Notes: San Francisco, Ruins (2018) — annotated

Sacred Space — Arrival

The wrinkled woman
resting in the doorway
hustles aside,
her bones twitching hard:

“I'm sorry, Sir,”
as I pull my bag into
the Inn on Folsom Street1.

⥨

Exposed brick walls try hard
in my suddenly empty room.
Industrial.  Rough-Masculine.
I don’t...feel anything.
I thought I’d feel something.

No ghosts. Nothing.

⥨

I know the old fairies flew south
years ago.  No place for the
Auden-faced.  And the demons?
Those super-charged leather
dangers stalking prey in red steam? 
Now they cam2 from rented rooms
in Sacramento and San Diego, 
their hunting names changed 
from Steve to Chase, TwinkChase3,
ever-so-sweet-and- 
special Chase.

I don't know what to pray for
or to, not in this abandoned church.

⥨

Walking While Thinking — SoMa4

What if the usurpers,
the influencers paying $1.9 million 
for a pissed piece of SoMa,

are just waiting for us

to die?

What if these squatters,
these supplanters,
are the Old City’s fevered urge,
lusting after land and
Better Homes-ness,
trading-in sweaty stories
for a kid in an UPPAbaby5,
the ultimate accessories? 

Makes sense as senses
now scent safety,
porning lean clean high-pitched
action-figures in Lower Castro6. 

Everyone’s lost their balls.

⥨

Pause — Phone Call Home

“Mike called,” says the man on the phone.
My boyfriend.
Back in LA.
“What’d he want?”
“Know where you were.”
“What’d you say?”
“Up in San Francisco. Probably getting disillusioned.”

That’s why we’re at 20 years. More or less.

⥨

Exhibit — Dolores Park7 Cafe. Conversation, overheard
while eating expensive steel-cut oatmeal.

“And so he's interested in you 
finding a tenant for your property.”

“Yeah, and we have so much
in common!” 

Outside, those who can only afford 
the sidewalk are no-shows to the 
convention of web-developers and 
Mommy-n-Me in Lululemon8.  

I’m a haunted old spirit:

“The best never survive.”

⥨

Walking Richmond9, after searching
GG Park10 for Signs of Life.

They all have money, or They have all the money.  
Houses high atop garage doors painted
in expected candy-shop pastels.
Millions couldn't buy in. But it's also an 
attitude; they fit. This kaleidoscopic 
nursery is their world.

I like the sidewalk now; it’s original,
the hard-marked past, bones of my city,
cast when these houses were just houses,
you could hear shouting because people
shouted back before dot.coms and Grindr11, 
when bandanas12 spoke not conclusively, 
you had to look a guy in the eyes
and the park was full of risk and joy. 

My world: on that older hill,
the one covered in open-faced beauty
and daring, weathered desire. 
Somewhere.
Or sometime?

⥨

Processing — SFO13

A cocoon of security.  We pay
to pretend.

You can’t pretend in 
bus stations.

But here, I wonder with
beating breathing heart:
What would I do
if I was asked for spare change
at the United ticket counter?
If I wanted a cigarette? 
If someone stood up and said
preferred pronouns are simply 
an expansion of binary imprisonment?

If an out-loud not-texted internet-free
political need happened?

Their aggrieved-teenager answer:
“Is it so wrong to live unencumbered? 
Does everything real 
have to be uncomfortable?”

It’s easy to get turned around
by children.

Now I miss their sandcastles,
the peaceful playset neighborhood.  
Nobody who doesn’t belong wanders by.
It’s nice.  Just like an airport.

It’s all that’s left.

⥨

Reflection — Flying, looking back

San Francisco: where dreams 
and memory
lay buried.

Only ruins survive;
fate has fashioned them weapons
hope can’t overcome:
marriage bourgeois magazines health 
money a future an attitude 
clean pecs
success.

But still... 

I look back as the plane banks
for SoCal, for LA and my 
old boyfriend who will greet me
outside third-world LAX14 and drive
the stained and broken 40515 home, 
where books and vacuuming
wait; and I see my once-home fading
into a sunsetted Ocean that touches
every time I’ve cared about, waiting,
just waiting, 
and I find myself praying:

Maybe you will be broken again,
so like me when you led 
my strange and halting body 
through cracked unwanted lovely 
streets to flowers and eucalyptus,
pro-offered grass in sheltered 
shadow and men became yours, 
cool-touching breeze, wounded 
naked-love in pine-fragranced 
gasping way-too-crowded dirty 
Heaven…

I miss you.

