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
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.