Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Days, weekends, an endless poem of our lives: Poetry was Swirling in San Francisco

Image may contain: Benjamin Heim Shepard and Jim Mitulski, people smiling, people sitting

After a pilgrimage to the poetry room at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers I had a great rendezvous with one of my favorite New York activist/writers Benjamin Heim Shepard at the same bar frequented by Kerouac, Ginsberg et. al. We remembered Our dear late friend Eric Rofes and talked about social justice and sexuality and writing and religion and care-taking and Eros in a time of plague. So many things to love about Benjamin- But I especially love his tireless work as a straight ally with people with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco during the hardest of the AIDS years. Perfect conversation for the eve of #WorldAIDSDay #loveisstronger
November 30 at 9:33 PMSan Francisco, CA
frequented by Kerouac, Ginsberg et. al. 
We remembered our dear late friend Eric Rofes and talked about
 social justice 
and sexuality and writing and 

Countless voices accompany me,
Walking the streets of San Francisco.
The writers and friends who are there, but no longer here.
Their voices.
The struggles.
The movements they helped create.
The practices which continue.
They are always with  me.
So are the conversations, so many in  movement.
I look out of the trees and the blue skies on the BART on the  way to the city.
Talking about trees and the fires with an elder woman.
I get off at the Civic Center and the smell of pot fills my lungs.
Homeless people are zipping about, some in wheelchairs,
Some walking.
Some not quite here, looking for a fix.
Allen is always the narrator.
But so are many others.
I walk down 9th Street.
A hotel on  one side of the street,  Ringold Alley on the other, the Stud on the corner.
A whole world took shape here.
Sex  magic and commerce,
Play and  ideas.
Footsteps of  Mark Thompson, author/editor of
Leather folk remind me.
Geoff Mains follows.

“Given involuntarily, and in an atmosphere of distrust, pain is torture…” Geoff reminds us. “But given consensually, between equals, pain can be a most incredible form of love.”

Tomorrow is World  AIDS Day.
This community disappeared after the AIDS crisis.
Sarah Schulman pens:
“World AIDS Day. What a towering, distorting, crushing, literally crazy experience of pain, effort, creation, wounding, holes in our worlds, immeasurable consequences on my generation and subsequently, and all the things AIDS has determined in our lives. ...”

Walking  back  to  Market,  I’m always reminded of  those days.
Its not quite the same.

Colors and murals fill the walls of Berwick Street.
A sex shop here.
A joint here, a vibrator there.

Relics remain.
There’s the crazy horse.
Not yet closed like the others.
Still smells like bad perfume.

Up Mason I walk, off Market, toward  North Beach.
Zigging  one way, then another, up up up,
never a straight line to North Beach.
It’s a long walk that way, notes a man I ask for directions.
“Greed lives  here,” declares graffiti. 
Back down
Past O’Ferrell
To Kearny, where Grant used to go to school.
Autist minds.
Neurodiversity rules. 
But what kinds  of dreams?

Jim Mitulski
is sitting at Vesuvio,
 across from City Lights reading.
The beat bookshop is always my first stop here.
He shows me a few books and poems.
“I went to Columbia because off Ginsberg and Kerouac,” he confesses.
“They sparked that rebellion.”
“My Dad came here after reading Howl.”
Beats and poems, AIDS, sex and social movements.
Its all here.
How did you find yourself in that space?
Between the Sacred and the Profane,
I walked these streets not knowing  what  to do after someone left.
“One thing that would happen to me after I watched someone die, I’d have to go have sex, just to get that stench of death off my body,” Jim confesses.
Me too.
A sweet smell of living  after  the demise. 
There’s always so much to think about here.
Its all  here in  the poetry room.
In the messages on the  streets.
“In the  company of best friends, there’s never  enough wine…”
reads the words in  the alley,  part of the pilgrimage.
Back down Market Street,  the  ghosts are still there.
Magic hour shining, sun setting, cabs honking.
Poems beaming from the sky.
“Happiness!  It is useless to see it elsewhere than in this warmth of humanity. Only a  comrad can grasp us by the hand… haul  us free,” writes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Dion meets me for dinner.
He’s been here for  decades.
It’s the new abnormal, he explains, reflecting  on  governor’s sentiments about the fire,
That spread encroaching across the  state.
In  fifty years,  there may  not be a California. 
We have to do a better  job.
We could try to stop it.
Need to
But is it in our nature to do such things?
Can we prevent harms
or just create more?
After the Russian  Revolution, exiled Lenin came back,
Ron ruminated the next morning, recalling his favorite prof
Marshall B.
In the The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,
Marx applauds the brutal repression after 1848.
The repression  tore off the veil of bourgeois democracy.
Its easy for him to say I replied.
Is that much pain really necessary wondered Marshall?
I’m not a revolutionary.
I know  where my head will end up.
On the chopping blocks.
It’s a beautiful world if you are not starving,
if you are not in a jail cell,
Preaches Lawrence F.
Why not more poetry?
The sky howls on Saturday.
Ano Nuevo calls us. 
Birds dance. 
A few words from the sky.
Waves sparkle.
All day we read poems.
Poems pour from the pages as we walk, 
Talking  on the  drift wood.
Looking  at the erosion on the  coast. 
Waves ebbing to  and  from. 
Low tides leaves the sea.
Dad  I read them for hours in a dingy hotel in Big Sur.
I can’t  remember  what.
But the feeling  remains.
I’m always looking for that old  poem. 
“All I wanna write  is poetry,” I tell James on Valencia  Street.
“Its still a majestic city.”
“Not as much as it was…”
“These are the good old  days…”
“You  are more optimistic than  you’ve been.”
“I know….”
The  trumpets begin.
Base follows. 
Jazz fills the room. 
A friend recalls her mom.
She would have loved this jazz.
Snapping her  fingers.
I’m trying to  learn to  write poems like you used to write.
How do I do it?
Just write ‘em.
Write the  sounds and the feelings.
The stories that are everywhere,
The poems bursting  from  the subways,
The stories about Franco and San  Francisco,
But without the punctuation  I can  never get right.
That’s right. 

The stories of our days and weeks, afternoons and mornings, one weekend at  a time.  

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