Serving the city, 14 lines at a time
by Karl Stull
Scroll down (48 sonnets), or click a title.
The 405 * Angelus Temple * Amir’s Garden (Griffith Park) * Bruce’s Beach * Burbank * City Hall * Clifton’s Cafeteria * Colorado St. Bridge (Arroyo Seco) * Compton * Disney Concert Hall * Dodger Stadium * East 1st Street / 710 Fwy * El Pueblo de Los Angeles Plaza * El Segundo * Eldoradoville * Exposition Park * Flat Rock Beach * The Forum * Getty Villa * Hollywood Sign * Huntington Library * Hyperion * Inglewood Park Cemetery * Inscription Canyon * Irwindale * JPL * La Brea Tar Pits * Lake Balboa * LAX * Leonis Adobe * Llano Del Rio * Los Angeles River * Malibu Creek * Manzanar * Mariachi Plaza * Metro Red Line * Mission Inn * Mulholland Drive * Parent Navel Orange Tree * Port of Los Angeles * Queen Mary * San Fernando Mission * Santa Monica Pier * South Central * UCLA * Universal Studios * USC * Watts Towers
1. I in the I-405
If this is free, who needs a ball and chain?
The traffic’s jammed before I leave the ramp.
We crawl and stop and crawl and go insane.
My toes are knotting — Jesus, pedal cramp!
The Slo-Mo’s. Swoopers. Truckers from Tulare.
The Not-in-Front-of-Me’s (but full of doubt).
I’d gladly ram them all but I am wary:
the Pickup with the Armoire Falling Out.
With sixty monthly payments, this I know:
I can’t just quit my job at Burger Shark.
To where I wanna, when I wanna go:
that’s all I ask, and somewhere I can park.
Mass production cars without the masses:
I lay me down in brown, exhausted grasses.
2. Mulholland Drive
It runs the ridge, looks down on rich and poor;
at night the houses glitter all the same.
I power through the esses feeling sure
the stars above are spelling out my name.
From here did Bill Mulholland see the future,
an aquifer half-full in nineteen-eight.
Mulholland Drive is twenty miles of suture,
sewing up sweet Valley real estate.
Mountain lions prowl along this road;
like drivers, unaware they live in danger.
No room to run, as habitats erode.
Fate each given day, a passing stranger.
I squint; the wind is up, the top is down.
The view is wingèd glory: Angel Town.
3. LA City Hall
A middle finger flipped at the sightless sky god
by a ground-floor devil in the real estate scrum,
a wingèd headquarters for the Great White Spot,
behold the bold herald for magnificence to come.
The ’Thirty-two Olympics, a million population,
a noodle dish of freeways to the Ram-Dodger-Lakers,
the TV studios, the space and aviation…
Come unto me, all ye movers and shakers.
Ants go marching in for the permits and the zoning.
Need the city stamp before the units start to sell.
Mutter hallelujah in the hollow halls of owning.
Ironic it’s iconic, it’s the el-lay tour ee-fell.
Heavy arrow aimed to the turbid atmosphere:
T-minus eight, counting down a hundred years.
4. Disney Concert Hall
If Sydney’s Opera House took too much acid,
its waves would turn awry, their crests would fall;
the sails would flap, the mizzenmast go flaccid.
Meet the Diz, fantasiac concert hall.
The ancient and medieval master builders
worked with blocks, made pyramids and domes.
This slew of silhouettes on Grand bewilders
images of grandeur in our bones.
Is the outside true to what’s within?
Inside the Diz, the mood is exaltation.
Passers-by may gape, while others grin:
there’s room for more than one interpretation.
Either way, the fact is people stare,
in awe — because, like Everest, it’s there.
Los Angeles owned the land at Manzanar,
a wartime suburb built for Japanese.
A long commute, but no one had a car,
just sweeping views, a brisk Sierra breeze.
The buses came in March of ’forty-two,
the barracks freshly painted, all the same.
Retrieving luggage, people that you knew
had worried smiles; the little bow, the shame.
Resentment blew like winter through the floor,
the strain of being careful, every word.
The dust came back each morning, always more.
We’ll live like decent people; dreams deferred.
Whispers fill a prisoner-parent’s ear:
What did you do? Why do they keep us here?
6. Amir’s Garden (Griffith Park)
Amir was here, the jacarandas say,
unfolding shade around the mountain’s shoulder.
A place to rest along the hiker’s way:
in beauty lies the eye of the beholder.
Geraniums and roses, bougainvillea,
arranged on gallery paths as if to show
dimensions of an immigrant’s idea:
the city streets, a garden spread below.
