William Reichard is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Sin Eater (Mid-List Press, 2010) and the editor of the anthology American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice (New Village Press, 2011). He lives in Saint Paul, MN.
A Trip Down Market Street
April 1906 / March 1987
The Miles Brothers mount a camera
to the front of a cable car. The water
on the street tells us this is spring.
Everyone wears a proper hat.
The newsboys are astounded by
the contraption. They run in circles
around the car as it turns at the end
of the line. The tarp flap that covers
the back of a horse-drawn wagon
lifts and a small boy looks directly
at the lens, then returns to his canvas
covered dark. In a few days, these buildings
will fall and burn. These people will be ghosts.
The first time I saw San Francisco, it was
already a city of spirits. 1987. The age of AIDS.
Men on the streets were thin, aged decades
in a month, had fierce eyes that burned.
I had never felt so frightened or free.
The streets pulsed with possibility.
None of my friends had yet died, and
all of us were dizzy after the long
Midwestern winters, the stifled lives,
the grim, Germanic façades. What could
any of us do but go wild? This was a city
that seemed to say yes to everything.
There was a wonderment of bodies
with flesh that had never known the cold.
Our hearts thawed. Everywhere, plants
bloomed in the sidewalk cracks.
Rich and Ruth had a lemon tree
in their garden and some days, it was enough
to sit under it, drink in the exquisite scent
of the blossoms. I wore the gentle fog
like a cape. I pulled it around me.
I turned like a dancer and watched it swirl
and grew drunk and dizzy on it.
I walked down Market Street, down Castro,
went to movies and bars and restaurants.
I had a sense this might never end
and that was beautiful enough for me.
The silent film shows a city in love
with itself. Women with wide brimmed hats,
plumes of feathers arising like smoke
into the cool morning air. Autos and wagons
and streetcars passing in a barely ordered
chaos. In between, people walking randomly
across or down the street. In the distance,
the terminal’s tower rising like a steeple
in front of the bay.