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Sha'ar Zahav

acknowledging the activity of Patrick Mellor in this

The vault of the room is crowned with an enormous skylight, the materials of the ceiling beams of naked joined lumber, the walls high and, to the east, over Dolores Street, with free-flowing stained glass cutouts and pictures, symbols and sayings, Hebrew and English: Sha'ar Zahav. the golden gate Once said to be a mortuary, the praise of golds and gods now yawning over an intersection embraces Saint Matthew’s Lutheran Church, and due south, the founding Catholic congregation in San Francisco, la Misión San Francisco de Asis, more lately Sha'ar Zahav and a children’s day care center, named The Holy Family; the #22 city bus also crosses, pings and whirrs as the trolley poles slide along electric wires over the street — a single voice, a single urban gesture, the palms lining the parkland dividing Dolores Street, mitigating its sorrows, exercising the urban body, stretching a sinew in erotic grace, anticipating the fullthroated cry of those asleep, of those wishing for release, fruition, still hoping yes


A few trickle in, old gay men — the whole synagogue was founded by and for Jewish gays some 30 years ago — the leader a meditation practitioner, a facilitator with commitment and experience, to guide a novice meditation group of old gay men in the late morning on one day each week, never the same number of participants, just a few, some repeating, coming back; they practice knowing first names, forgetting sometimes, remembering eventually. Many years ago the congregation collected in a small space on a slope of Twin Peaks in the Castro district, but that was ‘many years ago’ and now a story one tells another as the group of four or five or six get together, deciding whether to sit today in the main church, or the sacristy, or the library, all adjacent rooms, depending on the leader, on the mood: today it’s the main room, the smaller rooms unavailable, the leader on a chair on a dais facing the others seated on old pews, surprisingly massive considering Jews and acknowledged gayness is a young idea; the building supports a dated decor, as if improvised, collected opportunistically, it must have been, as 2


we are. Who knows why these old men are here? Sun from the Ground By the drying rushes in lamplight and the lamp-smell it is seen, it has been seen dig and scrape shell upon baked clay it is seen Sol mirrored and pouring from the ground! River adjacent sunk in its bed squat and scrape Fetch a stick The stick sweat polished Wood sprung and translucent ‘May the ground rise up to meet your feet' soles wet with light here meaning, intention Take it.1 ‘soles wet with light’ can I take it? I stare at my feet, crossed at the ankles, very old gym shoes, bright new orange laces double knotted to pull the canvas together, stained gray and — the soles stare at the polished floor, not at me, that’s the joy of this point, this gift, I see the floor, the floor hides what we see and there — not the slightest change in what otherwise happens here, is here, these strangers gathered for a meditation practice, this guide — he has begun to talk, “… clear blue sky, thoughts, distractions are like clouds, they come, they go …” — here is this poem, this gift (not my own, someone else’s) upwelling as a wash through my body, suffusing the air, through each 1

from Patrick Mellor

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opening, nostrils, eyes, my ears, the crown of my head the last to yield ‘Sol mirrored and pouring from the ground!’ the measured beat, my breath-filled pulse entering my skull, the vertebrae, the cranium, the last to surrender, I suppose, I guess to the air around me … ‘Wu had already studied Japanese writing on Go. It seemed to me that the Chinese Go tradition, older than the Japanese, had sent forth a sudden burst of light in this boy. Behind him a profound source of light lay buried in the mud. Had he not been blessed with a chance to polish his talents from his very early years, they would have lain forever hidden.’2 Friar Font wrote about the spot chosen for the Mission: “We rode about one league to the east [from the Presidio], one to the eastsoutheast, and one to the southeast, going over hills covered with bushes, and over valleys of good land. We thus came upon two lagoons and several springs of good water, meanwhile encountering much grass, fennel and other good herbs. When we arrived at a lovely creek, which because it was the Friday of Sorrows [the Friday before Palm Sunday], we called the [creek] Arroyo de los Dolores ... On the banks of the Arroyo ... we discovered many fragrant chamomiles and other herbs, and many wild violets. Near the streamlet the lieutenant planted a little corn and some garbanzos in order to try out the soil, which to us appeared good.”3 2

