Thirty-three poems and 26 sketches of Oakland, set on two streets: Webster Street and MacArthur Boulevard. Self-published by the two creators in 2011.
On the roof garden, a funeral peace prevails.
The swarm and strain and stretch of Webster
Cannot breech the evergreen edge
Of this masterminded office workers’ retreat.
A pond lies blackly still, windless,
The potted gardens never shrivel or shiver,
Bloom whole and bright, without complaint.
This is the perfect cairn for the Kaiser of Construction.
Above five stories of parked cars,
It never leaks or earthquakes around.
It’s where we want to be
For the Big One.
We ride the narrow escalator back down
Into the cavernous street-level entry,
Seeking the secret panel in the marble.
We expect a long, descending tunnel,
Then clammy catacombs,
A grotto, a sepulcre, a sarcophagus.
On the walls will be billboard-size murals,
Sweaty men, laying tar, pouring concrete;
Rosie Riveters swarming ships under construction;
Nurses leaning over hospital beds;
The view from Henry’s home
On Haddon Hill, across the Lake,
The one from his home in Hawaii.
Of course the casket will be stainless steel.
Inside, Henry will rest in an Hawaiian flowered shirt,
With a lei scenting his unmoving bosom.
And on the floor around the him,
His familiar comforts for his cold journey:
A canoe loaded with coconuts and pineapples,
A Kaiser sedan,
Piles of jackhammers, crushed granite,
And ten pound bolts.
At the Mercedes-Benz Dealer
Was ever an exit more boldly told?
Legibly lettered? Forcefully faced?
Rather than stipulating what is sold,
Or indicating where one enters the premises,
The dealer’s rear exterior has egress effusion.
Were customers by the dozens
Heedless of the hundreds hereabout
Whatever the reason,
It is indubitably clear
That at the Mercedes-Benz dealer,
Never presume to enter from Webster!
THE GRAND LAKE THEATRE MARQUEE
To Alan Michaan
Not flashing lanterns in Old North steeple,
One stealthy, terrifying night,
The British are coming, one if by land,
But red plastic letters in broad daylight,
In full view of 580, God, and Republicans:
OHIO VOTING MACHINES FIXED.
SAVE DEMOCRACY FOR OUR CHILDREN.
Not an historic district, cobbled streets,
But next to greasy KFC, how prosaic,
Across from the Saturday Farmer’s Market,
Organic cucumbers, eight-seed bread
Six kinds of chutney, homemade:
BUSH LIED ABOUT WMD.
STOP THIS IMMORAL WAR.
Republicans send Letters to the Editor:
I’ll never spend another dime in his theatre!
On the front page of the same paper,
Iraq veterans come back without brains,
Cutbacks are made in their benefits.
US CEOs MAKE 100 TIMES WORKERS.
CONGRESS VOTES MORE BILLIONS FOR WAR.
Not a sweating, galloping stallion,
Miles on miles through moonlight.
But red plastic letters on a white marquee,
One-by-one, at the top of a creaky ladder,
Day after week after month.
AFGANISTAN, IRAQ, AND NOW IRAN?
IMPEACH BUSH AND CHENEY.
Ride, Alan, ride!
ANGELS AT EVERGREEN CEMETERY
Six black stones shoulder to shoulder,
And as high as a man would stand,
Facing the Sixty-fourth Street gate;
Unblood brothers permanently on parade,
But without their motorcycle roar.
Gold printing, inlaid photos of hairy men,
“Big Al”, “The Thug” and “Magoo”.
Baskets of plastic flowers and handmade verse.
It took them only forty-four years each
To achieve all this.
Morris “Dad” Moore, Pullman Porter
Friend of West Oakland,
Drying out in the only place
Alcohol can’t get him:
Under a piece of dark marble
Laid like a bathmat, and smaller;
But bigger than anyone ever expected.
Two hundred sixty or a hundred forty-nine,
No one seems sure,
Share one stone,
Three rose bushes,
And a euchalyptus tree
Above MacArthur’s chugging buses.
They lived long enough to drink poison Kool Aid,
But not long enough to really belong
To anyone but God.
Poems from DOUBLE CROSSING recorded by the poet on April 15, 2015
I have done a lot of walking around Oakland. Our house is only two blocks from shopping, the post office and the branch library. Within a couple of miles of our house, you can be in Chinatown or Downtown. In other directions, you can walk to Southeast Asian or Black areas, get to the Piedmont Avenue shopping district, or go up the hill to Piedmont, the rich town that seceded from Oakland in 1905. (Of course they still live exactly the same distance from all the people they were trying to avoid.) After a number of explorations of everything nearby, I started hopping in my car to go to someplace further out, then make a 2 or 3 mile circuit there. Naturally some of the things I saw led to poems, and after a while I started thinking about a book that told something about the variety and history of what had become “my” city. When the idea hit me of a book of two streets that crossed I’m not sure, but I remember looking on the map for two that would extend the full length and width of the city, if possible.
Once I decided on Webster and MacArthur, I began making some of my walks on those two streets, hunting for poems. You’ll notice that my interest in the history of Oakland is much in evidence as well.
Alan Leon, who did the sketches, is also a long-time cheerleader for our city. I asked Alan if he wanted to collaborate on this project after I saw a show of his work in the Lakeshore Branch of the Public Library. He was amenable, and even interested in going to some of the poem sites to develop a sketch actually illustrating the poem. Alan has a number of murals in Oakland as well; best-known is probably his “Temescal” piece where 51st street goes under Highway 24.
Of course as with every poetry book, we couldn’t “cover” every aspect of the city. The book touches on things I’ve noticed, but I’m sure another poet could write an equally long book of poems celebrating this beautiful and interesting place, and there would be practically no crossover. This is a city of over 400 thousand people and many different versions of our city.
In fact, I invite you to be that poet. We could have a reading together!