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Danger and Beauty written by Jessica Hagedorn


Danger and Beauty written by Jessica Hagedorn


Hagedorn muses about love and sex, and probes with wry humor and sharp social satire the heart—and hearbreaks—of the immigrant experience.

"Jessica Hagedorn is one of the best of a new generation of writers who are making American language new and who in the process are creating a new American Literature."—Russell Banks

"[Hagedorn] sees her native land from both near and far, with ambivalent love, the only kind of love worth writing about."—John Updike

Jessica Hagedorn is a performance artist, poet, playwright, and formerly a commentator on NPR. Her novel, Dogeaters, won an American Book Award. Other books include the groundbreaking Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction and The Gangster of Love.

A provocative collection of poetry and prose from the acclaimed author of Dogeaters. In the poems of Dangerous Music, Hagedorn celebrates music. Pet Food & Tropical Apparitions includes poems, stories, and a novella. The final section of the collection consists of previously unpublished prose and poetry.


Drawn from the essence of Latin soul and free jazz, rich evocations of the author's ancestral roots.

Publishers Weekly

In the grassroots tradition of her "satin sisters" Thulani Davis and Ntozake Shange, Hagedorn's latest book collects work written during her Bay Area sojourn in the early '70s (poems first published by Kenneth Rexroth to whom the book is dedicated) all the way to post-Septmeber 11 entries in her "New York Diary." Along the way, we encounter texts written for the page as well as the stage, the boundaries between verse and prose often traversed and blurred. As a Filipina-American, Hagedorn reminds us from the start that "There is a border/ One cannot cross/ Although the guards are not visible." Such rallying cries seem to come right out of the feminist politics of an Adrienne Rich, but add to that the street-smart culture of the Tenderloin and the riffs of North Beach jazz and you get some hauntingly jaunty rhythms: "born from the mouth of a tree/ the lullaby of joe loco/ and mongo/ turquoise eye/ the lullaby of patti labelle/ and the bluebells / flowers of her smile." While the collection is uneven, read as a sort of artistic diary (rather than a set of highly polished art objects) it is often quite moving, taking readers through the turns of a restless mind, "a fighter/ who confronts/ destiny." (May) Forecast: Hagedorn's 1990 novel, Dogeaters, won an American Book Award, was an NBA finalist and was the Before Columbus Foundation's Book of the Year; Hagedorn's theatrical adaptation of the book recently premiered at the Joseph Papp/Public Theater New York Shakespeare Festival. Sales should be strong as this well-produced book should reach fans of her fiction, and the performance and poetry circuits already know Hagedorn's work well. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.




City Lights Books

Copyright © 2002 Jessica Hagedorn.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-87286-387-5



The pistol, yes.
Sheets of paper horizontally folded.
Men carry clocks
Into the room.
The pistol.
A letter to my father
Voices from open windows
Do not break rules.
Two lips kiss.
The sun rises
On the other side of the continent.
Every morning ...
A plate and spoon beside the pistol.
Raised to the temple,
Its body is not quite round,
Sleek gray stone in my hand ... a cup
Of milk spills.
The pistol is pressed to the skull—
Open mouth
Like butterfly wings
Murmuring supplications
Another kiss

Voices repeat the rules
From open windows.
Each clock
Strikes a different time
In Spain
A gypsy servant named
Candles of the Sun

On your birthday
And you will never forget
Her smell
And her dwarf-lover
Who followed you
Into the mountains ... asking you
To wear his shoes

That Gabriel
He's so polite
My dead brother who is buried. (My mother's
Hemorrhage is a lump in the grave)
That Gabriel
My brother; my uncle;
My father;
The dwarf.
Who carries a pistol
And wears rubber shoes

Are too frail
For these mountains
But you persist
In climbing them anyway
So you can say:

"I've seen the ruins
Of Guernica; in my hometown
There's even a nightclub named
Candles of the Sun
My sandalwood gypsy ...

The pistol, the pistol,

I live on the street
Of police ghosts and pimps ...
The rebels who avenge them
Ask for money
And threaten to blow
My brains out.

The pistol, the black revolver
The nightmare
The swollen eye
The gun!
I will gun you down,
I will shoot you
I will kill you.
I will molest you
I will assault you
I will kiss your cunt
I will blow you up.
I will shoot! I will
Gun you down!
But not ... but not ... forever ...
Not yet.

In Hong Kong
A girl
Her coarse hair flies
In the afternoon wind
She is a genuine colony concubine
Who drinks tea
At exactly four-fifteen at the
Peninsula hotel (Oh yes, baby, in
a silk shantung-slit yellow-legged
An all Chinese
Plays Mantovani
and Monteverdi and George Gershwin

There is a border
One cannot cross
Although the guards are not visible.
George Gershwin
Mantovani and Monteverdi
Have not ceased
Being British
In Kowloon
But across territory lines
The guards remain

Two magazines
A cigarette-filled abalone shell.
The invisible weapon.
Down the street
Sleeps the wife
Of a revolutionary.
Avenge them all,
On behalf of Chrysler-Pontiacs!
There are twenty-four tactics
According to the pamphlet.
The inevitable result
Is the inevitable electronic solution.
Oh, lies! Lies! Lies!
I am neither or either.
Perpetrator, traitor, user of soap!
Lies! So thin
So metallic, so invisible!
Police shadows
On ghost motorcycles
Patrol the streets. It is too late—
I am up before dusk
Watching the sunset ... It is too soon—

In Asia
One dies slowly

Fanning off the heat
With a stiff palm leaf.
I love you, Garcia Villa
You are not the only one
Who is going to die
In the city
Wearing velvet slippers
And a patched red shirt

You are a man
In between airplanes
Semi-retired, a not so notorious
Professor of the word

A torpid university dream.

