Composting for Poets

When I was fourteen, I asked my mom about hippies.

“Mom, were you a hippie in the sixties?”

She didn’t look up from her needlepoint. “What? Of course not.”

“But I thought everyone in the sixties was a hippie,” I said.

She glanced at me, arching her eyebrow. “No, everyone in the sixties was not a hippie. Don’t ask your father a question like that, ok?”

“Did you wear tie-dye?”


“Did you like the Beatles?”

“Only when they were mop-tops. I didn’t like what they did later on, especially when that Yoko Ono” (she wrinkled her nose) “showed up and they all grew their hair long and started taking drugs.”

I had no idea who Yoko Ono was, but he/she/it sounded intriguing. “Were your friends hippies?”

She paused in her stitching. “Why are you asking all these questions about hippies?”

“We’re studying the Cultural Revolution in my History class.” I stared at my practical mother in her polyester pantsuit and envisioned her in a patchwork skirt and a wreath of flowers on her head, dancing barefoot in the mud, just like in the documentary we’d watched in class. I watched her needle pull thread through the fabric in the cross-stitching hoop. Perhaps she would have embroidered her bell-bottomed jeans …

“Well, I knew a few Flower Children. They’re different. They never wanted to hurt anyone,” she explained. “They were gentle and loved nature. They believed in love, not like those drug addicts that came later.”

“What happened to the Flower Children?” I asked.

She shrugged. “They grew up, I guess.”

I was silent then, wondering if flowers and love were of no interest to old people.


Another question, one that Mom can’t answer, occurred to me today, many years after the Summer of Love faded into the long Autumn of Survival: What names were worshiped then but languish unknown and excluded from today’s teen dreams? Who started it all and died in obscurity? Because it’s probably their ghosts I’m seeing on here on Haight Street, and only artificial tulpas of youthful Grace Slick, now white-haired and plump. Across from me, a mural of Janis Joplin looms over a group of kids in filthy jeans with rope-leashed pit bulls. No flowers in their hair, though a couple have Grandmother’s love beads and imitations of Uncle’s mohawk. They pass around cigarettes, and vodka in Coke bottles. Their vices are cheaper than drugs, which kill the dream more slowly.

America’s collective memory of teen dreams is crammed like an attic, full of ruffled shirts, ‘49 Fords, ramshackle rooms in unwashed bohemia, syringes and rolling papers, leather journals stinking of cigarettes, neon Ganeshes, combat boots under lace, and endless worn sleeping bags on concrete. And in San Francisco, where the grime is layered on streets, I could find, if I was inclined to chip away at it, the remains of flowers much older than I am–organic matter mixed with bum piss and exhaust, composting in concrete cracks.


The musical inspiration for this came from a kid playing guitar outside the cafe I was in.  Since he wandered off, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite new San Francisco bands, Foreign Cinema.

Photo by Mr. Skeleton.


6 Responses to “Composting for Poets”

  • Just Jane Says:

    I can attest that, as I am likely very near the age your mother was when you were interviewing her about hippies, “old people” very much still care about love and flowers.

  • Kate Marie Says:

    Jane, my inner fourteen-year-old is smiling with relief :)

  • Bright Garlick Says:

    Kate – you write so well. Every time I read one of your pieces I feel transported to a place – like a place I know well. You write with such a gentle nature and have this radiant and unusual twist to everything you write. I find it very satisfying as a reader. You make the ordinary, seem extraordinary and the simple seem so deep and meaningful.

    I used to be called Hippie by kids I used to work with and I hated it because Hippies always smacked of pot and stupidity but I can really relate to the Flower Children and I’d really like to believe that in the grime and bum piss and residue of sandals and concrete that will outlive us, there really are flowers – flowers that meant something.

    I wish the concrete worms well in renewing the flowers of old.

    Great story. Great choice of music.

  • Kate Marie Says:

    Thanks, Bright! I’m so glad to bring a little radiance into your life :)

  • Bright Garlick Says:

    Hey Kate – you’ve gone quiet of late ! I hope that you are well and not too under the pump !

    Looking forward to more of your words. Those dreams you’ve been having, certainly make great fodder (or is that compost) for fiction.

    Wishing you well,

    Bright. 😉

  • KMG Says:

    I’m ok, Bright, just busy with guests and projects and classes. I do have something to post soon and will try to do it next week :)

Leave a Reply