Alphabet for a Mid-Sized City

Thanks to a Community of Poets, I Grew Into the Central Valley—and This Agricultural California Region Grew Into Me

The land around coaxes out
almonds, apricots, walnuts.
At 3 a.m., the call to irrigate.

We work our fingers to the bone.
We are bone-tired.
C’mon, throw the dog a … .

When sirens scream past,
the next-door dogs respond with all the sorrows
of the world in their voices.

Wind in the ash trees,
snail in the basil,
your hand in mine.

Hot afternoons everything slows.
The air currents, the spin of the earth, the airplane
above moving so slowly it might drop into my hands.

Wild mustard grows in the ditches.
Green stem, yellow flower,
the bitter scent forecasts this ache or that.

Lined up in the windows of that house
on the corner, each shiny object shooting back
sunlight, enough to blind the trespasser.

Last night someone knocked them down,
broke them. The names of the dead mean
so little to some—some who need to be haunted.

“It sure is hot today.”
          “I love the heat.”
“Jeez mija, you don’t know what you love.”

In January, she’ll cut back the roses after she drags
the Christmas tree out to the side of the road.
She’s already penciled this in.

A bounty, an abundance of plums on the counter.
The ripe ones are splitting, juice pearling up,
even as we watch, even as we’re breathless.

The lights start blinking just as you pull up
to the grade. The train has not yet appeared.
You open your window to hear it coming. You wait.

Morning comes out from behind the cedar tree.
Gray, then blue, then yellow, then gold. The hawks
call each other sweetheart. The routine begins again.

When we see them on the horizon, we cheer,
but quietly. We open the windows, we stand
on the porch, to smell the tang of pre-rain air.

The letters to the editor tell us this or that,
laud or outrage. Oh Citizens! Either way,
the paper goes in the recycling bin after breakfast.

The sound of the freeway from several blocks away.
The girl practicing piano with the windows closed.
The library, with its efficiency, with the murmurs of all the books.

Today’s meeting is cancelled as the members
of the committee on the importance of all things
have high-tailed it to the lake or are napping.

Under our feet, beneath the compacted soils,
encased in a vanished inland sea, are fossils
that won’t be discovered for possibly ever.

At night, I drive visitors to the glass factory.
Through the fence, through the half-open door,
we watch the white-hot glass drop into bottle-shapes.

The original’s in Westside Park, but now these trees
are all of ours: Fraxinus velutina glabra ‘Modesto’.
Sure, in spring the new leaves fall, but more always grow back.

          “No, I’m pretty sure I know I love the heat.”
“Well mija, no one ever said you made sense.”
          “Well, my friend, that is more true than you know.”

From the new bridge, you see all the treetops,
moving together in the breeze, so solid-looking,
you could walk on them from here to Ceres.

Also, wait and watch.
Also, weather and warning.
Also, work and workers, and worn-out but not worn-down.

Marks the spot where I ended up staying even after
declaring loudly that I did not want to end up here.
X marks the spot that’s somehow become home.

So, because this became home, I began to say yes.
I am from here, yes. I like it here, yes. Not everything
Is perfect, yes, but then nowhere is.

The night of the meteor shower, I went out and looked
straight up at the bright pins of stars, some of them spinning
across the sky, most of them staying fastened to the night.

Gillian Wegener is president of the Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center. Her works include the chapbook Lifting One Foot, Lifting the Other (In the Grove Press, 2001) and The Opposite of Clairvoyance (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2008).
*Photo courtesy of Sandy Redding.
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