I Am San Francisco

Photo credit: Nouhailler http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick_nouhailler/9678498696 /CC BY-SA / digitally altered by Empty Mirror
Photo credit: Nouhailler / CC BY-SA / digitally altered by Empty Mirror


I have witnessed the waterfront decay
the ships disappear
the piers given over to tourists
and sunbathing sea lions

Gone the Haight Theater
in the old Haight Ashbury
where as a kid I paid a dime to see
two movies a serial and a newsreel

Gone the old Embassy Theater
on Market Street where
they spun the Wheel of Fortune
playing Ten-O-Win
with a busty female usherette shouting
“In the Balcony, 1-2-3-4 Silver Dollars”
her breasts bouncing in unison
with each coin that hit the tray

the old Fox and Paramount Theaters
now ghostly memories
the old Market Street porno house
boarded down
the Crystal Palace market
Mc Farland’s Fudge Shop
and Merrill’s Drug Store gone

Gone the old Hoffbrau house
on Market Street
Breen’s on Third Street
with the world’s best Martini

Gone I. Magnum’s Department Store
and the old City of Paris
where as a child I thrilled
at the sight of the giant Christmas tree
and who can forget The Emporium
its indoor ice-skating rink
and a Santa Claus workshop
the rooftop garden where
rides included a Ferris wheel
a small roller coaster
and a train for children to ride

Gone the North Beach Beat hangouts:
“The Place The Co-existence Bagel Shop
and the old Coffee Gallery where
Janice Joplin sang as an unknown
gone the old Barbary Coast where
as a teenager I tried to sneak into a bar
to catch a glimpse of a naked female dancer
long before Carol Doda
and topless and bottomless bars

gone the old Black Hawk where
I saw Miles Davis play
Lenny Bruce and the old Purple Onion
fading memories like
Play Land at the beach
and the old burlesque house
in the Mission
gone the way of trolley car tokens
Fleer’s Double Bubble Gum
and the Sutro baths

Third and Howard Street
the old skid row given a face-lift
the new skid row between
Sixth and Seventh Streets
home to drug dealers and alcoholics
an open festering wound
the city fathers ignore

Martini’s now an old people’s drink
Whiskey Sours just a memory
the Waterfront dives that served
Seamen and Long Shoremen replaced
by new movie complexes and parking lots

The Mission once home of the Irish
has gone Latino
North Beach is moving
from Italian to Asian

The Greeks long ago moved to Burlingame
and no one knows what happened
to the American Indian
and the bar they frequented
on Valencia Street
and yet the city remains a magical
living breathing theater
of eccentric characters
that go back to Emperor Norton

You can still get a reasonably priced drink
at the 3300 Club in the Mission
or if you can afford it
go to the Top of the Mark
for a $13 hot chocolate drink with
a shot of Stolly Vodka and Southern Comfort
and enjoy one of the most beautiful views
in the world
or on a hot summer afternoon enjoy
an ice cream at Mitchell’s on San Jose Avenue
where my father took the family
for an after-dinner treat

You can still sun yourself
at Washington Square Park
watch young lovers lying on the grass
old men feeding pigeons
or walk the streets of Noe Valley
once a blue-collar neighborhood
now a Yuppie paradise
see young mothers with kids in strollers
eye women joggers
admire a dog sitting outside
Martha’s Coffee Shop
faithfully waiting with pleading eyes
for table scraps from its owner

I’m a Giants baseball fan
and a lifetime 49ers football addict
my heart still bleeds over the loss
of Seal’s Stadium and the old time
San Francisco Seals

I am the possessor
of framed achievement awards
and a baseball trophy from Panama where
I played a decent outfield

I am the only word-slinger
in a working class family
I am a ghost lost
in poetry books struggling to find
the right words to a hit song
like my idol Hank Williams

I am at war with my shadow
who shamelessly stalks me
I survived my apartment fire
to reestablish family ties
long buried in quicksand

my niece my nephew my great nephews
and great niece share my blood
a mixture of white and Mexican roots

my father’s ghost walks my dreams
stares out the window of my soul
like he stared out the living room window
the year before his death
my mother sitting at the dinner table
serving meat loaf and mashed potatoes
the air heavy as an anchor dragging
the ocean floor

I am San Francisco.

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