I am from the bow that split the waves of the Atlantic,
the force of human will beyond ancient Valhalla:
they pilgrimaged across those waves
for a new God, a new country.
And that note which preceded me,
that sea-salt tone that faded, remains as harmony
to the sound of gravel alongside the desert freeway
—for that is where I truly come from:
the taste and smell of dust and tire rubber,
the powder of desert, like sun-bleached soot…
and I am from the faint scent
that draws the wolves
down from the mountain.
Also, I am from the note that rang out
when they struck that final spike, that golden spike
into the first American transcontinental railroad track;
my mother described it so proudly at the
station museum, “they say it could have been
miles off, but it wasn’t—it met right on center,”
she beamed, with perfectly permed hair and
smelling of chemical roses.
And so, silently, I am also from
the camps of the Chinese rail workers,
the tendons as they strain,
the fingernails as they claw
through the Sierras
the bones beneath the tracks,
the bones that guide those rails to their perfect center.
And I am from the true natives here
in that I’m an immigrant’s child shed of history’s skin;
my ancestry dries out on a desert rock while
a rattlesnake—reborn—slithers into the sand,
the sun-bleached dust of this current moment,
the caking dirt of now and California.
I am from the forgotten tune, half-remembered across silent lips;
I am from the dread of an empty strip-mall at midnight;
I am from a clean, well-lighted place;
I am from hours spent in front of a screen, playing SimCity;
I am from leather that flutters against brass—saxophone keypads;
I am from the high-pitched staccato of a dot-matrix printer;
I am from graphite against smooth pulp, inside a Trapper Keeper;
I am from the pack of stray dogs, the dogs who could find no other pack;
I am from the hashish daydreams that sprawl along the Pacific shoreline;
I am from the motion of palm fronds that sway to the wind’s half-forgotten song.
I am from the Leviathan—the great beast
slouching across the Atlantic,
across the Mason-Dixon,
across the Louisiana Purchase,
across the lost Northern lands of Mexico,