Santa Ana

Mitchell Grabois


The Santa Ana winds shaped me
Their power sucked the cigarette from my fingers
and drove it deep into dry chaparral

The fire was preordained
I could have stayed in Hoboken N.J.
and the fire still would have blazed and spread

The law apprehended me
as if I were an outlaw
robbing banks
or trains

It was the wind that sucked
the cigarette from my fingers
It’s not like I tossed it
all cool and cavalier

The western winds overwhelmed me
blew my garage open
sucked my tuba into the road
dragged it down the pebbly pavement

Sparks flew from its brass
The wind drove the sparks deep
into the chaparral

This second fire was also preordained
My love of music
as my need for cigarettes
condemned me

I was a gentle
well-meaning boy
with hobbies that didn’t fit L.A.

My skullcap flew from my scalp
How did God expect a silk skullcap
to stay on when the
Santa Ana winds blew?

My grandfather’s fedora blew off his dead skull
His head was a block of grey clay
awaiting the pinch of my sculptor fingers
to create something new from
something old

The Santa Ana winds swept through the cemetery
I was the only one there
the only mourner

The world had been trying to kill him for decades
almost since he was born
and now they’d done it

The clay was too dried out to work with
My cigarette was gone
my beret a Frisbee
my tuba
a deformed sculpture
better than I could have made
with torch and intention

I ran down the boulevard trying
to catch up with it
but my tobacco lungs
couldn’t beat a tuba
in a foot race
a tuba that had played in marching bands
and New Orleans funeral processions
heavy going in
light coming out


At age twenty-seven
my grandmother reclined on a tree limb
holding the eternal flame
of youth
It glowed orange
in her hands

But then the wind blew her out of her tree
The eternal flame set the orchard afire
the apples and cherries hissed
and blew up

The wind blew carom boards
down Topanga
out to the ocean
They skimmed across the surface
on their way to radioactive Japan

I didn’t understand the meaning of youth
or age
All I understood was the wind

I knew the wind would blow away
everything of value or lacking value
It would all end up stuck
on the branches of some bush

I didn’t need to go to school
The wind was my teacher

The wind would get fiercer every year
All human life would disappear

The wind blew
like it never did in Patterson New Jersey
The wind blew out the windows of our home

My father, the engineer, sat at his desk while
the wind
sucked open all his drawers
scattered his business papers
Those papers were his life

The wind turned coffee beans
into bullets
Santa Ana stripped the tomatoes
the grapes from their vines
Italians and Jews cried together

Tumbleweeds became deadly weapons
practiced hit-and-run
and could never be identified

Hit-and-run tumbleweeds congregated at a local bar
next to the Veterans of Foreign Wars
along with plastic heads stolen from Jack-in-the-Box

In the future
recreational marijuana would be legal
in Colorado
but in the meantime
I was going to prison

My crime was
temporal and geographic
At least in prison
I would be safe

walled off from
the powerful
destructive wind