At Miles Rock

From Point Lobos, named by the Spanish  

for barking seals they decided were wolves,  

you can see near the breakers,  

on a black lava outcrop barely above the swell,  

a column, twenty feet high, 

red and white stripes almost faded to bone.  

 

Some say it’s the stump of a sea-swept lighthouse 

built, after a steamer from Rio went down in the fog, 

not by engineers, who refused, but by seamen,  

their wives still roaming Land’s End with flashlights,  

only the base intact now,  

a salt lick for pigeons and gulls. 

 

Some say it’s the work of immigrant Wu Zhao 

who raised a pillar at the mouth of the Bay, 

then boated out daily for months 

to etch the names of forced laborers 

into her squat limestone creation, until, 

while carving out the character for “slave, 

she slipped and let go. 

 

It’s a nice hike over to the crusted beach  

closest to Mile Rocks, along failing cliffs,  

the Golden Gate Bridge at your back. 

Among maze walkers and unleashed poodles,  

backpackers and stockbrokers 

rinsing toes in the surf, you may meet 

a spent mariner staring out to sea 

or share the shoreline with a woman from Kunming  

who’s been out to mix with ghosts,  

laid joss sticks and tossed blossoms.  

And you may wonder why both stories 

can’t be true. Why the dead  

to whom sailor and stranger are paying respects 

aren’t your dead too. 

 

Ken Haas | BORROWED LIGHT

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