Midnight in West Oakland.
The wail of an infant, disturbing restless silence, a byproduct of the slumber of huge machines. A pair of naked feet treads the wood, creaking awake, above our bed. I listen, Jimmy sleeps.
The whine of a train rollicking through Oakland, transporting wares, passengers, expatriates from cities to the Midwest or East or Northwest, some with tickets, some without, some with their full names intact, others without, having only symbols to scratch, with grease pens or rocks, on steel bellies, marking their passage through a desolate space, a desolate time.
The prickly-sweet aroma of thousands of raisin snails, snail cakes as Jimmy called them as a child, or bear claws, frying in vast vats, at Svenhardt's, just around the corner. From six tall windows, we can see white plumes billowing from the factory’s chimneys.
We can also see immense cranes, the ones commuters can glimpse from the 980, slender albino creatures crowned with carmine lights that blink in warning to metal birds in searing flight. Years ago, I used to spy them from the rooftop of my attic in Berkeley on cloudless summer nights. They were the mysterious sentinels of an arcane world, the one of ships and trains and warehouses, demi-gods in the little universe I created in those kooky times, without brains or heart, true, but they were deathless.
May 2003. Although four days and with a library still in boxes, I think, Close to home and no longer a vagabond. In the distance, the cranes keep watch, although less mysterious; from here, the lit cobweb of machinery and vehicles required to maintain the usefulness of the cranes is visible. No longer demi-gods, but massive machines, a materiality that could be dismantled with wrench, revolution, the passage of time, slow or explosive, but still a journey into another universe.