A New Year, San Francisco

You have been here before,
it’s never the same,
and you find your way
like a tree root in the city,
like a park bench,
by the houses stacked
with their secrets on the inside,
those beautiful gardens

where everything grows.
From a late-night diner
to the Starlight Lounge,
all your treasures are vintage
and new, and the city bids you
to build your own broth
and taste along the way,
share a sandwich in the grass,

shake hands with Duncan in the street
who cleans up the trash
four times a day,
on a mission from Market
to Mission, peer in the misty window
of Club Deluxe, find your place
at the Zam Zam, where there is still
a stool waiting, a secret door

and an invitation
to the underground,
honest like the bar goddess
who mixes elixers, nighttime fixers
along the street, for the outstretched
hand, and for the one
who has forgotten
to reach out his hand at all.

You cannot help but look inside
the dark doorways at night
when you take the alleys,
the cans and the needles
and the tiny flame, and the shame
for your own looking.
You have no answers,
but perhaps a new question

for the woman with a walker
who shows you to the top
of Venus, releases the steel genie
from her bottle between
the white marble towers
of Trinity Place, and the ferry lists,
starboard side, from lovers
and from friends, and from a smile so wide

she could swallow the city,
and you would gladly go
to taste her mushroom spoons
on the wooden pier by a thousand stairs,
through eucalyptus
to the home of a Japanese man
who doesn’t know he set
your course one hundred years ago,

between the hills and oysters
and the city parrots making love,
while you dance with strangers
and the ones you have always known,
as all the stories intertwine
above a dance floor. Beneath cork tops,
you rise and fall like bubbles,
like blue balloons,

and we are all the first-time driver,
fresh hands on the wheel,
stuck in Stonehenge in the park,
and every direction
is the right way to return
to the longest beach
where a year goes out like the tide,
so toast to one another,

to the ones we have lost
and to the lost ones,
to the sun that rises
each holy day
over all the shining people,
to the concrete and the resolutions,
and take this taxi to the sea
where the great gray wings

of sunset flap
through the last
orange of evening,
and one feathered lantern
leads your open eyes to the sky,
toward a moonlit ladder
that invites you, again,
to climb.

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City People

In the dark tube
of the trans-bay
underground,

black windows strobe
blank nothing
to the ear punching

screech of track
on metal. It has been
half a lifetime

since I breathed
with this city, and my eyes
linger long

on all the flashing
faces. I am startled
by the humanness

within these tattered
train cars,
and by the

unequivocal
force inside
the stranger’s smile,

like a private anthem
to all that is
beautiful.

Market Street Blues

The men, they tap
their feet so fast
like a battery of bullets
against the boards
against the pavement
so the people clap
and give their dollars
and sense
to the woman
with her too big sweater
and pajama pants
and the tan
of a thousand summers.
She comes so close
to join the dance
for a moment
before she remembers
about not belonging anywhere
and the child asks, Mommy
did she ever have a mother?

City. Night.

Electric nightlights
ripple concrete rainwater
and a man lies tight

to the wall,
all huddle and tatter
and ankle crossed

sneakers protruding
from shrouds.  Ride up
into nighttime lifetimes,

past yourself
walking arm and arm
beneath the wistful

magnolia. They say
the streets of San Francisco
hold more lives

because of these hills,
even your tonight
body conducted

along forgotten wires,
and though you cannot
see the black water

that surrounds you,
you recognize
the days washing out

under the red bridge,
each weary breath,
each eager step

as you climb
higher and higher
into the city night.