Weather Report from Portland

I’ve been living baroquely lately, coming into the new year, the confused seasons out of control – fall to winter for now though here seemingly obvious. It’s cold and wet and dark out, the darkest days of the year, the longest nights, the hardest streets. The homeless are between a rock and a hard place. They are the meek inheriting the earth, for what that’s worth. A week ago, when it started to snow, we were exactly six months from the freak heat wave of late June when one day we reached an absurd 116 degrees. Where I came of age, the southwest side of Los Angeles County, near the beach at the north end of South Santa Monica Bay, South Bay, for short, the mostly small, originally factory lodging, houses, and our little corner house, were plotted between the oil refinery and sand dunes and ocean and the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and the sprawling airport and the growing aerospace industrial parks, while there were on the east side of our small town still strawberry fields, a few horses in stalls, and a railroad track from the east running behind our backyards through a curving dusty chasm, what the kids called Devil’s Path (or Devil’s Pass), a short cut along the tracks into town, that ended at a small depot near Main Street and Grand Avenue. But in spite of all the brouhaha surrounding us, the ocean nearby was the weather.

There were only two seasons in my childhood: summer, which was the school vacation season, and the school year, the months on either side of vacation. The weather had little to do with our sense of seasonality. The sky was close to blue, the water almost blue and hues of such, the yards and parks and baseball diamonds multi shades of green, the streets mostly clean. Of course there hung about our heads the gunbarrel-blue cake of atrocious smog, though not so much nearer the water, unless the Santa Ana winds were blowing, maybe for a week or so once or twice a year was all in those days. And June might have been the foggy season, but the breezes off the ocean usually pushed and cleaned as they blew east across the big basin, through the canyons up into the hills and up the long boulevards that ran east and west, and blew too through our house because there was always a window open (or broken) somewhere or a door might open or close any time of the day or night as we came and went to and fro through the blues and greens and sandy yellow days and well lit nights of Los Angeles and environs.

Why did humans leave Africa? If that’s what happened, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that our history, what little we can be sure of, might be a bit more compound-complex. In any case, I can’t answer that; I don’t even know why I left Los Angeles.

We live, it’s been suggested, but I don’t remember where I first saw or heard this, at the bottom of a sea of atmosphere (I googled the phrase just now and came up with about 30,000 results, so instead of quote marks, I’ve italicized it). But nothing like water, the rain, to wash out one’s punctuation marks.

Punctuated equilibrium suggests a paragraph whose flow of ideas is steady and stable, one thought logically following another in a gradual evolutionary movement that can be traced forward and backward and annotated. Sudden changes are more difficult to explain.

In Steve Martin’s movie “L. A. Story,” the main character is a television weatherman. But there is no weather in his Los Angeles, by which is meant change in weather. That is a paragraph without a main idea.

Locally, on the television news, consisting mostly of stable formatting, the studio news teams, that is, the players on camera, consist of an anchor, the sportscaster, and the weatherperson – the great American Triumphant (one pictures Benjamin Franklin flying his kite in a lightning storm, the on location camera crew shaking in their boots). The weatherpersons rarely seem to be given enough time to elaborate, as evidenced by their speed of speech. They sound like hawkers at an auction. The numbers and maps, highs and lows, radar of fronts, systems, and directions all whiz by, “put in motion,” and “hour by hour,” as they say, so quickly that as if to include the weather at all in the newscast seems to have been an afterthought. And the channels devoted to weather 24 by 7 are no different, everyone in a hurry to get out of the weather, whatever it is.

The newshour (or half hour, as our attention spans continue to wane) is not an essay, even though the principal parts may seem like paragraphs in some unified whole. The news relies on something new happening, but not even sudden changes in the fossil record can satisfy our quest to know, let alone understand, what’s going down.

Are we in the midst of a sudden change in the fossil record? Story at 11.

