Amanda Gorman's poetic contribution to the US presidential inauguration in 2021 raised the profile of poetry in the US. It caused El Segundo Scene (TESS*) to act on something they had been thinking about for over a year: a Poet Laureate. In March 2021 I became their first to commemorate place, people and events.
Here I celebrate the area with an examination of its pre-historic past, a journey through the human years of settlement, and complete the work with with a future vision. 12 instalments use a framework of Water, Earth, Air and Fire, The parts appear here as they are published in the magazine.
THE EL SEGUNDO QUARTET
• four elements in time •
- the prehistoric past -
Before us, and the Mariposa Blue*,
Before liquid trees, human commotion,
Before great machines took off and flew,
There was the sea, the wild, wild ocean.
Boiling once, it carved its bed,
Unseen it pacified, knew sleep,
We - barely hatched - dared its dread,
Fed off its might, the risky deep.
Ahead of those here on the shore,
The Tongva** stood, perhaps hands to brow,
Scanning sunset hues for more,
A mortal bridge from then to now.
published March issue 2021
photo courtesy of Songbird part of Creative Commons
*The Mariposa Blue is unique to the town (Euphilotes battoides allynia) and is an endangered species.
** The Tongva are an extinct indigenous tribe of people native to California
Before us, and the California trails,
Before us, sea views to Appalachia,
Before birds, mammals, flies or snails,
Is Laramidia, uncarved by glacier.
In a golden state, with double shore,
Grazes the gentle Augustynolophus.
Comes then the ice, at last the thaw,
Dire wolves, sabred cats, predate us.
Now on this still fragile, moving land,
Where we brave our many homes,
We dance, undulating, on dunes of sand
Milled from the churning of rock and bones.
published April issue 2021
Before us, the white crowned sparrow views
A dawn Pleistocene horizon.
Before us, he rides on thermal spew,
Volcanic jets of vapour rising.
Amid rabbitbrush, the zephyrs tease,
Glad gusts snag the juniper.
Weed-rot, still bogs, perfume the breeze,
Not sloth, nor cat, nor wolf dare stir.
Above Teratornis meets the sky,
She, shared forbear of a condor son.
Her wings beat a lonely lullaby
For a world whose day is almost done.
published May issue 2021
La Brea Tar Pits courtesy of Kimon Berlin, Creative Commons
For EARTH Part 1 of the Quartet I was greatly helped by Kenneth Campbell, scholar and academic associate of the La Brea Tarpits in Los Angeles. I thank him for taking on a poet and using science to guide her way.
Any mistakes are my own.
Before us, a molten lava flow,
Before origin tales of floods or ark,
Before science ordered what we know,
Was flare and blaze, heat and spark.
Seething, carving, hot and slow,
Fissures ooze, make magma kindle.
Forests, plants, pressed far below
Rise as tarpits and commingle.
Afraid, then brave, against the cold,
The light and shadow of the fire
Gave ancestors an elemental hold,
Fuelling mastery through desire.
published June issue 2021
During the research for AIR 1, I came across an article by the great conservationist Rich Stallcup where he wrote of a Californian prehistoric dawn scene.I tried to make contact with Mr Stallcup but was too late. He died in 2012.
I was, however, fortunate to meet his colleague Melissa Pitkin from the former Point Reyes Bird Observatory, now Point Blue Conservation, who then put me in touch with Moe Flannery and Christine Garcia at the California Academy of Sciences. Such are the wonders of the Internet and the willingness of these three women to answer my questions! This verse is homage to them and to Rich. Any mistakes are my own.
Left: Kevin Beaudin, Erik Krenz and Jim Burt hard at work in clay at the Blue Rhino studios in Eagan, Minnesota, creating a life-size sculpture of the Teratornis. They remain unexpectedly relevant: a window into our prehistoric past, in the present, they provide us with flights of imagination, opportunities for artistry, and specialised employment.
Photo is used by kind
permission of Tim Quady at. Blue Rhino.
THE EL SEGUNDO QUARTET
- the years of settlement -
Swell, swell, swell – across a night marine.
