SoCal: A Sorting of the Ways

Ricardo Quinones

“All people are the same,”
breezing she goes over her bubbly;
“Oh no they’re not,”
passing on the fly I let out,
with which I am glad to say
even my masseuse agreed,
though she doubled down on diversity.

Thus began my recent run
of California skirmish,
my adopted native land.
Once again my chest hollow sinks
at the latest gush of fabled wealth.
Flotillas of pricey models
preen as they pass by
through every street and shopping strip
barracuda-eyed and snub-nosed
contoured additions to the terrain

Down that sink-hole cycle
I did not need that vocal brand
on a Bimmer tooling by
“I am glad you spent it, dear,” I think,
but need you advertise the haul?
Wasn’t older wealth more discreet?
They didn’t shower in the street.
Democratic ease and sufficient opulence
was how Whitman wanted it
and particularly better
if the getter knew how it was gotten
or was somewhat philanthropic.

My heart jumped
when barely an hour later
an apparition rounded the verge
of my condo complex road:
A retired couple—no down-and-outers they—
she quite pert in her synthetic whites
and he slim trim and neatly tucked
carrying a pick-spade in one
and in the other hand a veggie bag:
Something had clearly turned around
in the tunings of southern Orange County.

You can bet my converse was eager
Magi never met an equal joy
A communal garden they were tending
and he rattled off the shades of lettuce:
Iceberg, romaine, escarole and more
Like Bottom I was delirious
with sweet peas and snap peas—
“Keep ringing them up, please,” I implored
20 x 20 plots of land-fill
with water twenty dollars a year—
I thought we were back with FDR.
Pilfering was of no account;
they had a renewable resource
and didn’t need what they didn’t have.

Such sorting of the ways:
Diagonal from these municipal plots,
students zoom up in sporty cars
and uncontrollable apparel,
parents wait on their wagons throbbing,
yet symphonists still master on
with brows of concentrated fervor.

My own way stepped far back then
to our own “Victory” garden
when through hot summers of WWII
over the Lehigh River bridge
I carried our baskets of produce,
hoards for winter storage,
festive salads on our Italian table:
those medleys of color and chord.

That very eve of the big Spring change
the crescent first moon
hung phosphorescent and alone
except for Venus:
minding the ladle,
as my friend Rik explained,
whose growth on his prostate
is to be cut come Monday prime.