The Outdoor Poet: Stephen Kessler

Mission Street

The original mission was to convert the locals, and this road ran down to the plaza where the church was built and the white-collar workers leaned on the heathens in hopes of saving their souls. Now it is also known as Highway One and its couple of commercial miles are lined with offices and shops and taquerías and fast-food franchises, pharmacies and strip malls and a monstrous Safeway, liquor stores, surf shops and Laundromats, a medical clinic, a psychic, schools and pizza places. Pedestrians take their chances even in the crosswalks marked by blinking lights, and bicyclists take their lives on wheels and sometimes lose them and are temporarily commemorated with a few bouquets, and drivers at certain times of day or on those weekends when the tourists are running must have patience with the traffic jams, which keep them backed up past the gas stations listening to talk shows or personal music programmed into their heads to muffle the sirens screaming past toward some accident or dope smugglers or poachers up the coast. And even through the haze of carbon particles spewed from tailpipes the ocean can be smelled in the steady breeze and the smell of fried food whips past in the wake of a passing truck whose diesel fumes are Proustian in their evocation of foreign cities where that smell was everywhere and you were young and even sewage spelled adventure by association. Now you cross that street or drive it nearly every day, it is the artery in or out of town, the address of restaurants to which you like to walk, the location of that café or tasting room where you pick up a loaf of bread sometimes or sip some wine because they are close to home. But even on days you don’t, you’re glad they are there because they civilize the neighborhood. The power lines are buried so the birds have no place to hang, and the trees are small, and the pedestrians few and mostly homeless, and your mission is to record what you can as the cars roll past.

About The Author Stephen Kessler is the author of Scratch Pegasus (poems), Poems of Consummation by Vicente Aleixandre (translation), The Tolstoy of the Zulus: On Culture, Arts & Letters (essays), and other books of poetry, prose and translation. He is the editor of The Sonnets by Jorge Luis Borges and of the quarterly literary newspaper The Redwood Coast Review. Visit

Photo by Dina Scoppettone

The Outdoor Poet is edited by Robert Sward, author of numerous books of poetry including, most recently, New and Selected Poems: 1957-2011 (Red Hen Press). He lives on the Westside with his wife, the artist Gloria Alford, and a poodle mix named Cosette. Participation in The Outdoor Poet is by invitation.

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