Sestina for California

I thought of California when the sky turned to snow yesterday,
in the still of whiteness, visions of hills all green and brown and gold.
They told me I would feel it deep within my bones,
that winter is a mental game played against our earth
and with their snow-chapped lips, they ask
how I am doing and what it was like there and why I left.

I try to explain that I haven’t left:
Home is a feeling we find within ourselves each day,
clinging to us even when we thought we’d shed it completely, we ask
it to forget us, but the sun always remembers to caress our hair and skin with gold.
We shake ourselves out like beach towels wedged with salt, sand, and earth,
but home holds us up as completely as our bones.

So California lives inside me with my nerves and muscles and bones,
flattening my vowels and turning my t’s into d’s, leaving
me to look back across all the earth
I crossed in some sort of backward manifest destiny. Today,
I remember the sweetness of sarsaparilla in the mountains where they found gold
and the classrooms where I brimmed with anticipation of knowledge to be asked.

Because when they inquire about California, it’s of this they ask:
How we painted our lips clown nose red, pulled spandex over our bones
and marched onto a battlefield of stage lights and sissonnes, glittering and golden,
that spring meant blooming wisteria and autumn tarnished leaves,
how we held our breath, fingers clasping noses, until we burst back into day
from the Caldecott Tunnel, into the fog that sat down uncaringly on the earth,

and the sound of waves banging, scraping, tearing at the earth
as we scrambled across tide pools, grabbing star fish and sea urchins, asking
why they named her Mars Pacifica when she was so fickle and mean in the daylight,
and all the multicultural, multilingual, mixed-race neighbors I left
tied up together like a bag of jellybeans, bumping their bones
against each other despite themselves, not quite golden,

how dusk reached out fingertips of peach and rose and gold,
stretching, sighing, curling up around the earth
and how we strode out into the dewy morning she had left,
exchanging smiles in Royce quad, in pursuit of someone to ask
to join our nights soaked with youth and euphoria, music filling our bones.
It’s all this I think of today—

But no, I’m not leaving, only searching, unfolding, asking
where else to strike gold, where else to rest my bones,
what other piece of earth will be mine one day.

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