Every year, volunteers gather in the grounds of the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum in Compton to reenact the U.S.-Mexican War Battle of Dominguez Hill, in which “Captain José Antonio Carrillo, leading fifty California troops, successfully held off an invasion of Pueblo de Los Angeles by some 300 United States Marines…”
—Dominguez Ranch Adobe Museum
I’ve been rubbing my cuticles with almond oil
to get the capsaicin out of my skin, stinging
red sashes from little green peppers.
I touch my tingling hands, think of the itchy field
where every October, men dress up
as Californio soldiers
in dry season currents.
Red silk moves snakelike
around linen-cloaked bellies.
I can feel their cannonfire
rumbling in my kitchen windows,
burning in every wrinkle
of my knuckles.
Green chiles / Green grass.
Like a thaumatrope, my memory
is a spinning disk on string.
In the cut paper light,
men on foot and horseback hit
and retreat, hit
and retreat, raise faux musket smoke, raise dust
raise dead, raise flags— a Californio victory
forever, a story they must tell
and tell again.
There’s some euphoria in the pain
of past and peppers,
what they inflict on the tongue, but then
no pleasure in red hands
stinging that can’t be soothed, not even by
soaking in milk.
We are time tourists, all
lured to performances
of war, volatile oils like
linking of belligerents.
We want spice that burns
but doesn’t kill, reenactment
a symbol of endurance,
I have to make sure the world isn’t ending
outside my window. The mechanical claw of
a trash truck finds then lifts a black bin off the asphalt.
I’m itchy this morning with resistance. I try
touching the glass bowl, the metal spoon
of breakfast, feeling the ridges of drawer pulls and
shifting my weight on the plastic floor. Noticing.
I can’t just eat. I tap into another dream, a laptop
on a kitchen table painted with gold stars plays
videos. A Depression survivor talks about
getting a banana and an orange for Christmas.
A Dust Bowl survivor watches government men
shoot dead the hollow cattle. She remembers
midnight excursions to steal water from the neighbors,
children crawling through the wind to get inside.
A Kentucky woman remembers the beauty of
Christmas songs and never knowing she was poor.
They hope the younger generation will be grateful,
that we won’t forget the miracle of fruit and tap water.
I glaze at the miracle of the trash can, the collection.
It’s not enough, but it’s a start. Months ago, a tree
would have blocked my view of the road below,
where the trucks go. The night it fell, hard rain
saturated dry earth, uprooted
one hundred years.
It sounded, I said, over morning oatmeal, it sounded
like someone dropping a trash can full of water.
I’d never heard a tree fall, and I was thrilled to be
in on the ancient offering.
I was there to hear a tree fall in the middle of the suburbs,
to hear it make its suburban sound.
Before I was in my slippers, investigating the
watery crash, our neighbor was in his driveway
with a chainsaw, collecting firewood. No need
to call the city. I’ll be done by the time they get here.
He must be from somewhere else with his chainsaw
and resilience. He must have heard trees fall
in the forest, the only noticing ears. Secrets
he doesn’t know he can dazzle us with.
Annabelle Bonebrake is a poet and teacher from Los Angeles. Her work weaves the landscapes of Southern California with the historical and personal terrains of the mind. She is poetry editor for Kind Writers, an inclusive literary magazine dedicated to bringing writers and their acts of kindness to the forefront.