The place I’m from, technically, is an island
but we don’t have any clever parrots or pristine beaches
the only island-like thing about it
is its weird power over residents who tend to stay
year after year, kids I grew up with end up moving back
after a brief stint at college in LA, or Ohio or wherever
they come back to the place they were born,
where they suffered through puberty,
where they totaled their first car and watched their first crush
smoke his first cigarette,
they end up letting their golden retriever take a shit
on the sidewalk, less than a mile from
the place they will die
there is no real good reason to stay,
and no good reason to leave.
I remember how, in high school, I loved to hate the island
back then I loved to hate everything,
so full of hatred by third period each day
that if i didn’t get out for a minute,
I thought I might try to staple myself to death
or stare inside the photocopier until a comfortable blindness settled in.
The passing period bell sounded and I made my escape,
taking off past the sad little garden at the edge of campus,
jogging past the drama room, and through the open door I could smell
its smell, always a mix of mothballs and Windex.
Ducking through the opening in the fence,
onto the paved road that leads to the dock and old navy shipyard.
You can see the Port of Oakland from there,
forklifts lifting the red, blue, yellow containers,
some blemished with amateur graffiti (I liked those best)
stacked in tidy rows above the estuary,
that black mess of water, salt, ropes of slimy kelp, rainbow sheen of oil,
half-chewed Styrofoam cups, a baby sock and sometimes a beached whale
split open on shore and the smell was unlike anything you can imagine,
made your eyes burn, the taste of sea and maggots, rotted out carcass.
I’d sit there until lunchtime, sometimes longer,
getting it all down in my journal
how full of portent it all seemed then,
The industrial skyline, the churning gray water
in my adolescent yearning there was a message there
the landscape was straining to say something,
straining to be seen, to be heard...
there was no way I was going to ignore it.