Hello to your new poet lariat

I don't know how it's possible, but somehow I'm the poet laureate of Modesto! I was appointed in July and read my first poem during a City Council meeting in September. Here it is: 

Prayer for You, On the Way to Wherever You’re Going

While you’re on your way to wherever you are going,

make time for interesting civic slogans,

kind tones of voice from your offspring,

and tender pork chops at dinner, as you wait

for those children to grow;


and on your way, don’t forget

to wave at the passing cars, the ’62 Rambler Ambassadors,

the ’57 Chevy Impalas—lowered or not—the ’49 Chevy pickup

with the two-tone paint job and its wine press in the wood-slat bed

on which you chipped your front tooth;


meanwhile, on your way to being an adult in Modesto,

don’t forget to stand at the side of the street

watching the veterans parade by,

the group ever-smaller year by passing year—

and to think about what that means;


and on the way to wherever your route ends, remember  

the urban forestry division and its cherry-pickers taking crews up high,

clearing out the mistletoe taking hold in your soul. It roots

 to your higher self, takes in your exhalations

and thrives.


And on the way to wherever you are going,

don’t forget to design the official flag of your being.

Do it with your own brand of thinking, all of the

small sadnesses mixed with triumph, your flag waving

in the same air that we breathe, here in Modesto—


And while you are on the way

to wherever you are going, bless each face you meet,

the creases at the bottom corners of both eyes; bless

the line of the lips where they meet. Curve your own mouth

into a shape, a symbol, the flag of this singular moment,


when you meet your neighbors at every corner—in the Virginia Corridor,

in Dry Creek; you are here in this moment, you fill it, are filled;

you are firmly twined around the tree trunk of time. And so,

on the way to wherever you are going, you find yourself

always arriving here, where you were, where you are.  


Note: I recall that when my family and I moved here from the Bay Area in the late 70s, Modesto’s slogan (perhaps a Chamber of Commerce-created slogan) seemed to be a phrase along the lines of Modesto: We’re on the Way to Wherever You’re Going. In this poem, I work with that slogan, which might be true only in my memory’s imagination. As an adult who has now lived in Modesto for the past 21 years after leaving for good back in my college days, I’m fascinated by the idea of a city—any city, really, but especially one’s hometown—as both a transitory and a permanent place, a place where one projects one’s own desires, regrets, and hopes.