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Christopher Luna by Alisha Jucevic for the Columbian

Christopher Luna by Alisha Jucevic for the Columbian
Christopher Luna by Alisha Jucevic for the Columbian

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

An Infinite Number of Possibilities: Wendell Pierce at Wordstock 2015

I attended Wordstock for the first time on November 7. Although crowded and wet, it was a great experience. I'm not sure whether the venue has enough space for this event, but it looks like it will remain at the Portland Art Museum in 2016. 

One of the presenters I was looking forward to was Wendell Pierce. I enjoyed his work on The Wire and Treme. However, I was not prepared for how inspiring his talk would be. Pierce was there to promote his memoir, The Wind in the Reeds, which tells the story of a production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot put on by Pierce and others in Louisiana's Pontchartrain Park after Katrina. Pierce was raised in this area, and his parents were among those who lost everything in the hurricane. 

Pierce's conversation with OPB's Think Out Loud host Dave Miller focused on the power of art to change lives, and the role that artists play in society. Pierce felt that he had a responsibility to respond to the tragedy in some way, and he also felt obligated to rebuild his hometown. If you'd like to hear their conversation, visit: Wendell Pierce Talks About Acting, Art, and New Orleans

Pierce told us that he had learned that "there are those who do not have your best interests at heart," and warned us to "be aware that there are those who will try to strip you of your humanity." When he returned to Pontchartrain after the storm, what he found reminded him of "nuclear winter." His instinct was "to respond as an artist." Pierce made the point that art is both "practical" and "tangible."   
I was very moved by Pierce's talk. I was struck by how much of what he said matched statements that I make to my creative writing students and fellow writers who attend the Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic. Moments like these serve as reminders to stay on the path, and to continue to do The Work, no matter how many might try to dissuade you. 

After hearing him speak, and deliver a beautiful reading from the book, I wanted to buy a copy of his memoir. I headed upstairs to the book fair. The book was sold out before I reached the top of the stairs. Although I was disappointed, I was fortunate enough to run into Pierce in the men's room. I thanked him for inspiring me, and we had a short conversation about poetry. I told him that I worked with jazz musicians, and that I spent a lot of time talking to the writers in my community about art's usefulness, its many practical applications. He told me that he admired poets, and that he had been talking to his friend Yusef Komunyakaa about how the relationship between poets and their words resembled the jazz musician's approach to notes. Pierce pointed out that although we have a "finite number of words" at our disposal, there are an "infinite number of possibilities" that can be created with them. Later Pierce said that poetry is "sublime and beautiful, raw and painful, ugly, dangerous." 

Later that evening, after Wordstock had ended, Wendell Pierce hosted a screening of Les Blank's 1978 film Always for Pleasure at the Northwest Film Center. Blank's film documents New Orleans as Pierce remembers it, a New Orleans that no longer exists. Pierce introduced the film, and remained afterward for a conversation with local writer and filmmaker David Walker. (David was my editor when I freelanced for the film section of the Willamette Week. He has since moved on from that publication, but I have enjoyed his comic book update of Ernest Tidyman's Shaft.) I learned more about the effort that Pierce has put into rebuilding New Orleans and helping young people in Baltimore. 

Pierce talked about the greedy developers who do not care about rebuilding New Orleans, and who have made it very difficult for the poor folks in that city to retain their homes and their culture.
He told us that Bunk, the beloved character he played on David Simon's The Wire, was based on a  real detective. Pierce met the man, and though at first Pierce did not know how the real Bunk felt about the actor who was playing a version of him, he eventually received his blessing.       

