Poem of the Day - Archive - September 2020


by John Curl


Don't take your chains so personally; keep
them in perspective: human life will
someday cease, even life itself, all energy
slowing into nowhere nowhen, the universe
like a giant eye closing shut, & even then,
what dreams the universe might then dream!
Still now IS & is HERE & that is all
you & I will ever see, no matter
how many different realities
we may have seen or may see.
And NOW / HERE you & I are chained,
some to the oars & some in the hold of
a slave galley. And petty-master swaggers
down the row & flicks his whip & mutters
about how lucky we are to be free to
choose between the guard-stalked ship &
the shark-prowled sea, as we patrol the oceans
of the world in search of booty, plundering all
we meet & murdering all who would resist.
And each morning the captain appears
on the bridge in his pin-striped suit & salutes
as the guard raises the colors: the bugler blows
of stripes & stars, but we fly the jolly roger.
And you & I, poor slaves in the scheme of all
that exists, what can we do but salute when
we're told, pull our oars, remember, be,
& persist until the world somehow works
through this pain to some better eventually?
But deep down we all know
we'll never reach shore
until we mutiny.


View John Curl's work in the Library catalog


Wonder Is
by Nina Youkelson


Wonder is that survivors of WWII
Came to NYC with their children
And enrolled them
In public school.

Wonderis I was inn 7th grade in 1947
And in my class were kids from
France, Greece and other
European Countries.

Wonder is that I learned that all
These children could ride bicycles
And were amazed that I had
Never been on one.

Wonder is that a new friend, Simone,
From France, told me that if I
Learned we could go bike riding
Together after school in Central Park.

Wonder is I discovered a small, seedy,
Oil-smelling bike store
In my neighborhood from which
I could rend a bike for 40 cents an hour!

Wonder is my mother actually gave me
Many 40 cents-es to spend on this
Venture- even though she and my
Father had never ridden a bike in their

Wonder is I would walk the rented bike
3 long blocks to Riverside Drive
Where I could safely practice getting
On the bike and falling off

Over and over again
Until I had to walk
The bike back
(uphill now.)

Wonder is I persisted in this shameful
Display of ineptitude for a long time
Getting on-
Falling over.

I was amazed at my determination
To learn this skill which I knew
Every kid in the world could do
Except me.

Wonder is one day
I got on and didn’t
Fall over!
I had found my center.

Could balance
And after wobbling for a while,
Quickly mastered the rudiments
Of riding a bike!

Wonder is Simone and I thereafter
Went bike riding in Central Park
Several times a week after school
And it was sensational!


Tectonic Stresses
by Katherine Blickensderfer


Both standing here
after eons of evolution
one genera one species
what’s the rift?

Both embracing a linnea
of crimes. i’m leaving
our old stone axe
in the serpent’s tail.
Preferring to stand
on the egg in its mouth.

Cry, cry a timeless river
as my skin bleaches
ever lighter from dark.

A tear for my great aunt's mother
witnessing slaughter of
two sisters, two brothers,
a hired hand, her father.
Mother burned alive,
herself sold.

A tear for your enraged ancestors
for theft of land. The drawing
of wire-like fault-lines dividing
earth and soul

   never a compromise kept

   ——. BETWEEN ——

        the native breeze
    a being a part of a whole

           —— AND ——

Those enslaved in god's ministry,
      tilling to extract evermore
        Wealth, Rank, Prestige

Elastic under pressure
the core softens and bends
seeking release: rupture


A Concrete Stairwell to the Sky
by Jeneé Darden


I am at the intersection of
The St. Regis Hotel and Bayview-Hunters Point
An elder approaches me
Tells me a story about this corner
How it looked back in his day
 The lines on his hands
Are a map
To where he has gone, all he has seen
Now he wants to show me the way
Jagged finger nails and dry cuticle beds
Are stories on their own
He says we’re at the corner of the past and present
On the corner of wealth and poverty
I ask
What kind of poor? What kind of rich?
Who poor? Who rich?
I can tell he’s not just talking about money
He points up to the cranes
Taking up the sky
Pushing out the birds
The glass ceiling is getting higher
No quick elevator ride to the top
He says it’s a long stairwell
The one you enter through a heavy door
And when it slams
It echoes all the way to the top
But the people inside the building
Who ride the elevators
Don’t hear it
He says be careful at every step


View Jeneé Darden's work in the Library catalog


by Michael Koch


The trek from callow youth who knew little
to old man who knows less was arduous
but not without its sublime buffoonery and confusion.
I mixed a few metaphors, participated in my era's
epistemological crisis & danced some polyrhythms
to a dead heat.
I often went too far or pulled up short.
I cried "wolf" when I should have cried "fire."
I pigeon-holed the parrots but let the ravens
run free.
I was a tongue-tied polyglot, a hapless grammarian
skulking in back streets for the golden word.
As for the moon, I inhaled its dark fragrance.
As for the stars, I let them sweat.


