Pillows and blankets are not average fair for a reading series, but at Bernal Yoga, they are. In its tenth year, the Bernal Yoga Literary Series boasts talented writers and musicians, and hints at that yogic good vibe. It’s often said that through yoga, participants increase alpha waves in the mind—a necessary tool for getting “in the zone” creatively. On Saturday, January 3rd, we dropped into a great meditative state; the watercolor paintings on the walls, and the clean hardwood floors invited everyone into a place of deeper listening, comfort, and creativity. On a more superficial note, I was happy I’d worn the right socks, because as you might expect, this reading is shoes-off.
Jeff Von Ward, host and curator, pulled together a diverse collection of writers and musicians for the bimonthly event, and I might add, one of the first readings of 2015 in San Francisco.
The first reader of the night, Siamak Vossoughi, was also slotted to read the following night for The Rumpus at 826 Valencia. His first short story, “1953” took the audience to a vintage car show, where a character named Jimmy wondered at the show attendees as much as the old cars themselves. Who were these people? Towards the end of this piece, trying to make sense of it all, he remarked, “adding sorrow and lostness is still adding.” His second piece “The Catch” covered baseball and young love. On a field, the narrator catches a ball, and a girl named Alisha Dupel comments “I wish I could make a catch like that.” The remainder of the story explores what that remark means from the young narrator and the girl who sees him make the catch.
Fernando Meisenhalter made the audience laugh about language with a piece entitled “My Kingdom for an Adverb.” In this work, through the lens of an immigrant tutoring English, he contextualizes grammar conundrums. The most memorable of these included the word “no.” What is “No” anyhow—is it an adverb? An interjection? He postulated that native speakers don’t even know. It’s grammar, they just speak it. He landed on another fun translation pun. In Spanish, ella es caliente is not merely “she’s hot,” but “she’s in heat.”
After the first readers, the band Demoralizer changed the mood with their progressive pop. The juxtaposition of a 5 piece band invigorated the audience, who were all leaning back against yoga bolsters at this point. Lead singer Sarah Carpenter aka Carp, began with soft lyrics that grew louder over the set. The band is comprised of Carp, Sam Benedetti aka Bampa on bass, Michael Crabtree aka Crabby on lead guitar, Clint Chadra aka Uncle Clinton on rhythm guitar, Gracie Malley aka Gracie Malley on drums. Until the break, Demoralizer led the audience through meandering and passionate melodies.
After a 15 minute break, Deborah K. Steinberg took the stage to read her short story, “A Certain Kind of Synesthesia.” The piece, reminiscent of Aimee Bender’s magical realism, took a character’s shift in vision to an absurd and playful place. The narrator suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and has spent her whole life taking meds for this; but one particular drug—she believes—begins to change her vision to be synesthetic. The main character actually sees the pain of other people in colors. The story covers her attempt to make sense of this in funny and heartfelt ways.
MK Chavez pulled together the disparate reading with her expansive and daring poetry. She captured current events and philosophical questions with image and apostrophe. Her first poem, entitled “Artemis” delved into the sexy, sassy world of that goddess. She continued with “Patron Saint of Wayward Girls” where she invokes the prayers to that goddesss: “Girls in high heels on 18th street. Pray for us.” Her poem “San Quentin Senryu” begged perspective, “Building a prison in a beautiful place act of kindness or cruelty.” Every poem was rich with lines to put on walls, a few that stood out were “warm skin is so optimistic,” and “Our floating world is unpredictable as a spark.” Indeed it is.
After this, Demoralizer returned for their second set. Carp took advantage of banter time and invited the audience into the one yoga pose she knew: Happy Baby. She demonstrated as she taught us how to do the pose. And despite how ridiculous it looks out of context—flat on the back, ass in the air, holding both feet up, rocking—it was a perfect sentiment. The band thrummed through a couple songs whose names I didn’t catch, one of which had Carp crooning something about a Tornado. But when they finished with a cover of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” we were all definitely, happy babies.
Xan L. Roberti is the winner of the 2014 New South Poetry Contest, and runner up in the Mississipi Valley Poetry Contest 2013. Her memoir Portable Housing was nominated for the Walter Sindlinger Award at Columbia University Teachers College. She received her MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was the graduate keynote speaker. She lives in San Francisco on a windy hill.