Searchlight Sun

the sun has stopped it seems
capsized bottoms up
slithering south in the sky
somewhere there must be
a gargantuan sale on
of cars or mattresses
or a drive-in movie premier
or midsummer festival
the searchlight swiveling
in spherical place
all day and all night
or maybe there’s just another
fight on and the night ringsters
awake outside some old
development rising
to nouveau sea lows
and climbing salt heights
a tsunami of fossil fuels.

Marine Layer

Loveliest of evenings long passed
close kissed in dark dwelling alley
irate tenants hissing us go away
and we felt the marine layer coming.

Felt with our youthful tongues day
and night passing slowly into the mix
of salt and hair and wet sandpaper
rubbing away our persistent presents.

And while yesterday we had sun
today we have none though they say
the globe is warming you wear your
flannel nightgown winter and summer.

Postcard

You awake to find yourself in a room the size of a postcard. There is a photo of a pier, people out walking, a boardwalk, a sunny day, blue sky. A bit of a breeze apparently, the women holding their hats, summer dresses flapping, legs akimbo like listing masts, offshore sand flurries. In the distance, atop a shoreline cliff, an ivory tower climbs into the sky like a long slender neck. At the top of the tower, a balcony necklace affords rich views of the ocean, a woman in a blue dress at the wrought iron rail studying a sailboat, a small dinghy, its jib open and full of the onshore breeze, coming in.

Summer of Love

Mid-June we sat out exposed to one another’s musical ups
and downers, refusals, kissing eye dews until the moon
falls down, waves turned around, and the air like steam
foam swept in drafts up the beach and over the hot strand.

We walk down 42nd to the water rolling papers, smoking,
and you toss back a couple of star-crossed pills, peace
a far-fetched potion. You look for signs. I read a few poor
poems by Hanshan on ways of being beyond need and want,

the beach our Cold Mountain. Make-ready teens for war
learn early love is not free, our children’s prayers said
on red plastic rosary yo-yo beads, putty explosives,
headbands turned into tourniquets, floral wreaths

into olive drab steel pots. It takes courage to work out
the hackneyed stereotypes future fighters might come
to know. What is written is artificial intelligence.
We might still be surfing were we better swimmers.

We would be one were we better lovers, more open to fall
and quail, but Summer of Love, a stone wall
around my heart built, inscribed with three names:
Kevin Mulhern, Gary Grubbs, Robert Shea – mistaken.

Dear Diary,

Sylvie suggested I keep a diary, to care for my days, to reel in my foul funny feelings, to reflect, contemplate, light a candle in the dark corner of the mind’s attic. She even bought me a little pocket notebook, with which I now wobbled down to the beach, wondering what to write, when, how, where. I had laughed, because my days were so full of nothing, nothing sure to write about. At first I thought she was kidding. But she said I missed the point, which was to interrogate oneself, one’s actions and inactions, hits and misses. At that I balked. Keep track of your seven deadly sins, she said, giving me some ideas to write about. Those were, she reminded me, in alphabetical order: anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, and sloth. Notice how commonplace the words are, Sylvie said. It’s almost impossible to pass a day without experiencing one of them. If you fast, for example, are you not being a glutton of denial. I wasn’t likely to go on a fast, I said, but again, I apparently missed the mark. We fast from things other than food, Sylvie said. We all the time fast from what is good for us, and that’s a deadly sin. But to complicate matters even more, I had forgotten to pack a pen with me down to the beach with my little notebook. It was also a beautiful morning, full of graceful offshore breezes as the Santa Ana devil winds had abated. I wanted to run down the tide berm run into the water high stepping the expelling waves and dive under a thin lipped curl held up by a breeze, waiting for me. The water was cold and the cold bees stung the skin and I sprinted and dove and swam out past the break, all seven deadly sins flying off from the cold and sudden exercise. Outside the break I stopped and treaded water and turned to watch the beach from the water and suddenly remembered the little notebook Sylvie had given me, which was in the pocket of my swim trunks, soaking wet. Uh, oh, I said to myself and any fishes nearby, an eighth deadly sin.

“Dear Diary,” is episode 64 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.