“It’s an odd thing but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco.”
Sundown sets the painted ladies dancing
on the eastern side of Alamo Square.
Clustered below Monterey cypresses
silhouettes watch dime-and-quarter fog
read bedtime stories to downtown suits.
I eat at the Absinthe bar in Hayes—
tomato bisque and a yellow Sauvignon.
The hipster barman shakes cocktails
like he’s summoning a djinn.
Like he’s wrestling the palsy.
At two a.m. I awake to a siren
and lie jet-lagged, cramping.
I recall years back in Manhattan
all-night sirens attention seeking
through the sodium limbo
and a high wall of windows
blinking on and off
—as if the whole building was trying its luck
in a giant game of tic-tac-toe.
I think about chance and odds.
San Francisco is quieter, calmer. Steadier.
At nineteen I wanted to move here,
play mandolin in the New Acoustic scene.
I bought Grisman LPs, a guide to the city,
studied bucket-shop flights in the Sunday papers.
Instead I stayed home, went to work,
married and made a family album.
And though I never doubted how right that was
being here at last eases an old pain.
I’m staying in a tall, bay-windowed Italianate
owned by a thin guy called Mike
—and Willy, his lilac poodle.
Mike has a harmonium and a baby grand.
They smile toothily at each other
across the Victorian drawing room
like the two gay lodgers who appear for breakfast
passing coffee back and forth across the table.
We chat about the downtown homeless and trams.
I sit on my trembling left hand.
The one which stumbles on frets where once it flew.
Insurance money in my jeans, I plan my last day in town.
Tomorrow I’ll drive south down Highway One,
find a seafront bar where a side road ends
and watch the sun drop like a slice of lemon
into the shivering gin of the Pacific.