DJ Ashtrae

These poems were written in California and New York. “Versus” reconciles the differences between two towns in Southern California, Fontana and Bloomington, one incorporated and the other not. Each line contrasts elements and characteristics of each. Each line blends. Every “vs.” is a line-break that is not a line-break. I think that this poem shows that while we belong to our hometown, we exist and depend on others. “XXXO FM” is what my friends, visual artists, call “box poems,” and it contains fragments that are assembled in a way that generates poetry. Or, these fragments create a poem from materials that were not meant to be poetic. I feel that this aesthetic speaks to my identity and upbringing. I am gay, chicano, and from San Bernardino, California. 


Coyote’s neighborhood vs. Imp’s. Fontana vs. Bloomington.

More taxes, sidewalks, street lights vs. parties and gangs.
Mechanized Fontana P.D. vs. Highway Patrol in khakis and wanna-be sombreros. 
Parking in the yard vs. the garage.
Fire hydrants vs. roads ending in sky. 
Murky dawn vs. the salivating song of the Ice Cream Man. 
(The loudest thing) Imp playing Call of Duty vs. Chevy Impala playing 
            Kendrick Lamar. 
Sirens, hoots, howling wind vs. growling, purrs, toilet flushes. 
Gas stations vs. liquor stores. 
Feathers vs. chasm.
Chasm vs. feathers. 
Hills vs. fields. 
Fans vs. air-conditioning. 
Blur vs. Atmosphere. 
A clogged sink vs. potholes in the road.
Kids blocking the driveway vs. Fernando leaving the fridge open. 
A power box vs. poles and wire. 
Afternoons of machines idling, humming vs. mornings smelling of dirt.
In both eggs, used cars and blankets sold on the side of the road. 
Go outside to talk on the phone 
            in the cascade of the freeway 
                        houses never buildings



he kisses the sun in front of all the neighbors as I feel the knots in my / back, swelling in my ribs, my bite and its chain reaction in the rest of / my, breath and its little wind over the bloodshot valley, clammy and / left with sorrow from a fuck-up, strange beeps through the 99-cent / oblivion, either crying or hankering for homicidal doggies ++++++++++++ / an iron legend braces an ATM, pinned to my ex’s wall, in a parking lot, / in a cemetery, in an echo, dream feast of gin and pizza, marble or / saliva reservoir—reservoir—reservoir ++++++++++++ looking, becoming, / fall putting on too participate in the “never said” trafficked feelings / when to mourn is to suffer 4 times a second, fools crazy for the sun +++ / +++++++++  sexual when it comes to friends, desperate in Babylon, / nearer to the rose gardens and the jigsaw’s echo, “Tell me please what / I’m afraid of.” so sleepily, sapodilla when expecting a tangerine I might / bite, pull out, and then devour, a century I might run into in a / basement wearing reflective sneakers, sitting with hands bent and legs / crossed on a sidewalk in Downy, in the thrall of meaningless sex, up & / down, border lakes, rub and rejection, they’ll let me go hungry, they’ll / feed us from a toaster, they’ll put on notre disco for free


DJ Ashtrae is pictured, as reflected in a full length mirror that bends right (sinister). DJ is wearing a white mask that covers the face from forehead to nose, and is shaped like that section of a human skull, speckled with red, yellow, and blue dots. DJ is also wearing a tan bandana folded over and tied as a headband beneath the mask. DJ is holding a white cord that disappears behind the mask in the hand pictured right, held to the side at waist height, and a rosegold iPhone in the hand pictured left, which is held at shoulder height. DJ is shirtless, wearing knee-length black shorts, and barefoot. The room in which the mirror stands has white or offwhite walls, and a dark wooden board floor. Behind DJ is a white bed or couch with white pillows, on the board or arm of which hangs a camouflage patterned jacket or blanket, colored in drab and tan or offwhite.

DJ Ashtrae (Joshua Escobar) was the Dean’s Fellow in Writing at the MFA Program at Bard College (Class of 2017). He was a Merit Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley (Class of 2016). He is a CantoMundo Fellow. Caljforkya Voltage, his first chapbook, was published by No, Dear/Small Anchor Press last fall.