Born and raised in Arkansas, artist and writer J. Michael Walker came to Los Angeles by way of Mexico—a critical stopover that “explained” L.A. to him: its historical, thriving roots churning beneath the asphalt. Since 1984, he has participated in more than one hundred exhibitions; received a dozen grants, fellowships, and artist residencies; and has enjoyed solo shows in both the United States and Mexico. He resides, of course, in Los Angeles.

        "Some thirty-five years ago, an unlikely convergence of good fortune and divine providence dropped me out of the                Oklahoma skies and into a remote village in the Sierra Tarahumara of northern México, where I was spiritually and culturally             transformed by the light, and the life, the landscape and the languages; and by the lovely young woman who became my                 wife, Mimí. 

           "In a very real sense all the artwork I've created since then is a falling-short expression of gratitude for that blessed bump     on the head, and an attempt to come to grips with the spiritual essence of our existence."

Santa Ana Boulevard

Like it was a scene in some Romare Bearden painting
The mother of the mother of God lives
Over by the railroad tracks
Making do on
Just under seven thousand dollars a year,
Holding her family together with heart-sewn threads
Prayer-lit candles
Serious black-eyed peas and menudo.

The mother of the mother of God
Probably didn’t finish high school,
Certainly didn’t get a degree,
Likely speaks Spanish
And definitely expects you to finish your homework
And let her know
Where you’re going,
Who with,
And how long you’re going to be there.

The mother of the mother of God
Recognizes injustice and long odds
And keeps these things hidden in her heart
 – until she’s ready to speak her mind.
She enfolded Simon Rodia in the crook of her arm
“Clad in tattered overalls and a dusty fedora”
As he, like her, made life out of nothing –
just workin’ with the scraps you was given
Twisted railroad ties, pottery shards, glass marbles and poetry:
a veritable vertical midden of the century’s first half, a
“jazz cathedral” to all things unseen, possible and imagined.

His towers rising majestic into the big empty sky
Pointing the only way out of dire circumstance:
Hard work and dedication, open heart and imagination.

Santa Ana Boulevard, the mother of the mother of God,
Tires of her neighborhood’s “concentrated poverty” and
Maybe even more,
Tires of the endless studies and news reports about it
That don’t do anything about it while she
Works odd jobs in the “informal economy”
comin’ home after work late
Just another boulevard, nothing much you’d think twice about,
Just one more black or brown mother with
Eyes withdrawn while she
Worries about the rent and the
Children getting home safe

And the
Children nothing much Los Angeles thinks about either
But, you know?
Simon Rodia was nothing much you’d think about:
Think about that.
And that Boulevard? Santa Ana?
She turns around and lets wail a full-throttle throaty saxophone trail
You never know who will turn out to be
the mother
of the mother
of God

All the Saints of the City of the Angels (Heyday Press)


St. Andrews Place

From Hollywood South to Athens, 1901
St Andrew tries to say something,
But he keeps getting interrupted -
By 71 stop signs and by eleven side-steps,
And by three freeways crashing through -
What’s he trying to say?

St Andrew tries to say something, but keeps getting interrupted -
By families living out of Hollywood grocery carts, or
University Park dreadlocked drifters hanging out on trash bins.
What’s he trying to tell us?

St Andrew tries - -
He began, promisingly enough, a century ago:
Old man Nevin of the Southern Pacific
Took his tract of land and built fine homes on it,
From Venice to Pico;
The Place was broad and imposing then,
But St Andrew wouldn’t sit still.

They told him he could be a fisher of men,
So he cast his net wide, from north to south,
From Franklin Hills to 108th Street and the edge of Willowbrook,
Taking in both the great garden homes of the well-to-do
And the cramped apartments of the gardeners who tend them.

It’s hard to follow his train of thought -
Old buildings, new construction,
Stone walls and freeways all get in his way.
From the broad avenues around Pico he gets whittled down:
Reduced at 38th Street to pedestrian walkways
(the straight and very narrow).

It’s a mistake to miss the middle ground, though:
Homes abound where lawns are tended;
The green grass of hard work
And the silence between passing cars.

St Andrew tries to say something,
But ten times he hits a dead end.
He tries to say something,
But he has to slow down twice for speed bumps,
And twenty-seven times for some major dips.

It’s finally at Venice that he gets cut short,
There, where he began, he comes to a halt;
St Andrew tries to say something,
But the neighbors put up an iron gate
To separate the fine homes around Country Club Drive
From their neighbors in the smaller, cramped homes to the south.

St Andrew tries to say something,
But that gate drowns him out.
What’s that gate trying to say?

All the Saints of the City of the Angels (Heyday Press)

Kuruvungna Springs

We had always been here.
Before you left Villacatá we were here.
Before your forefathers landed their fateful ship at Veracruz,
we were here.
Before each and every one of your saints was born,
led his exemplary life, and died,
we were here,
on this, our land.

Of course we knew you were coming.
Even a small child should know every sound in this world,
would recognize every birdcall,
locate every rustling brush,
and identify every voice or distant tongue.
Our brothers across the hills had alerted us of your approach,
accompanied by earthquakes, strange beasts,
and confusing habits.
We heard the soldier’s rifle blast when he took aim at the young deer,
heard the strange cries that followed,
and saw your pitiful attempts at pursuit.
When the deer approached our stream, lame of leg,
we did not touch it, of course:
it had been wounded by something not of this world,
and was unclean.
All night we watched the smoke from your campfire below,
convinced of your imminent visit,
and considered our response.
Our women stayed up the night,
preparing baskets of dried seeds and fragrant sage;
stringing necklaces of trade shells, crimson and white.

We tried to occupy ourselves the next morning,
in the long hours of anticipation before you arrived.
We saw you stop at our twin springs and sniff at our rose bushes,
and tentatively we considered you friend.
We gave you time to settle and begin a fire,
forgiving the herbs you trampled out of ignorance.
As one people we gathered up our bounty
to welcome you into our world.

All the Saints of the City of the Angels (Heyday Press)

J. Michael Walker Poet

All The Saints of the City of the Angels

© 2009 J. Michael Walker

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