Last week, I knew it was time to leave the city.
The way the sun glinted off window-panes, a warning
arriving on my front lawn with the morning
newspaper, and the shape of that funny cloud…
and those kids breaking stuff, it shouldn’t be allowed
one time, let alone — the way it is now — twice.
No, man, it’s definitely not pleasant, not nice.
So I packed and got the hell out of this shitty
place, filled the tank, beat it. Hey, it ain’t funny,
the way peculiar things kind of happen
in their odd way, how certain envelopes fall open
at the fatal news, the way your best friends just leave
and abandon you to your career, and you grieve
pointlessly. The Sheriff swings that rawhide goad,
and you take off down that dusty road.
Hey, do you have enough money?
Yes, honey… you turn to look back, but instead
the future appears before you, every day
longer than the last, your dog… say,
was that your dog Hobo disappearing behind that row
of tents? Then a male voice on the radio
speaks a special message just for you, and between
one gas station and the next, that pale green
landscape just grows darker, the blue thread
crawls behind your dawdling ballpoint on the map
as you plot your escape from the horrid Barbary Coast
to that new place, where you can honestly boast
of your massive talent turning out column after column
of prose as mellifluous and convincing as it was solemn,
read by senior executives and beatniks in cafés
along with the morning news of various calamities. Graze
peacefully there, half snoring, your lap-
top snapped shut, but the road begins to wind
higher into the hills, the hairpin bends and turns
causing the brakes to heat up as the rubber burns
from your squealling tires, your fingers crossed
as you check the map and hope you’re not lost,
not in these unspeakable badlands, not just here
where the good things fade into a pale mist, where
you realise you’re lost, and you think you’ll never find
your way home: time to stop and park
in this trailer park, yes, it’s late
with a bad moon rising, with the endless wait
until dawn — don’t nod off! — then you unpack
your flimsies, don pajamas, snooze in back
until you’re woken by the unbearable light of a star
gleaming and glimmering through the trees, as far
from earth as you are from your home, the dark
seeming to grow around you, the clouds to loom
over all the sky, dark now, your cries
feeble and fading over the low rise
ahead, now a train loaded with mounds of coal
pulls by, steel wheels on steel tracks roll
onward and upward, you hear the whistle sing
its mournful song, plucking the single string
of your heart, the low smoke plume
or maybe it’s a locomotive plume of steam
lit from below by a fitful boiler flame.
You know your life ahead of you is just the same
as everything you’ve left behind, the endless night
concealing the world, but then the unbearable light
of the sun does too, with its immense
and world-bestriding blinding indifference —
and, waking, you trudge ahead with your dream.
To keep going demands an awful effort of will.
You know that what you believe is just not natural.
Your life seems like a rusting, failed factory
that tries to manufacture little pieces of sky
but instead makes more dark clouds. You long for release
from that pressure to flee the horror, to find peace.
In the mirror no monster, just a girl who looks pretty.
Start the motor. No more self-pity.
‘Et in California Ego’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘On visiting a
Borrowed Country House in Arcadia’, by Alicia E. Stallings, in The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of “Poetry” Magazine edited by Don Share.
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