THE SEA HAWK AND THE NEEDLE FISH

for Bonnie Flach

 

We are digitally immortalised now

by chance – erstwhile strangers, flesh, fish and fowl.

My San Diego social media

poetry acquaintance – someone I am

never likely to meet in a city

I am unlikely ever to visit –

has taken and blogged a photo

of a sea hawk and a needle fish.

 

Against a clear, pale blue Pacific sky

the raptor, its wings splayed in lift,

clutches the fish, whose long, sharp jaw is agape,

blood oozed on its narrow flanks where talons

will now grip forever.

 

 

 

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JOHN’S GRILL

Out of the fretwork shadow of the Bay Bridge

dominating the office window,

away from Kaspar Gutman and Wilma Cook,

from Iva Archer and Ruth Wonderly,

away from the cable cars’ ratchet and clang,

the horns in the distant bay, out of the fog

and into the grilled meat fug of gossip,

Lucky Strikes and waiters’ bustling hustle,

Sam Spade orders chops, baked potato

and sliced tomatoes – in two dimensions,

always black and white, ten point or ten foot high,

celluloid or paper, like the city

always combustible!

 

 

 

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ORIENTATION

Walking by Washington Square, to catch

a cable car on the Powell-Mason line

to take us to our Geary Street hotel,

we paused to watch some Chinese elders

at Tai Chi on the lawns before the church –

their graceful and controlled aggression.

We passed a raised bed – the label told us –

of ‘Collinsia heterophylla

aka Purple Chinese Houses –

so-called because of the pagoda shape

of the blooms.’ In the middle of the bed,

crushing some of the flowers, was a pair

of well kept men’s black patent leather shoes,

walking, as it were, in the general

direction of Ghiradelli Square.

 

That evening, as we walked down Stockton Street

to Chinatown, we saw ahead a woman

standing in the centre of the sidewalk

seemingly looking across the street –

a Chinese woman in late middle age

wearing a cocktail dress in faded cream.

As we passed, she began, very loudly,

to sing: ‘I left my heart…’

 

 

 

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ALCATRAZ

While we were finishing last night’s pizza –

waiting on the quay for the tour to start –

a fog arrived from the Pacific.

We had left Fisherman’s Wharf in full sun –

the same sun that had peeled my forehead

drinking merlot al fresco at a wine bar

in Sausalito the day before.

I thought acerbically of the remark

Mark Twain, it is said, never made

about the coldest winter he had known

being a summer in San Francisco.

Whoever made it was Pulitzer Prize

material! Whenever, in the evenings,

we left our hotel on Geary Street

ocean winds would blow – in the mornings

the balmiest of breezes would soothe us!

 

The tour through the dank prison building,

with its stacked cells and warders’ walkways,

was of a place we had been many times –

with Edward G. Robinson, Burt Lancaster.

On still nights the lifers could hear music,

laughter from the Aquatic Park Bathhouse –

a cruel and unusual punishment.

This is the country of incarceration.

The Warden’s House and the Social Hall burnt down

as part of the Native American

occupation to reclaim promised lands.

 

On the return ferry brown pelicans

glided above us, like tawny galleons.

And I thought of the pretty black girl

dressed in a pristine white track suit night

after night, standing stock still, ignored

at one of the corners of Union Square.

 

 

 

 

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AT THE END OF THE PIER

Past Songs of Yesteryear, Mystic Morgana,

and other booths – purveying Flags of the World,

Country & Western Memorabilia,

Decorous South Sea Shells, Home Made Welsh Fudge;

past the sustainable hardwood benches

with withered in memoriam bouquets;

over the planking with its measured gaps

through which to view, like a bioscope,

the incoming tide shimmy then shake

the fronds of bronze weeds among the rocks,

slap, strike the elegant, cast iron stanchions;

next to where even the line fishermen

are starting to stow their gear, as an east wind

begins to blow, is the Mariner’s Lounge

with its faux fishing nets, its mounted

plastic cod, its framed chart of the North Wales coast.

 

Those Tinsel and Turkey pensioners

adventurous enough to leave their hotels –

crescented along the town’s North Shore –

are sipping, with the odd Walkers’ crisp,

a Rombout’s coffee, a Gallo chardonnay,

a Carling, a Guinness, and watching

Hollywood tv repeats in HD

as sudden rain squalls against the glass.

 

Oh, to be transported warmly, safely,

to Beverly Hills – via Mulholland Drive

and Santa Monica Boulevard –

where, to portentous chords, perfect mysteries

are perfectly solved by pensionable folk!

 

 

Note: The poem was first published on the site in 2016.

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