Wednesday, July 24, 1996

RED POPPIES


RED POPPIES
                   for Dave Hanson, painter

The cats lick red currant jam
from a Delft garden of breakfast plates,
bright poppies bleed beneath tulip tongues.

Seeking freedom of the street, silly creatures                 
lavish more lives off balconies—fallen angels
catapulting toward a dazzling span of birds.

Sentenced behind white walls, I am jailer & judge.
Imprisoned by the small accusations of rain,
they’re galloping nightmares in search of wings.

On a rumpled spine and ridge of rug, damp offering
underfoot—leaf litter dragged in by the tail—
I erode their landscape with a compulsion for order.

Alít retrieves crumpled paper, playing catch
and mouse with words I cannot return to, nor answer
her queries so carefully uttered in the tongue of cat.

Worn to a shadow scrutinizing closet corners,
Isis prowls the darkness for the lost pieces of Osiris,
meows at the door, knows the missing piece is in the street.

Alít curls, comma-hard, to sleep harder still
into the action of verb, as if shelter of rib and arm
held a consummate clause of breath and repose.

Clasping paws to head in a Gordian knot,
she’s a glottal stop at the end of a sentence,
purring a closed “O” to the sins of the street

Where fragile poppies bleed into canals reflecting
a veneration of church spires injecting
a venial anodyne well below waterline.

24 July 1996
Amsterdam
rev. 2/2001


Sunday, July 21, 1996

Memory: Robin Williams


I'm sitting on a couch in Amsterdam watching David Letterman's guest, a former love, not a lover. That came later. How I loved him, still seeing him at age 19, love without words, without conversation.

At a party in Tiburon, he sat alone by the fireplace. The others all cozied up for the night. A cast party for Twelfth Night, I believe. I was the wardrobe mistress.

Just to be close to him, I toiled over the sewing machine to make costumes. They were so good that they went on to Scotland that summer for the Shakespeare Festival in Edinburgh.

Ah, Robin, that Malvolio of crossed garters. My young love, whom I followed across the campus as you did your silly walks, wearing little more than a green gym shorts and a woman's bathing cap with a strap dangling like a limp worm.

Ah Robin, once I knew you well, and I can't help but look at your face on the telly, those lips I once wanted to kiss, what but was too shy to let you know. And you, me. We circled each other like moths to the flame, singeing our wings and retreating off into the night. The danger, too present.

Once we met years later, you took me into your arms, sweating after performance at the Greek Theater, thousands of screaming fans. I lost your address on purpose. I couldn't reconcile the idol with the young love.


Now at age 43, I contemplate my lost youth. For what it's worth. Wondering where you are, where you've gone off to, behind that mask.


7/21/1996
added 10/2015


Robin Williams' Magic Mirror

Robin Spotting

Tuesday, July 16, 1996

HERONS AT HOTEL HEMONYHOF


HERONS AT HOTEL HEMONYHOF
                                                                                                           
   I am architect: I am prophet: . . I am the cell. . .the opening chasm…
   And  my original country is the region of the summer stars….
                                       Taliesin of the Radiant Brow
                                                      —for Paul Evans

                                                                       
A lone heron stands vigil before the blind eyes
of windows, seeking the other trapped behind glass:
approaches the front steps in that leggy stance,
cranes his neck as if to see around the facade,

confronts stubborn brick and marble, the oblivious guest,
returns to his post—though the mating season has passed.
The sun slips behind a cloud, the other fades as if obscured by mist.
The fisher king sees through the camera lens, strides to the street,

impervious to the leaf clutter of courting pigeons beneath his feet,
he looks back a thousand years to when the Amstel held a consummate
knotted fist of migration. Geis: a bird from the left—bad omen—
still I touch him. He preens and bows so that the dance may begin.

Centuries from home, we wheel and circle these same canals;
mirrored in our eyes, ancestral fires take flight. In exile,
we each lean toward the other, as if having caught ourselves
’scryed in the veiled windows of the otherworld.


