But for the Grace of God Go I to the San Bernardino Greyhound Station at 4am

From the low, brown hills at 3:00am, urban coyotes yipped in packs at the full Snow Moon as she presided over an inland California landscape decimated by February heat. The lean beasts are starving, I thought. I crested one of the hills and looked out over the tired city.

Down in the valley, the commute crawled. Twenty-five in a school zone. It was all school zone. And what wasn’t school zone was torn up streets, scattered orange pylons, disaster preceding a fancy new city bus line that promised to proceed, expressly, from nowhere to nowhere. I reached downtown by 4:00am and pulled into the Greyhound bus station at 6th and “G”. The two corners opposite the station were both weed-eaten lots. The ghosts of condemned early 20th century bungalows hulked there, listlessly. They reminisced to each other about the long-gone days of the city’s innocence, when the scent of orange blossoms and the low whistling of Santa Fe trains permeated the predawn air. On the corner next to the station was an Economy Inn. I swore I could smell the skanky rooms from the street. They did not smell of orange blossoms.

I awaited my friend.

I leaned back in my seat and yawned. The light from the motel sign cast everything in gold. The streetlights added a flickering orange. Damnation on this place by perpetual electric sunset.

To my left, a stocky bald man in an Ozzfest T-shirt strode back and forth in front of the station’s locked gate. He smoked a butt he found on the ground and muttered to himself about demons. His tennis shoes were white as the Holy Dove.

To my right, a teenage Latino boy rode a children’s bicycle to a trashcan on the corner and began rummaging through it with his bare hands. He pulled one store-brand cola can after another out of the bin and rattled them into a white kitchen trash bag hanging from his handlebars. The moon and the motel light caught each one as it breathed briefly in the open air and cast its multicolor reflections on the boy’s arms. But for the reflections, the boy was dark—his hair, bicycle, and clothes manufactured from shadows. He was barely visible. I guessed very few people looked at him anyway.

Under the motel sign, a choir of angels. Each wore tight yoga pants and a hoodie at least two sizes too big. Each had her arms crossed over her breasts. Each flipped her hair on a steady count. Each joked with the others—a stream of curses, gallows humor, how small that last John’s dick was. They were cold. They were obviously cold. In the afternoon, while they slept, it would reach ninety, but now, under the cruel Snow Moon, it was a biting fifty-five.

Their faces were thin. Their hands were thin and graceful. Their legs were thin enough to be broken by a single fist.

I looked again at the locked gate, the stocky man, his doves and demons, the teenage shadow on his third trashcan. Someone should write about these, I thought, my hands flaccid in my pockets.

Someone should write a harrowing social cry. Someone should write a poem. Someone should write a novena.

“Writing feeds me,” I thought, “and I have gone without for a long time.”

“Writing feeds me,” I thought. I whispered, “Says the writer who has never known hunger.”

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About M. Ashley

Essayist and poet, my work has been rejected by some of the finest journals in America. Fortunately, it also gets accepted from time to time and has appeared in equally fine journals such as Word Riot, Inlandia, Brew City Magazine, and SageWoman among others.. In 2002, I was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize for Vanderbilt University. For no good reason, I possess an unnecessarily dark humor which is why being third generation California Inland Empirian delights me so. My gods are weird. I once received $350 for writing a smartassed essay on “why the wise use of water is important in my daily life”. I am undoubtedly the Greek god Hermes’ special snowflake. I’m pretty sure I got into college via a series of fortuitous clerical errors. When I had to grow up and get a real job, I decided against it and stayed a writer. I have worked many odd—and I mean odd—jobs to support my habit: Commercial writer for country music hopefuls, resume massager, WalMart fitting room attendant and switchboard operator, telephone psychic.
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