Monday, April 22, 1996

EARTH DAY (rivers)


I've never written about how
when you're pressed for time,
all your favorite clothes are in a heap
on the bottom on the bathroom floor.
And you've got unexpectedly guests at the door
and there is no back exit, and you're naked.
And you've run out of allergy pills,
your eyes are twin fountains of grief,
and youth is but a drink from the past.
And how all those old people on beaches
in Florida glowing like angry poppies,
are called snowbirds, and for some reason,
the weather is nuts. it's raining again.

I've never written about
how all words are related to each other
as if on a string, and they pull at you,
demanding equal time, and you're left speechless
because in the beginning was logos.

Logic has little to do with the word.
How come logic and art are separated at the hip
by two halves of the bicameral brain,
and that imperfect tunnel channeling them.
Sometimes the traffic jam leaves my words
stranded on the shore, pressing against your eyes
waiting for your lips to liberate them from
the secret reservoir of the blank page.

I've yet to write about way
the horizon line always has one vanishing point,
where all straight lines seem to meet up
on another dimensional plane.
As if getting in the last word in an argument.
I've yet to unlock the secret
of the Indian in the cupboard.
How we say the word cupboard,
the word cup is lost
in the broken crockery of the past.

What about coincidences,
like how a wild fire broke out
on the 10-year anniversary of Chernobyl,
releasing radioactive isotopes back into the air,
the Ukrainian still using the reactor
even though Ground Zero spread 15 miles
in every direction. The children of Belaerus,
in cancer wards, like wise and old men
heated out of their childhood by an angry light
burning graphite fire that raged for weeks,
making me realize the earth is a fragile flower
perhaps plucked too soon, one April
nearly 10 years ago, today,
and unseasonable rain falling,
I marveled how the unstoppable isotopes
knew no boundaries, save lead,
we could hold pencils over our heads,
but there's no longer lead in them,
and the covered porch at the school,
was a useless umbrella.

How that day lead me to the Ukraine
where I found myself eyeing dinner,
as they eyed me back, two carp
in an enameled washpan mouthed small o's,
as my host mother proudly showed me the day's catch.
I had to ask her how far were we from Chernobyl,
where they came from, the Dnieper River,
that drains the watersheds of Chernobyl.
She threw those fish in the trash,
still alive and gasping for water.
My fear did little for the concept of détente.
And the Soviet police followed me everywhere.

How come I've never read about the length of rivers,
the cradle of the Indus,1800 miles,
or Saraswati's knowledge
the Yangtze, and the Yellow River's 2903 silted miles,
where secretive river dolphins hide from extinction,
the Nile 4160 miles, despite the Aswan Dam,
the Amazon 4880 miles, that drains the Andes,
the mighty Mississippi , Old Man River at 3740 miles,
I have seen it at floodstage from the air,
devouring fields and cities with a relentless hunger,
and I've crossed that divide at Graceland.

And closer to home,
the American River, all 300 miles.
One summer I rafted down it,
And the Sacramento River, 320 miles,
how we silted it up searching for gold,
and the Russian River, 100 miles, home river,
Slavianka, Slavic maiden, or Snake River in Pomo,
most of its length I've hiked, swam or canoed.
All those rivers taking us to the sea,
thalatta, our mother, the sea.


With input from Jake Berry and Jack Foley
Earth Day, 22 April, 1996

Friday, April 19, 1996

Poetry reading with Bill Moyers, Sonoma


I spent the morning on PBS radio with three students, and Arthur Dawson had two students reading poetry. Then we practiced with students at Roseland, running off flyers, then dashing off to the Sonoma high school gymnasium to meet PBS investigative journalist and author, cultural icon, Bill Moyers.

Bill Moyers said many of us aspire to be poets and then he read a quote from Gary Snyder saying that the mind interprets the world in so many ways. Tonight we are paying honor to the handwork. Moyers says that poetry is a journey. When you get it right pass it on, said Snyder. 

Bill Moyers recounted that William Stafford said he writes a poem a day. So what if it's not good? I just lower my standards. We laugh. Jimmy Santiago Baca in El Gato, said he wrote a poem to the parole board to get out of jail. Bill had a question: what's poetry done for you? Jimmy Santiago Baca said, Poetry's kept me from being one of America's most wanted.



We re-created the July Readers' Books event for Bill Moyers, with Jane Hirschfield David Bromidge, Tom Centolella, Sam Keen, Arthur Dawson, myself, and our students reading poems, in tribute to Bill Moyers and his PBS series, The Language of Life. It was a tear-moving event.

Bill Moyers praised us, and California Poets in the Schools, what we do in essence, is the heart of poetry. CPITS was the central focus of tonight's events. I emceed the student reading: Little Matthew Merner, a second grader from Higham Family School read with such confidence, I thought I'd burst with pride. And it was a packed gymnasium, all the way to the rafters.

