Michael J. Orlich

San Bernardino Streets


I come from the west.

You have to start somewhere.

I can see straight

down this road

for miles, but not today.

The arroyo is big, empty.

A woman picks.

Walls of comfort have gaps.

Across the tracks, the Meridian.

Arroyo Valley hawks circle

the stadium.


Tacos Mexican (what other kind?),

Rico Taco, Taco Grinch, Taco Central, Tacos L, Taco Bender.

Across the great river

of north and southbound lanes,

the smog corner, the fun corner.

Quick pawn. Fame liquor.

Dollar king, dollar tree, dollar general,

all Smart and Final.

Crossing Waterman.  I don’t know, Jack-

Is there a way out-of-the-Box?

The road is rising.


Milk dairy. Crazy Frank’s.

Auto spa, center, zone.

Universal Tires and Unified Baptists—

let them introduce you to the way.

Gina’s thrift, Charlie’s cars, Dale’s TV, Sam’s something.

Pain’s corner. Wayne’s RV storage. The House of Plywood.

Pepper tree restaurant.

Sam’s bargains. Gina’s thrift store again.

Maybe it moved already.

Sam and Gina seem to get around. (Or was it Gino?)


Welcome to High-land.

Sterling Street—still waiting for gold.

D&D furniture. The next sign explains.

Debt and Depression.

Three towers point the way—

open spaces, climbing.

Mobile homes—still.


Eternal fire is burning.

The police stand watching.

The churches sit on Church Avenue:

First United Methodist (must have beat the Baptists).

Saint Adelaide’s.  A graceful spire.

A proud tower.  A gilded arch

against the mountain peak—

San Bernardino looms large.

Straight ahead. Above the orange blossoms.

A marker laid down.

A city laid out.

A street laid straight.  Again?

You have to start somewhere.



E Street

The SBX (its name

almost exciting

for a bus) says

“out of service”—

seeming sadly wise

despite its shiny

red paint and CNG

and dedicated lanes

and high capacity

(for emptiness) in this

broad valley of open

urban spaces.


The sign

red and square

arched and gold

says 15¢ hamburgers

and a many-zeroed number sold,

but none for sale

here and now—

for what prophet

remembers his home

when profit calls?


But burgers endure

at burger-market and -mania

the little Gus

the In-’N-Out-backed

Harley man, he too riding

shiny red, without

the empty seats.


Other tarnished temples

remain and retain

or try to recall

an uncertain sanctity

of short school days

sleek, long cars

fresh, sweet citrus

and sixty-six—

remembered now by

the family service center

the Asian seafood market

NAPA’s omnipresent parts

trucks and taquerias

the Indian-band ballpark

Christ, the scientist

and other vacancies,

a shrined (or coffined) carousel.


Above it all

in sparkling steel and glass

a block or two off Easy Street—

the Center of Justice.



I travel south, the way of waters

fleeing down from the mountains,

the old Arrowhead pointing the way,

where water brought healing and hype,

where drought is bottled

and shipped for sale;


to the center of town,

the hallowed and the hollow,

with its Wienerschnitzels and wigs,

that center of dismantling

where it’s legal to pick-a-part,

with bail bonds and bótanicas

for those who suffer.


The left promises to deliver

as trucks back up to

endless bays without water,

which is pumped from the ground

toward the sea it will not reach,

ions exchanged for its TCE.


Roofing tiles sit stacked, silent.

Golf greens fly flags and flowers

in mourning.

Drab green fencing

seeks to hide the horror

so fresh, foreign, familiar.


The road goes on

watered by tears,

and ends in a Little Hill

in the place of remembering.

Michael Orlich began writing poetry in 2011.  Since then, he has hosted a small monthly poetry group in his home in Reche Canyon, in Colton. He has lived in the IE since 2008 and works at Loma Linda University as a preventive medicine physician and researcher in nutritional epidemiology.