View Michael Koch's work in the Library catalog


And you blame us.
by Celeste Chan


        We, who cover our hands with plastic bags, who rummage your trash and collect your cans, who weep as chase us with brooms and film it for CNN. We sneeze into sleeves and shed DNA, press our mouths to white masks. We, with no sick days, change your sheets and wipe your asses. Dare to cough, we shake your machines, run, rasp-lunged, fling our sweat across your airports. We bloom, gnarled, purpled bodies under hospital gowns. We fry your fish, line our lips, swish in our leather chaps. We scrub your porcelain bowls; we glide like astronauts, pick up plates and pills, wait for you to hose us down.
        But you call us foreign and filthy, diseased, Chinese, the masked and limp-wristed, you call us yellow and ghosted, you call us the virus. You shout #Chinavirus, scream unmasked, beat that flag and bloody our bodies as you rally. You sneeze, spray us with Febreeze, hit us with keys, hand sanitizer, fists, the spittle flying from your lips, virus, you call us, virus, you cough it, virus, you create it, a mess of droplets suspended mid-air.


View Celeste Chan's work in the Library catalog


Test Results
by Pauline C Scott 2/21/20


I am a tested and accredited
non-hearer of grandchildren
whose small high voices
have scant articulation.
I have joined and become
my bewildered parents who struggled
to make sense of our two fast-talking
preteens with garbled American accents.
I have gained entry into the world
of straining to hear hard questions
cupping my ears to catch
the flighty nuances of speech.
I have officially become eligible
for Very Expensive Hearing Aids
and am in line for a Consultation
at my earliest convenience.
I am a fully-fledged Granny Goose
with failing auditory organs
now legally disinclined to hear
my dear husband, as needed.



The Humming Birds
-from Bird Poems from the Gill Ranch
by Jerry Ferraz


The little masters of gravity
The little winged iridescent jewels
Were coming by twos and threes
To the feeder
Until a storm came
And blew the contraption away
I didn’t replace it
Right away
Cause I figured
They do fine any way
And they’re always flitting
And darting
And whizzing around after each other
In front of the house
As it is
But I have to ask myself where I fit in
I like Humming Birds
But then you don’t want to mess
With natures own economy
I mean you wouldn’t want to upset the delicate balance!
On the other hand
We’re here for a reason too
Maybe I’ll get another feeder
Might as well make myself useful
After all it’s me
That lives in the zoo
From the grace of crows



Poverty Tax
by Kelliane Parker-2019


The hand that holds you down
Sits on you
Looks down on you
Never fails to keep its hand out for more
The long lines, extra fees
The long commute
The multiple jobs
The so called American Dream
Was built on the backs of the poor

Save your way out of poverty
Hard to do when the only thing left to cut
Are RX and groceries
You see the lie tells us
That a perfect credit score is virtuous
That poverty is cause by mismanaged money
But mostly of laziness
But those without safety nets
Can tell you just how hard the ground is
Every time they have hit it
And got up the next morning
To again launch from wrung to wrung

But hear this

The cause of poverty is greed
Yes, the cause of poverty is greed
The romanticism of this country
Built on cattle, chattel and cash
And works like this
Those on top are standing on the backs of others
The worship of money, of things
The worship of the zero sum game
Where I can’t win unless you lose
This is the ultimate lie of so called success
Every farm in this country, was an entire village
Of people who had been here 15,000 years
Every cattle ranch, the land of entire tribes
While the capitalist monoculture of GMOs
Eradicates indigenous food as weeds

So, I’ll take subsistence over moral poverty
Still give the last dollar I have
While the comfortable class worry about capital gains
I’ll be fine with bridge toll and gas
I’ll be fine with art and poetry
I’ll be fine foraging and growing
My worth cannot be measured in gold


For all the Indians and Indigenous peoples who are told they aren’t NDN or Indigenous...
by - Andrew Jolivétte Louisiana Creole of Ishak, French, West African, Spanish, Italian and Irish descent 8/6/2020


“What does it mean when blood doesn’t remember?”

What does it mean when your CDIB card trumps cultural practice, kinship, and blood memory?

Where do the waters bend at the site of bound peoples and removed names and bodies?

When no one knows you but you pull out your card...does your grandmother care about a card if you can’t even stitch?

Stitch the stories of your memory and kinship
Stitch the broken bones of red and black and white bodies
Stitch the patterns of on-going thrivance and ceremony

What does it mean when blood doesn’t remember that we are more than a colonial story, a trauma, a disease?

What does it mean when white passing academics with and without “cards” stand at violent gates?

They becoming the masters....the self selected arbiters

How colonial of you to tell me or them who we are?

Have you looked in your own oppressor mirror?

Does what reflects back terrify you so horribly that you seek only to destroy?

To dismember?

They will come for you
They will come for us
They will erase themselves in their own violence

In fears of their own inadequacies

Who chooses?
What words, events, histories are enough?

Is the oral tradition of my making not as true or as red as your card?

And what of your card when they terminate?
Do your people even know you?
Do you exist without it?

Is it only ancestors names that get you remembered?

Who knows your name in your “community”?

