J. Michael Walker on Poets Cafe

The following interview of J. Michael Walker by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).

Biographical Information—J. Michael Walker


J. Michael Walker is an accomplished artist as well as a writer and poet. Born and raised in Arkansas, J. Michael came to Los Angeles by way of Mexico—a critical stopover that not only “explained” L.A. to him—its historical, thriving roots churning beneath the asphalt—but also provided the foundation for much, if not all, of his work ever since.

Over the past 25 years, J. Michael has participated in more than one hundred exhibitions; received a dozen grants, fellowships, and artist residencies (most recently a coveted Sacatar Foundation artist residency on the island of Itaparica, in Bahia, Brazil, for January-February 2011); and has enjoyed a dozen solo shows in both the United States and Mexico.

His first book, All the Saints of the City of the Angels: Seeking the Soul of L.A. on Its Streets (Heyday, 2008) which he wrote and illustrated, won both the Eric Hoffer Art Book of the Year Award from the US Review of Books, and the Gold Award for Best Non-Fiction on the Pacific West, from the Independent Publishers Association. All the Saints is in its second printing.

More recently, J Michael co-edited (with Veronique de Turenne) the book Waiting For Foreign: L.A. Authors on (and in) Guadalajara, an anthology of essays about Guadalajara and its famed international book fair, the FIL—a book he also illustrated and designed (Peregrino Press, August 2010).

Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street and Carmelo, says “J. Michael Walker sees angels everywhere, the divine in the ordinary, saints in survivors. And that, in our era of fear and rage, is miracle enough for me.”

Kuruvungna Springs

We had always been here.
Before you left Villacatá we were here.
Before your forefathers landed their fateful ship at Veracruz,
we were here.
Before each and every one of your saints was born,
led his exemplary life, and died,
we were here,
on this, our land.

Of course we knew you were coming.
Even a small child should know every sound in this world,
would recognize every birdcall,
locate every rustling brush,
and identify every voice or distant tongue.
Our brothers across the hills had alerted us of your approach,
accompanied by earthquakes, strange beasts,
and confusing habits.
We heard the soldier’s rifle blast when he took aim at the young deer,
heard the strange cries that followed,
and saw your pitiful attempts at pursuit.
When the deer approached our stream, lame of leg,
we did not touch it, of course:
it had been wounded by something not of this world,
and was unclean.
All night we watched the smoke from your campfire below,
convinced of your imminent visit,
and considered our response.
Our women stayed up the night,
preparing baskets of dried seeds and fragrant sage;
stringing necklaces of trade shells, crimson and white.

We tried to occupy ourselves the next morning,
in the long hours of anticipation before you arrived.
We saw you stop at our twin springs and sniff at our rose bushes,
and tentatively we considered you friend.
We gave you time to settle and begin a fire,
forgiving the herbs you trampled out of ignorance.
As one people we gathered up our bounty
to welcome you into our world.