By Brian Dunlap
The crowd filled in late. Half way through his reading Nikolai Garcia paused to give shout-outs to friends he just noticed had arrived. To friends that he’d known for years. It was his release party for his debut chapbook “Nuclear Shadows of Palm Trees,” from L.A. literary nonprofit DSTL Arts. A collection that captures L.A. away from all the common tropes and streotypes the city is famous for. It’s his L.A.
Garcia’s release party was at Bookshow Books in Highland Park. An eclectic store, with a carnival like vibe it has supported local writers since it open in 2013, and Friday night was no different. The two writers he invited to share the stage with him were two L.A. writers deeply involved in the L.A. literary community: Ingrid Calderon-Collins, host of the open mic They’re Just Words, every third Friday at Bookshow and Viva Padilla, Founding Editor-in-chief of Dryland: A Literary Journal Based in South Central Los Angeles.
Garcia read several poems from “Nuclear Shadows” such as “Portrait of a Homeless Youth with Lizard” that includes lines which create a subtle poignancy that runs throughout, not only his chapbook, but all his work
named the lizard, Hope, placingBy Liset Márquez it on his shoulder. Wherever
Gabriel went, Hope went. Whenever Gabriel ate, Hope ate. Whenever Gabriel slept, Hope slept.
However, the most powerful part of the evening, was near the end. Garcia prefaced the second-to-last poem he read, one not in the collection, by saying he never writes poems about his two children. Poems about them don’t come to him at all, but this one is, so far, the only exception. As he read about the hardships of raising his two boys alone, his oldest getting suspended from school, visiting his wife’s grave, his voice cracked and wavered for the only time that night. The difficulty of writing and sharing stories about his wife and kids hung so heartbreakingly over the room. The struggles of a single parent raising two kids offered from the rare point of view of the father.
The rest of the evening had the fusion of cultures L.A. is so famous for. Viva Padilla read two poems written completely in Spanish. Ingrid Calderon-Collins read an excerpt from her memoir manuscript about growing up amid the war in El Salvador and her journey of leaving home for the promise of America. And on the table in the back of the room, there was food.: tamales, Little Cesar’s pizza,Gold Fish and Otter Pops, among an assortment of alcohol.
When Garcia paused to give shoutouts, he even mentioned me, the famous L.A. poet (Me? Famous?) and thanked me for bringing the whole family out to support.
Another native Angeleño poet adding his voice to the expanding narrative of L.A. and the people who live here, from Nikolai Garcia’s perspective of South Central.