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 of mine, 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 wanted me too. 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. And held me close until I nearly suffocated. I lost your address on purpose. I couldn't reconcile the idol you had become 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. So strange to be thinking of you while sitting on a couch in Amsterdam. So far from home. So far from me.

7/21/1996
added 10/2015


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 15, 1996

Amsterdam Journal: Vins & Joos 7/15


5 PM I'm on my way to Vins's flat to be checked out by his lady. Paul asks you haven't met her yet? I say, It's somewhat strange to me too, but Vins was an old friend long before we became lovers. I just never thought I'd be riding a tram to see my ex-lover and his woman some three years later. It takes some getting used to. Being on the outs like this.

Odder yet, since I saw Jan Bogaerts yesterday, meeting with him at the Winston Kingdom a couple of hours before I was to see Paul, the widening gyre of three men, are ripping apart the very fabric of my life.

Jan ambushed me in the alley near Winston Kingdom with his Leica. I usually avoid the camera lens. I hopped off the metro and ran through the alleyways from Niewemarkt, amazed that the map actually worked. My relationship with maps is suspicious at best, I am always the most surprised when I get to my intended destination.

15 July

Sunday, July 14, 1996

Amsterdam Journal: dinner & gin

14 Sunday 1 AM

I'm back home from Paul's house. And now I'm really confused. Is it me, or him? Both of us? Is there something going on, or is it all in my head? Diffuse sexual buzz, versus pals? Or is it that men just can't help themselves? I can't tell whether he was considering seducing me or not, we were pretty cozy on the couch after dinner. And if he was truly wishing to keep his distance, he wouldn't have sat next to me like that.

I knew he was still feeling a bit addled from his wisdom teeth, no pain pills today, so he could drink wine. I keep thinking, what does he want from me? I use stories to keep our distance, to cover the questioning looks. I said I need to know how late the ferries run. Offering him a way out, and he responded by saying, If we leave now, then you can catch the last tram home. Which I did.

He rode me down to the ferry on the back of his bike, this was forgivable contact, my arms around his waist and my boobs brushing his buttocks as he pumped the petals down the streets. The stars were out, he yelled over his shoulder, It's so beautiful, and I answered, It's the first time that I've seen the stars in Amsterdam. It's so beautiful, I think I'll just ride the ferry back-and-forth all night long.

I did hug him goodbye at the ferry, because the lack of contact between us is so obvious. Everyone else is three-kissing me right left and center, but we've never so much as touched. Is it because it's a loaded issue, or is he undemonstrative like the English? Afraid I might get the wrong idea? The not-touching makes it more obvious. I keep reminding myself that each thing takes its own time wrapping its own gift. Be patient. I'm observing him, learning his patterns. Like a game of cards.

He sometimes dismisses or underplays things, so I have ask him again to see how he answers on the second or third round, and from that I learned some semblance of accuracy. For example, I asked if he understood Welsh words, and could he read a sentence? He answered, yes, after telling me he didn't know Welsh. When I questioned him he said I wasn't being precise enough. Oh?

I asked if he was using the Shell Oil building as his guide to the ferry terminal, he answered, The Galaxy Hotel. I was proposed to once in the Hotel Cosmos, I replied. What did he say? asked Paul. I said, I don't know, it was in Russian. Obviously I refused, I said, As you can plainly see.

For dinner I had brought wine and flowers from the red light district. I'd gotten them earlier with Jan Bogaerts, who met me at the Winston Kingdom. We shared oude jenevers (ancestor of gin), in tiny tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim, at Amsterdam's oldest jenever shop, Van Wees and Wynand Fockink. It tasted like I was felling a juniper tree and breathing in the sawdust. We wandered down the streets catching up with old times. I hope I'll have some time to write about him tomorrow.

Saturday, July 13, 1996

Amsterdam Journal: not enough sleep 7/13

13 Saturday

I'm to have dinner with Paul tonight, and another dinner tomorrow night with Vins and Joos. She is Vince's childhood friend whom he married after I left him three years ago. I slept until 11:30 as I got home quite late. The stop-trein took forever, I traveled from 10:15 to 1:30 AM, more than three hours getting home, and it took 2 1/2 hours on the intercity train. Then I had to walk home in the dark, following the number four tracks up Rockin, Rembrandt's Plein and Utrechtstraat, then Frederiks Plein, and across the Amstel River. I now have getting home down to a science, walking in the bikepath, the wrong direction. But what else is new?

