I started this blog to bring together fragments of my writing and teaching life, but life keeps getting in the way. I have been dwelling on what to do about a persistent fatigue lately, which is often worsened by occasional insomnia, and when I woke this morning at 4 am, and could not go back to sleep, I knew it was time to write about Carlos Ramirez.
Carlos meant many things to many people. I first knew Carlos as “Santa Claus”—as this warm, friendly grey haired, bearded man who I used to see every year at Carole Raimondi’s Christmas Eve parties. If it hadn’t been for this connection, I would’ve thought of him as “Walt Whitman,” but because Diana and I always took our two young children to these parties, Carlos was always “Santa” to us, and Santa only comes on Christmas.
But somewhere around 2005, I started to see Carlos in the cafeteria at City College. He was taking music classes at City when he wasn’t working as a substitute teacher for San Francisco Unified School District, and we would have these rollicking, unpredictable conversations that I began to look forward to. He was active in different choruses, and was working on improving his singing voice, as well as regularly performing his poems at Sacred Grounds in the Haight.
Of course we would talk poetry, and I asked Carlos (or did he ask me?) to recite poems in my English 1B class (literature requirement), where the typical student has the assumption that poems are these dusty, dried out husks of life that normal mortals are not given to understanding. Carlos SANG poetry, literally set them to melodies of his own invention. Carlos had a special affinity for the poetry of Langston Hughes, as well as some other African American poets. He brought precious, living poetry into my class in a way that I never could have.
One semester, our schedules did not match up. So I asked Carlos if he would sing them for me while I videotaped him. Carlos was happy to comply. As you can see from the video clip I am posting here, it was a beautiful day, and he was in top form.