I am standing in front of glass windows

                that are acting like a mirror.


            I need to comb my hair.

                but two soldiers stare

            at the picture in my passport,


                chuckling to each other,

                    glancing up from time to time.


            And a long line

                of strangers clasp their passports

            and watch me,

                wishing I'd move on.


            (For this moment I've been granted

            exclusive rights to a border.)



            And back home the same thing--

                at outdoor bank windows:


            I walk up, stand,

                breathe exhaust between cars,

                       step up when it's my turn,


            and the teller decides

            to check my balance

                before she delivers the cash.


            The cars whir on behind me,

                revving bald impatience.


            The longer it takes,

                the more suspicious the air.


            And all I want to do is comb my hair.

                                                                                   from Searchings for Modesto (1993)



                                foer Erland Andersson


            Someone with my name--

            Born the same day,

            But in a different country--

            Will be thirty-nine years old

            A few hours before I am--

            Given the eight or nine I must subtract

            To link Sweden with the West Coast, U.S.A.


            I can't picture him

            Standing on the Golden Gate Bridge--

            His mind salty with wind and fog--

            Facing empty Alcatraz; or driving long

            Distances on sun-burnt freeways,

            Overconscious of time zones, gauges, divides,

            And a continent's end.


            No stereotypes either, I must scrupulously

            Avoid them. But when I first glanced

            At Christmas cards from his country, thinking

            About a name few people here could pronounce,

            And snow to me was something like the sheet

            I slept on in Southern California--

            Or maybe balls of cotton--

            He already knew that it got cold

            And you didn't see much sun

            During that month of the year.


            The phone book in that country

            Lists his occupation and a name

            Everyone there can pronounce.

                            from Searchings for Modesto (1993), first published in Calapooya Collage/9 (1985)



Psychological Experiments


            From the stage mike

                Professor Parducci announced to our class

                    of six hundred:

            "five experiments are required." That was before

                I knew his family

                    money came from wine. Before

            I was supposed to know much

                of anything--a Freshman at a jammed

                     commuter campus

                without enough intelligence

                     to be insulted

            by freeway construction

              or Bel Air mansions.



            The first experiment rang a bell:

                        a woman in white,

                    a voice

                sluicing instructions in the echo-chamber

            manner of Radio Moscow

                pulled in over the short-wave.

                     One sentence committed me to a chair,

            containing "learning,"


                    "reinforcement." And she retired to monitor

            behind a one-way mirror.



            Headphones over my ears,

                the first word, a pause,

                    the second word . . . .

            A tinkling sound grew from one

                I can't remember, but after STEM:

                        a loud cataract of white noise,

                    enough static to jolt me--

                my right foot's groping

            for a lever

                and not reaching it that time

            in time to halt the noise

            before another word was spoken.



            "In the Soviet Union the oxygen is different,"

                a transplanted Russian

                    addressed the company

                        in his own language.

            The grading system was introduced to me

                in plain English

                    when a second-grade girl at my school

            asked to see my report card.

                The thrill of her shock

                    jolted me: her voice echoed:

            "You got a D in Reading!" And I can't remember

                the tinkling words my mother

            spoke to contain my cataract of tears--

                        something about the lack

            of first-grade instruction at Mar Vista

                and over-crowded half-day programs.



            I learned warning words

                quickly--the actions

                    stopping pain. My foot hit the lever

                        after every other STEM:

                    rigid growth toward comfortable living

                in a predestined stage

            winding clear

                of psychiatric hospitals at home

                    or in the Soviet Union.

                        No wonder some have turned to wine,

                    others to poetry--

                the true announcements,

            dials to pull in forgotten words--


                    dangerous to reinforcements--

            the spillway vocabulary of the soul.

                                   from Searchings For Modesto (1993), first published in The Chariton Review (Fall, 1986)


A Change of Sheets

                                                                                           for Yoshe Kuramoto


                When I was sick with a fever

                    you came in to mop the hardwood floor.

                You said,

                    "How 'bout a change of sheets? I was a nurse

                        during the war. No, you won't have to get up.

                Let me show you."



                From one side of the bed

                    I felt the sheets loosen--

                        damp mounds rising along my back.

                    You tucked in new ones

                         beyond my vision, smoothed them, slapped them,

                had me roll over, pulled off the old ones,

                    tugged and tucked again the fresh ones

                         all around the bed. 



                My mother added: "Gila Bend, Arizona.

                She was in a camp. The government claims

                    they quarantined her family for their own protection.

                        She told me of snakes, scorpions--

                    and snipers aiming bullets at them

                through fences at night

                    from all around the camp."



                Home with you for a weekend. No fences.

                    A dirt parking lot behind Japanese restaurants,

                gift shops, nurseries on Sawtelle.

                        A softwood shack you rented the first year in L.A.

                To take a bath with Roger

                    I climbed the side of a galvanized tub.

                        Your hand pulled out the plug; the dirty water

                tucked down a drain across the cement floor.

                    With Hiro and Jerry we had miso soup

                        and mounds of rice, white as sheets,

                    out of lacquer bowls.

                Beds were all in the same room.

                Saturday, Roger and I went fishing.



                My day camp, Tacaloma. We were segregated into tribes.

                    Was I Arapaho or Shoshone?

                        I caught the mumps, brought them home,

                    gave them to you. We groaned together, compared

            our swollen cheeks.



