These are the words I wake up with.
You’re Going to Die at The Lost Church.
Tonight, we have tickets to an open mic event. Themed, You’re going to Die. An event hosted by Ned Buskirk at The Lost Church, a not for profit Arts venue in the Mission district. I’ve decided to risk it. To go and sign up to perform.
Spoiler – if you can’t be bothered to read the pre-amble, I did it and you can see the video here.
I hope I don’t die on stage.
I was wide awake in the night, pondering death, the power it holds, the sorrow, our unity in grief. Remembering dead friends, doing it for them. Imagining myself on the stage, imagining the audience.
Timing the poem, adding words, taking them away, re-ordering and timing it again. Each performer would have five minutes. Eventually, I managed to run through it in four and a half.
Five minutes to perform original work in San Francisco, at The Lost Church in the Mission district. It might not sound much, but it is a big deal for me. Certainly, a level up for this Glastonbury Bard.
There is a river falling from the sky!
In the morning, lamenting the decision to leave our heavy waterproofs at home and with a borrowed umbrella, we visit the Palace of Fine Arts. There are no fine arts in the building adjacent, but the structure is stunning. It’s a huge dome with great collonades surrounded by weeping women. Melancholy female figures lean against sarcophagus-like boxes at the top of 59 ft. high columns.
The designer Bernard Maybeck wanted to present a sombre mood and at the same time make the point that art has the power to soften the feelings of loss that so often plague the human soul.
His intent for designing these figures is not clear. Yet his own words about the melancholy state of mind that art can evoke suggests the women are mourning over some great loss. Perhaps it is “The mortality of grandeur and the vanity of human wishes.” His definition of the overall theme of the Palace.
We shelter from the rain surrounded by a circular waterfall as eight stone angels look down at us from the rotunda. I silently go through part of my poem for tonight. Max marvels at the sheer amount of water falling.
The day goes on, the rain persists.
Consequently, we leave the Palace. Taking a bus to Fisherman’s Wharf, we find a café, Buena Vista and we hang our dripping coats in the corner. I have the finest Irish Coffee I have tasted and think of all the people who might have frequented this place since it opened in 1916. Fishermen, canners, cable car drivers, passengers, travellers and sailors.
The final stop of the historic cable cars is just across the street at the corner of Powell and Hyde. On a day like today you could die on a cable car ride. Tonight’s theme You’re going to die at the Lost Church is reflected strongly in my thoughts and my day.
Trippy Fine Arts.
Ducking out of the rain into Dennis Rae Fine Arts, we find some rather trippy and nostalgic art. What a wonderful respite, as the curator shows us around his gallery. This is such a treat. Incredible Salvador Dali, Doctor Suess and Charles Shulz collections, work I never thought I would see live. Surreal, energising and still very much alive with the spirit of artists who have passed on. Artists die, giving way to other artists. Striking new artists also feature in the Gallery collection, Mario Yung, Nano Lopez and Tom Everhart.
We tell Dennis Rae about our trip and our plans for future travel. He recommends a few places where we might find the sacred spirit of San Francisco. We promise to bring him some Battenberg cake … more about that another time.
Dead Beat Poets.
On his recommendation we decide to head up Columbus to North Beach and City Lights Bookshop. The streets of the ‘Beat Generation.’ We check out the Beat Museum then go to the legendary bar and beatnik hangout, Vesuvio.
You can feel it in the structure of the place. Kerouac, Cassady, Snyder, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Ferlenghetti, were they all here? Creative inspiration leaks from the walls. People pass on, while words remain. And I stay, soak up the atmosphere. Heady indulgence soaked in bourbon and times past.
Getting out my notebook I work on the poem for tonight, tweaking and timing it once again. Sipping bourbon in Vesuvio, reciting poetry, balancing a notebook on my lap and chewing the end of my pencil. I feel like a proper poet. A new world beatnik, an edgy and wild wordsmith.
Like – I got something to say.
