The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

George Green

A Bad Year in the Haight

 

By 1969 the early tribes
of flower folk had fled the neighborhood.
Jack Gilbert went to Greece with Linda Gregg,
but many just went north up to Marin
or Oregon, or south to Santa Cruz.
Remorselessly these giddy nomads left

their casualties behind, a multitude
of barefoot derelicts, begging in blankets.
The tweakers babbling and the schizos staring,
the winos holding forth like florid dons,
the trippers doing cosmic algebra.
I was the teenage acidhead who found

the fairy princess, Sheila Huntington,
bewildered in the rhododendron dell,
a Scorpio who, like me, read Tarot.
We danced dementedly by candlelight
to Astral Weeks, but when we tried to sleep
we heard the intermittent skirmishes.

Smack dealers shot crank dealers and each other;
crank dealers shot whomever and themselves,
which made for forty Love Street homicides
by June. Reported rapes and robberies
were high, though many wouldn’t call the cops
because “the pigs” were serving our oppressors.

When African-American assailants,
the Filmore’s worst, came up to depredate,
their crimes were seen as acts of liberation.
Hell’s Angels didn’t look at it that way,
and vets from Nam were forming right-wing death squads,
but I kept tripping like an imbecile

geared up for interstellar overdrive
on STP for three days crying, “Stop,
stop, stop,” and “God, God, God,” up at the ceiling,
then crashing hard before I drank the juice
(lycergic OJ) at the Leary bash,
(Timothy Leary ran for governor)

and tripped again, mired in rugged bardos
with pythons big as trains and greasy bats,
while Sheila (who looked just like Rosanella
as drawn by H.J. Ford for Andrew Lang)
stayed by me lovingly.

                                                We both had come


Expecting Donovan to meet us in
the park with The Incredible String Band
and guide us to a hidden pleasure dome.
We got the long prelude to Altamont
instead. It was a bad year in the Haight.
But let me thank the Krishnas for their books

and their prasada. Chanting got me past
the snakes and bats a time or two, my fears
assuaged by Gita readings, even my fear
of death: “For never did we not exist
and none of us shall ever cease to be,
not you, nor I, nor these embattled kings!”

 

 

 

GEORGE GREEN's book of poems, Lord Byron’s Foot, won the New Criterion Poetry Prize and the Poets’ Prize. In 2014 he received an award for literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Green’s work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2005, and 2006. He teaches at Lehman College, CUNY, in the Bronx. 

 

 

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