David Trinidad

It all begins with an idea.

Freewrite after Breathing, Last Class, 12/11/18


Breathe in the smell of cookies.  (I got my pink star.)  Breathe through the two women talking in the hall.  I heard one say “suffered a lot” and later “stay home with the dog.”  I wonder what’s going to happen on Ray Donovan tonight.  Last night, right before going to bed, he shot a Russian in the head.  What an image to fall asleep to.  Dreamt Ted Hughes told me that my writing about Plath was “sensitive and engaging.”  “Yours, too,” I said.  We were in a talk show-like setting.  Someone just coughed.  I’ve taken a few bites of the pink star.  It’s now half a star.  Now it’s a fourth.  It has peppermint sprinkles on it.



My paternal grandmother was a difficult woman: vain, selfish, opinionated, a spendthrift.  At least that’s how my mother characterized her; her mother-in-law worked her nerves.  Luckily there was some distance between them: We lived in Southern California; my grandparents, in the Bay Area.  Certain facts about my grandmother I learned much later, and many years after her death.  She was born on the island of Maui in 1906, to Portuguese parents, Francisco and Julia Gonsalves.  One of thirteen children, Anna Mary would eventually change her name to Anita.  Ludvinia, the sister she was closest to, also changed hers, to Lavyne.  I like to think they decided to change their names together, after the family had moved stateside, to Oakland, when they were old enough to wear baubles and bob their hair.  Where and how she met my grandfather, Rupert Manuel Trinidad, is a mystery.  In the sixties, after their three sons were grown, my grandfather’s job as an engineer took them to London, where he was involved in the design of the Akosombo Dam in Ghana, and then to Brasília.  Though they lived well enough for Anita to afford a housekeeper, she always wanted more than they had.  She liked to entertain, look big.  After they returned to the States, they bought a house in a city with a pretty name, Orinda, just east of Berkeley.  We visited them there one Christmas.  I have a photograph of our family sitting on the mauve silk couch in my grandparents’ living room, under a painting of Venice.  The couch is long enough to accommodate the six of us: my parents in the middle, flanked on either side by two of their children.  My father sports a flattop; my mother, a shocking pink dress.  All of us, even my father, are smiling.  I was fascinated by the little cloth cocktail napkins my grandmother had brought back from Brazil.  Cross-stitched around the edges (with red and green thread), each napkin featured a small embroidered figure: men wearing ponchos and bolero hats, women carrying baskets of fruit over their heads.  Stitched underneath each figure, the name of a different South American country: Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil.  (The napkins are now in my possession: My sisters, who between them had a set of twelve, sent them to me when I said I wanted to write about them.)  When I was in high school, we visited my grandparents in Lake Tahoe, where they and Lavyne and her husband owned side-by-side cabins.  I remember Anita sitting at a card table, playing solitaire.  Her hair dyed red.  On a finger, as she turned over the cards: the big oval amethyst she’d bought in Brazil.  Cigarettes and highball (bourbon) nearby.  Also: Look magazine with Greta Garbo on the cover.  Garbo is 65.  (My age now.)  I never heard my grandmother speak Portuguese.  The only part of her heritage she shared with us was food: linguiça (a spicy sausage) and a braided Christmas bread with bits of colorful dried fruit in it.  She outlived my grandfather by sixteen years.  When she was dying, at age eighty-six, I went to see her at a nursing home in Hayward, California.  “I’ve had a good life,” she said.  The nurses didn’t like her, my mother told me, because she treated them like the help.



Another Friday night at Beyond Baroque, circa 1982.  Anne Waldman is at the worn black podium, reciting a poem.  Her reading style is incantatory, but forced.  An unseen heckler begins to goad her, from the back of the room.  Lewis MacAdams jumps to Anne’s defense, threatening violence.  An intense moment, then the poem continues.  Afterwards there’s a party, as there usually is, at Sheree’s house on Thurston Avenue in Brentwood—hers after her divorce—where she lives with her two teenaged children and her poet-performer boyfriend, Bob Flanagan.  Bob has drawn Sheree into the world of S & M.  From well-to-do Jewish housewife to dominatrix.  From cystic fibrosis to supermasochist.  That story.  I smoke in the yellow kitchen, wait for provisions (beer and potato chips) to arrive.  Bob puts Wall of Voodoo on the stereo in the living room: “I fell into a burning ring of fire.”  Kate Braverman (all in black) makes a rare appearance, to chat up Anne Waldman, and is flabbergasted that Waldman has never heard of her.  “Why, I’m the grande dame of the Los Angeles poetry scene!”  The best kind of fodder for the gossip mill: poets blind to the size of their own ego.  Because we often run out of alcohol by the time the liquor stores are closed (2:00 a.m.), I hide, while there’s still plenty, a six-pack under the sink in the back bathroom; that way I always have a beer in hand, which I pretend to nurse, lest someone become suspicious of my stash.  (Years later I’ll learn that Ed Smith had his own hiding place for same.)  Those parties sometimes lasted all weekend.  I’d stay on, till Saturday, till Sunday afternoon, afraid to drive drunk (post-accident).  Afraid of sitting alone in my Hollywood hovel, too depressed to write the new poems I desperately wanted to write.  Distressed about returning, Monday morning, to the Housing Authority, a job I was ill-suited for.  It felt safe at Sheree’s.  Bob would walk around naked, on acid, weights hanging from his balls.  Sheree would brag about the size of her son’s cock.  I’d lay in their bed, head aching, watching the colorized version of It’s a Wonderful Life on TV.  Wondering if the world would be any different without me.

