“I myself raised them up from out of Nu, out of watery nothing.”
—The Book of Overthrowing Apep
At Lands End we poise along Roman ruins
of Sutro Baths as on a balance beam.
It is mid-morning and the fog belt peels
off the alameda, where they say
the Yelamu once sang to the sea
singing to Xa-Matutsi who capers
in a sweathouse at the end of the sea.
Point Lobos swallows the buffeting surf,
swallowing thunderclaps that shake the earth.
Whitman’s throating coruscations,
the stuff of sea-drifting and returning.
His song is salt spray and foam.
How did he know I would be here
quarrelsome and desperate for him?
I have not found the same land as he did,
though I thought I’d found it in him.
I hate America.
I hate our Green Lady.
I hate her self-made men.
I hate the Cliff House of Adolph Sutro,
and the baths that bear his name,
whose muddy outline drains like a tarn.
When the Spanish arrived
they named the people Costanoans,
baptized them in El Presidio Real,
dismantled their boats of tule reed
and put them to work in the missions.
What they must’ve thought was the living fleet
of Kuksu, spirit of healing summoned
by medicine men in red-beaked headdresses,
was only the flag of New Spain, and the will
of Bourbon kings not to cure but to cleanse.
A century passes, and their holy sweathouse
is built on the inlet where they
once gathered mussels into wicker cones.
From downtown it cost five cents
to ride the Cliff House rail line, now
a trail for spying shipwrecks at low tide.
The bathhouse was razed,
the panes of its hangars burst, and
the sea reclaimed its view of the hillside.
I pray it was set ablaze the same way
the Ohlone often fired the land,
clearing dead roots and duff
to lay new forage for their game.
And I pray that song, too,
is sung to the sea, and known
as famously on that bluff
as the Gingerbread Palace,
and known as well
as historic Sutro District,
and is told as long as men tell
of what took place there.