Shake off this juvenile dream.

Please, God, let us be in love again. 

Notes:

1 	past and (somewhat) current location 
        of San Francisco’s gay leather community
2 	interactive filming of oneself engaged in 
        sexual/intimate acts, either alone or with 
        others, for a live internet audience, in 
        exchange for money and/or tokens
3 	unblemished young adult male, typically 
        between the ages of 18-20, who utilizes his 
        perceived innocence or actual lack of 
        sexual experience in the pursuit of (generally) 
        older adult males/“daddies”
4 	South of Market; historically, the economically 
        disadvantaged/“seedy” section of San Francisco
5 	high-end baby stroller; average cost: $850
6 	once known as GayMecca, the center of San 
        Francisco’s Gay Liberation Movement of the 
        mid-1970s
7 	somewhat successful example of urban 
        revitalization/renewal; once known as DrugPatch 
        Park
8 	high-end workout wear favored by teen girls 
        and their mothers
9 	neighborhood/district in the northwest corner 
        of San Francisco, just north of Golden Gate Park
10    Golden Gate Park; known for its Victorian-styled 
        Conservatory of Flowers and lengthy wooded 
        trails;  iconic location for public sexual activity
11	dating application designed to identify and 
        communicate with potential gay male sex 
        partners; lists inclinations and availability, as 
        well as possible locations for sexual activity
        (host, travel, public, etc.)
12     heavy handkerchief positioned in the back 
         pocket of gay males to communicate sexual 
         inclination;  historically, the color and side of 
         placement indicated sexual appetite (eg:  
         hunter-green in right-hand pocket = looking 
         for a “daddy”).  No conclusive guide existed/
         exists for the placement/meaning of the bandana.
13     San Francisco International Airport
14     Los Angeles International Airport
15     also known as the San Diego Freeway;  largest 
         connector between the West Side of Los Angeles-
         proper and the populous San Fernando Valley

Just in case this wasn’t enough poetry for you, click here.

And yeah, there are books. (Click there, on “Books”)

Goals

When I am dead, growing in the
ground — assuming the world goes on,
assuming they don’t end the world
after I’m 80
(or, given my family history, 67) — 
I want to be:

a multiple-choice test option.

Think about it!  That’s the way
to make it.  That’s the way to
know you matter.  Who wouldn’t
want to be Archduke Ferdinand?
Sure, he’s dead, and sure,
his death was…painful.
But he is the answer to an
important question:  
“Whose assassination caused
the first World War?”
He is remembered!

The test question, then — that’s important,
isn’t it?  They say if you don’t ask the
right question, you won’t get the right
answer.  So:

“Who is the greatest poet of their age?”

That was easy!  It just came to me.
It’s the way I want to be remembered:
not a, but the poet —   
a poet who moved women to riot
and men to tears;
who showed desire is way
better than thought;
the one who gets quoted at weddings
and funerals, chiseled on tombstones,
printed on birth announcements.

The one who freed Literature
from the puzzle-makers and
the puzzlers.
Nobody’s done that yet.
Nobody!  I’ll be unique!

Okay.  Calm down. This is the way to go.
Take it slow.
(I feel so much better now,
knowing what I want.)

Next...the other test options are important,
aren’t they — 
almost more important than the question.
Who do I want surrounding me?  
Who will share my stage?
Another conundrum!  So let’s try:

A) Sappho
B) William Shakespeare
C) Walt Whitman
D) Greg Beckman

That was easy, too. I am good at this!
They’ll all select (D), of course —
but only after much deliberation.
I want them to think,
search their souls, argue.  
You can’t just give silly options,
answers easily dismissed
like Dylan Thomas or Mitsuhashi Takajo, 
whose haiku softly hold my
whispering heart home,
but who Americans confuse with a car;
or Thom Gunn, who taught me 
how to speak honesty
but is a cricket-chirp in Catholic schools
(that homosexual thing);
or Lorraine Hansberry — 
God!  Are they all gay? — 
the much-taught playwright, right,  
who didn’t write a stitch
of searing raw-nerve 
I-can’t-get-rid-of-this-thing poetry, right? 

