The flowers were waiting.
They had always been there, but
I was just late,
having neglected my parents’ resting place so long.
Others’ blooms, cut from surging stems
– dying in their own right –
had always played across those fields of memory,
colors to brighten the mood,
to contrast the sullen stones
of the cemetery.
Yet on those damp slopes of memorial flowers
I hadn’t laid a single petal.
Honor comes awkwardly from me.
I clipped the insulting years away
to reveal the granite text,
a brother’s enduring epitaph.
Rain pooled in the letters’ etched depth
and I left fretting
for the sun…
for California, for San Francisco,
for pastel streets west of Divisidero,
for a walk in the great park.
The gate – golden indeed – an entry to dreams
and like the that sodden cemetery,
a place of memories.
Eucalyptus, sequoia and rhododendron waited,
welcoming cover for vagrants and runners,
for tai chi troopers and qi gongers,
for bashful musicians,
for things still wild.
And for believers clinging through disdainful time
like the Farallon’s lonely horn,
through the fog of forgetfulness
to a fragile memory:
A summer of festivals and foolish children (some said)…
a season of love.
Not true love (some said),
merely fantasy conjured in youth, encouraged by circumstance
and nurtured within the park’s tarmac boundary.
But close enough
in that season of legends.
True enough to inspire hope,
fraternity against madness,
and courage to sling joy against a warring giant.
Magic enough to redirect our souls.
Fulton street buzzed ahead,
a new century’s traffic against the whispers
of ancient gatherings from the park.
I walked south along 44th avenue,
a few cautious steps through the rush
to the far curb, the sidewalk
marking the park’s northern perimeter.
from within the intrigue of its kaleidoscopic flora
and its darkest thickets
I thought I smelled incense
aloft on salty wisps from beyond the great highway.
Buoyancy sufficient to carry the holy scent
to uncork a froth of recollection.
They came back, as I had hoped,
and always hoped upon my return,
the foolish balloons, the prayer flags,
the sweet kiss of mysterious herbs,
the savage Mexican weed,
the ominous anticipation of insanity,
the consuming vibe of adventurous, simple music
and what passed for higher consciousness.
Lost out in the wheeling sky,
had sung young Crosby, accurately,
when silver sun
broke through secret stands
of Monterrey Cyprus.
How could I not recall?
How could one forget or ignore those feelings,
even if they were only the bliss of youth,
of a fortunate generation
in sync with technological and cultural novae.
A trick of the light?
A cosmic coincidence?
From our perspective the solar and lunar discs
appear of precise diameter
to create the appalling eclipse,
the glorious corona.
By dream, trick or irony
our three grandest spheres
have found a far-fetched relationship
grounded in the mightiest reality.
the ultimate trick of light
but don’t question such serendipity,
when irony appears to reign.
I faced the park,
its shadows lapping across Fulton’s sidewalk and my feet.
Could I disentangle the joy of days
once in the thrall of a happier order
from the ecstasy of being seventeen?
Or the aimless kid traveled from a cold, heartless state,
who once prowled these grounds
in blind wonder,
from the man who fathered
brilliant children – one, a woman now –
living in a sparkling studio
a block from the very heart of
The polo grounds were a short stroll ahead
along enchanting trails.
A shuffle through eucalyptus straw
beneath the horned owl’s invisible nest,
(I heard him last night,
A one-note dialog with the distant fog-horn)
past the buffalo paddock,
beyond the fly casting ponds
and up the azalea berm.
I stepped eagerly forward,
the ghosts would be waiting out on the ground’s green expanse.
A solitary step…then a rude stop.
Thoughts of lost youth dissolved,
displaced in an instant.
At my feet,
on the park’s very fringe
where timeless sands spill
from ice plant scrub onto Fulton’s southern sidewalk,
lay a coyote.
Recent accounts in the Examiner
told of these creatures’ tenacious cling
to survival, prospering in the park’s wild reaches.
I touched a cautious finger to the animal’s shoulder,
he was dead.
Still warm…still supple.
Coyote have adapted well to the city, I read,
to gentrification, to bitter coffee roasters,
to rent control and to Google busses.
This poor fellow had not…
I could relate.
I imagined the coyote
venturing from the park earlier that morning,
even as I ground beans for my daughter’s coffee.
He had replaced stealth for vulnerability
at the thought of a house cat
or domestic prey wandering unaware
as first light reflected
from bright stucco townhouses
along outer Richmond’s spotless avenues.
A stone’s throw from his sheltering park
the sly silver, grey and golden animal
under the wheels of an early commuter
racing to beat the rush
up on Persidio Boulevard.
Looking up at the waking city
no consolation seemed imminent.
No magic music would drift from the park
on this morning…no incense.
There would be no words
unless I spoke them,
and as I say, honor comes awkwardly from me.
I hoped such a splendid city could do something.
I could only mutter a halting prayer,
and vow to write these words for you
then leave the unfortunate critter
to Vector Control.
Fulton’s growing turbulence
fell behind as I shuffled into the
The great owl uttered his final call for the night,
the last word on the subject.
I tried to return to my hippie reverie,
along the stations of that
storied summer’s cross.
If I stepped lively, I would make it to the panhandle
and a cappuccino up on Haight street.
If I was lucky, echoes
of Cippolina’s quicksilver tremolo
might still ring
through the mystical park.
Soon enough, I would return to Oregon,
and practical matters…survival.
Coping with what seemed sometimes
a spiritless population,
I wondered often, was it just me?
Self-indulgence, of course,
but it wasn’t always apparent
that people still cared
Yet the cemetery’s were full of flowers,
that must count for something.
Such judgment would never be mine,
I hadn’t laid a single petal.
The rush of internal combustion
plagued the coastal atmosphere.
The traffic along 44th and Fulton
still consumed the roar of breakers
crashing beyond the Great Highway.
As I emerged from the park
I remembered the coyote
and, an insensitive fool, thought I would take its photo.
Incongruous coyote corpse
Found on bustling city sidewalk…
Journalistic instinct perhaps –
a scoop, a trophy, a curiosity –
but in the face of my vanity, the coyote was gone.
To my delight…my embarrassment,
it had been replaced
with a generous brimming bouquet.
Tiger lilies and brilliant tulips!
I looked to the west, down Fulton
to the sea…the sidewalk was vacant.
And to the east
as far as geography permitted,
no flower-bearing figure hurried into obscurity.
I put the camera away
and raised my face
to outer Richmond’s blinding turquoise,
lemon, salmon and lime stuccos.
There, alone on 44th and Fulton,
flowers at my feet,
the surging city smiled back
with bright pastel eyes…
a new season of love.
Don Anslow, 2/5/2015