Living here in North Dakota it is sometimes easy to think of poetry as being an overly bucolic affair. This is, of course, insane (or at least not very smart). After all, one of my favorite books of poetry published in recent years is Jim Daniels’ Gun/Shy which is firmly anchored in his experience growing up in Detroit.
Ron L. Dowell’s poems consider his life and experiences in the Watts section of Los Angeles. We were honored to publish one of them, “I reckon a move to Cuba” in NDQ 88.3/4 and we just learned this past week that it’ll appear in his newly published collection, Watts UpRise, which you can buy right here. Better still, he retitled his poem, “Sinagua Cliff Ruins,” and friends of NDQ know that I’m sucker for any reference, ancient or modern, to ruins.
As you likely know, these days are particularly challenging for many cultural institutions, publishers, and little magazines. So even if NDQ doesn’t float your boat, If you can, consider buying a book from a small press, subscribing to a literary journal, or otherwise supporting the arts. I heartily recommend grabbing a copy of the new issue of Hotel Amerika which is celebrating its 20th anniversary by publishing an anthology of some its most creative, provocative, and stimulating work. Grab a copy here.
Sinagua Cliff Ruins
From my Watts birthplace, we race for
Sedona roil the highway past
Horse Thief and Bloody Basin Roads.
I count rat eaten saguaro
recall our spasmodic phone calls,
your cerulean toe paint, jewel
encrusted wedge sandals warm
Doublemint breath your distracted
look—side glance—Hmmm, noise in your throat.
I sense this is our last road trip
—together I have seen the signs,
like an owl’s head shifts to a palm
frond squeak, or a crow’s caw—guarded.
I hold my heart with two hands, my
bounteous doomscrolling deep gulf,
water glass full, most times empty
strain turns our hearts into hard stone
like old Sinagua cliff ruins
we make the most of desert sands
dodge angry sycophants wearing
MAGA hats on plains and orange
hills behind narrow-leaf yucca.
The Great American smokescreen
resembles less the country where
I was born, singing ’tis of thee.
Sedona is my shield to fight
loves fade America’s decline;
tusked Gorgons, their brass hands, gold wings,
dragon scale faces. to battle,
crude politicos committed
to lies and ugly. hair coiling
like snakes. I will need a bronze shield,
diamond sword, and winged sandals
—invisibility a Bat-
mobile At Red Rock, a twisted
Juniper grows on red sandstone,
we taste bluish bittersweet fruit,
we smell fragrant, spicy aromas
energy swirls inside me out
from earth’s surface, a vortex in
me, crankling what once balanced us
our failed relationship; once loving
like hands up honesty, rusted
commitment open as poppy
fields and the scent of cold, clean air
sweet agave moistened my mouth,
but I straddled, poised on the cusp
of discovering the next great
poetic line the moment you’d call.
Do I have time for you? What if
What a tough decision. Sorry.
In the navy sky, dark as dense
fog Algol the Demon Star winks,
breathlessness always squeezing my
lungs, and shrinking my heart: a sac;
soft and asphyxiating.
The lizard head presides over
groves, narrow-leaf yucca, oak shrubs,
and fleshy prickly pear cactus,
this, likely our last salsa dance,
and road trip is too much, too much
Back in Cali, I leave you on
Westside Hills and then backpedal
Jordan Downs amber cinder blocks
my Watts public housing ruin.
Ron L. Dowell holds Master’s degrees from CSULB. He received the UCLA Certificate in Fiction Writing in 2017. A 2018 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow, his poetry resides in Penumbra, Writers Resist, Oyster Rivers Pages, The Wax Paper, Kallisto Gaia Press, The Penmen Review, Packingtown Review Journal, and The Poeming Pigeon.