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99 cuts northeast off the five after the 3,000,000 square foot ikea distribution center at the base of the grapevine.
there is a strong stench of manure as you go past the industrial dairies which half a century ago were located south of los angeles in orange county.
the mp3 player in my vehicle randomly switched from hundreds of tunes, donald byrd and dave alvin, blind willie mctell and nina simone, patti smith and miles davis.
clouds floated serene over the sierras as i crossed the distance, hundreds of miles, turning right on 180 at fresno, heading toward the windy mountain roads through green oaken squaw valley.
leaving the valley behind, the road ascends, windy and unwinding, curlicuing through oak forest mostly in sunshine and sometimes glare or dappled shadows, i’m tired from driving all day, don’t ease up on the gas quick enough, gotta brake suddenly as the heavy vehicle swerves out on the edge of the road, hanging out over empty space. out there, i catch a glimpse of far-off green chaparral slopes folding under scudding brilliant clouds.
the campground is only half full, easy to get a nice space at the edge of a little meadow which till recently looks like it was full of icy old snow. a bunch of kids playing and shouting nearby.
not far from the azalea campground, i walked through the “general grant grove” of giant sequoia. naming these 1500 and 2000 year old great trees after presidents and states was somebody’s idea to help protect them against loggers, and it worked, as they made the area one of the first national parks. but the road down into kings canyon is still closed for winter. i thought, without snow, it would have been opened by now.
in the last light of afternoon, the giant sequoias glow burnished with life and with time. the biggest of the great trees thrust up hundreds of feet, their gnarly branches curl like old horns of the male bighorn sheep, shining rugged in the sun, wafting fans of their cedarlike flattish needles. they look like they grow to embody the planet’s love for the sun. they look like one giant declaration, each one a 200 or 250 foot tall sentence from the planet declaring its love to the sun.
ravens croak and caw and burble unseen in the trees. i see them sometimes, flitting through the forest. ravens always look like they love their lives, live to fly and have fun. they got dignity in their black suits, wings tucked and walking like a man with hands in his pockets, even when they’re out on the road eating flattened roadkill. eyes pitch black as darkest night.
i took a large portion of dad’s ashes and walked around the back (north) side of the ‘general grant’ tree (supposedly one of the three or four largest trees on earth) to one called ‘kentucky’ on a map of the grove. it’s tall because it rises from the slope above the general grant tree, towers above it, rising from boulders, topped by a bare jagged snag in the sky. there i poured the ashes in a fire-blackened hole in the thickened and scarred bole, and patted it, patted the dust off my hands. redwood bark is fibrous and stiff, but matted, kind of like hair. the fire-blackened hole in the bole sweated moisture i took for resin.
i couldn’t get into king’s canyon—though i drove out to the overlook near where the road was closed. the overlook gave out on a deep view of the confluence of two forks of king’s river, way down there. it was all strikingly beautiful, raw and grand as the rapidly moving front of a big thunderstorm. chinese tourists and white tourists posed and took pictures in front of the view.
i thought of dad throughout the next day as i drove out to the coast. i drove through vallejo, where he’d graduated from high school, where his mother had been a school teacher, his father head of security at a shipyard, where his granddaughter had graduated from college; i passed the big old hotel where naomi met ed. i missed the turn-off and ended up driving through still run-down downtown vallejo without intending to. as i drove past the old bus station (which no longer seemed to be a bus station), it was a further sign that the united states of the 20th century that dad grew up in and embodied was long gone—and in particular its high hopes and big promises. now it’s a smaller country with smaller hearts and minds, smaller and more limited lives, without big dreams to remind it how low it goes.
as i gassed up in a gas station by a malfunctioning pump, a guy in convertible pulled in to chat up a carload of young black women, the driver laughing loud, tattoo on her left breast striped by a strap. i drove north on sonoma blvd, past the alley where dad had been jumped once as a tipsy old man by a bunch of kids who might’ve killed him for no reason, but he was too tough, stumbling away with yet another broken nose. that was when he lived above a chinese restaurant on sonoma, where i’d found him (with his broken nose) by walking along sonoma avenue calling up to any apartment above a chinese restaurant, like he’d mentioned to me in a letter. of course that chinese restaurant seemed to be long gone.