Friday, July 12, 1996

In Wim Hofman's garden, Vlissingen

I'm painting an India ink scratchboard of Wim Hofman's garden, in Vlissingen, right after the summer solstice. Wim handed me a white gessoed scratchboard, and a bottle of india ink. It was revolutionary to work with a white surface and add shadow and wash. Completely changed my relationship to the medium.

Wim, A circle of time.
It was 1996, the great California floods were 1996-97. Ashablift Wim.

Wim Hofman  I shall try to find it out. I have photo albums and also some copies of letters ( may be). But those things are in cupboards and albums upstairs (somewhere). Or my son knows it perhaps.  
And with Frederik from Sweden and and Monica from the U.S.A. Photograph taken by Maarten Hofman. (Who now works at Google.)

 
Wim Hofman's Garden, Vlissingen, Nederlands 1996. Approx 6 x 12" India ink on scratchboard.

from a Facebook memory, added 4/2016

Amsterdam Journal: Vlissingen


There were at least 10 stops on the Brussels-Amsterdam train to Vlissingen> Being late, because I had forgotten my rail card, I had to take the slow stoptrein from Berkoff to Rosendahl and thought I would never arrive. The difference that one hour makes is cumulative, when it's the stoptrein vs. the express train.

I'm in Zeeland, at last, the houses and steeples are more like Noord-Brabant, gorgeous Flemish architecture. And Vlissingen. Happy I was to see the sun in Vlissingen, when Wim Hofman and I walked along the shore, looking into Belgium, and following the path of World War II, the places where the Germans bombed the dunes.

My Noord-Brabant impressions were not that far off. Wim's wife, Toka, is from Noord-Brabant, Wim's parents are from there also, their accent is soft and comforting. I felt so at home, as both my friends, Vins van Neerven and Jan Bogaerts, are also from there. Their daughter Magreet and I hit it right off, sometimes even shouting the same things in unison. Whether in Spanish, or in English, we were like a house afire.

Their house, The Wereld, the world, is truly the center of the world with a beautiful paved garden straight out of Provence. The house, with its three stories, is built like an old sailing ship with curved handcarved oak beams. 

The Netherlands lost most, or all of its oaks during the 18th-century for the tall ships. Wim's house, despite its venerable age, it dates back to the 1500s, has light, airy rooms, spare furniture, good rugs, cool slate floors that begged for a child's chalk drawings. .

As we walked through the town, I pointed out to Wim the red currants in the market, saying how much I loved them. Dinner consisted of pork, very long green beans, salad, potatoes, and a kind of seaweed. Toka said it was a Vlissingen specialty. It was salty but very tasty. And the red currants for dessert. I was honored.

As it turned out, they were expecting me for the weekend, but I had already bought a round-trip ticket, and I couldn't change it. We could've stayed and explored Middleburg in the morning, said Wim. I was devastated as I so wanted to explore the towns.

The light stays until 10:30 in the evening, even this far south in the Netherlands. Because of the light I was also loath to leave, and I finally felt comfortable because I was out of the city. I kept sighing to relieve the stress. I am truly happiest far from the city center, night the night life is not for me.

As it turns out Wim is fairly famous as a children's book author and illustrator with some 22 books to his credit, and he has won many prizes, etc. I feel honored to meet him, and have my art upon his wall. It turns out he also uses scratchboard for illustration. No wonder he is so interested in my work, we have parallel lives. He wrote his first book at 18th and was published by 21, a career that has never stopped. 

I like his acrylics they are full of interesting shapes and textures. I liked what I saw. Like Paul Klee, I tell him. Most of his work was in Belgium, he said. He uses to tagbard scraps from museums, like me. He prefers to recycle. 

Wim is part of a writers cooperative where, for 400 guilders, they produce a book and distribution is included—some 20 bookstores. Maybe my chapbook, Evidence of Light, would have a market that way. First, I'd have to produce a manuscript in Dutch. It's worth checking into; I'll have to tell Vins about it. 

On the boardwalk, "it isn't much, but this is where it all started. Wim points to a house of a famous writer: Hugo Verhas. I don't recognize the name.

We gazed across the river mouth into Belgium, and then walked west along the coast to the North Sea, watching the Dutch and Belgian pilot boats churn across the straits, delivering their top brass cargo to shore.

We climbed the old flour mill tower, still in use, with its quintessential Don Quixote sails, spinning like enormous gull wings, reflected in the narrow canal, a step back in time. Several steps back in time. Such stories to tell.

