Open Poem to Lawrence Ferlinghetti from the Urban Forester

Despite our best efforts

Arbor Day is the least embraced of San Francisco’s events

People here just don’t find it sexy enough

 

Celebrated in America 100 years before the first Earth Day

And the Summer of Love

What if you celebrated the Human Be-In every year

And no hipsters showed up?

They are burning the man

Or at pre- and post-compression parties I guess

 

We revived Arbor Day here in 2005

Signature tree also honors local and Int’l greats

Cork oak for Rosa Parks on Van Ness

Coast live oak for Nelson Mandela in the Western Addition

And for Espanola Jackson of Hunters Point on Evans,

Charlie Starbuck got a tree on Geary, 

Still volunteers planting trees for Friends of the Urban Forest

Every Saturday since 1981

Using public transit & arriving early each week

Trees in the ground before most of the City wakes

 

Not all those honored are buried first

Who is the most important San Franciscan still living 

In the mind of the Urban Forester?

In the mind of America?

In A Coney Island of the Mind, 

A Far Rockaway of the Heart?

 

Who began selling paperbacks & pocket books

In a small storefront on Columbus

And soon put this coastal town on the Int’l map

Put the best coast on the Left Coast

Who overtook the discovery of gold

By panning for free speech

Protecting freedom of expression in the whole

The most valuable element in free society

 

What are the qualifications to be the Urban Forester

In the City of St. Francis?

Is it plant biology or environmental policy?

Or an undergrad degree in English 

With a passion for literature?

 

How do you speak San Francisco to San Franciscans?

Not with the Latin names for trees

Not always with facts & figures

Or science & data

Not when most want more sun, less shade & more views

 

The urban forester needs to speak San Francisco

Starting out, I too made a move from NYC’s Lower Inside

The pocket bookshop on Columbus 

The right person at the right time at the right place in USA

Bop prosody & a need to publish the new vision

The summer of love got started way before ‘67

Started the moment the last Great War flashed out

When Snyder read "Berry Feast" at the Six Gallery

And Allen’s "Howl" was heard across the globe

 

Other things happened there too:

I greet you at the beginning of a great career

 

We’ve crossed paths a few times

First was a four-way stop in North Beach

Yielded to your well-worn pick-up truck

My mouth agape

 

A few years later,

Entered the bookshop

Friday morning after Thanksgiving,

I stepped through the doorway head bowed

While an older gentleman glided out

And as soon as we passed each other

I did a double take

Dashed over to peer above the magazine rack

Out the front window onto the sidewalk 

To confirm:

Just shared the threshold of history with the founder & publisher himself

Considered myself blessed & anointed

Resisted the urge to follow you 

Among your fellow gray panthers and cougars

Went upstairs instead, to my Gary Snyder section

And took a seat in the Poet’s chair

 

Poetry as Insurgent Art was our next shared space

A rare reading in the bookshop, like Ginsberg & Cassady in the 50’s

Brought my disabled mother-in-law

Couldn’t even get inside before she asked staff for a bathroom

But silver-haired & walker opens hearts and gets special treatment

I parked the car in Chinatown

 

Stopped my grumbling when I found her in the front row

With an extra seat for me

Major cameras in the balcony

This could be his last public reading in City Lights

Told her she may not live to see it

But someday we’ll both be captured

Together, in photo or film

A few years later, the documentary is released

Directed by Christopher Felver

A Rebirth of Wonder

And there we are, front row, in the Ferlinghetti trailer

Sallie still alive then, to watch it

 

After the reading,

Looking like a former lover

Sallie cut the line, walker at the prow

She wouldn’t stop shaking your hand

Your blue eyes and blue shirt, 

“Your eyes are so blue” she keeps repeating

Double pumping your hand, 

Her blue scarf, your shining diamond sutra

She asked you to do readings more often

Signed a copy for her son-in-law, 

While I snapped photos from across the room

Future City Arborist – Urban Forester of San Francisco

 

We demonize tech

Blame them for everything

The cost of living

St. Francis would not approve of this witch hunt

Don’t they know that the Bay Area 

Is the center of the free thinking world?

