• Julie Urbanik

San Francisco memories after visiting for a conference

I can’t. I don’t know how. I’m tired. My mind is full and blank. I leave San Francisco and I begin. I begin to return, to remember, to reconstruct the blur, the ideas, the images.

I remember light moving on the sides of buildings still stained with faded painted advertisements from other eras or blushing with the flash of new graffiti. I remember my mind swirling like the flocks of pigeons – landing, alighting, landing anew – trying to stabilize the sensory overload. At home in Kansas City they land in my yard like cargo planes compared to the svelte jets of doves, cardinals, robins, chickadees, sparrows, wrens, and finches. But in San Francisco they seemed so small, so savvy - so svelte. With one foot, no foot, two eyes or one; able to discern a cigarette butt from bread or drink from a motor oil infested puddle; able to coo and mate and live and die beside, beneath, and between the chaos of buildings and people. I let their confidence enter me and everyday shared my food with them and with the homeless humans lining the streets between my hotel and my conference.

I remember walking and climbing a mountain path up Mason Street to the summit of California Street and seeing over to the promised land of the Bay bridge just beyond the trolley. I remember walking in the footsteps of Ferlinghetti, breathing his air, touching his stair rails, sitting alone in the poet’s rocker in his room of poetry – an experience of fulfilled desire nearly 30 years in the making. Out the opened window I remember the geometries of rooftops, some clothing on a line, blue sky, and a few circling gulls.

I remember the moments, the openings, the cusp of fracture heard throughout my days in the claustrophobic maze of non-descript session rooms – is there another way, what are we doing and who are we doing this for?

Was it that the grime and chaos itself was beautiful? Soul-stirring? Each building colored and crumbled in it’s own uniqueness – a place begging for listening, for looking, for stopping, for being. A place perhaps like my own self? A collage, a hybrid, a survival, a vertical and linear being? I remember catching a sideways glimpse of my shadow selves – the hints of my own topography, the boundaries of my inner neighborhoods, the self-consciousness of my own decay, the patina of my own mind.

I remember an orange cat in the seat of a bay window three stories up grooming in the sun that must hit that perfect spot for only a short time each day. I remember the one white high-top sneaker on the roof of the building my hotel window looked over and wondering how a shoe gets lost in such a location. I remember the slap flap of pigeon wings as they stretched in the flat light of an overcast dawn and the gauntness of the woman I offered my apple to. She refused it saying her teeth were too rotten, but the man next to her said what about me? I remember giving him the apple and a granola bar and then standing with my back to them while waiting for the walk sign. I remember that when it was my turn, I went.

Julie Urbanik is a staff member of The Coordinates Society.


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