Sunday, March 17, 2013

Highway 99, San Joaquin Valley, California

In this, the third entry from Songs and Letters, my “uncharted book of poetry and prose,” I write about my growing-up place the way it was — or, perhaps more accurately, the way I was, and am, except for a thousand changes mean and profound, down to the sound of my voice and the rhythm of my worn out shoes.

Highway 99, San Joaquin Valley, California

In the old times, before roads and barns and dams and ditches, a giant Sequoia wandered alone by the river, calling for his mate. In a century his call was answered and the two were bride and groom. The whole valley shook when the two trees sighed. And when they returned to their home in the high Sierra, thunder echoed down the granite face.

There is a fire in the hills, a wire fence on Bear Mountain.
There are iron rails and crucified timbers choked by dead weeds,
and derelict porches of sunbleached boards
where deranged lizards soak up the sun
like besotted small town mayors.

Here a drop of water is a jewel that seeks remembrance upon a woman’s neck.
Against her hot brown skin, it gains the potency and sting of rattlesnake venom.

When they built the long road, the 99, it was already too late.
But the doctors operated anyway. The bleeding never stopped.
“To save the patient,” they said, “we must murder her.”
And the people liked the death they saw, and claimed it as their own.

I knew an Okie who said the valley was a garden. I knew a Mexican who said the land was rightfully his. I knew a Tule Indian who walked naked to a Spanish mission where the friars gave him clothes. I knew a white man from St. Louis, who knew a fisherman in Maine, who one day killed a Chinese man, then calmly went insane. The truth is, I knew just about everyone everywhere at one time or another. I knew them on the train West, I knew them in saloons. I knew them in the red brick banks, and in upstairs hotel rooms. I knew them as bartenders, horse thieves, grave diggers, assayers, harmonica players, Sunday school teachers, butchers, and engine men. I knew the preacher who saved the farmer’s daughter. I knew the judge and jury who arranged for the innocent man’s slaughter. I knew the man before he was hung, and the man who did the hanging. We went out back and had a drink, and I learned he knew him too. A few months later, when the child was born, he looked like the devil himself. Sad how things work out sometimes.

When they built the long road, the 99, they killed two million horned toads and a symphony of crickets. The squirrels climbed the power poles and the gophers gave out tickets. Then, in the name of Beauty, the highway department planted oleanders.

Nixon used the road once, back in 1960. He was impressed by the oleanders.
“A man could go to the toilet in there if he had to,” he said, “and not be seen.”
When they drove though a massive cloud of gnats and dragonflies,
he asked the chauffeur if they were expecting rain.
“Not for about ten years now,” the chauffeur said and smiled,
though he knew a drop did slip through from time to time.

March 20, 2005


Jan said...

This is wonderful! Why your writing talent keeps amazing me I am not sure, William. Because I know that you are a gifted writer and that you paint many pictures with your words, and that I as a reader become a part of your story from the very first sentence. Thank you...

William Michaelian said...

I thank you, Jan, with all my heart.

Jonathan Chant said...

This is the real thing alright. Fine write William.

William Michaelian said...

Thank you, too, Jonathan.

Maybe it’s another way of saying I wish you could have been there.

But I know full well that I’m lucky you’re here now.

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Good work, William, but you forgot to mention the Irish. They're probably the bastards who actually built that road.

Anyway, Happy St. Patrick's Day!


I’ve always been proud of my Irish
for deep within me is the love
of all things loved by the Irish:
fine horses and music and poetry,
pretty girls and a windy sea.
But I’m no more Irish than you are,
just a mix of many things…
Scottish and Dutch and German,
some Welsh and a little Cherokee.

My Irish is only an illusion, just a name
(though perhaps a touch in the soul).
I’m just an American mongrel
like the rest of us, like that other illusion,
that game we play every day
of who and what we are or want to seem to be
and all but moral mongrels.

Copyright 2009 – Tall Grass & High Waves, Gary B. Fitzgerald


My family’s been gone from Ireland
for at least two hundred years.
Many generations in America,
many pioneers. Many who worked hard
for every buck. But the only Irish left
in me is my name and a poem,
a fear of ghosts
and some damned sorry luck.

Copyright 2008 – Softwood: Seventy-eight Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

William Michaelian said...

Ah, Gary, it’s nice to hear yer voice. Thank you, sir.

Another, then, from Songs and Letters in keeping with your theme:

One More For Finnegan
(The Grave-digger’s Song)

It’s one more for Finnegan,
Then we go on home.
Michael to his pretty wife,
And me to the burying ground,
Me to the burying ground.

I dig a hole for Finnegan,
And let him fall right in.
Dig a hole for Finnegan,
For dear old Finnegan I dig,
My sweat all running down.

Finnegan, says I to him,
You were right to go.
There’s nothing for us here,
No fields to plow nor anyhow,
To pay us for our tears.

Then Finnegan he rolls over
And looks his eyes at me.
Half a smile and half a frown,
Finnegan he rolls on over,
Like a drunk man in his shroud.

Says old Finnegan to me,
What’s that yer prayin, Willie boy?
Have ya lost yer gourd?
From where I sit it just don’t fit,
Then he begins to snore.

Well, that’s Finnegan for sure,
Always gets the last word in.
But it ain’t no sin for a man like him,
No sin in the burying ground,
No sin in the burying ground.

Ed Baker said...

yuh got got "it" precisely

the secret is that
there ain't no secret

nor has sin become an adjective
nor has death become a noun

everyday I write or draw
drink and piss

Finnigan or Finnegan
every day begin again

as you roll-on the down
-hill going is easier than
up hill climb

drawing on words and 'she'

this morning's looking into (my) mind-stuff
I drew 'she' said:

" not so easy being Green Tara"

Really appreciate your attitude coming through
via words and images....

(wld include the Tara image AND
the lines over the two "a" s

but don't know how to so do)

GOOD "stuff" Bill
write when you have less time

William Michaelian said...

If time exists, I have none less than now.

Thanks, Ed.

You could link to Tayray if she were a file on your website, say, then people could fly by night to see her in her morning regalia.

Ed Baker said...

"she" is now resides in a folder that I call "pictures"
as long as i remember to add a ".jpeg"
to the name of the image
I can get things in

"Tayray" is that like a "Cloud" ...
as I dropped out of that facebook nonsense
can't put "her" there.

will change "Urban Hermit" to
"Urban Recluse"
and proceed

"Tayray" ? thanks for trying to swithch on the light in this old
room :