I Speak of the City: Adelia Najarro

[One of my favorite poems from last week’s The Wind Shifts reading–full report can be found at my guest post at Letras Latinas–was Adelia Najarro’s exploration of San Francisco. SF is a gorgeous, complicated city that even after three years of living here still makes me gasp and pause at its beauty (a recent visit to a friend’s home in the Sunset District with a view of Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach and the sun setting down over the Pacific had me feeling like a five year old looking at a ferris wheel for the first time) while still befuddling me over its contradictions (the number of homeless out in the streets still wigs me out and the Mission blends from hipster glory to ole skool fam real quicks). I’ve also been lucky enough to visit parts of the city that don’t make it to most tourist maps, the spaces in-between destinations that way too many folks gloss over. Najarro’s poem brings me into those places and takes the time to look around and enjoy the view. It’s a call to take pause in the hectic city that I’ll be thinking about more the next time I’m rushing around.]

San Francisco

My great-grandmother taught my mother to read using chalk
and a black slate in León where adobe brick
buildings are white-washed Spaniards

and history. We brought with us red and blue macaws, panthers,
and crocodiles. Tooling up and down
Dolores Street hills, my Papi rode

a bicycle delivering Lela’s nacatamales. Back and forth
from a clock tower at the end of Market Street,
a renovated 1919 streetcar,

transplanted from Milan, works tourist dollars. Advertisements
from the late sixties posted behind
True View Plexi-glass. I can’t read a word

of the European Italian glitz, deep blue of the Mediterranean
and a Coca-Cola, but there is a warm blanket
on a wooden bench and a leather

hand hook. Above a Cuban restaurant, where waiters serve
black bean hummus and chocolate croissants,
hangs the gay pride flag alongside

a Direct TV satellite dish. Gabby walks to school, Pokémon
cards in his pocket. Sanchez Street. I work
in the kitchen with my Lela. Mariposa Avenue,

Valencia Street, Camino Real, are added to masa. Homemade
tortillas puff into sweetness. I’m not
one third Irish, one half German

and two parts English with a little Cherokee thrown in,
but last night I couldn’t translate the word “hinge”
on every door that opens and closes

to clouds beyond four walls. An old lady, perhaps Cambodian,
Vietnamese, Korean, something of her own,
hurries off the 31 Stockton while

my Tía Teresa double parks in front of the mercados on 24th street
para los quesos y los chiles in the backroom. One
whiff and the world is not so small.

© Adelia Najarro

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