What blasphemy exists when your mission becomes erasure and destruction of community in the name of “real Indians”?

But who told you that YOU get to decide the shit?

Anti-Blackness and even Anti-Indianness in the guise of theory but where is the practice?

Let’s make a new space and center whiteness and then turn on one another along the way to the darkness

We the dark ones and yes some of the light ones become the targets of your crusade...of your violence of your own insecurity

What does it mean when blood doesn’t remember blood? When Indigenous becomes a method of exclusion and fatal citizenship?

My name is my name
My heartbeat is my heartbeat
My kin are my kin

And yet here I walk
The next conference
A sea of white faces

Just another colonial, exclusionary association...a conference without kinship

White faces calling out other white faces in a space no blood recognizes

You have no right
You only decide your own path

Not his
Not hers
Not theirs

Blood of my blood
Ancestor of my ancestor
I carry to fire each and every one of you

Leaving no blood memory behind
I call out to you
Not in theory
Not in books
Not conferences

But here on bayou waters and red dirt
This Black-Indian discourse is more than a trend, a moment

It’s a history
A kinship maze
A knot, a root never broken

Those who use paper
Wear masks themselves
Masks of colonizers and terrorists

Rob us no more

We are blood memory

Floating and rising
Floating and rising
Floating and rising

Rising to the top of water ways and ceremonies

Where we dance
Where we sing
Where we remember

I’ll take the water over your paper any day
I’ll take the kinship over your citizenship any day
I’ll take the blood memory over terror any day

We are here
You can’t unmake us....
Unmake us as they have unmade you

Your card becomes every removal, every dispossession, every scream, ever trauma

And here we without the paper,
Without the cards

We sit in our kinship
Gather in our blood memory
Knowing we are our ancestors legacy

I don’t need you to see me
They know me
They live in my breath
In my commitment
In my strength

Because what does it mean when blood doesn’t remember?


View Jolivétte, Andrew's work in the Library catalog


by Qwo-li Driskill


Let's face it, mama
No one wants us
What kind of Indians
are we anyway
all kinky haired
and blue eyed
Red and blond
and brown and black hair
Governments don't care about stories
they care about allotments
census numbers
Listen to our mottled tongues
and you will hear
the dust of Southeastern Colorado
clanging against the hoofbeat
of nightriders burning crosses
in front of Quaker houses
and before that the mines
of Southwestern Missouri
farms in Kansas and Indian Territory
and before that
homes in Tennessee
and North Carolina and Georgia
Look at our mixedblood faces
and you see
the granddaughter of a French colonist slave owner
marrying a Black Indian
indentured servant trying to live
free in the North Carolina swamps
And before that there
was Giduwagi
and even there
we came from
somewhere far south
somewhere far north


View Qwo-li Driskill's work in the Library catalog


After the Gold Rush
by Heather Bourbeau


Riparian corridors wended to silty loam, heavy
clay soils, alkali salts. Delta dreams ebbed and flowed.
Chinese forced to leave. Japanese streamed in. Railroads, mines,
and farms. Rice imported from Asia, South America.

Where the Maidu tended oak for acorns, gathered greens and berries,
Kenju Ikuta showed the possibility—grain from hardpan soil,
black adobe. Profit and praise. Rice became the new gold.
One year later, Japanese could not own farms.

In 1920, the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization
read a pamphlet by Chester Versteeg. California, he wrote, owed
a debt to the Japanese. Called Ikuta “a pioneer.” But they were not,
he argued, entitled to have land, be citizens.

In World War II, rice plantings delayed, fields foul with weeds,
Issei, Nisei, and Sansei were gathered and interned. Became field hands
for government farms. Potatoes and daikon, grains and hay
sold on open markets.

In 1964, rice production at record highs,
24 years before reparations,
the US Board on Geographic Names designated a summit
that overlooks Manzanar, 20 miles to the east, “Mount Versteeg.”

When I was young, I grew near the remnants of Japantown,
was told of Manzanar and Tule Lake by neighbors, fathers of friends.
When I was young, my seasons were marked by rice.
Spring meant flooding planted wetlands. Fall—the burn after harvests.


by Ronald F. Sauer


There were lizards here and there on the floor,
not unlike the ones in Escher,
but very still, and a sandy green…
It could have been Cairo,
or Mazatlan.
Smoke was creeping up the walls
from cigarettes smoked beneath the floor
by elegant women who were trapped and bored.
As the smoke rose it went from grey to green,
forming leafy vines that were quite serene.
The women giggled, which clinked their ice,
and asked themselves if it wasn’t nice.
And the lizards—each with a passion that they ignored,
dreamed of sailing,
but studied Law.


View Ronald F. Sauer's work in the Library catalog


                for Steve Hellman
by David Volpendesta


I can hear it, touch it,
it moves so slightly at my fingertips,
it’s telling me it’s always blowing;
I can feel it
but men, the strong masculine powerful men,
who hold no fear in their hearts
those heroes whose weapons will conquer Troy
to capture Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world
for whom men would die,   
say the wind doesn’t move,
that it refuses to blow!