Amsterdam journal: train to Vlissingen 7/12


12 July

Finally I am on the 11 AM slow train to Vlissingen. I missed the 10 AM express train because my rail active pass fell out of my pocket. I had already taking the tram to the train station and then had to walk back, retracing my steps. The rail pass was in the toilet, having fallen out of my pocket. I knew it couldn't be in the street. Small grace.

But I'm terribly grumpy having missed the 10 AM train. Now I'll get into Vlissingen around 1:30 PM. I'm annoyed because the Vlissingen train ticket is 40 guilders. And I've wasted several hours already. I was planning to stay half the day at Wim Hofman”s, but luckily, during the height of summer, daylight lasts until 10:30 PM at night.

A business man in the next seat is permanently attached to his cell phone. I'm having visions of snatching it from him and stomping on it after he receives his fourth call in as many minutes. I can't blame my period for my vexation, perhaps I can blame my circadian rhythms. I was up until 6:30 AM the day before, and then sleeping until 1 PM, and then I was up at 8 AM today. Certainly, I'm a bit out of sorts.

Unfortunately I know what the problem is, I'm preoccupied with a certain Welsh poet who is 13 years my junior, and I'm trying to hold onto my attachment to Waldo, to keep from getting involved. If I'm this preoccupied, is he? Is this a mutual attraction? Or I am I completely out of my mind?

How come I never fall madly in love in the states and only on the road? Aside from the obvious usual fear of commitment, what else is different about me that I attract men outside of my own world? Also, poetry is my world, whether I'm in the Netherlands, or in California. I'm also uneasy about the fact that I seem to fall only for poets. Of course, I only hang out with poets, so that could explain some of it.

Amsterdam Journal: wrong dream 7/12


Being attracted to both Chilean poet Waldo Rojas and to Welsh poet Paul Evans is not a mutually exclusive process. I'm just not used to it. No sooner did I say goodbye to Waldo, did I meet Paul, with only two days respite in between. I met Paul at my reading at the Hotel Winston on Monday, the 24th. Charles McGeehan knows him, and I wouldn't even have come across his work, had I not gone to the reading, even though I”m collecting poems for the Mother Earth News issue.

But to meet the man first had a significant impact upon me. Each time I see Paul, it gets harder and harder to put him out of my mind. There is a moment frozen in memory where as he drank the orange juice offered, the long summer light illuminating his face, and we really looked into each other's eyes for an unguarded moment. I remember the green flecks among the brown, and his eyes, so like my own.

And I began to realize as we talked, he too was in my dreams before I came to the Netherlands. Only I mistook him for my brother. I kept thinking it was odd that my brother had a full head of hair and that there was such a sexual undercurrent. Not very comfortable. Ewww. I never been interested in my brother ever. And I couldn't seem to banish that element from the dream.

There's just enough age difference between Paul and I to keep a safe distance, to borrow a term, we”re good mates. My brother and I are closer in age, growing up. I put the man in the dream to be about age 28 and Paul is 30.

It was at the Hotel Winston Kingdom last Monday night, that the pieces began to fall into place. Our host and emcee Jacek Nichs introduced us. I need to look up the dream now but I do remember having a row with him in the dream about love, and he was chewing me out because I turned him down. And I was confused and devastated thinking it was my brother which didn't help I'm sure.

But then I wondered how does the identity process come upon in the waking world? What made me decide he was my brother in the dream? The way he looked? During the dream who was he? Did I use brother as a placeholder for whom I didn't know?

When I told Paul that he was in my dreams before I had met him, he didn't seem particularly alarmed saying that his mother and sisters were into the occult. He grew up with an Ouija board and séances.

I said this had nothing to do with the occult, I dream of the future. Precognition. It's an Irish trait, I don't particularly like it, it makes me uneasy, but that doesn't stop the dreams from happening. I told him I also dream of catastrophic events before they happen. The Challenger explosion, the Bijlmer plane wreck etc.

He laughed and said just don't tell me that I'm going to die, or something awful like that. I replied, no it has nothing it was nothing awful. I just don't remember the details. Now I'll have to look up the dream. Not wanting to give away anything in case I might sway or force the dream, I let it play out.

As he reached for his bag and leather jacket hanging from the closet door I passed close by him, marveling at his height. I never realized it before. That growing awareness of the other. Didn't give him ideas sitting on my bed like that? I was trying to act nonchalant sitting cross-legged as we typed up poems.

