Poem of the Day - Archive - May 2020


Califas, My California, Mi Amor
by MK Chavez


Hummingbird heart over golden rolling hills,
please know that it’s not your beaches
that make me love you,
it’s the fury in your liver
and your Marysville men & Chowchilla women
in my marrow.

Your thirst is drought and dry as bleached ocean bone.

I want your revolutionary hamlets,
your murder dubs,
your tenderloins,
wetlands and marshes,
your ghettos and devil mountains,
the ghosts of your failed missions,
abandoned caves, and your sunken ships.

Bring me your she-bear, your grizzly.
Forever your strength.

Carnalita, your tongue, tan bilingua.  
Your glorious Spanglish.
Give me the Indigenous in you,
the we’ve been here longer
than you in you.

Califas, you are rainbow flag and stone butch.

Coastal Starlight, you travel through Cuesta Grande,
you are track marks all the way
 from the Chateau Marmot
to the emerald triangle.

My love—
you grow on the vine,
your wine, your Mexican tar,
you’re known for it.

You are wet-lands, delta, and once a year sandhill cranes.

You are monarch and pupa.

How I love to watch you emerge from your chrysalis.
Feed me your milkweed,
and non-native eucalyptus.

California your name is
Cherrie and Luis.

You are Barbary Coast, men fighting men over something that shines promise.

You are headlands, abandoned forts, sea lions, coastal range, and tulle elk.

California your malls bury your shell mounds
but this savage still prays for you.  

California you kill me—
but you are reluctant.

Flog and fog. You can be a cold mistress
but I like it when you wake,  
rise from the ocean and move over peaks.

Cali, your fissures are not your fault.

Golden arches of final goodbyes,
you are shark-infested waters
and El Capitan and the Salton Sea.

Califas, island of my spirit, untamable amazon,
last sanctuary for the estranged,
you hold my history
like the hidden Methuselah tree.

View MK Chavez's work in the Library catalog

Video: MK Chavez at the San Francisco Public Library



by Tehmina Khan


A necklace of scissors
                   Candles of remembrance

         A skeleton rising up in the
         graveyard for the murdered.

                             A vigil for the disappeared:


metal arts

figure drawing

Casualties of a war on creativity.

                         A green serpent with
                         a moneybag for a head,
                         fangs ready to pierce.

The last screen print from CCSF, three of them in a row.


A colorful fist raised.

Schedule of classes shredded into ribbons.


“LIES” written in red
over the promise of graduation.

                           “BS” over the slogan of
                           Students First.

                   Scissors, snip, cut, silence.

Testimony of immigrant women learning to weld.

               Dreams of city people, working people
               longing for words, numbers, stories, skills.

Dreams deferred. Who’s making a profit? 
                 Who is the green serpent with fangs pointed at us?

                 From a painting on the wall,
                                        Frida and Diego watch what we do.

They’ve been here before.

Video: Tehmina Khan at the San Francisco Public Library


by Thea Matthews


After Jericho Brown

In isolation I vow to remember
Your voice your contagious laugh your eyes.
Your smile as I stared into your eyes
One last time you still tug on my sheets.
This body alone rests on cold sheets.
Wrestling with the memories of you
I swear you cannot be gone in one breath. You
Remain intact within my pulse in hand.
And whether or not you feel hands
Embracing your face please know my fingers
Rest in the streams of your hair. My fingers
Count the distance of separation.
Whether you are six feet away or
In isolation I vow to remember.

Video: Thea Matthews at the San Francisco Public Library


by Lourdes Figueroa


and who will have the last word if not
the mountain up ahead
with a rising sun
if not the sudden blue of the skies
if not the howl of the wind within a long corridor of buildings
if not the reflection of light on a cobweb
if not the horizon up ahead dividing the land sea & sky
& the resting sunset
if not the bone bare yellow moon on a star full night
whom will have the last word
if not the chirp of a newborn sparrow
who will it be
and if not any of this
and if there is a last word
upon whose ears will it fall upon

no mi vida
no te rajes
con nuestras caras hacia al sol
sentimos el calor del amanecer
pronto llega el sol

pronto llega el sol
mi vida no te rajes
con nuestros ojos cerrados
hacia lo azul
va amanecer

Video: Lourdes Figueroa at the San Francisco Public Library


Pacifica, May 2020
by Ingrid Keir


Remember the dust of our ancestors tooth and bone
Their blood runs through me
as I dilate to the elementals that flow
a lifetime of grandmothers and grandfathers

Remember love at first touch exists
In this time of no-touching
Hydration, after a thirst so bottomless
seven layers deep

Lying in be
the glow of the universe spreads across the sky
lit by your hands
The lizard scales fall away
to a crimson rose, fragrant petals
I unfold myself into you
a teardrop carnelian