The Master of Go, Yasunari Kawabata [1951], translated by Edward G. Seidensticker (Vintage Books paper edition[1972] p. 119 3 popular histories of the California missions and the city of San Francisco

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pheromones slithering Now you are darker than I can believe it is not wisdom that I have come to with its denial and pure promises but this absence that I cannot set down4 the pre-vertebrate backbone of sitting here, the chakra column point between point still hearing when there is nothing to hear reaching into the blindness that was there5 O Great Khan! sweating! stinking, putrid — a blue field with its grazing clouds — thinking to walk in the dark together6 Through the large window I catch a glimpse of a red-masked parakeet gliding toward a palm, sliding to the interstices of a layer of dead and living, brown and green fronds, the face and beak reappearing though shaded, hard to see. These birds are refugees, escapees in the City some 30 years ago or more, “the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill” of film and story, noisy 4

The three italicized groupings of lines in this centered passage form W. S. Merwin’s poem “Night with no Moon” in his book The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), p. 45. 5 This couplet is the third couplet of this Merwin poem following the first two quoted above. 6 The final line is also the final line of the Merwin poem, the entire poem thus gathered within mine.

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cavity nesters, often flocking in the sky as they move from wooded hill to hill, to places they can live in, these beady eyes imparting a grandparent’s tale, the days when starlings held the spaces to breed, the places where fronds and trunk meet, the warrior stories of a proud lineage. The room was iridescent with agony at five in the afternoon. In the distance the gangrene now comes at five in the afternoon. Horn of the lily through green groins at five in the afternoon. The wounds were burning like suns at five in the afternoon. El cuarto se irisaba de agonía a las cinco de la tarde. A lo lejos ya viene la gangrena a las cinco de la tarde. Trompa de lirio por las verdes ingles a las cinco de la tarde. Las heridas quemaban como soles a las cinco de la tarde.7 Cupid would yawn at the thought. Like, two muppets having sex, heads bobbing. That we also met and, for a moment, understood a double helix was the answer but in present time only and this only lasted for a day at most before becoming history or anticipation, neither good enough but needed as culture, as a notion supposing a twinkling facet in a single helix 7

from the Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca [1935]

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stream might bear a name, something to be loved, when being loved and loving can be only without tense, truly the face of what is parallel — as a friend says, ‘monads, reflective surfaces recursively mirroring the universe.’8 What of the parakeets, of the old men? The temple bells, Westminster’s pealing bells, wind bells, the faces of what pass as love. The vertebrae count themselves, each pulsing breath, felt as tension, absence, arrival, hint, scintillation, soles to the crown of the head, then at the sacroiliac just a memory of arthritis, some sense of passage rising along bone, within flesh, the facets of sparkle drawn into themselves, odd too, the hair follicles a smoothness of memory bounding discharge, an ejaculation of color, of sound, of something just hinted into the clearly unknown The lantern draws one upward, the witness well below, the light filled with sound, the sound full of color — 8

Patrick Mellor

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Ely’s octagonal lantern suddenly came to mind, filling the cathedral with light, its architectural effect first suspected by the shower of daylight, then noticed after columns and walls brilliant in their power and beauty are seen — this skylight pretends to no ornamental wonder, capturing its witness into its plain square, drawing each upward from within, as if dumb in anxious confusion the witness glances upward and is seized by night light from the city surrounding, dawn light from the east, bright light as the hum of astral power churned, twilight as the churning warms and the building is left behind By the drying rushes in lamplight and the lamp-smell it is seen, it has been seen old gay men in the late morning on one day each week, never the same number dig and scrape shell upon baked clay it is seen they practice knowing first names, forgetting sometimes, remembering eventually squat and scrape fetch a stick the stick sweat polished wood sprung and translucent reflective surfaces recursively mirroring the universe Sha'ar Zahav. 8


Lew Ellingham's Sha'ar zahav