                June bugs aimed at flood lights

                    outside your new house.

                Plenty of room. A garden:

                        bonsaied bushes and trees.

                We stopped there

                    on our way to watch the Dodgers lose another game.



                A trip to the East Coast. You and my family.

                    In D.C. we stomped metal stairs

                        all the way up a piercing

                white monument. Someone in a New York cafe'

                    refused to serve you lunch until

                        Mrs. Foman aimed sharp words at him. Floors

                    whizzed like bullets, popping our ears.

                Atop, I was sick of New York

                    in the hot, humid air.

                        But you wanted to reel it all in,

                    take the fresh view beyond fences.

                A security man asked you smoothly:

                    "Are you Indian? I'm Iroquois myself,

                        can spot another native."

                                                                    from Searchings For Modesto (1993)


Hard To Believe



                I couldn't believe it.

                    The Luther League ski trip to Big Bear Lake

                ended without a flake of real snow--

                    despite a cold wind, a black sky.

                The first day out, as the bus shot past Arrowhead,

                        someone said, "Those are snow clouds all right.

                "I oughta know; I'm from Minnesnowta."



                No water in the lake either

                    only a duck pond's worth

                        deep in a trench

                staggered with reeds. The wind kept spilling

                    clouds up the slopes

                        toward a place

                where brown-sided machines

                    slushed over patches

                        of that imitation stuff

                for criss-crossing skiers.

                All afternoon, gloved hands grabbed

                    a lone rope-tow. No one in our group

                dared to brave the chill.



                But that night, unconfirmed

                    teenage boys took to climbing

                        out of windows, up the outside wall,

                    trying to break in

                        where the girls were congregated.

                Setting his alarm every half hour,

                    Pastor Pedersen lined us up,

                        delivered red-faced sermons

                about Hell-raising. He reinforced

                    the points he made

                        by sleep privation

                well into the night.



                The wind settling down by morning,

                    the sky cirrus white, Pastor Pedersen

                        found me reading. When he asked

                for title and author, I had to flip the book over

                    to say, "Victory by Joseph Conrad."

                        Later, by a fire, he braved

                the hard topic of philosophy,

                    how Plato saw the chairs we sat on

                        as Ideas in Heaven (or did he say God's mind?).

                "That explains why appearances deceive," he ended.



                The rest of the day seemed dull. Nothing to do

                    really, but double up a chair lift

                and look out at empty ground

                    where white should have been.

                        Later we filed indoors

                to a crowded ice-rink

                    shooting with skaters

                        in one another's way.

                I couldn't stand it.

                    Beginners didn't have a prayer.



                One Sunday, before Pastor Pedersen

                    built the new church, Nixon appeared.

                        After a fiery sermon, I lined up,

                shook the big hand

                    of our ex-Vice President,

                        wishing him victory over Governor Brown.

                He thanked me in a way,

                    a sort of looking inward--

                        like he really didn't see me.

                That was before he flew to China

                    or got caught red handed.

                Where the Church stood then

                    today you'll find condominiums.            from Searchings For Modesto (1993)



Wrong Impressions



        Mr. Churchill, man of leisure,

            who made a killing at the races,

        could do something at a party

            to amuse a child

                by letting animals race through him:

        first a duck quacked,

            and I thought that was funny;

        a mouse squeaked, a chicken clucked,

            a pig squealed.

                He teased them out expressly

        one by one:

            they ran across his saggy face.

                But when he released a gorilla--

        mouth whooping,

            hands scratching underarms--

            I got the wrong impression

                and started to cry.

        The adults laughed a little and said

            it was a shame.



        Donna, my cousin from Hanford,

            made up a game called "Bears."

        I was a cub in the laundry bin--

            hibernation in used sheets. She

        and the other big bears did their big-bear things:

            they peered in at me now and then

        to see if I was O.K.

            Animal of leisure,

        all I had to do was wait and watch.

            My instinct was to play that game

                with Donna's every visit, but she

        put it off, and off each time. And soon

            I couldn't fit into the bin.



        At Farmers' Market one Hallowe'en

            my mother and I waited

                for a parade to find a way

        under rows of eucalyptus around a parking lot,

            to come into our view. A witch, atop one float,

                her back to me, a broom in hand,

        twirled round, swooped down

            at me in the crowd.  I released a scream.

                She moved back a little,

        then on to frighten other children.

            At home that night

                I thought I might do something: found

            an old broom, black hat and cape,

                and made a strange impression at every door

        when I said, "I'm a witch."



        The Putnams, who never worked with their hands,

            had a big house

        and a red and green talking parrot

        ("What's your name? Whataya do for a living?)

                that bit my father's ear.

                    They invited us over one Christmas Eve.

        My sister found a bathroom

            carpeted fluffy white on the floor

                and toilet seat.  She jumped down

        on all fours to touch it, howling,

            "Puppy, puppy, oh, puppy!" Another night, late,

        after a party, the Putnams were robbed, tied up

                in a room near the parrot.



        But Donna Putnam divorced her husband,

            went back to the name

                she had as a dancer in her youth.

        Viewing our table manners, she sent me

            and my sister (expressly) a book of etiquette.

                One night she told me:

        "When you grow up, you should become a lawyer."

        I didn't show much interest.

            The alternative was poverty--she

                gave me that impression.               from Searchings for Modesto (Talent House Press, 1993)