No.  Those options are quickly 
crossed out.  I won’t be a default.
I want students to sit
at hard-carved desks
confounded among the known greats,
those who have risen,
acceptable contenders — 

and choose me.

Why? 
Because
everybody knows
history only enshrines the greats,
and that to be remembered — 
to be studied! — 
by legions of caring, sensitive schoolchildren
and objective, contemplative teachers of story

will delight my crusting corpse.

There are more poems. After this romp, I’d try something here.

Or maybe a story….here.

Two for fun.

“Shower”

I am a poet
which means I stand in the shower
and think the water is too hot
and shift the faucet-thing to the right
only to be blasted by cold
reality
into a sniveling shriveling carapace
shouting silent expletives that
crash cheap tile
with all the force
of metaphor.

“Preserved”

No
     sugar in the tea.
     It's today's enemy
     (like cigarettes and
     nostalgia and eggs).

So
     what?  Now I get to
     outlive joy?

More poems here. (Some are not fun, but maybe you’re in the mood?)

And yes, there are stories. But they are not fun. They are real.

Words, 1988

He’d be dead in three months.  Bob.  
The big guy came walking up the 
driveway, eyes fixed on the lawn.
Dad was watering.  Same jeans
he had in the 70s.  Same brown
flip-flops.  He didn’t stop moving the
hose back and forth.  I stood watching.

“Listen, we gotta talk.  Bury
this thing.”

It’s what everyone wanted.  The whole
block.  Just make up, some said.
He didn’t mean it, others said.  He said he was
sorry.  I just wanted them to be friends again.

But I knew my dad.

“Mom, you gotta talk to him.”
She pointed to the ring not on her
finger.  She shook her head.
She went back to her coffee.
She knew him too.

“Go home, Bob.” That’s all dad said.
Bob looked at me, then back at the 
lawn.  “I said I was...You know what?
Fuck it.”
He walked away.  Home.

Dad coiled up the hose.  “He
talks too much.”

When Bob was dead, his wife
waved me over, drunk on her porch.
“I’m sorry,” she slurred.  “Bob never
should’a said those things.”
She reached for my hand.  

“Honey, it was just a joke.” Her pinkie went up.
“Honey, he didn’t care about that stuff.”
She rubbed my hand.

I shifted away.  I left.  Dad was on the
porch, standing.  I went into the house.  
He followed.
“You want to go get some new
brake pads for your car?”  

More poetry. Always, more poetry here.

And stories, for people that want to lose themselves for a bit. Here.

Pizza Port, Morro Bay, California

It was quiet until it wasn’t.
But waiting for pizza is hard
on kids. I wasn’t surprised
when the little girl started to cry.
Her brothers drank their Cokes.

Mom looked at Dad.  It’s your turn,
her eyes said, twinkling. She
watched the game on the television.
Dad picked up the crying girl,
following the game until she sat on
his leg and leaned in:

“I miss Lolly” before resting on his
flanneled chest.  It looked soft.
His hand covered her back.  
He whispered:  “I miss her too.”
“Can I get a new one?”
He was all hers.
“We’ll see.”

Pizza came.  No grace but grace.
Mom wiping her boys’ mouths,
Dad pointing out uniform colors
on the TV, on his forearm one tattoo,
his smile large, kids fed,
old truck outside, no room but room,
family,

peace.

There are more poems here. And books here.

And then some stories here.

On the Phone, 1978

My grandma stood outside the door
to the garage.  The cord went through the
crack.  I wouldn’t hear what she was
saying. The drier spun to her voice.

“Get away from the door,” my grandpa said.
“I want to hear what grandma’s talking about.
I think it’s me.”

Grandpa’s eyes changed.  He took out a deck
of cards from the drawer.  “Wanna play 21?”
He set the cards on the kitchen table.

When she finally came in, I was concentrating
on my Ace.  One or eleven.  Her hands 
surprised me.  They were on my shoulders.

“Eleven. See?” She pointed to the eight. 

I looked back and up.  Her hair was lit from the 
ceiling.  She was my grandma.

I decided right then:
she was my grandma.