He came to sunny Cal in ’sixty-three,
a customs agent restless in Teheran.
He saw a chance to choose what he might be.
Life was passing by, and he jumped on.
Welcome, said the city, making room.
He kissed the ground, and it began to bloom.
7. Flat Rock Beach (Palos Verdes)
Oh, hear the jolly-popping of the stones:
they’re tumbling madly up the cobbled beach
beneath the breaking waves, dem rolling bones,
as if it’s open air they hope to reach.
The continental chin above the water,
where paleo-fishies tested life ashore,
is crowded now with houses selling hotter
every year — the market screaming, “More!”
The seafloor pushing hard against the coast,
the fat cats stuffed like sausage getting fatter,
the tumbly stones foretelling like a ghost:
oh, here is where the geo-plate will shatter.
The ocean slapping time against the rock,
a steady-ticking planetary clock.
8. Santa Monica Pier Waltz
Heedless of walking on water (a peril-less stroll
on some telephone poles), you perambulate over the brine,
with the spray and the smells and the shops with the shells. It’s the whole
wharfy scene — as a ragged old fisherman unreels a line.
It’s a bridge from a beach to a ship that is not coming in,
and a path for the soul who has lost any sight of tomorrow:
a vagabond road where a fugitive love can begin,
or the loneliest height where the seabirds give voices to sorrow.
A fugue! With concussively ding-ing-ing pinball machines,
and the carousel groaning (oh yes, it’s the one from The Sting),
the elastical dancers are spin-ing-ing, boom-boxer scenes…
The fortune teller, shushing, draws a king.
If travel over water is your plan,
go by way of timbers in the sand.
9. Clifton’s Cafeteria (est’d 1931)
A son of restaurateurs in San Francisco,
Clifford Clinton (Clifton) saw LA
was sore in need of cooking a la Crisco:
basic foods, and no one turned away.
A nickel got you salad, soup, and Jell-O,
bread with spread and coffee by the cup.
You’ve only got a penny? Clifton’s mellow.
Veggie broth will surely warm you up.
Cliff and Nelda came back from vacation,
hot for new decor: a South Sea theme!
The kitchen kitsch caught on; their next location:
giant redwoods wreathed in meatloaf steam.
Starting life and wondering what to do?
Consider Clifford Clinton’s humble menu.
10. San Fernando Mission
ANGÉLICA WINE. Crush the grapes. Let stand
till after matins. Add the brandy. Cask.
The knack for table wine’s not in our land;
nor are we smart in vintner’s art, alas.
And yet this stuff wins over wealthy guests;
the tipple with dessert instills a glow.
Our need for their donations never rests;
the work with native converts, always slow.
The converts, simple people, hear the story;
to them, the Lamb, the Virgin — merely shapes.
In time they’ll see the light of heaven’s glory.
Till then we need their toil in fields. And grapes.
Implant the faith, amp up the wine, and pray
the Lord will see us through another day.
11. Llano del Rio
In 1914, we took a little trip:
edge of the desert, there ran a mountain stream.
Dang sure nothin’ like the mighty Mississip;
we built a workers’ paradise — the dream.
We laid the irrigation, planted pears,
built the houses, planted gardens, built
the silo and the dairy — equal shares.
We planted justice, no blood spilt.
We built a fine hotel for lookie-loo’s,
and held our meetings there, our voices keen.
We sang, we danced, denounced each other’s views,
and published Western Comrade magazine.
Then came the War, the water running dry,
and LA’s alter ego said goodbye.
12. Angelus Temple: Aimee Semple McPherson
A woman preacher: not a thing you see
every Sunday. Sermons staged with sprawling
sets — and Bernhardt-like theatrically.
They say she left her husband for this calling.
O my god, the woman is aroused.
Her voice triumphant hails His mighty sword.
Never has the Word been so … espoused:
her trembling robe, the coming of the Lord.
I feel their yearning eyes upon my raiment.
The Truth that courses through me brings on love.
A fervent room’s the physical repayment
when spirit gives commandment from above.
The more the holy jolts of faithful lightning,
the noose of disapproval ever tightening.
13. Huntington Library
Arabella, aunt-in-law, was later
Henry’s wife: companion/banker/guide.
The merest lapse of taste would irritate her;
the crassness in LA ran far and wide.
Henry, eager nephew, Red Car king,
was unlike other wealthy antiquaries.
Where they sought out one rare and precious thing,
Henry liked to buy entire libraries.
