Geometries of Euclid
Apparitions float above my early morning walk
and breathe (almost) the earth,
faint allure of blossoms
citrus, magnolia, hints of sage and farm
air yet to smell of fluorocarbons.
It is difficult this morning to imagine the once emptiness
where land poured from the northern mountains
in one huge sheet;
where fertile arroyo of cottonwoods, willows, and sycamores
rattled in the wind;
where travelers met nothing
but sage, jack rabbit, coyote;
where contours of water transformed this desert
into the Gem of the Foothills
and travelers caravanned for cures.
Yet I sense an imagination
thinking in parallel lines,
elements of geometry from Euclid,
colony name from Canada,
and from Australia, parallel rows of Silk Oak
ferny leaves and gold combs like inverted mustaches,
winged seeds furling on the wind, pepper trees
gnarled and ancient even in their youth.
As I walk, the dead shuffle along with me
in the half-light of dawn–
The Highlanders, Serrano traders,
neighbors, brothers and rivals
to the People of the Earth who rowed out
to meet Cabrillo in the bay of San Pedro;
Spaniards, bringing smallpox and mission life,
the names of streets and families;
Jedediah Smith, making the first overland journey
along the Old Trails Highway leading hundreds,
thousands who left their imprint on the land;
George Chaffey, greatest of the dreamers,
who changed this barren trapezoid forever.
I wonder at the foresight of the man
who sat in the shade of peach trees
at the mouth of San Antonio Canyon
viewing this wide expanse, envisioning
the seven-mile divided boulevard.
In its center, where I walk today,
Ontario’s first public transportation–
the car, drawn by mules, sports striped awnings,
carries the ghosts of early settlers.
Ladies, wearing wide-brimmed hats, perch inside.
Boys in knickers and older boys in long pants
lean out the windows and cling to railings near the steps.
Dapper conductor mans the tiller, his moustache a perpetual smile.
And on the rear platform, the mules
rewarded for their uphill labor
with return trip down the grade.
The replica reminds me of a story I once heard
about those poor bewildered mules,
who when later sold to farmers, plowed
rapidly the first furrow and waited patiently
for their ride back to start.
Water for every farmer in proportion to his holdings
and by century’s end,
first long-distance telephone line in the world,
first electric light in Southern California,
electric streetlamps one mile apart,
electrified street cars to replace retired mules;
electric room heaters, cooking stoves,
Hotpoint Irons, horseless carriages.
Progress. Industry. Prosperity.
This morning, they hover near me in the fog,
the myriad hard-working men and women:
Chinese workers, who came to “Gold Mountain” seeking fortune,
who were kept from working mines
by threat or force and turned instead to citrus gold;
German and Swiss, European agriculturists,
Filipino, Italian, Japanese farm laborers, nursery owners,
Mexican Traqueros of Santa Fe and Southern Pacific,
gandy dancers, builders of the Pacific Electric red cars,
now ghosts themselves.
As I near the “Historic Downtown,”
my own shadows of the fifties haunt me most:
three orange UHaul trailers, twelve
Swedish immigrants from Illinois
who drove the mother road all the way
through Joplin, Missouri; Oklahoma City;
Flagstaff, Arizona; don’t forget Winona;
Barstow to San Bernardino where we sent postcards
from the promised land: Greetings from Ontario, California.
Blocks of small prosperous businesses
Berger’s Restaurant–I still see Mr. Berger,
chef’s hat in hand, taking a break outside his door
with that lady in the red dress who stops
to ask about the missus and their son–
Rexall Drugs, Newton’s stationery,
Fallis’, Gemmel’s, the Granada Theater
where fifty cents still bought a double feature.
On the boulevard, Chevies, Nashes, Oldsmobiles
Fords, Plymouths, Buicks, Studebakers,
and I can’t believe it—an Edsel.
Rambling letters to the frozen folks in Illinois
full of praise for orange trees everywhere,
vineyards, strawberry fields going on forever,
dairy farms, snow on the mountains,
and the beach, only an hour’s drive over the hills,
down highway 39 past Knotts Berry Farm.
On July 4th before the fireworks,
the All-States picnic with its longest table in the world
stretched down the center of our double drive
as we find our spot next to the other transplants from “back east.”
Too soon grandmother, father, uncles, aunts
and mother come to rest in rectangles
set aside in Belleview Memorial Park.
And this Ontario, this Euclid, grew,
grows in the way of Yucca plants,
ghosts in the graveyard, apparitions floating
above the Model City that became
the Pulse of the Inland Empire,
Gateway to Southern California.
And we are transplants, all
who came, who come,
who are yet to come and leave
these ghosts to walk at dawn.
Marsha Schuh is an instructor of English composition at California State University, San Bernardino. She holds an MBA with a concentration in Information Technology, an MA in English Composition and an MFA in poetry. Her publications include a coauthored college text, Computer Networking for Prentice Hall and poetry included in Pacific Review, Badlands, Sand Canyon Review, Meat, and other journals. She and her husband Dave are long-time residents of Ontario, CA. She loves to walk early in the morning.