San Francisco Poet Laureate

Poem of the Day

San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck is curating a Poem of the Day with San Francisco Public Library for every day during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check back daily for a new poetic offering from assorted local poets or view the archive of previous day's poems.

5/25/2020

NO OBITS
by James Siegel

 

We tried not to get too excited about it too soon ... So we waited patiently, quietly, to see how many this week’s mail would bring. And then there were none ... – Bay Area Reporter, August 1998

Summer in San Francisco is never this warm, yet here we are. Ninety degrees in August. The hottest day of the year.

The flowers have dragged their blooms from the basement. The fog packed away for another day. And this season’s crop of young men have shed their clothes on the lawns of Dolores Park. Their pale, bony torsos have turned to copper. Turned to mercury.

They are becoming something more. And now we see that anything is possible.

Even today’s news is possible. The front page fluttering on a park bench—No obits—as though death has quit his job, taken a much deserved rest.

For years the names poured in. A deluge. The editor’s inbox flooded with crisp white envelopes, handwritten return addresses staring back like an epitaph. Piles of human history type-spaced on an ancient typewriter. A life folded neatly—a shroud—holding a photo, the face of someone now gone, journeying off to the dark mystery we all fear.

Now the bay breeze flips the front page to the classifieds, the arts section, an ad for the opera, the Tea Room Theater. And the past comes back as a whisper—we were a generation betrayed by government. The face of Regan. Betrayed by a silence that shouted:

There is nothing to see here. There is nothing that can be done.

Our families buried us before we could die. And the family we adopted lived as they stood dying, refusing the betrayal of our own bodies. An inside job. Our cells resisting the cocktail of pills. Thrush and sarcoma.

And still we sipped sidecars with the North Beach crowds— the beat boys at Vesuvio, the queens of Finnochio’s on Broadway— because this life was worth hanging on to. Our halos cabaret lights burning until burning out.

Next week, perhaps next month, when September rolls off the ocean, the season will cool. The chill of mortality settling in the air.

But today the city is a warm hand. A lost friend inviting us to stretch our limbs on the green grass. To feel the sun’s rays on our skin. One day this will blink out. Fade away. Die. But not yet.

Not today.

View James Siegel's work in the Library catalog.

"Poetry is one form of art that can provide catharsis, can diffuse our angers and can preserve our joys. San Francisco has a poetry community whose roots reach deep and whose branches lift up and out. Please take these poems as an offering from the poets to fortify, distract, heal or amuse. We are poets and we are part of this current struggle too. Over the weeks you will find poetry from many, by no means all, of the poetry community. We hope you come and take what you can from this collection of words,"

— Kim Shuck

Kim Shuck Named San Francisco's 7th Poet Laureate

Mayor Edwin M. Lee and City Librarian Luis Herrera announced that Kim Shuck has been named San Francisco’s Poet Laureate, the seventh artist in City history to hold the title. Shuck is a published author whose poetry focuses on her multiethnic background, which includes Polish and Cherokee heritage, and her experiences as a lifelong resident of San Francisco. “Kim’s stirring poetry celebrates the spirit of San Francisco and reflects the open and inclusive values of this city,” said Mayor Lee. “She embodies the legacy of our City’s bold and fearless storytellers, and as a fifth-generation resident she has a unique appreciation for what makes San Francisco special. We are honored to have her carry on the proud tradition of our poet laureates.”

Poet Laureate nominees must be San Francisco residents and have a substantial body of published work. Responsibilities of the Poet Laureate include delivering a public inaugural address to an audience at the San Francisco Public Library; participating in community-based poetry events that reflect the diversity of San Francisco; working on one or more poetry-centered events in cooperation with the Library, WritersCorps and Friends of the San Francisco Public Library; and leading a reading or poetry event at Litquake.

An announcement of the next Laureate will be made by the end of the year.

Questions? Contact SFPL Public Affairs at publicaffairs@sfpl.org