James J. Siegel
The God of San Francisco
Some believe the God of San Francisco
has taken his throne
at the top of Twin Peaks—
A mighty Mount Olympus
nine hundred feet above the city
where the kingdom of heaven
embraces the kingdom of The Bay.
At that elevation it is difficult not to see
that something greater guides the way,
watches over all creatures and creation
coming and going
by bridge and by air,
by cable car and ferry.
Watch as the west erupts with light,
the sun that drops into the Pacific
burning brighter than an angel
entering the atmosphere.
Watch the fog that follows,
floats like the Holy Ghost
down the rocky hillsides
to hang over Hayes Valley,
The sweetest incense
of some Catholic mass.
Yes, it is difficult not to believe,
but they are correct in name
and name alone —
My savior has a bar stool
at the Twin Peaks Tavern,
a window seat to watch the world
where Market street meets Castro,
and the rainbow flags flap in the cold
of another West Coast wind.
I go there when I need religion
at a happy hour price—
a Bud Light baptism—
when I need a good lesson
that God has yet to leave us behind.
He sits alone,
his hands turned to vein and bone.
But buy him a martini—
vodka with two olives,
and he will tell you anything
you need to know,
from the gold rush to North Beach
where the sailors wore dresses
over their anchor tattoos
to Jose Sarria and the Black Cat,
the Nightingale of Montgomery Street.
Yes, those were the days
when the prophets wore pearls,
when the Bible was burlesque,
and the saints mingled with the sinners,
the night a lightning strike
of arias and police sirens—
“God Save Us Nelly Queens.”
He raises a glass to the nevermore—
The Continental Baths,
the Elephant Walk,
to Harvey and his bullhorn.
A drink to the things that slipped away,
the bullets that shattered brains,
the murder called manslaughter
ushering in those White Night Riots,
the shattered glass of City Hall,
cop cars turned to funeral pyres,
And he remembers death
coming like it did in Egypt
stealing the first born,
the second born,
any young man who fell in love
with the twilight over Polk Street.
The obituary pages
with the black and white faces
of the men who colored the Castro.
He can tell you how he washed the feet
of skinny boys with lesions,
boys in hospice beds
wheeled to the window
for one final look of the city at dawn,
then wheeled to the morgues
with no family to claim their remains.
So he took them—
all of them—
ashes upon ashes
collected and released
where the ocean waters worship
the glory of the Golden Gate.
He scattered them
in South of Market bars
where the men in leather tap a keg,
toast the life of another dead brother.
And he set them free
where the winds bow and bend,
genuflect for the San Francisco sky.
All the bodies that danced
in Folsom neon and Freedom Day parades,
in disco light and speakeasy darkness,
in the soft ballet of love and life,
they flutter and float forever
where the oceans wear
a halo from the moon,
and the towers of Twin Peaks
glow in the resurrection of the night.
James J. Siegel is the author of How Ghosts Travel (Spuyten Duyvil Publishing, 2016). His poems have appeared in the journals The Good Men Project, The Cortland Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Assaracus, and The Fourth River, as well as in the anthology Divining Divas: 100 Gay Men On Their Muses (Lethe Press, 2012), edited by Michael Montlack. James received a scholarship to the Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. An Ohio native, James has been living in San Francisco for over a decade.
This poem is not previously published