STEVEN W. BAKER
SUMMER OF LOVE
(1967, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco)
It was a perfect day in the Summer of Love
A cool Pacific breeze blowing into the park
Off the Bay, restive in the near distance
The Haight full of people for the weekend
Sun smiling from a washed blue sky.
Where else would anyone want to live?
What time in all of history could be better?
Why not live where fate focuses to a point?
Those were my thoughts as I walked
Through the ropes and knots of compatriots.
I was headed for the famous "Yellow House"
Just across the park and up a little street
Currents of music and smoke blew through
The California air in the very midst of now
And I knew I was part of something historic.
The park was always crowded on Saturdays
Full of hippies, runaways, shysters, clowns
In those days, life seemed to flow freely
From the grass, the trees, from the rooftops
Making the city's grime and sleaze disappear.
Darkness was invisible, under a layer of gold
Sparkling in the sun of young emotion
I couldn't even smell it under the rich aromas
Of hot dogs and tacos and marijuana
As far from my mind as a long lost love.
Some of the park's denizens waved to me
Or asked, "How's it goin', man?" if I was near
It made the city feel like home to be known
Made it feel like the Indiana I'd left behind
Even though it couldn't have been more different.
Which is what endeared the Haight to me
This connection and love for all its failures
As well as the evolution forward I could feel
That seemed to express itself in every smile
What if this were where I'd make my stand?
The "Yellow House" had once been grand
But it hadn't been painted for many years
And had been abandoned almost as long
It's three floors housed quite a few runaways
Though the big first floor was almost empty.
The band I'd been gigging with for a month
Played every Saturday night until early morn
I banged on an old upright piano left there
From saloon days sometime after the Quake
I had tuned it up and fallen in love with it.
My bandmates brought their guitars and amps
Our drummer set up his kit and we would play
The rock songs we mainly wrote ourselves
I often made-up the words as I sang them
Into the old mic somebody's girlfriend owned.
That Saturday afternoon I walked through
The front doorway missing its long-stolen door
Eager to start practice for that night's set
And instantly received a very big shock --
"My" piano had been completely destroyed!
It looked like someone must have used an ax
Or maybe a sledge hammer the night before
They obviously had made some serious noise
For no reason but to obliterate a treasure
My anger mounted, but sadness prevailed.
I would certainly not be playing piano that night
Or any time in the foreseeable future, thank you
The show must go on, so we limped through practice
And the set that night, though it ended early --
Used to a sound, without it, things seemed sad.
I never played in the big, old Yellow House again
Not long after that, they found a runaway girl
Up on the third floor, stabbed ten times, dead
I started thinking about moving on, maybe LA
Where, unknown to me, Ardee waited with love.
The Haight became just another, strange then
Because none of it lasted or became the norm
Except for pockets of hippies here and there
They largely disappeared, along with peace,
Along with the feeling that all men are brothers.
©2016 Steven W. Baker
I'm happy to gather grass, sticks, and logs
For the campfire we are about to build
Trying to avoid chopping my leg like I once did
The evening before my first Mt. Katahdin climb.
I like to have a circle of rocks, but not always
And then, inside, the teepee of tinder and sticks
An ancient design etched into our memories
From long ago and far away fires of survival.
Building the fire makes me think of that past
The sun sinking behind a big black mountain
The day breeze dissolving into night stillness
Darkness and quiet spreading like a quilt.
Calls of the night animals are not like the day's
They have a somber, lost sort of tone to them
A sadness that they are forced to live in the dark
Because the light is even more dangerous.
The match strikes, the small, hungry blaze begins
We sit on a larger circle of rocks or logs
Huddling close as we feed the growing flames
And cold descends rapidly down the mountain.
It's the time of tiredness and peace and hunger
But it will be a while before we can cook
Before the coals or rocks or pans of food
Will be ready to prepare the meal awaited.
Now, for a while, and after cooking and eating
For a longer while, is the time to sit and spin tales
Such as man has always done around the warmth
Watching the flames play and the coals glow.
We talk first of our day and days from the past
While I imagine entering the now roaring fire
Fantasizing some heat-resistant pinpoint presence
That could fly through the caves of burning embers.
It's a lovely ancient thing, the fire, a reminder
Of a beautiful if hard and hungry past for man
When to sit and eat and talk and watch the fire
Were enough, were all we had and all we wanted.
©2016 Steven W. Baker
I don't know why, but I often come across
Things passing strange.
The other day I met a young man
Who was absolutely convinced
The world is flat, not round.
"We are fed lies," he said,
Part of a vast conspiracy
To keep mankind from the truth
Though the motive seemed
To have escaped him.
"There is scientific proof," he said.
"Other men know the truth --
A spinning globe is impossible!"
I couldn't help but speak up
For the poor, maligned roundness.
I spoke of the green flashes I'd seen
The disappearing and appearing masts
Of distant ships I'd watched at sea
With my own eyes and with binoculars
As they climbed up and down
The distant blue horizon of my view.
How storms and whirlpools rotate
In different directions north and south
Of the equator no flat earth could have.
I spoke of the great circles airliners fly
That save them fuel covering the globe
Shunning the straight lines a flat earth
Would invariably require for efficiency,
The eclipses grand, the never setting sun.
He said, "Antarctica circles the world."
I said, "No, it has been circumnavigated."
Simple night and day are impossible
If this silent planet is simply flat.
The sun would never disappear from view
If it circled above a poor flat earth.
But nothing made a dent
In his blind convictions, because
They were drawn from something
He'd read in some faultless book
That could never be called a lie.
The superstition that we are duped
By mysterious, powerful, anonymous men
Including those who never even went
To the cold, lonely moon and returned,
By Copernicus and gallant Galileo Galilei
And every astronomer and scientist since.
An idea "Foolish and absurd in philosophy,
And formally heretical since it explicitly
Contradicts in many places the sense of
A lie told over and over for thousands of years
Does not so easily die.
Steven W. Baker