Friday, July 31, 2020

THE ILLEGAL: The First Mexican Superhero – Steven Cortinas

[Disclaimer: compromised objectivity explained in body of review]

I am torn between disappointment and relief that I'm having trouble downloading (or uploading?) the audio version of The Illegal: The First Mexican Superhero. On one end of my dilemma is my desire to hear the voice of Sarah, my daughter, who plays one of the parts. Opposing this desire is my discomfort at the prospect of hearing Sarah's voice in one of the parts.

Is she "Anna," an undercover agent on assignment to destroy a drug- manufacturing slave camp that tortures children? From the book: “’You, dumbass!’ Anna swore. ‘You’re more of a hero than that sick fuck will ever be! You remember that shit!’”

Or is she "Kelly," the novel's arch-villain known as The Specialist? Here's a description: "breathtaking blonde in her early twenties. Her skin was fair, and her eyes were a piercing blue. And yet, that beauty seemed like a facade. It seemed like there was something behind that face, something unpleasant." And this: “She’s worse than any nightmare you’ve ever had."

Kelly's language? Well, of course it's...shall we say, a tad rough, considering she's the arch-villain, but as actions are said to speak louder than words, this scene alone exemplifies the sort of action that would give me nightmares just knowing it was only Sarah’s voice in the role: "The Specialist held up a chunk of brain that had been blasted from the back of her own skull. She nonchalantly stuffed the brain chunk back into its place of origin, and like the wounds to her face; the back of Kelly Carter’s head resealed itself." This after casually ripping out the spine of a street beggar whose presence offended her.

Not that Anna’s only threat to my fatherly sensibility is her foul mouth. During one forty-minute rampage she nunchucked, punched, and kicked her way for eighteen city blocks “brushing aside any person (badge or civilian) that chose to be an asshole.

Her lungs were aflame, and her limbs felt like jelly, but whatever. Waiting on the next street was a shoe store having been sacked by a quartet of Breakers. They had beaten the shop owner to dust, and were now ripping off the clothes of the man’s teenage daughter. A screaming Anna attacked with everything she had left, and by the time she was finished, not one of the intended rapists would ever walk or eat solid foods again.”


That’s my girl—or might be, if that’s her role. Or her voice, the voice I once heard tearfully explain what had just happened in the book her mom was reading to her. “Charlotte died,” was all Sarah could choke out expressing the grief she felt for the namesake of E.B. White’s classic children’s novel, Charlotte’s Web. Her voice conveyed her broken heart instantly to me, producing fatherly tears, even now, just remembering.

The voice was a rugrat’s, about 3, I’m thinking, when I heard it utter the only ugly word I’ve ever heard it use since. I was putting up blinds in the living room, and the screwdriver slipped and hit my thumb. “Fuck!” I said with a burst of vehemence. “Fuck,” came back to me so quickly I thought it an echo. But I turned around to be sure, and there sat Sarah grinning proudly up at me. I hadn’t heard her crawl in to watch me. I made nothing of what had just happened. Didn’t reinforce it by laughing or admonishing or anything. Just said something like, “Well hi, Sweatpea! I didn’t know you were in here.” I believe I forgot to check my thumb to see if it was bleeding. With a powerful magnifying glass today I might be able to find a wee scar there, though. A memento.

As I said, I never heard that word from her mouth since, nor any other profane or obscene language. Then again, she rarely lost her temper that I noticed. Either a very good natural actress or just a sweet-natured kid (it’s my prerogative to go with the latter). And now? It might seem silly of me to say this—even in quasi-jest, but what if playing one of these garbage-mouthed violent lasses in The Illegal rubs off on her active vocabulary? Can I risk taking her to Bangkok Noi or Juan’s for lunch next time she comes home from L.A. for a visit? (Should I have used two question marks on that last sentence? Three?)

Sarah and dad

But enough about me and my stuffy worries. Did I like the novel? Well, aside from you-now-know-what, I loved it. I’m not an action fiction fan, nor do I know a helluva lot about movies about superheros. Believe it or not of the action, while I’ll likely never fall in love with the “grindhouse” genre I do like me a good satire with an imaginative plot. The Illegal has both, in spades (pun inadvertent, but might as easily come straight from the book). Better yet, it deals with unsettlingly current realities, featuring such headline-dominating issues as sexism, racism, child slavery, drug abuse, official corruption, and corporate exploitation.

