Fear and Joy


Seven years ago, when I first arrived in the city–in the midst of the same type of huge transition I’m diving into now–I was lucky enough to see the poet Robert Hass read at a special event. It was one of those memorable nights when I just couldn’t believe that I was really in the sparkling city of San Francisco–and in the presence of literary greatness to boot. Praise is one of my favorite of the poet’s collections. It begins:

“We asked the captain what course

of action he proposed to take

toward a beast so large, terrifying, and

unpredictable. He hesitated to

answer, and then said judiciously:

‘I think I shall praise it.’ ”

The idea of being not only curious about the fruits of the unknown, but wholly devoted to them, gives me the shivers. How brave…! Further into the book is a poem called “September”, which I cannot help but excerpt in light of my coming departure.

How I will miss this place!

“Here are some things to pray to in San Francisco: the bay, the mountain, the goddess of the city; remembering, forgetting, sudden pleasure, loss; sunrise and sunset; salt; the tutelary gods of Chinese, Japanese, Basque, French, Italian and Mexican cooking; the solitude of coffee houses and museums; the virgin, mother and widow moons; hilliness, vistas; John McLaren; Saint Francis; the Mother of Sorrows; the rhythm of any life still whole through three generations; wine, especially zinfandel because from that Hungarian vine-slip came first a native wine not resinous and sugar-heavy; the soudough mother, true yeast and beginning; all fish and fishermen at the turning of the tide; the turning of the tide; eelgrass, oldest inhabitant; fog; seagulls; Joseph Worcester; plum blossoms; warm days in January …”

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