San Francisco 1990: A Prose Poem

On the day I called my sister and she said her daughter’s baby died, just two days old, I held a bronze Buddha in my hands. Cast by monks in Thailand, the shopkeeper said, just $400. If you really like it, maybe I can do a little better. Around the corner an art dealer dimmed the lights so I could see shadows cross the world’s finest paper castings. The work is like a novel, he said, the more you read into it, the more you see. So I climbed Nob Hill to find a cold wind and lucid sky above the fog-carpet bay. I decided to err on the side of love, that day at least, giving something to every person who asked. How will it help you? I trusted every answer. On Powell Street a woman stuck in a psychotic stutter said for the thousandth time that day, looking at no one, I don’t care, I don’t want to hear it. In Union Square a skinhead and his girlfriend engaged the pigeons. She had bread crumbs. He had a stick. Hey, they don’t like my hair cut, he said as the birds rose as one flock, arced around the statue, landed again at their feet. She doled out crumbs. Watch this, he said, running into the flock, booting the slowest pigeon sideways so he could pound it to silence on the pavement. Hey, how’d you like someone to beat your head in with a stick? You’re small, kid, very small. Then why don’t you do something about it? he said. Only you could make yourself bigger. I guarantee you, his girlfriend shouted as I walked away, he’s done all the growing he’ll ever do!

About the image: Golden Gate Bridge in fog, San Francisco [Photo by M Skaffari/Flickr]

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