Yet I feel it softly kiss my forehead,
and hold my small hands.
In front of me is a path
slowly winding to the top of the mountain
to a marble altar where I will be sacrificed
so that the wind may blow
and men, the rugged men,
may engage in killing each other  
because that’s what rugged men do!
Ah, but the melodic wind is blowing,
I feel it, hear it, and smell its fragrance of lemon
and fresh rain scenting my palms.
Why can’t warriors with a sword and shield feel what a 13-year-old girl feels?
But rugged warriors hide from their feelings!
How can they sense what a 13-year-old girl feels in the depths of her heart?
The sharp point of a cold knife
must be raised above my breast
and blood will be spilled so that the wind may blow!  
Ah, and who has decreed this, the gods?
The same gods who started this war?
But why have all the gods said this?
Have the goddesses said this as well
or are the gods and goddesses divided;
wouldn’t it be easier to have just one god
who is both female and male?

Ah but what do I know, I’m only a 13-year-old girl
men only use 13-year-old girls as an excuse so they can slaughter one another!

On the beach is my father, Agamemnon, the pride of Greek warriors,
covered with sand and mud.
He’s the leader of the Greek army
where all the soldiers are professional killers, skilled in the art of slaughter
and he leads them to the glory of the blood baths
where moans and cries of agony scream for revenge!
Animals with jagged claws and sharp teeth
feel their veins and arteries sliced by swords and knives,
by ravenous Greeks whose lust for murder is insatiable!
Agamemnon wants blood to flow as a reward
to his courageous men who will scream with delight as they slaughter the Trojan Heroes
who will keep falling to the ground, their limbs mangled,
their sweaty heads rolling on the ground decapitated!
If only the wind had blown, if only it hadn’t remained calm
and instead we learned to live peacefully
and Helen had never beheld Paris with his pretty looks and his black heart filled with poison!
Then I, Iphigenia, would never have been laid upon the altar
as my father, my brave and doubly heroic father, lifts his knife to carve up my flesh!
Yes, I am to be sacrificed so the wind may blow.
I am a 13-year-old girl, but men don’t think of girls or for that matter women
when it’s time to proclaim glory from other men
because women know nothing of the glory derived from a sword!
In Greek society women aren’t even a factor, men determine everything, men say what’s important
Well I say that’s wrong, yes, I, a 13-year-old girl
because I know I have a soul, a cornucopia of tender feelings and soft tears,
but men scoff at that and say that tears are the expression of women not of men!
I truly feel sorry for men; they are unaware that they are plotting their own funeral
with their bravado and their need to be in charge so they can dominate everything in their path.
It’s so obvious they haven’t the slightest idea of what they’re doing!
Fools, can’t they feel that the wind is always blowing?
But men only hear what they want to hear   
that’s why they think the wind isn’t blowing
and it isn’t blowing… at least not for them!


Video: David Volpendesta at the San Francisco Public Library


by Robert W Emerson
July, 2020


         "Just be still, "  folks said.
          Still for five months, and then ?
          "Time will catch up'
            Come Summer the weather will be nice;
           The Virus will take its bow,
               and leave the theatre."

           Or will it?
           The President said it would.
           Our inner hearts hoped he was right,
               but knew he was not.
           The Virus paused,
                but the play was far from over.

           This drama had an unknown act.
           The audience remained captivated.
           Villain was identified, but not killed.

           So, we quietly hoped.
           Waiting for the finale became boring.
           We washed out masks.  Avoided direct contact.
           Deciding to VOTE OUT the President.

           Each took a long hot bath
           Drank some communal wine and munched
              on dry cracker.
           We wished each other "Good Health,"
                and prayed for an early release date.
            This play is too long.
             Far too long.
             Because no one has written the ending.


The Last Horse Dancing
                           (In Memoriam: for Michael Roman)
by Dorothy Payne


In 1890, a group of Indian
Police were sent to arrest
Sitting Bull. Shots were fired
and within seconds the
Great Lakota chief, seven of
his supporters and two
horses lay dead. In the
midst of the hail of gunfire,
Sitting Bull’s show pony, “Fears-
His-Shadow” began prancing,
then frantically dancing, raising
one leg repeatedly as it trying
to shake hands

He thought nothing of
those middle-of-the-night
phone calls:
                   rambled on like
                   water flowing--
                                         she said--
                  proclaimed always
                  the right to full recall
                  of her breasts, thighs--
                                        her innermost side--
felt he’d earned the right.

For Michael’s world
knew no limits,
was his to shape,
                  mess with,
any way he saw fit;
a world he created desperately,
unbound by line
in here/gone
                    consecrated time:
He laid hands on everyone
and everything-
“no surface was safe”
it was said-
sacralized everything
he touched;
                    called down spirits
                   simply by acknowledging
                   their existence;
didn’t allow us
to forget;
made them dance
in vibrating hues of
demanded our attention;
onto all our clothes-
                         anointing us,
                         making us complicit,
                          Ghost Dancers
                         quietly waiting
                         in cafes--
                         silently readying
                         in the streets--
turned the entire mission
into our own Standing Rock;
made Kate his own
opened it wide,
entered at will
this portal to
the other side
                      (poured his words
                       and hands
                         all over her)
vivified his life
by taunting death;
destroyed himself
in order to create-
                   wore the mask
                   of madness
                   to continue dancing.

