Dorian Cohen’s work incorporates writing, photography, and sound. As a member of the Pasadena-based Otela Group, he created poetry pamphlets, performances, and recordings. He was also a regular contributor to the music magazine Option. Excerpts of his new multimedia composition, Pinney House: A Memoir and his iPhone Street Shot Series are posted on his blog Piedmont Avenue.
The name was “The Outrigger” or perhaps,
That restaurant on Huntington Drive in Arcadia
with a polynesian theme. The pitch
of its roof suggested a sinking boat.
Young as I was, I already felt half-submerged,
in some other world. The entryway torches,
with oily flames, told me it was a place
I wanted to be, but I never made it inside.
I could only imagine,
smirking masks and shimmering neon
it was torn down and for years remained an empty lot,
except during winter, when it was packed with pines.
Pungent trees; rootless — wobbling on flimsy bases.
I laughed at the fake snow — flocking it was called. Mostly white,
but a few pink trees; boughs heavy
with sticky pink wads of flocking.
Overhead lines of bare bulbs cast a magic glow
on that patch of suburban dirt, or perhaps,
a prison yard glare;
the spectral memory of the internment camp,
citizens put in stables — this actually happened,
a couple of blocks from this stand
with Christmas trees for sale.
This monstrous event occurred in my hometown.
My parents always put up a tree,
as well as the Menorah on the mantel.
I recall a pair of red plastic dreidles
with incomprehensible letters —
secrets nobody would reveal to me.
Diversity is what it would be called today,
or inclusiveness. Ambivalence is what it was;
inconclusive hints about awkwardly joined families,
ancestries and incongruous cultures.
Vestigial artifacts from my parents’ pasts,
traces they couldn’t completely expunge.
One time only, my maternal grandmother took
me to St. Edmund’s Church on Christmas Eve.
Whatever was said and whatever was sung
could not inhabit my mind. So I stared
into the stained glass looming beyond the dais.
Its astonishing craftsmanship was
luminous, seductive and complete. I felt
as if I could fall into the panels,
enter into a strange liquid suspension.
What a peculiar thought.
Beautiful and strange it seemed to me.
Those candles and the strands of colorful lights,
twisted the length of the tree
in my family’s house.
Flickering strands; unique like DNA.
Faulty and fragile,
unsettling schematics of our fates,
shining though the years.
Copyright © Dorian Cohen