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Bay Area Walkabout
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Bay Area Walkabout

by Tom Cantwell

Can a poem be composed at an airport?

Why not?

This is San Francisco, after all,

a city that Lawrence Ferlinghetti referred to as having

“perhaps more poets and more poetry readers than any city in the world”

and I know this because I read it in his book

San Francisco Poems

which I bought at his old shop, City Lights Books

because of course I went to City Lights Books,

bastion of the Beat Generation,

literary lion-heart of the left coast.

And so concludes my four day solo walkabout,

solitude so much sweeter

when you have a wonderful wife

and son

and daughter

to come home to,

and home is somewhere you can’t wait to come home to

after you’ve walked through so much wonder:

First view of sun-splashed skyscrapers

walking up from the Embarcadero subway station

at Market and Main

after being confined by airport, mask, plane, and train,

head upturned at those glass-glittering buildings,

man-made angles against a blue sky

and sunshine.

Something you should know about walking the streets of San Francisco:

there are hills

up and down Broadway and Columbus to Fisherman’s Wharf,

up and over Fort Mason to views of the bay and Alcatraz Island,

up through the Presidio to cross the Golden Gate Bridge

with warning signs and crisis hotlines,

just the thought of jumping,

with cars and trucks and bicycles whizzing by,

enough to make me queasy

and happy to stand on solid ground.

Something you should know about hiking the Marin Headlands:

there are hills

up and down the Miwok Trail

and the Wolf Ridge Trail

and the Pirate’s Cove Trail,

making me wonder why the trails couldn’t contour the hills

instead of going up and down

and up and down

and up and down.

But the views kept me going:

the vast expanse of chaparral and scrubby trees,

such a broad swath of wilderness so close to the city,

a redwood grove minding its own business

and whenever I got high enough,

the vast blue expanse of the sea

shimmering silver in the western sun.

What else kept me going was

what waited at the end of the trail:

a shower, a drink, a meal, and a bed

because this walkabout was inn-to-inn.

At the Pelican Inn, Muir Beach,

I ate fish and chips by candlelight

in a pub reminiscent of medieval England.

I heard coyotes yipping and howling through my window

(I had seen their gray scat and a gray rabbit cross the trail earlier in the day)

and I wanted to walk down to the beach in the dark

but I was too tired.

At the Sandpiper Lodging, Stinson Beach,

I ate chowder and drank cider on a picnic bench

in a classic California beach town.

I heard the rush and muffled roar of the ocean through my window

(I had seen surfers trying to ride those waves earlier in the day)

and I was tired

but I made myself walk down to the beach

because it was the last night of my walkabout

and the stars were out.

But now I sit at this airport

at the end of this trip

with this mask on my face again,

and it’s been strange today after so much walking

(maybe twenty miles?)

to let others move me around:

bus from Stinson Beach to Sausalito,

ferry from Sausalito to San Francisco,

train from downtown to the airport,

a plane that will take me to Eugene,

and a taxi that will take me home.

But even so,

I still had to walk to the bus stop,

to the ferry terminal,

to the subway station,

and the plane gate.

I have a lot more to walk about,

trips like this that I have imagined

and ones I haven’t thought of yet,

but the one I am thinking of right now

goes from the plane to the taxi,

up my driveway to our front door,

(probably 1 AM by the time I get home)

downstairs to a warm shower,

and up one last time to our cozy bed.