He’d take the shirt high off
your back-and paint it
(or never give it back);
offered everyone his work:
insisted icons of resistance
onto sweat shirts,
made jackets into holy shrouds--
                              quantum songs
                              of defiance--
collective alms
to the heroic ones;
made us all stand tall
in this recall:
                       Che and
parallel worlds of Michaels’ making;
entangled us in their powerful
retrieved and freed them,
and like the Trickster-Trouble-Maker
he was,
placed them everywhere:
                              made us all
                              Lakota couriers,
                              devotees of
                              the Last Horses
“It is not necessary for the Eagle to become crows.”
Totonka taught us.
The job of the Eagle is to soar,
go beyond and higher-
                           dive deeper.
Michael, the ever-wild-tormentor!
You too-often hid your Eagle feathers,
projected your song too far
                                                 --above us--
                   dove too deep
                   and stayed too long
in the dance.
They assumed they had obliterated
the Great Chiefs’ sacred powers
that day;
they laughed at Fears-His-Shadows
offering of peace;
they arrogantly dismissed the war paint
emanating from his stallion body
as he danced.
They did not even notice him
shape-shifting majestically
into that man who would
                     return to us all
                     the Radiant Truth
                     he offered with
                     his hands.


Video: Dorothy Payne at the San Francisco Public Library


by Genevieve Yuen


pandemic amok
where to find shelter  cabin
fever   mixed feelings

folks skitter across
walkways  aware   cautiously
threading  through virus

gone from grocery
shelves   canned beans / toilet paper
     skirmish in aisles

new heroes    of first
responders/ all frontliners
   topsy turvy world

kids now exposed   new
    heart illness  carriers too
    double jeopardy

relief  through art forms
universal   to uplift
……  a kind of prayer

enlightened leaders
needed   life-saving advance
Federal      step up!


by Edward Mycue


All that noisy night the phoenix flamed
crackling embers into singeing song
scorching fog, fuchsia, western laurel tree
razing memories of my flower years,
smoke clouding what passes, these keys of flesh,

time the phoenix entered the sun dance
fragmenting, shattering, grinding-down
my tired half-dreams of a failed dream,
scooping from that mist of muffled bones
one frail and fragrant puff of finished fuse.
Fleeing, finding stars, sky, sirens screaming,
years turn, hope spins again into morning,
so what could never end might yet still come again.


View Edward Mycue's work in the Library catalog


by Mimi Mueller       7.20.20


Let's hear it now
for the unsung
the underpaid
who make it possible
for us to complain
about masks and inconvenience
the garbage is collected
the grocery shelves stocked
with food processed
and then delivered,
the buses run,
traffic lights turn,
streets are swept,
police answer calls,
newspapers print and deliver,
phones and internet connect,
the dead are buried,
and TV news broadcasts
the medical heroes
and political cowards.

Let's hear it now for
the unsung
the underpaid
the uninsured
who put on their masks
and go out
not to walk the dog
but all day
every day
into the possibly
deadly air
so everyone else
can go on with living.


by Kelechi Ubozoh


In my waking dreams, the woods call me...

Sleepy eyed and slumber less
I stumble upon branches and roots
They have secrets to share
This is not our home
Star gazer
We’ve been waiting to wake you up
Our home is of lilac clouds
Diamond lights
And black moons
We honor the night beauty
Tears fall like jewels that light your path
Castles made of ebony sand
everything fragile and secure
We tucked you away on this
tiny sad blue planet
for your protection
where you belong to everyone and no one 
Planted you in the bellies of other mothers
who could not keep you
Oracles warned of pain endured
Lost city of life
Yet, you remain unbroken
Despite the mirror's deceit
Embrace soul shine 
Come home to magic without lies
Take the ladder to the stars
Shed years of shields
Ancestors have returned
We are a universe
Larger than the feeble chains
Created for your body and soul
Stronger than the system built upon our bones
Smarter than the trickery used to detach your power
Our present a gift
Couldn't clone you, trap you, be you .... so, they had to kill you
Time to go
They receive no more of your gifts
We love you
We see you
Wake up


View Kelechi Ubozoh's work in the Library catalog

Video: Kelechi Ubozoh at the San Francisco Public Library


We Are Yet Innocent
by Stephen Meadows


No time have I spent
at your grave
but your grave visits me
In my loft at night
the birds quiet
in the trees
and the damp wind
fingering the house
your face in that coffin
before you went down
not at rest
or at peace
interrupted mid thought
that absolved look
that says I know more
than I am saying
I know more


