One way or another, I am always leaving California,
even driving south down the I-5, even coming back
over the border from Mexico or Nevada or Oregon.
At border control, I say no apples, no fruit and California
ushers me in, my childhood state an envelope of blue sky
folding over. I spend the spring of the pandemic
with my parents in the house that raised me,
just outside San Francisco. Every evening,
I take the dog through the open spaces
tucked behind suburbia, riding my bike on deer trails,
grass hip-high. I’ve ridden these trails so often
the dirt remembers the shape of my tires like I remember
the way my brother walks, so that two years ago,
when illness leaned his face unrecognizable, I still knew him
across a crowded airport, just by the way he moved.
These California hills love flowers: the delicate orange cup of a poppy,
the thin reaching of yellow mustard flower, little purple blossoms
close to the ground. The dog runs beside me, breath fast
as my feet on the peddles, grass folding him in as he startles
a turkey into the neighbor’s plum tree. There is no purer blue
than what arcs over California, pouring between
the branches of oak trees, catching threads
on the barbed wire fences. Fishline-thin telephone wires
bend between hills round as sleeping hips and heads and shoulders,
ready to roll over into the California earthquake
we’re long overdue on. Cows cluster in oak-tree shadows,
stick-legged babies in the center. A breeze carries
the hay-heavy smell of horses. Once, my cousin lay in the backyard sun
so long a vulture started silent circling the blue above her,
singing hunger through the heat. So much in this life is singing,
air whistling past my ears as I pedal an incline,
hawks screaming overhead and cutting the horizon clean.
Wings are always circling in California, something always
cutting this sky. Grass bows under wind, bends
to the spring sky, and I sway with it, some part of me
always coming home to California.
By Emily L. Pate
Emily L. Pate is a writer, avid traveler, and collector/over-sharer of bizarre facts. Born and raised in California, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Her poetry and travel writing have appeared in Funicular Magazine, Willawaw Journal, and The Northwest Passage, and Blending Magazine. She can be found at emilylpate.com.