“It was a trapped bird, but the sound it made had no anxiety in it, only sadness, impersonal and without hope.” – Nathanael West
Part I – The Pocket Hunter
I remember very well when I first met him.
Walking in the evening glow to spy the marriage of the white gialias,
I sniffed the unmistakable odor of burning sage.
We came upon him often after that, threading the windy passes,
Or by waterholes in the desert hills,
And got to know much of his way of life.
There is a sense of the desert hills:
That there is room enough and time enough.
When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I hated,
As so many other people have hated,
The big, sprawling, deformed character of the place.
I loathed the crowds of dull and stupid people
That milled around the downtown sections
Dawdling and staring, poking and pointing,
Like villagers visiting a city for the first time.
Even newcomers are vaguely aware that
All the throbbing, bustling life of Southern California
Is based on a single shaky premise, namely,
Water, and more water, and still more water.
White, frozen brilliance,
Hot but unshimmering,
Cutting the vision of my eyes into unwavering curves
And stark unbroken angles.
J'ai secoué la sueur et le soleil.
J'ai compris que j'avais détruit l'équilibre du jour,
le silence exceptionnel d'une plage où j'avais été heureux.
I felt that sick, gone feeling again.
The coyote is your true water-witch,
One who snuffs and paws, snuffs and paws again
At the smallest spot of moisture-scented earth
Until he has freed the blind water from the soil.
Las palmeras loran por tu ausencia,
Las laguna se seco – ay!
October is the bad month
For the wind,
The month when breathing is difficult
And the hills blaze up spontaneously.
There has been no rain since April.
Part II – Ramona
The affairs of the generation just going out
Were not the business of the young people coming in.
They would have tragedies enough of their own presently;
What was the use of passing down old ones?
Yet the story was not one to be forgotten;
And now and then it was told in the twilight of summer evening,
Or in the shadows of vines on a lingering afternoon,
And all young men and maidens thrilled who heard it.
I see a Russian empress with her jewels, her fans, her laces,
Lying on a couch with an American boy…
My public is the world, she cried,
The wide, wide world, and for eternity!
Millions worship at my shrine.
Millions wait for my next picture.
And think, only think, the record lasts.
Always, after I am dead the public may see me live and move.
She is running with her eyes closed
And a strange half-smile on her lips,
Her body straining to hurl her along at top speed.
The only explanation for this contrast is that
She is enjoying the release that wild flight gives
In much the same way that a game bird must
When, after hiding for several tense minutes,
It bursts from cover in complete, unthinking panic.
“Who gave her forty bucks for an abortion? Who? And another ten to go to the country for a rest that time. To a ranch I sent her. And who got her fiddle out of hock that time in Santa Monica? Who?”
In the aftermath of the wind the air was dry,
Burning, so clear that she could see
The ploughed furrows of firebreaks on distant mountains.
Not even the highest palms moved.
The stillness and clarity of the air
Seemed to rob everything of its perspective,
Seemed to alter all perception of depth,
And Maria drove as if she were reconnoitering
An atmosphere without gravity.
Part III – Ask the Dust
Unreal City –
A giant back lot,
Stacks of sets and props.
Charlatans and cults reveal
The fusion and confusion
Of magic and illusion.
A Sargasso of the imagination –
Los Angeles has not grown; it has been conjured into existence.
Between mountains and sea are miles and miles
Of orange orchards, lemon groves, avenues of palms,
Great mesas dotted over with poppies,
Lupines and mustard, the groves of stately eucalyptus.
The odors of a million times a million flowers and blossoms
Unite with the salty tang of the sea air and the pine
And balsam laden breezes from the mountains.
The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois,
From Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines,
They sold their homes and their stores, and they came here
By train and by automobile to the land of sunshine,
To die in the sun, with just enough money to live
Until the sun killed them.
Bury the great Knight
With the studio’s valediction
Let us bury the great Knight
Who was once the arbiter of popular fiction.
Past the soot-covered frame buildings along that dark street,
Sand and oil and grease choking the futile palm trees standing like dying prisoners, Chained to a little plot of ground with black pavement hiding their feet,
Palm tree, palm tree, palm tree –
A battle to the death between the palm tree and me,
And the palm tree won:
See it out there swaying in the blue air,
Creaking sweetly in the blue air.
Every voice seems a scream.
It is the season of suicide and divorce
And prickly dread,
Wherever the wind blows.
The world was dust, and dust it would become.
Part IV – The Lady in the Lake
I dreamed I was far down in the depths of icy green water with a corpse under my arm. The corpse had long blond hair that kept floating around in front of my face. An enormous fish with bulging eyes and a bloated body and scales shining with putrescence swam around leering like an elderly roué. Just as I was about to burst from lack of air, the corpse came alive under my arm and got away from me and then I was fighting with the fish and the corpse was rolling over and over in the water spinning its long hair.
No man can be stronger than his destiny.
Part V – Tears in Rain
Weather does not happen.
It is the visible manifestation of the Spirit moving itself in the void.
It gathers itself together under the heavens;
Rains, snows, yearns mightily in wind, smiles;
And the Weather Bureau, situated advantageously for that very business,
Taps the record on his instruments and going out on the streets
Denies his God, not having gathered the sense of what he has seen.
The same season brings the rains that have work to do,
Ploughing storms that alter the face of things.
These come with thunder and the play of live fire along the rocks.
They come with great winds that try the pines and strike out the unfit.
They shake down avalanches of splinters from sky-line pinnacles
And raise up sudden floods like battlefronts in the canyons
Against towns, trees, and boulders.
Soon weeds were growing in the place of Belshazzar
And Hall’s mighty elephants were trumpeting over torn reliefs,
Collapsed stairs, damaged statues, walls where wood and cheap gypsum
Showed through a semblance of marble.
But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses.
Only dynamite would be of any use against the Mexican ranch houses,
Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples,
Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of those styles
That lined the slopes of the canyon.
The Hollywood to the San Bernadino and straight on out,
Past Barstow, past Baker,
Driving straight on into the hard white empty core of the world.
She slept and did not dream.
Nature neither rejoices in the life
Nor sorrows in the death.
She is neither good nor evil;
She is only the great law of change
that passeth understanding.