blossoming branch of tree against blue sky

Tunisia Nelson: Standing in Remembrance of Mary Lee

Standing in remembrance of Mary Lee
I TIP her hat with pride
Red as Bold & Courageous
Strong as she Identified

The true definition of what it means to be…
A Woman after God’s own heart
The pillar of this family
Proverbs 31 in human form

To know her was to love her, if not to envy her kind, subtle ways
She owned SWAG before it was even a thing
She created the Formation, you hope & dream
To be anything like Mary Lee
A conqueror of much

She is a survivor of more than you will ever know
Her faith made it seem as if she towered, despite her petite frame
Cancer couldn’t take her and the devil couldn’t break her

She made a mean peach cobbler!
The kind you are willing to sneak in the kitchen, eat up,
And get a whooping for.

A sacrificer of much
In a pinch she knew just what to do
Head High, Speaking Her mind,

For ALL that, and more, Grandma,
I tip YOUR hat to YOU!

TN

Tunisia Nelson is a writer, born in Los Angeles but raised in Bakersfield, CA and currently residing in Moreno Valley, CA. She is a VONA Alum and has published poems in the Eunoia Review, Iō Literary Journal, and Refractions, an online literary journal. She received a BA in Psychology from Cal Poly Pomona, and an MSW from Cal State Long Beach. Tunisia dedicates this poem to her grandmother, one of the most faithful and prayerful women she was blessed to have known, who also made the best peach cobbler, hands down, and who loved her family with every fiber in her. Her memory deserves to live on and this poem is paying her homage, letting her know she is so very missed.

EPISODE 21 – SILVER LAKE IS SUSPECT

In our twenty-first episode, we hop on the Zoom call with DJ Swish, a long-time local and East Hollywood aficionado. We discuss Cahuenga Public Library’s special, though sometimes unnoticed status in the community, news of Silver Lake’s recent Police Violence Memorial being taken down, the boundaries between Silver Lake and East Hollywood and their effect on the latter, and more of L.A. facts and fiction. A very special session for listeners.

J.T.

Brothers

Used to be inseparable. Just two kids from two cities along campus ground together.

Used to philosophize and riddle and debate as if no issue in our midst couldn’t diffuse.

Used to reflect on our classes together. Mutual friends. Romances. Music. Foreign policy. No end.

Broke down habits. Responses to each other. Prism of our minds. That’s what homies were.

Being alive was.

Remember our deliberations on these grounds together

Maximum profit by maximum strain,

Watching it unfurl across the world around us in lanes.

Student debt. Police. Prison policy.

Fast food. Oldies. Air in our pockets.

Worn out rooms another night. Unity.

Never would have expected walls to build around us as they did,

Somewhere along the way the strain got the best of us.

Perhaps the best of me,

Perhaps the best of you.

Now memory flutters wailing past Los Angeles

Slave patrol still hovering.

People still coughing up on the sidewalk

While still more profits margin.

Turning the corner,

A brother hobbling along the street asks if I know

Where he can find a pookie,

“Nah’.”

Been ten summers since we first spoke the rage.

Before another ten go by, I hope to find you again

If only to break free from this rift with you.

One between two

J.T.

The book cover for Mike the Poet's Letters to My City, published in 2019

Letters To My City (2019)

Through a tremendous last couple of weeks between the Los Angeles Review of Books workshop, the new Los Cuentos Book Club, and more for your truly, I just finished Mike the Poet’s L.A.’s Letters to My City. By the turn of the final page, I both see it and hear it. Sonsken’s ‘letters’ are not just prose, but also songs from the heart to all comers. Most of all, they’re a tribute to those who’ve been here, as Sonsken shows no fear celebrating L.A.’s Black, Indigenous, Asian, Native & Latinx roots. His book can thus be though of as an invitation for all poets, writers, and anyone interested in uplifting this city and keeping its history sacred to tag along for the ride.

Sonsken’s writing also consistently understands that he’s not the guiding hand, but that his is one led by the voices of others, those around him to uncover or pay heed to the roots. Sonsken’s work therefore comes off as a round-table discussion, a gathering of minds from across L.A., but abundant especially with folks from the South and East sides, as well as with folks from less discussed “L.A.” like Long Beach, Oxnard and even Cerritos and the OC. It is a call for Los Angeles’s artists and all creators to come together with major respect to the city, to the communities, for the stories, which form the heartbeat of this sometimes totally cruel, sometimes surreal town. Los Cuentos sees this, and I look forward to passing Mike’s book along to the next generation of historians with major visions for our city.

