We should be thankful that Woody Allen and Marisela Norte don't drive. Sure, it means they've never lost their car keys, gotten traffic tickets, or vented road rage. But it also means their senses have been freed up and that's fed their prolific storytelling.

Marisela's just published her first book. It's a sampling of three decades-plus of fierce notebook writing on the East L.A. - downtown L.A. buses. She's written poems about drive-by cat calls and about the señoras headed to the west side who have no one at home who'll listen and so spill their lives to their seat mates. And there's Marisela one seat back, notebook open, pen crying ink, thinking, "Ay, no me diga. No pare, sigua, sigua." At an exhibit of her photos earlier this year at Tropico de Nopal, Marisela displayed stacks of these notebooks on a table in the middle of the gallery. Marisela's hybrid cursive-block letter script filled every line, the lives were all there, you could imagine the windowpanes fogging up on those cold winter mornings on that bus.

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On Monday night she threw down a few poems for her first Los Angeles reading from Peeping Tom Tom Girl to a packed Taper Auditorium at the downtown L.A. library. The couple hundred people in the audience included three freshman friends from CSUN and a self described "lefty old foggie" couple from Pasadena. Before the reading the couple, Darrell Weist and Diane Kenney, told me they had no idea what the reading was going to be about. The cello brought them. Kenney, who's 67, studied cello in high school and college but gave it up reluctantly, she suggested. Marisela asked cello performance artist Maria Elena Gaitan to play. No bongos of finger snapping tonight.

I am a peeping tom tom girl
And from my seat on the downtown bus
I have been driven through
Been witness to
Invaded by
Las vidas de ellas

- from "Peeping Tom Tom Girl"

Sandy Gallardo, one of the CSUN freshmen who came down for the lit class extra credit, said Marisela Norte's poetry isn't quite feminist, but it does a good job of describing that beautiful and painful relationship between a man and a woman. Sandy's favorite line is from the poem Peeping Tom Tom Girl, "Just pull my little string and I'll do anything...I'm your puppet..." The tone subverts roles. Sandy's thinking about studying pre-med. Her 19 year old friend Derek Storm-Larsen wants to be an accountant to take over a family business, and 18 year old Roosevelt High grad Rodolfo Garcia wants to run a business.

They said her poetry speaks the truth about an East L.A. reality they don't often see, hear or read about.

I had me a vision
That was all too real
Spread out
Like chrome legs
In this City
City of Woman Humping Bumper
On billboard after billboard

- from "Daily Grind"

That's one of the reasons Marisela began doing readings three decades ago. The neighborhood may be changing, people come and go, but the pain and the emotions are the same. Gaitan, between the poems "Dolores Fuertes" and "Angel," said it best that night without her cello, Marisela tells difficult stories in a tender way.

Photo by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez; pictured CSUN students (L to R) Rodolfo Garcia, Sandy Gallardo, Derek Storm-Larsen

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