Gods of the Inland Empire (poetry)

Of the Smoggy Valley—mountains, desert, ocean—
whichever climate you like
within an hour.

Of the sacred gray arteries—bloody asphalt—
broken glass shimmering in the shoulders—jaw-dropping
overpass knots.

Of the train that no longer whistles
the graveyard where railroad men rest—
the abandoned Catholic hospital
where railroad men were born

Of gunshots in the night—the green and
black—the godly ghetto birds—
NightSun—criminals who cannot hide.

Of skinny backyard coyotes—un-collared dogs
left to roam the neighborhood—the scarred
faces of little children mauled on their way to school
making the national news.

Of the withering Empire
of “these gangs came from LA”
of “we’re number 1 again!—
most dangerous city in the US.”

Of everybody’s got to proud of something.

Of heavy lungs
Of visible heat
Of prostitutes who stroll anyway—
immigrant tweens who twist their ankles
spiked heels stuck in the melted asphalt.

Of “this way to Vegas”
Of “this way to the baptismal sea”

Of kissing the corpse’s mouth

Of lying with it
one more night.

-M. Ashley

The Hookers of Mt. Vernon Bridge (poetry)

The Mt. Vernon bridge will be destroyed
next year
and all the hookers will have to strut
the Santa Fe diesel yard instead.

Some of them will fall on the tracks,
get run over by trains that don’t run anymore,
and their sisters will have to tell their pimps
the unbelievable tale.

The pimps will beat the girls over the ghost trains
until they get superstitious about it,
inquire of the urine-soaked mystic
who works the empty storefront
of what used to be a boutique
for children’s baptism dresses,

For five dollars she’ll confirm a curse
and justify them—
tell them to go on beating the girls
but that they must kiss their rosaries
with each crack of the belt,
each break of a glistening rib,

they must force the girls to read a prayer
off the back of a dollar store bleeding Jesus candle
when otherwise they would have held each other
naked and cried
for a mortal mama who would not come.

They should go on beating the girls.
The mystic shrugs and rolls an addict
wrapped in a government blanket
out of her shady spot

They should go on beating the girls
because what can you do
in a town that wants to survive so badly
despite all the young mothers
and trains and pimps and saints
telling it to lie down and die
to hush now and sleep
to rock-a-bye baby
to shut the fuck up, stop crying, and close its eyes.

-M. Ashley

Fun Corner (poetry)

Underage prostitutes walk past the costume shop
in hundred degree heat
One happily remembers to the other
how she went as Cinderella in third grade

how the lace collar itched

how her hoop skirt got tangled
as she crawled through her church’s
lame haunted house

how a friendly churchman,
the one who baptized her
who was on excellent terms with her mother,
lifted her out of the cardboard box
Tunnel of Doom,
took a long time to untangle her skirt,
then commented how the itchy lace collar
was pretty—

feminine and pretty.

-M. Ashley

Arrowhead Farms (poetry)

Unincorporated island—
city corpus surrounds this
dusty stump
where no appendage grew,
no sidewalks either. All negative
space—all septic. Streetlights
are rare.

Casual murders In the night,
in its little triangular park occur
by desert exposure, by gangs
statistically impressive.

Twitching bodies in the weedy sand.
Rigor mortis limbs, one tangled
in a swing—seat and chain—
one stretched for shelter
of the sun-disfigured slides.

-M. Ashley

I have officially posted every day in April for NaPoWriMo! I’ve never completed it before. Thank you all for reading along. Onward and forward!

A Hill I Once Knew (creative nonfiction)

My Uncle Chuck’s house backed up against one of the humps of Little Mountain. As far as I know, Little Mountain has two major humps separated by two apartment complexes, two tracts of homes, two schools, and, lately, a strip mall, an iHop, a McDonals’s and a Starbucks always bustling with CalState Berdoo students.

My Uncle Chuck’s house butted up against the back of it and there was a small piece of it in his yard. I knew it intimately. He landscaped the crap out of it. He not only planted gorgeous plants everywhere, but he dug great paths and steps into the dirt so my sister, my cousins, and I could go run and chase all over it, minding the ankle-eating gofer holes of course.

We used to love to dig holes in that hill ourselves. My uncle had shovels for us all and, wherever he was working on some worthy project on the hill, there were my two boy cousins and I also working, digging holes to China or, if we were really ambitious, digging a hole large enough for us to sit it. Sometimes that took days, but the prestige that came with climbing into your own hole was well worth it.

-M. Ashley

Little Porn Store on Highland Ave. (poetry)

Le Sex Shoppe, San Bernardino, CA (now abandoned)

In a bigger city, later in life, I would visit
the first floor of World’s Largest Porn Store
and, the same evening, all three floors
of the purple neoned Madame X.
On this day, however, a little after 1pm,
Bill and I pulled into the parking lot
of the little porn store on Highland,
the one we grew up walking past
with its cream painted windows,
wind beaten sign, and handy bus stop access.
He and I sat in his red secondhand Jeep
with the engine running and air conditioning on,
“I will if you will” daring each other to go in.

But then we had to get going
or we’d miss sixth period gym.

-M. Ashley

San Bernardino Postcard (poetry)

A line of palm trees standing demure
before the great purple face
of the city’s eponymous mountains
god-gifted with resort quality snow.

Behind the trees, glinting and sprawling
like the many mansions of God
are the warehouses of Stater Bros. markets,
their trucks lining the city’s eponymous avenue
ready to serve it first, before serving the rest
of the southern half of the state.

Industry portrait
of one local boy
done good—
chamber picture
of the wished-for city.

-M. Ashley

Children of a Fallen Desert Empire (poetry)

We are not the arsonists of August
nor the fire-pushing winds of pre-fall.
We are the burnt black hills of November
in the hot, short shadow of which
we gather our families in thanksgiving
that from us
the doomed young grasses of March will grow
to blue the sky for a month
and draw foreign shepherds here
to graze their great flocks of bell-ringing lambs.

-M. Ashley