Four Way of Looking at a Homeland

1.
Embarcadero backwards
lady firefighter in Victorian dress
bronze plaques trailing behind us

At the Ferry Building, I explode in hunger
sad-eyed, you explore on your own

On the terrace,
             a seagull as big as my head
begs, expectant
        then pigeons
                 a corbin I’ve never seen before
     (blue-black, but not a grackle)
puffs his feathers and collapses
making a noise that makes us laugh

2.
Muir Woods. Scottish father
Mother from the deep
In silence we repair, foot-sore,
the light that shines between us

In the mist all things are possible
trees mightier than the sword
walk far enough and you will find silence

3.
Road a sacred spiral
there the stand of eucalyptus
there the hills
there the fog
there the houses
there the ocean

4.
The elk, unexpected, in the hills of St. Helena
regard us without much interest

raptors on the wind above hills
tall as mountains
gentle as hips
wider than a mouth can contain

Three San Francisco Haiku: Phoenix Hotel in the Tenderloin

Three haiku at the Phoenix Hotel on the edge of the Tenderloin

san francisco streets
wrought iron gate, open sky
urban oasis

blue mosaic pool
low chairs arranged artfully
artwork, fountains, fire

outside, the homeless
squeal of buses, 6am
unmerited gifts

San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gates

Arrived after 1:00 am on Friday night (Saturday morning, I suppose) and stayed at the Mosser Hotel in downtown San Francisco. It’s located in SoMa (South of Market), an area where a lot of multimedia companies set up shop during the heady days of the 1990s dot-com boom.

I’ve come to realize something about Northern California. It’s a very unsettled place. It’s like the hills of San Francisco: sudden upturns and downturns. Nothing seems quite solid here. The excesses of the 1848 Gold Rush still echo in this place. Fortunes made and lost overnight, glittering towers built and then ruined when the earth turns over in her sleep.

It is my homeland; at some deep level, I will always be a California girl. Not the easygoing, bubble-headed beach bunny that most people think of when you say “California girl.” But a California girl nevertheless. The dry, brown hills that bloom emerald in the winter, the live oaks that dot the crevices of those hills, the eucalyptus that towers and sheds its minty bark, the fog that rolls in and out. My heart swells to think of these things. It feels right to me.

But I’ve come to realize I cannot live here. The sun is too hot. The asphalt stretches on for miles. All the evils of the big box sprawl seem that much more apparent to me. The pockets of old California, the marshes and the forested hills, they call to me, but in the same way that the Cape calls to me. I love the fantasy of living in these places, but if I moved to either place, I’d probably go mad.

I am an Easterner, a Yankee, with Yankee sensibilities. I love the crisp air of September, the golden light that fades against the tops of trees in October. I love the smell of apples and the calmer waters of the Atlantic. The sea belongs in the east, not the west.

Besides, I wasn’t born in San Francisco. I was born in the South Bay, in a valley ringed by mountains and filled with asphalt. Back when I was 12 years old, I came to stay with my grandparents for a month. And I hated it, the flatness of the land and the one-story houses, the claustrophobic privacy fences that portioned off one tiny yard from another. The miles and miles of streets and cars. The valley is one big suburb that stretches on for miles and miles, a wasteland of cars and strip malls. Not that we don’t have these things in the East, but they’re tucked away among hills and rivers and trees. I long for the wide vistas of California, but once I’m here I tire of them quickly.

This land is lovely but it is not, in the long run, home. It is the homeland. I visit the homeland. And then I return to my home, in the East.