Turtle Hill, San Francisco

Like the striations of a turtle’s back,

this red rock reveals the layers

of time encrusted on this high peak


of a hill that was once the floor of an ocean.

It overlooks the painted sides of houses:

the gravel beneath this leviathan’s hoary feet.


Their color is not like the white and yellow alyssum

sparking these rocks with small fires of life,

or like the white-gray-green bark on the strands of eucs


that huddle on this windswept hump of hill.

Even this red-tail seems a distraction — his rose-red

feathers a dilution of the maroon stone.


This is the hard rock of what lives inside me today:

a discovery, an outpouring of blue sky, a place

I had never seen before so close


to my old home, a deep red vein

bursting up on the forehead of this plateau,

like the blue vein growing more visible each day


on my forehead, telling me to burst

into truth, into song, into alyssum, into prayer

before it bursts and sends me packing,


humping my way, in turtle fashion,

to some cold and lonely hill of heaven.


by Paul Totah

March 1, 2000


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