With both Paul and Waldo I am so at ease. Why can't I find someone like that in the states? I know that both are observing me constantly but I don't mind. Paul comments again that I'm hyperactive. I say coffee makes me even more so, I'm self-conscious about it, saying I'm trying to control it. I wonder what poems will come of it? If any?

Thursday, July 11, 1996

Amsterdam Journal: La Diaspora poets

La Diaspora poets and exiled expatriates.

Today I met with Colombian poet, Annabel Torres at the Café Français. I am collecting poems in translation for our Poets in Exile issue for Herman Berlandt.

I had trouble with waking up as Vins came over about 12 AM and didn't leave until 6 AM. Earlier I had fixed dinner for Paul Evans and had some wine. And he's on painkillers for an extracted wisdom teeth and can't drink. He did have one small glass however.

With Vins drinking coffee, I decided on some wine, but it wasn't until the last glass, that he joined me, and we got pretty snookered talking of philosophy and dialectical models. If a butterfly flapping its wings over Mexico causes a storm in China, you damn well better kill the butterfly, glibs Vins.

We tease and punt, catching up on three years, a long absence. It's odd how we can't stop talking. Beneath it all, we are truly friends. I propose to him that we make a bilingual poetry book to use his translations.

Annabel Torres says that translators get paid 80 guilders an hour, and they're only allowed to work 40 minutes at a time. And she said the simultaneous translation with two other people is the hardest kind of translation to do. And I thought of my stint translating for Waldo and Robert, I thought my head was going to explode.

People say Vins' translations of my poems are very good and this pleases him. He gets little feedback from the world. Especially with these translations. Sometimes I think he would like to do more of it. We got in a good visit. Cause and effect equals synthesis. And something on dialectics.

Earlier I was floating on air, grinning away because of Waldo's postcard, running errands because Paul was going to be here at 6 PM. Paul brought a huge whipped cream cake with fruit. I don't think anyone's ever done that for me, brought me a cake. And we had dinner, salad, couscous and steak. Moving the table around until it suited us. I think we're looking more and more into each other's eyes, and I find his presence hard to shake after he leaves.

Unfortunately I have no control when I dream of him, and here I am trying to be like an older sister, because he's only 30, and I'm 43. I think nothing of being a man 13 years my senior. But the other way around is a whole 'nother paradigm. It's a bit more ticklish and we're such an ageist society. I keep telling myself there's nothing going on, like with Waldo. Yeah, right. Or, I'm just imagining things. A fertile, overactive imagination.

Come to find out it wasn't quite so. There's a bit of a titillation going on. I'm feeling torn, entertaining two men in rapid succession like that, but Waldo's married, and gone, so the letters and flirtation are for the long-term memory banks. We will see where it goes, if anywhere. We're mates, Paul calls me a good bloke, I call him dude.

And with Paul, ach! the model is similar. We see each other every two or three days. I'm to go to his place on Saturday. Nothing untoward happens, or will it. We went for a long walk after dinner to Ouderkirk aan de Amstel, a village tower on the Amstel River, near Amstelveen, talking about everything under the sun. Especially the Celtic stuff.

Paul tells me how to pronounce Welsh words, and reads me his poem in a low voice, lounging on the bed. We are frozen in time. I just wanted to lie down with him, so easily seduced by love poems.

I typed up one poem on the computer for the upcoming exile issue. And he had to go to Jacek Nichs's birthday party at 10, but stayed until 11 PM anyway. I suppose I could've gone with him, but I really wasn't up for it, and didn't know if that would be pushing my luck. Sleep is not overrated.

Amsterdam Journal: postcard from Waldo 7/11

July 11 

Finally I received a card from Waldo and it takes some time for me to decode the written Spanish. He wrote (in Spanish):

I was very happy to receive your letter. You need time to consult the dictionary, but now with the visual contact of your writing, the magic of the words, the written words exist. I was glad to know you and I can figure it out. The moments we had together, they were few, but very intense. I will write more later, but for now, a large kiss from Paris.

Tenderly,

Waldo

I have never been to Paris. Perhaps this is as close as I'll ever get to the City of Light.

Waldo Rojas-Serrano (drawing)

Wednesday, July 10, 1996

Amsterdam Journal: time slips away, Charles McGeehan's flat 7/10

10 July

How time slips away from me. I'm feeling guilty because there is always so much to do, and I'm not trying to accomplish it. Yesterday, I stayed at home, nursing my period. Such bad cramps. I had to soak in the tub at 3 AM to relieve the pain. My cousin Sinead called from Petaluma, she has an international line at work. She said to go out on the day trips and don't let the time fritter away.