Like Bonnie and Clyde, they gained a lot from travels:
Chaucer, Shakespeare, Blue Boy on display.
One can’t but hear the crunch of Shropshire gravels
when touring through the Huntington today.
A power couple, they did something grand:
bequeathed to us a green and pleasant land.
14. La Brea Tar Pits
Funkier than tar it does not get.
This is real LA, and it runs deep.
Ten thousand years of Angelenos — let
that just sink in: that long and slimy sleep.
A saber cat, a dire wolf disporting,
a mammoth stuck on Wilshire, come to grief,
mega-rabbits croaked while vainly courting:
once-living, now preserved in dark relief.
And what of Tara? She’s the only human
found so far. There’s none to tell us how
or why her skull was left in rank bitumen.
Her story’s lost. Like many others now.
Time dispatches all, won’t ever stop;
we stand in line to take the dive in glop.
15. Dodger Stadium
The voters said, “Not here!” to public housing
but “Yes” to baseball — poor Chavez Ravine;
the cheers for Sandy/Maury/Don were rousing,
and then a phenom swept upon the scene.
A southpaw with a scroogie, making history,
he won Cy Young while Rookie of the Year.
He baffled bats; his motion was a mystery
that blew away our smog: contempt and fear.
Fernando Valenzuela, compañero,
hablaba no ingles but filled the stands
with joyous fans, together brown and Anglo,
and stamped the Dodgers’ title to the land.
Mid-windup, Fern would glance up to the sky;
now you know the karmic reason why.
16. The Forum
Like hope, the Forum rises — splendid beams
proclaiming legends. Dauntless, she ignores
the weary streets, like bare, ruined streams
where hope is drained to lotto-liquor stores.
A hall of gloried heroes: Baylor, West,
and Wilt. The Showtime Lakers — greats Kareem
and Magic, worthy James — they stood the test,
with Scott, the clarky Rambis, A.C. Green…
When Kobe slammed his first, she was the hoop,
and now the winds of fame just whistle through.
The Lakers gone, her fare’s a thinner soup,
the payday loans and hard-up lives in view.
Unlikely Inglewood: it wears a crown,
a court of champions, still in their renown.
17. Inglewood Park Cemetery
Our longest-serving mayor, here’s Tom Bradley.
Ella “Swing” Fitzgerald, Etta James,
“prince of cool” Chet Baker (ended badly),
Ray “the Genius” Charles — you know their names.
Say hi to Tony “Gambling Boat” Cornero;
Curt Flood, the first free agent, center field;
the Joker, Mister Cesar J. Romero;
and Gypsy Rose Lee — now all are peeled.
Hoot Gibson, Edgar Bergen, Betty Grable;
movie rancher Corrigan “Crashed” the yard;
Jester Hairston, Buckwheat Thomas able
to join “Old Rugged Cross” George Bennard.
For Super Kenneth Hahn, a candle lit.
As Johnnie Cochran said: you must _______.
18. Massive 144-Year-Old Tree Falls
One of four in historic El Pueblo de Los Angeles plaza
— March 2, 2019
They heard his back crack. The lanterns flew
like buttons popping. Dreamy-slow he fell.
His branches touching down, then bouncing, blew
a sigh across their faces, like a spell.
The tree was young when workmen came and laid
the tracks that brought the trains. From here, he saw
them hauling rails and rocks, and getting paid
the coin of hate: the “yellow peril” law.
Then came the better days: with every spring,
the lantern dancers formed a line, expressing
children’s hopes for luck the year would bring.
The luck that year, an Old One’s final blessing.
Of four agèd brothers, one is gone;
the other three still kindly looking on.
19. Metro: The Red Line
A choir of steely wheels in granite halls,
the rails like vocal chords in Hades’ throat;
though space is piston tight in tunnel walls,
their “wah” is mystic Styx, on which I float.
Random riders pose with far-off gazes,
as if a rolling Rembrandt brought them there
(the painting could be Night Watch: Other Phases).
They try to not inhale my fetid air.
I smell like rotting hay, can’t get a shower;
what’s more important, I must seek the sound:
it’s where I catch my flow of mystic power:
the ferryman of souls while underground.
The Metro Red Line: thirty minute track.
I ride to NoHo; then I ride it back.
20. Los Angeles River
The ducks will always love you, Filthy Flo,
in spite of all the muck from city gutters:
with oil and coolant, bug spray, Miracle-Gro,
the oozy goo’s like hell’s own peanut butter.