One Sunday morning (January 16, 1983, to be exact), I sat with Celia Pearce in the breakfast nook and typed the collaboration we’d just written, “Ed Smith Slept Here.”  Which we dedicated to our host; Sheree was a den mother of sorts.  Then Celia and I read it out loud, alternating lines: “How can we even think of breakfast / When we haven’t even begun to live.”  If Gail Kaszynski hadn’t filmed us reading and talking (and uploaded it, thirty-three years later, on YouTube), I’d never have remembered that when I visited Alice Notley on St. Mark’s Place the previous October (my first trip to New York), I brought her a bouquet of pink and white carnations.  And a six-pack.  One sunny, hungover morning, I sat on Sheree’s front lawn and talked with Lynne Tillman (the reader at Beyond Baroque that week; I loved her short story about Marilyn Monroe).  We both wore sunglasses.  I asked her about New York—where I desperately wanted to live, to live the writer’s life.  (I would one day, but not until after I got sober.  Lynne would be a friend, in the years I lived there.)  Another morning, I sat on the lawn with Jane DeLynn.  Her cutting wit intimidated me.  But Tim Dlugos (whom I adored) adored her.  And we had the same sign (Cancer).  When I asked her to inscribe In Thrall, her second novel, she wrote, “To David and his beautiful hair.”


Ray Donovan

On a frigid night in late November, 2018, my coach house in Chicago surrounded by icy snow, I watch the first episode of Ray Donovan and am delighted to see, during the credits, that the series was created by Ann Biderman.  Her name a Proustian madeleine: Thirty years evaporate like so much wintry mist.  In 1988, on the verge of moving from Los Angeles to New York, I dog-sat for her in the house she shared with her partner, director Roger Vadim, in Santa Monica.  We’d met through Raymond Foye, who published me in his Hanuman series: colorful, pocket-sized books, inspired by Indian prayer books, that were printed in Madras.  An aspiring screenwriter, Ann was petite and pretty, with long black hair and an air of authority that comes, I imagined, from hobnobbing with celebrities.  She gave me a recipe that Jane Fonda had given her: a blended drink made from boiled greens that she subsisted on while filming movies, to keep her weight down.  Ann’s dog was named Genius, a sweet, long-legged mutt with grayish fur and a goofy face.  At night when I got into bed, Genius would set his head on the edge of the mattress and stare at me with soulful eyes.  I wrote a little poem about him that said just that.  Stacks of books everywhere; it felt like I was being embraced by my future life.  I sat at the dining table and typed letters to the poets I would hang out with in New York: Tim, Jimmy, Joe, Elaine, Eileen.  The cottage-like house was nestled in the hills overlooking the Pacific.  Steep concrete steps led up to it from the street.  Small yard.  Low chain-link fence.  I was instructed to keep the gate closed at all times, so Genius wouldn’t get out.  Donald Britton visited me while I was staying there.  I served him tea and cookies.  He had just moved from New York to Los Angeles.  We joked that we were poets passing in the night, so to speak; trading places; that by each of us moving across the country at the same time, in opposite directions, we were keeping the scales balanced.  But only for a moment.  Donald died of AIDS before finishing a second book.  While I’ve had time to write many.  I hadn’t been in New York long when Raymond told me that a subsequent dog-sitter left the gate open: Genius had made his way down to the street and was killed by a car.

After the reverie wears off, I send Ann a friend request on Facebook.  And learn, on Wikipedia, that the pages of Raymond’s Hanuman books were stitched by local fishermen in Madras.


Winona Ryder

I never understood everyone’s indignation when she was arrested for shoplifting.  The poor woman was obviously in crisis.  And besides, she’s a movie star, why shouldn’t she be allowed to shoplift?  She’d already given her soul to celluloid, so to speak.  The satisfaction of seeing a mighty one fall, I guess.  I’ve always thought her 480 hours of community service would have made a great reality TV show.  What a missed opportunity.  Winona helping blind children, caring for babies with AIDS.  Oscar worthy!  Or at least Emmy.  She was ordered to complete her hours of service at the City of Hope medical center.  City of Hope!

David Trinidad’s most recent book of poems is Swinging on a Star (Turtle Point Press, 2017). He edited Punk Rock Is Cool for the End of the World: Poems and Notebooks of Ed Smith and an Emily Dickinson divination deck, Divining Poets: Dickinson, both out from Turtle Point in 2019.  He is currently completing a manuscript of prose poems.