View Stephen Meadows's work in the Library catalog


Power To The People
by Elaine Brown



Listen in order for you to be part of a movement
You must move it
See the power and insight
When you organize and invite
Single mothers
Victims of police brutality based on color
I mean even for the purpose of a march for one day
We showed each other love so
We are still sisters and brothers
So I say rejoice in it
Because tomorrow we won't know each other
And that’s why it hard for us to recover
From the abuses of these institutions
When you think that holding a picket sign
Qualifies for inclusion
Suffering from grand delusions
Constantly grabbing the short end of the stick
And losing
Clearing the pathway for our oppressors
Because we believe in the tricks lies
Deceptions and illusions
And yet we have remained a resilient people
Fighting for our rights to be equal
So that tells me
You must believe in a common solution
But first mindsets must change
Before we start hollering revolution
Because there’s no excuse when
Our Black men are murdered by policemen
Or the countless of women That are murdered and missing
Did we not take it to the streets
Singing that tired old anthem
No Justice No peace
And while I understand that setting fires
Brought you some relief
It is just my belief
That it takes away from what we came here to do
And if you don’t believe me
Turn on your evening news
As a matter of fact
You don’t have to listen to another word
That I say to you
Just open your eyes
Is the headline
So how are you gonna fight an institution
When you’ve been institutionalized
With things like selective marching
Based on cases that have been televised
From the the shores of Staten Island, Minnisoda, and Palestine
And no one seems to understand why the families
Of victims continue to cry
Could it be you at prayer vigils or funerals
Saying the fake goodbyes
Or maybe enacting codes on the streets
When our loved ones die
You see silence no longer equals death
It is glorified
So if by chance that I Should fall prey
And become a victim
To these injustices down the line
Don’t March For Me Baby
You Better Organized!


View Elaine Brown's work in the Library catalog


Poem Spinning in Indigo Vat
by Shawna Sherman


What's that metal ring called under the screw, a fisher or a washer?
Think washerwoman, he said, if you want to remember.
Where on my forehead did you see the circle marks?
Speaking of things lost, I went to the printer for mass quantities of flyers.
The flyers said: To whoever apprehends the person who stole my soul, I want to steal it back.
I'm turning the word convict into conviction. Meaning, gumption.
I wanted to rescue the whale swimming through the Delta.
At the overlook, he gestured: move to the right of the picture frame.
He told me, make a round "O" with your lips.
Two-months in and I was sick of this new arrangement.
My childhood had taught me how to say no, why didn't I?
Still. I woke up. Any compliance, now a futile endeavor.
Instead, I take a hobby: baking.
The recipe said choose peaches by size and color.
The big red ones make a better cobbler.
I have never seen a peach tree, I'm from the islands.
I'm black, quick, guess which island?
I bought 10 masks: five floral and five tie-dyed.
I wear a mask to save our lives.
I also bought a blanket and shovel.
I tally the expenses; a dollar for every bias.
I have a bachelor's degree in mathematics and keep sound accounts.
I named my daughter Dye, a name reminiscent of indigo vats.
I'm trying to look inwards but can only see as high as my chest.
Call me impudent, all I told him: "I have a ticket."
I spin stories, weave thread in a shack with five spindles.
Charlotte sewed, sewed, sewed in a Victorian chair.
A teacher, she was able, yet discouraged from the white dinner table.
I say, Charlotte Grimke, tell them you're just passing through.
Add: "I don't give a shit about you."
The instant I said it, my body armor appeared, metal the color of honey.
I bought this power from a merchant who sold it in powder form.
He advertised his wares in neat rows on shelves in his dining room.
I said, "yes, I believe. Yes, I believe. I believe."
He said, "you have to believe if you want it to work."
This is the old way made new.
I'm saying for life to work you have to believe in you.
May all be forewarned the truth is hard to hear: Mother earth is an aging widow.
The blacksmith kneeled on his right knee. I, the baker, kneaded the bread.
People from far and near had something to say about both of us.
It's not my skin that makes me feel this way. That's all on you.
I have my own Camelot. It's in that direction. Yes, that direction.
The direction of my compassed finger.


Video: Shawna Sherman at the San Francisco Public Library


July 25, 2014
by Yume Kim


It’s almost 8:00 pm. I’m waiting for the bus. Someone asks if I could bum a cigarette.

I say sorry, I don’t smoke. The bus arrives I get in. Twenty minutes later, I make a stop request. A friend of mine is already waiting for me at a bar.

I apologize for being late. He tells me it’s okay. He already has a drink so I get myself a beer.

The bartender asks to see my ID. I show him it and then ask for an IPA. A man next to me says I should sue the bartender. I laugh and say no. I sit next to my friend. We talk. It’s now 8:35 pm and since the bar is too loud, he wants to go out, buy a six pack and walk to the beach. I’d rather not because it’s too windy. But I can’t argue with him. So I follow.

