The Blues In The Delta Breeze - Poem by Leo Briones
(Delta) water, mostly runoff from mountain snowpack, flows through a web of channels to mammoth pumps in the southern delta, sending billions of gallons of water to 25 million Californians.
Sacramento Bee 2009
On a clear day
in site of the Golden Gate,
twenty-five miles off the coast
of the Fabled City, separated
by the deep murky blue
and rolling foamy swells,
a small out-cropping of craggily isles
Drake’s Islands of St. James,
the mysterious Farallones.
off its rocky shores
and in its myrtle green lagoons,
Great White sharks gather
to feast on Stellar sea lions and Northern fur seals—
an annual ritual of want and blood.
It is said that when these Great Whites feed
they are roused to such a frenzy
that their bodies bounce like quicksilver from the sea,
in the same motion as that volcanic convulsion of hunger
rows of triangular razor teeth clutch their prey
and the ocean turns cinnabar red.
As they thrust from the sea;
their eyes roll into their sockets
to become two tiny beads of pure white.
There is an ole’ fisherman’s legend that swears,
that on the rare day that the sun shines
through the Pacific gloom
and reflects off those colorless beads,
that one can catch the very glare
of Lucifer as St. Michael cast him into the fiery pit.
Twenty miles behind the shore in the Fabled City—
high rises lift open palms to the Pacific Rim,
vomit and syringes swarm the Tenderloin,
proud descendants of the Romans and Celts
hide behind the picket fences of the Sunset,
leather boys strut the Castro humming freedom,
tourist cross the Golden Gate in search of the western-most dream.
But it has not always been like this
10,000 years ago before the earth last melted,
the Farallones formed the cold coastline of the Pacific
and the Fabled City was but a depression of sand and grass.
Nearly all year long powerful gusts swept sand—
from the sea to the valleys—as miles and miles
of frigid dunes formed far, far inland.
the sun warmed to an epoch
of eternal Spring on California’s north coast.
As the ice melted, the Farallones drifted into a rocky mystery,
the Fabled City became the thumb of the Pacific
and furious salt water chiseled the San Francisco Bay.
the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers
roared and merged to form the great Sacramento Delta.
Meandering waterways of slough and marsh,
of sandhill cranes, waterfowl, and raptor.
For thousands of years,
in this resplendent kingdom
of the natural world— bear and elk, deer and beaver,
fox and possum wandered the Tully fog and peat mashes
in search of Salmon and the tender spouts of Spring.
first Miwok and Yokut
then, it is said, ancient Chinese wanders.
Land for man they lived like a melody,
unbroken chain of life—
until the settlers arrived; manifest and heartened
leather Forty-Niner and denim farmer.
Slowly they drained the peat marshes
to form islands named after themselves—
Sherman and Brannon, Bethel and Woodward—
then erected levees to make strict waterways.
Soon the grizzly bear and mule deer
retreated to the Sierra Nevada,
the land was plowed and tilled and sowed
to became bread mother of the earth;
rice and alfalfa, walnut and pear.
All along in this Golden State
of innovators and speculators,
of growers and growth merchants—
cities grew and suburbs sprawled.
To fulfill this want of prosperity
and enchase and clutch delta streams
modern wonders of the world were built—
Great dams named Oroville and Shasta,
massive steel pumps that sucked water
to the fields of the mighty San Joaquin Valley
and south to the Shadow Motherland of fortune and modernity—
bear and deer retreated further and further
to the valleys and peaks of the snowy Sierras.
Along the narrow winding roads
that circle and twist the delta like a tangle of wire
some the world greatest engineers travel in big tour buses.
With a black microphone in hand
they obscure into talk of turbidity and salinization,
explain to jittery farmers and impatient developers
that the piper is calling his golden children home
and the tiny endangered Delta Smelt, no bigger
than the palm of your hand is the great narrator of this tale.
In a junction
between north and south the tourist bus stops.
The travelers walk into an open field
where Bovine cattle graze and a slow delta breeze
keeps the morning chill in the air.
This small herd of humanity
moves toward a wood and barb wire fence.
A woman complains that she should
have worn pants, as she is cold in her pinned stripped skirt.
Another man looking awkward in a fleece pullover,
denim jeans, and cowboy boots leans on the fence.
He asks, “The land looks odd. Sort of like rolling…”
The engineer like a smug professor
interrupts the man in mid-sentence,
“…like sandy dunes. Yes, that exactly what they are.
you see 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age
when the Farallon Islands were actually the shoreline
of the Pacific and San Francisco was a valley…
sand blew across the delta and formed….”
He goes on and on.
But soon the travelers are not listening.
Another cold Delta breeze gusts through them
and brings a still silence and then a voice on the air,
as if to say Great White or sandy dune,
I was here before you walked two-legged and erect.
I will be here long after you cease.
There is a great white dome that hovers
over the southern entry of California’s Capitol.
On the walls of the staircases portraits
of California Governors: Pioneers and 49ers,
screen actors, reformers and statesmen,
forward thinkers and forgers of movements. Peter Hardeman Burnett,
Pat and Jerry Brown, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Hiram Johnson and Earl Warren.
What has been chiseled in their homage
and what shall said of future generations of the powerful—
rides like an primeval reminder on the coastal tides
and Sierra watersheds that ebb and flow
on the great fanning Sacramento Delta:
Aquarius bearing water to quench a thirst—
both ancient and modern.
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