Six Poems from Poeta in San Francisco

This summer, we present a special series on poems as maps. Read the introduction to the series.

calle de comidas exóticas

turo-turo meaning point-point joints present styrofoam bowls of tamarind soup oxtails tripe peanut stew dinuguan (that’s chocolate meat to you) cellophane coconut milk sticky displayed silent women glass encased to service you though not for the weak-willed this is an adventure you shouldn’t pass up!

do not dip your hands into fish sauce fermented shrimp paste vessels do not grimace tasting salty wetness do not forget to clean up your own mess here no frills leaving gratuity is customary mark of manners

calle del consejo práctico

do not be deceived by ethnic ghetto zest’s barhop and boogie use reasonable caution when walking unsavory districts for kicky dining amongst lush and plush urbanoids, kooky and kitschy, freewheeling trendoids for even the moneyed sport funk-to-grunge artsy attire

calle de los morenos

make sure you understand well this neighborhood’s charming blend of latin turf war and martini bars in stilettos and a cocktail dress you cannot run from their eyes avoid dark side streets and always avoid speaking to dark men on sidewalks when they holla hola chula chinita japonesa

calle de la oscuridad

do not give ’nam vets change or cigarettes hold your purse close to your breast (clasp facing inward) some do not have legs so you can rest assured they will not follow you if you walk quickly past them hold your breath but do not make it obvious

calle de los orientales

mapped cosmopolitan mudflats marshland in former lifetimes intersecting accident memory and an island named for angels tantalize voyeurs alleyways accessible portions aromatic bowing iconoclast clotheslines waving substandard influx conspire private rice enticing ancient often misidentified and always italicized exotic hearts of here

do not be disconcerted that they do not speak english they might as well be from another planet just point to indicate what you want or looks good and they will do (it for) you with a smile

calle de sección ocho, casas de abuelos y de abuelas

the unused hole in the ground located at the corner of kearny and jackson across from celluloid god’s patina café may one day contain supportive tenant services and artifacts of blue men’s billy clubs in the meantime just gawk at it and take polaroids don’t hold your breath few descend into the hole it’s been 30 years

to unbind yourself from chainlink to descend into the hole to commune with ghosts and discarded things to pray that chinatown’s pagoda curves will misdirect the exiled dead from returning

Editors’ Note

These six poems by Barbara Jane Reyes are from Poeta en San Francisco, Tinfish Press, 2005. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

About the Series: Poems as Maps

Our series on poems as maps features work by Elizabeth Alexander, Bao Phi, Joanne Diaz, Nikky Finney, Sean Hill, Andrea Jenkins, Douglas Kearney, J. Drew Lanham, Claudia Rankine, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sun Yung Shin, Evie Shockley, and Ocean Vuong.

Barbara Jane Reyes, “Six Poems from Poeta in San Francisco,” Places Journal, August 2017. Accessed 08 Aug 2022. <>

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