Michael Orlich

Communications Tower

On a hill nearby
stands an old, rugged tower
of steel pipe and rust—
sunk in parched ground
of tumble-dry scrub,
of sand-rock and dust-
swirled devils, pirouettes
of fleeting grace, amid
the howl and gust—
heavy, rigid and erect,
arms stretched in silhouettes
of dish and drum, zag and bolt.
The silent signals echo in the void,
and on the cross-
bar, almost unseen,
the sparrow sings.

Michael Orlich began writing poetry in 2011.  Since then, he has hosted a small monthly poetry group in his home in Reche Canyon, in Colton. He has lived in the IE since 2008 and works at Loma Linda University as a preventive medicine physician and researcher in nutritional epidemiology.

Demond Blake

from Slackass

          We finished our beers just as we got to Pepito’s a former dive bar where all the old time lushes and aspiring whatevers used to drink until the weekends when they were pushed out for this crowd and the covers the bar could charge to hear some shitty bar bands doing Doors and Stones covers.   Now Pepito’s was trying to cater to the downtown crowd by having DJ nights during the week and local/out of town indie/punk bands play on the weekends.  Sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t.  The downtown kids were a fickle bunch.  One week this was the place to be, the next week someplace else.  All they really wanted to do was party out in the city but gas prices, traffic and their simply being scared to take the subway at night anywhere usually kept them around here.
           I didn’t like how Pepito’s had changed. It used to be dark in here even in the daytime.  You could get a booth drink your beer munch on stale tortilla chips and greasy salsa and not be bothered.  Now there were no booths.  Just tables and chairs all spread out facing the stage that was now the centerpiece of the bar.  There were lights all over the place.  I put on my shades the moment I walked in.   The female bartenders were aggressively friendly and wore small tight tops pushing up shagging tits and showing off old cleavage.  The male barkeeps were young studly types, wore trucker caps and Atticus shirts.  They worked out and walked around like they could fuck any pussy and kick anyone’s ass.  They catered to their friends when they were at the bar and made strangers wait.  I didn’t like the scene very much.
           They weren’t charging so we walked right in.  Before anyone we knew could spot us I found a couple of empty pint mugs on a table.  Benny and I went to the restroom cleaned them out and filled them up with the other two tall boys.  We tossed the cans walked back out.  Bruce ran up us and hugged then drug us to his table we other people we knew were.  Benny went around high-fiving and smooching people.   I kept my distance and waved at everyone. Frantic had just finished a song and everyone was clapping.  The singer saw Benny and a grin came on his face.
           “Hey everybody it’s my favorite weed connect Benny-boy!”
           Everyone cheered.  Benny threw his arms up in the air and flashed his dead tooth.  Some beer spilled out of his mug.  Someone refilled it.
           “This song’s for you Ben” The singer said.  “because I forget what’s it’s originally supposed to be about.”
           The band kicked in, the singer started singing in Spanish.  For some reason they sounded like a Mexican version of Oasis to me.  Benny held his beer up as they played his song.  I was bored, I went to the front patio to have a smoke and watch the traffic.  Out there were some older smokers mixed with the younger ones.  The older ones smoked Marlboros and younger smoked generic brands like 1st Class cigarettes.  I smoked 1st Class cigs.  I saw my friend Marquis across the way talking to some girl.  She didn’t look too interested in what he had to say and kept waving away the smoke from his cancer stick.  The girl had on a blue Modest Mouse t-shirt just a little too small so she could show off her pierced belly button.  Her dyed black hair almost came down to her shoulders and her jeans had one well-placed hole at the knee.  Her chucks were spotless.  Marquis kept talking to her but he wasn’t really looking at her.  He kept staring at the ground brushing his hair behind his ears and hitting his cig.  I’m not even sure he noticed when she walked away and I walked up.
           He didn’t like being called Marquis because he thought it sounded gay. He told everyone called him Marc.  He was right it did sound gay but his name had a melody to it that most names like ‘Jim’ don’t so I called him Marquis.  I was one of the few non-females he let get away with that.  Kinda why I thought he was a decent guy, well that and he always had pills.
