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Lone Mountain Poem II
by Gerald Nicosia

Watch several shades of grey and silver clouds
Like fog but not quite touching ground
blow east over the rain-soaked greenery
of Lone Mountain
rugged promontory in the heart of San Francisco
preserved by the Catholics
for college campus
but for me a source of meditation
from my lonely apartment window
and hear those clouds say
Think of all your friends who will die
and trust that they’ll always live
in the thought of those who read
the poem about them which you write
while watching several shades of grey and silver clouds
vanishing like unanswered koans
over the spiky evergreen illusions
on a hillside of the Lone Mind.

PHOTO: The Lone Mountain campus of the University of San Francisco by David Edelman, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lone Mountain is a historic hill in west-central San Francisco, California, and the site of the private University of San Francisco (USF) – Lone Mountain Campus, which in turn was previously the San Francisco Lone Mountain College for Women. It was once the location of Lone Mountain Cemetery, a complex encompassing the Laurel Hill, Calvary, Masonic, and Odd Fellows Cemeteries. (Source: Wikipedia)

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Lone Mountain Poem II” came out of a period in my life that was both very difficult and very hopeful. I had spent four years traveling the American continent, researching and writing my biography of Jack Kerouac, Memory Babe.  Then I ended up spending another three years wrestling with publishers to see the book published intact. It had bounced from City Lights Press to Harper & Row, San Francisco, and finally to Grove Press in New York. Grove had hired an editor for Memory Babe who essentially rewrote the book, and it took the better part of a year to convince the publisher, Barney Rosset, to restore the book to its original form (a struggle in which the late Michael McClure aided immensely). I had little money to live on during those years, and found a home more often than not with my elderly, widowed mother Sylvia.  But that situation was complicated by the fact that my mom could not settle on whether she wanted to live in Chicago or California, and was continually bouncing back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball. At the time this poem was written, we had rented an apartment together on Anza Street in San Francisco, right across from Lone Mountain. There was a Catholic university and former women’s college on the other side of the mountain (really a very steep hill), but the side my second-story window looked out on was just a bleak escarpment of rock with a lot of bushes and a few brave trees rooted into it. It was 1982, in the days before cellphones, computers, texting, or the internet, and I would wait anxiously for the mail every day, in hopes of good news that Grove Press had finally agreed to publish the biography as I wanted it. To pass the time, when I wasn’t reading or writing, I’d sit in the bay window, watching the ever-changing clouds and fog that seemed to perpetually engulf the mountain. It was in one of those quiet, meditative hours that “Lone Mountain Poem II” came to me. I think that I was so tense with emotion considering the fate of this book, which had consumed so many years of my life, that I needed to see that it was also just one more cloud that would eventually vanish–like those clouds I watched vanishing over Lone Mountain–but also with the hope that it too, like the rest of our world, would leave some trace in memory.

PHOTO: San Francisco, California, in the fog by Andrei Stanescu, used by permission.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: After moving from Chicago to San Francisco in 1979, Gerald Nicosia became part of the post-Beat circle of poets in the Bay Area. In 1983, he became nationally known with his biography of Jack Kerouac, Memory Babe. Beginning with Lunatics, Lovers, Poets, Vets & Bargirls (1991), he also began publishing books of his own poetry, and this fall will publish the sixth volume, a collection of his poems remembering the Beats called Beat Scrapbook.  Nicosia also organized and took part in hundreds of public poetry readings in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Chicago. He has read his poetry throughout the United States and abroad, at such notable sites as Bob Holman’s Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Bob Weir’s Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California, the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, Wales, and Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Paris. He was a close friend of the late poet and playwright Ntozake Shange and is currently working on a full critical biography of her.