Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly and Pushcart Prize nominee. His poetry and interviews have appeared in literary journals internationally, including Nimrod, Florida English Journal, Cream City Review, Mandala Journal, Poetry Salzburg, Poetry Quarterly, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Boston Poetry Magazine. He has published a travel book, Best Choices In Northern California, and Time Lines, a book of poems.
Stored in a gold vault for all time mankind survives.
It cannot be omitted by the foofaraws bandied about.
Certain commissars hasten to deliberate whether or
not Pisces is on the rise. Then our intermediary Eros
adopts what’s left when Mother Earth yields gold no
more. There was gold galore in California until it got
suddenly flooded with thousands of immigrants who
expected quick fortune by simply panning its streams.
Most of these poor souls went broke, backs aching,
and struggling to survive in a dangerous wilderness.
Those first winters brutal, scurvy, cholera outbreak,
no law except vigilante. The majority of the miners
packed up meager belongings and headed back home.
Soon California became a state--foreigners residing
in the Gold Country scorned, treated like animals,
beaten, whipped, shot, and hanged, often for crimes
pinned on them of which they hadn’t the least guilt.
We met, three simpaticos
playing hooky from reality, at sunset near the head of windswept Fisherman’s Wharf.
we were seasoned coworkers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ll kick this off with one
tall and thick-shouldered
convivial lothario Ricardo, followed by Polly who’s earned the title Sea Otter Princess
because of gentle care
she gives feeding, bathing and preening them as if they were her own chosen children.
And me, fugitive from
time’s madcap encampment. They’d arrived before me at our planned rendezvous
munching crunchy appetizers,
presumably kibitzing about their recent vacation to New Jersey during which Ricardo
her well-to-do, rather conservative parents. I sat down beside them on a metal bench
overlooking Monterey Bay,
broke out flasks I’d purchased and filled with rum for this particular unique occasion.
Each of us took little
sips, then I assessed the situation, and in complete amazement declared serendipity
has much to do with why
we were there that evening. Or maybe destiny. Look straight ahead, I directed them,
do you see that pretty pink
store at the left front corner of the wharf, the one with the big and bold blue sign that
says Harbor House?
I was hired there an hour ago. That’s how I know we were definitely meant to meet
at this time and place. My soul
tells me it can’t be otherwise. And then we made our way along the bike path, over to
where steep concrete steps
led down to an awfully rocky beachfront, but not before passing the regal bronze statue
of Santa Rosalia, Monterey’s
patron saint. The city celebrates her every year with a festival at Custom House Plaza,
event evolved from decades
during which after a parade Italian families gathered at the pier in order to pay homage,
feast and bless the fleet.
We paused out in front of
that most venerable statue, and I wondered aloud how spiritualism and religion could
have become so entangled
in this day and age. On second thought, maybe it always has been--shamans, priests,
gods, saviors, prophets all
stirred in one big pot of delusion. The sun made a gradual descent; its bent reflections
turned bay waters aqua
with a brilliant glassy sheen, as sailboats slid quietly back to their slips in the marina.
We braved those steps
holding the heavily rusted iron railing, down to where it approaches intertidal waves,
searched for a spot to sit,
which was next to impossible since the sharp, strangely-shaped granite rocks proved
Finally we discovered two flat pieces of concrete to rest on, ruins, broken foundations
of the Booth Cannery,
all that was left of the very first one in old Monterey. Booth who pioneered the fishing
industry, began with salmon,
and soon afterwards discovered the plethora of sardines that created a huge silver rush
coaxing fishermen from
many lands, with an extensive concentration of those Italians whose extra special skills
Early Italians whose names echo like a Mafia lineup: Napoli, Aiello, Nicosia, Cardinalli,
Torrente, Castaldo, Pomilia,
with great courage cashed in on the fishing bonanza and established a Monterey heritage.
To Ricardo and Polly
I said there is a special reverence in this place that has no aptitude for frivolous religions.
Swirling currents just
beneath our feet hurriedly shoved back by the outbound tidal flow. I boasted we must be
coastal royals: Polly,
whose compassion for the fuzzy and childish sea otters has no rival. She conducts tours
of Elkhorn Slough
where otters in their intimacy and merriment can be studied up close from rented kayaks,
a complete blast.
And then Ricardo whose bravado trumps anyone’s in the entire Aquarium. He’s top
dog, the King
of promotional sales who gets big raises, and excellent reviews from the store’s patrons.
Last, and perhaps
least, me. Inclined to be surly at times, gregarious but earnest, King Arthur who has yet
to extract his Excalibur.
