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The City I Cannot Leave

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by Nancy Hom

I cannot leave San Francisco;
my roots have spread too wide and deep.
From the fog-capped hills of Twin Peaks
to the grit of Market Street, I have
seeped into every crevice of the city.

I have joined the fools and dreamers
ho love mango walls and red satin shoes.
Naked and tattooed, or in leather and lace,
from Fillmore to Folsom, they kick their feet,
drenched in blues, swaying to sexy sax,
blowing poems into the velvet night.

I have been seduced by the Mission:
its mariachis, murals, and myriad cultures.
Guadalupe and Buddha, Santana and
Sandinistas side by side on Valencia Street.
Balmy alleys bursting with color,
Carnaval sequins sparkling in the sun.

I cannot leave Manilatown where
bonds were forged in common battle
for dignity and a place to call home.
Where Al Robles and Bill Sorro’s spirits
roam the halls of SROs to remind us
to savor the smell of fish and bagoong
and never forget the taste of the sea
from which we came.

I cannot leave Chinatown with its huddles
of Toisan elders in Portsmouth Square
bent over chess, pink plastic bags in hand.
The erhu’s shrill lament on Grant Avenue
of villages left behind. The clack of
mahjong tiles and the clang of dishes
as waiters and gamblers curse
in the backrooms of restaurants.

I am that waiter’s daughter, that gambler’s
niece. I am that dancer, that painter,
that weaver of words. I am the fighter,
the holder of grief, the bearer of songs.
I will be here when the winds whip down
and the sidewalk’s soaked with heavy rains.
I will be here where the mud is deep
and the trees are bent by sudden storm.
The roads are pitted; the climb is high;
but the view is vast in the city I cannot leave.

© Nancy Hom 2012

First published in NamJai: A Tribute to Bay Area API Poets,

The ReWrite 2013

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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