There’s loo-less urine, all the personal leaks,
blood from stones, undocumented sweat,
repenting tears (my face unwashed for weeks),
and helpless retching — bad but not done yet.
The milk of human kindness, parts per million,
on sunny paths for Sunday family walks;
our tarps and shopping carts perplex civilians:
they marvel at the ducks, admire the hawks.
A chaptered mural, Great Wall of LA,
freezes time, while you roll on your way.
21. Lake Balboa
The pelicans powered down like Harley hawgs,
scattering ducks like duckpins ’round the lake.
The coots were cannier, trailed the brutes like dogs,
scarfing up what big beaks didn’t take.
Entitled egrets swirled like tissue paper;
cormorants had no comment, stared from shore;
blue heron blended in with morning vapor:
favorite spots for fishing, theirs no more.
The locals’ final hope was Mrs. Swan:
she rose upon her webs with fearsome flap;
she charged the pack, her war-cry “Thugs, begone!”
They scattered, then regrouped, a victory lap.
In time, the pelicans left. And wouldn’t you know?
The bygone days came back, like old Jim Crow.
22. Malibu Creek State Park
They think they’re special, folks beside the sea:
the boats, the clams, the shells, “We got the beads!”
I carry inland goods; they trade with me
for antlers, acorns, meat, and useful reeds.
It’s true their planked canoes can ride the ocean,
tied and sealed with cunning — rightful boast.
They paddle all as one in single motion,
at times through ghostly fogs along the coast.
We have a village too, called Talepop,
above the fog where we can see the stars:
the Bear, the Seven Sisters, Mountaintops.
Our shaman reads the future, theirs and ours.
I’d rather live up here, the inland way.
You never know what fog will bring one day.
Note: The fictitious constellation Mountaintops is the W-shaped Cassiopeia.
23. USC: College Island
The rotten tooth of privilege, capped in gold,
expensive clothes and shoes, “Whatever…” stares,
pampered on a campus well-patrolled,
we’re here to hang with future billionaires.
We have our fun; we’re careful not to wander
surrounding streets where guns and gangs are rife.
We keep within the turf of first-responders.
Why let a bad encounter wreck your life?
Some bad PR has hurt the Trojan brand:
the groping doctors, drug-crazed dean, reports
of rigged admissions, gifts from guilty hands…
My god they even say we cheat at sports.
Oh, scandals come and go, you can’t unwind it.
The rotten truth is: crime is where you find it.
24. UCLA: Archipelago
Enisled by Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and Brentwood,
the campus is itself a clump of islands.
O, sea of quads! Who’d guess so much cement could
nourish soaring minds? Let’s start with highlands:
the Hill has oaks primeval (Lot 11);
botanical Mathias, trees exotic;
the manna gum at Murphy Hall’s from heaven;
the sausage trees of Moore — well, they’re neurotic.
For promenading corals, hail Macgowan;
for lines of pines, the nearby sculpture garden;
sweet sycamores of Kaufman, balls to chow on;
the bottle trees of Boelter burp — your pardon.
For cypresses and redwoods, treasures each,
gladly would we learn, and gladly screech.
25. Hollywood Sign
Indebted to STC and Nathanael West
In Hollywood did Harry Cohn
a Cinerama Dome decree
where Sunset’s pleasure river ran,
through grottoes little known to fans,
down to a starlit sea.
So Pickfair, Davies’, Cukor’s grounds
with walls and gates were girdled round;
and there were parties every night, with trills
of nymphs and satyrs ancient as the hills
around an incense tree.
But oh! the pain of living undiscovered:
waiting tables, readings, RING! — the call
that never came. It’s heartbreak, I have suffered…
[Swell of violins, a dying fall.]
Could I but climb the crotch of letter Y,
I’d make the news. I’d take my bow, and fly.
They ain’t no nuggets, ain’t no gettin’ rich.
The gold is underwater, in the sand.
You join a crew and dig a detour ditch.
Your weekly share’s a bag of dust in hand.
That’ll get you seated at a table,
with cards and whiskey, all the other men;
you drink and play and drink till you’re unable:
at dawn it’s back to sluicing grit again.
No, it ain’t the same as forty-nine,
the faith in your own life, like in the Psalms.
The work is meaner now, assembly line,
feeding slurry into old Long Toms.
The flood of sixty-three, the camp went bust.
The canyon washed us out like grains of dust.
Note: A long Tom is a chute with treads to catch particles of gold from a slurry of sand and water. A crew of two to six miners with shovels could process tons of sand per day, versus a few pounds for individuals panning.
