El Monte, California

Northridge Review, Vol. 3.2 (1985)

Wes Hempel

At the Pentecostal church on Arden Drive
my father moves through the sanctuary
quietly arranging chairs while I lean
on the green sill in the Sunday school room
gaze across irises and tall grass
to the parking lot of the Ball Canning Factory
that mass of corrugated building
I always thought was abandoned

That morning in our kitchen a milk bottle
slipped from my mother's grasp
and shattered on her foot
a bright flood opened from her instep
My father carried her to the bathroom
cleaned and wrapped the cut

I am talking about my father
the woman in his arms
and twenty years in El Monte

Sometimes I think I could get in my car
and go back to that town
to the church my grandfather built
our house on Allgeyer
the alley behind the dairy
where my brother and I played ball
before he went away

I could drive across the railroad tracks
by the Coffee Shop on Tyler
next to Five Points Bowl
the back-to-back phone booths
in front of Arrow Auto Sales

where a girl in a white dress walks
after class with her hand in mine
When it begins to rain we dash
into the booths, call each other up
pretend we're secret lovers

I could follow the concrete curve of the wash
north of the Palm View Trailer Court
those sloping vacant fields
where I walked alone the morning after graduation
and found an abandoned desk on its back
all the empty drawers stuck out
among weeds and grass into the sky

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