The International Writers Magazine: San Francisco Life
My Peck of Gold
Michael Chacko Daniels
There’s a memorial plaque on Market Street that I pay no heed when I wait for San Francisco’s California Street cable car.
Many years ago, I checked the plaque out, but, alas, quickly forgot what it had to say.
In any case, I usually occupy myself watching pedestrians as they criss-cross one of San Francisco’s famous public spaces.
On a recent Sunday, without any prior intent, I got reacquainted after missing a cable car; the next one, I knew, would be on Sunday-time before it climbed up California Hill.
I re-read the words on the plaque that had long ago slipped into the fog of my mind: a pleasant distraction from the weight of my Civic Center farmers’ market haul three bags of fresh produce.
The plaque commemorated Robert Frost. Why Frost, so famous for the New England rural settings of his poems? A native son of San Francisco, he was only taken east by his mother after his father died in 1885.
Inscribed on the memorial was the last verse of Frost’s “A Peck of Gold”:
Such was life in the Golden Gate:
Gold dusted all we drank and ate,
And I was one of the children told,
'We all must eat our peck of gold.
I looked up California Hill: halfway to the stars or to the Twins Armoire Boutique, if you wish a cable car descended past the Old Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Chinatown
Unlike the Frost plaque, I have never forgotten the admonishment of Ecclesiasticus 4:23 ("Son, Observe the Time and Fly from Evil") inscribed under the Old Cathedral’s clock face.
I have been informed that the men who came in the 1850s from all across our fabled American Westto seek their brief, but long-imagined pleasures in the area’s brothels were the intended targets of the admonishment so strategically located below the Old Cathedral’s clock.
An ancient battle this: Ecclesiasticus 4:23 versus their peck of gold.
I first read the “Fly from Evil” inscription in 1968 (not without some dread, plumbed and dredged from a Bombay, Baptist-Catholic childhood), when I was a lowly stipended-assistant editor at The Asia Foundation a block away on Kearny Street, where the late great Mr. Walter Robb, book review editor and long-time supporter of Filipino (and all liberal) causes, counseled me on patience from his vantage point of nine decades and first-hand knowledge of Asia whenever I told him I felt far horizons beckoning me.
I thought of my current Sunday treasures in the Golden Gate over four decades later: cauliflower; broccoli; Russian kale; russet potatoes; Japanese sweet potatoes and kabocha squash; red and yellow onions; tomatoes . . .
Three bags full.
Would Mr. Robb approve?
Later, in my kitchen
Olive oil bubbled
in steel-gray pot: turmeric
and pepper sizzled
© MCD March 2012
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Michael Chacko Daniels is a former community worker and clown who grew up in Bombay, India. His past adventures include five years as a Volunteer In Service To America, four as editor/publisher of the New River Free Press of Grand Rapids, MI, and 16 running the Jobs for Homeless Consortium. During his years at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living he edited and designed The Architecture of Independence series. He lives and works in San Francisco. Writers Workshop, Calcutta, has published four of his books: Split in Two (Poetry, 2004), Anything Out of Place Is Dirt (Novel, 2004), That Damn Romantic Fool (Novel, 2005), and Morning in Santiniketan (Haiku, 2010). Website: http://indiawritingstation.com/