More poetry here.

Or maybe a story? Here.

Layover

Down from clouds
night-sky Atlanta/LAX
arriving not-home
beer for beer-bellies
tucked under flesh folds.
“Cleaning girl did a nice job.”
Two waters on counter
microwave popcorn.

Beasts circle fat and bald
thin black sock-hose in beige carpet
flight bags lean on table
beer cans crack.
Bald one experts TV
checks watch
enters Animal World.

“Text your daughter” says 
sweaty navigator leaning at table.
Bald now-greasy pilot nods 
drifts back to TV:  
what would win — alligator or lion?
“Alligator.”
Happy B-day text
phone slips inside couch
“Marjorie gonna bring chips?”

“Wishful thinking.”

Alligator kills lion
as sleepy-not sleepy drink
rolly fingers grip cans
no chips no attendant
no return-text.

(from I Can See You — A Collection of Neighbors)


Huh, pilots, right? Here’s some more people. Click here.

And then the STORIES! You gotta see these stories! Click here!

Oxnard Street Poet

Older than the sidewalk cracks and
street, settled on his flaking porch,
he remembered the Valley when it was trees.

“I’m ready to not be old,”
he said as I passed by.
His eyes were uncommonly blue,
for an old man.
He said: “They published my poem.”
I was on my way to school,
about to not stop.
“Once I get the book,
I’ll read it to you.”

*

The book cost $49.95.
He held up the flyer they sent.
But he was proud, 
so I said nothing.

*

“Hallo,” he’d say,
waving from his chair.
“Hello,” I’d say,
not wanting to be rude.
Lovely day,
awesome morning,
top of the world,
hello, hallo,
have a good day.

Joe was great-uncle wrinkled,
and I had class to get to,
I was a Senior.
But everyone should talk
to a grandpa sitting on a porch.

*

He asked if I wanted to read his poem.
The book was thick with cheap paper.
I was late but said yes
and the poem was about apples
and I didn’t have to make something up.
It was worth more than the book.

“Do you like it?” he asked.
“I want to read it to my English class.”
Joe gave me his book.
He said to be careful with it.
“I never got published before.”

*

We sat watching cars
speed down Oxnard Street,
heads moving left to right
then back again, ready.

*

Joe made coffee
and I listened to stories.
He voted for Roosevelt
and Nixon, twice —

“bet you no one’ll ever tell you that!” —

He didn’t like his grand-daughter.
He said I wouldn’t either.
“Uppity.  Ugliness is inner.”
He said if you wanted to get 
a pothole fixed in LA,
put a movie-camera next to it
and the mayor would come fill it himself.

He so near the end
talked to me so near the beginning,
said we were bookends on God’s shelf.
His hands trembled, so I carried the cups.
“That’s what age does,
shakes us loose
from the inside out.”

*

The Oxnard Street poet and
an uppity kid who learned to listen
to words warmed by coffee
and care
and age.

More poetry here.

Stories? Here.

FR-eee!

W-R-O-N-G
is a sound.
Go ahead and make it,
SoundMaker.
W-R -- do you feel the 
gravel in your chest?
Vibration?
O-N -- 
almost an OHMMMMM,
almost prayer,
right?

R-I-G-H-T
is a sound.
Go ahead and make it,
SoundMaker.
Different, eh?
Frequency rests
someplace else --
R-H-I, closer to 
my head.
Distant. BRI-ght.

Now say
P-O-O-P!
Or L-O-V-E.
OR...

SoundMaker,
SOUND!
Stop thinking
letters.
G-OH
into the FEE-lds
and FO-wrists
and BRIE-thhhh!
Sound FRE-eee to LoverSound.
I'll be waiting
to SOW-nd with you.

Want more words? Click here.

Mine

He’s a poster.
He posed for it,
flexed.
Baseball player
who’s won —
wife, kid, God, arms.

Good.
Yes.
I wish him well...

and then plod
up my empty street
soaked in past
and full of dark.
The house is on the right.
A light is on.
He waits for me.

Posters aren’t made of me.
My triceps don’t act like that.
Fans?  No.
My shy love
and this quiet plot,
beautiful,
mine and silent and 
home.

I’ll choose mine
every 
time.

More Poetry? Click here.

A story or five? Click here.