Sutro District

“I myself raised them up from out of Nu,  out of watery nothing.”
—The Book of Overthrowing Apep

 

At Lands End we poise along the 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,

stores in its belly thunderclaps that shake the earth.

Whitman’s bare feet dug in the Paumanok bar

are fierce within me, the Father’s throating

is identical with these coruscations,

the stuff of sea-drifting and whispering.

He has fed his song to the waves like the Ohlone,

salt spray returning his voice this side of the coast.

 

How did he know I would be here

quarrelsome and desperate to receive him,

as trees in the Great Basin of my home

lap up the spring melt happily, yet are resentful of its absence?

I have not found the same land as he found,

though I had found it in him.

 

I hate America

I hate her Green Lady, and her Blind Lady

I hate her self-made men and the self-made lie

I hate the Cliff House of Adolph Sutro,

and the baths that bear his name,

whose outline in the mud drains its waters like a tarn.

 

When the Spanish arrived they named the people Costanoans,

and promptly 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, the spirit of healing summoned

by medicine men in red-beaked headdresses,

was only Bourbon kings and the flag of New Spain

coming not to cure but to cleanse.

 

A century passes, and their holy sweathouse

is built on the inlet where

they once collected mussels into wicker cones,

from downtown it cost five cents

to ride the Cliff House rail line that is now

a trail for spying shipwrecks at low tide.

 

The bathhouse was razed, its massive glass 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 the deer and elk.

And I pray that song, too, is sung to the sea,

and is 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.


R. Charboneau

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