16/7/96
Amsterdam


geis/gessa: a spell, or taboo
scry: to fortell, or see the future





Monday, July 8, 1996

Amsterdam, journal:


Yesterday I met with Paul Evans at the Café Winkler, but it was closed and I was late, having miscalculated the distance. I am sitting in the sun on court Prinsenstraat, having left my new address with Marcel Koops. I was going to invite him to dinner last night, but there was no answer. So I left a message with Vins as well.

Paul was more entertaining, he got my new number from Charles. And so we met up yesterday afternoon. I was so happy to see him that I'm feeling a bit scandalized, especially since I took a couple of days to write a long passionate letter to Waldo, half in Spanish, my first Spanish love letter, inviting him to come visit. But hey, he's married and life goes on in the streets of Amsterdam. I certainly prefer the views of Westerpaark and the Jordaan to the industrial area where I now live.

Paul and I went out to the Soundgarden, and he rode me on the back of his bicycle, sidesaddle. I found his face haunting me last night. The way he looks at me so intently is a bit unnerving. His eyes follow me, even in sleep.

Last night I banished his image from my eyes, saying, I don't want to fall in love with a poor young Welsh poet and translator living on the dole in Amsterdam. I'm trying to strike the matronly older sister approach, and nothing untoward has happened. I've only met him three times, but somehow we're we've covered a lot of ground.

And what of Waldo Rojas, snug in his petit bourgeois existence in Paris with the wife and position at the Sorbonne. A man not crazy in love enough to come when I call, for what I want is a man crazy enough to chase me through Europe, or at least through the streets of Amsterdam.

The glass sausage tourist boats patrol the canals, the narrow-eyed tourists categorize with commercial eyes, the inner vulva of the city. They've come to the right place to spend their guilders. A glass boat with a banquet table set with shining crystal and silver amid the snowfields of Irish linen, and where are the guests? The menu: tourists under glass.

Paul and I sit on Marnixstraat watching the ducks and mudhens. He notes that I'm hyperactive. And I tell him there are times when I break down and don't even answer the phone. He doesn't know it's because I'm nervous, afraid of the silence that fall between us like an ax to sever this tenuous connection, afraid of where it might go, afraid of where it might go. Foolish, and afraid of being vulnerable.

I sent on a canal bench where no one knows me, writing on the absurdities of love, knowing full well that Edwin Drummond might be waiting for me upon my return, and I'm not sure if I want him. Second time around? I don't think so.

The woman at the petticoat shop lets me have a turtleneck sweater, a scarf and two antique nighties for only 15 guilders because I'm such a good customer. The shawl perfectly matches my jacket. I bought it there in 1993 and she actually recognized it. It's a cold summer here this year, and I want my longjohns to sit in the sun that does not warm the skin.

Paul has lived here for six years, when he isn't in SF mooning over an ex-girlfriend or two. Am I to be added to that list?

As for poetry, he is a purist, having read the modern poets. He can quote at length any poem. And he writes and measured beats, he knows the syllabic structure, while I can't even diagram a line, as he so aptly notes. He queries me how can you write in iambics when you don't even know how to measure a line?

I answer, I physically walk my poetry, I speak English, my body knows the rhythm of language.

He said, I wanted to know what's happening first, that's why I studied structure. Of course, structure is nothing without the emotion of the poem. He pays very careful attention to his craft, his poems are beautiful, and they take my breath away.

I tell him gull is a Cornish word and we have a Celtaholic attack, deciding that everyone who writes poetry is a Celt, regardless of their racial background. I tell him that poet is a maker of truth in the various Celtic languages, but it means liar in the Germanic languages. There you have it.

We talk of prosody and whether or not it's possible to lie within a poem. Sometimes the lie within a poem points to a greater truth. We don't mean the lie within the poem is a lie, but the construct of a poem itself is a lie. In this manner, three hours pass, what's to be the outcome?

We make tentative plans to meet at the Winston kingdom tonight. He's to make a chapbook of the readers to be out in a fortnight. And I am caught up in his accent, unfamiliar, but not quite, and the words that I might not use. He says I hee-ard and I answer I usen't to, or amn't I. Our little Celtic works pepper the English syntax of the enemy.