Towards the end the book also leads to more questions. For one, I found myself reflecting on reparations awarded to Japanese-Americans in Los Angeles who faced internment. In a closing vignette on Little Tokyo’s history and a Buddhist temple in the area Mike writes:

A key component of Japanese religion and culture is the idea of ancestor veneration, essentially the idea of gratitude to your family and specifically appreciating one’s ancestors.

I thought then of the enslaved, and those whose lives were uprooted and taken by genocide and U.S. imperialism. I seriously wondered: where is the discussion in L.A. on reparations for African-American, Native, and also Mexican bodies? These are our ancestors, and there are more, in and even beyond America. I believe Sonsken would agree for a need to come together and discuss it, and that, at least in L.A., his book is certainly one way to start.

J.T.

A pigeon sits atop a lamp post in East Hollywood, Los Angeles

99 Problems but a Blog is not one; a Bookmark for J.T.’s Pandemic in Los Angeles

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 99)

The following is an arrangement of headlines on J.T. celebrating 99 consecutive days of blogging for Los Angeles since the start of the pandemic here. Each line represents a blog, a meditation on the city, an ode, a love letter. Feel free to type any line into the “search” bar on the site to delve into more for our communities:

Schoool (For the students of Los Angeles)
J.T. The L.A. Storyteller is now on Spotify
Exhaling
Super Pan Bakery of the Virgil Village is being displaced from our community
Get your first ever Los Snapbacks by Jimbo Times
Two Sides of Wonder (An 8th grade student’s poem on being)
Get your first ever Los Hoodies by Jimbo Times
West Hollywood makes way: All Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles
Three months after shut-down, L.A. “reopens” while both COVID-19 and LAPD budget remain uncontained, posing the greatest risk to Black, Latino, and AAPI communities
LAPD will receive nearly 1.9 billion dollars next year while housing & community investment will lose millions
Today, put your sunscreen on and get ready for another walk, Los Angeles
Nahshon D. Anderson: Don’t just Black out now; support queer & trans writers of color
America’s greatness has always been measured by the scale of white violence
Victor Avila: Hope Amid Stones both Tall and Gray
Better late than never: Educating one young hyena in Los Angeles, Part I
Five times David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest FAILS
On Metro’s Gold Line in Los Angeles
Home by the 101 Freeway
Dealing with our news cycle
Tap Cards Out: How L.A. Metro Normalizes Policing, Jailing, Penalizing People of Color
Submit your writing
Bethanee Epifani: Looks Can Kill a Whole Vibe: An Excerpt from Don’t Fall Prey!
Jeremy Tong: A Remembrance for Demetrio Zuniga Farias, Mayor of Breed Street
Meg Rakos: Supay & New York City: Two Adventures, One Destiny
With Demons in the Room
Thelma T. Reyna: Old Habits
Beverly M. Collins: The Mist
Julieta Galan: Memories of our reality
A Strand of Humanity (An 8th grade student’s poem on this COVID-19 season)
Nery Edwin Monroy: Loving Father, Tío to Many
Waiting Again, Los Angeles
Why all 15 L.A. City Council Members should now resign
I Knew (A 7th grade student’s poem on Doubt)
Coronavirus lands in East Hollywood, Silver Lake
In a Box, Hidden from My View, Lies a Record
East Hollywood Can Do Better by its Kids
Episode 16 – Japanese Americans on the East Side of L.A.
Home Again
CONTACT
It’s going to be another trailblazing summer in East Hollywood
How to beat Summer 2019: Part I
How to beat Summer 2019: Part II
How to beat Summer 2019: Part III
Don’t Be One Who You Are Not (A 7th grade student’s poem on Identity)
Rap Heat Coming from a Latino: Music in L.A. with Sal Roses
BONUS: How to Outline Your Summer 2019
5 Tips for when 4th of July Sucks
5 NOs to remember with your fams this Summer
Twenty (-Six) Years After the L.A. Riots: How Things Have Changed
We Meet Again Los Angeles
Making Face, Making Soul (1990)
10 Ways Not to Beat Summer 2019
Secret Agent: How to Discover your Neighborhood in Los Angeles
When I Rest My Temple
Asi Somos Los Angeles
10 Things We Learned from an Incredible Time at Our Back to School Party this August 25th, 2018
The Fight for Los Angeles continues: Meet Diana Mabel Cruz
