i remember going to chinatown.
i was finna hit up this marin academy alumni holiday party (circa december 2014) at butter bar/lounge, which is on columbus & stockton (i think).
i regretfully took a lyft ride to the bar. i remember punching myself softly in my head for being lazy & not taking muni & consequently pouring more co2 into the atmosphere.
i got dropped off in front of the ping yuen housing complex on columbus street. apparently the bar was a few doors down. i looked up at the building, noticing the blank plaster walls with gates over the windows, a "chinese" motif / lion statuette guarding the front entrance...& then an older gentleman walking out in his navy blue, netted cap, grey members-only type jacket, & khakis. scenes from 2nd grade eryn replayed on my own fuzzy vhs.... of family friends telling me about their upbringing in ping yuen during the 1950s-1970s & my mama recounting that one best not side step the folks from here, unless you want yo shit murked.
i looked up at this ghostly giant of a wall...with these rusty, depressing letter pegs spelling out p-i-n-g-y-u-e-n. was truly on my james joyce, for i had that araby-type moment where i just looked up. curiosity running aimlessly throughout...wondering...almost imagining...the unsung songs...the collective narratives of this local landmark's homegrown inhabitants.
i walked up the hill to butter. i arrived awkwardly aka super early as folks were setting up…so, i decided to traverse my grandparents’, great grandparents’, & great great grandparents’ / collective pasts, collective memory, mental landscape, but really the map of my own dna...
it is eerie and awkward for me to type this experience while looking at a macbook screen, with the ticklish & again awkward pain in the posterior of my throat…that awkward pain when you are about to cry. i am in japan physically but my mind is rewinding back to that episode…when the entire world seemed to have been shook vertically…& where i felt the might of gravity upon my chest, lungs pushed down, my breathing becoming tighter...this same ticklish, indescribable discomfort rising from my chest to my throat from my throat back to my chest...until...
that's what it felt like when I walked past the stoop of my grandpa’s former accounting office on grant avenue...the entrance in between a store-front & a souvenir shop’s post card spinny rack. see a year after he died, in 2013, i walked past this same stoop & saw the same canton building directory still had my grandfather’s name, his accounting business (that he started & ran for almost 50 years), & his best friend’s name & his best friend’s insurance company. these two o.g.’s san franciscans, i thought in my head, are still here...we still outchere!
but walking along grant avenue this time in 2014 was a bit...different. of course the usual tourists, & then 3 white men in grey suits, walking slowly, reading the for lease sign, which was actually written in chinese. one of the white men had oil-slicked-pierce-brosnan-type-hair & took a photo with his iphone of the sign that was written in chinese. that made me scared.
i wiggled my way past the remaining tourists, like i often do, past the spinny postcard rack & turned left into the cutty stoop...i remember the anticipatory schmorgus board of emotions...bits of sweet optimism sprinkled upon the heavy heap of bullshit / negative encounters, that my brain labelled as "gentrification" & "losing your home & thus your shit".
the old directory...covered with a shitty, foam-core board…I don't even know whose name was on it, just saw that it wasn’t my grandpa's. the new name was put in a font that looked tacky & not as dope as the 3-d times new roman type block letters that go into the felt board thing…
i can’t explain to you via cyber universe how painful this was to see. it trips me out to even type about this…a year later…in japan…on a fucking laptop…while my homies, the giver and takers’ jam - lost my body - flows through my sludge-filled brain, letting these emotions flow…out…
how to runaway…show me how to runaway from this…
i know there are worse situations & problems. but that’s not the point of me articulating this. i don't want to play "who's the most oppressed" game. that's not what this poetry is for.
" this is poetry as i l l u m i n a t i o n for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are - until the poem - nameless & formless, about to be birthed, but already felt. that distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea... " - audre lorde
i remember looking at the glass of the directory...looking at the reflection of my own face...my body drooped down to the brick steps of the stoop...i could only sob into my hands. with tourists just walking by. looking or sometimes not looking. but if looking, gave me that puzzled, wtf-this-is-awkward-i-have-human-compassion-but-this-is-not-within-my-touring-through-chinatown-social-script-especially-with-this-chinese-girl. part of me was in rage. part of me was just broken. part of me was lost. part of me was beginning to accept.
accept that an era was over. that my grandpa was indeed physically gone. that the city he called his home was no longer familiar. his name gone…his essence gone…his love gone…his smell of wine breath & old cosby sweaters…gone.
i remember feeling like it wasn't just his essence that was gone, but his golden, charismatic culture he radiated, his personal collections of struggles & triumphs, really just his story...san francisco's story. you must understand that losing san francisco to me is losing myself... is losing my family....is losing my ancestors. is losing the long lineages of love that have pumped life through my flesh.
but it feels like no matter how much I tell this story, no matter how much I cry & try to convey this story to others that are buying out san francisco & using it at their obnoxious post-grad wasteland…no matter how much i try to speak eloquently ... i don't think they feel the magnitude of these constant painful quakes that shake my entire core…crumbling every piece of my sanity, my sense of self, my belonging, my home…to dust.
sometimes i think i am just overreacting. because i am damn privileged & my family is still in san francisco. but so much of that larger san francisco family that raised me is not. so much of that love that nourished my soul & cultivated this empowered, artistic womxn is no longer here…of a lot of that love has moved to oakland, antioch, fairfield, vallejo, north carolina, some above to the starry universe & hopefully back down in the form of flowers...but
never has the quote "love don’t live here like it used to" rang so true.
though when I spiral down into these dips of what seem like forever…these dark dim dirt lows of cold earth & impenetrable concrete walls of sadness…i always remember what my mom tells me…& so many others…
...that I carry all of this love…all of these stories…these wonderful souls…the spirit of community....i carry it...it is me.
some snippets / freestyles :
these memories of galavanting through golden gate park's rose gardens & redwood groves on foggy freezing days with shorts on, running carelessly through…
talking existence in 2nd grade with my favorite after school counselor with orange curls who was married to a chinese american designer & who was from the midwest & who came to san francisco to pursue art & who radiated so much love…& so much imagination…she is the san francisco i love & carry with me. she taught us mindfulness & would have all of us kids close our eyes as she told us to imagine our hands touching the soft ebb and flow of water.
them memories of my grandpa coming over the house and pinching my cheeks & calling me a naughty / bratty girl in chinese.
them memories of my 3rd generation grandma making me & my siblings her beloved buttermilk waffles with powdered sugar…only when she had went to safeway to buy buttermilk...which was usually went my great auntie (who was apart of the first ever class to graduate george washington high school) was visiting from sacramento with her kids & grandkids.
although carrying a heavy heart, I do carry this eternal sunshine…this eternal love…that I only want to share…that I already do share…with the old lady on the bus who is smiling at everyone that doesn't smile at her back, until she looks at me…love that I pass to the kids I work with…the plants i am lucky enough to tend to…
it is incredible to think such an incredible community has blessed me with so much love…& in turn so much love & light & art to give…& of course a story to tell so…here we go.
as much as I miss san francisco…my home…my family…my community…the rad youth & incredible teachers that I have had the fortunate opportunity to work with…