Gayle Brandeis

Meditations on Magnolia


Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 film, “Magnolia,” is named for a street in the San Fernando Valley.  His movie follows the lives of a diverse cast of characters who live near this road and find themselves connected in ways they couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

We in Riverside, of course, have our own Magnolia.  It spans the girth of the city like a belt.  Its asphalt passes through, connects, almost every neighborhood on the map–the Wood Streets, Magnolia Center, Casa Blanca, Arlington, La Sierra.  We could easily call Magnolia the Mother Road of Riverside.  Think of everything that flanks it—homes and schools and stores and places of worship–the stuff, the staff, of our everyday life. The avenue skirts grand estates and hardscrabble apartment complexes; it passes hospitals where people begin and end their lives; it carries limousines and bicycles with equal aplomb; it touches upon every hue and facet of our human condition here in the Inland Empire.

I drive down Magnolia almost every day, and I often think about all the stories that live on this street.  We might not have hot shot producers and tv whiz kids here, like the San Fernando street on the silver screen (although–who knows?–maybe we do) but we do have plumbers and professors and artists and fry cooks, all of them with their own full lives, their own rich history and dreams.  On this street right now, someone is painting, someone is going into labor, someone is yelling at a person they love, someone is sweeping the floor, someone is buying bread.   There are thousands of stories on this stretch of road alone.  Our collective stories.

If we were to make our own Riverside “Magnolia,” the street itself would be a character.  It’s a grand thoroughfare.  Even at the end of the 19th century, as Kate Sanborn describes in her 1893 book, A TRUTHFUL WOMAN IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, Magnolia was considered a “celebrated drive.”  Sanborn is taken with the street, but she is not particularly happy with the name, which, she writes, “seems illy chosen, as only a few magnolia trees were originally planted at each corner, and these have mostly died, so that the whole effect is more eucalyptical, palmy, and pepperaneous than it is magnolious.”

While the street may not be fully “magnolious,” it still embodies the paradoxes of its namesake flowering tree—leaves that are both glossy and dark, flowers that are luminous but easily bruised, strange fuzzy pods that seem like something from another planet but are exquisitely of this earth, bright red seeds that look like candy and poison at the same time.  Magnolia—and really, all of Riverside, itself–is big enough to contain these dichotomies, turn these disparate elements into something whole and complicated and beautifully alive.  We all contribute to its integrity, its texture.

In a poignant scene in “Magnolia,” several characters in the film are shown, one by one, singing along to the same song on the radio.  All of them are alone; most of them are deeply lonely.  They don’t realize how many people are sharing the song with them; they don’t realize that what they think is a solo is, in fact, part of a chorus.  It’s the same when we drive down Magnolia.  Sealed off in our separate cars, we often don’t remember that we could very well be singing the same song.  We often forget we are connected in ways we can’t even begin to comprehend.  Together we drive this ribbon of road, each of us a corpuscle in the same great artery, pulsing along to the same beating heart.


–Previously appeared, in slightly different form, in The Press-Enterprise in 1999

Jean Waggoner

California Leprechaun

“There has to be somebody sober
at AA meetings,” she insists, a woman
retired, widowed, beyond wish for a man.
“I’m Mrs. Sober, and I’ve been an alcoholic
for forty years,” she tells her people,
seven days a week, at meetings all over town.

It’s fall now, and she flings her
lint-flecked Irish walking cape
about her shoulders and pulls a seaman’s
cap down over cartilage-stretched ears.
From inner folds of her ample bag she digs a fist-sized
ring of keys that’s tethered to her purse strap
by clanging links of biker chain. Ka-Jang!

She’s on the move! Holy terror in low gear,
she will cruise to more than four dry and
“anonymous” bacchanalian covens today,
scaring the cloven-hooved of both sexes
and states in-between by sharing her stories,
embarrassments, alienation and rage.

Like her erstwhile students, many of the defiant
will poke fun at her. They’ll rile against her words,
sneer over her child bereft state, her isolation, accuse her
of senility/insanity and continue their ill-advised revelry.

Yet Riverside’s sprite of Erin, flaming with ire
and product of an old, banshee-wailing lore,
will persevere. She’ll wag bony fingers at them
for “falling off the wagon,” she’ll flash a twinkle of
the devil’s own recognition into their hazy eyes,
and infect their debauchery with mocking delirium,
with needling gall, with a dread of old English teachers,
and with the high, dry, smarter-than-you-ever-dreamed
cackle of impending doom:  “You see, I am you!”