           “Hey Marquis the girl’s gone”
           “I know Jim I was just…I don’t even know.”
           Marquis was from Hemet, a city known for two things: it’s retirement community and it’s meth.  All of kids down there lived with their grandparents who were oblivious to damn near everything while the kids started meth labs and sold the shit and did the shit.  Marquis told me he didn’t tweak but his eyes were always bugged out.  He wasn’t twitchy or anything so I couldn’t tell one way or the other.
           “What were you guys talking about?”
           “I don’t know the band,  people we had in common shit like that.  I wanted to take the conversation in a different um direction you know, to find out whether she had a boy or a girl or if she was interested in doing some shit but she always found a way to steer it back to shitty small talk.”
           “You should’ve put the cig out.”
           “She was waving the smoke away the whole time you two were talking.”
           “Shit Jim how did I miss it?”
           “You have to stop looking down when you talk to girls, hell to people in general.”
           “But if I don’t look down then I end up staring them right in the eyes and you know how my eyes look.”
           “Have you ever tried not staring period?”
           “Yeah but if I’m not staring right at them or at the ground I have a hard time listening to them.”
           “Okay well you could always stare at some other part of a person.”
           “What part?”
           “Um…stare at the shoulders.  It’s not too obvious and you’re not looking at anyone directly.”
           “But then I’m staring at their shoulders and that’s weird.”
           “Don’t just stare at the shoulders!  In fact don’t stare at any part in particular.  Act like you’re connecting dots.  Go from  foot to foot, elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder and glance at the eyes.  It’ll be some cute thing that you do.  Some girl will find it interesting.  Then you’ll date her and after a while she’ll find it annoying.  In between though you’ll be getting laid so who cares right?”
           “There you go.”
           “And if it doesn’t work?”
           “Try talking to blind people.”
           “Jim I can never tell if you’re bullshitting or not.”
           “Me neither.”
           “You just get here?”
           “A little bit ago.  How long you been here?”
           “A few minutes.  I was across the street.  There’s bands playing at Rob’s Vintique”
           “A lot of people there?”
           “A lot of teenage girls.  I was just going back you should come too.”
           “I don’t like teenage girls.  I didn’t even like them when I was a teenager.”
           “None of them will talk to me cause I look too old.”
           “You are too old.”
           “But you look you just graduated last year or something.  They see me with you it won’t be like I’m some gross older guy.”
           “Yeah it’ll be like we’re both some gross older guy.”
           “Just come on.”
           “Got any vics?”
           “Like ten or fifteen.”
           “You should give me a few.”
           “You should come to Rob’s with me.”
           Marquis grinned and gave me a couple.  I chased them down with the rest of my beer then we went across the street to Rob’s.
          Rob’s Vintique was a clothing store specializing in vintage clothes and knickknacks that the indie kids around town were into.  Noticing that a lot of these kids were underage and couldn’t see their fave bands at the bars Rob started having shows at his store every week.  In between Rob would get in on mic and encourage everyone to browse, announce sales and the next week’s show.  There was never a cover but the kids always bought a lot of shit.  I had known Rob for a year or so.  He was a shrewd business man as they say.  It was between sets and Rob had just got off the mic when Marquis and I walked in.
           “Jimmy jazz what’s up” Rob said bear hugging me.
           His breath smelled of wine.  He was probably drunk.  People liked me a lot more when they were drunk.  I’m not sure whether I liked them that way but at least they laugh more.  What I really wanted to know was if Rob had anymore wine.
           “Robby-Rob how’s business?”
           “Kick fucking ass Jim!  Marc didn’t tell me you’d be wanderin’ over here otherwise I would’ve saved you some wine.”
           “You mean you don’t have an extra bottle?”
           “Ah look at this fuckin kid” Rob said putting his arm around my shoulder and squeezing me.