You’re going to die at the Lost Church.
After spending far too long in City Lights Bookshop we leave to get to the Mission in time for the gig. We ask the assistant at City Lights the best way to get there. He said it’s better to avoid the traffic. Take a mile walk to the BART and it’s just a few stops.
The traffic is horrendous. The rain and all the rushing impatient people, just a bit much. Bourbon before dinner is not helping.
Arriving at the station we have no dollars. The credit card doesn’t work, and it looks like we will have to take the bus after all. We need to be there at 7pm. It’s now ten to seven.
Starting to stress now, fumbling with the ticket machine with a queue forming behind me, I contemplate using this as an excuse to not go. Maybe I should find a more valid excuse. I could die, then I wouldn’t have to go at all. Under pressure, my brain tends toward the darker side of wit.
Don’t die. Just do it.
I remember the dollars I was given back in the UK, tucked into the side of my purse. Just enough for two BART tickets and we get there in plenty of time. To make sure I am not late, I have done that thing I do. Estimated the time we need to be here a half hour early. We could have stopped for food before coming after all. Max, most likely hungry, is supportive and says nothing. Me? No, I don’t get hungry before performing or teaching. My stomach changes to the size of a walnut.
The Lost Church.
A small congragation has formed outside a corrugated building on Capp Street. It could be a garage as much as a venue. We wait in the rain for 20 minutes.
You’re Going to Die at the Lost Church begins to feel like an exclusive occasion, a rare opportunity available only to a select few. A hidden treasure in San Francisco. I know these kinds of places, they open to you like magic when the time is right.
My kind of place.
The select few begin to arrive. All of them look more confident than I feel. I wonder which of them will be performing. At 7.30pm the doors open, and we go inside.
A tall charismatic man with a great ‘showtime preacher’ voice welcomes us. He stamps our hands with the word ‘blessed’. This is the strangest church I have ever seen, my kind of place.
Going up a short staircase into a small hall, a lush little theatre space greets us with an informal and cheap bar off to the side. It’s like a smaller and more intimate version of the Assembly Rooms, the venue we work at in Glastonbury UK.
Ned Buskirk is a wonderful host for You’re Going to Die at The Lost Church. Tender-hearted, emotional and funny. He makes everyone feel welcome, he holds a space within which it is safe to share deep truths, and he introduces a variety of wonderful storytellers and musicians to talk about death.
Talk of loved ones and friends gone, parents dying, parents crying, stories and songs that reduce many of us to tears. Some also that cause us to laugh and celebrate. What a privilege it is to share in such tenderness with strangers. Sharing this so often unspoken taboo of grieving.
Then Ned, tears stinging his cheeks, asks what it is all about. What is there after? Perhaps it is a mystery we will never know and we should leave it there. Then he introduces me.
Afterwards he asks if I just wrote that just now to answer his question. Too full of adrenalin for a witty answer, I stumbled with ‘yeah, I just put it together in the break.’
What I should have said.
We travelled over 5000 miles to get here. It is remarkable that the event just happened to be at the same time as our 3 day trip to SF. It is a miracle we are here, a miracle we are alive to share our stories. We are all a part of the unfolding mystery, just as our ancestors are. Just as our loved ones who have gone are.
Maybe that would have been a bit in your face and wordy. It’s true though.
When you hold events such as You’re Going to Die – poetry prose and anything goes, with the potential for such powerful connections, all manner of things fall into place. So often it will open into something profound and deeply moving. Exactly the right people with the right words will be drawn together. And it all just fits.
You’re Going to Die.
This poem is an offering to Ned Buskirk and all that supports his work. With gratitude.
This life, this death.
This unfolding mystery.
This death, this grief.
This collective story.
This grief, this weeping.
This unified sadness.
This weeping, this laughing.
This collective madness.
This laughing, this truth.
This common unity.
This truth, this love.
This tender vulnerability.
This love, this love.
This is gold for the soul.
Lisa Goodwin – March 2019