i took sonoma north to 37, west on 37 past mare island naval shipyard where grandpa had worked till he retired (long closed, the naval buildings stand abandoned). i impatiently followed a lumbering tow truck atop highway 37 across the dike over the marshes of the wildlife preserve of san pablo bay, west into the afternoon.
after getting lost once in mill valley taking a wrong turn into a residential neighborhood, i found the right road up onto the slopes of mount tamalpais and picked out a sunshiny campsite at pan toll in the state park, where i read joe milazzo’s wonderful novel manuscript, CREPESCULE W/ NELLIE. then the area was invaded by a bunch of noisy college students, drinking beer and making merry, shooting off fireworks late at night and getting in trouble, getting citations and negotiating with rangers as i tried to sleep, but i didn’t especially care.
i was going to make coffee before leaving camp the next morning, but the stove was out of propane. so i packed it up and drove down the mountain, in a few minutes turning onto highway one, running in a ribbon high on the cliffs above the ocean crashing on the rocks far below.
i drove the coast till the road turns inland at the golden gate bridge, and stood on the headlands above the bridge, looking down on a korean freighter packed high with containers, steaming under the bridge and out to sea, and the traffic crossing over the bridge, and crowds of tourists walking back and forth on the bridge, and the city of san francisco beyond. there were some misty clouds, but they cleared in a stiff breeze. the sun shone on the water.
past the world war-era bunkers and gun emplacements, and through a tunnel, the road follows the ridge line west to lands end and the light house. partway to that point, i pulled out and hiked down the slope to a beautiful black sand beach in the sun. two fishermen cast into the roaring surf at the far end of the beach. there on the pacific side of the mouth of the golden gate, i poured another portion of dad’s ashes into the surf as it swelled around my calves. the sun shining on the water in a very light breeze— the wave pulled out, carried the ashes out into the pacific.
“What You See, What You Take With You “
after Marisela Norte’s photographs of Los Angeles—by Vickie Vértiz:
“Los Angeles Postcard”:
art by Daniel Gonzalez:
1. one or 2 new little notebooks
2. rei tent
3. cook pot kit
4. stove, propane i suppose
5. water filter
7. 2 pairs of pants
8. pair swim trunks (?)
9. 400 page thelonious monk novel by joe milazzo
11. cell phone charger and automobile adaptor
12. small cooler
13. yellow (day) backpack
14. water bottle
15. first aid kit (?)
16. extra shoes
17. a change of light stories by julio cortazar
18. sequoia kings canyon guidebook
19. calif. coastal parks guidebook
20. calif. topographical map book
21. new hiking shoes: i just exchanged old torn hiking shoes at rei, for for a cost of about $40, first time i ever used their “lifetime guarantee” even though i’ve been a member for over 30 years and a year or 2 ago they rescinded their lifetime guarantee policy and replaced it with a one year policy, i wanted to use it once before i never could again (never having used it on anything in 30 years, i had purchased previous shoes on sale which accounts for additional $40)
22. poems to read at city lights on thursday
23. black t-shirt for reading (?)
24. cotton sweater
25. wool coat
26. wool sweater
27. rain coat
28. underwear, socks
29. box for misc junk in the back (angry days, bungee cords, tree identification books, CDs)
30. cotton layers, shirts
31. duffel for this stuff
32. knife, a couple spoons, forks
33. plate (?)
34. french press daughter gave me
36. toiletries, tp, paper towels, toothbrush etc.
37. hand towel
38. sleeping bag
39. sleeping pad
40. city terrace field manual
41. always forget something
42. box of ashes: males in particular (i’m thinking of my dad when i say this), talk about zen or god or art (or anything like that of supreme importance) and consciousness or politics and all the big issues, like women don’t have a hand stuck in the machinery of every single day. but i know that every day of my life mom has (she’s 88 now), without being asked, done everything she could for everyone, not one day—every day. every day. on mother’s day women like her will get some lip service. then the discourse will turn immediately to the usual stories, wars, money, parties, parades, programs, death and waste. and the women like her without whom nothing could survive will go on working. meanwhile, dad (or his ashes) is in his box—and he’s going for a ride from the sierras to the pacific. the box will come back empty. come on, dad.
