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Of These Bodies, On This Land by Caleb Nichols

This poem was written in Tilhini— the Place of the Full Moon—

the unceded territory of the yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini tribe the first people, who crossed the rainbow bridge

before the land was stolen before the grizzlies slain to extinction before Junipero Serra, Patron Saint of Genocide—

before the otters brained against the rocks,

the kelp-spattered slaughter of abalone the rainbow skeleton mounds,

before the canneries shuttered redwood, cypress, and pine felled, before eucalyptus sown for new timber—

before monarchs curtained eucalyptus leaves, before

the vigilante committees, the lynchings at the mission

before Graves and his posse put down the Tiger-Flores Gang

before Ah Louis and a thousand Chinese immigrants dug

quicksilver, railroad tunnels

before a thousand Chinese immigrants deported, before

Chinatown erased, before Japanese internment before statues for the vanished.

Before Steinbeck wrote Okies in Nipomo, before Kerouac wrote koans at the Colonial Hotel—

before Jeffers wrote rattlesnakes as lightning,

Morro Rock as thunderhead,

quarried to build the breakers, to build the road to bridge its moat,

before the High School was built on a burial grounds,

before smokestacks fingered the sky without consent, before the concrete was poured

for the cooling pools of twin reactors, before the first fission in the core of the concrete cocoon,

before the first electrons burst forth

from the pupa and into the grid, before the 101

summoned waves of Orange County White-flight, before my grandparents flew their whiteness

up the coast to stuccoed subdivisions on the dunes.

Before I found the shells at the top of Valencia Peak,

so many miles from the beach

before they said the shells must have washed up during Noah’s flood before Island of the Blue Dolphins and field trips

to the mission gift shop before the blue gum groves were felled to make room

for more houses, before the eucalyptus

waned from wonder to nuisance before white naturalists rooted out invasives

before the monarchs neared extinction

before ICE raids and expulsion. Before the children of the greatest generation

bottomed out

before my parents conjugally conceived me,

before my father came home from prison

before he broke my mother’s ribs,

crushed my brother’s heart, beat

his trauma into me.

Before his father tied him to a chair, beat his trauma into him.

Before I was a pile of nacreous shells—

shining but shucked— before I was faggot and little bitch, before

I told my mother I was a faggot

in the Carl’s Jr. that used to be a bookshop.

Before I rented a room in the Graves house.

Before I brought my boyfriend to the bedroom

of the dead sheriff.

Before I drank rosé in the sun

at the bar next to the mission

named after the blood moon.

Before Luna Red was called Native.

Before Raymond said that Chorro Creek

meant Diarrhea Creek in Mexican slang.

Before we let Millie run free down the beaches of tsɨtqawɨ,

the Place of the Dogs. Before my mother cleaned the houses lining the beach.

Before we scoured those beaches, gathering scree,

palmsful of tumbled glass— lime, ice, cola, nectar.

Before bits of bone, coral, quartz, & agate.

Before the sky-scored clam fragments like ancient vases.

Before we gathered these and pieced them into something new.

Before we made meaning out of what’s been discarded,

saw dolphins in the serpentine troughs,

saw stingrays slap the surface of the bay

& egrets wade, samba, strike—


Caleb Nichols (he/they) is a queer writer from California, occupying Tilhini, the Place of the Full Moon, the unceded territory of the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini tribe. His poetry has been featured in Redivider, Perhappened Mag, DEAR Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. He tweets at @seanickels.

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