A bonus for me, which almost balances my personal angst about my sweet, beautiful, talented, daughter, is that I now have an authoritative reference on movies and superheroes. After a little practice I could berate the hippest street dude or smuggest college grad student with something like:Shazam! was supposed to be a comedy, but it wasn’t funny! It was supposed to be an action movie, but it wasn’t exciting! The only redeeming part of the movie was the kid on the crutches, the one who played Eddie in IT! That nigga should’ve been the star, cause’ homeboy can act! But the main kid was a fucking joke, and that punk has no business in front of a camera!

I hated, hated, hated, HATED that movie! Every audience-insulting moment of it! And I’m not pissed that it made money! Look at Batman V, Superman! Look at Hancock! Look at Indiana Jones and the Senior Citizen! Look at Twilight! Bad movies make money all the time! What pissed me off is that so many people liked Shazam! God, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here! That ‘movie’ SUCCCKED!!!!”

Not sure who does that voice, but the character’s name is Devon Davis, so I know who it’s not!

Steven Cortinas? Haven’t heard of him? Here’s how he describes himself:

A light-skinned Hispanic that never learned Spanish growing up in Texas. Dropped out of college. Moved to Hollywood. Joined the Screen Actors Guild. Didn't want to be famous. Just wanted to work with creative people. His upcoming novels comprise The Legacy Universe, which began in 2003 with the creation of a girl named Erin Escalante (The Shadow War). The universe has since blossomed into multiple characters and stories, all of which are now coming into fruition. Steven still lives and works in Los Angeles, where he is STILL a light-skinned Hispanic who never learned Spanish, but whatever. It's all about the work.

