It’s been a while since my last “A Favorite Poem” issue, but it’s back this month! To make up for last month’s absence, I will have two poems for this month, so look out for them! Double the treat, eh?
Any case, today’s poem is one that I recently stumbled upon and instantly had a connection with. Written by Lee Herrick, the poet laureate of Fresno, California, the poem “My California” pays homage to the poet’s home state, as well as mine, and while I’m not from the Fresno area of the state (in which much of the poem takes place), I can really resonate with the “California-ness” of it all.
My California by Lee Herrick
Here, an olive votive keeps the sunset lit,
the Korean twenty-somethings talk about hyphens,
graduate school and good pot. A group of four at a window
table in Carpinteria discuss the quality of wines in Napa Valley versus Lodi.
Here, in my California, the streets remember the Chicano
poet whose songs still bank off Fresno’s beer soaked gutters
and almond trees in partial blossom. Here, in my California
we fish out long noodles from the pho with such accuracy
you’d know we’d done this before. In Fresno, the bullets
tire of themselves and begin to pray five times a day.
In Fresno, we hope for less of the police state and more of a state of grace.
In my California, you can watch the sun go down
like in your California, on the ledge of the pregnant
twenty-second century, the one with a bounty of peaches and grapes,
red onions and the good salsa, wine and chapchae.
Here, in my California, paperbacks are free,
farmer’s markets are twenty four hours a day and
always packed, the trees and water have no nails in them,
the priests eat well, the homeless eat well.
Here, in my California, everywhere is Chinatown,
everywhere is K-Town, everywhere is Armeniatown,
everywhere a Little Italy. Less confederacy.
No internment in the Valley.
Better history texts for the juniors.
In my California, free sounds and free touch.
Free questions, free answers.
Free songs from parents and poets, those hopeful bodies of light.
Upon first reading of it, I found the language and tone to be very Whitman-esque, with the almost stream-of-consciousness reflections flowing from line to line, thereby giving off a wistful atmosphere to it. The poem also incorporates good usage of sound, emphasized through repetitions of “my California” and “free sounds and free touch./Free questions, free answers./Free songs from parents and poets.”
The content itself gives off a beautiful, sunny image of the state, acknowledging the cultural diversity, carefree youth culture, and the little, everyday things like the farmer’s market and paperback book stores. The mentioning of food throughout the poem, with items like “pho,” “peaches and grapes,” “good salsa, wine, and chapchae” absolutely bursting with literary flavor, and for me really captures the warm, Mediterranean climate of the place.
Analysis aside, reading this poem just makes me feel so happy, as well as nostalgic for home. Considering that I’m currently living in France, it really makes me reflect on the state in which I was born and grew up my entire life. I don’t think I could ever part with it forever, but perhaps return from time to time, if it happens to be that way. Still, I don’t ever want to be considered a visitor to my own home state, and the idea of that frightens me. Time will tell, and so we’ll just have to see. Until then, I continue to dream and reminisce about “my (lovely) California.”
Enjoy the poem! Thanks for reading.
— The Finicky Cynic
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