Use silhouettes of tankers as a trickster screen.
(Pipes that suck cool water flow
Mask lost Norsemen far below.)
Mix, mix, mix – mortar, lime and stone.
Concrete line the rivers that all the fish disown.
(Run-off sewers dry the streets
As surface water soon depletes.)
Drink, drink, drink – the thirst that has no end.
Let house, pool, and fashion follow every trend.
(Above, the urban life occurs.
Below, exhausted aquifers.)
published July issue 2021
Dig, dig, dig – along the
Irrigate our salad crops instead of using rain.
(The harvest eats up the ground
And not the other way around.)
Bash, bash, bash, Main Street takes its shape.
Make of brick and timber a shiny new landscape.
(Feet press down as we pass,
On memorial plaques, not on grass.)
Touch, touch, touch, poppy and fan-palm,
Draw a mirage world, sketching shaky calm.
(For, despite a built environment,
Quakes themselves do not relent.)
published August issue 2021
Breathe, breathe, breathe, the scent
of surf and sea,
Sniff out the sweet aroma of waste
and used pee.
(Lakes of sewage grow and seep
Day and night as we sleep.)
Gasp, gasp, gasp, chests tight as
See the jet above leave its wooly,
(Lift eyes upward toward the sky.
Watch our future flying by.)
Sigh, sigh, sigh, for all the
Lament oil vapour as it tars our
(For indeed while we sleep
Somewhere our earth does softly weep.)
published September issue 2021
Fan, fan, fan, flames of
Encourage lies to forge and keep
the sham of rival sides
(Religions may tell us we are one
yet everywhere we are undone.)
Spark, spark, spark, the crackle of dissent
Choose to misread and slander
every word's intent.
(Play with inference, or imply,
While Truth itself slides gloating by.)
Sweep, sweep, sweep, ash of common dreams.
Dump them, dry, cool, and grey, as wasted, spent, regimes.
(But dust to dust in the end
Makes of all of us a common blend.)
published October issue 2021
THE EL SEGUNDO QUARTET
- a future vision -
Sixty percent water you and I.
Three days without it and we die.
Clear drops that wash from streams to seas,
Clear drops that fall from clouds on trees.
Water profound, below the ground,
First dinosaurs then Ancients found.
A natural mirror reflects our world,
Bathes the seeds within us curled.
The well of all we hope to be
Is soaked by sap that makes us free.
What thirst, what dust, let it restore us,
Its essential care now set before us.
published November issue 2021
Twelve percent carbon, you and me,
An heroic atom, a vital key –
The root of diamond and of coal
The depth and sparkle of soul.
Earth that underpins our might,
Upon which we stage each savage fight,
Where we explode ideas and bombs,
Scatter wilful death devoid of qualms.
Without Earth, our one true foundation,
There is no ownership or nation.
All argument we make is porous
If we fail to grasp Earth's Truth, before us.
published December issue 2021
Sixty-five percent oxygen is the human,
Fuelled by gas we can illumine
A way ahead. We have the gift
To change our path and uplift.
Air, first among the basic four,
Beyond water, earth, fire, we soar.
The breath of life, the pump of lung
The power of every song unsung.
Our finest selves, the coiling spring,
That ascend, inspired, and take wing.
Flight of mind, our own dawn chorus,
Gives hope to the tasks, before us.
published January issue 2022
Two thousand watts if we run
Is our energy bursts' total sum.
At rest, as when tigers sleep,
A gentle kindling is just skin-deep.
Fire burns in us, both light and shade,
Elemental in its hues' parade.
The red, the green, the orange glow,
Can destroy, yet clear, space to
This town, rooted here can dare
Its borders of water, oil-fire and air.
Can hear future voices that implore us,
To meet challenges that lie before us.
published February issue 2022
*TESS was established in February 2018 as a small local guide to local artistic activities. No longer small, it now produces more than 10,000 copies monthly, delivering free to homes as well as key public collection hubs across the entire south bay area of Los Angeles, including Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Westchester, Marina del Rey.