She is fast asleep
in a nest of black feathers –
Raven, black creator of worlds,
is still soaring over the highway,
when a seagull wakes her.
A pitiless sun shines its
pitiless light upon
the hotel windows
reflecting a blank
and glaring gaze
towards the sea.
The sky – a whirl of gulls –
Here is a seaside city
she has never seen.
Is this in a book? She wonders.
Is this the Fin de Siècle?
Women in sun hats stroll along the boardwalk.
A trolley rumbles past the arcade.
She’s got electric boots, a mohair suit –
She stumbles blindly
in the ice blink
from one room to the next,
from one dark dream
to another, suspecting
she might still be asleep.
From the passenger windows
of her memory, houses from
cities, epochs, stories,
race by outside, out there
beyond the trembling glass.
The face of a man, a ghost
(she can barely make it out)
in the pastel blur of
row houses rushing by.
If she could slow the picture
down she might hear what
he is saying.
At the end of the line
she recalls vaguely a stench,
a fetid inlet below the tracks
on the bridge stinking of creosote
where the sewage pipe
vomits the gray-brown bile
of the city’s stomach
through its rusted mouth.
Time drains towards the sea.
A heron drops by to fish in
the scum-choked reeds.
The spotlight’s hitting something
that’s been known to change the weather –
She recalls vaguely
the Mylar balloon in the algal froth,
the wrinkled word Congratulations!
sucking syllables into metallic folds.
The Raven with
tattered wings calls
on the electric wire where
sneakers hang in a dead man’s drop
above the drainage pipe –
spittoon of the city.
Plastic, taffy-colored lids bob
among soggy dry cleaning coupons.
A battered transistor radio
transmitting a last sermon –
threats of an angry god
from the static dimension.
She recalls a blinding sun
mirage-making on asphalt rivers
casting stark shadows
against the concrete canal wall,
shadows of wasted things −
a grocery cart with two wheels
a section of chain link fence
an orange highway cone
Ban de Soleil for a Central Bay Tan bottles
a maggoty, sodden doll
a heron with its wing spread
across a figure in the rushes.
When she and her sister were young,
they made a puppet theater
from a washing machine box.
A bare light bulb lit the stage
casting eerie flat shadows
from the hand puppets against
the pastel sky and the sea
she’d painted with tempura
on a white mailing envelope
for their flat world.
She tells figure in the dead man’s float:
Time stops in the confluence of stagnant waters.
We shall survive, let us take ourselves along
where we fight our parents out in the streets
Memory festers in the mud puddles
of yesterday’s floods and yet,
where currents now move, the
last pages of a diary
are drawn under and resurface;
its many worlds dissolve and disperse.
She is six now.
It might be summer on the Atlantic shore –
no pelicans flying over the sands
at this gloomy seaside resort.
She sits at a glass table
with a box of crayons
coloring leprechauns green,
clover and pots of gold yellow.
In a high-rise apartment
she’s got an eagle’s nest view
of a flat, gray sea.
Two women in floral pantsuits
(one might be her mother)
sit upon an ochre couch,
talking, smoking, eating Chex Mix,
flicking ashes in the heavy
crystal ashtray set next to a
glass figurine of a terrier,
a box of matches from the Oyster Shack.
One – perhaps her mother –
picks at the gold threads
of a needlepoint pillow:
two nudes at a beach.
The other woman has
skin like Spanish leather.
She wears coral lipstick,
she is a bouquet of Pine Sol,
peppermint and tobacco.
At the end of a windowless hallway
they wait for the elevator.
Twenty floors down, down, down
to the small, gray pool, gape mouthed –
a hungry drain at the bottom of the world
below the tower which the girls thinks
is more like a machine.
Not a patch of dappled light here
to soften the grassy expanses
between the shoreline palms.
The two women smoke and gossip
by the pool while the girl’s eyes
burn with chlorine and salt.
Across the highway is a beach,
long and featureless.
