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World’s End: North of San Francisco

By
July 1, 2008

 

I. Fortress

Here at the continent’s end, fortifications
linger for the end of the world. They greet

each California morning, these barracks in the fog.
Below, the lagoon is gunmetal, or mercury poured.

Today I saw a river otter, lithe as compacted water,
arch through the tule basin. A heron.

A poker-faced coyote loped into the chaparral.
The pelicans, ancient Christian symbol of charity,

dove, hard spears mining water. I thought:
I know and they do not how they are Renaissance symbols.

How here hummingbirds are Miwok gods.

II. Ghost Town

At the Nike Missile site, one missile
rises for tourists on Wednesdays.

Other days, it is guarded by a mannequin
behind barbed wire, his enclosure

engulfed in thickets and foxtails.
Hikers spelunk through each bunker.

Battery Wallace: Battery Alexander: Battery Townsley.
Labor cemented these hills. 1907. 1938.

They seem almost Roman, these ruins
guarding outpost California.

Each gun could have destroyed this world.
Now conquest is going on elsewhere.

At dusk we watch hills waver in the lagoon.
Imperfect reflections. Tree forms obscured.

Out to sea, through the Golden Gate,
we see the Hanjin Sea Princess

sail west, west, towards China.

III. Compass

As a girl I named the plants here. As a pioneer girl
I crossed the prairies by train: My life delivered me
at the mouth of the Pacific. I learned these plant-names in English.

Miwok gods fed at the bottlebrush tree in our backyard.
In my home I discovered the East
through 19th century novels and movies about New York.

The East was the past: My family came a long time ago.
After lunch, I crest the ridgeline into the next valley
thinking about what we bear or drag behind us,

inadequacies of language to place.
I think nothing, too, examining fur in coyote scat.
Ochre in fault-line sandstone, jarred, upended plates.

I am running on a sea floor sedimented 600 million years.
I am running on willow thickets the Spanish called saucelito.
The fog is a bridal veil but ghostful.

The foghorn sounds perfect fourths.
Below, the latticework fields, chartreuse mustard flowers.
Plum trees from the Portuguese farms wild back into the hills.

On a serpentine outcrop a crow rasps, like the handle
on a hurdy-gurdy. His crackling call
ripens away towards the fogbank.

Poison oak glints among sticky monkey.
I stand on the crumbling fortress, making bouquets of thistles.

G

Tess Taylor has received writing fellowships from Amherst College, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Headlands Center for the Arts. Her chapbook, The Misremembered World, was selected by Eavan Boland and published by the Poetry Society of America. She has received a Dorothy Sargent Memorial Prize and the Morton Marr Prize from the Southwest Review.

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