It’s 10:00 pm now. We already took turns pissing near a sand dune. I’m drinking my last beer. I look at the darkened shore and then say “Oh wait, today
was the day Frank O’Hara died.” I continue staring at the shore and imagine it as brush strokes on a canvas. I immediately leave, wanting to go home and write a poem. About Frank O’Hara, and how we might’ve been good friends, in an alternate timeline.


by Marquerite Munoz


Down to Fresno in a rental
sun as strong as the smell of onion
Mile after mile we pass rows of nameless produce
we've eaten without knowing the origin.
Apricots, Walnuts, even low white cotton bolls
and I wonder where the children go to school
and who lives in the houses down the narrow dirt roads.
I learn that here fourteen-year-olds rise at 4 am to feed Boer goats
raise them from birth to auction and feel pride
not separation anxiety when their animal's sold.
It’s a way of life and a responsibility,
learning how to care for a thing and let it go.
The sun settles pink and red as we listen to NPR radio
I time sunset photos between passing cars and telephone poles
Signs of water wars shuffle through: Make California Great Again
We listen to talk of Kavanaugh, just sworn in
My mind drifts to mujures from Mexico working in Central Valley, 80 percent of them claiming sexual harassment
We pass another billboard that reads, El hombre sabio busca la sombra  - a man knows to seek shade.
Another sign says employers should provide water and other derechos
como sombra y descanso, shade and rest.
Si quiere durar, no olvide descansar.
How far life seems in the city, where we sit for hours under buzzing lights in waterfront buildings
filling mason jars with water to remind us to get up and stretch, refilling each time the jug becomes empty.
By this time the fields are cleared save for souls soft in the dimming light.
I listen to your story about your sister, how she died of a heart condition, and how you talk to her as if she were still alive.
I look into the grape wines while we talk of the importance of the arts, which your sister loved,
And I too hear whispers, whispers of generations, whispers of farmers’ hands moving swiftly.
We hear a report on Patterson, the valley farm town where thousands of robots
pack goods for Kohls and Amazon
I picture youth in distribution centers alongside Interstate 5
getting paid more and learning shipping logistics safe from the oppressive sun
picking bottles of pills and condoms with a machine’s assistance
may beat the backbreaking toil of gathering fruit
but will it last? Will it pay enough for people to survive?
We innovate before we meditate and automate so fast
the image of two upturned hands serving fresh food on a table
may one day vanish.
I stop and
wonder, imagine a field with no onion scent.
Imagine a field that smells
of ghosts and of rust,
the smell of progress.


The Subway Riders
                               for Nancy Buffum
by Kathleen McClung


For thirty years—a grain of sand—you paid
the storage fees by check a continent away
and made new art, a family, a home
with cats, toads, gulls of Ocean Beach. Your eyes
looked west—Pacific fog and sun and wave—
yet thirty portraits made by youthful hands

stayed east, confined, untouched by any hands
in tiny, padlocked, sunless room, displayed
for no one—critics, connoisseurs, or waves
of tourists at the Met. You made your way
to California, left in storage gray-green eyes
and turquoise jaws from tubes of paint, their silent home

a rented vault, not quite a foundling home.
You spoke of them sometimes, their faces, hands—
those passengers onboard a train with eyes
closed as in prayer, exhaustion. Their bills unpaid,
food stamps used up, some dreamed of beaches far away
from Brooklyn, dreamed of snowy plovers, waves

uncurling on cool sand. Back then you studied waves
of fellow subway passengers and brought them home
as best you could on canvas, found a way
to weave them to a wider dream. Your hands
praised people, Nancy, sleeping and awake. You paid
attention, paid a price: Jim Beam on ice

too many nights, a dulling of your fire bright eyes.
And so you left, abandoning New York heat wave,
your easel, all you made.  This year you paid
a visit, four of you, to liberate, bring home
companions left behind. Your daughters’ hands
and Joe’s and yours embraced graffitied trains of way-

farers who’d longed for sun and moon, stairways
to changing light of dawn and dusk.  New eyes                                  
now greeted subway riders long-stilled, hands
in laps, in pockets. Hilary and Maeve—
almost your Brooklyn age—both welcomed home                                                         
their pensive kin, all storage fees completely paid.

 iPhones in hands, we travelers now walk through waves


Video: Kathleen McClung at the San Francisco Public Library


by Leticia Hernandez


A boy, like the ones who used to
           run down my street, in numbers,
this single one, still here, a boy  
           who cried first in Spanish, bundled in
fog, at home even though from far, calls after
           a white-haired man missing
teeth––but his pockets full with
           a few dollar bills, for the boy neighbor’s
hopeful brown face, missing
           teeth too. The boy runs through
the veneer of the day’s dirt veil waving the dollar, victorious.
Mother, wearing the boy’s face lined & textured,
           explains the man gives the boy a dollar,
sometimes, they live near each other, this exchange,
           theirs. Now it is mine too,
& I walk down 24th calling
           after vecinos, so I can offer them the poems
stuffed in my pockets.


