Epiphany

when words appear and appear
idea takes form without
prodding, one letter after the next
pelting drops of rain
unabated it continues this
storm, lightning flashes
perfect cliché, but like a sneeze
it happens, a small clearing
breathing in new oxygen
effortless arrival, like it
was there all along

Guayaquil Street Kids

Sweaty fingers, dozens, paw me, arms outstretched, dirt and grime under fingernails. Above crusty noses, brown eyes peer out searching for my soul. I try not to look at their faces staring into me, focus on their tattered shirts. Money they want money, tugging on me like indigenous feral cats. “Just kids,” I tell myself, pace quickening to cross the street, get away, get back to my hotel, get past the security guard, into the air conditioning. For a minute they are with me like pigeons and I’m the bread. We walk together, my unwanted children. Wordless, I’d like to pause, embrace each one, but I quickly close the heavy hotel door.

Malcolm X Elementary

October 16th 1997, I arrived at Malcolm X Elementary in Hunter’s Point to sub a 4th grade class, I was the 20th substitute they’d had in twenty days. The original teacher quit after being punched by a student. I didn’t have a credential, I hadn’t been in a 4th grade classroom since I was 10.

On my first day I heard them before I opened the door, the shouts, the taunting, the loud fuck yous. When I walked in, they momentarily paused, looked me up and down, then ignored me.

There was Brandy whose mother had just died, sullen. Herman who had already been drunk, had the nickname Bad Boy. Randy, a former crack baby, had impulse control issues, hit other kids, then forgot why. Alonzo, who looked me in my eyes, asked me if I could find his father. Cammie, her biological mother entered the classroom drunk, started touching her cheeks. Ralphie, who entered 4th grade illiterate and left the same way. Donnie, who I implored to stop grabbing the cakes (bottoms) of girls in the hall. June, who’s mother I restrained from whoopin’ Ralphie’s little butt. Jasmine who I let sleep for the first two hours of school, because she stayed awake during the late night drug deals at her apartment. Rachel, who’s dad fought pitbulls and threatened to bitch slap one of my colleagues. Bevaun, who I took hiking on Mount Diablo, he liked to sing doo wop with me. Thuy, who stayed in my class for one week before her parents had the foresight to have her transferred out. Gene, who threatened to kill me, threw chairs, and was eventually transferred to another school. Then there was Ozzie, he was homeless, would fight anyone, was fearless.

There were a total of 23 kids, five barred windows, and one me. I started by being bigger, louder, but they knew that one, that was all they knew. One day I just closed my eyes and sat in the center of the room, quiet. I was amazed that they became quiet too, they just stared at me. I wasn’t meditating, but I figured out that me just sitting still had power.

The mornings got better, math, language arts, multiplication, some writing, except for Ralphie, he sat singing to himself. Before Christmas we practiced our song for the show (Christmas is Coming), I heard love in my voice, in some of their voices too. During the winter rains they sat next to me at lunch, asked me why I ate tomatoes. We had recess inside, everyday. Spring, I took them to Glen Canyon Park in San Francisco and Mount Diablo in the East Bay, we did outdoor silent sits, some fell asleep, curled up by oak trees.

June arrived and they left. Years later I started to google them. Thuy was a teacher, Brandy graduated from SF State. Alonzo was in lock up for drug distribution, Amir for assault and battery. And Bevaun, my Life Could Be A Dream doo wop partner, he was dead, killed in a drive by shooting. Most of them have probably forgotten about me, but I never forgot them, my first class.

Summer Beard

Whiskers start in June
mostly black, some gray
pushing through skin
like sunflowers they emerge
carefree, unrestrained by razors
of other seasons
when they are scraped away
like speckled truth
man’s primitive nature hemmed.
Summertime, I let them grow for days
like a backpacker searching
for my lost youth.
Long hours of shadowy sun
my face like time
standing still.

Morning at School

Let peals of laughter
echo off walls, sounds of children
on the stairs and in the halls

Let the whistle sound on playing field
boundless jumping up to run
touch the grass under morning sun

Let minds ponder questions
scientific method, formulas
angles, geometric lines

Let young voices take the stage
sing with power and persuade
light abound in fearless choir

Let us clear the way
for the young to own their day
our tomorrow gleaming bright

Yoga

Closed eyes meditating, my butt sitting on a yoga mat, the one I bought at Whole Foods, the one that my hands slip on when I sweat, which is usually. Class hasn’t started yet, but I can sense them, surrounding me, their mats slapping the floor, stretching in their Lululemon pants, the women. I don’t have to open my eyes to know they are there, flexible, strong, relaxed, focused. A few minutes later the teacher welcomes us, thank you for being here, for being present to yourself. I open my eyes, take a quick look around, sometimes see another me, a guy with hairy legs, but not this time. Ladies, what would you like to work on today? Ellen asks, then makes eye contact with me. Daniel, something you’d like to work on? She says with a smile. I’ve been at it for more than a year; Vinyasa, Flow, Kundalini, Restorative, each class an inner and outer adventure, a 75 minute voyage, breathing into tendons, muscles, discovering hidden recesses of my body’s stress. I make no suggestions for Ellen, soon find myself on my back, legs far apart, like I’m giving birth to twins. Downward Dog, Warrior 2, Plank, Happy Baby, Pigeon, names that sound like video games, my contorted limbs pressing into earth and air. Eyes stay closed, but occasionally I peek, we look like kids playing a sophisticated version of Simon Says. Minutes pass, life loosening its hold, I forget where I am. Shavasana, corpse pose, Ellen’s tranquil voice offers us simulated death, an ending. I hear sighs, relief, rest fills the space. My mind wanders off to the future, wonders how it will be with me, those final breaths, then namaste.

Trampoline

In the air I’m a kid, split second floating, suspended, before gravity tugs me back to the coiled elastic mat. Legs, torso, shoulders, body of pounds, my weight denting the flexible floor. Calve muscles support the landing, trembling energy moving like a feeble pogo stick. Is that all you’re gonna do, just sit there jumping up and down? My daughter asks. As if I have a choice, as if I could leap spontaneously, do a flip or twist. I smile watching her limbs lunging carefree, that song Riptide playing in the background, the one we both like. This is all I can do, but I won’t stop. I say like the middle-aged man that I am. Do a trick, come on, she cajoles. Deliberate, I push harder, hop higher, watch this, touch my toes in mid air. That’s your best? She laughs. I just grin, glad that I’ve fooled her, glad that she thinks there’s more in the tank.

Noe Valley, San Francisco

Once the Irish, the Germans, the workers pressed together, clustered little Victorians, where they were born, lived, then died. Now babies in strollers, babies pressed against mom, against dad, toddlers wobbling, wide blocks of deconstructed, reconstructed, houses, pasted photos, smiling women and men, realtors, listing, listed, selling, sold. White buses, elevated people, wearing laptops like blankets, heading south to touch more technology. Hilly hills, wisps of fog, oceanic clouds, permanent winter like they say Twain said. Past and present commingle in gusts of wind, September summers, sometimes rain and rainbows.