As darkness shed tears of exuberance we passed the flasks and traded random witticisms,
Ricardo recording us
on his cell phone for posterity, I suppose. He then began brushing me up on the greatest
local Pop sensations,
and hooted something about sea lions in orbit around planet Uranus. Polly turned her head,
stared up at the statue
then flashed her magic smile that pulls enlightenment in its wake. I quite remembered then
what she said about
Ricardo’s freckles, that in them she views universes gobbling one another in their attempt
to avert annihilation.
I continued that sometimes it’s better to die by your heart giving out, not like that unfortunate
fisherman’s son, Joe
Ventimiglia, whose head got beaned in a baseball game at Jacks Park on Franklin Street
and died two weeks later
of a subdural hematoma. His aunt was famous Joe DiMaggio’s mother, he of an extensive
fishing family. Sadly,
young Ventimiglia never got to watch the immortal Yankee Clipper play. As Ricardo slipped
a kiss on Polly’s cheek
I warranted how muses come and go, my sweetheart of late gone into total hiding, in abject
darkness, as though
obliterated, confoundingly miffed that I admitted my love for her in a poem and made it public.
Then Polly offered:
we’re perfecting ways to turn ocean currents into electricity, enough to supply the whole world.
Ricardo took a swig.
I informed them that this is the time of night when the scruffy, toothless hoboes light up there
beneath a short pier
on Cannery Row where above it swanky Fish Hopper serves those yummy steaks and seafood,
not far from where one day
I watched a skin diver toting snorkel and spear gun, his wetsuit tighter than a conga drum,
make a perilous descent
down the cliff with his bare feet, feet that one would expect to bleed as they scrape sharp
mica embedded in
the granite boulders. But not his. They skipped rock to rock as his keen eyes mapped each
When he met the beach someone from above blurted what are you angling for? He hollered
back I think mackerel!
Ricardo interjected the hoboes are throwbacks to when Cannery Row became a ghost town.
Yes, I said, daily tons
of sardines harvested until they simply vanished all at once. Then the canneries went broke,
became abandoned hulks
that were prime targets of arsonists, who set them aflame for the fun of it. The wood floors
soaked with fish oil
fostered bonfires that lit the skies for miles. Now, by this time balmy bay waters had segued
to pale magenta,
and Polly thought she noticed a mother otter with a pup on its tummy, but to me looked like
a mermaid sprawled
upon floating kelp polyps. Ricardo swore a grey whale was flying at us at almost warp speed.
Polly’s umbra brightened,
which was really no surprise because it’s true there’s always a lot more to it than what meets
the inner eye. We see light
as absence of night, I said, and every night the beginning of another end to life, phenomenon
that arrives and performs
much like tidal waters that nip at our feet and drive fears far far away to where they’ll concede
settling in any ever after.
In the twilight of my life I dreamed of a twinkling pixie
that purged the world of puerile words and wanton deeds.
At first there weren’t symptoms, things seemingly intact.
And then the world stopped turning and I stepped off of it.
I went on pretending I was some figure from memory’s raft
of deception. I reached out to touch the little children as they
screeched gleefully on swings at the neighborhood park.
I drove by the graveyard with headstones dating to pioneer
times. Out of the cradle with rocks in my head, I consulted
the remaining populace and they voted to forge on. I was
a Spartacus collecting my horde of followers. We resolved
to push back, take on the kleptocracy, deploy everything
stored in our rhetorical arsenal, make use of what firepower
necessary in order to annihilate death and restore heaven.
The Cannery Row Starbucks
makes a suitable throne room.
I kick back in a cushy armchair
looking out at Steinbeck plaza
this dusk, presiding over
all of the delicious lattes,
over the locals, laptops, scones,
and music that slips through
an efficient sound system.
I’m in the mood to cash in early
on my fifteen minutes of fame,
and while I’m at it
may as well include the allotted
seven seconds of immortality.
I want to make the most of my time
left on this munificent planet.
I’m willing to be whatever you want.
I’ll be a ventriloquist, or do my best
as post-confessional poet.
I’ll be a saint, a false prophet, dictator.
But for now I’m smug in the catbird seat,
peering out the corner window. Neon lights
billow. The crosswalk glows. The street
retracts. People wibble-wobble,
a bit skittish because
inordinate disorder rules the day
as if atheism is the new religion,
and no-one’s quite sure
which way isn’t up.
As the spokesperson for a majority of riled citizens
I warn you we’re about to storm you like the Bastille.
Why should we settle for anything short of emptying
the pockets of every thief among our vast humanity?
It appears that our obsession with the devil is dead
yet we cook the books, take bribes in order to exist
as mysterious specters floating diaphanous among
imaginary angels. Some published rhythms belie
precious memories. If there is no present nor future
but only past, then what state are we in? Or will be
when that black cloud comes thundering over tall
mountaintops and the horizon becomes but a blank.