4.06 Everybody’s on the line

Sara Selevitch

Ryan has an app that tells you the names of flowers when you upload a photo. By the river, he snaps a picture of a blossom that looks like a fried egg. Matilijia poppy. The app says they are poisonous. Another, orange and dainty, is non-native to this ecosystem. Lantana. Though toxic, it is considered “naturalized,” as opposed to “invasive.” In this small stretch of river there is oleander, cornflower, begonia.

At a protest yesterday, a twist on a familiar chant: “Say their name / Which one?”

I learned from a poem [1] that Eric Garner once worked for New York City’s Horticultural Department—which means/perhaps, that with his very large hands... he put gently into the earth/some plants which, most likely...continue to grow.

I read this morning that it is now illegal to film the police in Tucson, Arizona.

It’s hot in the sun as we wait for our sandwiches at the shop up the block. A lizard darts through dead grass. I am thinking of my dad. I am waiting on his answer to an email I sent. Last night I dreamt his response. I let myself imagine, as every minute passes, the ways my words are reaching him, moving him to reckon with the questions I am asking. I’m prepared to be disappointed. We had a bad fight last week.

My mother believes in the power of positive thinking. I believe in the power of the people. I’m realizing today, after exactly 28 years, I don’t quite know what my father believes in—what pillars inside him quake and writhe, but don’t fall.

This stretch of river holds a red mural painted on its concrete bank: a man on a horse, an acorn, squiggles of water, dolphins. This stretch of river marks the expedition of Juan Bautista de Anza, a Spanish captain who led over 200 missionaries from Mexico to San Francisco. The Friends of the Los Angeles River’s official guide notes the mural’s use of native Tongva iconography. It also describes the mural as “commemorating” the Anza expedition. I wonder if the artist would agree. Layers of history, told and untold. You should know what happened here.

Now the sandwich shop up the street is offering a special—if you buy a dipped ice cream cone, they will donate the cost to an organization “fighting to break down hate.” They’re calling it Dips for Justice.

Calling out and calling in. Come correct. Call collect—the calling party places a call at the expense of the called. Sitting on this log, I hear a phone ring from the other side of the fence. It must be on speaker. After a few rings, it goes quiet. I sent my dad a box of colored pencils and some paper for his birthday. He sketched a picture of a lighthouse and texted me a picture. (I don’t know how to reconcile - this softness, his hands.)

The most collect calls are placed on Father’s Day, many from prison. My father has worked in and around prisons for most of my life. I remember a story one of his clients told me upon his release, of phones hanging off the hook on Christmas Day. To use them, you had to pay the right people.

At the protest yesterday, a speaker told the crowd that it is our job to answer the call.

The distance between my dad and I is not dictated by the state. There are costs neither of us have ever had to pay. I am trying to unknot deep tangles, fraught allyship, the privilege of abstraction.

A man in a straw hat by the river beckons to his son, around my age.

“Have you seen these egg flowers?”

A small breeze through quiet heat. I think of a poem on the back of a book [2] on my shelf: what do we make/ of the flowering vine/ that uses as its trellis/ the walls of a prison?

[1] Ross Gay, "A Small Neeful Fact"

[2] Jackie Wang, Carceral Capitalism


This was an intense week to work on this project, as it coincided with the continuation of uprisings across the country, a subsequent rift in my family, and my 28th birthday. Josh Urban Davis’s pulsing algorithmic video set an urgent backbeat to explore this jumble of influences. I thought a lot about the images of pillars that he used, their shrinking and growing, their moving together. I began to read them as the inside of a body. I wondered then: what such scaffolding lives within me, my family, this country? I also saw them as stacks of coins sitting beside a pay phone. What does it mean to accept each other’s call? What are the costs? And who pays? The result is an impressionistic attempt at unpacking the present moment.
—Sara Selevitch


Sara Selevitch is a writer and waitress living in Los Angeles. She holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. Her work concerns questions of watching and wanting.

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