From “Three Hundred Streets of Venice California” by Tom Laichas


“Three Hundred Streets of Venice California”

by Tom Laichas

Vernon Av

In the street, behind a parked car, a white hen pecks at the gutter.

I look over a wall. There it is: a small chicken coop, its door unlatched.

I find the apartment and knock. A woman answers. Behind her, on the floor, a bare mattress. Two kids sleep there.

I tell the woman: One of your chickens is in the street. She thanks me. Together, we catch and recage the bird, latching the door shut.

It’s like this: I live here, so I think I know things.

Then I see them: chickens and children.

I don’t know anything.


Venice Marine Biological Station

Here in the early twentieth century, Dr. Albert Brennus Ulrey established the Venice Marine Biological Station. Dr. Ulrey studied the supralittoral, eulittoral, and sublittoral, also known as splash, intertidal, and neretic zones. For his aquaria, he gathered mollusks, hydroids, trematodes, bryzoans, echinoderms, and salps.

A mollusk is a shelled creature, a univalve or bivalve. A hydroid is a polyp. A trematode is a parasitic flatworm. Bryzoans are microscopic invertebrates. Representative echinoderms include starfish, sand dollars, and sea urchins, all characterized by radial symmetry. A salp is a tunicate, related to the sea squirt.

One day, the County infilled the marsh and dredged a Marina: Basin A for the mollusks, Basin B for the hydroids, Basin C for the trematodes.

This dredging went on for some years.

D for bryzoans and E for starfish. Basin F for the urchins. G for the sand dollars, H for the salps.

Gasoline and lubricants leak from four-stroke boat engines. At each meal, the creatures digest petroleum distillates. The invertebrates die one at a time and then all at once.

We’re running a fucking funeral home, says a biologist.

So the Marine Station packs the aquaria, archives the notebooks, drives to the Port of Los Angeles, buys tickets at Berth 95, and hops the ferry to Catalina.

All that’s left now is Donax gouldii, also known as the coquina or bean clam. Children press its polished shells into sandcastle walls. The calcium carbonate gleams in the sunlight, brighter than bone.

“mollusks, hydroids…”: United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Report on the Progress and Condition of the United States National Museum for the Year Ending June 30, 1921.


What Will You Do Without Us, Streets?

What will you do without us, streets, on the morning we neighbors pack our possessions and flee, the Pacific back-slapping our shadows as we stumble east?

What will you do when we give up your sea-slick sidewalks and slippery asphalt?

Our house numbers will vanish, our property lines buried in silt and raw salt.

To remain with you, we’d have to slit our own throats, and fish out our unused gills. Our fingers would melt into fins. Our legs would fuse into flukes.

That life without a hand or foot: it’s not for us.

As we leave you, we’ll shred the mortgages and rental agreements. No sense in these heirlooms. Once we go, we’re gone. We won’t tell the grandchildren we lived alongside you. What is there to say? We were here and then we weren’t. That’s no story they need to know.

Goodbye, streets. Like sideways sand crabs, we have a tidal surge to outrun. When we return, we will speak another language. Don’t expect us to remember you. We will forget it all.

You’ll forget too. You’ll drown, and then you’ll forget.


Tom Laichas’s recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spillway, Aji, La Piccioletta Barca, Evening Street Review, Monday Night, Ambit, and elsewhere. He is the author of the collection Empire of Eden (High Window Press, 2019) and the chapbook Sixty-Three Photographs at the End of a War (3.1 Press, 2021).

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