Mercy Street

First published in Akitsu Quarterly, Spring 2020, page 70. Originally written in March of 2008.       +

Today I heard Peter Gabriel’s song “Mercy Street” on the radio. I once went to see Gabriel perform live at the WOMAD festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on a bright summer day. I went with a friend named Rebecca—we along with 100,000 other close friends. I remember listening to the song a lot at that time, so it was no wonder that I thought of her when I heard it today. It occurred to me, too, that season words in haiku are much like that. They’re not exactly clearly defined allusions, the way saying “old pond” brings to mind Bashō’s poem or “bitter morning” or “lily” summon other particular poems. Rather, season words can bring to mind favourite poems that employ the same season word but in a much more personal and idiosyncratic way. This differs from allusion, which points to a specific poem, because of how personal one’s own associations can be. This is where my mind went, listening to the radio until I reached home.

                Mercy Street—

                a car from out of state

                with its blinker on


I still have the blue quilt that Rebecca and I used when we sat on the lawn for the WOMAD concert at Golden Gate Park . It was at the Polo Fields on 19 September 1993, and turned out to be the largest paid concert of 1993 for the entire world. We were a long way from the stage, but when I saw an aerial photo of the crowd, we were actually about one fifth of the way from the front—yet it still seemed so far away. Other performers that day, besides Peter Gabriel, were Sinead O’Connor (unbilled), Ziggy Marley, Crowded House, Jah Wobble, the Drummers of Burundi, PM Dawn, Sheila Chandra, Stereo MC’s, and others. I tried to get the quilt back to Rebecca, but for some reason that never happened, and when I moved from the San Francisco area to Seattle in 2002, the quilt came with me. My wife and I keep it in our Honda Odyssey and for more than twenty years we have called that quilt Rebecca.       +

—13 September 2020, Sammamish, Washington