Along the shore
held by wildflowers and sand
Desire as an ever-changing kaleidoscope
I hear the hum of creation
Let us paint the story of beginnings

With your hands
spirals circumambulate my body
like Fibonacci’s golden ratio
sacred swirls, momentum,
clearing, initiation

To enter the erotic
through the gates of the unseen
A veiled dance behind silken strands
fingertips walk along skin

I have learned to love myself
planted my garden
which blooms, still,
after drought
after thirst
after desolation

Come closer
let me see the crystalline stars
held in your irises
as we walk the corona
crowned by interstellar luminosity

Video: Ingrid Keir at the San Francisco Public Library


Birth Poems 7/20/17
by Alexandra Kostoulas


Blue bird swinging on the lowest branch
watching over me
over the spirits of the unborn
as they make their way through the caul
into this gentle breeze
strips away the cool air from our breath
and 5 o’clock summer sun beats down unobstructed
all the birds and all the trees and all the
chimes in this back yard are one.

I am the old solid bark on the rusted deck
the convex shape in this whirling glass of water
the warbling the chirping the pre-dawn infinite
stretching into the corners of every lazy afternoon in late July
the red trumpet flowers of it all.
I give birth to this baby
I give birth to myself
birth to the infinite violet dusk over and over again.
Mirror inside mirror. Rainbow prism inside rainbow prism
I am alive even when I am no longer alive
Even 100 years from now
when all the butterflies are dead.
I will be encapsulated in this moment
right here in this city
my feet in flip flops
my hair a mess
a slouchy sweater falling off the backs of my bare shoulders
enjoying the sun glistening down on my olive skin.
Birds are overhead
This city that is so cruel to some
And so lucky for others.
In the middle of one of its many golden ages
I sit draped in a loose gray dress,
And realize these are
new ancestral lands
the 4 th generation San Franciscan
inside me eager to be born.



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.


Infinite Definitions of Birth Right
by Lauren Ito


Is it place
Or people
Or textures
Or graves
Or lullabies caressing cheek



Or contorted masks in shapes we can’t bring ourselves to recognize anymore

I hitchhike towards mirages
Count mile markers in what grows beside the road
Who destroys it
How the invasive species are named
Where resilient blooms atop fault lines keep extinction at bay

And poetry becomes wills only some can inherit.

Tucking affirmations beneath toes at each bend
I ground prayers for cocooned comfort in given skin
As if we were destined to belong here
After all.



song of the four winds
by Carol Lee Sanchez


to inspire a careful language
cautious for other centuries-
we summon
these portfolios out of ourselves.

around us
the halls are crowded with name tags
immortalized in
gold leaf and celluloid

document the quiet change,
walk the edge of the unknown
planting specks of light to note
our discoveries.

the most useable path through oblivion
will bear the mark of
the careful explorers
we’ve become

will continue to prosper here,
unnoticed for awhile until
all the webs are untangled

and they will find us-
holding the ends of these threads
a smile caught between us.

View Carol Lee Sanchez's work in the Library catalog


What the Moon Said
by Paula Gunn Allen


The moon lives in all the alone places
all alone.
    “There are things
    I work out for myself,” she says.
    “You don’t have to be depressed about them.
    These are my paces, and walking through them
                                                                                               Is my right.
    You don’t need to care
                                                     when I’m down.
    “Or if I’m mad at myself, don’t believe
                                                                              I’m mad at you.
    If I glare it is not your face I am staring at
                                                                                but my own.
If I weep, it is not your tears that flow.
“And if I glow
with the brush of twilight wings,
if I rise round and warm
                           above your bed,
if I sail     
        through the iridescent
                   autumn spaces
heavy with promise,
              with red and fruity light,
and leave your breath
                tangled in the tossing tops
of trees as I arise,
as I speed away into the far distance,
disappearing as you gaze
turning silver, turning white
it is not your glory I reflect
It is not your love
         That makes me pink,
It is mine.”

The moon moves along the sky by her own willing.
It is her nature to shed some light, sometimes
To be full and close, heavy with unborn thought
On rising. It is her nature sometimes
to wander inn some distant place, hidden, absent, gone.

View Paula Gunn Allen's work in the Library catalog


by Tongo Eisen-Martin

A tour guide through your robbery
He also is

Cigarette saying, “look what I did about your silence.”

Ransom water and box spring gold
    -This decade is only for accent grooming, I guess

Ransom water and box spring gold
        -The corner store must die

War games, I guess

All these tongues rummage junk

The start of mass destruction
Begins and ends In restaurant bathrooms
That some people use
And other people clean

“?you telling me there’s a rag in the sky”
-waiting for you. yes-

we’ve written a scene
we’ve set a stage

we should have fit in. warehouse jobs are for communists. But now more corridor and hallway have walked into our lives. Now the whistling is less playful. The barbed wire is overcrowded too.