The gray water churns
under cloud darkened skies.
Something slips below the surface.
The world is flat and featureless.
The pool is the gaping mouth of a concrete earth.
Someone is getting divorced.
Someone took pills and died.
There is insurance and paperwork.
I never should have had children – my figure!
A pilot crashed at the airshow
with everyone watching. On the Gulf.
It might have been a suicide.
The row houses rush by.
She is seven now.
Her father is drunk as a sailor.
The officers have gone home.
The rent is late.
Cockroaches are the size of your hand in these parts.
Bennie and the Jets skips on the turntable.
The beating is for scratching the record.
“It’s okay for kids to get high,” says her father.
“We all gotta die sometime.”
Man, I’m so spaced out.
Blue sky, the skirmish of clouds.
The wheels spark on the tracks.
She is ten now.
The light has gone out of her sister’s eyes,
or it was put out – she’s not sure.
They sit on the kitchen floor
waiting for the hamster, escaped again,
to peep out of a baseboard hole.
They are hungry as thieves.
The roof rats run.
Their mother sleeps all day.
Nothing in the kitchen
but sugar and salt to eat.
“The sand on the Gulf was as white as sugar,”
says her sister.
“Yes,” says the girl.
“But you were too young to remember.”
B-b-b-b-bennie and the jehehehehets.
She dreams her mouth is full of sand.
Some kids can’t hold their breath.
She hates the word roach.
When she was a little girl
with little golden curls,
there once was a man
who had a white van.
The van had no windows
The van had no doors,
Just seagrass shag carpet
and bones on the floor.
She found some bee bees
when she was down on her knees.
The man with the van says:
So stick around
You’re gonna hear electric music
Solid walls of sound!
The smoking woman in the pantsuit
who lives in the towers
with the pool like a gaping hole
at the bottom of the world
says ugly little girls tell lies.
Once the girl dreamed the drain
in the bathtub sucked her down.
She swam through the other side
holding her breath until
she reached the surface
of the reservoir where
hundreds of swept away children
swam close to the earthen dam,
swam with their eyes shut
in the cold gray water
in the featureless dirt land.
None of them drowned.
She is back at the inlet,
stagnant, stinking below
the tracks. No, the canal,
the L.A. River.
A figure in footed pajamas
bobs face down in the rushes.
How will her sister know to look for her here?
The light had gone out of her eyes years ago.
Hey kid, shake it loose together, says the heron.
The spotlight’s hitting something –
Spreading a wing to shade her
From the tractor beam sun
in the city of angels
the heron tells her to let go;
She begins to drift in the algal froth.
Oh but they’re weird and they’re wonderful, sing the sirens.
She floats on an inching current in the canal –
water that drips towards sea.
She plugs into the faithless.
Her sister’s voice whispers in the shallows.
“If you tell them, they will put your lights out.”
“Now is the age of gentler things,” the girl replies.
She is so far from home
here on the floor of the sea
where the drift-mud sinks and settles.
A Spanish galleon glides on the surface.
The sun is cosmic nimbus
behind their pillow-white sails that billow,
darkening the sky in shifting eclipses.
She makes out the friezing –
a wooden siren with eyes wide open.
From the ship’s deck
the trill of a deckhand fiddle
fills her limbs with life.
A fiddle crab scurries
across a fishtail unfolding
where she once had legs.
She’d dreamt so long of the sea.
Here the long grass sways in the gentle surf
below the green waters.
She drifts among her many sisters,
drowned with their long hair swaying,
lilting in their sandy beds.
Their eyes are closed, smiles upon their lips.
Then then music, and they rise, one by one
to join the chorus in the quaking forests
of brown kelp.
Each makes a dark silhouette
against the liquid sky as they swim
spiraling, spinning upwards
through the cool green fathoms
towards the white sea foam.
Now she will join the sirens in their song
of all lost sisters who once lived
at the speed of light