Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Gualala and Guarero

There’s a lot of world in a small change,
A lot of range in a phoneme or

A mere date. My older grandmother
Was born the same month as Anita

Loos, albeit on the opposite
Side of the same nation’s continent.

My younger grandmother’s dissolute
Father abandoned his family

For a pack of cigarettes the same
Year that Anita Loos abandoned

Her dissolute husband for a pack
Of hat pins. By the time Anita Loos

Was world famous and unhappily
Anchored to her second sick husband,

My older grandmother was widowed
With ten children, the youngest just born

Three months after her husband had died,
All living on a subsistence farm,

While my younger grandmother, who had
Copies of St Vincent Millay’s poems

And Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, both shelved
In a guest bedroom where I found them

As a bookwormed grandson, decades on,
Had just married her one and only

And honeymooned at Niagara Falls
In a secondhand Ford Model T.

So much from April of eighty-eight.
In April of twenty-twenty-one,

On the day Anita Loos was born,
I read a news piece on Guarero

And the nightmares of Venezuela
Dissolving into bandit kingdoms.

Intending to look up Guarero,
I noticed my map app was open

To Northern California, and there
On the coast was a fly-speck small name,

Gualala, which I’d never spotted
Before, though I must have driven through

The middle of it at least ten times
Along PCH 1, up and down.

So I ended up spending half an hour
Reading the story of Gualala,

Indigenous toponym, which once
Was the home of a Pomo people,

Handed to General Garcia
Of Mexico, who ranched it until

It was taken from him in the name
Of the California Land Act

And sold to settlers, who made a town
With an industrial lumber mill

That took out all the old growth redwoods
Until the hotel and mill burned down,

About the time Californian
Anita Loos was getting into

Writing scripts for early silent films
And my younger grandmother was born.

Down in Guarero, indigenous
Wayuu people who weave and raise goats

And who recently made a living
Trafficking goods and gasoline

Through the border to Columbia,
Now decimated by violence,

Have come under the improvised rule
Of Marxist ELN guerrillas,

Who have managed some local order.
Better than chaos, say the Wayuu.

Up in Gualala, California,
A mostly elderly tourist town,

Indigenous Pomo seem long gone.
Anita Loos, Northern Californian

By birth, died some thirty years ago,
In a decade left between the deaths

Of my older, younger grandmothers.
All this goes on, has gone on too long,

Events echoing, lives for details.
There is too much world in a small world.

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