           “Biggest wino I know.  He could be stuck in the Sahara and given a choose of wine or water this fucker would choose wine.”
           “If I’m stuck in the Sahara and can’t get any food, might as well get drunk.”
           “Fucking Jim.  Come on I got some more wine in the back.  You want some Marc?”
           “Nah I’m going wait around for the next band.”
           “Fuckin liar!  I see you scopin those teenie boppers.  Better watch it Marky-boy they’re twice as hard as they look.”
           “That’s why I brought Jim over to break the ice and make me look less creepy.”
           “You don’t need this asshole around.  He’ll open his mouth and fuck all your game up.”
          Marc nodded then drifted outside to smoke a cig. Once out he started a conversation with a little white girl in a black hoodie.  She looked like she was fifteen, but she was smoking so they had that in common.  I kinda wanted to see if Marquis was going to do that connect the dots thing. But I really wanted some wine so I followed Rob through the crowd and  into the storage area where he had the Chucky Shaw Merlot $1.99.  Some people do have class.  He gave me a paper cup topped me off.  I took a sip.  The vics were starting to kick in and I felt tingly.  Everything got a bit more tolerable until Rob starting talking.  He was having trouble with his girl and was thinking about breaking up with her before she broke up with him.  He wasn’t sure what to do.  On one hand he thought if he broke up with her then he’d look like ‘THE MAN’ throwing a bitch to  the curb.  He’d look great to the fellas but not so much to the females which means he’d have to work for rebound sex.  Now he thought if she broke up with him then he’d look pathetic in front of the guys but it would make getting rebound sex easy as pie.  Such a dilemma.  I didn’t know what to tell Rob.  Didn’t really care either.  I just kept refilling my cup and nodding.  Most people don’t want advice, they simply want someone to throw words at who’ll agree with whatever they say.
           Rob shut up once the next band started playing.  I finished my drink and followed  him back up front.  We worked our way to the front of the crowd.  I recognized the band.  They were called Child Pornography.  Most people called them Child P for short.  It sort of rolled off the tongue.  The group had a sort of disco punk sound that was popular right now.  They were a three piece group.  The guitarist Natalie (Natty for short) who was on the methadone plan trying to kick heroin, Aaron on keys who was straight-edge and seemed to be concentrating way too much on his simple keyboard parts and the singer Jamie was dressed in a diaper, chucks and horn rim glasses.  He was skinny but for some reason had a big ass.  When he wasn’t shaking it in someone’s face he ran around in circles and sang off key.  Some of the kids moved along absent mindedly to the beat.  Others stood around.  If you weren’t moving (or if he knew you) Jamie ran up to you and started dry humping.  If it was a friend then there was laughter and everyone stared.  If it wasn’t then the humpee looked around nervously, didn’t laugh and everyone still stared.
          He spotted me.  I wasn’t in the groove.  He ran up knocked me down and started humping my leg while singing ‘Jimmy-Jim why won’t you sleep on my couch.  Jimmy-Jim gay sex on my couch.’  I didn’t laugh, I didn’t look around nervously, I didn’t know if people were staring, I just felt stupid and wanted another drink.  He humped me for a minute for so longer then got up and started running in circles again.  Then the song was over.  There was applause.  I clapped too.  It was most action my left leg had gotten in months.  My right leg felt jealous.  I felt bad for my right leg.  It never got any action.  I walked outside.  Marquis was still out there smoking.  The girl in the black hoodie was gone.
           “You headin’ back to Pepito’s?”
           “Yeah I need a drink.”
           “I’ll come too.  You want another vic?”
           “I’m good.  What happened to the girl in the hoodie.”
           “I sold her a couple of vics for five bucks.”
           “That’s all you did?”
           “Yeah she wasn’t my type.”
           “Too young?”
           “No I don’t like girls who wear hoodies.  Makes me nervous.”
           “That doesn’t begin to make any sense.”
           “Does it have to?”
           “Guess not.”
           “Sure you don’t want another?”
           “Is it free?”
           “Of course.”
           “I’ll take a couple more.”
          He dropped two in my hand.  I put them in my pocket for later.