Tarzana Is My Heroine

a poet considers the imaginary and reality of Tarzana

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Tarzana Is My Palimpsest

Since my mother died five years ago January, I’ve criss-crossed Tarzana scores of times. If my car had left marks (like lain rubber), the town would be a Pollock of lines, angles, and loops everywhere I’ve driven.

If my tires had been dipped in paint, the town could in fact be painted red, with the red and black lines all tangled up.


Tarzana Is My Palimpsest

Tarzana Is My Palimpsest (Coco Owen)



The vectors and loops I’ve driven add texture and depth–but they write over that page recording my mother’s last illness, which began Christmas Day of 2007 and ended when she died less than a month later.

The day she died was one of those freakishly unseasonable winter days. The gas-jet blue January sky was unclouded. After she was gone, something like a film of plastic fell over the board-and-care home and over her room, where I stayed with her body until the mortuary people came.

Once I stopped crying all the time, went out for groceries, cooked dinner, and paid the bills again, I started to make tracks up and down Ventura Boulevard as I retraced the page recording her death. Imagine my car as a huge paintbrush, as

I drove

south on Mecca, west on Wells

north on Corbin, east on Burbank

south on Lindley, west on Oxnard

south on Wilbur, east on Ventura

& up Nestle past Palora

to _________  [unspeakable street ]

where she died.

I started rewriting the story of my life by reviewing her life-story. Her life and her death starred in an elegiac group of poems I wrote, because I could keep her alive there–if only in the past tense.

[She wouldn’t like that I’m writing about her.]

I write about Tarzana, though the errands I run, the walks I take, the bike rides, further obscure that page in my mind that recorded her death. It’s become a palimpsest text–layers and layers of posthumous scribble.


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Tarzana Is What Paradise?


Tarzana Is What Paradise?

It is a finite neon thing;
A flame-out orange & spiky thing.
I think it is a final thing
I’m coming to understand.


Paradise, acetylene torch,
Lights us up but casts a shadow


Taking the shape of possible fates
Unrecognized as our own doing.


Tarzana is a paradise
Of Canada geese & lost dogs.
It is jungle-fevered profit made
Off twice-removed celebrity.


What paradise has lost its birds?
Has busy streets, but empty stores;
Not enough parks? These late fall
Days bring forth something amazing,


Something I didn’t realize before:
Birds-of-paradise die. Fall will
Come for what’s ready and what’s not,
For the citrus and the root crops.


It comes to the year-round summer
Spoiling us for anywhere else.
Our heaven is a tropical
Bloom wilting in the desert weather


Of someone’s paradise idea.
Whoever planted these flowers
Forgot they die. So did I.
Tarzana is my told-you-so.


from Big Sky to “No Sky”

Here is an evocative poem by LA poet Martha Ronk on landscape and the work of the artist (and she comments on the work of the poet too as being “to suggest order” while “making things appear . . . the way they do in normal vision.”)

I don’t know which of Adams’ many austere but beautiful images of L.A. and environs Ronk’s poem below refers to. However, I think this particular image Adams made of the San Timoteo Canyon on the outskirts of Redlands, where I grew up, echoes the description of the landscape and evokes the feeling-tone of the poem.

Robert Adams, San Timoteo Canyon.
From California: Views

No Sky

after Robert Adams’s California: Views

No sky                a gray backdrop merely and absence
and below: the scraggle of dusty fronds, the scrub oak and scrub jay
whose abrasive noises sharpen in response.

Shadows proliferate in deep furrows                no sky above
merely a scrim registering conical thrusts, a heightened flurry &
outlines of branches, the dead ones slowly petering out.

magnificent ruin       the cut through the field       blasted chaparral

As I understand my job, it is, while suggesting order, to make things appear as
much as possible to be the way they are in normal vision. . . . 

Go to http://poems.com/poem.php?date=15663 to read the entire poem.

[Poem originally published in the Boston Review (Nov/Dec. ’12)]

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Can Any Good Thing Come Out of Tarzana?

I just came across the work of a poet who was born in Tarzana. Her name is Iris Cushing, and here is her bio:

“Iris Marble Cushing was born in Tarzana, California. In 2011, she was a writer-in-residence at Grand Canyon National Park. Iris is an editor for Argos Books in Brooklyn, and for Circumference, a journal of poetry in translation.”

Poster for Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona...

Poster for Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is her poem “Twain” from the online literary journal Two Serious Ladies:

after Shania

It is Sunday evening
You’ve been out

Who with

Whose hood did you pop
Whose coozie sleeved your Bud

while rigs whistled down I-10 unheard
Whose truck has your lawn been under

Whose screen door have you sprained
Whose fingers tangled your fringe

From whose lacy things have you come un stained

Whose braids have you un done
while I was asleep out in the bed

Whose field have your boots been under

Whose longhorn has your rodeo circuitry
or prize belt your buckle cinctured

Whose boots burnt skinsnake garters
moongut skyhigh mindshaft

For all the barbs in a wire mile

Who’s been tanned by the same sun
that done tanned you


Shania Twain, live in Wembley, UK

Shania Twain, live in Wembley, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s another poem of Cushing’s that I like very much. It’s from a “Poet’s Sampler” of her work in the prestigious Boston Review. I like that the poem takes the Western movie genre as its theme and MO. (See my earlier post titled “Tarzana Is A Dead-End Western,” which gives Tarzana the Western treatment.)


Start with a Western:

Thunder in the Sun or The Searchers.

A horseback fight scene:

cowboys in a dust shroud settling a score.

Start with that, and omit the guns:

Arms outstretched, men gesture with hooked fingers.

They squint first, and jolt when they seize the air.

Then omit the cowboys.

Saddles flap.

