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C.E. Chaffin

  

NY

Where land is costly
cheap air invites
as many stories as steel will bear,
erecting cliffs
too regular for nature
whose sealed windows insulate
the nests of diamond-heeled brokers
from mustard-spotted napkins
swirling up from alley dumpsters.

Under such valuable ground
it also pays to burrow down,
down to the warrens
where brown-ringed mattresses
rank as deluxe,
cardboard is business class
and newspaper, economy.
The alcoves are always full
because they are free.
Should you lose your key
to the penthouse elevator
this is your safety net,
an underworld of rats and needles
and cheap Persephones.

At street level
everything is soldered tight:
hats sweat cigars perfume
snarls stares elbows knees
pour from dented taxis
into an avalanche of feet
where every good intention
leads to harm. Make room
for a wheelchair and you spill
someone else's coffee,
making charity hard.
Still the great hive comforts you,
its lights and noise
proof against feeling alone,
and sometimes it is given you,
though only a drone,
to glimpse a queen.

  

  

LA

Where land is cheap
houses spread horizontally
like wild ground cover without design—
one-story dominoes of pine,
chicken wire, tarpaper and stucco,
an architecture that barely lasts the mortgage
before big repairs come due.
But there is space, space
and the privacy of fences.
Add utilities, deliveries, television,
and a garage door opener
and your house becomes
a self-sustaining biosphere,
your neighbors nothing more
than crash test dummies in minivans.

Where weather is no bar to travel
illogical connections form—
cross-town arteries and inter-county veins,
sustained by cars for which
the neighborhoods were engineered:
river-wide streets divided by aisles of lilies,
parking deserts bordered by gazanias,
twelve-lane freeways flanked by oleander
all pay homage to the equalizer—
democracy on wheels.

And strangely, though this coastal basin
forces no central concentration,
people still demand a city
like Israel demanded a king—
an imaginary hub for reference,
a navel for whitebread municipalities.
So towers rose on Hope Street
and west on Wilshire's "Miracle Mile,"
most mirrored as if to say,
"We reflect your desire for a city,
and having no character,
are happy to repeat what we see."

But when the city workers leave at dusk
for their dogs and roses,
a silence falls like in no other city,
stranger than the next-door-neighbors
you never knew.  Not even the sound
of a bag lady shuffling creases the quiet,
just the clicking of signal boxes
at vacant intersections.

  

  

Found Park

Downtown in a paved lot
ringed by sagging chain-link
I found a dandelion forest
where purple stalks
over six feet tall
sprouted from asphalt ridges
roots buckled for the sun.
There wasn't a trace of dirt.

Their white seed filaments
looked tightly bunched
inside green trumpets
unlike the silver
hundred-legged spiders
that hover over lawns.
Their flowers were deeper yellow,
smaller and thicker,
plentiful as stars.

 

C.E. Chaffin received a B.A. in English in 1976 from UCLA, winning "The Edward Niles Hooker Award for Outstanding Achievement in English" (top prize for students in the honors program, in which he wasn't). He also served as poetry editor of Goldenwest Literary Magazine and Carrion while an undergraduate.  He has published a book of poetry titled Elementary, Edwin Mellen Press, 1997, as well as published poetry in numerous e-zines, including Agnieszka's Dowry, Recursive Angel, Web Del Sol, and Zuzu's Petals Literary Quarterly.  Mr. Chaffin also holds a M.D. degree, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, and is Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the University of California-Irvine.

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