The Origin of Certain Place Names

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[For Fresno named for the abundant ash trees lining the San Joaquin River]

I say Fresno,
and the city blows out
of my mouth as an exhale

I say Fresno and ask for her help
in writing this poem

And she answers me
when I give her time to speak
her voice is
chain link fence bouncing
cry of engine and helicopter
wind in a field of wheat
Three ash trees growing in a half circle
on the edge of the bank of the San Joaquin River
like three sisters
born in the valley

First Sister ~ Foothill Ash
Caroline paints the blackbirds that point to the sky
Caroline paints landscapes stolen from her dreams in the night
She says,
The highway that takes me out of the desert
has become like a wide winged bird
And I am scared of being anything but what I am
And the fields are forever
drinking water that sprays from sprinkler pumps
This valley, what does it really look like?
The hands of my mother as she combs through my black hair

Second Sister ~ California Ash
Gao turns the light on to finish her reading
Gao’s hands draw a song sparrow in between the lines she is reading
She thinks,
I’ve spent my life searching for a way to say your name
the intensity of fog in the winter
the grapevines in the early dark
distances shrouded in shapes so familiar they look like foothills smoking
The long legged man running past on my side
I look for him as I drive
I will eat the grapes
skins and all

Third Sister ~ Two Petal Ash
Omé taps her foot and presses record
Omé’s feet are clay-colored sparrows
their wings beat to the sound in their hearts
She says,
I am going to dance
I have fallen in love in an almond orchard
I am going to dance

Fresno
is three voices
and many
It is the kind of city that walks with you, takes a short ride to the store with you, stays later at your place than expected, dances with its slow poem arms at your house party, eats tacos al pastor in a booth with you, gets lost in a suburban neighborhood near Sunnyside with you, it may call you in the evening to tell you to walk outside and look at the moon – a moon that somehow seems like a Fresno moon, low hanging, orange in the trees, like a barn owl’s heart shaped face looking down from above.

The Origin of Certain Place Names, A poem by Marisol Baca


Photo used under CC.




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About Author

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Marisol Baca is the author of Tremor from Three Mile Harbor Press. In 2019, she was named Fresno Poet Laureate. She is the first woman and Chicana/Latinx poet to hold this appointment, and her poem, “The Origin of Certain Place Names: for Fresno” was designated Fresno city’s official poem. She has been published in SPF Lit, Casa Libre, Narrative Northeast, Riverlit, Shadowed: An Anthology of Women Writers, Acentos Review, among other publications. Marisol won the Andres Montoya poetry scholarship prize and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She received her Master of Fine Arts from Cornell University where she won the Robert Chasen poetry award for her poem, "Revelato." Currently, Marisol is an English professor at Fresno City College and she has established a community for women writers of color that seeks to support and uplift their writing endeavors.

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