Daniel Benyousky

On Townsend

 

On Townsend, up the palm
Lined drive, the trees a fleet of masts
Afloat in two unbroken
Formations, I return to my

First home, a place at sea in
My memory, yet moored in some far

Flung corner, another world,
Now thirty years gone, listening for the

Forgotten stories hid
Within its walls, hanging on
The thrum of each word and
Stacked stone, reciting what lines I know:

Its ordinary Spanish
Revival style, desiring
To turn back to the blue
Mediterranean, chatting

With ease in a casual
Vernacular architecture,
Its asymmetrical
Low pitched roof and its stucco walls

Absorbing the heat and life
Around it, like when I stepped
In a paint can despite
My mother’s warning, and the

Fierce torrents of shame that
Engulfed me when I was bathed by
My grandparents, aware
For the first time that I was naked.

Beneath these rounded red
Clay terracotta roof tiles sits
A small porch, buttressed by white
Wood beams above an iron fence

That harbors small white edged
Windows framing the world for
New generations. All else
Is veiled except through family myth:
The avocado tree
Out back, the Getzelman’s watching
The boys, my dad working
At Trader Joe’s on Colorado,

And baseball in Eagle
Rock, each like a breaker
That crashes on native sands.
Here the thin ribbon of road speaks of

The lives archived here, words
That surge and eddy and swell and
Leave the name Townsend on
My tongue along the palm lined drive.

 

City Walls

I.

Murals of milk and honey
And a paradise of palm trees,
Alms and prayers offered to the Virgin,
A miraculous vision of the

Mission, field enfolding farm,
Dinosaurs keeping time underfoot,
And a careworn trail bends to purple
Mountains in the looming distance:

Tranquil people working a tranquil land.
Dreams as these rise up and crumble and
Form again, as the walls narrate the
Avenues: the whole history of this

Town, kids leaning on a car in front
Of a clay roofed store, or eagle
Beaked culture and peace, hovering
Between erasure and preservation.

 

II.

I sit at a dive on York,
Thinking of the anger and fear
Of the last few years, talk of
Building walls rather than let
Standing stones speak for themselves,
Murmuring at the edges of
Our minds in this city of angels,
City of devils, trading
Grit for glam and back again.

A 1970 T120
Triumph Bonneville rides past,
Astral red and silver streaked,
Rolling on the throttle, the
Vertical twin rattling
Breast and tympanum, rumbling
Toward Avenue 51, the
Roads and alleyways scored by our
Reticulated desires,
Where young white men and women
Come to live in love and squalor,
Tattooed and itinerant,
Walking alongside Mexican-
Americans, rooted here for
Decades, the neighborhood dotted with
Vintage shops and Catholic churches and
Liquor stores and California
Bungalows, a litany
Repeated on Figueroa,
Where Tenochtitlan was rebuilt, a
Wall inhabited by Mary and
Chavez and Quetzalcoatl and
Flor y Canto, not a rigid
Border, but rather a threshold
Where art and life meet and contend
And refashion once again.

III.

In the still and quiet of the night,
Our dreams and tragedies eddying
Around us, fearing that hands might raise
What the heart hides from just to please the
Yelping dogs, as vacant likenesses
Stare back from impassive stone, or
Hoping to spot a sea of faces
Shining instead of self-satisfied
Sneers or endless mirrors of ourselves,
Choice yet remains on the avenues,
As the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Looks out, feet frozen midair,

Wounded and palms wide open over
The river rushing through the doorway,
Where three African women levitate,
One with a mask in hand, another
Her heart exposed, polychromatic
Livestock all around her,
The stroke and flick of water
Lapping on the shore, an
Embouchure to the sea beyond.

 

Among These Giants

The hidden river rushes through
The redwood forest, veiled, enfolded
In its own echo, babbling as if

A half-remembered beckon, always
Beyond the ambling path, remaining
Elusive like those moments

That have anchored root and limb,
Though only to fade and change and
Cascade, all in their due course.

Along the trail, the coastal redwoods
Above us, towering and ancient,
My mother recollects her days as

A camper at Mt. Hermon
When she was five-years old and
Escaping from her parents’ divorce

And the neuroses of a home,
Where she discovered peace
Amongst the old-growth grove, with

Her Aunt Eileen and Eileen Margaret,
Her cousin, carving out a respite
From sandstone, mist, and timber.

And after hiking down those
Pacific slopes, pine scent, warm sun,
And chilling shadows urging at

The edge of recognition,
We found the thin ribbon of river,
More modest than it sounded

Among these giants, mirroring
The mountain’s namesake, sacred
And occupied, a place between.

We crossed and became cultivated,
Like this forest by the ocean fog,
Awaiting bitter winter winds.

 

Becoming Benyovszky

Contented in the wandered world,
We trace Budapest’s crooked streets,
Its noble squalor mapping
Long dormant coordinates
On ventricle and cortex,
Its solemn revels and forlorn
Invasions pounded into
Its pavement, formed like carbon
Compressed by heat and pressure,
Until the ardent harden
With violence, or glisten like
The city’s wavering lights.
We walk up Buda’s hills, and down
Into Gellért’s warm, healing waters,
On past the calculated excess of
The Castle, to Mattias
Church, in whose dusky colors East
And West caress. On tired limbs
We cross the still blue Danube, the
Saint Margaret Bridge spanning
Both time and place, to Parliament,
Imperial and dignified,
Until we find what feels like home,
Erzsébetváros, District VII,
The Jewish Quarter, once a ghetto,
Reclaimed now like the ruin pubs
That dot its streets, dilapidated
And vast and optimistic.

Let us carouse awhile in
This city that unites our
Disparate being, coupling Buda
To Pest, East and West, and beauty
With grief, tested by despots,
Familiar with the rule of others,
With Mongols, lightning war, and
The Iron Curtain—a place
Yet occupied with excavation,
Unearthing a deposit
Of hope out of history.

Emerging like tattered pilgrims,
We turn and stop and stare at the
Road sign, as if some revelation
Will pour forth from the heavens.
Instead we find a point of contact
Between being and becoming,
Where inarticulate names are spoken:
When Sándor tells the story of Count
Benyovszky, adamant that he
Is known by all Hungarians,
And of the national temperament
Both exuberant and sorrowful,
Producing nods of recognition
Amongst us, forming conduits
Of knowing, intuited
And inherited, a remembrance
Of things past in a country of contrasts.

In a side chapel at St. Stephen’s,
The omphalos, the beating heart
Of Budapest, an African
Priest celebrates the drumming Mass
As tourists pack the wooden pews.
And here a christening occurs,
Where fact and story mingle,
And István’s right hand points a way.