Postcards from Where I Live
Be Thankful for What You Got
—William DeVaughn, Written and performed
Growling pit bulls and German shepherds
jump spiked gates and crunch Chihuahuas like taquitos
in my North Long Beach neighborhood.
I carry a metal rod, stay on guard while walking Chacho,
my cream and caramel Jack Chi. We avoid certain streets,
circle the same eight-block radius of flat concrete and asphalt.
Whenever we can, we hop in my ‘95 Toyota Tercel
for an escape just twenty minutes away.
We park at the bottom of Signal Hill, wind up Skyline Drive,
up the gated community’s paved paths. I’m breathless;
Chacho’s ready to run. We compromise and power walk
around Hilltop Park’s rim and Panorama Drive,
pass the squeak of bobbing oil pumps.
Air swept clean by Santa Ana winds
reveals L.A. high rises and San Bernardino mountains.
The cobalt blue pyramid at CSULB rises from treetops.
Huntington Beach’s jagged shore shimmers and froths.
Off the Long Beach coast, yachts and freight ships
cruise by artificial islands where palm trees
and happy colored towers camouflage oil pumps.
Behind the Queen Mary, gantry cranes stand erect,
like steel dinosaurs ready to do some heavy lifting.
At White Point Nature Preserve, Chacho pulls the leash
taut on steep foot-carved trails.
Salt and sagebrush scent the breeze.
Battery Bunker’s empty gun encasement
frames views of fluttering yellow fennel buds;
cactus wrens feasting on swollen prickly pear;
Catalina Island on a fog free day.
A lone speedboat rips the serene surface.
We stroll down Main Street to the Seal Beach boardwalk.
Barefoot brides in fluffy white tulle and fitted lace dresses
weave through families and couples to make their vows
at Eisenhower park, overlooking the ocean. Lamp posts
lining the wooden pier radiate amber light.
Chacho can’t read “No Dogs.” He runs unleashed,
kicking up sand smooth as a whisper.
A violet and dragon fruit afterglow saturates the sky.
Chacho and I head back home.
The jazz band is jamming at the PopUPtown
Social outside the local library.
Chacho curls at my feet. Chilling on a tree stump,
I nibble on a vegan tamal, sip a pint of beer,
and give thanks.
First published in "Where I Live Poetry and Photograph Series" Silver Birch Press,
reprinted in Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected (Los Nietos Press 2018)
The Summer Before 9th Grade
Before I lassoed my first tongue-kiss
and my longhaired boyfriend ignored me
in science class the next day,
before I ran for Valentine’s Queen
against my ex-best-friend
and we broke out flailing Chihuahua claws,
yanking hair, yelping cuss words
in front of the principal’s office,
I woke to the trill of tin bells,
strapped on two-inch suede platforms,
clonked four and a half long blocks
through heat waves rising from the sidewalks,
held down my neon orange and lime
miniskirt and climbed the bus
headed for the San Bernardino Main Library.
The click and slide of card catalogs
played funkier grooves
than Tower of Power ’s “Bump City.”
Crackling book spines
engraved with golden curlicues
excited me more than a boy-girl pool party.
I couldn't wait to plunge the crinkled pages inside.
All morning, I squeezed hard backs
between Dewey Decimal neighbors,
helped text hunters explore shelves.
Whenever the mean librarian couldn't see me
behind the oversized section,
I snuck a read.
On scorching afternoon rides home,
books pointing out of my backpack
like a fisherman's net after a good day's catch,
I made a pit stop at Esperanza Market
on Mount Vernon Avenue where the butcher
wrapped up a pickled pig’s foot for me.
With my legs sweat-stuck to the plastic bench seat,
I gnawed that pata to the bone,
cooled off with Robert Frost’s poems.
The bus slanted up Fifth Street to Foothill
while I dove deep into songs of tinkling brooks
and leafless woods until my stop
at the bench on Meridian Avenue.
First published in Cooweescoowee and Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug: 10 Years of 2 Idiots Peddling Poetry, reprinted in Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected (Los Nietos Press 2018)
Train Station, 1969
The summer I turned ten, my grandparents
took me on my first trip to Mexico.
We caught the train in Mexicali
before the sun rose, and I slept
until our first food stop
somewhere in the Sonoran Desert.
Grandpa followed Grandma down the narrow aisle
to eat lunch in the air-conditioned dining car.
I wanted to fill my panza
with treats at the depot snack bar
and explore a landscape
I’d seen only in Westerns.
The dirt snapped, stung my sandaled feet
as I waded through the heat
toward the small, lone building
surrounded by tan hills
spotted with brittlebush
and cactus that looked like giant aliens.
Two girls my age stood next to the entrance,
begging passengers for money.
A few people tossed a coin.
Most ignored them.
When I reached the girls, they held out
their dirt-smudged hands and sang,
"Por favor, un centavo."
Their shredded dresses
dangled on their skinny bodies.
Their bare feet stood still
on the burning ground.
I spilled all of my change
into the bowls of their palms.
Back in our sleeper car, I looked out the window
to see the hearty meal I thought they’d order—
a hamburger, glass of milk, and chips or a cookie.
They climbed onto stools at the counter.
The server set down two glasses
filled with ice in front of them and poured
a bottle of Coca-Cola into each glass.
Then he served them chocolate bars.
Grins stretched across their faces.
I switched from feeling proud
for sacrificing my lunch money
to being mad at them for buying junk.
“Why the sour face?” Grandma asked
from across our fold-down table.
I explained what happened.
She raised her eyebrows at me.
“And what were you going to buy?”
First published in the “Ekphrasis Exhibit: Words About Art” Wild Lemon Project, reprinted in Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected (Los Nietos Press 2018)