Poet Diego Deleo: Fighting Eviction in a City That Evicts Its Poems and Elders

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 04 May 2014

Tony Robles

(Editor's Note:  Diego Deleo has lived in his North Beach residence for more than 30 years, most of those years with his beloved wife who passed away.  Diego is being evicted from his home by his landlord who is using the Ellis Act to evict.  His landlord is Martin Conyne, the owner of LaRocca's corner, a bar in North Beach.  Call the owner and urge him to rescind the eviction.  LaRocca's phone number, (415) 674-1266.  Diego is speaking out against eviction of seniors and recently took part in a protest action against senior evictions at the SF Association of realtors, demanding a moratorium on senior evictions.  Diego also shared his poetry at the International Hotel event, "Al Robles and Bill Sorro poets in Resistance to Eviction and Displacement)


A poem sits in the skin of Diego Deleo, built up with memories of coming to this country as a 17 year old. In those days the poems formed in his muscles and tendons and limbs as he laid brick—a 17 year old body in a black and white photo, alive with poems built brick by brick, breath by breath, day after day, minute by minute, second by second, flowing in beats of heart into the river of his life.  Diego, a North Beach heart and North Beach spirit that never forgot the young man in the photo, never forgot being an immigrant.  The accented Italian tongue on which he forms his words still flow with music and dance that English could never overcome. 


Diego, the poet greets me on the street not far from St. Peter and St. Paul’s.  He greets me and asks me to accompany him to his home.  I follow.  I grew up in North Beach too.  Diego’s house is across the street from where I went to Kindergarten.  We walk through a garage door and through a dark tunnel, piled with things the landlord has let accumulate--an invasion of space simply because the landlord can.  And the accumulation extends to those stacks of Ellis Act eviction notices that Diego has received, encroaching on his sense of security and peace of mind, its reminder permeating the minutes of his life.  


But we make it to Diego’s place, a beautiful flat that lies hidden yet is there for everyone to see.  And Diego smiles and asks if I want a beer.  Diego’s home is quiet with memories that are thick like the moving fog across the waters.  His limbs hold and connect and cling like a bridge to the memories and people and places of his life. 


Diego, the poet, shares his poem with me, poems of life, poems of nature, poems of walking; poems of his life’s journey.  Diego’s home is quiet with poems, quiet with his smile, quiet with pictures, quiet with fire memories, quiet with the built up voices and feelings and poetry and songs that are in the skin of the walls and in the floor and in the fixtures and in every utensil, every chair and in the skin of Diego that is covered by poems.  The poet Diego gets up and recites his poem in the kitchen:


“To The Wood”

Out of my house

To the wood

Among perennial trees

And the rose bed I planted

For the sweetness of my dream


I unroll a blanket beside it

Where I lie


Birds, squirrels deer

Familiar with the ritual

Coming ever close


While I enjoy the scenery

And the dream

Dusk approaches

I leave for my place


Rose petals scattered

By the gentle wind

Land softly on my home

To stay


And in his home I am in the wood, in the heart of Diego.  And the photos come alive, the young man with the tight fitting white t-shirt, unable to hold back the whole that is Diego, building the laborious muscles of an immigrant’s poem, story—dream.  And in 80 years of living, he is a poem that moves, flows, that will not stop feeling and living.  I look at the picture of his wife Josephine in which they renewed their vows—a vow to each other, to life, to heart, to poetry—to being alive. 


I am in the wood, in the house of Diego and Josephine.  Who are those that evict?  Who are they that evict poets and poems, who evict life itself?  Diego, the poet with a heart of fire, in his quiet home that is loud with poems, loud with the song of his life, calling for justice for elders in this insanity of eviction in the name of greed that will never be satisfied. 


The poet Diego and his poems sing out every morning as the grass grows under his feet and the trees grow beside him.  We can’t afford to lose his poems, his voice, or his love.  Let him remain in his home sanctuary that is an open door that leads us to the wood.



© 2014 Tony Robles


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