San Francisco’s Teirisias

Despite the cars, the cabs, the buses,
despite the feet shuffled together on subways,
the screaming on the sidewalks
and the bar-music blaring out of doorways —

this is also a city of silence —

the silence of a woman with an outstretched hand,
clasping onto the smooth round beads of a rosary
tangled around her fingers;
eyes closed and so still
that she hovers
above the sidewalk — rises — a tree
amidst the morning bustle on Market —
black coats, starched collars, shined shoes, blank faces.
Her head weeps,
pulled by some gray gravity,
but her presence arches up, reaches out
of this self-created chaos — an oasis
rooted below rubber wheels, transfer tickets, and morning deadlines —
brown skin cracks the oil-fragranced pavement
from below.
Her silence is deafening.

And as we shuffle into the buses and subways;
as we turn our shoulders to avoid rush-hour collisions;
turn our heads to avoid eye-contact, then turn them again
to avoid our own flickering reflections;
as we clasp onto metal bars instead of each other
and taste long days of coffee and closed mouths,
it seems as if we are shriveling,
yanking out our shallow roots to rise
in elevators and ride on shrieking metal tracks.

We forget the silence of a slowly rooting tree.
     We forget the taste of a rain-driven prayer.
          We forget that above us there are clouds
               and below us there is earth.
          And sometimes, I think,
               we forget to breathe.


Take in her silence for one moment.
     Let the halo of life beating from her chest
          encompass us in its soft folds.
     Breathe . . . sink downward . . . arch upward . . .
          feel the growth of generations ring inside.
               Pause . . . in silent gratitude
                    for a sidewalk gift of sight.

Kathleen Bernock is a nursing student at Columbia University working towards her degree as a Certified Nurse Midwfie.  She earned her Bachelor’s in San Francisco, where she became involved in advocacy for the homeless, writing and working as interim editor for the Street Sheet, a publication aimed at changing policy and sold by those experiencing homelessness.  She also worked for a non-profit serving survivors of torture seeking asylum in the states and campaigning against the use and promotion of torture by the U.S. government as well as a non-profit involved in grassroots international interfaith dialogue.

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