by Tony Robles
Dear San Francisco,
I have walked the length of your streets, have felt your fog breath in my face, have stood shoulder to shoulder on your buses with the generation that came before and the one before that. I have seen the poetry written in the walls and on the floors of those who gave the city life and nourishment.
I have seen you dance and I have seen your streets swallow whole the dreams born on the tongues of poets. I have sat in your churches with one eye open to see if it was true that ghosts float between the pews. I have sat in your schoolrooms where my real teachers were the faces and bodies and voices and landscape in murals that attached to my skin and moved my blood, taking me deeper into myself.
I have washed the dishes in the backroom while artists and businessmen and daughters and sons and visitors and transplants contemplated their plates, washing down fear and insecurity with the veneer of wine. I have seen the empty lots and empty houses come alive in the poetry of my uncles. I have heard the voices echo from the past, from the heart of the city in an empty can of beer.
In the blink of a heart I have seen the murals of our faces and bodies and minds – the landscape of our spirit – painted over in florescent hues. I have seen our buildings and bodies and dreams knocked down, crushed by the wrecking ball mind.
I have seen your children and elders vanish silently. I have seen the story in our skin fade, and I have seen the names of those children, who are now grown, names carved into their necks in cursive loops and circles and lines that travel to the pit of the heart. And I have seen the trees bear silent witness, recording everything in their leaves and in their skin.
I have seen the city’s heart in spring, in summer, fall and winter. I have felt every tongue lap into my ear the sweet and bitter curled notes of struggle and love and tragedy.
San Francisco, I have known your two-face, three-face, four-face – your many shades that blended into a gumbo stew of fire and tears that settle in the belly that doesn’t rest. I have heard your silence, loud silence that fills the ears and mind like the resting silence of a pawn shop asleep, encased in a glass tomb.
I have seen the trees pulled up by the roots and discarded like a Christmas tree on New Year’s. I have seen buildings stab the sky, stab into our eyes and blind us. I have heard the raven’s cry in the morning as the metal rails whip around our minds, grinding into the ground, disturbing the resting bones of abuelitas, abuelitos, grandmothers and fathers and the sacred indigenous dream paved over by a sunless sun.
San Francisco, your eyes are empty, your houses are empty, your canvas is bare of poems. Your mirrors and windows are missing reflection. Your flowers are drained of color.
Your eyes hold no murals, your skin is scrubbed raw. Your canvas contains no art. Your poems are eviction notices. Your skin is a thin postcard that reads non-deliverable. Your tongue is a torn bus transfer out of town.
I don’t know you anymore.