AFTERNOON AT LA BREA
BY JOHN SIMONDS
Los Angeles 1978
Caught wading in the puddle of no return,
tusks flailing at a helpless sun,
the synthetic elephant stands sinking
while his family watches
and others now through the chain link fence
slowly in the West.
Fiberglas and Ektachrome
remind us of the deep trouble
early California life fell into here.
What layers of meaning draw us in!
Mammoth after mammoth,
wild cats with bowed out teeth
fiercely parenthetical to later needs.
Hungry dogs and vultures feeding,
trapped and knowing
as the sun poured on
that it was over now.
Inside, where technicians calibrate
pieces of the past
recaptured from the tar of centuries,
mounted heads of wolves,
skeletal bric-a-brac held together with steel
and frozen in wire and glass,
saber-toothed creatures diving through the tar curtain
into the next world, caught springing in mid-death.
Somehow, asphalt continues bubbling,
animal yielding mineral.
Machines let you pull shiny pistons
from the pitchy depths to show
how tough it is.
Like shock absorbers in your car, a tourist
tells a boy beside him.
Those who found the pit
made money from the oil still seeping,
then sold it all for more.
Previous asphalt helped to build the world outside.
The sun exerts its force: the power to melt is the power to change.
Through the haze we learn the sun still lives.