Steven Cortinas

Monday, July 27, 2020

SYMMETRY: earth and sky – Tobi Alfier

My curse--or maybe blessing—is that I tend to identify closer than safely comfortable with literary protagonists. I say this as a precautionary note because Tobi Alfier's poetry collection Symmetry: earth and sky has taken me through a gauntlet of ups and downs and ooo's and ahh's and gasps of admiration so startling I had constantly to will my mouth shut to avoid drooling on my keyboard and electrocuting myself. This, I would proffer, may explain my admittedly uneven tone as I relate highlights of the richly amazing artistry confronting me with such impact, lifting curtains that reveal entire sagas in my imagination, it was as if, strolling through a museum of memories, I found myself time and again captured by exhibits suddenly springing to life with an immediacy that rendered me helpless to avoid becoming a part of them.
A luxury for the reader—unless he’s tasked with doing justice to the experience for potential new readers seeking the perfect poetry collection, for themselves or someone they love. The trick then is to be sparing with the samples, tease the palate with a tiny taste here and a tiny taste there and yet another and another without revealing so much of the full banquet’s promise ‘twould dull its allure.
And the venues—France, Poland, Brooklyn, New Mexico, Louisiana Bayou, honky tonk Texas, each with its own voice and spirit. You might hear Edith Piaf’s gamin voice railing in the background, sparking through the air of Honfleur as the poet confesses, "I’m tainted, shamefaced and lowbrow...I need a belt of something ill-advised, and a man to drink with me.”
Some lines strike universal chords, their mystic beauty transcending geography. “In fog, even distance seems to roam," breaks through cultural barriers in a poem dedicated to "the old country." In this instance we happen to be in Poland. Grandma "buried the woman part of her" when Grandpa died in "The City With No Vowels...ninety-three years of pierogis and mandel brot packaged, mailed, loved in countries she’d never see, at tables checkered with children she’d never meet, until that day—like the sound of a love letter torn open when no one looked—her beloved husband, our grandpa, dropped a rose petal down and came to find her."
Alfier gives us the grit and grace of people making lives in humble stations, struggling for dignity or simply peace of mind. Take Tasha, whose single mother refuses to beg or prostitute herself, setting the right example for her daughter, teaching her to love and to learn "the crass, hysterically private and bonding language of the women in the market booths, the wily but sincere language aimed at the buyers…"
Visiting a tenement in Poland, where "even the buildings wear gray...the war zone feel falls away as floor after floor creaks to life—voices seep through doorways, and tenement becomes neighborhood, the scent of coal fires and bread baking. Absolute certainty that this could have been your parent’s lives, and they learned comfort. They learned safety. They knew love. Nothing ever changes much, away from anyone’s truth."
Traditional culture slips away when our attention shifts to the New World of barmaids and drifters, treachery and heartbreak, hope, and illusions of opportunity in hardscrabble lives. A young woman about to spend time with a friend looks forward to "a day to remember the quiet goodness of daily blessings...she could get a PhD in disappointment, but no fieldwork will be done today."
Join the young lovers seeking “their naïve truths as the day turns dark as fairytale forests." Lines like this are precious gems that sparkle with promise of a special story in a field of others. Like this, anticipating a Friday night at the Santa Fe Saloon, "I pull my green suede boots out of a box, back of the closet, shake out the spiders, and test ‘em…they built boots to last—don’t matter if it’s cow shit or barn mud, babies, fallin’ out of a canoe, or winning at poker, boots always fit.”
Or, on the flip side, this unnamed “joyless” town where “no one grows better with age...just one foot in front of the other and then you’re dead...a place from which to send history’s most distant goodbye.”
Now a man’s voice, “mad for the woman named Alejandra...the woman who’s name has a carnival lilt, who lights my soul like the moon lights a late night in winter...” whose name he knows only because it’s pinned on her pocket. She wears “no lipstick, no ring, and she don’t even know my name.”
Then just like that we’re in Delta country, where “she ain’t gonna work...forever but they’re suckers for a forgiving face and she wears hers like mercy. At the Hollis House “the air is the color of heat and we’re up to our asses in sweat...we all sit on the porch steps, paper plates full to bending, thankful for a breeze finally stirring, banana pudding chilling in the inside fridge, half-remembered nods of thanks on everyone’s sticky smiles.” Oh, and lest we forget, there’s Ruby, who carries a knife and buys two pair of underwear once a year because “she couldn’t go commando to gym class. Otherwise she didn’t need nothing.”
Sometimes a line leaps out and grabs you with such force you take it with you and forget the rest of the poem. Here’s one: “When the sky is arctic blue there is a silence, the kind that hangs in the air after a slap.”
Plenty more where those came from. The last of the bunch, Postcard to My Son, Roaming the Halls of Academia, leaves us with, “All the world gives you is an inch of open curtain—imagination sets you out into the morning light.”

Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominated poet and Best of the Net nominated poet whose poems have appeared in… The list is long. It might be easier to name a publication, then scan the list. Chances are she’s in there.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Attacking Panic

As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.
David Halberstam

No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.
John F. Kennedy

About a mile from home on my walk this morning
I had to pee so bad I panicked.

When I got back to my apartment I panicked
with an irrational need to eat the cheese Danish.

Right now, sitting here with my laptop, I’m panicking
trying to think of the next line in this poem,

and fighting a panicky urge to turn my head to see
in the lot outside my window who’s slamming car doors.

Oops, now my sense of urgency is torn between focusing
on the assassin beetle sneaking across a pane of the window
to my front and the tendril of ivy waving at me behind it
from the edge of the building across the parking lot.

At least I’ve abated my panic about the “next line of this poem”
but now there’s the next. Does it ever end? Do I want it to?
Is this the “ or not...” crux of my “busy being born”
v. “busy dying” dilemma?

I know of one whose answer spans the void between conceit
and moral dominion, yes, goading me forever hold my pee. 



Saturday, July 4, 2020

Laughter of Crows

At first I thought they were laughing at me,

their "ha ha"s beginning when I dressed

for my morning walks,

laughing while they pooped

from the cypress limbs that reach out

over the hood of my Ford Ranger pickup

parked by my door on the busy street.

I’d shoo them to a neighboring pecan tree,

clapping loudly in hopes they’d think it gunfire.

They played along

pretending to be frightened, yet

loyal to their primary privy

laughing all the while.

In time they disabused me

of my egocentric conceit

allowing me entree to a deeper insight:

they were laughing at the irony

of their ancestry, reminding them with

ghostly internal combustion roars

it’s not the size of the dog in the fight...