I've been in Holland nearly a month now, and I have done very little by way of touristing. And I was so busy with Poetry International the first two weeks, I was truly exhausted by the time I got to Charles McGeehan's flat.

Charles is Bert Schierbeek's official translator. And then not having a physical space to sleep, was truly distressing. Charles lives in complete and utter chaos. Every room in the house is filled with paper, and there are tiny rabbit warrens where you can move from room to room. A lot of my time was spent in making his place habitable. Herman was right at home here. Neither have any domestic skills.

But I have limits. I literally slept mid-book stacks and made my bed with blankets on top of boxes of poetry. I was pretty busy during the first week at Charles's flat making some semblance of order out of decades of chaos. If we weren't on the ground floor, we'd be in danger of capsizing. Perhaps because Charles has had brain surgery, is why he's so chaotic. But Herman has no excuse.

Moving here was the first respite I've had in months and months. What did you do when you are truly tired, and need a rest? And too tired to rest? Fill it with things to occupy your time? Or catch up? My heavy periods didn't help. You're supposed to do things on vacation. I'm merely existing, living Dutch, as I always have, whenever I come here. My morning ritual of Dowe Egberts espresso, and wafer-thin slices of ouda Amsterdam cheese on dark bread toast sustains me.

Still so much to do. Visit Wim Hofman in Vlissingen, Maya/Maija in Almeer, and Jan Bogaerts in Liessel. I'm still not sure if we're going to France with Bertaijn, Bert's sister, and Charles' ex-wife, next weekend. A part of me is waiting for Waldo to call, dammit.

I still want to go museum-ing here and in Rotterdam. I gravitate towards museums the way others visit pubs or clubs. I still want to visit Leiden and Utrecht and Gouda. Groeningen is out as Maria van Daalen is teaching in Iowa.

I need to finish my translation article on Breyten Breytenbach and I need to find an Afrikaans dictionary in order to finish my translations of Breytenbach's work. I am writing an article on Poetry International for Poetry Flash, perhaps interview Martin Mooij and Jules Deelder, the Night Mayor of Rotterdam, for it truly is the end of an era.

I'm hurt because Vins hasn't called me, or Marcel Koops, or Jan Bogaerts—for that matter so much for old friends.

Tuesday, July 9, 1996

Amsterdam journal: dream sequence 7/9


At 1AM, it was a mad run down the streets after a guzzling a second Guinness bought by a friend of Paul's, whose boyfriend and translator David, read a short story. Her name was Josie or Yoski, as she said it, an ex-potter

I now know who Paul is, that dream in which I mistook my brother for him, so he's on my path too. The relationship I have with Paul is very much like the dream, he somewhat resembles my brother, except for the hair, so that”s why I assumed it was my brother, a long time ago. I didn't realize that it wasn't my brother. I just thought he was had a full head of hair because it was a dream.

When Paul tilts his head down, it's scary how much he looks like my brother, not so much full on, but the brow is the same.

Ever the gentleman, Paul bought me a Guinness when I joined him. How simple. This is what I need, friends who will take me by the hand. He brought me a poetry book from England, Poetry Review, lots of articles about the Irish poets and I am in hog heaven. There is a wonderful comfort sitting next to him, nothing untoward, mind you. His role in my life will be revealed in time.

I invited him over for dinner, or for tea if he preferred. If you would like… Yes he said, double-checking that I had his number. Last time we met, I was 25 minutes late. He said Next time it's my turn to be late. Ouch!

Amsterdam Journal: Poetry International recap 7/9

Tuesday, July 9,

Small memories are flooding the morning's writing, Waldo Rojas and I waltzed to calliope music in the streets of Schoenhaven while Jules Deelder, the Night Mayor of Rotterdam, Simon Vinkenoog and the venerable Judith Hertzberg applaud, both they, and Miroslav Holub shower thin Dutch dimes down upon us like wedding rice, from the stone steps. We collect enough for a beer or two.

I curtsied, saying in my broadest Irish accent, Oh thank you kind sir. Simon, who is Holland's last hippie, asked me to remember him to Larry Ferlinghetti. Is City Lights still there? He asks. Of course, I laugh. I will give him your regards.

