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On Leaving San Francisco and Pure Verb

Updated: Mar 28, 2024 09:29
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Shots of San Francisco.

Your writer above Ocean Beach. (Paolo Bicchieri)

At the end of a long run, sometimes it feels good to take a spin around the block, just to feel the muscles in my thighs move around a little more, to kick out my legs in the last vestiges of a runner’s high. I’ll do the same thing at the end of a surf session, diving into frothy white water to swim around a little like I’m a kid again. I’m no stranger to eating another bite or two just for pleasure, even though I’m well beyond full, and I’ve always been the person to reread Watchmen or One Piece or Hellboy as soon as I finish just to rinse myself in those fantastic worlds one more time.

Leaving San Francisco already has a feel of that same ritual to it, a desire to run it back to all my favorite bookstores, to all the Thai restaurants and grassy paths through Golden Gate Park that fed me when I crash landed here in spring 2018. To be clear, I know I’ll be back in a year or so, though life is strange and I try to remain open-minded. Maybe I never return to the Paris of the West. But as my partner and I ready for a summer departure, headed to Ireland’s coasts instead of California’s, I’m reflecting on the cyclical nature of life, the samsara breathing that inhabits all comings and goings in life. J.R.R. Tolkein summed it up better than me in his famous “there and back again” adage, but it’s another white male European’s writing I’m thinking about as I get ready to go, and for decent reason, I think.


Goats grazing the hillside blew me away upon moving to the Bay. (Paolo Bicchieri)

Shots of San Francisco.

Twin Peaks, on foggy mornings, is a mystical San Francisco sight. (Paolo Bicchieri)

Seamus Heaney, an Irish writer many consider the official poetic voice of the country, wrote about oysters and dining better than most ever will. His writing on picking blackberries in soggy weather, tilling the yard and dirt with his father, and living as presently and politically as one can connected with me immediately upon reading. As I pack my boxes and cross old favorites off my bucket list, I come back to his poem “Oysters” over and over. Heaney writes, after describing the perfect day eating seafood with his people, “I ate the day deliberately, that its tang might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.” San Francisco, or the six years I’ve spent here plus a few trips to the City by the Bay before moving here for real, embodies this philosophy to a tee.

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Maybe as obvious as considering an Irish poet before moving to the country, San Francisco as a verb, as a place based entirely in motion and phenomenon, is apparent to anyone who’s had the tremendous fortune to spend even a day between all these bridges and hills. It’s the kind of mystical city where goats are used as natural weed control between reservoirs on Twin Peaks. Cobblers hold court on Irving Street while beekeepers sell their honey on the corner ten blocks down the road toward the sea. It’s where I unfolded my sexuality and gender like so much hydrangea in the botanical garden, where I had the chance to dance and move alongside organizers, artists, bankers, bakers. Unlike true urban jungles, I sat in a hammock in my backyard and grew flowers, tomatoes, zucchini. Then I’d walk to a bison paddock and see green parrots chirping overhead.

Shots of San Francisco.

Raising zucchini in the yard was a highlight from 2018 to 2021. (Paolo Bicchieri)

San Francisco is, not for the first time, in the crosshairs of pundits and skeptics the world over. I contend that the pall draped over the city is not only ignorant and short-sighted, but part of the ongoing project to distract citizens of the so-called United States from ongoing strife and suffering the world over, in Gaza and Palestine but also in Western Sahara, Sudan, the Ukraine, Pakistan, and more. The city, an act of motion, a tour de force, a realm of rotation, born in this epoch thanks to gold extraction and movement of goods thanks to a lot of Asian immigrant labor, is anomalous. Few cities like it exist in the world, but the main issues facing it in 2024 are income inequality, private surveillance, housing inaccessibility, and corruption — not so unique problems. These issues, as always, are intersected by racism, sexism, classism, ableism, you name it. In San Francisco few would dare to call themselves a republican, but conservatism is doing its best to take hold of the city. It’s anomalous because though its image remains defiant, the spirit proud, foul machinations thrum beneath, sprouting through the pavement in visible homelessness and bent sidewalk needles.

Thankfully, the perpetual motion machine that is the Bay Area is a bit too limber to succumb to those forces for long. I believe the city I found is just a snapshot of a timeless bastion of progress, even in an empire sick with imperial rot. There are zionists and Trumpistas and all kinds of hateful groups here, sure, just as Jim Jones once worked for the city government before setting up shop in Jonestown. I believe Ocean Beach has the power to heal generational wounds. I believe the days of dynasties will end and I believe all the financiers in the Marina will someday wash the feet of the poor on the steps of Grace Cathedral.

I choose to believe these things as Heaney opted to sing songs of briny glee while violence reigned in Northern Ireland, holding himself accountable while believing there was a world worth creating. As Audre Lorde said, “What I leave behind has a life of its own. I’ve said this about poetry; I’ve said it about children. Well, in a sense I’m saying it about the very artifact of who I have been.” Headed into something new, keeping an eye toward a green future, I believe San Francisco and the years written here have a life of their own.

Verb, movement like a ship coming in and out of a harbor by morning and night, is where I’ve tried to build a house. I’m not naïve, though, as I enjoy victory laps for marathons long from finished. There’ll be a fire next time, the pyrocene marching toward us as the tides rise. But San Francisco is the only place I’d actually recommend as a home for riding out the final days, everywhere else too lonely or too bleak. At least here there’s honey on the curb and tropical birds in the sky, Coit Tower keeping watch from the tippy top of Telegraph Hill as flames hiss on the shore’s edge below.

Shots of San Francisco.

Irving Street business owner, a pal of your writer over the years. (Paolo Bicchieri)

Shots of San Francisco.

Ocean Beach in its frothy splendor. (Paolo Bicchieri)

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Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri (he/they) is a writer living on the coast. He's a reporter for Eater SF and the author of three books of fiction and one book of poetry.