Just down the hill from Eldoradoville
arose a mining town, but not for gold.
For rock and gravel — road construction fill.
They busted rubble fifty years, behold!
Half the ground in town is now in pits,
a dozen Rose Bowls shoveled out of gneiss.
The mayor drums for “new facility” fits.
How many business parks can he entice?
The speedway: win. The Oakland Raiders: loss.
A mall went to the wall for want of cash.
Surrounding cities smile, off-load their dross?
The windblown fate of holes: they fill with trash.
The Olive Pit, the Church’s purchase: save.
A hallowed hollow, maybe soon your grave!
28. Colorado Street Bridge (Arroyo Seco)
“Pasadena Boy Jumps Bridge,” LA Times (August 9, 1928)
I always dreamed I’d be a famous first,
outdaring even Lucky Lindy’s flight.
So up I stepped and leapt; my senses burst.
The looks of shock swam upward into night.
The branch I meant to grab slid through my fist.
A passing thought, a twitch: my life was spent.
A lucky limb refused my fall. I kissed
the slick-lipped eucalyptus. Drew her scent.
My fingers trembling leaves. My legs like posts —
undriven through my chest. My tendril boots
inquired for holds unseen; a few were ghosts,
as life came squeezing upward from her roots.
Twenty-four before had tried and died.
I made the leap but not without a guide.
29. Mariachi Plaza
My girlfriend’s dad despises mariachi.
He hates my floppy tie, half-acre hat.
“Play, get drunk, and sleep all day… My God, she
will never make a husband out of that!”
My uncle gives me work around the nursery.
“I need more help on weekends, if you can…”
But Saturday’s the Chavez anniversary.
I wrote a new corrido for the band.
“What is our music if it’s not tradition?”
The violinist wants it sharp and tight.
My style is from the heart, with “luz” precision:
a trumpet shambling home in morning light.
Our sounds ensnarl, entwine; the music’s good.
Mariachi means misunderstood.
30. East 1st Street / 710 Freeway
On first looking into Viramontes’ Their Dogs Came with Them
Like planets newly swum in skyward view,
two houses prove our world’s a great unknown:
the prim Zumaya house, all green and mown;
Gamboa’s dusty box where nothing grew
except that front-yard party mama threw.
Chavela’s place was buried like a bone:
when parents faded, kids were on their own.
Their dogs ran wild on freeways cutting through.
As Twain portrayed the Mississippi tide,
and Melville Boston’s hellfire-driven trade,
so Viramontes’ cemetery side
of old LA … uplifts a lost parade.
We literaries thought the novel died.
Revival rose where Tranquilina prayed.
31. South Central Ave (1930s)
I walk my routes on paydays, knock their doors;
every week a dime or quarter due.
My clients ask, “What’s life insurance for?”
I tell them how the benefits accrue.
The premium you pay remains an asset;
it doesn’t run like water through your hand.
It’s credit that you’re building: you can cash it,
or someday buy a house and own the land.
A trumpet swings the rhythm while I walk;
a crowd around the Dunbar hums the word:
the time is now, the place this very block,
for hipsters and the hoping to be heard.
The hissing cymbals fade behind me, then:
I’m Golden State’s insurance man again.
Note: Golden State Mutual Life Insurance (4261 S Central Ave) was half a block from the Dunbar Hotel (4225), a hotspot for LA’s jazz scene. Both were Black-owned businesses, now on the National Register of Historic Places. Club Alabam was at 4215; The Last Word, 4206; the Downbeat, 4201.
32. Watts Towers
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair:
they’re all Historic Places now, protected
from zoning boards and wrecking balls directed
at handmade Eiffels rising out of nowhere.
For decades I assembled parts with care:
in concrete stiffed with rebar and confected
with bottles, tiles, and oddments I collected
along the Red Car track to Pershing Square.
A drunk, and disaffected from my kind,
I levitated junk toward a star.
My outcast style stirred young Charles Mingus’ mind;
likewise Timothy Washington, Betye Saar.
The neighborhood embraced, the state enshrined,
what’s left of me on earth. Whoever you are.
O Compton, you are one bad mother…
And yet there must be something you did right:
your sons proclaim their city’s like no other,
their music thumps defiance at the night.
His name, who are his friends, which side he’s on;
a young man must define, declare himself.
If rap’s his play, he launches; plans are drawn
to make his mind a product on the shelf.
The best win recognition from the great;
uniquely, hip-hop buoys collaboration;
the coming-up bring masters up to date;
the music grows on streetwise conversation.