June 22
At dinner, I sat across from Seamus Heaney, telling them about my grandfather and Liam Mellows, whom he knew of. Seamus told me a story of going to a Catholic school in northern Ireland, making a Protestant reference. I queried, how did you wind up in a Catholic school? Because I'm Catholic, he replied, once more cracking the cap on the whiskey bottle.

I told Seamus of my grandfather's gun-running and of Eamonn De Valera and Liam Mellows visiting us. He said, You've got a rare bit of history there. And urged me to write it down.

Waldo, who was seated beside me, was silent. Of course, Seamus and I were speaking in English. Sometimes I translated, but I was often neglectful. Georges Lory, Breyten Breytenbach's translator, a cultural attaché who lives in Ghent, sat across from Waldo but they spoke a little, only having French in common. And when they spoke, I was excluded. We had not one common tongue at the table. There's gotta a poem embedded in that thought.

Waldo left early to go upstairs, and I let him go ahead, busy talking with Seamus whom I hadn't seen in over three years and then only briefly.

At Poetry International I started to follow Waldo who had asked me to join him, but he was so distant. Already I could feel him pulling away. I saw him at the credit phone, I could tell by his stance that he was calling his wife, shedding the adulterer's skin. I stopped, hesitated, and doubled back, and grabbed an after dinner coffee with Mairi, Seamus's wife. Letting him go.

I looked over the room of poets, saying my goodbyes too, and what an extraordinary two weeks it has been. This crazy tribe that I belong to. Geert van Istendael (whose real name is at least five names long) and I had a mini Celtic caucus. He is a wild Belgian Celt. By the coffee pot we concluded that the Celtic nation was alive and well and partying in this room.

I let Waldo finish his call, and then followed him up to the Klein Hall, the hospitality room. Many poets were already saying their last goodbyes. And after the final reading of our work, translating Breyten Breytenbach, we gathered in the hallowed room, a cathedral of sorts, where we all had worked so hard, as if afraid to break the spell, though there was a band, and a party in the foyer waiting for us.

Waldo left me alone in the room, and went dancing, probably with Mariolijn, the translator. She seemed quite attached to him on several occasions, perhaps caring more for him, than he did for her. I don't think they were lovers in the past. But one never knows. Not my worry.

We roasted our host, and Poetry International founder  Martin Mooij on his retirement etc., toasting the end of an era.

South African poet Dynana Kukama, from Botswana, dragged me onto the table-top to do a Xhosan song that she taught me, I learned it during a drunken evening, a few nights previously. We sang it, replete with the accompanying clicks, and tribal dance movements.A floorshow.

Siya nibonga okuba nathi (2x)
ni phumile makhaya nazoba nathi (2x)
na hlala nathi (to sit)
na xoxa nathi (to talk)
na blega nathi (to love)
na dhlala nathi (to play)
Siya nibonga okuba nathi (2x with a different melody line)


Thank you for what we have
you have left home with us
stay with us
talk to us
love us
play with us
Thank you for what we have


I'm not very good at Bantu click languages (Setswana, or Xhosa - Tswana), it's an interesting trick of the tongue to be able breathe out, sing, and click in the back of the throat, without drowning in saliva, but it was a gift to Martin and we had a good time.

Afterwards people came up to me saying, You have such a lovely voice. You could have another career singing. Or, I didn't know you could move your body like that, such wild dancing. Waldo missed it all, of course.

And I spent the rest of my time talking with Seamus. I gave him a copy of my Poem for Sarah along with some artwork of mine. And he gave me three resounding kisses goodbye in the European fashion. And then one extra big smacker on the lips—for a fellow countryman. Calls me cousin (my grandmother was a Heaney), and says goodbye.

I talked with Mexican poet, Homero Aradjis who brought me up to date on El Grupo de los Cien, The Group of 100, an organization and ecological organization that he had founded. I told him I had seen his name in the SF Chronicle a few months back in connection to logging and the destruction of the monarch butterfly habitat.

Homero said that is very frustrated because he can't seem to get much news coverage. He said that NBC, or CBS and came over and taped him, four hours worth of coverage, and then didn't use any of the footage. His program was bumped US news, something in Iowa.

We brainstormed a bit and I said to catch the US media's attention, you've got to make it relevant to the US, like tying to the butterfly trees of Bolinas. I also mentioned a friend of mine, John Knox, and Earth Island Institute, whom he also knew.

