by Jerome Joseph Gentes
Santa Paula. Santa Ynez.
San Lucas. Soledad. Old towns
like antique rosary beads lie
strung, tucked into the fold and scarp
of California hill and valley.
Franciscans and the king’s soldiers
knew them as stations on the north-
south trail, El Camino Real.
They stopped to water horses,
fix wagonwheels, give thanks to God,
receive the Eucharist. At limit
on state highway my father cranks
his window, admits a quick rush
of cold and sound, spits, rewinds
the glass and settles back again.
Behind him I’m awake, one of eight
lives in the seats hung on his will
and stamina. Daylight’s edge whets
on the serrated line of ridge
and cloud to the east, while headlights
from semis beetle home like creatures
who need not daylight, but night
or night’s likeness. Ever more broad
and bright, the coming sunrise crests
the ridgeline, spilling down the slopes,
across farmed fields. Dad shifts his weight,
catches my eye in the rearview,
smiles. He knows in moving cars
I can’t sleep. In my mother’s purse
lies her own rosary. When she wakes
she’ll lead us through the beads in prayer
to Saint Christopher for our trip
to Disneyland. For now, she sleeps.
The others sleep. I count the miles,
watch the sun’s rise, and to myself
recite the names of towns we pass.
Asuncion. San Luis Obispo.
San Juan Bautísta, San Martín,
Santa Margarita. Amen.