
Would it sound different to you?
Cuz like Hughes the classic forms it may eschew,
But it too hews and drops innumerable jewels
Cuz rap did not come here to do tricks with rhymes, no –
It came to reproduce the human soul:
To lay stun hew and shake its peers’ ears.
But too many still don’t hear, so to be clear:
Rap’s best should be appreciated as peers
Of master creators like Shakespeares.
Huh! You may jeer,
Thinking they’re not on par,
But peer again, ask yourself who’s the bard:
Quote “The most benevolent king
Communicates through your dreams” unquote –
Is this the yearning of Elizabethan tragedy
Or a 21st century soul activist MC?
They said hip-hop was much ado about nothing:
Not to be thought of as true sound conducting.
But Shakespeare too was born under a rhyming planet
And a stork dropped hip-hop into the pocket of iambic
Pentameter, so you could rock “Shall I Compare Thee”
At 80 b.p.m.s or 140, get it really racing!
Open up the Bard’s unique vocab and let its canon blast
But I heard he busts fewer unique words
Per first 35,000 words in his oeuvre
Than the Wu-Tang Clan, who drops science like WMDs.
So Socrates’ philosophies’ hypotheses can’t define either of these
Griots, custodians of alkaline knowledge from parallel streets;
Peep the Rag and Bone epigraphy:
“Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweeping of a street
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.”
From this foul place excavated by W.B. Yeats
Comes the profound base of rap’s heavy weights.
For who quipped, “Maybe it’s hatred
I spew, maybe it’s food for the spirit”?
Was it the haunted Lord Hamlet
Or the sarcastic Marshall Mathers
A.k.a. Eminem? Well it was the latter;
But that’s just to say affinities resound, even if
Shakespeare ever redounds to peerlessness,
Cuz stripped of our contextual lenses
The lyrics begin blendin
And raisin conditional questions:
What if it were an unwrapped heart
Right from the slavish start?
What if its core were soft not hard?
What if it embarks on largest arks?
What if rap reveres the currents of King’s dream?
Channels the rivers of America’s dream stream?
What if that’s what it breathes and bleeds?
What if we need to ink it into our creeds?
Need to sing its poems into our Odysseys?
So it too can return home to its Penelopes.
Maybe we need its unseen visions
Like Odysseus needed Tiresias
And like King needed Jesus.
Cuz rap’s a nomad enlightening the lands
Tree of life black every hue rattled
By its solar alma dura
From the concrete jungles to la casa de la luna:
It blends ascents toward vaunted peaks
With descents beneath conscious streets.
See, I dive into rap’s marrow stock
Dig, it’s my rag and bone shop.
So hell yeah it’s full of rags and bones
Shady like Hades so it has soul,
So much soul it overflows
Cuz it’s known rivers, grown deep
And not knowing me you could know me.
Learn and explore my soulful currents
By observing raps flows and disturbances
What if it could help us learn to grieve?
Help heal the wounds burning internally eternally?
What if its strong tonic were truer than
Fine wine, bomb chronic, and juice and gin?
What if it could shake and bake you
Back into earthen clay to remake you?
What if it could bend your tree of life
Along the arc of justice over time?
What if it begins as unwanted grit
Trapped in a mantle of darkness within
A shell, and through slow devotion
Pearls grow in from those deep oceans?
Pried open their beauty blesses our skin,
The grit now covered in sublime rhythms
Manifesting divine wisdoms;
Refined over time the jewels shine on
The priceless light of a daimon
So bright got the cosmos sayin right on
Big bang your beats while we rhyme on!
You ever burned with the warmth of Mahatma Ghandi?
You ever heard the heart of Brotha Ali?
“A man may see how this world goes with no eyes
Blind in the eye so I see you with my heart open wide.”
Who is rapping on the door in the dark?
Is it somebody who wants to do us harm?
No, no it is three strange angels
Open the door and be thankful
Rap is a secret that not all understand
But many blues bears and jazz cats can;
Its lovers grasp its heartfelt beat
And “whoever’s not killed for love is dead meat.”
As coffins rest on coffins in worldwide fields of war
Mos Def cries and Funerals March
And Immortal Technique blasts a Third World manifesto
Like Talib Kweli’s Ballad of the Black Gold
And rap dances with the devil, it is true,
But also with gods, and I hope you do too.
A chorus of laments rages cries and rap knells
Landmarks left behind like mines and shrapnel
The ruins, the unexploded
The unfinished sentences of war
So Tupac held the ashy hand of the Lord of death
Walked the road of children of fire obsessed with it
Gravitas in his gait because he carried graves
His art a refusal of gravity and his own grave
Until its embrace created his fate as an image graven
Crafted rap rosaries that grew in concrete vases
Prayed for shade and havens over raw street beats
And chased chaste Hail Mary: Dear mama save me!
Rage gave way to wailing gave way to graceful sleep.
So what if we call raps prayers and blessings?
Poems of our daughters and sons confessing
What they feel needs raising, holding, protecting
Wishing they knew how it feels to be free
Like Nina Simone – like you and me:
Rap is grateful to what comes
Amazingly faithful to other drums
Incredible fidelity to the same mother
Indelible fidelity to the same sun.
Interview Part 2:
What musician, visual artist or writer would you like to do a TED Talk on and why?
I would love to do a TED talk on the contemporary writer Walter Mosley because he is new to me and I am loving being held under the sway of his genius. I am reading some of his works (Rose Gold, Little Green, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, etc), one of which I am also teaching and, though I do not know that much about him, I feel like I know him through his characters. Through his style, themes, and characters, such as Socrates Fortlow and Easy Rawlins, he fires my imagination and takes my wonder on walkabouts, while also stirring and discharging the sacred outlaw and deep outrage within me. As an illustration of this sway his works have over me and which I would like to share, I am currently working on an essay and also a song about Socrates Fortlow. Mosley’s references to historical and literary events and figures would provide amazing material to analyze in a TED talk, as would the screenplays he has helped turn into films (e.g., Devil in a Blue Dress). Additionally, from what I gather about political and social thinking, I think it is worthy of sharing and discussing. There is so much food for thought and soul food in the works I have encountered that a TED talk would offer an impetus to eat more of what he’s serving up and to crystallize what is currently cooking as a result of his food.