train soot gray
slain ranchers’ tack
115 degree morning
son of god
beer bottle green.
train soot gray
slain ranchers’ tack
115 degree morning
son of god
beer bottle green.
From the low, brown hills at 3:00am, urban coyotes sang and yipped their eerie cantata to the full Snow Moon as she presided over an inland California landscape decimated by February heat. The lean beasts are starving, I thought as I crested one of the hills and looked out over the wearily glowing city below.
Down in the valley, the commute crawled. Twenty-five in a school zone, it was all school zone. And what wasn’t school zone was torn up streets, reflective orange pylons scattered unreasonably, disaster preceding a fancy new city bus line that promised to proceed, expressly, from nowhere to nowhere. I reached downtown by 4:00am and pulled into the Greyhound bus station at 6th and “G.” The two corners opposite me were both weed-eaten lots upon which the ghosts of condemned early 20th century houses hulked, listlessly reminiscing to each other about the long-gone days of the city’s glory, when the scent of orange blossoms and the low whistling of Santa Fe trains permeated the predawn air. On the corner next to mine loomed an Economy Inn—the skanky rooms of which you could smell from the street. They did not smell of orange blossoms.
I awaited my friend.
I leaned back in my seat and yawned. The light from the motel sign cast everything in gold. The streetlights added a flickering orange. A damnation on this place of perpetual electric sunset.
To my left, a stocky, bald man in an Ozzfest T-shirt strode back and forth in front of the station’s locked gate. He smoked a butt he had found on the ground and muttered to himself between ashy inhales. His tennis shoes were white as the Holy Dove.
To my right, a teenage Latino boy rode a children’s bicycle to a trashcan on the corner and began rummaging through it with his bare hands. He pulled one store-brand cola can after another out of the bin and rattled them into a white kitchen trash bag hanging from his handlebars. The moon and the motel light caught each one as it breathed briefly in the open air, and cast their multicolor reflections on the boy’s arms. But for the reflections, the boy was dark. His hair, bicycle, and clothes manufactured from shadows. He was attired so as not to be seen, but I guessed very few people looked at him anyway.
Under the motel sign, a passel of brown-haired angels. Each wore tight yoga pants and a hoodie at least two sizes too big. Each had her arms crossed over her breasts. Each flipped her hair on a steady count. Each joked with the others—a stream of swears, gallows humor, how small that last John’s dick was. They were cold. They were obviously cold. In the afternoon, while they slept, it would reach ninety, but now, under the cruel Snow Moon, it was a biting fifty-five.
Their faces were lean, their hands thin and graceful, their legs slim enough to be easily broken.
I flicked my eyes back again to the stocky man still enthralled by demons and the teenage shadow who was on his third trashcan now. Someone, I thought, should write about these. That would be a great help—a harrowing social cry. Someone should write about these, because, “Who needs food when you have art?” say the artists who have never been hungry.
Last week, out to lunch with a friend, a pack of neo-valley-girls blustered in and sat down in our section. Not too long after, one of them pointed at me, they whispered to each other, then all laughed loudly. It happens. It is an extreme unpleasantness that goes with the albino turf.
As galling as it was, however, I think the thing that galls me most is realizing that these idiots, obviously students at CSU Berdoo, are probably the same type who shout diversity and inclusion from the rafters all day, every day, as they flit from class to class. I see tolerance only goes so far. Only certain types are worthy.
One interesting thing is that in the thirteen years I lived in Nashville, I never encountered that. Not even once. Since I have been back in California, however, it has happened several times, and has always come from adults. In Nashville, if someone were curious, she or he would just walk on over, strike up a conversation, and ask. They’d most often want to touch my hair and ask whether I preferred “an albino” or “a person with albinism.” I found this pleasant and endearing.
While I’m not prepared to make any sweeping conclusions about the virtues of southerners as opposed to the vices of southern Californians—individuals are individuals after all, and hypocrites can be found under any slimy rock you care to turn over, regardless of geography—in my heart, I feel those conclusions beginning to boil.