.My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison
.If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city

,When a courtyard talks on behalf of military issue
.all walks take place outside of the body
.Dear life to your left
.Medieval painting to your right
.None of this makes an impression
.Crop people living in thin air
You got five minutes
to learn how to see
.through this breeze
,When a mask goes sideways
.barbed wire becomes the floor
.Barbed wire becomes the roof
Forty feet into the sky
.becomes out of bounds
,When a mask breaks in half
.mind which way the eyes go


They’ve killed the world for the sake of giving everyone the same backstory

We’re watching Gary, Indiana fight itself into the sky

Old pennies for wind. For that wind you feel before the hood goes up and over your headache. Pennies that stick to each other (mocking all aspirations). Stuck together pennies was the first newspaper I ever read. Along with the storefront dwelling army that always lets us down.

Where the holy spirit favors the backroom. Souls in a situation that offer one hundred ways to remain a loser. Souls watching the clock hoping that eyes don’t lie to sad people.


"?what were we talking about again"
the narrator asked the graveyard
-ten minutes flat-
said the graveyard
-the funeral only took ten minutes-
",never tell anyone that again"
the narrator severely replied


“You just going to pin the 90s on me?”
-all thirty years of them-
“Then why should I know the difference between sleep and satire?”

    the pyramid of corner stores fell on our heads
        -we died right away

    that building wants to climb up and jump off another building
        -these are downtown decisions
            somewhere on this planet, it is august 7th

and we’re running down the rust thinking, “one more needs to come with me”

on earth, so
that we could
be sent back

View Tongo Eisen-Martin's work in the Library catalog

Video: Tongo Eisen-Martin at the San Francisco Public Library



by Jack Hirschman


From a magic 

strange and 


a word-drunk,

a mad poet, 

a bender of 

images into


a vessel hauling

alphabets to

the senses,

a loyalist 

to the Muse,

a translator with

no frontiers,


I sang this

No Bich



and loved 

in its still 



tasted death

here from 




indeed loved

here much 


and many,

let time

have its way

in simplifying

the tears 

my pen wept

every day,

until all I am

is this friend

and comrade

in the sun

under stars

to those


who live 

and work

the world


fanfare or


whose lives

grow clearer,

whose feet

are visited

by birds,

whose hands

are blessed 




whose hearts

amid the

buying and

selling of

their Third

floor and the


of their 


still walk

this village

as if


were the




ground in

the world,

and how




under any





kind of




   *Haitian for North Beach

View Jack Hirschman's work in the library catalog



Washing My Hands
by Kitty Costello


Something quivers at the brink of my skin

where I thought I end but don’t.

Edges have gone all blurry

like a rainy night under Paris streetlamps.

Distance is rearranged.

Surpassing is the new way of things,

going beyond anything we thought

could hold us close or keep us safe

or shut us in, proximity superseded.


Prayer was always seeping through walls,

penetrating to bedsides, to gravesides

of those unseen, afar.

Longing was always perpetrating

the quiet of my heart.

Hearing remains just out of earshot,

the cries of the world entering

through some long-forgotten sense gate,

tears spilling from ancient fountains we

did not fashion and will never drain,

no matter how long our sirens wail.


This indelible something


uniting everything

as it ravages the known,

water pouring

through mortal fingers.


Kitty Costello, 3/27/20

View Kitty Costello's work in the library catalog



There Is No Word for Goodbye
by Mary TallMountain


Sokoya, I said, looking through

        the net of wrinkles into

        wise black pools

        of her eyes,


What do you say in Athabaskan 

        when you leave each other?

        What is the word

        for goodbye?


A shade of feeling rippled

        the wind-tanned skin.

        Ah, nothing, she said,

        watching the river flash.


She looked at me close

        We just say Tlaa. That means,

        See you.

        We never leave each other.

        When does your mouth 

        say goodbye to your heart?


She touched me light

        as a bluebell.

        You forgot when you leave us,

        You're so small then

        We don't use that word.


We always think you're coming back,

        but if you don't,

        we'll see you someplace else.

        You understand,

        There is no word for goodbye.


“Sokoya” means “Aunt” in the Athabaskan language

by Mary TallMountain


View Mary TallMountain's work in the library catalog


Princess Days
by Paul Corman-Roberts



                     the wreath

                     the ring

                     the circle

                     the crown:


a teenage saint


            a B list princess


takes the time each day and night

                       to ask blessing

                       from the four elements

and yes, perhaps the fifth

is needed:


We reach out to the future

with all our love

            our blessings

            our prayers and passion

from the edge of a blade


without a notion as to who


                                   or how

you might be.


Our brightest minds at the pleasure

                                      of our grimmest hearts

have concluded we must shelter in place

at the precise moment our faith in ourselves

               has reached a fork in the blade.