I closed the kids' poetry section with Trevor Yeats' poem, This Body is to Ask. The audience gasped in appreciation. I had tested the audience earlier by telling them that Trevor Yeats was the great-grand-nephew of William Butler Yeats and they all yelled Yeats! I said, OK, you guys passed. I finished the reading with my Poem for Sarah, which Bill Moyers said he liked very much, and asked for a copy of it so I gave him the kid book.

This body is to ask
this question of the mind:
Is the sun to shine on the day of my death?
Is the hole in the universe to stay as big?
Tell me, tell me, where is the answer?

Where is the answer to lie in today’s hands?
This is the breath, to breathe this air.

Trevor Yeats
2nd grade,
Higham Family School
Santa Rosa, CA
I said that the poem was coming out in Voices Israel and, and he asked me to keep in touch. Later Judith, his wife said the next program they are working on is on healing and the mind, and they wanted to use poetry. Yvonne Lyerla told him how I had worked at Napa State Hospital. But I leapt ahead, nervous. 

At the end of my reading I said picking upon a line by young poet, Gabby, who was 10, had said about politics. I closed with: poetry is the ultimate political act. Which at the end, Bill Moyers quoted, building his closing speech around it. I was twice honored. A magical evening. 

We all went to a restaurant across from Murphy's pub where a guitarist was singing the Foggy Dew. My grandfather's favorite song. Earlier this morning I had read something that Bill Moyers had written in his book about folksongs as being poetry, and leading us to poetry. And I thought of how those Irish folk songs led me to poetry, and those circles were completing themselves tonight on several levels. Epiphany after epiphany.






Monday, April 15, 1996

Letter to Valerio Magrelli, Via Condotti, Roma

Letter to  Valerio Magrelli 
Via Condotti, Roma

I write to you while watching the film, Kaos, by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. Finally after months, I was able to track it down and inexplicably in the dialogue, I was compelled to write to you, how your poems shed light even in an alien tongue. 

Was it because the playwright visited his dead mama where the ghosts still have stories to tell through the fingers of pots? That made me think of your poems. You, a contemporary, or was it because I had been missing Mary Bianchi, my grandmother's best friend?

How in the afternoons she would grate cheese into a large jar, offer us  spongecake and sherry, or raviolis, while they gossiped. Her large hands could kill a rabbit or a chicken quicker than the eye could see, that same hand that patted my cheek each afternoon, coming home from school. 

She walked like a queen. The exact curl of her hands, my grandmother would demonstrate thus. Thous she had lived in America most of her life, Mary always thought of Italy as home. We drank her her wine and ate her chickens and ravioli, and became part of her clan, my family, my mother, aunts and uncles. 

The poets talk about exile, death is always an exile. All writing is a translation, this I know. In the movie Kaos, in the epilogue, Colloquio con la madre, the character Luigi (also the the author) confesses to conversing with his dead mother. He tells of the story of going to Malta one last time because something always eluded him, that yearning, that unnamed memory always goading poets onward into exile. 

Or was it because of the cable that Martin Mooij had sent us in February was delayed, it was his last Poetry International. Would we come? And will you be there, and may I hear the words again in their own native tongue?

April (11-18?)
He had written a poem about archaeology that I loved. I've a letter from him somewhere. He must've told me to see the film.
Valerio Magrelli

Wednesday, April 10, 1996

Bolinas journal: Catullus and the Celts


Last night Patrick Flynn and I got royally stinkingly drunk, like true Celts, we polished off a bottle of wine each, the bottles night before had less effect. I've been on a Celtic reading binge. The Celtic mythology dictionary I read from cover to cover.

Finding that Virgil and Catullus were probably Celts, Gaulish citizens of the Roman empire, was a shock. My grandmother always claimed that much of Western civilization owed its origin to the Celts, and she was right.

The night before I had dreamed that Patrick and I were making love but he turned into a living skeleton but with flesh. He so gaunt. I remember being open to him and he ignored me twice. Then I lay down on his bed and he lay down next to me and I realize it all wasn't one-sided, but there was so little to his kisses. I woke up before anything much happened. Thankfully.

Herman came over yesterday and we went on one of our famous little hikes. Last night Patrick came over to join us. We had a late dinner and  for dessert, we read Catullus. Herman and I reading two translation versions of the same poem in tandem. It was quite bawdy indeed.

I remember Patrick's eyes widening in surprise, saying, This is 2000-year-old smut. And we all laughed and shrieked and finished off the night with Lucretius and Propertius. What was on their minds? I'd say there was a little more than flirting going on just in the retelling of our drinking exploits from the night before.

We drank each other under the table. And we polished off a bottle of wine with our curry chicken. After dessert, Patrick said, I wish I had some cognac. So I whipped out my flask of Hennessey's and we proceeded to drain the contents dry, staggering across the Mesa into ditches looking for the comet. They were friendly ditches, and kept to themselves, they didn't intrude upon us.