Los Angeles is in Fashion: Meet Mauricio Zelada
“Homelessness” in Los Angeles Today is the Result of Decades of American Discrimination
This year: Thank you Los Angeles
How LAUSD’s Teacher Problem is a Moment of Truth for Progressive Future of California
Motivating Vibes: Music in L.A. with Jon Quest
Virgil Village Loses Anthony ‘Lil Sleepy’ Ruiz
A 7th Grade Student’s Poem for Black Lives in Los Angeles
We Will Not be Erased: How Open Mics in Our Community Uplift our Cultural History
BEE STING (A 7th Grade Student’s Poem on Doubt)
Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition (2013)
Tony Bao Tang: Song Unsilenced
By Escalating the Police State, Mayor Garcetti is Officially L.A.’s First White Supremacist Mayor of the 21st Century
What a Ride, Los Angeles; Our Final Flyer for BTS 2 is Now Live
Redlining in Los Angeles
The Soft Graze and the Pitch (An 8th grade student’s poem on Doubt)
Top 5 DON’Ts with your friends this Summer
A reflection on Father’s Day for every working-class father, and all the mothers who also play the role in Los Angeles
Our 2nd Annual Back to School Party is about fulfilling a need, lunging forward
José Ocampo: I Wanted School to Be Over
Top 5 NOs to Remember with Relationships this Summer
The Path of Togetherness (An 8th grade student’s poem on Growth)
Food Justice in East Hollywood is growing fruits & veggies at Madison Ave Community Garden
You are allowed to press reset, Los Angeles
Episode 17 – Rick’s Produce Uplifts Families with Free Fruits & Veggies
Kevin Walton King: During Trauma, Crisis, and Times of Transition, Love is Essential
About
In Pictures: Marching for Justice Along Compton boulevard for Andrés Guardado
Please sign your name to the petition calling for justice for Andrés Guardado, an 18 year old fatally shot by the L.A. County sheriff’s department
This Juneteenth: Emancipate History to Make Way for a New Future in Los Angeles
Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz (1997)
Los Angeles is not represented by its elected officials. It is trembling on the knees of the dying men and women of its sidewalks
Helena Maria Viramontes: Their Dogs Came with Them (2006)
Summer has arrived in Los Angeles, and J.T. is going to Publishing School with LARB
Madison Block Loses a Little Brother for the Ages, Fernie “Belok” Puga
Donate to Our 2nd Annual Back to School Party this Summer 2019
Jose Huizar Proves How L.A. City Hall Serves Foreign Millionaires While Jailing and Displacing its Poorest Residents
Subscribe to J.T. The L.A. Storyteller
We Raise It: A Poem for Los Youngs During These Times
Sign Your Name to Support Police-Free Libraries in Los Angeles
El Cipitío (2016), the new Cipitío
The LACC community must now reclaim its campus from the L.A. County sheriff’s department
Home page/Archives

J.T.

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A fence with barbed wire barricades the site of the former Super Pan Bakery at Virgil avenue and Monroe street

We Raise It: A Poem for Los Youngs During These Times

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 88)

I know. It’s not fair. It’s been more than three months since everything up and changed. And since then, nothing has changed. Everything is still a mess. Home is stressful.

I know. Even if someone says otherwise, still feels like there’s nowhere else to go. Even when we step out, everything is weird. Strangers are stranger. It’s not fun anymore.

I know. The pupuserias are not the same. The panaderias take forever to get into. The burger joints aren’t even there anymore. Pockets don’t have enough to get much anyway.

I know. You didn’t get to say goodbye to your friends. Everyone knew this was the last year you’d get to see each other. Now everyone is fighting. Everyone online is just going at each other.

I know. Summer’s coming up and there’s no pool at the house. No AC. Not enough fans. All the sockets are taken.

I know. Family is stressful. Everyone says the same about how we’ll get through this. Doesn’t feel like we’re getting through.

And I know. It can’t be long before some more riots pop off. Cops killing Black people. Whites got no love. How are you supposed to walk around when they can get you any minute. Racism’s worse than corona.

I know. Everyone online is just stressing. And if there’s just one more argument–

I know. It’s not fair. Everyone is scared. It’s no love. Can’t get any love.