Homero felt that the US media was afraid to report on Mexican ecological issues, and of course, he's completely blacklisted, media-wise in Mexico. We talked about the dangers involved. He said, Sometimes I fear for my life, but I have to believe in the purity of the animals I am trying to protect. The energy of the whales and the butterflies. I offer cosmic energy to protect him to reinstill energy for the cause.

I told Homero I used several of his poems (the Canadian translations), in the classroom to talk about extinction, and unanswerable questions. I also used Neruda's questions. Homero, who is half Greek, said his last name was from the Arabic, his mother is Mexican, his father fled from Tyre, so he is an oddysey of many worlds and epochs.

Eventually Waldo returned, saying, Let's go. But I wanted to dance, and he wanted to walk me home. I knew we weren't to spend the night together as I had hoped, we both had to pack, but I wish he was a bit more out of control. That he'd just let go.

Waldo grumbled that he wasn't into ecology, not like what Homero is doing. I don't think he likes Homero very much. I asked him if he didn't care about ecology, or the extinction of species, etc. He said, No it wasn't that, it was the politics. I said that I admired Homero, and the work he's doing, and if not him, then who? How? What is our real job as poets?

Nota bene: All my conversations with Waldo are in Spanish, so this is a paraphrased translation. It wasn't quite a tiff, but it was a disagreement that fell away when we got to my room. I gave him a souvenir T-shirt, Alcatraz Sleep Team, or something like that.

And he began kissing me on the bed. When he fell back among the pillows with glasses skewed, shirt awry, he looked so defenceless. I realized it was all a façade. I took them from him, and he was helpless before me. I touched him, asking if he wanted me. Si, he said weakly, and we stripped off our clothes, turned off the light, and proceeded to squeak the springs on the narrow twin bed.

Waldo was wildly holding me, grabbing my hair, grunting my name, Mau-rin, Mau-rin, Mau-rin. I burst into tears, realizing that he was trying so hard to be civilized about it all. we had unleashed more than what we had bargained for. He wanted no long drawn out goodbye scenes, but he got it anyway. I wasn't about to be cheated of that.

Waldo is one of those rare man who can get it up a second time, replete with a second orgasm. We were on round two, when poor Herman Berlandt banged on the door, wanting to go to bed (we were roommates). It was more like a comedy of errors, we were caught inflagrante delicto, madly scrambling for our clothes, grabbing all the wrong ones by mistake. Tossing them to each other, And I kept saying, Give us five minutes! Give us five minutes! As poor old Herman grumbled in the hallway.

I answered the door with as much dignity as I could, with my sweater inside out and backwards, wearing little more than it, and my jeans, I couldn't find my underwear. Herman shuffled off to bed grumbling. It was a long night for him. Being stuck out in the corridor while we dallied didn't help.

As I walked Waldo to the elevator, I couldn't believe how calm and dignified he seemed, as if nothing untoward had happened when I opened the door, while I looked fully the part of a wild ravaged woman, my hair was a frothy Medusine mantle of passionate embraces. Does he do this sort of thing often?

Waldo stepped into the elevator facing me, and repeated, No tears, no goodbyes. The mirrored walls of the elevator reflected my face, and my tragic response, so that I could see myself simultaneously as he saw me. For once, I was wildly beautiful, standing barefoot in that hotel hall, with a crushed tuberose dangling from my ear, in the gardenia-scented night.

And Waldo was carefully stepping back into his Parisian mode. I was the wild Celt who stirred his blood one midsummer's eve, but now it was time to leave.Rejoin the world. He did leave me his address. And I did write it down. But I never expected to hear from him again.

Apparently Waldo called at Charles McGeehan's flat a few days ago, now the shoe on the other foot. He leaves his wife in Paris to sneak off and call his lover who waits for him in Amsterdam. But I never received that message that he called me until afterwards. I wonder how he and Charles got on over the phone? Waldo's spoken English is almost nonexistent. And I'm not sure Charles even speaks French. Dutch, yes.

I send my second letter to Waldo yesterday with my new address and number. So far, though Charles gave him my new number, there was no call. Every time the phone downstairs rings, I think it's him. But the upstairs phone remains deathly silent. By tomorrow, or rather today, he should have received my letter. Then round two begins—meaning where do we go from here? Or is there nothing more? Did the calliope music stop?

