House on Miramar, San Francisco

Article excerpt

Michael S. Harper published "House on Miramar, San Francisco," in the Spring 1971 issue of Chicago Review; it was later collected in History Is Your Own Heartbeat (1971). He was a writing fellow at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign at the time, having recently published the collection Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970). Now a professor of English at Brown University, HARPER recently offered us the following commentary on this poem:

The house is a rental from a Mexican-American owner, Carlos Amador, who lived in his own house nearby; this is an anomaly for housing patterns and rentals for minorities in the 1960s in the city, unless you lived in Hunter's Point, the naval station district, or the Fillmore, a few blocks set aside for a small, minority (black) community with a few jazz clubs, bars and delis. This house was located between SF City College and San Francisco State (now University), where "Shirl" attended, a short walk or a fast ride by car from home to campus: this was also the fog-belt, particularly in summer, where an inversion layer kept this part of the city under wraps, as a medicinal, condemnatory section of an unwanted neighborhood, a place called "home." The subject is the zodiac, but it is a house charted in sidereal time, a correction to "tropical" propaganda, a siting in the stars.

It is about race and America; it is about childbirth and loss, and the cultural matrix of environmental salvation, the making of a modality of existence which will transcend loss while living, fully, in the world: it is an assumption of biological and psychic maturation: one should notate, consciously, the relationship between the various stanzas, the working punctuation of the lines in phrasing, the punctuation, assimilating an inner music, and hyaline membrane disease, an acute respiratory syndrome that newborn/premature infants suffer when they are born too soon; these are instances, no.'s 2 and 3 sons, in a sequence of family legacy, particular and real, for this emerging family.

The poem is located in the body of the mother: workbench; outside is the back and front views on reality; flowers in the back, dahlias, bulbs and the mother's nursery, for her children and her recovery; she is nursing the living and the dead, her connections to her children. …