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Francis

1953

"Oh the pink glow of the San Francisco sun over the top of my hedge! To find you here again, a miracle. Don't let me grumble. Is it odd to think my words could pierce the air, and reach you across the veil of physicality? No, I have seen the signs, and welcome them. All my life I have been doing the work, and receiving the signs. And all the while sharpening the point, like homo habilus dipping repeatedly one end of his spear in the fire.

"Forty-four years I have been carrying on being Francis. The climate here is mild, but the streets are strangely weathering. Yes they are. My body is like some medieval book—partially effaced by caustic zealots, and partially adorned with the marginalia of centuries of dreamers. Dreamers! There's the key. They stick out in crowds to me, their faces tinged all 'round with colored mood-glow.

"I remember, ten years old, dancing in the rain on the edge of a lake with hundreds of small frogs. We danced! Small me and the smaller frogs. The plops of their bodies and their gulping and the patter of rain. And only forty-four but already old, street-old, watching the rain course along the gutter carrying cigarette butts and candy wrappers into the inevitable grate.

"Carrying on stepwise looking in at windows. At lovers eating ice cream in an Italian restaurant. The glow of a candle beside their laced fingers. Or the dim flicker of the television set and the family arranged on couches and chairs in the living room, their backs to you, and only the drizzle on your skin to remind you that you are not inside. That you are not the family dog, and do not have your wet nose set gently to the bristles of the rug.

"These people understand only minimally. They radiate like precious stones dropped in crystal glasses carelessly strewn about the garden, but see nothing outside the glinting mirrors that surround them. I see great distances and across vast time! For me the tectonic slab of the earth crumbles away beneath imposing crust, pluming downwards with kinetic majesty, melting and metamorphosing, and rising in hot globules through the meditating shell to cool as the hard, dark beds and basins of our home. I have received the news of South America from a tanager. I share the confidence of the moles! But if I need to speak to you, it is because I am weak. If I were strong I would be silent. When I lie down, I feel the old itch of incorporeality in my spine. In the moments before sleep, I think I could let go of Francis like unclutching a balloon."

The sun rising over the buildings down below. Dew on the grass. The chill of high shadows. Thirst. Desire for warmth. The homely crumple of a newspaper bed. The sound of a car idling and a hushed quarrel. The feeling of being hidden. Awareness of altitude. The sight of ivy cascading down the steps on Russian Hill. The pale heat of a first ray of sunshine on the nose. Distant sounds. Machinery, seabirds, church bells.

"I've been carrying on being Francis, and I've had all sorts of signs over the years that I'm doing what I'm meant to. That I'm on the right track looking for the dreamers, and keeping the old knowledge coursing downstream. The pigeons flock to me, for instance. They recognize my hat. There ain't no other body with a hat like mine. It's red with a big old jewel in the top. One of a kind. I am the envy even of a circus elephant I once saw. He took it from me and trunked it up and set it on his own broad forehead. And then he laughed at me all squintingly and set it back. We shook hands, he and I. He felt my finger with the tip of his trunk. His name was Hugo. But what's a name to an elephant?

"Here we set off down the steps. I have a regular route, is what I have. I have a regular route, and an allowance for deviation and whimsy. It's important to have a route, because you carve a rut there into the psychic continuum of the world and then when the rain comes it washes all sorts of opportunities into your little creek bed. But you must respect as well the free play of the universe, and carry on always with a keen awareness of the flickering hand of fate. I have heard that in India, the elephant-god is not only the destroyer of obstacles, but their creator too. Just so it is with me, Francis, for I am the shadow saint of all the dreamers! And if I mumble it is so as not to disturb their revery.

"Between here and the bay lie the Italian and Chinese districts. From this hill to Coit Tower over there is my garden. I know every crevice, den and tunnel. And most importantly, I know all the solemn spots where you find the dreamers. It's just exactly like this. Like this woman leaning on her rake in the middle of this alley. She's in a purple sort of a mood watching the leaves fly in spirals across the asphalt. You have to be on the lookout for just this sort of a person."

"Did you say something to me?"

"Oh, don't mind me dear. I'm just speaking in a posterior way. For the benefit of the next generation."

"It sounded like you were talking about me."

"In a way, certainly. It's important to keep this sort of ancestral knowledge fresh. I'm like a muscle in the heart. I have to keep moving or I'd stop for longer. Just keep thinking about the trees, is my advice!

"I'm going over to Chinatown now. Poverty comes with the position, and so I've had to learn to be real thrifty. The first part of that is watching just what exactly I consume. For me yesterday it was first a cup of coffee, which my friend Joe got me from the back door of the Astoria hotel over on Bush and Grant. He's an elevator operator there. He got me a cup of coffee and sketched me while I drank it and had a smoke in the back alley. He let me keep my favorite, here look. It has a good sort of sweep to it that's like how I see myself. With meander scars etched into my face and wind blowing through my charcoal hair.

