We moved from Chicago to Los Angeles when I was ten. When asked recently how I liked California, I came up with this.
With my frizzy perm and
Little puff-sleeved cotton dresses
With sashes that tied in the back into floppy bows,
And brown oxfords, sturdy and roomy enough
To last all year,
I arrived to find California girls,
Mature even in their
Catholic School uniforms.
California girls rolled skirts up shorter and
Tucked white blouses into tiny waists
And tossed their hair in the boys’ direction.
The nuns at my new school didn’t like the way I
Or that the smartest girl in the class,
Had a whiff of
Chicago about her.
You might have crossed your Ts like that
The nun in my class told me with a sniff,
But we it is not proper here.
Those shoes might be acceptable
But they are not correct uniform shoes
I went home each day
Alone to lie on my bed and
In a book I could go wherever I wanted—
Home to Chicago, to Grandma and Grandpa, or
Over the ocean or
Back in time and
Imagine myself there.
Sometimes I wrote my imaginings and
My feelings down
But I never showed anyone.
I was supposed to be happy to be in California
Where the sun shone every day
And it never snowed.
I wrote letters to my grandma
Who couldn’t read or write.
My grandpa wrote back,
Enclosing a $2 bill each time
So I knew he still went to the bookie joint.
Who was drinking Green Rivers with him now?
Who helped Grandma make kolachke,
Sticking little fingers into the dough to make
Dents for jelly?
Was Sparkle happy in her new home,
Or was she sad and bedraggled,
Her cocker ears hanging to the floor?
Did the neighborhood kids play
Red Light, Green Light without me?
Did they play Hide and Seek,
But never finding