The Jemez range floats late light, while my son recites
the properties of sodium. Chicoma, “the center,” vying
with valence electrons’ function and number, fades, as
we drive south. And so, I cloak my ignorance in wonder.
On the plane, ascending, I learn of the element’s rarity in
pure form: how it reacts violently, then, even to water; how
it’s a trigger to the brain’s affinities—adolescent quirks and
quiddities seated next to me, unbearably dear; though, it’s
often far from clear what ties one to others.
Clueless, chasing a sun through oval windows, I silently
ask: What makes a bond? Our bond? My valence?
We disembark to ocean-leaden air, which slakes and curls
our desert hair, even as I fail to wheedle a modicum of
care from the po-faced rep at Avis. And when his pinched
beak recalls a jpeg of Junípero Serra I think—Just as we,
so too, he imbibed this wine-dark haze, hobbling in, 1769,
1st of July—lament the Kumeyaay!—a zealous Mallorquín
jonesing for the souls of natives. Gran cosecha de almas.
And later: the sinking swathe of sand, the absence of stars,
Pacific’s roil and crash, where couples grope, beer bottles,
truck tracks and trash encircling, like a missionary’s warning.
From the loud, flood-lit boardwalk, a gaggle of whooping,
young women stumbles to stake a lifeguard station, then laugh
in asking the distaff side of a passing pair to take a likeness.
Feel alone, watching as she’s led to a point near the surf,
where her cowed body absorbs a lover’s rant in silence.
At the door to our piss-tinged digs in an annex of the Motel
Cali, a cautious teen emerges from the room adjacent: head-
lamp cyclopic, metal detector like a crutch.
“It’s best at night,” he says, “without people.”
Under vapor lamps, near the peer, a shifting bundle, a man,
had dug a shelf into a bank of sand, to chase sleep’s sirens.
In hollow hours, I listen to my family breathing. Sneak out-
side, where I try to imagine the ocean’s smell sans smeller.
Across the way, hanging a sports bar’s deck, nine, muted flat-
screens still spew kaleidoscopic mess—astro-turfed corruption,
al fresco. Though, there’s no one—personne—to wish, Boner-
petit! Or ask to pass salarium argentum.