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Bubbles and Bones

Stephen Vincent

September 22, 2003

Bubbles & Bones #1
I have been watching this man every morning for several months. In the morning
--when I climb the concrete walkway from 18th up the Westside of Dolores Park
--he sits on the same bench overlooking the park and the skyscrapered skyline of downtown San Francisco. He is either blowing soap bubbles or reading a paperback. He's homeless. Next to him, on one side is a square shaped and faded red, white and blue raffia satchel. It's packed with clothes and personal items. On the other, a sleeping bag.
He blows the bubbles through a plastic red ring that pops up from inside a little dark blue bottle. The slightly iridescent rainbow and transparent bubbles - in small to large diameters - float up into the air to cross the park. Some descend toward the group of dog owners - some watching their animals tussle with each other, others making them chase green tennis balls with jai-lai looking plastic rackets. Other bubbles float up into the sky catching and reflecting the light off the morning horizon.
Between bubble blows, the man gazes, as if he is looking through and beyond the bubbles. I take the daily ritual as a kind of prayer, one in which he variously enhances an illuminated vision of the City. Who can say whether the bubbles are a gift for himself alone, or whether the bubbles are intended as a kind gift to us, the public, as well. Other than staring at the rising and disappearance of the luminous works, he never turns to look at any one.
And yet there is the book. After the bubbles, he always opens the paperback, holding it open with two hands over his folded knee. For days I have been trying to look at the cover, as if the title might give me a clue as to what's going on inside. But, yeah, this morning, while he blows bubbles, the cover is face-up in the satchel:

City of Bones
Bubbles and bones, bones and bubbles. It suddenly all makes sense and no sense. Living between the two, the transcendent and the dead. There on the bench every day sitting in the morning light. Rising on the one (the bubbles), digging down into the other (the bones). The limbo of living between the two. Like any halfway imaginative soul, riding the images that clarify the moment.
My heart goes out to him.

September 23. 2003

Bones & Bubbles #2
This morning the man on the bench is blowing bubbles - a prolific number of small ones that float out beyond his knees - free born - into the already warm morning light: the transparent bluish luminescent spheres momentarily juxtaposed against his faded gold baseball cap and full, rust colored beard.
Yesterday I somehow got the suspicion - or recall a faint, oblique memory - that Dolores Park was once a graveyard. Back home, courtesy of Google, I do the research. Indeed, I learn:
"...The Ohlone Indians were there first. They had inhabited the area for several centuries before Spanish missionaries arrived in 1776 to establish Mission San Francisco Dolores. Thereafter, the Ohlone shared the land with Spanish ranchers and shopkeepers until the 1949 Gold Rush, when new settlers, gamblers, and tavern keepers joined the mix. In 1861, the site was purchased by Congregation Sherith Israel for a cemetery which became inactive in 1894..."
"New world" Jews and, perhaps, under them, the Ohlone. "City of Bones." The spherical bubbles. The man on the bench - a kind of Chiron situated on the edge of the buried - takes on new meaning. Release of the spirits. Gently bringing them up. Giving them birth. Liberating each of them - large and small, adults and children - blowing them, globe by globe, back into the hemisphere.
Last winter's first marches against the possible war in Iraq, demonstrations against the occupation of Palestine, annual demonstrations against the death penalty, against gender discrimination, in support of Farm Workers, Reggae concerts, Mayan coming of age ceremonies, the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Mime Troupe - the common and the uncommon good - over the bones of Jews and Indians, it all starts here.
The curious dialog of the living and the dead. The dead ultimately want out. The release of souls. Bubbles. Out they float across the park. One by one. Gone.

September 24, 2003

Bones & Bubbles #3
Fog filters warm, white light into the City. I am back up on the edge of the Park. As if on schedule - it's 8:45 - the man on the bench is blowing very large bubbles, maybe up to three or four inches in diameter. If it's the release of dead souls, these are out of the mouths of important figures - Rabbis, community leaders, large shop owners or those of Ohlone Chiefs, heroic warriors, beloved mothers, and, who knows, maybe those of ancient shamans.
There is absolutely no wind and the large spheres float along the trail and meet my eye as I walk beside them. The interior skins embody and radiate what appear as global land shapes - variously and intriguingly silvery blue, yellow and crimson - each holding their own until the bubble suddenly disappears.
Then - for me - a most astonishing thing happens. When I pass behind the man - who still never looks up - I notice there is a new paperback, face up, on the top of his satchel. It is no longer, "City of Bones." I can hardly believe the title. It almost seems saccharine to acknowledge it. Particularly since I have been letting my intuitions flow wild. But I am astonished. The language of the title - in all of its pulp paperback gaudy orange and black colors. But there it is. Believe it or not:
The Music of The Spheres
Homeless, homeless, homeless. Take it, as I must, from there.

Stephen Vincent is an influential presence in the poetry scene of San Francisco. He has been publishing his poetry since the 1960s and is the former editor and publisher of Momo's Press. His essay, "Reading Poetry: San Francisco Bay Area, 1958-1980," in The Poetry Reading: A Contemporary Compendium on Language and Performance (edited by Stephen Vincent and Ellen Zweig. San Francisco: Momo's Press, 1981), traces developments in the history of poetry for that locale. Stephen's well-known book of poems about teaching English in Africa, Walking, was published by Junction Press in 1993.