Rolling on Rosecrans, don’t be Guildenstern:
a precept every son of Compton learns.
Note: Guildenstern was a betrayer of boyhood friendship, in Hamlet. He hung with Rosencrantz.
34. Port of Los Angeles
The slaves who built the pyramids would cheer
the sight of super-cranes emplacing blocks
— thirteen cubits! twenty tons or near! —
hoisted sweetly to and from the docks.
The weight of pyramids can ride the sea;
on just one tank of gas a ship will creep
six thousand miles, and offload labor-free.
It’s how our goodies come to us so cheap.
Here are no slaves: we all work in cafes
or do consulting, on and off the books.
We check our Instagrams, four oh one kays.
Life is easy. Why the hopeless looks?
As workers who build nothing, this our doom:
we eat, we fuck, we watch, we buy — consume.
35. Queen Mary (Long Beach)
How do I love thee? Let me count the waves,
like surging hearts of lovers gone before
who breathed our selfsame vows: forevermore,
beyond the line a steely sky engraves.
Our love, impelled by fateful engines, braves
abyssal deeps with unconcern. In your
embrace, my journeyed soul forsakes the shore,
your gray-green eyes the only port it craves.
Recalling student days, it’s hardly real.
This iron rail has given me a chill.
I button up, consider what I feel.
Though time has done the cruel work it will
(our Queen became a local Ferris wheel
and I, a sweatered stick) — I love thee still.
36. LAX Theme Building
You landed here in sixty-one, when Space
was new, and news of barrier-breaking flights
relit our certainty of heaven’s grace —
though UFOs graffiti’d sleepless nights.
Your look foretold The Jetsons (doggie Astro!),
a world with flying cars and go-go chic.
With Telstar trailing Sputnik, eyes on Castro,
we huddled under school desks every week.
You seemed the very dream of instant get-there:
an hour to San Francisco, psychedelic.
Acid trips went inner; what one met there
was seething see-things through a lens angelic.
You overstayed your mission. Times we had.
You can’t go back. Or have we all gone mad?
37. El Segundo
We’re number one, we say in El Segundo.
A techno-hardware town, we have no winery.
Though coastal, beaches here would be Redundo.
Our sand is stashed behind the oil refinery.
Right next to LAX, we’re aviation —
building Navy planes since World War Two.
It’s Boeing now, and Aerospace Corporation,
Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, Space Force too.
We are not playing around: we’ve got Mattel,
Infineon, Teledyne, TechStyle, Internet Brands,
Big 5, Los Angeles Times, Chan Soon-Shiong Health,
plus Gemini, Genesis, Ginisys, Cetera, and…
Aquinas counted angels on a pin:
We’d like to fit a few more HQs in.
38. Burbank Skunk Works
O little ’burb of Burbank, seeming still
but maybe sly. By day, you’re bland, polite,
and square; yet no one can deny your skill
at keeping hangar’d secrets dark as night:
– a plane that flies so high it can’t be shot…
– then one so fast it can’t be overtaken…
– the jagged jet that blinds and can’t be caught…
Your comic-book fixations, never shaken.
Your houses cute as cubes of cafeteria
food, your quiet streets are safe to cross;
with funding from McCarthyite hysteria,
around your neck a coal-black albatross.
O Burbank, have you put your ploys away?
Was that a yes? Of course, that’s what you’d say.
39. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena)
With how sad steps you climb to Mars…
To roll a rocket up a mountain of air,
by inches first, and gaining square by square,
demands a heavy lift. Then steered by stars,
you carry rugged, instrumented cars —
we’ll call them Lewis and Clark, a doughty pair —
to survey trackless tracts, and bounds declare,
for sales at future real estate bazaars.
When last we had a New World at our feet,
the first to venture forth were pure of mind.
But grabbers follow mappers, carve the meat,
an acre-claiming system kings designed.
With how sad steps, you now repeat
the leaving of a sold-off world behind.
40. Mission Inn (Riverside)
When Disney was in diapers, it was Frank
Augustus Miller who beheld the vision —
a FANTASY resort! Replete and swank.
To brick the dream was Miller’s life’s decision.
The half-pipe tiles, adobish walls, the heavy
doors, and everywhere the quaint displays
with leaded glass and curios by the bevy,
but bathrooms nicer than in friar days.
Ere matins roaming halls in monkish drag,
the Master of the Inn considered well
the campanile, pergolas, Catholic swag…
Too much detail could spoil the layered spell.
The secret of his happy life was gauze,
remembering a time that never was.
