Places I Am From


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.

American method.

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

—relentless, relentless—

the bones beneath the tracks,

the bones that guide those rails to their perfect center.

Railways. Freeways.

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.

But finally,


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,

here already

—already born.

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