Summer

The peculiar indolence of a summer afternoon has been hovering at the edge of my peripheral vision.

I want that summer indolence,
that languid afternoon that smells of damp earth and clover.

There is a mild and pleasant ache,
flavored subtly
by sadness.

This Is The Valley

This is The Valley.

The San Fernando Valley.

THE Valley

This is where the maids get on the bus in the morning at 5 am and three buses later and a walk up the hill get to work by 8 to clean the houses of people that stopped cleaning their own houses when they stopped living in the valley.

This is where the gardeners start up their 1987 Toyota pickup trucks load down with lawn mowers and leaf blowers and hedge trimmers and 5 gallon Gatorade coolers and honk their horns 3 blocks away for their brother-in-law who overslept and at 6 am is still guzzling a cup of sweet café con leche as he runs out the door.

This is where high school junkies score at the quickie mart and dash off to shoot up under the overpass before homeroom, and potheads get high behind the garage and then get on the bus that takes them to Hollywood instead of to English class.

This is where the gangbangers help their mamas take in the groceries and pick up their baby sisters from school.

This is where the garages are rehearsal studios for the next guns and roses or radiohead or for the mariachi band that’s playing at the quincinera for the grand daughter of the lady that works at the Laundromat at night.

This is where artists live next door to Armenian grocers and the man whose wife makes the tamales he sells from his cart on Sunday mornings. The tamale man, he comes so early that someone has to wake up in time to catch him or else you wind up running all over the neighborhood because no one else makes the tamales so good.

This is where you learn the music of the ice cream truck that sells the chili lollipops that make your lips chapped, and the shaved ice cart that has the best vanilla cream, and the corn man with the corn you have to eat outside because the butter and mayonnaise will drip on the carpet, and the pizza guy who makes the word pizza sound like a stacatto chirp, and the produce truck that arrives just in time to get fresh tomatoes for dinner and the fruit wagon where you can get a whole bag of sliced cucumbers tossed with salt and lemon juice squeezed from a lemon pulled from a backyard tree.

Its where grocery carts litter front yards and little kids count their change out at the liquor store for candy or soda in the afternoon.

Its where English is not a mandatory language because Spanish, Armenian, Persian, hindi, Russian, Korean, and Vietnamese are all tangled up in a single block radius and the common language has nothing to do with vowels and grammar anyway.

This is The Valley – the Nativity Scene of the American dream.

A Brief Trip to What Once was Home

I travelled to the geography of my birth
to see the landscape of my childhood.
It was just as wet and green as my memory described:
rivers running everywhere,
tributaries of the great Hudson and the lesser Mohawk,
rivulets, streams, creeks and underground springs
running like wild naked children through the black earth;
feeding grass and trees and vines,
wild mushrooms and south growing moss,
yellow flowers eight feet tall and tiny purple clovers.
The green grows and grows.
It is cut back and grows again.
Dormant, it survives the brutal ice of winter and, undeterred,
it grows once more with the spring rain.

The small cities and tourist towns here are stubborn
in the same way that man is stubborn in the face of inevitable death –
weakening day by day, gaining a little one day to lose it’s double the next;
grim faced or in denial, resolute or foolish,
the hungry waters of spring and summer erode the brick and stone,
crumbling it back to earth.
Both earth and air are saturated, striving to a fluid state.
Electric signs are deadened and neon short circuited
so that random letters are switched off and on in nonsense verse.
Elegant ironwork bridges are rusted beyond repair, replaced by the more durable,
less beautiful concrete.
River banks are shored up with the rubble of collapsed monuments to man’s ingenuity.

Then the frozen waters come, little by little,
from above and below –
a two pronged attack sure to crack and break all that had been softened
during the previous season.
Everything once flowing slows or ceases.
Rain becomes merciless hail, then sleet,
then the snow that casts its spell of sleep.
The creeks and streams stop flowing.
Lakes trap everything within under their crystaline surface.
Rivers narrow, reaching icy fingers into harbors.
Tributaries struggle along in fits and starts.
The city huddles down between the hills,
armored with layers of wool and cotton and rubber against the steely cold.
Snow plows and salt truck roam the midnight streets – puny monsters against
the relentless onslaught of amorphous frozen breath.
Darkness comes early and stays late.

One by one, silently, we left this decaying land of our birth,
or distanced ourselves from its utter disregard.
The ones who stayed – out of love or loyalty or illness or fear or
the altruism of belief or the bonds of the land –
preserve what can be preserved year to year and,
when even the foundation has fallen to ruin,
rebuild with aluminum or concrete…
to continue on.