Some kinds of losses are so slight and undefined we may be unaware of their impact. Poet and photographer Jay Alan Martin reflects on the loss of one resident in a neighborhood with a wistful nod to the objects that speak to her lingering presence:
Junipero Serra is a road not lived on by the pretty or the rich. It’s a beaten path from 280 to the Golden Gate, exuding bumper to bumper exhaust, breathed by those who made peace with the urban curse in the darkening houses walling the freeway.
A woman tumbles from the Muni train. She waddles to her home on Junipero Serra.
I know her, or do I know of her?
After work, she hauls her backpack in a grocery cart on the short slow journey home, finally.
She’s short, Filipino, broad nose plunked on broader face, rivers of wrinkles rounding pits and pocks on a wincing face.
On weekends, she weeds her front lawn, sitting on dirt, her wide sweaty neck beading like hot wax.
She pulls weeds slowly. I don’t know if they’re all weeds. She pulls her arms like the torque of axles needing grease.
The yellowing house looks on.
I haven’t seen the woman in months.
Now the curtains she had put up some year swirl recklessly in the windows. The black jetties that peek between the curtains are impenetrably black, her eyes I see.
The lawn is all weed. The house stands more than just still.
She’s there on the curb.
All of her Kodak moments bulge glossy in 4 x 5 albums.
France, Italy, Greece, the Philippines flip in wind. The noble knights of the Loire riding their sweaty horses are still as stone, and the ancient columns towering over 10,000 worn tourists are fading even in the spring of San Francisco.
Her scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings, spiral notebooks, notes to a dead husband, kids (who put their mother here) wait.
One notebook called, “Cakes,” flips open.
She wrote in a fine hand. Rustling pages reveal “Coconut Frosting,” “Sour Milk Devil’s Food Cake,” “Cheese Chiffon Cake.”
The recipes flow from light green pages onto the thirsty grass.
The backs of the cake recipes are tortured by tumbling multiplications and divisions, indecipherable code calculated for sweet consumption.
Foxing eats “2 c. sugar.”
I take the Cakes notebook. No one is touching the leftovers.
Jay Alan Martin is a writer and photographer who lives with his wife and cat in San Francisco.
He explains that “foxing” is “that slow growing of old paper.”