Ella Fitzgerald Sang “Summertime” While California Birds Issued Hazardous Substance Warnings by Lyndi Bell O’Laughlin

California birds were always chirping something in the background. One oleander leaf can kill you. So don’t eat it. Me and Bonnie, strumming guitars, trying to sing our teenage girl ways into the future. My voice quiet, not sure if everyone’s house held the same secrets, her voice wide as Ella’s, Your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’. Sometimes we aimed our horses at the very edge of clear trails and good sense, shooting past quick, then sliding at breakneck speed down The Big Hill path in a nimbostratus cloud of dust that could be seen from great distances, or at least by the mailman Mr. Morales, making his usual rounds through the Melody Lane Trailer Park, where silver spoons dangled from the wind chimes of they-almost-made-it.

We were ricocheting bullets tearing through the unsterile sinew of canyons, where flash floods could reorder a landscape in the eye blink of an indifferent father leaving the house for the last time, replaced by a Skippy jar holding food stamps. Powerful proclamations were made while stretched across the bare backs of fat horses standing in a dense shade, thrown mercifully over our heads by bemused branches of oak. A back hoof cocked, lazy tails swishing flies, two girl-women describing with fairy tale accuracy the painless birth of silent future babies. “I’m going to have two boys and two girls,” someone would say, and the other would say, “Girls first, so they can help take care of the boys,” and in that way, dozens of named unfortunates were brought into imaginary existence. We darted in and out of orchards. Tried to steal plums off orange trees. “Now what?” she said.

Drunk for the first time at the roller rink, Bonnie upchucked Annie Green Springs wine into my rabbit skin purse, that great holy order of secret containers. So much unfilled space. She was light as a field mouse, not near enough stomach capacity to hold all that strawberry expectation. Lucky the only things inoculated against the future were three dollar bills, and a tube of white lipstick. Such tiny wheels on our feet. But so many birds.

Lyndi Bell O’Laughlin lives in Wyoming. Her poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in numerous anthology’s and poetry journals including Troubadour (Picaroon Poetry Press, 2017,) Gyroscope Review, Unbroken Journal, The New Verse News, and Picaroon Poetry. Lyndi is a Pushcart Prize nominee.