Jack Hirschman Poetry

The House of the Setting Sun

“Become a rag again and the poorest may wave you”

—Pier Paolo Pasolini: To the Red Flag

I put my mouth to your misery, New Orleans,

inundated and soaking with death.

Here lies: war lies piled so high, this floating

prison of a cemetery cries out of rage

at the end of its breath. Here, in the last delta,

Desire lies on its side, is rolled, and rolled

over upon by its own government, and crushed.


Summertime is over and the livin’ is dead,

and ’round midnight all hopes are looted.

No one will come clean of the Katrina

of New Orleans in this sinking

house of the setting sun.

Bodies so Black and so blue from loving

what wouldn’t spit on their shoes if they

needed a shine. Let alone a dime. Or water.


America, you were always scorched earth

in our mouths, always a baptism of crap,

always a rain of disaster streaming

down the panes of our broken eyes.

Now our rags are the most torn,

our jazz the most blue, our poor the poorest

that can be worn in the soul’s thrift-shop.

Now that all is lost and there’s only nothing

to lose…”Long live the courage

and the sorrow and the innocence of the poor!”

The real flag’s in tatters. Begin to wave it.


Caffé Trieste

This central public place of my life for 34 years,

give or take journeys to Europe and Venezuela,

is where I’ve written hundreds of poems,

translated hundreds more from many languages,

where I wrote my first poems in Russian.


More than a café making terrific double espressos

it’s a cultural center in the heart of old town San

Francisco that still shows a neon and glitzy world

what deep old brew really means. How so many

continue to meet here, fall in love, be the daily

chronicle and times to each other and where,

for 26 years, this just about oldest newsboy in town

has been selling the People’s Tribune and Rally Comrades,

table after table, and don’t forget, in the 80’s, in the same

manner, Compages, that revolutionary international

magazine of translations of poetry from all over the world.


I don’t forget Anna Magnani, seconda, beloved Yolanda,

now in Monfalcone, Italy but ever remembered as muse and

momma to a whole generation here, And Yolanda’s Francesco,

and Leopoldo Fiorenzato, sensitive and tragic, and Taura and

Walker—workers through the years, gone elsewhere, to heaven

or Mexico, and yet here’s Paul and Rabba and Hakim with his

newborn Adam, and roast-master Paul and Nathan and Sean

and Ernie and Ida—she who makes sure the people get their dose

of Italian poetry bilingually, along with the other languages

flying around, i.e, French, Algerian and Arabic—workers

close to the heart and the joys and the sorrows of this corner.


And let’s not forget drop-ins like Allen Ginsberg a couple times

a year. And the local radiances like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bobby

Kaufman, Neeli Cherkovski, the poems flying amid the jukebox

music, the olding Beats and the Baby Beats and the commies,

the surrealists, the anarchists, the socialists, the jazzmen, the ultra

screwballs, the walk-in weirdoes, the beautiful women begun and

developed here, and the tots, those fooblezeegs, always so welcome

and alive at this street-level (not the United States of a dead mall but

the other America), of embodied old wood and deep flavor, with an

extended Italian family whose hands come out of their mouths

as well as arias and popular songs, and who know how, even with

the remembered loss of their and our prince of the human voice,

continuare, continuare, above all, singing because, with this room,—

in its every corner, and along the outside tables as well—, there’s song.

Rilke was correct: Gesang ist Dasein—-Song is Existence. That’s

the real logos of this place; for wherever you travel, whether

to other states or foreign places, whether on the Vino Express

or the Shmoogadoo Limited, with the Caffé Trieste you’ll always

have a direction home.

Jack Hirschman has published more than 100 books and chapbooks of poetry and essays, half of which are translations of poets from nine different languages. He is an associate editor of Left Curve magazine and editor of the volume, Art on the Line: Essays by Artists about the Point Where Their Art and Activism Intersect (Curbstone Press, 2002, www.curbstone.org). His book of selected poems, Front Lines, was published by City Lights in 2002, and he is poet laureate of the city of San Francisco. The two poems included here originally appeared in his newest collection, All That’s Left (City Lights, 2008, www.citylights.com), and are reprinted here by permission of the author and City Lights Books.


Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1