A book read from cover to cover is a rare read. Front cover text, Publisher, Glorious Cover Image, Inside Flaps (About the Book and About the Author), the Copyright page, and the Acknowledgments. Included in this pleasure, an enjoyable Introduction, before, finally, settling upon the text.
The Place That Inhabits Us is that kind of rare read. The Place That Inhabits Us is a book of Poems of the San Francisco Watershed. “From the granite slopes of the Sierra to the Delta, through the Coastal Range to the bay and shores of the Pacific, one hundred poems map this improbable region, a cultural crossroads where East meets West.” The Place That Inhabits Us is a Sixteen Rivers Press book. Sixteen Rivers Press lists 24 other books of poetry published in the past 12 years of the publishing house’s existence.
The cover is a woodcut image, “Golden Gate (& Mt. Tamalpais) from Grizzly Peak” by Tom Killion. Regard that beautiful cover. Fine detail and a presence of fading daylight. The perennial fogbank waits patient at the Gate.
The Forward to The Place That Inhabits Us, written by Robert Hass, the United States’ Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997, introduces the reader to this fine anthology with a plausible glimpse into California’s prehistory. “The first thing they (California’s earliest citizens) seem to have done is hunt to extinction the megafauna that brought them here, as they tracked herds across the Aleutian land bridge.” The second thing these ancestors did, according to Hass, “is make trails. Probably they followed along rivers and streams as they drained into lakes and wetlands and coastal beaches.”
Along the edges of water sources were paths. Water creates gullies, breaches in the sediment, yet, along the shoreline, within the mean tide line, is the space in which people traveled.
“These humans had already had speech for at least ten millennia. They arrived here just about the time when written languages were beginning to appear in Sumner and Egypt. And they came – in what must have been the successive waves of immigrants who peopled the Americas – speaking many languages, languages as distinct from one another as Hungarian and Chinese. For reasons that are still unclear, more different peoples speaking distinctly different languages settled in California than in all the rest of continental North America combined. Of the nearly 300 languages described by Europeans as they advanced across the continent, nearly eighty were spoken in the watersheds of Northern California.”
We do not know the names of our earliest authors who told the story of Coyote, Turtle, and Rattlesnake. We do know the names of those Calibornia boys who chorused, “I wish they all could be California girls.” After Robert Hass’ Introduction to The Place That Inhabits Us, we meet the 100 authors of the poems of the San Francisco Bay Watershed. I will share one here, I would like to share at least a dozen. Buy the book to enjoy the other fine poems published in this wonderful watershed anthology.
from An Atlas of the Difficult World
Within two miles of the Pacific rounding
this long bay, sheening the light for miles
inland, floating its fog through redwood rifts and over
strawberry and artichoke fields, its bottomless mind
returning always to the same rocks, the same cliffs, with
ever-changing words, always the same language
-there is where I live now. If you had known me
once, you’d still know me now though in a different
light and life. There is no place you ever knew me.
But it would not surprise you
to find me here, walking in the fog, the sweep of the great ocean
eluding me, even the curve of the bay, because as always
I fix on the land. I am stuck to earth. What I love here
is old ranches, leaning seaward, lowroofed spreads between rocks
small canyons running through pitched hillsides
liveoaks twisted on steepness, the eucalyptus avenue leading
to the wrecked homestead, the fogwreathed heavy-chested cattle
on their blond hills. I drive inland over roads
closed in wet weather, past shacks hunched in the canyons
roads that crawl down into darkness and wind into light
where trucks have crashed and riders of horses tangled
to death with lowstruck boughs. These are not roads
you knew me by. But the woman driving, walking, watching
for life and death, is the same.