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Alan Soldofsky

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.

— posted September 2013

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