41. Getty Villa (Pacific Palisades)
It’s just like Piso’s house, a few things strange:
the view too blue for Naples Bay, I’d say;
that’s Fannius’ fresco; statues rearranged…
I was here before. In other days.
A zephyr combs the garden, bringing scents
of sage and pomegranate, luscious fig —
recalling languid days, and grand events.
Where are the cooking smells, the roasting pig?
So many guests, so impolitely gawking.
Their foreign garb unflowing, what a babble
they raise — the Empire’s farthest reaches squawking.
They pose and grin beside the gods. What rabble.
There’s Piso now, along the peristyle.
I’ll ask what’s going on. It’s been a while.
42. Universal Studios (Universal City)
Recurring dream. I’m back at Universal,
my character suit a body bag with legs.
I’m trying to sneak away. In each rehearsal,
a passer-by cries OMG and begs
a photo — I’m their favorite on TV!
It’s suffocating, dark, but being kind
I pause and pose. A throng encircles me:
an image like an image in their mind.
Behind the scenes is just another scene.
A show about a show is still a show.
It’s all a mall with costumes and caffeine,
and I’m a sales associate, bound in Velcro®.
“We know it’s you. So don’t pretend you’re faking,”
someone’s mother snarls. I wake up shaking
43. Leonis Adobe (Calabasas)
You bastard, I forgive you — though you married
my lands and used them thirty years until
as “King of Calabasas” you were buried.
And then you dared deny me in your will?
A Chumash headman’s daughter, rightly raised
at Mission San Fernando, I’ve progressed
in changing times: my house veranda’d, glazed,
re-styled (the mud-thick walls with taste addressed).
When you were on the run, a humble herder —
in search of luck, alert to shifting power,
and not above chicanery or murder —
I saw you were a man to match the hour.
That you should then betray me wasn’t strange.
A man of tumult, you could never change.
Note: Espiritu Chijulla (1836–1906) married Miguel Leonis around 1860, in the middle of a century of upheaval: decline of the missions, land-grant mania, gold rush, statehood, vigilante era, transcontinental railroad… It was a mess. Or a wonderland of opportunity.
Espiritu inherited her father’s 1,100-acre rancho (a Chumash chieftain, he was also foreman at Mission San Fernando). Miguel Leonis, a Basque fleeing France, probably on smuggling charges, got his start in LA as a foreman at a neighboring rancho. He died DUI in 1889 (he fell off his wagon driving home from a party) and tried to leave “his” estate to his brother, calling Espiritu his housekeeper.
She challenged the will, winning the case in 1905.
44. Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree (Riverside)
The orange in your hand is anti-slavery;
its heritage is women’s suffrage too.
Eliza Tibbets, activist, with bravery
looked for all the good that she could do.
She planted two experimental trees,
with seedless (mutant) buds on sturdy stock;
she brought them water, got down on her knees
to urge her babies on with mother’s talk.
Eliza’s harvest stunned the county fair.
So sweet! And seedless! Thicker skin for shipping!
Refrigerated rail went everywhere.
All the growers lined up for a snipping.
Go see Eliza’s tree; her spirit’s near.
There’s some have heard her say: “You’re welcome, dear.”
Before coming to Riverside, Eliza Tibbets lived in Washington, DC, where her neighbor was William Saunders, chief botanist at the Department of Agriculture. Saunders told her about an unusual orange tree in Bahia, Brazil, with one branch that yielded seedless fruit. He wanted to find out if grafts from that branch could grow in the US. Eliza, who was soon moving to California, said she’d like to give it a try.
The cuttings arrived in 1873 and first bore fruit in 1876. In a few more years, California was as famous for oranges as for the Gold Rush.
One of Eliza’s trees, transplanted to the Mission Inn, died in 1920.
45. Exposition Park
They ripped the racetrack out in 1910
and planted myriad roses — every kind.
With trees from overseas imported then,
the stroll was palmy, fruited, gummed, and pined.
The racist 1920s brought unease,
“invasive species” talk inciting fear
of chinaberry, cedars Japanese,
the Mex’can palm, and black acacias … here!
By grace of our Olympic Games, we had
an international 1932.
The Coliseum roared, “It’s not so bad
if California pepper’s from Peru.”
Eugenic eucalyptus-haters, please:
they’re immigrants; they’re not our enemies.
46. Bruce’s Beach (in Manhattan Beach)
It wasn’t me who did the colored wrong.
It isn’t right that we should have to pay.
Of course my blood would rush the other way
if I was robbed like them. Their case is strong.
