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NIGHT SONG OF THE LOS ANGELES BASIN
by Gary Snyder

      Owl
                        calls,
                        pollen dust blows
               Swirl of light strokes writhing
               knot-tying light paths,
 
               calligraphy of cars.
 
Los Angeles basin and hill slopes
Checkered with streetways. Floral loops
Of the freeway express and exchange.
 
                  Dragons of light in the dark
                  sweep going both ways
                  in the night city belly.
                  The passage of light end to end and rebound,
                  —ride drivers all heading somewhere—
                  etch in their traces to night’s eye-mind
 
                  calligraphy of cars.
 
Vole paths. Mouse trails worn in
On meadow grass;
Winding pocket-gopher tunnels,
Marmot lookout rocks.
Houses with green watered gardens
Slip under the ghost of the dry chaparral,
 
                  Ghost
                  shrine to the L. A. River
                  The jinja that never was there
                  is there.
                  Where the river debouches
                  the place of the moment
                  of trembling and gathering and giving
                  so that lizards clap hands there
                  —just lizards
                  come pray, saying
                  “please give us health and long life.”
 
                            A hawk,
                            a mouse.
 
Slash of calligraphy of freeways of cars.
 
                  Into the pools of the channelized river
                  the Goddess in tall rain dress
                  tosses a handful of meal.
 
                  Gold bellies roil
                  mouth-bubbles, frenzy of feeding,
                  the common ones, the bright-colored rare ones
                  show up, they tangle and tumble,
                  godlings ride by in Rolls Royce
                  wide-eyed in brokers’ halls
                  lifted in hotels
                  being presented to, platters
                  of tidbit and wine,
                  snatch of fame,
 
                           churn and roil,
 
                  meal gone   the water subsides.
 
                           A mouse,
                           a hawk.
 
The calligraphy of lights on the night
                   freeways of Los Angeles
 
                   will long be remembered.
 
                           Owl
                   calls;
                            late-rising moon.
***
“Night Song of the Los Angeles Basin” appears  in Gary Snyder’s collection Mountains and Rivers Without End (Counterpoint Press, 2008).

Photo: View of Los Angeles Basin from Mulholland Drive at night by Eino Mustonen, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

NOTE: The Los Angeles Basin is the coastal sediment-filled plain located at the north end of the Peninsular Ranges province in southern California, and contains the central part of the city of Los Angeles as well as its southern and southeastern suburbs. It is approximately 50 miles long and 25 miles  wide, bounded on the north by the Santa Monica Mountains and San Gabriel Mountains, on the east by the Santa Ana Mountains, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean and the Palos Verdes Hills, along the coast. The confluence of the Los Angeles and Rio Hondo rivers is the center of the basin. (Source: wikipedia.org.)