Sharon Olds

San Francisco

When we’d go to San Francisco, my father
seemed to seek out the steepest streets,
he would sit behind the wheel and smile
to himself, his face red as a lobster
at Fisherman’s Wharf after they drop it
green and waving into boiling water.
His eyes would snap as if popping from a pod,
his black hair would smoke in that salty
air, he would tilt the nose of the car
up and press on the gas. We’d begin
the ascent, nearly vertical,
tires about to lose their grip on those
slanted cobbles, he’d inch us up, like an
engineering experiment
we’d barely rise, till we hung in space from
nothing, like driving up an elevator shaft,
the black pull of the earth’s weight
sucking us back, he’d slow down more and
more, we’d barely rise past buildings
pressed to the side of the precipice
like trees up the face of a cliff. I do not
remember my mother, but she was there,
this may have been for her. As we neared the 
top he went slower, and slower, and then
shifted into first, I think he was smiling,
and in that silence between gears
I would break, weeping and peeing, the fluids of my
body bursting out like people from the
windows of a burning high-rise.
We’d hit the peak, tilt level,
but what was life when the man who made my
body liked to dangle it over empty space and
tease me with death. He sat there sparkling, a
refuse dump, the wheel loose
in his hands, the reins of my life held slack.
We’d climb out, my knees shaking and I
stank, to look at the world spread out at our
feet as if we owned it,
as if we had power over our lives,
as if my father had control of himself
or I of my fate —
                           far below us,
blue and dazzling, the merciless cold
beauty of the Bay, my whole saved life ahead of me.

spoken = Ayelet Firstenberg