Jeff Mays

Red Clay Lands

Progenitor of orange tree turn-of-century magnates
A pretend small town at the top of the east of the valley
Its Victorian turniptops in purple and pink overlook canopy
Of crepemyrtle and peppertrees who with sprinkler help
Have taprooted below desert to watertable hiding

1950’s downtown State Street with white lights in carrotwoods
Betty’s Diner’s limp fried food & Wurlitzer jailhouserocking
Gourmet Pizza’s Girard’s dressing and obscurely bottled sodas
Fifty-five float Christmas parade where Y Circus unicycle kids
Balance and propel agape smiling audience red-sea parted

Giant inflatable kid-slide ponyride and kettlecorn popped
Bags of oranges, clutches of gladiolas, and street performer sounds
With gatherings of black-garbed teenage smolderings

Five-personed oldfashioned rally on street corner Sunday
“Stop the war for oil! Bush is a liar! Honk if you like peace!” fete
Whilst spandex-bright sunglass’d helmets swish by on light-as-feather two wheel racers

Past Ford Park with the tennis courts and most expensive gas in town
To top of high Judson Hill and survey commuter-collected professional people
In their above-ground construction and mismatched streets
Under the R carved, 400 ft tall, into purple San Berdoo majesty,
Between downpointing arrowhead and Seven Oaks Dam enormousicity

Prospect Parked, Morey Mansioned, Kimberly Castle Crested
Pledge of allegiance drummers of Japan romeo & julieted
Arias and orchestras outside in family-night June
Where bronzed Smileys stand, Lincoln’s artifacts entombed

But I’m afraid of the University Avenue offramp
Blindsides in every direction, cars collecting behind you
Pushing you out the chute to deal with the ghosts of cars darting
Swerving appearing out of nowhere and you tumbling
In the stream beside the banks of white wooden crosses
Where sidewalk shrines have with loss enflowered

Karen Greenbaum-Maya

Foothill Freeway Sestina

Wallace Stevens never worked Wednesdays.
Just like the frog from Budweiser
(even if his folks did come over on the Mayflower),
he’d croak his lines, find the mot juste,
until he and his words merged
and he surveyed his city of hope.

No illusions about the duplicity of hope
for Bukowski.  Sunlight made him wince.  Days
went by, he never knew ‘til he’d emerge
wanting what he couldn’t find in a Budweiser.
Everyone knew he was juiced,
but then, see what did, what may flower.

They say John Keats was a delicate mayflower,
that he died of blasted hope
because some critic took his latest work and juiced
his best poems.  Pique or despair ended his days?
Not likely.  Listen, maybe he didn’t chug Budweiser
like Dylan Thomas, but what he wrote was no whim. Urge

drove him.  His beloved watched him submerge
as he left.  What drove, through the green fuse, the flower?
Hint:  it was not a Budweiser,
or Persian visions of domes with the simplicity of dope.
Keats loved, he loved, he could not stay.
Dylan and Keats were pushed over the edge, used

to feeling like they’d been juiced,
and still their systems urged
them:  Listen to what the winds say,
forget about the folks who left on the Mayflower,
whose version of a city of hope
wouldn’t equal the buzz from a Budweiser.

Freeway commutes leave you sadder but wiser.
Better to be broken than never juiced
up into complicity with hope!
Pursue, until your breath fails, your demiurge.
They too ended up dead, who took the Mayflower.
Give me bards when the days

are all Wednesdays, full of warm flat Budweiser
and Mayflower prudes, give me the juice
that I might merge with felicity, with hope.

* * *

Author’s note

All telutons were found between the 605 Freeway and Claremont, as follows:

City of Hope has the canswer (billboard);
This ramp will be closed on alternate Wednesdays (CalTrans sign);
Mayflower moving van;
Jamba Juice truck;
Lane closed ahead/please merge left;
and of course, the unmistakable smells from the Budweiser plant.

Shin Yu Pai

Spring Peepers, Summer Flowering

                        invisible singers

                                                                        awaken from winter

slumber under logs,

                                    loose bark

at the edge                                           of bodies

                                                                                               of water

                                    sounding courtship songs

                                                                       my father and I

                                    share a memory of

                                                                       staying awake to witness

the night-blooming cereus

                                                white queen flower

                                    a balm for the heart

                                                                                   blooms in the backyard

                                                             just once before withering