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 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.

R. Charboneau

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