Driving the two-lane,
its white line a beacon,
half-past midnight in country
you don’t know, the radio spouting
hard-shell sermons & static,
you can’t wait
for the next town,
the gabled homes set back
from the street, their wide verandahs
dim as grottos, & the convergence
& split of the high roads
at the town square, the lone stoplight
flashing an angry red.
You’ve been waiting—
prepared, in fact—for the small
yet welcome surprises—a roadhouse,
shaking with noise & lit up
for a holiday with no beginning
or end, its gravel lot an OK Corral
of pick-ups & Harleys.
I am ready for anything,
you think, having come this far,
but in truth nothing more
is happening, nothing
but you & the high beams
moving forward, eyes
on the road, a fish out of water
in the liquid dark of night.
You don’t have to love L.A.,
but you have to love the idea of it,
where the average Joe & Josephine’s
hyper-realism meets the mundane,
America’s off-kilter vision
of business-as-usual passing
momentarily for a happening scene
& all those highways—named free
as if anything really is—going
in any direction you could point to.
The goal is to get there—somewhere,
anywhere—faster than is reasonable
& expecting acclaim or a prize
for your efforts is energy wasted.
I was there once, hitchhiking in
from a stretch posing as a tourist
in the badlands east of Eden.
I landed somehow in Pasadena,
where I sidled into a silvery Stingray,
its owner a tanned poster child
for the middle-aged good life,
& felt ennobled without even trying.
I was looking for Venice, the address
scrawled on my wrist, & ready
for all kinds of surprises
found it nothing close to home.
But that’s the point, someone said
at a sprawling beach party
lit by bonfires. It wasn’t being given
for me & the next morning, the coals
still glowing, revelers struggled
to recall how they got there
& with whom. This is my L.A.,
I decided, flashing my best
newcomer’s smile at everyone
who passed, to do with what I wish.
Sid Gold is the author of four full-length collections of poetry, including the recent reissue of “Working Vocabulary” (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, ’97 and ’21), and a two-time recipient of the Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Poetry. His poems have appeared in journals and reviews for more than 40 years, among them Southern Review, Poet Lore and Fledgling Rag. A native New Yorker, he lives in Hyattsville MD.