by Kitty Costello

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]inety friends, family members, and poets gathered on Sunday, April 21, at St. Martin de Porres House of Hospitality on Potrero Street in San Francisco to celebrate the life of the playful, beloved songster and poet Carlos Ramirez (1938- 2013), who died on March 10 after a relatively brief bout with brain cancer.
Carlos was a well-known figure in his Mission District neighborhood and beyond, easily recognizable by his halo of white hair, his long white beard, and his sweet-hearted, whimsical manner. He was involved in so many different communities in the city for so many years, that one memorial participant commented, “You don’t ask, ‘How did you know Carlos?’ Rather, how could you not know Carlos?”
He was a regular at many of the poetry readings in town, including Sacred Grounds Coffee House, Om Shan Tea’s Open Heart Poetry, and La Boheme Café at 24th & Mission, where another memorial gathering was held for him last month.
Carlos studied poetry at New College and City College, and he attended writing groups at Central Hospitality House, Faithful Fools, and Studio Arts in the Tenderloin, to name a few. He attended several Zen and Insight meditation groups in the city, was part of the Freedom Song Network, exchanging peace and pro-labor music with other activists, and he per- formed in numerous fundraisers for AIDS and cancer relief, for the children of El Salvador, and other causes.
Carlos was San Francisco-born to Salvadoran parents, then moved to El Salvador at age 3, returning to the United States four years later when his family fled during a revolution. He lived in the Bay Area after that, settling eventually into the Mission District.
His creative work combined original and borrowed poetry, song and dance, and was marked by sprightly inventiveness and playfulness, both in formal performance as well as on street corners, on MUNI bus rides, or in casual encounters with friends. Carlos had a special fond- ness for the poetry of Langston Hughes, setting some of his poems to music.
He worked as a substitute teacher in the San Francisco school district, where he had a reputation for rarely sticking to the lesson plan, sometimes serenading the students with voice and guitar. He taught poetry and song to children through the public library and other venues, including traveling to El Salvador to work with children there.
In 2012, Carlos published a selection of his work, called My Heart in the Matter: Stories, Songs & Poems.
From the many rich songs, prayers, eulogies, stories and poems heard at Carlos’s memorial, here are a few insights and revelations:
From his rooftop in the Mission District, he could be heard daily at 7 a.m., crowing like a rooster.
His outgoing message on his phone was a musical invitation that included waltzing bears.
He was a tender-hearted guy who wasn’t afraid to let it happen.
No one can remember ever hearing Carlos say an unkind word about another person. He believed that if we knew a per- son’s whole story, we couldn’t judge … yes, even Hitler.
He listened at all costs to his interior self rather than to social convention.
When he was with you, he would give you his whole and complete presence.
He radiated kindness and good will, and those present at the memorial were encouraged to give a warm, loving smile to every single person we meet in honor of Carlos.
Another reader announced his canonization as “Saint Carlos Ramirez, the Melodious.”
Through Native American ritual and song, we were encouraged to let go of Carlos with joy, to let his spirit be free, the same way he lived his life. It was noted that in a city full of poets, there are few whose very lives are poetry. Carlos was one whose whole life was poetry.


Too Soon, Carlos, Too Soon,

(for Carlos Ramirez)

by Kitty Costello

You could see his halo
from blocks away
down sun-seared Mission streets,
his glow arriving well before
his sweet smile-crinkled face
came to full view
Beside the produce stand one day,
our friendship still new,
he showed me how
you could wrap yourself, each arm clasping the opposite shoulder,
to gently knead and rock
rock and knead in self-embrace
whenever feeling loveless or afraid
Eyes and ears deeply tuned, he’d ask,
“How’s Kitty today?” meaning me
and my answer, rapt in soul listening,
let me hear
unforeseen selves speaking
When powers-that-are
leaned their
mean weight down —
soldiers, fathers, petty cops –
he shied deeply in
to ready refuge
of his own vast tenderness
Crooning his poem tunes,
teaching us how to make rain,
pied pipering children
who let flow for him their
no-longer-silent poet voices
onto once white paper.


by Jack Hirschman

Comrade and revolutionary
lover of such rich and
meaningful independence,
relishing every zenny compa,
always reverberating,
living on smiles,
rendering all means indivisible,
reading every zero coolly
as real lost ones.
See reincarnate
a man in radiant eternal zest.
Congregate and ring
love’s old sweet
radical and manifest
Ramirezing every
(* an acrostic in which each word begins with a letter from the name CARLOS RAMIREZ repeated 4 times)

Carlos Ramirez radiated kindness and good will. Photographed here in Golden Gate Park, his halo of white hair shines in the sun. Photograph by Linda Atkins




Some Words

by Carlos Ramirez

What are we here for
if not
to bow
sway, sing
as ripening apples
the sun’s reign?

Childhood Woes

by Carlos Ramirez

The kid
who needs
an audience
Sullen cries
where does this
come from?
A pit
of sorrow
Not given
a chance
to play
with language,
to shape
the clay
of words
Patriarch dad says
speak Spanish here
if you want to eat
Where can I
speak my heart,
find friends?
I touch
these wounds

War Cries

by Carlos Ramirez

I’m about
eight years old
This one
pop orders me
to go to
the movies
I don’t want to,
he flails me
with his belt,
I wail.
He yells,
I’m doing this
for your own good
I stiffen,
Walk with
brother Jorge
and sister Ivy
to the Alexandria
Blue Skies
smiling at me
Nothing but
Blue Skies
do I see
Stars Bob Hope
And Bing Crosby
Why am I being forced
to see a movie?
I learn some things
about him
one day
He was orphaned
at age fifteen,
walked from El Salvador
to Guatemala.
Shoes unraveled
en route,
peed on his feet
to keep the skin
from cracking
Sported a bullet scar
on his right hip
Would entreat kisses
from mom
in the kitchen
to no avail
Talked about himself
just one time
in all the years
I knew him
as a youth.


by Carlos Ramirez

Organ cactus
on Alvarado Street
is ringed
by dots
who once
in their place
This cactus
knows abuse
Its stalks
were axed
years ago
by neighbors
with the property’s
Since then,
have bloomed
from its
crippled stumps
I wonder:
what mysteries
its looming
and aren’t we
a cactus,
succulent v
to anyone,
strikes us
in fits
of rage
and terror?