View Leticia Hernandez's work in the Library catalog

Video: Leticia Hernandez at the San Francisco Public Library


From the West Berkeley Shellmound to Moana Nui
by Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu


Story #1 The Desecration

The desecration of the Sacred, violence against her Native woman body  
 persistent upon his arrival.

he brought out all the instruments of progress
baptized and renamed her Berkeley
her body submerged under him,
he is heavy and unrelenting as Empire

her plaited black hair,
he wrangled into platitudes, singed the iridescent strands to silence
he is the weight of  asphalt, a lonely parking lot,

 his ownership of her,  he terms as “freedom.”

Story #2 The Tongan Mormon Baptism Ceremony

I am an eight year old girl at my Mormon baptism Ceremony,
in a small chapel in Ma‘ufanga, Tonga,
my hair plaited and split in two, a division so inconsolable,
my mother tenderly tied the wounds with bright white ribbons to mark this moment, the missionaries termed as the “coming of the light.”

under a leaning breadfruit tree outside the Mormon chapel
hungry dogs mate, irrespectively, of the piety inside
his priesthood authority intrusive like the bleached baptismal water
surrounds me, my black hair contorted in their nets,   
severing the cycles of memories,
until I am no longer able to discern my breath from drowning.

he renames me, declaring the Moana on behalf of his Gods,
bounded my feet with ropes made from woven human hair, lined with spears of whale bone tied with knotted fau, baptized and converted me
into a carcass of an obedient daughter and wife.

This moment, he proudly records in his missionary diary as “light.”

Story # 3 We Are Still Here

The West Berkeley Shellmound,
her Native woman body rests under asphalt, luminous mana silenced by a parking lot, man-made and mundane,
she is their private property owned by a white settler family who refuse to negotiate with Indians.

On the battle grounds in Huichin and in ‘Uiha,
Under the hands of missionaries and mercenaries,
our childrens’ bones hung from trees like decomposed fekika fruit
the flagrant sour taste on our tongues
when we thought all was lost,
the Sacred was there, she picked up our memories, ancestors left for dead
she fed our mouths with the flesh of sweet acorn and salt water from her breasts until we grew strong,

she weaves the circuitous dance of death and birth into her long black hair, dreamtimes exchanged through collective breaths, from our Moananui to Huichin,
she coughs origin stories, birthed before his arrival, innumerable constellations, they grow in our altars like the flowing yellow pua garlands in our hair

she is survivor, creation, Creator
always here

yes, we remember, the stories of us after the missionary and mercenary are gone.


by J. Martin Strangeweather


In the land of enlightenment, movement is kept to a minimum, and breathing is restricted to
the exact volume needed to keep the brain functioning. In the land of enlightenment, bodies have
learned how to live off sunlight and the occasional rain shower. Where bodies cannot subsist this
way, bodies do not reside. There is no dung in the land of enlightenment, no bodily aftermath of
any sort. Dreadlocks snake far from their nameless heads of origin, entangled in the locks of
tranquil brethren, with fingernails spiraling like galaxies congealed into seashell claws. Locks are
to lice as pubes are to crabs in the land of enlightenment. Itches are never scratched, otherwise
that’s all anyone would ever do. There are no shoes in the land of enlightenment, nor are there
any clothes, certainly nowhere to buy them. In the land of enlightenment, there are no roads or
sidewalks, only fluffy silk pillows scattered randomly across gardens of sculpted sand swirling
where no flowers grow. No one wonders where the pillows come from in the land of
enlightenment. There are no cars. There are no houses. Nothing is mine. Nothing is yours. Such
concepts are unknown in the land of enlightenment. In the land of enlightenment, no one speaks,
no one knows, no one cares. There is no war. There is no peace. No one dies in the land of
enlightenment, and no one lives.

     Picture a field unfolding wild with daisies and daffodils under summer morning wisps of
cirrus. A quiet setting dotted with gaunt corpses. Zombies, reposing yogic among the petaled
pyrotechnics of ivory and gold. Legs crossed, heads bowed, eyes closed, hands folded serenely in
their skeletal laps. Frighteningly peaceful. Monuments to something alien.

     The human cured of humanness is the sinner cured of sin. From ants to men, and men to
Gods, and back to ants again.


View J. Martin Strangeweather's work in the Library catalog


by D.L. Lang


We keep longing for, digging for
just a little bit of community,
seeking respite from the whirlwind of uncertainty,
some glue to mend our broken hearts,
a key to unlock this vice grip of grief.

We think the answer may be hidden deep
beneath the boxes of handwritten notes,
sandwiched between old photo albums,
woven around our record collection.

We search for sparks of a radiant memory,
so that we might remember
to laugh, to breathe, to hope.

And then we remember the way a hug
would entangle our souls if only for a brief flicker—
the greeting of kindred spirits.

We are flung into the far reaches of the ethernet,
seeking the glow of familiar faces,
the melodic hum of a friendly voice—
our byte-sized particles of love drifting safely closer,
but never close enough.

The world continues to implode,
so our love floods out into the streets,
chanting for justice, searching for peace.

Normal was never good enough,
and from its shards
we shall lay a foundation worthy of our hearts,
building up a mosaic of kindness,
cemented by that love.


NOTE: D.L. Lang is the poet laureate of Vallejo