Paul Corman-Roberts

View Paul Corman-Roberts' work in the library catalog

Video: Paul Corman-Roberts at the San Francisco Public Library


A Short History of Journey
by Aileen Cassinetto


The fault, dear Arcturus, is not in your star.

I’m afraid we misread the swells 

like explorers mistaking one continent for another. 


“Columbus stretched out Asia eastward until Japan almost kissed the Azores.”

“The Chinese treasure fleet had been mothballed long before Magellan set to sea."


In other words, they were imprecise, and they perished.


(Behold the flight of birds on rarefied air, 

from breeding ground to wintering ground. 

Behold intention, and it’s kin, precision.)


Be that as it may, we were always meant for motion.


See how the Silk Road was paved with horses’ bones. 

And more than smuggled silkworm, it brought sugar, silver, 

paper—utter world changer.


See how the Spice Trade flourished,

shoring up an empire, its galleons—implacable bearers of a slave 

trade from Manila to Acapulco.


The world got its cinnamon, its cocoa, its cassia and cardamom,

 its lapis lazuli, and its Balas Ruby—ancient and sapphire-veined.

We got wanderlust. 


And the bravest of us looked up and remembered everything—

the fixed star, the dippers, the king, the queen, the bear-keeper—

rubescent and fourth brightest in all the night sky, dearest,


remembered also the cardinal of old fields and every roadside—

brilliantly blue and sometimes true—in the same night sky, 

roaming its way home.


Aileen Cassinetto, poet laureate of San Mateo County

View Aileen Cassinetto's work in the Library Catalog



From Below the Belt
by Bill Vartnaw

                       for David Meltzer 
                                            Man’s splender 
                                   is a question of which  
                                                   —Charles Olson 
a story has rained, 
reigned upon our (un- &) conscious minds 
“…whether we chose 
to believe it or not,” 
the dream comes (with its uni-verse) 
like the flooding of the Nile 
& each flood, its variations, 
whether spiritual, biological 
psychological &/or political; 
each must touch the body of man/woman 
either building it, stretching it 
molding, breaking or killing it… 
let us turn each flood into a growing season 
food for the body, food for thought 
we can, we must feed each  
other;  we are all other 
not the quick advertisement they/we are selling 
we must prepare for the next deluge 
it will come 
dig your ditches soon enough; 
dig them deep (far & wide) enough 
to handle the next inundation 
Remember to turn the soil, open the Earth  
for the story moves us forward 
or we do not move forward. 
we know it is made up 
with words we use everyday 
& dreams we have dreamt, 
whether we remember them or not 
& that somewhere, the word 
for our “dream” is but one letter away 
from becoming “comfort, salvation, 
peace…”  the right combination 
of our conscious blood, sweat &  
laughter  (tears, like the flood, are  
a gift) can change this word to the one   
we think is "better or richer or true…" 

Bill Vartnaw, former poet laureate of Sonoma County

View Bill Vartnaw's work in the Library catalog

Video: Bill Vartnaw at the Library


Stubborn weeds
by Shizue Seigel

I love my neighborhood of stubborn weeds
I’m praying that COVID came just in time to rescue it
from total eradication, preserving the last of the grit
from million-dollar scrubs of virgin
olive oil, oatmeal and sage by the pampered who
can afford to bathe their skins with what lesser folk could eat.
I’m hoping this scare will slow them down
like the bursting of dot.com bubble v. 1
or the 1989 earthquake.
It used to be that coastal fog was enough
to keep out those who did not love this land
and its fragile interface with sea and 
sky sometimes unseen all summer long.
Morning fog tendrils, microdroplets
bursting against our cheek, reminded us
like warning blasts and mournful bellows
signaling ships at sea and landlubbers alike
that we are all adrift on life—reality rising and falling
heaving and lulling, by turns.
There are no guarantees 
Only the invitation to risk
We are a hardy people
buckwheat and sorrel
plantains, dandelions and succulents.
Look down your nose at us,
Endulge yourself elsewhere
with showy blooms and gourmet grazings.
We are a plain people whose meager dollars
sent a generation to college so
they could look down at us, too.
They have yet to learn
there are no guarantees except
death comes
to all of us in the end.
Life is how you 
meet it.


Poem for Michael McClure
by Kim Shuck

The bridge meant fishing and floodwater
Like all good symbols
It was mostly borrowed and they’ve
Renamed the river
But the part that’s mine
That little experience
The wood shudder
Running mostly down from Kansas
The part that’s mine will die with me
And there will still be a river
You wouldn’t stop playing with my hair
So I tugged the braid away
And smacked you with it
And we both laughed
A moment I have taken with me
As I roll on over flint
All the way
Down to Grand Lake