In Asia
One dies too slowly
Without weapons ...

In America
The smell of death pervades
Among its women
In department stores ...
They linger, tubercular sparrows
With bony throats and sooty lashes
Peering elegantly
From behind diamond-clear counters.

My country of old women!

My sweet nicotine-tooth
Prostitute ...

Give me a receipt
For your time.




for Victor Hernandez Cruz

We boogied when I was eight
I had just learned to dance
Carl Perkins sang "Matchbox"
And I hated him

But anything was better
Than Bill Haley or Frankie Laine
Until Elvis and Little Richard;

I wanted them so much
I would've known how to fuck them then
In joyous appreciation

When I was ten
It was Etta James
I didn't know what she looked like,
If she was male or female

I worried about my odor
When I did the slowdrag
And the guys had their
Sideways erections
To Etta James

And then
Chubby Checker and Joey Dee
Red shirts stained with sweat

Tight white toreador pants
American tennis shoes—

In 1960 Elvis was a drag
Harry Belafonte gave a concert
At the Coliseum
The older chicks dug him.
(He wore a beautiful tangerine
Shirt open at the throat)

Fabian was doing his tiger
We posed for a photograph
Cost me three pesos
And an autographed lace

1962 and Philadelphia Italians
Fabian Frankie Avalon Dion and the Belmonts
With poufed blond hair

I was in Hong Kong
Buying Bobby Vee records
And then Tokyo
Buying Paul Anka
"Live at the Copacabana"

San Francisco
Was a gray dream
A gray meat market harbor

I thought it was Chicago

My mother cried
A lot then
Her face was gray

The Four Seasons were very big
For some reason
I hated them.

My first weeks in
San Francisco and I was
Surrounded by faggots;
Lovely gilt-frame
Antique queers:
My uncles my mothers
My dubious friends—

Bill Haley was dead
Bobby Vee was dead
Little Richard in some church

Yes, yes Little Anthony
Was very big then ...

I will never forget him.

March 1969


My mother is very beautiful
And not yet old.
A Twin,
Color of two continents:

I stroll through Irish tenderloin
Nightmare doors—drunks spill out
Saloon alleys falling asleep
At my feet ...

My mother wears a beaded
Mandarin coat:
In the dryness
Of San Diego's mediterranean parody
I see your ghost, Belen
As you clean up
After your sweet señora's


Don't do me like that.
Don't do me like that.
Samba, calypso, funk and
Don't cut me up like that

Move my gut so high up
Inside my throat
I can only strangle you
To keep from crying ...

My mother serves crepes suzettes
With a smile

And a puma
Slithers down
19th street and Valencia
Gabriel o.d.'s on reds
As we dance together

Dorothy Lamour undrapes
Her sarong
And Bing Crosby ignores
The mierda.

My mother's lavender lips
Stretch in a slow smile.
And beneath
The night's cartoon sky
Cold with rain
Alice Coltrane
Kills the pain
And I know
I can't go home again.



Under a ceiling-high Christmas tree
I pose
in my Japanese kimono
My mother hands me
a Dale Evans cowgirl skirt
baby cowgirl boots

Mommy and daddy split
No one else is home

I take some rusty scissors
and cut the skirt up
little pieces

(don't give me no bullshit fringe,

Mommy and daddy split
No one else is home

I take my baby cowgirl boots
and flush them
(don't hand me no bullshit fringe,

I seen the Indian Fighter
Too many times
dug on Sitting Bull
before Donald Duck

In my infant dream

These warriors weaved a magic spell
more blessed than Tinker Bell

(Kirk Douglas rubs his chin
and slays Minnehaha by the campfire)

Mommy and daddy split
There ain't no one else home

I climb a mango tree
and wait for Mohawk drums
(Mama—World War II
is over ... why you cryin'?)

Is this San Francisco?
Is this San Francisco?
Is this Amerika?

buy me Nestles Crunch
buy me Pepsi in a can

Ladies' Home Journal
and Bonanza

I seen Little Joe in Tokyo
I seen Little Joe in Manila
I seen Laramie in Hong Kong
I seen Yul Brynner in San Diego
and the bloated ghost
of Desi Arnaz
in Tijuana

Rip-off synthetic ivory

to send
the natives
back home

North Beach boredom
the barber shops

on Kearny street
they spit out
red tobacco

in 1930s suits

and in another dream
I climb a mango tree
and Saturday
Jack Palance
the krauts
Pearl Harbor


Excerpted from DANGER AND BEAUTY by JESSICA HAGEDORN. Copyright © 2002 by Jessica Hagedorn. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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