I am so grateful to Wendell Pierce for his devotion to his art and for his generosity of spirit. I want to thank him for taking a few moments to talk to me, and for reminding me to continue believing in myself and The Work. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Before I was born, I already knew how to love" for Cathleen Luna

 Cathleen Luna and Christopher Luna
Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Spring 1972

Before I was born, I already knew how to love. All the knowledge I needed had already been transferred from my mother to me, through her amniotic fluid. A love that could not be hindered by alcohol or neglect. A love that shines in spite of the terrible shit that mothers and fathers do to their children. My mother evidence that evolution exists, because it manifested itself in a single generation.
          What remains to be learned? Kindness, compassion, understanding. How to refrain from being an asshole. How to keep my mouth shut when impulse rather than intelligence drives my thought process.
          A nanosecond’s difference between nurturing or obliterating the one you love.
          An infinitude of choices.
          Fractions of seconds eternities in which to fuck it all up or get it right.
          The only constant is love.    
Christopher Luna

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

New poem dedicated to my brother, Dan Luna, and my cousin, Christopher Washington

We All Share This Weight
In loving memory of Christopher Washington 
and in the hope that Dan Luna remains in good health

 Christopher Washington (RIP)

Every person
In every family
Is tied to every other
By the same thread
Of blood, joy, and sacrifice

No family escapes
Struggle, heartbreak, and loss
Each time our blood
Experiences infection, we are all infected
Commits a crime, we all bear the weight
Or is taken in a flash of viscera and steel
We share the sense of unfairness
In the suddenness of its finality

And while all this loss
Is as natural to us as breathing
We persist in our fight to protect each other
From its inevitability
In our hearts
We dress your wounds
Make amends
Forgive the unforgivable
Do the time
Remind each other to
Take caution
As we take to the road

May I dress your wounds
Take on your burden
Drive the car for awhile
I’d gladly put myself in your place
If it would help you escape the
Pain and death promised to us all   

Christopher Luna
September 2015
Dan and Christopher in Oregon
Summer 2014

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Writing Through Two Sets of Music by Rich Halley, Tim Du Roche and Friends at Alberta Street Pub, Portland June 19, 2015

Creative Music Guild Presents
John Gross, Reed Wallsmith, Andre St. James, & Tim DuRoche
Alberta Street Pub, Portland, OR
June 19, 2015

fluctuations heartbreak
everything shrinks
to recede into the bell
crying out for the still
wailing (for) nothing
alternating currents
stripe seduction
two-tone tenderness
falls in line
synchronized inhale
together we
let it out
parallel yet distinct
bubbling up

play a form

“the slow game baby”

bold announcement
of intent

single bell chime
solitary thought crime

breathy spirals
brush pirouette

repetitive escape valve
forgive this swing
grated circularity
pull to and fro

the sorrow
the overseer
lover jilted
turn away

step unanticipated
conversing with the air
blowing through cilia

measured whisper
barely registers
like thumb
like cloth
drawn across
taut skin
Creative Music Guild Presents
Rich Halley, Michael Vlatkovich, Clyde Reed, & Carson Halley
Alberta Street Pub, Portland, OR
June 19, 2015

“with that, we’re gonna start”

 a conversation
round a dinner table
overlapping throughlines
both harmonic and dissonant
steady and stilted
time is malleable
yet fully framed

turns out that frame
is liquid
runs through and over
returns to the sand
lead, follow, rush


intensely concentrated
high energy constructs

dance with life

                                    refuse to lie still

            hum w energy

                                                molecular in its ubiquity

don’t quit

                        ramp it up – STOP

                                                                        crawl up and meander

                                                                                                drift and slide

                                                            keep it hot

Michael Vlatkovich, Carson Halley, Clyde Reed, and Rich Halley by Robert Pyle

“dead of winter”

retroactive liar thrum
nearness of an idea
unspoken unaccepted
wipe a running tear
radiant and clear
both there and here

                                    unkown and serious
                                    about the mark                        that lingers
                                    the pain           that festers
                                    leaving             heavy scars      in its wake

see it (again)
we will dispute
once again
finish me
entrance me


retroactive retraction
find our way into it
little bursts of air
overcome by proximity

add time
subtract grudge
move forward
a millimeter

break steel

she came
life about
the cold

accept that
have changed

symbolic gesture
tough time w that
just play
away forward
orderly shattering
sanitary decay

we just breeze
that way

“the semblance of stealth”

a thousand march uphill
and finally ascend
like heaven Poppa
just as I always pictured it
lion smashes head on rocks
where’s the wisdom in that?

father time express
better catch it quick
round and round

“duo poly”

you don’t even know what that means

it means two of many

and you will now see what that means

two sway

                        meanness to display

                                                                        pulse    exhale              spit

                                                                                                do it all again