Sep. 9, 2010

San Francisco Remembered

by Philip Schultz

In summer the polleny light bounces off the white buildings
& you can see their spines & nerves & where the joints knot.
You've never seen such polleny light. The whole city shining
& the women wearing dresses so thin you could see their wing-tipped hips
& their tall silvery legs alone can knock your eye out.
But this isn't about women. It's about the city of blue waters
& fog so thick it wraps round your legs & leaves glistening trails
along the dark winding streets. Once I followed such a trail
& wound up beside this redheaded woman who looked up & smiled
& let me tell you you don't see smiles like that in Jersey City.
She was wearing a black raincoat with two hundred pockets
& I wanted to put my hands in each one. But forget about her.
I was talking about the fog which steps up & taps your shoulder
like a panhandler who wants bus fare to a joint called The Paradise
& where else could this happen? On Sundays Golden Gate Park
is filled with young girls strolling the transplanted palms
& imported rhododendron beds. You should see the sunset
in their eyes & the sway, the proud sway of their young shoulders.
Believe me, it takes a day or two to recover. Or the trolleys clanking
down the steep hills—why you see legs flashing like mirrors! Please, Lord, please let me talk about San Francisco. How
that gorilla of a bridge twists in the ocean wind & the earth
turns under your feet & at any moment the whole works can crack
& slip back into the sea like a giant being kicked off his raft
& now, if it's all right, I would like to talk about women...

"San Francisco Remembered," by Phillip Schultz, from The God of Loneliness: Selected and New Poems. © Houghton Mifflin, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the novelist Leo Tolstoy, (books by this author) born near Moscow (1828), author of Anna Karenina (1875) and War and Peace (1869).

It's the birthday of Paul Goodman, (books by this author) born in New York City (1911). He was a poet, novelist, and author of Growing Up Absurd (1960).

On this day 160 years ago, California became a state. It was the 31st state admitted to the Union, just after Wisconsin and right before Minnesota.

It was a state born of the Compromise of 1850, an elaborate bargain between the North and the South over slavery. Under the compromise the territories of New Mexico and Utah would decide for themselves whether slavery were allowed, and California would be admitted to the Union as a free state.

In the late 1700s, California was settled by Spanish priests, who built missions up along the coastline. Mexico went to war against Spain to fight for independence, won, and so in 1821 got their independence. California was a part of the Mexican empire.

A couple of decades later, the United States was on its roll toward the West. In 1845, the U.S. annexed Texas, and California the year after.

The U.S. Congress declared war on Mexico, and sent in the U.S. Army and Navy to northern Mexican territory to crush resistance. The Mexican-American war lasted about two years.

When the badly defeated Mexican military gave up, and it was time for them to sign a peace treaty, the American troops occupied Mexico City. The U.S. more or less dictated the terms of the treaty to Mexico — the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo — and Mexico ended up losing a full 55 percent of the territory it had before the war.

The Gold Rush began in 1848, the population skyrocketed, and California became a state on this day in 1850, as part of that Compromise of 1850. It's now the most populated state America. And California's Central Valley is one of the most productive farming areas in the world, growing fruits, vegetables, and grains, and keeping a lot of dairy and meat cows. It's where about one-third of America's food comes from.

Non-California writer Truman Capote said, "It's a scientific fact that if you stay in California you lose one point of your IQ ever year." Comedian Fred Allen said, "California is a fine place to live — if you happen to be an orange."

Novelist Alison Lurie said, "As one went to Europe to see the living past, so one must visit Southern California to observe the future." San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti called Southern California the place "where the American Dream came too true."

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