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Poetry

“Los Angeles, Summer 2020,” “Thank You”

Los Angeles, Summer 2020

 

Night blooming datura fills space between me and the ozone
It’s the middle of the night in a heatwave. I can’t sleep
This is the only time my cat will sit on my lap
wrap her tail around my thigh and I feel safe

It’s also the only time when it’s quiet
Neighbors have left their windows open
after running the AC all day
You would expect to see more stars tonight on this new moon,
but it’s the city

Still – there, is Orion’s belt, Pleiades, Venus, or maybe Mars
Fires are blazing across the valley, rivers, mountains, suburban homes
It’s not safe to stay outside for too long

My cat perks one ear,
I swear I hear a train even though they don’t pass this close

At the Port of Long Beach, megaships are received and docked daily,
floating cities that bring our shoes and electronics
from the countries in which they were made

The sonar, a metal spike
has been known to destroy
the auditory canals of sea creatures, the whales, dolphins, squids

The ships dock
along the coast which has been manipulated
to receive the weight, dispatch the goods
onto trucks, onto trains
to transport to warehouses where they will be cataloged
and prepared to be delivered to our fingertips

All along these routes are people’s homes, communities, schools, playgrounds
The fires are blazing

I grew up along train tracks
Flattening pennies for my collection
pretending I was lost
Once a refrigerator box was left smashed on the tracks
Kids said there was a person inside it

Each breath, a life of a human being
Each breath, a 75-inch big screen tv
Each breath, a terra cotta pot, a window screen, face masks,
balloons, plastic bags, reusable bags, water bottles, air purifiers,
cell phone cases, dinnerware, pesticides, gas masks,
pocketbooks, glass jars, flashlights, lipsticks and perfumes, Kevlar,
blinds, plastic jewelry, toys, laptops, peanut butter, ion batteries

Each breath is something we need
Something we want
Something to protect us

Each breath is the train passing in the night,
the crossing signals blinking, the train sounding its horn

Each breath is an empty park
An empty park after a party
An empty park with whatever was left behind
Birds with confetti in their mouths

Sometimes a box will fall off the train
It is full of caverns
endless caverns of jewels
and the children all make crowns and are kings and queens

Sometimes the box will be full of the ocean
stuffed inside to protect one corner of the bleached coral reef
The children cry
overwhelmed by what they have lost by no fault of their own

Sometimes the boxes are full of anchors
and no one can pick those up
We create monuments to their everlasting stubbornness
knowing that soon enough the wild mustard will take over

Sometimes the mothers find a box
and know it had been waiting there all along

Sometimes you can hold the box up to your ear
and hear the secrets people say about you

Sometimes the box will give you a way out
and you won’t have to justify it to anybody

But mostly, the box will be thrown away
sealed in its original packaging
These are our mountains now

It is not your job to perfect the world, I’ve been taught,
Nor to hold the magnitude of a timeline of despair all alone

Although, I do pray for the quiet
and a greater capacity to walk the tracks
keep pace with the speed of our consumption, devour the pain

 

Thank You

 

Here’s what happened
I met a man who told me
He hadn’t met a magenta aura
Vibrating on this planet for the past 500 years.
Not that long in the scheme of things really
But long enough that I would have never shared
Time and space with the person who last vibrated at this frequency.

No, I said.
I disagree.
I was alive
In a photo with my great great grandmother
Five generations of women
Posing together
The photograph after my great great grandfather tried
To murder his family
My great grandmother just a girl
Chased out onto the front lawn with her brother
The photograph in the newspaper, smudged with fingerprint
That’s how I know it happened
Falling out of a scrapbook in a collection of belongings my grandmother left behind

What I’m trying to say is
I’ve stood in the turn of the century
That world was coming into misfortune then too
I was at the beach watching the sun
And threw away three pounds of Styrofoam
A broken plastic casing
A red balloon and ribbon tied up in seaweed
Six straws
A Boom! firecracker
An aerosol canister
Several water bottle caps
And even more that I left behind

Was any of this trash yours?
I don’t want to take the blame for it.
This is what God told me
Our intent to care means shit right now
Our water is on fire
He said
I have swallowed poison
Ingested beasts to make the land more pleasant for you
I am the shoreline and the horizon
Inheritor of your gold
You bring scorched earth
And rain will only feed this disaster

This is deeper than anger.

Here’s one example: Monsanto gave patented GMO seeds to Indian cotton farmers, like a gift, a trial run. And when those seeds displaced local plant diversity and depleted the soil so much so that the GMO-patented seeds became the only crop option, the farmers coerced into buying this intellectual property above market price, paying royalties for use, going into debt, compromising their families, their sustainability, their land, and believing themselves to be out of options, committed suicide.

God didn’t tell me any of this.
Journalists and scientists did.
There are PR teams behind this.

What I’m trying to say is
We treat our soil like one use to-go containers
That I value convenience over the lives of others
Over my own ovaries
I want comfort not so far from me and decisions made easy
I do not know where my food comes from
I do not know where my water comes from
But I expect it to be cheap and clean and plentiful

Sheila McMullin is a 2020 Arts for LA Arts Delegate and the author of daughterrarium, selected by Daniel Borzutzky for Cleveland State University Poetry Center's First Book Prize. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA, where she practices community herbalism and facilitates writing workshops.

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