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.
- 109: NO THEME 12with C Maling & N Rhook 108: DEDICATIONwith L Patterson & L Garcia-Dolnik 107: LIMINALwith B Li 106: OPENwith C Lowe & J Langdon 105: NO THEME 11with E Grills & E Stewart 104: KINwith E Shiosaki 103: AMBLEwith E Gomez and S Gory 102: GAMEwith R Green and J Maxwell 101: NO THEME 10with J Kinsella and J Leanne 100: BROWNFACE with W S Dunn 99: SINGAPOREwith J Ip and A Pang 97 & 98: PROPAGANDAwith M Breeze and S Groth 96: NO THEME IXwith M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRICAN DIASPORAwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones