-- Morituri te salutamus. Los Angeles Times, 1927 Maybe it's not the city you thought it was. Maybe its flaws, like cracks in freeway pylons, got bigger, caught your eye, like swastikas on concrete stacks. Maybe lately the dull astrologies of End, Millennium-edge rant about world death make sense. Look. Messages the dead send take time to arrive. When the parched breath of the Owens River Valley guttered out, real voices bled through the black & white. The newspaper ad cried, We who are about to die salute you. Unarmed, uncontrite. Gladiators: a band of farmers, entrenched. And how many on the Empire's side recognized the bitter history of that Bow? Greed drenches itself in a single element, unsurprised. Like strippers, spotlit. Tits and asses flash red-gold, while jets shriek above. Rim-shot. History, like a shadow, passes over a city impervious as a bouncer's shove to dreams. Images tell you what's imaginable. Here comes another ton. We bathe in what's re-routed from the source: a fable of endless water in a dipper made of tin.
Awake suddenly and afraid, I looked down from my
high window into the spinning prism of snow, past
the new flattened macadam to the white meadow below.
I watched the drifts cover the tall grass, where in
Summer, rabbits and whip-poor-wills hid from eager
slingshots and family-size plots following the surveyors’
black flags. I’d been awakened by a sound: something
stuck, spinning its wheels. A truck, I could see now, as
it lunged suddenly out of the deep rut it had made trying
to downshift at the top of the meadow path leading to
the orphanage below. As the truck lurched free, I could see
its tail-gate shudder, gape, then a quick cascade of tumbling
shapes. Back-up lights, bright red blurs, vanishing.
Moon-lit, my school coat and scarf drawn on, I
went spinning down through the sleeping house:
feeling its familiar steady rebuke. Slipping out, ghostly
in blowing snow, I found them where they’d fallen.
Dolls. A scattered family, lying face-up, eyes staring
past me at the sky as their silly faces were slowly erased.
Kewpie-pouts, clumsy spit-curls. Raggedy-Ann dresses,
cheaply-made. As if a collection taken at the new church
nearby had paid a doll factory to spin off a poor version
of something loveable. Special delivery. Though now I
heard a chime. It must have been Christmas. It must have
been hours before the nuns led their small charges out to
salt the ice and shovel the hill where others sledded. They
honored the earth: I’d watched how their gardens grew
lush in summer, all the way to the iron gates. I thought how
soon they would be gone, along with the living meadow.
So why have I kept close for years this dream of them, coming
upon the tossed dolls, face after unloved face, in the bright
new morning? Holding them tight all the way home. Though
there was no home, of course: I knew there never was one.