"After that I had a shave at the birdbath in Portsmouth Square. So that's all together one cup of coffee, free; one cigarette, three cents; little bit of soap, negligible. Yesterday I had nothing for breakfast, but today I have ten cents in my pocket, which is glorious. What I like to do is I'll go in here, Yang Lo something or other, here yes this is the place. Big dim sum display counter, beautiful beautiful. Two of the dumplings please. Yes two. And one of these here spare ribs. The black not the red. That's right, one. Eight cents all together, not bad at all. There you are. Thank you dear. I'll just go out and walk through the street while I eat them. It is important to recognize the pig, before you eat him. The pig is a noble animal, and he is honorable to eat. It is important though not to do it unthinkingly, but with great purpose and appreciation."

The savor of smoke in the flesh. Steam coming from a manhole cover in the road. The clatter of trucks unloading. A wonderful fishlike feeling of being compelled forward along the sidewalk by the crowd. The bell tones of a thousand Chinese syllables. Paper lamps hanging from the eaves of buildings. A young woman in the window of a tea shop with a blue glow, her face placid, gazing out at the street. The heat and the springy texture of the dumplings. A gutter smell of garlic and old cooking oil. Thirst, and a warm lump in the gut.

"Kearny here is the end of Chinatown. Oh, look at this glorious cloud of fuzzy adolescent sparrows twittering in the yew tree! Yeeep! Chyeep! Jyeep! I am lifted by the wings of inspiration. I am guided along by the vegetables and the green trees. There is no poetry like the rich world that holds me. Hey, I'd like one of those.

"Excuse me young man. Could I buy one of those cigarettes from you?"

"Yeah okay."

"What's the going price for a cigarette? A penny? Or a line or two of verse. Do you like poetry?"

"What? Of course. Can anyone honestly say they don't like poetry?"

"Then maybe you'll accept this in exchange."

"What is that? Oh, okay. Little mimeographed poem. That's alright. Here, just have one."

"Thank you kindly."

Striking a match. Hands cupped in a bowl. The smell of sulfur and the crisp sound of burning paper.

"May I ask you a question young man?"

"Uh—sure. Okay. One question."

"So suppose we're here, and God or angels or what have you is up here. And right below us is maybe monkeys. Or dolphins. The scientists haven't made up their minds."

"Yeah... You mean something with brains."

"Sure. What we'd say has consciousness, more consciousness than other things. More like us. So what I want to know is, what do you suppose has the least consciousness?"

"I don't know. Cockroaches are pretty low down. I guess a plant though."

"You don't suppose plants think a little?"

"Think? No, no way. Well, they are alive though, and I guess there's some consciousness involved in just being alive. I change my answer. Dirt. Dirt is the dumbest thing on earth."

"What about all the microbes in it?"

"Microbes. What, little germ things? What about them?"

"Don't they have any consciousness?"

"What? No. I mean, fine... I guess, by my own logic, maybe the teensiest amount. What does it matter?"

"Imagine if you could see it all, clearly, you could see just exactly as it was, all the consciousness. Of all the birds in the sky, and worms in the ground, and fish in the water. The dolphins and the monkeys and the plants and the microbes. And all the people, too. And that it turned out that there wasn't any such thing as more or less consciousness, that it was just all these different kinds all swirling together."

"This is my friend Maria. We have to go now."

"Hello there. I was just telling this young man—"

"We have to go. Aren't we going to be late?"

"No, but we have to stop and get flowers on the way so we should get moving."

"Goodbye mister. Have a nice day."

"It's alright! It's okay. You'll see, we'll all be just fine in the end. Nothing is ever destroyed. Just as solid matter grows, makes life, and then decays and metamorphoses, so does conscious energy return to the nonphysical plane for regeneration."

"If you say so, man."

"Keep dreaming! Raise your sails high that you may catch the wind when it blows!

"They were so brightly pulsating. Like fireflies. And they left in their wake a soft fragrant trail like a fine perfume.

"Oh, youth. When did I lose you? I can read the omens. I feel the cold seeping into my bones. But just know that even when I give up being Francis, and shuffle off into the ether, one way or another I'll still be around. I will be transformed into a thousand little energies spread across a thousand different people's recollections; constellated, like the stars. I saw a man out at Land's End once with a contraption he called a hang glider. It was a triangular sail and an aluminum bar. I watched him til he disappeared into the distant fog. I'd like to do that before I die. Just let my toes hang off the cliff, my arms held up high. A salutation to the setting sun. And then behold the ocean, and fall forward into the wind."







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