Campbell McGrath


Lived for a while in a mobile home
parked in the driveway of a house in Long Beach, California.
Typical development of bungalows and ranch homes,

split-level evidence of the post-war euphoria,
all the streets in the subdivision named for state capitols.
Lincoln, Bismarck, Providence, Olympia.

At 6:30 the dads come home in their blue sedans full
of mid-level-white-collar-aerospace anxiety
and plunk down on the couch to lull themselves civil

with vodka and reruns of "WKRP in Cincinnatti."
The kids grow up surfing in the late imperial sunlight,
man the registers at Taco Bell and Hardee's,

attend Golden West Community College at night,
graduate to a career shilling car wax supplies, hooking up
payphones, managing a franchise for Chicken Dee-Lite.

It was Dave's family's place, the house where he grew up.
The mobile home was called "The Dolphin."
There were other vehicles, many of them, cars and pickups,

motorcycles, a house like a shrine to material possessions—
but I don't intend to critique the social mores
of those whose ambient generosity I sheltered within.

How long did I live there? Am I certain anymore
of the circumstances of my exile, drawn west
as by magnetic force on a current of blue agave

toward a collective future foreshadowed in smog alerts,
HOV lanes, and "restaurant style” tortilla chips?
Days, Dave and I would bodysurf and housepaint,

then hit the local sawdust dives and happy hour spots;
nights we'd seek out music at Madame Wong’s or the Whiskey,
or follow his brother to some hardcore thrashathon of the unhip

in the deepest recesses of Orange County,
mosh-pit frenzy of testosterone and alienation
as the metalhead kids and the skatepunk kids and the latchkey

legions without rhythmic allegiance or tribal affiliation
pogo and slam and already the riot cops aligned in helmeted array
in the lemon-scented air outside the auditorium—

California like the Roman Empire in its iron naiveté!—
and the black copter braceleted in searchlights
bellowing through its megaphone: By order of the L.A.

P.D.—disperse! A truly funny thought,
all that energy amped to a peak of inchoate expression
told simply to disappear, fly away, like winged seeds in the moonlight.

It was the usual telegram of blustering intimidation
for which the young are paged by the forces of social order—
their job was to deliver it: ours was to run—

the defining drama of civilization, diverting that river
of violent enthusiasm around the waterfall
and into a spillway of car wax supplies, the safe reservoir

of sales clerks at the Payless Shoesource in the stripmall.
Disperse! Disperse!
Not likely, not likely at all.

© 2005 Electronic Poetry Review