Poetry: “San Francisco (1956)”


San Francisco (1956)

woman, child of narcotic sleep,

woman, two hands holding the slippery, deserter sea.

she’s going to another horizon,

she’s leaving;

it’s just like a failsafe lover, betraying what was never had and was

doomed anyway to weary half-contented slumber, to puncture the calendar.

I was echo-chamber dissent. no one else dissented,

none of your hum-drum come and gone

friends caught like misdirected netted fish, they were numbed of this illusion

one by one on the roiling deck.


discontent festers stealthily-

an anti-machine, a propagandist working with what he knows-

faces of dead sons, and mothers,

the unlistened to, and unwanted.

the unluckiest sonsofbitches.

we can’t connect, not through touch or text or the far side

of the I-Ching’s tossed predictions, predilections

of left behind.


I wanted to do it-

swallow the first person narrative and be a manic

twister of omnipotence in atypical poetic rants

so special, so especially

shattered, but I lost myself wondering-

how do your eyes

find their way back into your skull?

no direction from

here to there but

evangelical preachers filtered through the

lizard tongues of unbelievers,

you tell me

what i am and not and where


have lain fallow among the lilies and shallow pools.


this world, the next.

come slow and steady, midnight, like the last train.


I make love with words

all night, light coming

from behind my eyes.

I bend them backwards-



say things that have never been said, with my silent mouth,

but which have been

weighing heavy on blank pages.

my arrogance cuts inky slashes across the sound

of spilled coffee.


freefall into day,

wide awake.


your mouth moves, and foreign birds fly out,

the products of an untamed

jungle, a bizarre conquistador,

a myth and ghost king,

a white miscarried god.

Montezuma spread before my cracked earthen feet like so many ideals,

lovely, flowering,

secret poisons

grown in the gardens of kings long gone.

what i told her, but not you,

what i imagine,

flights of lies and honesty,

together in the air.


is this frightening?


an armada of malcontent that grew out of children into disfigured shapes,

like balloon animal adults,

sick clownish imitations

come onto by the altar boys.

try to think of a drug worse than heroin. try to think of a face

more double-sided.

try to think of all the people whose ribs jutted mightily

beyond the last passage of words or food from those tenuous lips.

try to think

of a drug worse than love, or a medicine bitterer than love’s baggage.


a paid clanging toll for the saturation by pity, sorrow-

a weird brew.

no don’t try

and hide, you can’t,

the sight of my many-eyed tongue is ever-reaching and

ever-forgiving like the cycloptic mouthless lighthouse shuddering and cycling,

rocks, shore, rocks, shore, moon, ships, rocks, shore,

all through the passion of night.



cannot lay upon it.

you can’t stare into it,

or unriddle it. here,

the kingdom,

at last.

a democracy of supermen

whining to be heard.

a hydra-headed

census-taker, praise be. a methodical recruiter for Charon’s solemn vessel.

Jokerman laughing at it all and dealing

decks in spades and hearts,


red, like you and I in this amusement ride,

black, red,


a triptych of

wind and cornflowers and heather.


you and I,

black, white, red,

unwritten, unlikely, unjust.



length and all the children

seem to be in their order and


may I sleep now uncaring mistress.

may i unload the weight of what has

accumulated behind my eyes?



Kristian Tonnessen is a first-year in Columbia College from Binghamton, New York. He plans to major in Creative Writing and would like to teach English Literature. His favorite poets are Walt Whitman and Czeslaw Milosz. So far he thinks Columbia is pretty OK.