I know. It’s like a war that’s coming. It’s dirty. But rules are rules. If they hate us, gotta hate back.

I know. It feels this way. And I know it feels like it just stays this way.

I know it’s not a time for promises. But this is not a promise.

This is just to let you know that through it all, you’re still heard, still seen, and still the future.

To let you know that you got every right to be mad, like from the top of your lungs, ready to let it all out. We’re mad with you. We’re tired of the same old story too.

But I know that you know. That if it’s another day we get, we gotta take it.

So we raise it.

J.T.

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Sunset over East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Victor Avila: Hope Amid Stones both Tall and Gray

Infinity does not know the grave
though the digger’s hand still turns the soil.
These monuments that some think grand
only mutely invoke the names
of the long forgotten dead.

There is no permanence
as these stones hope to proclaim.
Whether we are buried over here or over there
only bones below in a box remain.

The earth gladly welcomes them.

Perhaps infinity is just a word
Like truth and God and love.
Are they just pretty syllables
for atheists and blasphemers
to ponder in their despair?

Faith is irrational. It’s the logic of angels.

No, I will never understand
the mystery of the silent mountains.
not far beyond these gray and somber stones.
All the secrets of the universe
I’ll leave for others to discover.
The unknown will remain for me unknown.
I am glad of this.

I walk among the intaglio of crosses
and joyfully accept my mortality.
It’s because of this that I do not fear
the eventuality of days.

For every story, even ours, has a conclusion.

The essence of everything
we hold briefly in our hands.
In reality though, there is nothing in between them.
I find this notion both magnificent and grand.

Dust in time will cover even this.

Nothing in life is learned
until beauty becomes our mirror.
Only then will we catch a glimpse
of all that we call immortal.
We do well when we chase the ethereal.

For it is in the chasing of it, that we find most joy.

V.A.

Victor Avila is a winner of the Chicano Literary Prize. His poetry collection, “The Mystic Thrones of Night,” was published through Vagabond Books in 2019. Victor’s poetry has been widely published and anthologized. Recent work can be found in such collections as EXTREME: An Anthology for Social and Economic Justice, and The Border Crossed Us. Victor has taught in California schools for over thirty years.

Second Chance (A Ninth Grade Student’s Poem on Redemption)

Everyone needs a second chance,

A second chance to say goodbye.

To say sorry, to understand.

To hold a grudge or to start a new chapter,

A chance to remain hurt, or a chance to forgive and forget.

But why remain hurt if there’s a second chance to stop hurting.

I need a second chance, you need a second chance,

We need a second chance.

MT

MT is a Black 9th grade student at Dorsey High School in the West Adams area of Los Angeles. His favorite hobbies include playing basketball when he’s outside, and playing Fortnite when he’s stuck at home. This poem is dedicated to his father.

The Path of Togetherness (An Eighth Grade Student’s Poem on Growth)

As I wait patiently and try
Desperately to gain enlightenment I recognize a path that
Represents something unique.

Independently I strive to connect with this path,
But there are battles inside me casting a blinding fog
Trying to distract me. 

The fog tries to cast away my connection to the path,
But when I look closer, it calls out to me.

The path communicates a message of bonding,
Of teamwork and togetherness

It communicates gracefully, pushing me forward.

I recognize the path as one creating new opportunities for my future.

The path begins to become a part of me,
My trust starts to build upon this path I chose.

I have new paths to make, where I can manifest ideas
To develop my own independence
And to help others grow and manifest theirs.

SS

This poem is dedicated to the Los Cuentos community.

A Strand of Humanity (An Eighth Grade Student’s Poem on this Covid19 Season)

I sit here alone between four dark walls
Longing for a connection I can’t help but recall

This deadly virus has taken more than spirit and soul.
It’s also broken a ritual between me and my friends.

I wish I could say “hi” to them,
Or shake their hands, or tap them on the shoulder.

Now we sit isolated in virtual reality,
Only a strand of humanity.

School and work are gone, off limits
But these places aren’t just somewhere to be,

They also bring light in to a dark room.

Calamity over the virus now makes for empty shelves,
People panicking ignorantly,
Angering themselves, shoving each other.

I hope to see some deliverance soon,
A respite from this gloom to light up my room.

JC

This poem is dedicated to the city of Los Angeles and all who read this poem.