El Porto, Twilight
by Jonathan Yungkans
Where the Pacific blends into a Spanish-Portuguese marketing conceit,
it mirrors my own lack of logic, a hemorrhage tarnishing quiet. The wind
smells of gore. The sea dusks. It stumbles cross currents, bleeding out
and collapsing. The unseen moon heaves it up. Call me Lazarus for all
the deadness I feel, watching the tide barely whisper and eavesdropping,
for all intent and purpose, wanting to feel part of a whole, of something
not alien. Instead, I stand out like bleached Cal-Spanish walls from sand.
The firmness underfoot of concrete has nothing of the shore’s plasticity,
no give and take—just the cold fact of property, hard cash of mortgages,
while I ply in and out, somewhere between love of the sea and drowning.
What was it about King Minos of Crete, the inventor Daedalus and beasts?
Minos had Daedalus design an open-air dance floor for Arachne. I keep
thinking of spider webs, when she proved a better seamstress than Athena.
and it’s never good to piss off the gods. Daedalus fabricated a wooden cow
for Arachne’s mom Pasiphae to clamber inside, let a white bull fuck her.
That make Daedalus a porn king, or was he just really good at sex toys?
Pasiphae gave birth to the minotaur. We know what happened from there—
the labyrinth, the wings, Icarus plummeting into the sea. Daedalus flew
to Sicily. Minos charged after him. The king of Sicily, all smiles to Minos,
talked him into a steam bath to unwind. The king’s daughters boiled him
lobster red and dead—a delicacy fit for cosa nostra, the Honored Society.
Why was that horse head in The Godfather? Offer you couldn’t refuse?
Coppola switched the fake head in rehearsals for a real one. Those screams
you hear on film are real. The camera was rolling. The scene was an offer
the actor couldn’t refuse. I first surmised the horses’ heads / Were heading
toward Eternity. Death stopped for Emily Dickinson, an offer she couldn’t
refuse as she watched black horse heads toss, their clouds of Apocalypse
breath. Bloodstained sheets on the stage bed, gore on the actor. Since then
—tis centuries—and yet / Feels shorter than the day film rolled, the offer
spread across a mattress, tongue lolling, eyes glazed, matted hair and mane.
How long since a swelling on the ground? The horse’s name—Khartoum.
When black tar balls littered sand, they seemed scabs, not congealed oil—
stigmata, not something from a Chevron tanker or a cross of petroleum
to drag onshore and bear. They glommed onto shoes and feet, a baptism
not of fire but internal combustion—of asphalt, rubber and drive, drive
until the wheels fall off your wallet. The El Segundo Edison plant rose
like a multi-funneled steamship, the Great Eastern. The ship’s five stacks
grew in my consciousness, a lost relation. I barely said a word, instead
paid attention to churning inside myself, mirrored in breaking whitecaps,
until I ran out of change or the sky darkened into resignation. The moon
showed itself jealous, pulled the waves back as it sent me on my way.
How a wrecking ball banged two years, every day like Beethoven’s Fifth,
before the door plied in and out. You could almost tell time by its swing.
Bobbies on bicycles, two by two / Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben.
My mom loved that song before her mind fell apart, clang clang clang,
like the church bell’s peal before the witches appear, Berlioz’s Fantastique,
and the Dies Irae rides in on a tuba, its player astride a skeleton horse
as it trots into a graveyard. A bell that was an iron plate, then another,
between sea and scrap yard. Me, feeling my way like water into myself,
pushing sand between rocks piled to keep something in place—the ocean?
the waterfront? The Edison plant stays beached. The tide barely whispers.
A slightly different version of this poem was previously published in the inaugural issue of Gleam: A Journal of the Cadralor (Fall 2020).
PHOTO: El Porto Beach, Southern California. El Porto is home to a private corporate electricity-producing facility for Edison that uses natural gas. (Photo by californiabeaches.com)
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: El Porto is a small beachfront community and surf spot in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County, California, located between Manhattan Beach and El Segundo. My parents cruised past it going to or from Los Angeles International Airport. Watching Vista Del Mar’s yellow street lamps through coastal fog from the back seat of their car became an indelible memory. So did the Edison power plant in El Segundo, at the northern end of El Porto, which towered over both beach and road and reminded me of the mammoth 19th century iron steamship, SS Great Eastern. Once I got my driver’s license, I spent many afternoons and early evenings at El Porto, watching the waves and honestly wondering what I’d eventually do with my life, and the place became a good location to time-out my brain from all the thoughts racing through it. I’d tried writing about El Porto, off and on, over 30 years. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the poetic form of the cadralor that I was able to get something fairly close to right.
PHOTO: El Porto Beach, Southern California. (Photo by californiabeaches.com.)
AUTHOR’S NOTES ABOUT THE FORM: The cadralor was conceived jointly by poets Christopher Cadre, Lori Howe and Scott Ferry in August 2020. Per the editor’s notes in Gleam: A Journal of the Cadralor, the form “consists of five short, unrelated, highly-visual stanzas. The fifth stanza acts as the crucible, illuminating the gleaming thread that runs through all the stanzas and bringing them together into a love poem. By ‘love poem,’ we mean that the fifth stanzic image answers the question: ‘For what do you yearn?’” Within these guidelines, the cadralor can be decidedly non-linear, since an overt narrative through-line is discouraged; each stanza, technically, is meant to stand as an independent poem. The form led me to what poets Charles Olson and Robert Duncan termed field construction, with associative and tangential connections given their due. The overall process guided me toward a literary form of progressive tonality between sections—the end of one stanza modulates into the beginning of the next. (Link to Gleam notes on the cadralor.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Yungkans is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who earned an MFA from California State University, Long Beach, while working as an in-home health-care provider. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and was published in February 2021 by Tebor Bach Publishing.