|Published December 16, 2018
Bay Area Arkana 
by Gerard Sarnat
1. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
-- Oscar Wilde
As a foolish youngster I ran ecstatic distances up-down hills
then as a physician instead of lunch jogged on San Francisco
Bay only to find out years later the hunch I had fucked up
my knees, hips or vertebral column was for real -- plus
benign sand bags on pristine trails turned out to be asbestos.
In the Eighties we built the first clinic in East Oakland’s ghetto.
Offered free mental health services to some families and a few
survivors of Guyana’s Jonestown Massacre. Staff invited folks
with no homes into theirs. One woke to find her cat croaked from
a telltale almond stench of tads of smuggled Jim Jones cyanide.
Which does not pale in comparison to those generous souls
who adopted starving, neglected, needy, even thrown-away
newborns from Romania, China, Guatemala or god knows
what circumstances in the US -- only to learn after decades
passed there were painful irreconcilable deadly differences.
But above stanza sounds downright Pollyannaish if stacked
alongside otherwise diligent couples conceiving their babies
without taking genetics into account until fatal diseases such
as Niemann-Pick and Tay-Sachs (it’s a bad sign when scientists
split credit for Will and Sam) manifest in Stanford newborns.
So why’d I drudge this bucket list of seemingly random memories?
Watching Riley lope a slow beeline toward the neighbor’s barn
where predecessors spent last days sadly alone before succumbing
to the same lymphoma (pesticides in the creek?) – are we doing any
body a favor by bringing him in for another round of chemo today?
2. Fixin’ To Die Golden Anniversary Rag: 1967-2017
In 1969 I married my best friend’s date
from two years earlier right before San Francisco’s Summer of Love
when he graduated from what we considered “Berkeley” –
which is what those idealists who smoked Acapulco Gold
and took full advantage of newly-minted birth control pills
and went to Winterland plus the Avalon Ballroom
to rock out to Quicksilver Messenger Service or Janis Joplin’s
Big Brother and The Holding Company or Jefferson Airplane
as well as Country Joe and the Fish decrying Vietnam
after which, holy mackerel, this Stanford medical student
went to the barricades to burn his draft card
then almost get brains blown out holding a gun
to the head of a Marine driving a bus of recruits to Oakland’s Federal
-- instead of calling the great northern California university “Cal”
which is what the cohort our age who fell on the Silent Generation
side of the fence called the same school
where they got a world-class classroom education
while my best friend and his date educioed the Free Speech Movement
we thought was a Jeffersonian democracy silver bullet
that had blown the doors off status quo mealy-mouthed bourgeois flatulence
but instead simply opened the window a revisionist assassination-bloodied
decadent sliver before it closed only to leave us stuck
inside Big Brother’s consumer mobile with the Trumpian blues again and
3. Ringing Out The Dead
“You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.”
-- Garcia, Jerome J. / Hunter, Robert C, Ripple
Aiming to step up my game, though Leonard Cohen was my aspirational
Jewish literary big bro,
I identified strongly with fellow clan landsman, Lou Reed. May they rest in
Lou’s original group, the Warlocks, became peaceable Andy Warhol’s
Factory hip house band,
the Velvet Underground, right about the time my namesake Jerry (with a J)
Garcia, may he too RIP
got his workingman bluegrass crew on the other coast, serendipitously also
called Warlocks, to switch
to Grateful Dead whose lightning bolts influenced me mightily from Acid
Test days where I lived.
Missing those happenings’s one of my greatest regrets. Later their
simple quest, spiced with lyricist Robert Hunter’s subtle Buddhist
profundities, engaged broader audiences.
My young family witnessed then playfully participated in Stanford’s verdant
sweet paradisal love fests until like in Golden Gate Park, Hells Angels
came on to my not-yet teenage
daughter while threatening her fathre with tire irons. Which is not to say
these long strange trips
always hit the fan -- San Francisco’s Winterland and Avalon Ballroom were
To be honest, I knew Pigpen (cause of death: alcohol), from nada until
one hot night as a just-
minted doctor doing natural childbirth home deliveries from the Russian
River down through
the Tenderloin, I brought the Dead’s manager’s first newborn into world
alive. At dawn he rewarded me
with an attaché case holding all albums GD’d ever made. After that chance
encounter, word musta spread:
Marin County male musicians -- Jesse Colin Young, the Jefferson Airplane
and others – would come into
the office to deal with various user habits, including cocaine, and to get
penicillin shots before hitting the road.
Gone from home for eighty shows annually, although Jerry lifted adoring
fans happiness factor, his luminous
white figure felt the darkness of heroin addiction plus weight of diabetes
and heart disease more and more.
When morphine did keyboardist Brent Mydland in, Garcia lost one of his
last supports. An antiauthoritarian,
Jerry wouldn’t step in to coax Deadhead hoards, blossoming monsters
breathing their own exhaust,
to get the tribe’s act under control. Preferring to get out of the way, not
being me but being they, Jerry hoped
the lack of definition would become everything infinite. Last years a dirge,
our candyman finally passed in 1995.
Gerard Sarnat’s recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He’s
authored four collections: HOMELESS CHRONICLES (2010), Disputes
(2012), 17s (2014) and Melting The Ice King (2016) which included work
published in Gargoyle, Lowestoft, American Journal of Poetry, Main Street
Rag, New Delta Review, Tishman Review plus was featured in New Verse
News, Songs of Eretz, Avocet, LEVELER, tNY, StepAway, Bywords, Floor
Plan. Radius, Foliate Oak, Dark Run, Scarlet Leaf, Good Men Project,
Anti-Heroin Chic, Winamop, Poetry Circle, Tipton Review, Creative Truth,
Harbor Village, KYSO, Rumblefish and Ordinary Madness’ debut feature
sets of new poems. “Amber Of Memory” was the single poem chosen for
my 50th college reunion symposium on Bob Dylan; the Harvard Advocate
accepted a second plus Oberlin, Brown and other universities in and
outside the US accepted concurrent pieces. Mount Analogue selected
Sarnat’s sequence, KADDISH FOR THE COUNTRY, for distribution as a
pamphlet in Seattle on Inauguration Day 2017 as well as the next morning
as part of the Washington DC and nationwide Women’s Marches. Visit
Poetry by Gerard Sarnat
(Portola Valley, California, USA)
Bay Area Arkana
|San Francisco Poetry Magazine
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