Sense of Place
Ten a.m.: towers along Market St.
mirror the sky, the street still in shadow,
almost in another climate.
I'm swept up in the crowd
that pours into the Palace Hotel, where in 1930
Warren G. Harding died—some conjecture
from poisoning. After Teddy Roosevelt
spent the night in Yosemite on Glacier Point
he said, "Bully." John Muir and the Hearst newspapers
made it famous.
A place is more real when you imagine it.
In Yosemite Valley there are three hotels.
In the meadows beneath the monoliths
buses run every five minutes. Hoards walk amid the oak
and cedar. I attempt not to notice.
I'm one thing in one place, something else
in another. When I drank champagne
on the deck in Belvedere gazing at the houses
on the hill above the harbor,
I felt oppressed by the beauty.
The skyline across the water
too bright despite the overcast,
my eyes numb with the bone-white glare
of summer. Drake dropped anchor
a few miles from here.
He wrote of a month of "stinking fogs"
and named the headlands he scavenged New Albion.
Some claim he missed the bay altogether,
that he marked his damp, bitter days farther north
lost in some colorless recess of time.
It's important to learn the birds' names.
"A man who does not live in nature
as a stone does or an animal,
will never in his life
write two worthwhile lines."
In the central Sierra, there are Steller's jays,
western tanagers, red-breasted sapsuckers,
solitary vireos, chipping sparrows.
I can't identify them without a guidebook
in my pocket.
Birds learn their songs where they are born.
The fledgling duplicates its parents' call
in the deep nostalgia of the branches.
When he was caught in the brambles,
my then two-and-a-half year old son Adam
pointed to the blackberry thorns
and excitedly repeated his new word: prickles.
It became a joke between us.
When he didn't want to go to bed
he'd repeat it so I should remember
running terrified through the neighborhood
calling him. I found him one street over
scrunched down behind a house overgrown
with trumpetvine and jasmine.
Roosters and mourning doves call
through the dawn beneath the roar
of jet planes. This place was once called
Rancho de San Antonio, deeded by the King of Spain
to Luis Peralta. What we call hills are not hills.
They are mountains.
Alan Soldofsky's forthcoming book of poems is In the Buddha Factory (Truman State University Press, September 2013); "Sense of Place" will be included in that volume. His poems have been published widely in magazines and journals including Poetry Daily, Grand Street, The Georgia Review, Rattle, The Rattling Wall, and The Rumpus. A former contributing editor of Poetry Flash, his essays, interviews, and reviews have also appeared in Chelsea, The Writer's Chronicle, and Narrative. He is professor of English and director of creative writing at San Jose State University.