The Babylon Salon Series: a Night of Laughter and Power
By Gina Gotsill 6.6.09
Original photo by Timothy Crandle

Question: What do beeswax, angry red flowers, and America all have in common?

Answer: All received star treatment at Babylon Salon's reading and performance event at Cantina SF on June 6, where writers Amy Burkhardt, Mary Suddaby, Victoria Hudson, Lauren Becker and Joseph Lease charmed and entertained their audience with prose.

About 40 friends and strangers crammed into the odd space that is Cantina SF for Babylon Salon's Terrible Two Second Anniversary event. Drinks weren't the only things for sale; John Peck, editor of Beeswax Magazine , sold the beautiful, hand-sewn publication, along with cool bee buttons that remind you to “mind your beeswax.”

Amy Burkhardt kicked off the night's readings with Cross Country, a tense but humorous short about a family's long drive to Dad's new job in California . The short was full of marvelous detail, like the angry red flowers that appear on the Dad's cheeks when the car loses one of its mirrors on the drive. Just as in real life, the story intensifies when the kids get antsy in the back seat and begin pinching and slapping each other. Mom throws her sandal… We've all been there.

Next up, Beeswax Magazine editor John Peck introduced Mary Suddaby , and became a part of the night's entertainment when he read a charming and humorous letter from Beeswax Magazine to Suddaby. “Funny,” I found myself thinking, “I didn't know pages of a magazine could write a letter to an author they loved. Nice, though. I hope I get one of those someday.”

“A Possibility of Fire,” Suddaby's piece, had the audience laughing in the first paragraph with her description of a typical office environment and two office mates who drank lots of coffee and harbored a strange admiration for each other. During the work day, voluptuous Ellen fantasized about picking up skinny Martin, and Suddaby finally gave her that chance at the end.

The evening took a contemplative turn when Victoria Hudson stepped on stage, reading her piece about Bosnia from an anthology called Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks from Vietnam to Iraq . Hudson introduced the piece by asking the audience to first close their eyes and think about the Golden Gate Bridge . Now imagine it's gone, she said, and that there are mines in the water and your family is on the other side and you can't get to them. This is the place from which she wrote “ Bosnia 1996,” a powerful and sad poem that answers the question, “What was it like?” – that innocent, pathetic question we often ask soldiers home from battle. Hudson uses brief stanzas, describing firebombed homes and the crunch of pulverized glass under foot. When she's finished, we get it.

After the break, Lauren Becker, lured the group into her literary lair with three pieces of Flash Fiction (up to 1,000 words). All focused on relationships, but none you'd really want to be involved in. “Erase,” published in Mud Luscious , was about a woman and her somewhat mean friend who ate egg salad on sourdough. “The Hamburger Story,” which will run in Wigleaf at the end of summer 2009, also made me go “hmmm.” This piece, seemingly a letter from a jilted girl and her book author boyfriend, felt fragmented but Becker's irreverent voice made it dark and fun to listen to. “A Simple Explanation,” published in Storyglossia , had a similar dysfunctional lead character – a woman who seems to want love but can't help but push it away. I couldn't figure her out, but I enjoyed trying.

As the evening wound down, Babylon Salon introduced featured speaker and acclaimed poet Joseph Lease , who announced he had spilled whisky on his shirt while applauding Becker. Lease read several poems from his two most recent books, Broken World and Human Rights . The poem that hit hardest was “ America ,” a piece he wrote during the Bush Administration. “Anger was a catalyst,” he told the audience. Yes, some of us nodded. We know. Lease read quickly, almost too quickly, but the anger was easy to hear and feel. It was about America and its excess, wars, and pain. It took some of us back to the Bush days, and not in a good way. When Lease was finished, I found myself applauding and remembering Alice Walker's words, heard on the radio, as dignitaries were arriving to the 2009 Presidential Inauguration. As Bush approached, America 's beloved poet simply said, “… and he will not be missed.” Maybe not, but if Lease's words are any indication, we'll be hearing about him, and his America , for years to come.

Thanks to Lindsay Holland of Babylon Salon for her assistance with titles and publications.