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Muni Poetry - Outbound to Shipyard (19 Polk)

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This article is part of a poetry series dedicated to every Muni route in San Francisco. You can find the poet, Mc "Mack" Allen, on twitter at @that_mc.

Outbound to Shipyard (19 Polk)

Promotional maps of San Francisco
are often comically distorted,
seldom-televised western avenues have been
compacted to a fraction of their true size.

Sardine streets have been crammed into a can of relative obscurity,
Golden Gate Park absurdly squeezed in a cartographic vise,
if not actually omitted.

Fisherman’s Wharf is never left off:
there’s a chocolate factory, an aquarium,
mechanical wonders, wax museum, trinkets galore,
even a real submarine from World War Two.

One quarter of the city fills these flyers, same as
the tip of the iceberg, while off the page,
submerged under turbulent chop and white caps
is the rest of San Francisco.

These tourist maps will hardly ever
show the southern half of the city at all.

Because the line for the Cable Car is too long
a visitor from abroad boards the 19 Polk at Ghirardelli Square,
motoring over Russian Hill and down into the Tenderloin
determined to cross the neatline of this map
fringed by tourist trap advertisements.

Driven through several extremes of the city
the theme park piers
homes manicured for cameras
views oriented toward opulence
wealth and the status of consumption
poor folks deterred from sleep by cleated alcoves
the hard living gallery of drug markets
the seedy gilded center of civic government

the bus plows past all this, through South of Market, over Potrero Hill,
past the sewage treatment plant and into Bayview and Hunters Point.

Yet all along the outbound trip
the driver cheerfully greets
a growing cast of people
heading home after a day at work,
a clutch of skaters is laughing
under their breath so as not to wake
a child dozing on her father's lap.

The bus passes the end of the sidewalk
the gleaming highrise skyline of the City shimmers in the distance
behind fading signs fixed to chain link fencing that warn of irradiated soil
yellow medallions that may as well be symbols
in terra incognita on the tourist map meaning: Here Be Dragons.

This far shoreline is the wasteland remnant of wartime industry
from the last century, the rubble of the shipyards of World War Two
where liberty ships were laid as keels and launched to sea in under a week.
And where battleships blasted at Bikini Atoll were brought to be broken to bits
in grim laboratories examining the fallout effects.

At the extreme end of the city, near the gargantuan gantry crane
collapsing warehouses and ruined factory foundations
even here in what feels to the visitor the farthest place
imagination could devise from the manic whimsy of Fisherman’s Wharf
there are artists studios, a cafe and shop
and the homes of the 19 Polk passengers
who daily ride north into the territory of tourists brochures.

It should be drawn on the map.

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