by Shailja Patel
They have come for the city I love
city of taco trucks, wetlands reclaimed
water fowl with attitude, gutted
neighborhoods, city of toxic
waste dumps and the oldest wildlife refuge
in North America.
City owned by spirits
of Ohlone, home
to the international treaty
council, inter-tribal friendship house
in which I love and work, make art,
dance, share food, cycle dark streets at 2am
wind in my face, ecstasy
pumping my pedals.
City where women make family
men with men
picnic in parks with their children
walk strollers through streets.
City that birthed the Black Panthers
who took on the state
with the deadliest of arsenals:
free breakfast for children, free clinics,
grocery giveaways, shoemaking
senior transport, bussing to prisons
City where homicide rate for black men
rivals that of US soldiers in combat.
City where I have walked precincts
rung doorbells, learned that real
is street by street, house by house
get the money out andget the people in.
City of struggling libraries
50-year old indie bookshops
temples to Oshun, Kali-Ma, Kwan Yin.
City where Marx, Boal,
Bhaktin, Freire are taught
next to tattoo shops
bike collectives rub shoulders
with sex shops, marijuana
dispensaries snuggle banks
City of pho, kimchee, platanos, nopales
of injera, tom kha gai, braised goat,
nabeyaki udon, houmous and chaat,
of dim sum and wheatgrass and chicken-n-waffles.
City of capoiera and belly-dance,
martial arts, punk rock, hip-hop,
salsa, bachata, tango
city of funk and blues and jazz.
City that shut down for 52 hours
in 1946, dragged jukeboxes
into the streets, jammed
to “Pistol-Packin’ Mama” for the rights
of 400 female store clerks
to fair wages and unions.
City of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union,
who refused for a record 10 days
in 1984 to unload a ship from South Africa
in the world’s 4th largest port
faced down million dollar fines.
City of nail parlours, hair brokers, tarot dens
nano-tech, biotech, startups
women-owned auto shops
gondolas on a lake fruity
with sewage, magical
City of one-hundred-twenty-five
the most ethnically diverse
in the USA.
Here on the shores of a lake
where all the waters, fresh and salt
of history and revolution mingle
they have come for the city I love.