Becoming a California

for Trina Duke

I do not belong to any tribe,
not even my own; I do not belong
to the mid-Atlantic, where they fashion
dignity into a straight-jacket; I do not belong
to the war, or to the party, or to the streets,
and I am not a Croatian, and I am not
a Christian, and I am not yours.

I am becoming a California–
Within is a Hollywood & Vine,
a Haight Ashbury, a Eureka redwood,
all pulsing inside me, like good vibrations
in a Sunset studio, where they are strumming
Joni Mitchell to red-tag girls
who slipped out of a clinic unobserved,
sipping Schramsberg, eying their latest.

I have a Big Sur, a Kerouac
on speed-dial, a dharma on PCH,
a City Lights and a dry martini.
I know where my mind goes:
it goes everywhere, but always sleeps
on a hill where a coast live oak
casts a shadow like a perfumed palace.

Old man crazy pours Junipero gin,
his bartenders can’t make up their minds,
whether I am on this side or not.
Pour me a cup of roadside wine
from every rocky and plaintive county,
drink to the star of a sleepy night,
my valleys are smoking with sacred fires.

To live and labor in California
where there is far too much to love,
far too much to crave, to brave,
far too much joy for academic gain–
I have mine, the finest madness of the female,
gauging the alluvial Sierra fan,
inhaling the sagebrush by the crushed granite path,
and pledging to a glacier: “I am becoming
a California, as sand becomes an Egypt over time.”

Joseph Mailander is a writer in Los Angeles. He is the author of The Plasma of Terror, a novel, and a forthcoming collection of poems entitled Minor Arcana: Tarot Poems and Other Poems.

*Photo courtesy of MiguelVieira.