Noe Valley Voice May 2012

Other Voices

Poems by Melissa Chandler

Two Suns


I read yesterday in the news that

as early as a year from now,

and just for a couple of weeks,

there could be two suns in the sky.

A star is going to explode and they don’t know when,

but it could be soon!

We could use two suns.

Imagine the things that would not happen

If there were two suns in the sky.

Weeks without dark; imagine the things people wouldn’t say

to each other under two suns.

Imagine the awe.

We could use the distraction, I think.

When I was a kid, watching from the table that winter morning my father

threw my brother up against the glass door by his throat,

I think I had a bite of cereal in my mouth. Did I swallow it?

I didn’t do anything.

There will be other fathers and other sons, and if this star decides to explode

I think they might be different for a little while.

Everyone will!

People will gather outside. Work will be suspended, and men will not have time

to lay hands on their sons or their daughters.

They’ll walk with them and they’ll feel changed.


They’ll try their best to answer their children’s feverish questions,

to remember the thrilling phrasings

of the scientists, and patiently, and feeling like important harbingers

of knowledge bigger than anything they’ve known in their tired and dusty lives,

they’ll try to explain what they can about this sudden and strange new

blanket of light.



Not an Elephant


Yesterday in Jack Kerouac Alley, you laughed at me for taking pictures

because we’re no tourists.

When you’re old, you may want these snapshots:

you coming out of the bookstore to lean for a moment against a blue-washed

wall, your sunbleached smirk and those kaleidoscope murals

telling revolutionary tales to pasta-stuffed trolley enthusiasts.

Daytime North Beach is a summer lightning storm,

heavy with color and the ghosts of poets who didn’t mind

taking up a seat made of concrete. When that very old man

came into Vesuvio, well-dressed, spit-shouting “I’m not an elephant!

I’m not an animal! I’m a human being!” he was greeted

with long hugs and free orange juice by the barkeeps.

We wondered to each other who he was, decided that, yes,

he must be someone.


I’ll keep the pictures.

I’ll look at them and remember that day,

because when I went upstairs to use the bathroom I peeped

down through the window and caught that old man

walking away down the alley in his tailored suit,

hands in his pockets, not stumbling,

just this very slow and careful side of kilter.

I thought that when he hit Grant Avenue he might just disappear,

but I was a little drunk you know,

and I’ll keep the pictures if you don’t mind, because for a second

all of this felt like a very long time ago.



Olive Poem


Up north of the city, my dad and I

gather piles of weeds we’ve cut, and load

them into the compost bin. Everywhere

under our feet, olives, hard black beads glinting in the sun.

Up here it’s all yard and air and cold, and the neighbors

noting how fast the latest car drove up the road.

At night you can see the whole sky.

Dad says nobody wants the olives

because they take so long to cure.

They ripen and rot slowly in the cold.

I want them;

and I want to be a person

who cures them,

but I know I won’t. That’s someone different,

or a later me, because now

the wind has wound

its way through the gaps in my scarf and

I’ve already grown

impatient to get back to the city.




Friday night means uncles and card games, a haze of cigarette

smoke in the living room, and she the center,

the warm and surrounded, lifting a finger wordless

like a baby to touch the smooth sky-colored stone that hangs

from Mama’s neck.


In the kitchen, she drinks from the bottle with the brown,

the one that makes her bedroom spin like a ferris wheel

when she closes her eyes.


Daddy in the Pen,

they say, about her sometimes at school, Daddy in the Pen, and so she has taken

to collecting them, swiping ones left unguarded by her classmates, to put

in an old cigar box she keeps under her bed.

Things you keep in boxes under your bed are—


She was going to think, things you keep in boxes under your bed

are things that can save your life,

but she doesn’t think that.

Teacher says pens you can use to write with, but not the difficult things,

because you can’t erase.

She writes the difficult things

and when too much jumbled black and blue mess makes her brain feel

itchy, she tears

the paper and swallows it in tiny pieces,

which is a kind of erasing.


Mama’s bones jut sharp into her own bones, but she’ll stay

on her lap until she is asked not to.

Then, she’ll get into her bed with the door open and use her pens

in the half-light, to write down the way grown men sound

when they laugh.





Melissa Chandler, 32, lives in Russian Hill, but used to fetch Noe residents their morning fixes at the Noe Valley Bakery on 24th Street. Her work can be seen most recently in the Bellevue Literary Review and at She’s also working on a novel.