Anne Babson

Your index finger on the edge of the continent crooked, silently beckoning, "Over here,"

You, a blonde, yes, a natural one,

Tanned as the leather hills of your droughts and brush fires,

The San Andreas Fault Line defying your plastic surgeons' lasers and peels,

Blue bedroom-eyed as the inlets of Pacific when fog lifts and the tide pools wink

Suggestively, a seasoned beach bunny feigning temerity, trembling seismically,

As if in fear of what all your suitors call, "The Big One,"

The promised, dreaded day where you surrender, slide into the celadon fog as if between satin sheets,

Granting each of us your final favor as you slip below sea level,

California, you old bitch, I'm on to you!

Yes, California,

I've tasted your honey grapes, your cherry tomatoes,

I've suckled at your pitted avocado,

Nibbled your hardened celery stalks preening heavenward in your fields spread from Vacaville to Eureka.

Yes, California, five generations of me have set in your musky valleys shaved, powdered

armpits golden from the creative poses in winter

Yes, California,

Under a jealous night sky I have pruned up in your hot tubs, heady with wet redwood,

Plied by the spirits like an olive marinated in a martini.

I claim more rights to you than some newcomers, my settlers Spanish and pioneer, but

California, you tease, you libertine, you naked, dancing, Baywatch empress,

You smile like I'm a discoverer, like I'm the first to cross this poppy field, the first to pan your gold,

But Sonora whore, San Francisco Annual Hooker's Ball Belle,

California, you old bitch, I'm on to you!

No, California,

This is not because your are prettier than I am, which, yes, you are, more leggy than a 

Hollywood charity auction, more toothsome than the white capped waves along Redondo Beach.

This is not a battle between blonde and brunette.

It's just that every time I bury a loved one in your boneyards, you shine parade day sun on me.

It's just that every time I went to your schools in tattered clothes, hair a condor's nest,

Your home room teachers smoked your shriveled grasses, and if they called

Child Protective Services, it was only to score more of your weed from janitors who sold it there.

It's just that when the boy across town tried to pull me into your laurel bushes, and 

I fought him of with kicks and jabs learned from New Yorkers,

Your police force was to busy polishing their sunglasses to inquire after me.

It's just that when you know that someone is crazy, California,

Manson family material, you shrug and giggle ­ hidden mass murders fertilize your back yards.

It's just that when a woman wrinkles, California,

You cut her face open and put the fat of her rump in her lips ­ this you call your style.

When fathers abandon children, California,

You offer birdsong and new-mown lawns.

When your cities riot, California

You rain no rain on the blazes.

When a migrant family of five sleeps in a used Pontiac, California,

You beckon them further up your thigh, crooking your finger even more frantically,

Winking your limpid tides, wafting their way the scent of your citrus valleys,

And then the baby dies, and the eldest joins the gang,

And the mother shrivels into a champagne grape raisin,

And the father, the father ­ you have his number in your pocket; he still believes you'll call any day.

California, you old bitch, I'm on to you!

California, I condemn you for the thousand table-waiting actors on Wilshire Boulevard!

California, I denounce you for the million mid-life crisis divorces in the hills above Silicon Valley!

California, I am taping this notice to the bulletin board in the Berkeley bookstore,

Hoping the lotus eaters here will catch the next bus to home to

Omaha rather than surrender their last days to the promise of you,

Betting in vain that there are a few people who still read in your college towns, and among those,

A few who understand.

California, you old bitch, you won't have my bones.

I may pine for your broken promises, but I won't pay your cover charge or your two drink minimum.

California, you old bitch, I've figured it out; that beauty mark of yours is a liposuction scar!

No, I don't think you love me tender, no matter how sweet it is outside.

I know how much a lap dance from you costs, and I'm not buying another one tonight.

California, you old bitch, I'm on to you!