Some San Francisco Poems: Sections 5-10

By George Oppen 1908–1984 George Oppen


Combed thru the piers the wind
Moves in the clever city
Not in the doors but the hinges
Finds the secret of motion
As tho the hollow ships moved in their voices,   murmurs
In the wind
Fear        fear
At the lumber mastheads
And fetched a message out of the sea again

Say angel                say powers

Obscurely   ‘things
And the self’



In the stones

          to entrust
To a poetry of statement

At close quarters

A living mind
‘and that one’s own’

                  what then             what spirit

Of the bent seas


of the tide

in the moon-streak

                  comes in whose absence
earth crumbles


Silver as
The needle’s eye

Of the horizon in the noise
Of their entrance row on row the waves
Move landward        conviction’s

Net of branches
In the horde of events the sacred swarm avalanche
Masked in the sunset

Needle after needle more numerous than planets

Or the liquid waves
In the tide rips

We believe       we believe

Beyond the cable car streets
And the picture window

Lives the glittering crumbling night
Of obstructions and the stark structures

That carry wires over the mountain
One writes in the presence of something
Moving close to fear
I dare pity no one
Let the rafters pity
The air in the room
Under the rafters
In the continual sound
Are chords
Not yet struck
Which will be struck
Nevertheless yes


O withering seas
Of the doorstep and local winds unveil

The face of art

Carpenter, plunge and drip in the sea       Art’s face
We know that face

More blinding than the sea    a haunted house    a limited

Consensus unwinding

Its powers
Toward the thread’s end

In the record of great blows   shocks
Ravishment   devastation   the wood splintered

The keyboard gone in the rank grass swept her hand
Over the strings and the thing rang out

Over the rocks and the ocean
Not my poem   Mr Steinway’s

Poem   Not mine   A ‘marvelous’ object
Is not the marvel of things

                twisting the new
Mouth   forcing the new
Tongue   But it rang



Old ships are preserved
For their queer silence of obedient seas
Their cutwaters floating in the still water
With their cozy black iron work
And Swedish seamen dead    the cabins
Hold the spaces of their deaths
And the hammered nails of necessity
Carried thru the oceans
Where the moon rises grandly
In the grandeur of cause
We have a taste for bedrock
Beneath this spectacle
To gawk at
Something is wrong with the antiques, a black fluid
Has covered them, a black splintering
Under the eyes of young wives
People talk wildly, we are beginning to talk wildly, the wind
At every summit
Our overcoats trip us
Running for the bus
Our arms stretched out
In a wind from what were sand dunes



Climbing the peak of Tamalpais the loose
Gravel underfoot

And the city shining with the tremendous wrinkles
In the hills and the winding of the bay
Behind it, it faces the bent ocean

Rocked thru the city and the winds
Combed their clumsy sides

In clumsy times

Sierras withering
Behind the storefronts

And sanity the roadside weed
Dreams of sports and sportsmanship

In the lucid towns paralyzed
Under the truck tires
Shall we relinquish

Sanity to redeem
Fragments and fragmentary
Histories in the towns and the temperate streets
Too shallow still to drown in or to mourn
The courageous and precarious children



The darkness of trees
Guards this life
Of the thin ground
That covers the rock ledge

Among the lanes and magic
Of the Eastern woods

The beauty of silence
And broken boughs

And the homes of small animals

The green leaves
Of young plants
Above the dark green moss
In the sweet smell of rot

The pools and the trickle of freshwater

First life,   rotting life
Hidden starry life it is not yet

A mirror
Like our lives

We have gone
As far as is possible

Whose lives reflect light
Like mirrors

One had not thought
To be afraid

Not of shadow but of light

Summon one’s powers

George Oppen, “Some San Francisco Poems” from New Collected Poems. Copyright © 1972 by George Oppen. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: New Collected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2008)


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Poet George Oppen 1908–1984

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Subjects Nature, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Cities & Urban Life