In the middle of the roadway
a brown frame tollhouse
marks the entry to California
as if the entire state were a national park.
A well-groomed Smokey Bear
greets with questions
about foodstuffs to be confiscated:
Our last gilded Rainier cherries
and two blackened bananas
fall victim to honesty.
Perhaps this is an offering,
a sacrifice to the hygiene of agribusiness,
a token of our own good will.
How fortunate we are, able
to dispose of edible fruit
without suffering malnutrition.
There are reasons to protect the Golden State’s
highly artificial agricultural industries,
we know, coming from orchards of our own.
But the prohibitions are one-sided,
imposed without consent
by a quasi-nation, its imperialism
far north and east.
And so, we render
unto the Caesar of Sacramento
and enter the Golden State
an hour before midnight.
At the opposite border, we presume
events will differ. After a week
of camping our produce serves as a passport.
It’s unnerving how an apparently arbitrary line
drawn by mapmakers or a parley of governments
so accurately embodies such subtle distinctions.
This darkness feels foreboding, wary,
nothing in line with the coastal forest of Oregon
The spooky Siskiyous curl upon laurel,
pepperwood, bay trees, and myrtle:
a spicebox of evening air.
The fragrant eucalyptus has sharp-tipped leaves
for any careless appetite wandering too close.
The Redwood Highway begins where vultures
swirl above a tidal crescent strewn with dead deer,
tree stumps, and growling logging trucks.
So much is battered & scarred:
H I G H
amid many rough hot roadworks
we wait out another detour
– these days the flagman’s always
a hard-hatted woman.
Signs proclaim Picnic Area Ahead, somewhere
and then grove after grove
of memorials to wealth & authority
all the way from San Francisco.
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