The horses run from each other, swerving their long heads.

A bronc the color of polished oak disappears into a canyon.

Omit the horses.

Omit the pressed shoeprints, hooved echoes.

A tumbleweed cushions its empty center;

the cliffs are warehouses containing their exteriors.

The river valley moves into distance.

The sun sets.

There’s wind that carries the smell of something living.

Your shadow, proof of your depth,

spills from your feet to fill the place it falls.

Then, omit the landscape.



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I’ve been working on a series of poems I call “Wrecklogues.” They’re about the wrecked paradise of Southern California—uber-trope of the built-over & over-built. My wrecklogues tip-toe & slog through this myth-bitten Golden State. What ‘golden state’? — the sitcom-plotted fantasies of this place? My Wrecklogues owe as much to the TV travelogue as to the eclogue.

I think of the eclogue as museum-lingo one picks up during A Year [abroad] in Provence. It consists of winsome undergrad-speak about one’s native Hicksville. Later comes the post-grad, pave-paradise drive to run over anything so not avant-garde. One begins to prefer les figues to “figs” ….

When does nostalgia-cide become the only remedy for malingering mal du pays? It’s weird to be homesick for a place one’s insulting in hindsight. Whoever’s ‘sick of the old country’ [my translation] can find a way to counterfeit new origins in this Lotus Land. But nostalgia sells; it buys us into the faux-pastoral’s zip code, where we concoct mock epics of suntanned transcendence for export as if they were the fat crop of our land.

What if this land of emigrés, faux-naïfs & plastic people is where you’re really from? How to shepherd that sheepish plot-line by hook and by crook through this air-conditioned daydream factory? Stay tuned. I think it happens in episodes [which are “an incidental narrative or digression in a poem, or story, etc.” (OED)].

via http://lesfigues.blogspot.com from Give a Fig, the Les Figues Press blog.

[Originally posted in 2009 and slightly revised here.]


2500 Random Things, part II: 3 Views Of A Tree In Encino

II.   3 Views of A Tree In Encino

When I got back to the Valley after Matias’s book party and reading, I pulled over in Encino to take a photo of this quarter moon which just seemed to hang off the left of this tree lit up near the Baha’i Center on Balboa.

Tree With Moon

Then, when I was trying to get a good shot of the moon and tree, this happened. I have no idea how!

Blue Tree

The next morning I went back to see what the tree looked like in daylight. Here it is–without the streetlight or moonlight or the blue effect. Just a tree on a nondescript street corner.

Daytime Tree
Daytime Tree


After juxta-posting [to coin a term] 2500 Random Things About Me Too and these 3 versions of a random tree, I realize I don’t even know what kind of tree it is . . . !

Can any arborists or tree lovers out there help me with this? Matias?

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Re: 2500 Random Things About Me Too, part I

I.   2500 Random Things About Me Too (Viegener, 2012)

I went to LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) in Hollywood last Thursday for my friend Matias Viegener’s book release party. He teaches writing and critical studies at CalArts and is part of the Fallen Fruit public art collective. Matias actually lives in Silver Lake, so I’m going back ‘over the hill’ here to include him, but I’ll get back to the Valley in part II of this post (look for it tomorrow!).

His new book, 2500 Random Things About Me Too was just published by Les Figues Press, with which I’m associated. The book is a great and engaging read. The text consists of 100 different “25 Random Things About Me” Facebook lists. For those who’ve forgotten already, that was a meme that went around FB what, two years ago now?

Matias’s sustained reiteration of these lists results in a work that reworks the eternal dilemmas: Is my life random or coherent? Does my life fit a traditional or an experimental ‘narrative’? Who would play me in the movie version of my life? And . . . . Is it even a life, if there’s no ‘story’?

In the beginning of the book, Matias says, “Narrative is overrated. An addiction to transparency . . . It doesn’t have much to do with real life. . . . Of course I love a good story.”

This tension is sustained through the book as Matias (randomly) discusses and ruminates on:

1. his immigrant parents and their complex identities;

2. his dog Peggy’s declining health;

3.  many gay liaisons and loves;

4. a friend’s struggle with cancer;

5. What is art? What makes a good life? What is death?

Matias begins his first list saying, “People think I’m American but inside I’m foreign.” Five lines later he says, “I don’t want to tell people things they don’t know about me.”  This was posted on FB one list at a time, where his 3,500+ ‘friends’ and counting could read them. Or not.

The irony here isn’t a knowing tone, but is rather, and thus more seriously, in the work’s bones.

The act of continuing to write versions of a singular list puts questions of self-presentation, voice, and time in the foreground. As the lists progress through the book, it’s the repetition itself that builds the implicit formal structure that ends up both superseding the list format and serving as plot. Or not.

Matias told me it was his FB readers/friends who pointed out repetitions of which he’d been unconscious. He chose to leave these in. I think this stylistic evidence of his ‘repetition compulsions’ is more revelatory than any individual, racy detail (of which there are also many) could be. The structure of the book, in a way, is a self-psychoanalysis. Genius!

The echoic layering of themes and phrasings builds as the lists keep coming and coming, along with all the sex he keeps having! The ‘random’ facts accrete and then compound–poignant, throwaway, and indelible all at the same time. Even though I know the writer very well, I saw a unique and literary character emerge out of the queer marriage of formal constraint and maximallist repetition in this book of 25 x 100 things.

2500 Random Things is a sustained interrogation of self and surroundings in which the reader is handed roles that keep morphing: confidante, student, stranger-on-a-plane, voyeur, beloved. Who [besides Les Figues editor Vanessa Place] could have guessed that a faddish FB meme could yield something so artful and so thoughtful?

Read more about the book, or buy it here: