Noe Valley Voice March 2004

Evidence of My Journey

Words and Images by Glen Chesnut

In the coffeehouse,
two tables over, a young woman
is writing a postcard
with her left hand.
It occurs to me
that left-handed people
push the letters into existence
and right-handed people
pull the letters into being.
What can I conclude from this?
Not much. So I return
to the book I'm reading.
I remove the airline boarding pass
I'm using for a bookmark.
On the back of the pass
it says, NOTICE
Please retain this stub
and your ticket receipt
as evidence of your journey.
Oh I will, I will.
I shall also retain my twisted
nose and lined face
as further evidence of my journey.
As I open my book, the left-handed
woman leaves the coffeehouse,
leaving me thinking
left, right--push, pull.

I'm always startled
to hear the caw
of a crow
in the city.
It always takes me back
to hot summer sun
on green cornfields,
old fences, buzzing insects,
dusty dirt roads and bare feet.
Somehow I feel that crows
don't belong in the city.
And sometimes I feel
I don't either.

I'm sitting in the attic,
sitting in an old overstuffed chair
with cotton pooching through its greasy arms.
I'm sipping from a bottle of water
from the Fiji Islands--something Ellen brought home;
I would never think of buying water from Fiji.
On the bookcase to my right
a moss-covered plaster Buddha sits looking at me
with only a hint of features left on his face.
I brought him in from the garden
before the rains slowly dissolved him.
Standing next to the Buddha
a skinny papier-mâché boxer throws a punch.
A small marble copy of the
Venus de Milo gazes at the wall.
And a book on Jackson Pollock
leans against the bell that never rings.
From the radio Haydn's Symphony #84.
Across the street a man stands on a ladder
painting a building.
I can't see him but I know he's there.
I sip my Fiji water. On the bottle
a beautiful flower garden and a waterfall.
When I was in Fiji, I drank only beer.
In my mind's eye I see
a black freighter on the horizon.
A phosphorescent moon shines in a dark gray sky.
A naked man lies on the beach
at the edge of the lapping surf.
Near the man a sandpiper looks on.
Through the window I look out over the rooftops.
In the distance the hazy Oakland hills.
Restless pigeons fly in every direction.
I look at my watch.
It's time to go buy the afternoon paper.
I listen to the music.
I look at the stuffing trying to escape
from the greasy arm of my chair.
I sit for a while longer.
I'm not quite ready
to join the world of headlines.

Let's start dancing again
like our ancestors used to do,
dance to affect the outcome
of human and natural events.
It may not make a difference,
but think of how much
fun we will have.


Noe Valley poet and artist Glen Chesnut, 73, was born in Amarillo, Tex. He graduated from Fresno State University and served a two-year hitch in the U.S. Army. In his early career, he worked at several different jobs, from cowboy to merchant seaman. After going to sea for 23 years, he settled permanently in San Francisco in 1973. For the past 30 years, he and his wife Ellen, a retired school teacher and working artist herself, have lived on Sanchez Street in Noe Valley. A prolific painter in the '80s and '90s, Chesnut has exhibited his artwork in numerous Northern California galleries and museums. Over the last decade, "I've slacked off on painting and devoted myself more to writing," he says.

In 1996, he published his first book of poetry, Taking the Bull by the Horns (3300 Press). Two of the poems reprinted above, "Crows" and "Let's Dance," are from his newer collection, Of Time and the Leaky Faucet, published in 2000 by Ex Nihilo Press. Journals and magazines that have printed his poems and prose include Zyzzyva, Staplegun, Over the Transom, WordWrights, The 33 Review, and Main Street Rag.

Though writing and painting are his main vocation, Chesnut also works as a plumbing supply salesman at Discount Builders on Mission Street. "I've been working weekends for about 20 years," he says. "If you need a toilet, drop by. I'll fix you right up," he jokes.