I’m pleased to share news from my partner in life, David L. White, as we enjoy his latest publication. His poem, “A Sonnet Just South of Kyrene and Chandler”, is freshly printed in the fall, 2014 edition of Southwestern American Literature.
The piece is an absolutely brilliant and concise observation of the increasingly concrete suburban landscape. At its core, it is an elegy.
The central premise of this jewel of a poem, in sync with the subject of the ethereal photo and short essay by my friend, Robyn Lynn, (currently appearing in Ascent) embodies the sad truth we see every day. Even in our dry as dust Southwestern suburb, there used to be wild-ish spaces.
When we first moved here ten years ago, there were a few horse properties left and an actual horse ranch virtually across the street. We’d been living in a city, in an apartment for so long, we decided, as a novelty, to sleeping bag it in the backyard one early summer night. The stars, while not exactly Yosemite dazzling, appeared many times more brilliant than they had from our central urban apartment. About 2 a.m., we were awakened from our starstruck doze by coyote call. Chilled to the bone by sound and night air, we shivered our way inside. David’s poem revisits this moment.
During that first year, I was frequently accompanied on a weekend bike ride around the neighborhood by a peacock who always seemed to be slowly chasing me. He would always end our outing with a show of his plumage or a chest-deep bleat.
(This is not the same peacock, but in case you’ve never had the pleasure…)
This was all around 2003/2004. In 2015, the places once occupied by horses and sunchokes, thick as hedgerows, have transformed into a two acre office complex, a sprawled, puzzle box of 50 or 60 separate business fronts strung together like a steel and granite flotilla in a huge blacktop bay. There are, at any given time, about three businesses actually operating out of the entire center.
The coyotes are long gone, pushed south or west toward the foothills. If we were to try sleeping in our backyard now, the constant hum of the freeway would have to do for a raspy and siren-punctuated lullaby.
Noise and light pollution have utterly altered the moment by moment sensory experience of living here.
I can’t imagine what happened to the peacocks, but the property they lived on is another bunkerlike empty building, another stylish tribute to how much concrete it takes to block the last view of the western foothills. And while I realize that peacocks never did actually belong in this landscape, seeing them was nonetheless heartening, enlivening. That doesn’t seem so odd, the idea that animals open a place to wilder energies, and that I would feel I’d been farther, seen more, done more on a day with horses and peacocks, coyotes and starlight.
And it’s not just the surrounding landscape, but the way the people who live here are expected to conform to standards of identity neutral development. Houses must be the same color. Toys and bicycles cannot be visible from the street. Chalk drawings (think of the horror of giant daisies and hopscotch squares) should be washed off sidewalks and driveways within 24 hours to avoid HOA citations. Yards must be clear of large shrubs. Tall trees have to be closely pruned or removed. Leaves cannot be allowed in yards or streets. Restrictions are so tight, folks in this area—and many others—have begun to simply turn their backyards into patios. The entire yard. While I’m all for native landscaping, I’m not sure what to make of the “nobody can complain if it’s all concrete” theory of neighborhood design.
Not coincidentally, we now have trouble with smog, with mosquitoes, with speeding traffic on small residential streets, with frequent and middle of the night wrecks. Our corner, after it became the last full stop before the on ramp, sprouted so many memorial crosses at one point last summer, the city swooped in (a move proving bureaucrats know a thing or two about ambiance) and took down all the tributes at once. The sight of so many funereal markers was alarming, but moving the flowers and crosses, the plastic wrapped teddy bears and balloons will not make anyone any safer. And we heard every single tragedy from the proverbial front row:
“What’s that deafening sound?”
“Oh, it’s just Life Flight again.”
If I had a place I could go. If there were still any sign of openness, of any kind of life other than hives of contractors erecting permanently unoccupied buildings. If there were a wild slot into which I could slip and hear—nothing. We had all of that. But it’s gone. And no one who is in charge of planning how cities grow and people evolve as communities seemed to think it was a big enough deal to save anything at all.
I know some places do a better job of guarding those beloved few and (should be) sacred wild spaces within the urban- and suburban-scape. There are cities and annexes that seem to be at least somewhat aware that people need a place to escape that trapped feeling of being lost in a sea of concrete.
Places have needs, too. If my neighborhood could, it would probably write a poem that would read a lot like the one David wrote. And then it would move.