philip seymour hoffman, actor makes sweeping gesture
philip seymour hoffman the spider seems crushed it tries to get away with only four legs
i am helping it with paper mind(s)
philip seymour hoffman trapped between republicans and democrats makes a gesture
(visualize faint puckering around his mouth, as if a sour taste here)
p. s. h. performs the phases of the moon in palatial chiffon of greenish PVC
i saw this special movie where he did voice over
the movie was projected upon rows of parked cars and somebody’s green furry handcuffs
voice over did shift a grand decisive gesture
the movie was called synecdoche, to the left of david hockney
the movie flickered and got on a plane
the plane rose into a red sky
but that was not the gesture, the gesture itself was italian which is some would suggest, coastal
ate whole fish bones and all
(shot of vast glittering ocean surface along long serrated coast line fading into distance like sea of cortez)
certainly so much comes our way, extra faces.
extra heat, extra wind, what am i going to do with all inside it.
inside, even lucy, the dog that ran away worried about it all.
she ran right into the 4th of july. when faces hung
on the bushes like plastic bags. fluttering
with a wave of fingers, not hello or goodbye. just
dismissal. such extra faces i’ve been given together with
so much else—extra trucks, extra freeways, sites. fistfulls
of forms i must fill out describing my illiterate passions.
canned stuff, eye storms, a writhing fruit at once a living egg.
cilia, scent of a woman recently departed. faces
still hanging around, emptied out from behind,
but still speaking. slack at the edges like a wetsuit
sandy and hanging to dry. cuffs where eyes used to be.
i don’t feel i can simply leave them on the fence line
where the day breaks. no one will be there.
if i turn abruptly their lips brush my face,
or it’s a threadbare cuff. it’s a shift
in the air. i recall when boys and men wore
them under the trees and smoke. so many, so many
i was given with electric current, fried chicken,
chickens in the yard, propellers and tales of the
distant city. why does it all press a stain the air.
can’t i wring it, like a woman who takes
life in hand
without even looking,
remakes it every day?
i was hiding from security forces official and unofficial in some leafless chinese elm type trees that were clipped and pruned to bare nubs and stumps, where presumably the nightblind forces would have difficulty locating me in spite of the lack of foliage, but the trees were crawling with fat pale ants, and the security forces trampled the terrain below in their search, radios and voices coming from all points, i thought maybe i could drop to the ground and make a run for it, that there was a border nearby for escape somehow (dont we always think that?)—(sometimes it must be true)—
walking across minimall parking lot to storefront that used to be variously (?) a curandero botanica fake doctor’s office, next door to actual doctor’s clinic of some sort, and/or “health food store” of the type mostly filled with “supplement” pill bottles, but was now vacant (probably, or partly) due to current economic disaster of economy, i walked through group of martial arts students, young people mostly hanging around the parking lot as night fell, they were chatting and smoking and waiting for what, i don’t know, mostly led, via strength of personality by late 20s tall strong woman of pronounced character, i left them all outside in the dark parking lot with traffic headlights going by the busy urban avenue, went into the empty storefront purposely (i don’t know for what purpose, but i had some purpose, that’s the way i always am, it’s a dull aspect of my personality that i always know my purpose, i go DO something)—the place was perhaps being used illicitly, but was unlocked, all fluorescent lights on doors wide open, shelving and discarded fixtures remaining everywhere, signs of recent vacancy, recent economic spiral downward, maybe i was going in to practice karate which i used to do for more than five years, but when i went in the back to check out the practice space, it was an abandoned doctors clinic full of gurneys, scopes and computer screens, beds and stools and cabinets full of doctor stuff, cartons, bottles, papers and everything in place, and a group of people had taken it over, vaguely affiliated with the martial arts group—perhaps the martial arts group was sort of a front, serving two purposes (as does everything in the world)—(to train these cadre)—because in the abandoned doctors offices a group of young anarchist computer hacktivists was attacking government and specifically pentagon and nsa computers. they were going about it all casually as if planning a picnic or setting a barbecue. they sent off some viral mechanism and waited for some sign it was breaking through the firewalls of the target. the computers abandoned by the failed doctor business began ticking with suspicious regularity, a sign something was happening. “i think it’s working,” somebody said. i didn’t think too much about who were these people, they accepted me because i was purposeful and didn;t question them and they were anyway unafraid. except that they were watching their computer screens waiting for a counter-reaction, a sign that their targets had targeted them. they casually, silently, prepared to leave at the first signal. (which might be security force vehicles roaring into the parking lot outside the back door. or more quietly, an alteration of the number pattern on the computer screen.)