Try also iron nails
in a bottle of piss with
and the dirt from a murderer’s
dug from the dirt patch behind
the green cemetery
not good enough
for a proper fence but bound
by torn black tarp shrouds instead
tacked haphazardly to broke-down
To the god who loves to roll and nuzzle
into mortal filth the way a dog does
warm grass in a shit-strewn dog park
I offer my sea-less Empire.
The zit-faced babies in their wife-beaters who hang
at the shop across the street
from the central high
who jump the ostensibly smart kids
for quarters to buy snacks
meet in secret over their five finger discounted
bongs and pay homage to you
You’re in the joke that isn’t funny
the grasping palms of the Northside
panhandlers with hole-y stories
who live in apartments more lush
than mine—these belong to you also.
Preside over the dying orange groves.
“Infected mosquitos here. Hydrocephalus risk,”
your inviolate scripture between the scruffy rows.
our landmark abandoned mall—
commerce’s inbred cousin.
Spin the carousel’s lame horses
that rock drunkenly on their tarnished poles
and whinny in the night for a bullet
between the painted eyes.
I offer our fame to you also—
Sammy Davis Jr. lost his eye here
in the dirt of a precarious fork
in the road out. It has rotted away
now, no doubt, brain food
for gila monsters, but the animus
would make a fine moist orb atop your scepter
with no eyelid to blind it to our resigned demise.
Watch over us, oh God of the Dark
Today I am grateful for the sunrise under which I started my morning writing. In the east it looked like the heavens and earth were on fire. In the west the clouds spread in great pink streaks across a periwinkle sky. These are all common things to say about the sunrise, I know.
I remember The Phantom Tollbooth and how one of the characters our heroes meet is Chroma the Great. He conducts the sunrise like music. Each rising color makes a tone or phrase of its own. I adore that book and I adore the movie and I adore the image. When I lived in Nashville I would sometimes (OK rarely) take a walk at this time of day and a little earlier. I didn’t have to worry about coyotes and other stray dogs trained to be killers there, not to mention actual killers. But in the hour or so before sunrise, I would walk along and look up at the sky and swear I could hear the planets singing as they moved both imperceptibly slow and unbelievably fast. It was as if I were a voyeur to their sacred praise of the gods and each other, crouched in the moist green, as I was, in a simple, working class neighborhood at the center of the Tennessee valley.
So I am grateful for the sunrise this morning and for the planets’ tender singing. It is wonderful to know they sing and praise and move on their courses everywhere, even over the concrete and brown grass, thirsty coyotes and other stray, unloved dogs.
In spring when I was a child,
a red dog barked every day on Little Mountain
where insubordinate sheep swore back at him
and also the shepherd—
their bells clanging against the epithets
The shepherd, hot and blasé about it
sat in the shade of his trailer
eating cheese and day old bread
he shared with the dog
but not with the foul-mouthed sheep—
that don’t come anymore,
the barking and swearing replaced
and drunk singing
and the chop of ghetto bird blades
echoing against the dead yellow slopes.
Yesterday, on the train, I saw all the ugliest parts of the cities from Berdoo to LA—the Route 66 cities luxuriating in their own decay. I saw the backs of sound walls all helpless against the graffiti, like a tender woman with a black eye someone tattooed over to shame her, permanently. I saw the trash glittering in the sunset—white against scrub and brown like pearls of waste and carelessness. I saw fire from a metal shop shooting up into the darkening sky. I turned my head. The fire turned my head.
I was jealous other cities had prettier stations than Berdoo does, that they had more healthy bike-riding young women and man, that their passengers stepped livelier, looked less like shopping cart ladies, sounded fresher, dressed fresher, came from places and were going to places where they didn’t know what it was like for us at all—we who dwell, and don’t work, and close our eyes, and listen for gunshots at the end of line.
Knowing the ghetto birds fly
also over the ones I love
that we are connected by this
that we are hardened equally
used to the sound
come to depend on it
to know we’re home.