Here are some verses I wrote looking back on my time in San Francisco, when I was doing some poetry readings with Gerry Nicosia. It was an extraordinary experience, a blending of past and present, Old and New World, with poetry and poets flying between. As we walked through North Beach together we were increasingly conscious of the spiritual reverberations of the poetry we loved, the sense of hidden angels everywhere, of glory on the margins, and starlight glimpsed from the gutter. I felt myself suspended between a communion of the saints and a kind of communion of the poets, especially when we went to St. Peter and St. Paul’s where Kerouac and Cassady once prayed together in a moment of grace against the odds.
That Church has a wonderful inscription from Dante’s Paradiso, written right above its entrance, a line in which Dante Praises the light that shines throughout the Universe. Of course Dante knew that light was Christ, as did Gerry and I. But maybe the true source and name of the light remained hidden at the time from Jack and Neal, though they kneeled on this spot to pray. I prayed that they might find or be found by that light, ‘let light perpetual shine upon them’. And I pondered again my own vocation as poet and priest, a vocation to respond to the smallest glimmer of the Christ light in myself and in others wherever and whenever I see it and to try and help all people, including myself, to recognise and turn to it. The whisps of fog that blew in and out of the city seemed to me an apt emblem for that partial light in which we see all things until we know fully even as we have been fully known. The ‘magic bus’ that Neal drove for the Grateful Dead just carried the word “Further” as the tag for its destination. but maybe it didnt go far enough, maybe if some of those wild explorers could have gone a little further upstream, along the line of such lights as they were given, they would have come to the Source Himself. But maybe in the end they did, I hope and pray so. I also hope this poem gets a little of the flavour of my experience and thoughts in that magical city. You might like to know that Van Morrison’s song Foggy Mountain Top has always been a favourite with my band Mystery Train, After years of singing it I finally came to San Francisco and found out what it is about. “Cloud-Hidden, whereabouts unknown” is a phrase from a chinese poet, the title of a book by Allan Watts, a former Anglican Priest who lived in San Francisco, and also the repeated chorus line in Van Morrison’s song Alan Watts Blues.
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button, or the title.
For Gerry Nicosia
I flew to San Francisco
And took the rainbow bus
Further into otherness
And further into us
Further into ecstasy
And further into pain
Further than those acid tests
And all this acid rain
I climbed the stairs in City Lights
And tried the poet’s chair
My verses formed a golden gate
That shimmered in mid air
My verses hung a bridge between
Those Dharma days and mine
Suspended between heav’n and earth,
Tense in every line.
Snyder breathes the mountain air
Where mountains walk alone,
Ferlinghetti’s breathing still,
Tho’ Ginsberg is long gone,
His chants are still vibrating
Beyond his final bow,
He howls a hipster’s Sanctus
With hidden angels now.
And Cassady is everywhere,
Garcia’s in my head
I’m grateful just to be alive
To hear the Grateful Dead.
I read with Nicosia, read
The faces and the streets
I beat these pavements with the man
Who chronicled the Beats.
We touch St. Peter and St. Paul
Where Jack and Neal both prayed
And Dante’s writing on the Wall
Says all that can be said.
Tonight we read in Berkley,
Tomorrow in North Beach
We’ll harmonise with mermaids,
Still singing each to each.
The skyline writes an epitaph
With every vapour trail,
As Gerry reads his elegies
For every Vet in Jail.
And after in Vesuvio’s
We drink a few for Jack
While Tom says to ‘fare forward’
And Van sings ‘take me back’.
I try to read the glimmer,
The strange pearlescent light,
That graces SanFrancisco skies
And presages the night,
And find myself cloud-hidden,
Where rhythms never stop,
Cloud-hidden with the poets
On the foggy mountain top.
9 responses to “Cloud-Hidden”
But also a salute to Kenneth Rexroth, too?
Yes! maybe he should have had a verse to himself!
I thought you’d like the Snyder ‘where mountains walk’ reference ! I re-read that essay sitting in the poets chair in city lights
Needs recycling about every six months. Thanks again!
thanks. its been up on soundcloud a while but i thought id post it here with a little meditative prose-prologue!
I was so moved by your poem, and then I wrote this —
Christ keeps gently knocking upon my war-torn heart.
He would not enter in unless all thoughts of sin depart
The mind, serene, in gorgeous grace, radiates His Love
and needs no body, no place, nowhere; or cares to know.
In quiet a hush beside me everywhere I am found in a peace
so profound even angels are sounding noisy in this room!
Thanks Carl. I’m glad you liked the poem and I very much
Like what you wrote in response. I would only add that Christ does not wait tl all thoughts of sin depart before he enters any heart, he only waits to be asked. All thoughts of sin depart because he has already entered your heart!
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