Paul grew up in a village of 8000, in the Rhondda Valley, a former coal mining valley in Wales, and spent most of his time hill-walking in the forests and vales of Wales, somewhat like me. I still live in the country, while he has traded the Welsh countryside for the low lands, low.

I tell him about Irish mythology, and he tells me of Gaulish history, how Caesar slaughtered an entire Helvetii tribe. Men, women, children, 40,000 of them, and later, another 80,000. We agree that the Roman Celtic genocide predates the English attempts.

Paul talks about the first Gaulish group in Britain, the ginger-haired Goidelic speakers. I counter with the Celt-Iberian migrations. And we we argue over P Celtic and Q Celtic languages.

I hold out my long hair, saying, Look at us, we could pass for cousins in a policeline. We're dark-haired Celts, but our hair, look at our hair, it's fire red in the sunlight, even though it's dark. He confesses to having an Irish grandmother. I say aha. I have many ginger-haired cousins.

I ask, What does this all mean, the British are quick to appropriate us if we become famous. Take Joyce, Francis Bacon, or even Samuel Beckett—which leads us on a lively chase to Catullus and Virgil. Celts writing in the tongue of the oppressors.

This is where the life of all poets as being Celts comes in, he says. I ask if I'm born in the US, and you're born in Wales, and if we become known as writers in Amsterdam, who will claim us, the British, the Dutch? To whom to whom do we belong to and owe allegiance, as poets. Ancestry and nationality. We are poets of the world.

I walk home along Prinsengracht observing the beautiful light. When I came upon the Amstel River and the  M XXX bridge on Karlstraat, I thought to myself,  you have to earn this view to really appreciate it, and walking this far I really did earn the view. My payment was exquisite light trapped on water.

And I thought to myself as I peered down Utrechtstraat, Vins is right, this city does have its hold upon me. What does it mean? I recognize the buildings and the light from my dreams all right, this mythical city, I dreamed of it long before I ever visited here. Was I a Sephardic Jewish refugee hidden here in a past life, a factory worker, or a street worker? Poet.

Waldo calls me at Charles' house, and I'm surprised to hear the news.

Sunday, July 7, 1996

Amsterdam Journal: Sarphatistraat 7/7

7/7 1996 Amsterdam, Sarphatistraat

Ah, what I've always dreamed about, a balcony with full morning sun. Sunday morning, little traffic. A sea of rucksacks and well-wheeled luggage clatters over the cobblestones like the hooves of cart horses. The next wave of tourists from Japan has arrived. 

I'm house/cat-sitting at Dave Hansen's flat, a few doors down from Adam and Eve Avenue on the F17 tram line, a low-budget hotel, of course. 

First sunny day in Amsterdam. What to do?

Somewhere someone is whistling a Nat King Cole song, a full deep-throated whistle. Okay to listen to outdoors that is. Not like Herman Berlant's thin reedy trill that drives me crazy within seconds. On my own, shall I wander through this wonderland alone? Play Misty for Me becomes my instructions for the day. After a shower, I find the sun has nearly abandoned me again.
I was awaken by cramps at 7 AM, not enough sleep. I worked on a letter to Waldo Rojas in Spanish most of the night. It takes so long to write a letter in a language not my own, when I have to look up every fifth word for spelling.
Herman commented about a woman who learned in several languages by having lovers from different countries.Yes, well, one is motivated in a different way than in school. 

As I mended my flowered dress, I got my first phone call from a Welsh poet Paul Evans, wanting to go out for coffee at the Café Winkler at 2 PM. I'm going mad from sirens and trams, the incessant city noises are so irritating. Sarphatistraat, at the intersection of three different tramlines is noisy. And the woodpigeons are eating the cat food. 

At Charles McGeehan's house, it was quiet, but living in that chaos was more than I could bear. I am glad to be out of that place.

Sunshine to the east, Stornes clouds to the west. Seagulls over the Amstel River portend a storm, or so they say. Paul tells me that gull is a Cornish word. His lilt is so different than the Irish, but definitely related. He didn't grow up speaking Welsh and so he's not got all the cadence. 

A sudden squall turns the wheel of the day into night.