I have a house. It’s mine, where I belong,
and thinking back on many a summer day
I feel a twinge this morning, dappled gray.
The breaks I got were good. I went along.
It’s not too late. There isn’t any shame
in doing right that’s still within our reach.
The laid-back times won’t ever feel the same
as long as restless birds of conscience screech.
We need to ask them back, respect their claim.
I’m proud it’s happening here, Manhattan Beach.
47. Inscription Canyon
The Trickster cut this canyon, short and sweet,
where Maiden Grass’s mother couldn’t see.
Their love brings sudden waters. Bighorns bleat.
If sheep find food and drink here, so can we.
The shaman scratches rock to show our prayer
that desert grass and sheep return next year.
Our way is long, good stopping places rare.
We pray no angry spirits parch us here.
Our hold upon the land is thin like thread
that Spider drapes on stunted, muscled sage.
In badlands it is wise to walk with dread,
alert to smoky winds, a mother’s rage.
May floods forever rush this rock canal;
preserve the people, drench the chaparral.
NOTE: The mythology here is speculative.
This is a second Mulholland moment for Los Angeles — a chance to protect our water supply tomorrow by reimagining infrastructure today. — Mayor Eric Garcetti, 2 February 2018
The aqueducts from north and east, like veins
through pallid limbs, refill a beating heart
that drives unnumbered lives in ships and planes:
it’s Queen of Angels-ville, now magna-mart.
And yet our hold upon the land is thin
as frost on margaritas by the pool.
Relentless drought and fire have left us in
the lurch of lawnless conservation’s rule.
The astronauts recycle piss for drinking.
Water’s just that precious when it’s short.
Reclaim the water — all of it, no shrinking —
is what we’ll have to do as last resort.
We Angelenos know what land is worth,
and shall deserve this blessèd plot, this Earth.
To the Young Sonneteer
Don’t be afraid of the doggerel;
a galloping line doesn’t bite.
Rhymes that run hugger-mugger will
not wake you howling at night.
Forget about whether it’s Lit.
Of course, it’s unworthy of Art.
Assemble the pieces that fit,
so readers can learn them by heart.
Write a lot rather than dwelling:
a gem will emerge from the pile.
Trust that unconscious upwelling
will bless your pen with a Style.
Neither a spendthrift be, nor a hoarder.
Find the right words, put them in order.
Notes for Teachers and Students
The sonnets were written in 2020 and 2021, in three groups.
- The first 24 are arranged in pairs (roads, buildings, etc.).
- The third dozen is a north-south journey from mountains to the ports — beginning at the Hollywood Sign.
- The fourth dozen takes up four themes: aviation, fantasylands, immigrants, and water — beginning at El Segundo.
Connections to Other Poetry
Most of the LA sonnets follow the Shakespearean sonnet rhyme scheme: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. These four follow an Italian rhyme scheme, ABBAABBA CDCDCD:
- “East 1st Street” inspired by John Keats, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”
- “JPL” inspired by Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella (31)
- “Queen Mary” inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”
- “Watts Towers” inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias”
The “Hollywood Sign” sonnet was inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and follows an eccentric pattern with five lines each in the first two stanzas. Comparing Hollywood to Xanadu was Nathanael West’s idea; in the novel The Day of the Locust, a banner for a movie premier reads: “MR. KAHN A PLEASURE DOME DECREED” (ch. 27).
In “The Forum,” the “bare, ruined streams” echoes “Bare ruined choirs” in Shakespeare’s sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold”), a meditation on the withering effects of time. Shakespeare’s sonnet compares old age to embers on a dying fire. The LA sonnet compares the circular Forum to a hoop, a soup bowl, and a crown.
In “Hyperion,” the words “this blessèd plot, this Earth” echo a patriotic speech in Richard II (Act II, scene 1), where John of Gaunt extols England as a magnificent island. Southern California has also been characterized as an island — by historian Carey McWilliams in Southern California: An Island on the Land (1946).
Two of the LA sonnets depart from traditional iambic pentameter. The rhythm of the “City Hall” sonnet is two heavy beats in the first half of each line, followed by three quick beats in the second half (ONE and TWO and BEAT-BEAT-BEAT).
“Santa Monica Pier Waltz” has an OOM-pah-pah rhythm through the first 11 lines, echoing waltz time in carousel music. The meter results in extra-long lines, which may spill over on small screens, so the text is right-aligned to make the rhymes easy to see.
In “Port of Los Angeles,” the word fuck means “use for personal gratification.” The reader is invited to consider how many activities fit the definition.