Patrick said to Herman, Never go out looking for comets after drinking brandy with Maureen. And I said why,? Nothing happened, did it? He said, True we didn't even see the comet.

On a roll, we rigged up the tape recorder and listened to Irish and Breton music (tapes I had in my truck) into the wee hours by candlelight. The delight of candles?

Perhaps my comments carried a little more double entendre than his, they were soon glossed over by our reading of Catullus aloud. Certainly a little more flourish was added in the recounting of our evening. We were having a real Celtic Renaissance, eating, drinking, telling tall stories, reciting poetry, and listening to music.

I've been reading my Celtic books all week long. A pleasant interlude in Bolinas where nothing happens and all is possible.

I'm interested in Patrick, and Herman's always interested in me. But truth to tell it's just spring, the hormones are returning to tease the blood. Today I will leave and nothing will have come of it, just the possibility of another daydream.

Patrick was saying as we talked about canning and cordial making, that he misses not having a wife, all those things that families do, winter food preparation which no one does anymore. Herman says, We will all be one family. I add, Yes and you can both be my wives.

Patrick begins to object, laughs, and says, Yes, I guess we are all a little bit like that already. He, who brings me dinners unannounced late at night. This flirtation, if it is one, will probably go no farther than it already has. Herman says Marian, Patrick's sometimes girlfriend, and he have a part-time arrangement. Ok?

I went out on the rowboat this morning, the first time this year. We chained it up with a lock. But kids took it out last year and it got a cracked edge and it leaks a bit more than it used to. The tide was going out, a brisk wind, and we rowed up Bolinas Creek until we ran aground in the mudflats.

Herman told me that Victor diSuvero was in town last week fro
m Tesuque, NM, to read love poetry at Macy's, of all places. His wife has a new perfume out, Poême. I had to laugh because we had noted that it came out in April, which is National Poetry Month. Little did I know that this major perfume would have a connection with a poet that I knew.

Herman says Victor's wife made all her money on horses, and now she invents perfume based on the narcotic odor of Blue Himalayan poppies, and hallucinogenic desert datura. I was expecting Herman to say that she invented a perfume that smells like horse sweat or something, not to be named after poetry. Poême indeed.

Monday, April 8, 1996

Bolinas Journal: Easter Monday


Easter Monday, after last night in Forest Knolls, I headed to Bolinas to escape the cigarette smoke, my aunt is a chain smoker, only to find Herman Berlandt and Verona Seiter in bed like two little mice after midnight. Too tired to return home, I headed off to the monk's cell, a toolshed with a bunk, to sleep like a babe, dreaming of Celtic hero warriors. 

I kept saying in my sleep they forgot about Eochaid. What about him? As if saying his name a millenia after his death would resurrect him. (Eochaid means horse). 

I slept long and hard, perhaps nine hours, I haven't been able to do that in ages. I was glad to be free of the oak pollen dusting my roof, I can at least breathe a little more fully, escaping the itching eyes. Perhaps that is why I dream so hard. Who is Eochaid Feidlech, the high king of Ulster, and why is he haunting my dreams? This is what comes of reading about the ancient Celts until all hours. 

How many years has it been since I took that anthropology class at SF State? 20 years ago, and it's just now jelling? Though much has come to light since 1976, I'm still reading an anthropology book published in 1957, working backwards from the skeptics, and tempering the work of new age nonsense, and wannabes, with a more enduring science.

Herman brings me a cup of coffee. Verona's a little miffed that I had barged in last night, but I didn't want them to think I was a robber. We catch up on gossip Saturday's River of Words event was a six-hour marathon success. 

A San Francisco six-year-old won the national poetry contest. It was about sun and clouds and Susan Sibbit was his poetry teacher. I guess none of my kids placed. Poet Laureate Bob Hass is doing a good job, says Herman.

Now I am more fully able to comprehend the information on the Celts now that I've walked the ancient shores and have swum in the Danube, and visited the museums of Europe, and Eastern Europe and Russia. It all comes into play, what I recognized as Celtic place names, in other languages. I don't understand the many languages of the museums I visited, but art only needs the language of the eye to find recognition. 

To think I have been to Bohemia, the Russian steps, the Ukraine, finding artifacts that spoke to me of my own culture. Connections to the Caucuses, and the Pontic Steppes. Horsemen of the steppes, wagon burials, Bosnia, reference to the Scythians and the Cimmerians begin to fall into place. 

I am a surviving member of the Celtic nations, having something in common with Native Americans, folk customs nearly lost, due to repression by the Anglo world. Always, we come back to the horses as central to our culture. 

And the horseman who came from the East to destroyed Gimbutas' matrilineal culture? Now I must read of this too. Do our ancestral memories contain the memory of treks across the steppes, on tarpaulins in southern Russia, Indo-European warriors from the Asiatics steppes?