Better to blame the Miwok

Lewis & Clark

The Gold Rush 49ers

Jack London & Mark Twain

Emperor Norton

The Golden Gate & Bay Bridges

The pocket bookshop

The beatniks and Herb Caen

The great San Francisco poetry & jazz renaissance

The Merry Pranksters

The gathering of the tribes

The Summer of Love & music scene

The hippies that followed

The 

Land conservation

The preservation of vast amounts of open space 

To the north, east and south

Harvey Milk & the Castro

Dykes on Bikes

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

Berkeley

Bill Walsh, Joe Montana & Jerry Rice

The redwoods

Bluegum eucalyptus

Early custom mountain bikes 

Circumambulating Mt. Tam in the 1970s

Alcatraz

Bolinas

Zen

Nudists

Dave Eggers

Yoga

Rice a roni

Alice Waters and the foodies

The chime of the cable cars

The Parrots of Telegraph Hill - which are actually kind of loud 

And now live behind me in the Bavyiew

 

You can eliminate all tech

But San Francisco will retain

The highest rents in the land

Still imperfect

Still the last great hope at the final shore

At the end of the new world

 

Arbor Day

Not all those honored are buried first

Who is the most important San Franciscan still living

In the mind of the Urban Forester?

In the mind of America?

 

Ten years ago

I woke in tears from a nightmare:

Lawrence Ferlinghetti was dead

I was walking down mid-Market

Tears streaming down my face

The most important living San Franciscan

Hero of Freedom of Speech

Owner Founder Publisher Writer Painter Icon

The most important building in the City and America

Mecca for all English majors and the other great thinkers

 

Loss, washing over me in sobs

The right person at the right time at the right place in USA

The City not the same City without him

 

Fell in love with trees my final semester 

While reading Walden line by line

Like all former high school jocks

I also adored Kerouac

Showed me how to reinvent myself

 

An Uncle also recommended 

Snyder/Ferlinghetti/Whalen/Ginsberg

In a post card

Took Snyder’s “Real Work” to heart

Stuffed the chipper with my English degree

 

Climbed myself up through the ranks

Feel the weight of the wood, think global, act local

Dragged brush bundled in tarps 

Through living rooms in Pacific Heights

Still desire to write the Next Great American Novel

 

Eventually, 

Education Coordinator, Friends of the Urban Forest

Urban Forestry Inspector, City & County

Caring civilized civil servant

Now permanent Urban Forester

Of still the most forward thinking City in America

Working with others to manage

All the trees & plants in our sidewalks

 

What are the qualifications to be the Urban Forester of SF?

The urban forester needs to speak San Francisco

Undergrad degree in English

A passion for literature

The written word

The written world

 

San Franciscans smoke more trees than they plant

And some would prefer to park on their sidewalk

Than allow a tree to take that space

The best time to have planted a tree was 20 years ago

The next best time is now

 

We won’t all live forever

You can’t live forever

We keep honoring worthy folks

But can’t we honor you while still among us?

Who survived Normandy and San Francisco

Almost 98 but Rose edged you out this year in Chinatown

Can we go ahead and make a date of it, for 2018 

Or should we Howl together at 100 in 2019?

 

Even if we never get a chance to plant that mythic tree

(in my mind) together

In joyful gratitude Mr. Ferlinghetti, 

I promise to organize an annual pilgrimage:

Bloomsday Day-like celebration on March 24th 

The day of your birth

From the Potrero Hill house to North Beach

And so many points between 

To start at sunrise each year,

7:06 A.M across the street from 706 Wisconsin St.

Invite others to read your poetry

Or read their own about you and San Francisco

Dada will like a day like this

And the Giants shall recite 

Your Baseball Canto

During the 7th inning stretch

 

You and I both know why there are no street trees

In front of the bookshop on Columbus

I nearly marked out some proposed planting locations anyway

Last November during the Dada conference, on your sidewalk

Just to create a stir

Already regret not acting on this Dada impulse:

I studied Dada with Professor Kuenzli, in Iowa City

Home of the International Dada Archive

In Iowa, of all places

 

In December I read in The New ‘Yick’ Times 

We both believe our saddest memory

Is the 2016 Presidential election 

But take heart, in the end, 

As my daughter likes to point out

It is a forester who thwarts

The Big Bad Wolf

 

Thank you Sir, for all that you have given us

San Francisco’s first poet laureate

In that role, a fellow civil servant

The Urban Forester is grateful

That a local street bears your name 

But it’s time now to receive the real token of our affection

A Tree to the City

 

Please, can my people talk to your people?

 

No, let me first speak San Francisco

And place this in the hands of poesy

 

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago

The second best time is now

 

I will meet you one day in my dreams

And every year

On March 24th,

On Ferlinghetti Day