I am stirring up his life a bit, I think. Perhaps he has gotten too comfortable in his bourgeois existence, teaching the history of history at the Sorbonne. A man dressed in varying shades of grey. In a sense, I'm from his world, the New World, even if he left it in 1973. Waldo is a French citizen having lived in Paris nearly 25 years. That's nearly half of his life, but he still calls himself Chilean.

I had to simultaneously translate a conversationfrom Robert Dorsman (Breyten Breytenbach's translator), to Waldo. Luckily, I knew enough about Waldo to fill in the missing gaps. It was funny, because while I was being Waldo's ad hoc translator, he waited expectantly, trusting me to unlock the veiled the prison of language, as did Robert. Their combined energy focused their attention on me like a laser, as if I possessed a rare thing—with my poor Spanish. I got so nervous, I became tongue-tied. But we were among friends. Not like with Dmitri Prigov.

Several times I had explained and translated something that was said in English to Waldo, but that was in private. This was different, a public forum. I literally was the only other Spanish-speaking person in the entire room.

Of course, they could've used French with another person as an intermediary, so communication wasn't impossible. But I thrived in that moment, I was a linguistic bridge between two people. How many times has it been done for me, the gift of translation? It's not easy to do. And when you get out of synch, you wind up speaking the wrong language to both parties.

More than once, I caught Breyten looking appraisingly over at us, perhaps listening in. At that point. I no longer felt like an imposter, I was truly one of the group and I belong here.

Earlier Waldo and I were at the magazine table, and I was trying to explain something to him, intent on my language skills, how our bodies, and faces move differently in other idioms. When we speak Spanish, we move closer into the circle. In English we are at arms-length. At this point, it was obvious to all, there was more than between us than a passing flirtation.

Breyten's publisher, Francis Galloway, from Durban, came over, and said, You two look like a French painting. And then I wondered how we looked to the others in the room, carrying out a clandestine relationship in a language that only we understood. Is Waldo's wife French? Did I awaken the younger man from South America, and not the Parisian sophistocate?

He says I am O'Brien, Rojas-Serrano, I am Basque, I am Spanish, I am Mapuche Lincoyán, Aracuña (a tribal leader?). He is Chilean, born in in Concepción,

Waldo's father, a university professor, was executed, while he was in Paris giving a reading. The military coup of September 11, 1973 forced him into exile. He never returned to his homeland, and now his mother is dead. What else was there to do but to flee the country of his birth? In this, the Irish blood in him, and the Spanish blood, returned home to Europe, but what of the Indio? In Paris?

Have I, with my wild irish blood, pierced his heart, that poor weakened heart? Every day he lives on the other side of his heart attack, rescued from death, he's not exactly on borrowed time, but has a revitalized awareness of time, who he is, and where he is going.

One of the few things he said to me in English was, I don't care about money. In contrast to what? Reviewing his life? Or a general statement. And applecart I disrupted? I wonder if he will write of me. Or remember me. He gives me a signed copy of his book, Poesía continua. Yes, it does.

Another dream fragment comes resurfacing as I write these lines, I dreamed about my writing these very same lines, and analyzing his character etc. or having another chance to compare himself to my study of him. There is always more to come, contrary to what we might think. And I remember telling him of the dreams, and he asked, How can you tell the dreams and reality apart? Perhaps the dream is real and reality is just the dream.

In Neruda's Book of Questions, the first page I opened to was:

42
Who was she who made love to you
in your dream, while you slept?
Where do the things in dreams go?
Do they pass to the dreams of others?
And does the father who lives in your dreams
die again when you awaken?
In dreams, do plants blossom
and their solemn fruit ripening?

 Quien era aquella que te amo
 en el sueño, cuando dormias?
 Donde van las cosas del sueño?
 Se van al sueno de los otros?
 Y el padre que vive en los sueños
 vuelve a morir cuando despiertas?
 Florecen las plantas del sueño
 y maduran sus graves frutos?

tr. William O'Daly, 1991
Copper Canyon Press


And I still haven't written about Breyten Breytenbach, and his praise for me, and my work. I didn't know Afrikaans, so I transliterated his work, and he said it was more spot on, that what the eminent translators, including Miroslav Holub, and Edoardo Sanguineti, came up with, how, when he hugged me goodbye, I blushed like a schoolgirl.

Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove and I were definitely on the outskirts of that eminent circle, as none of us speak Afrikaans. So we coffee-klatched it a bit. However, I was determined to get something and treated it like a CPITS writing assignment, Juan Felipe Herrera once gave me making fake translations of Rilke. Francis Galloway, of Van Schaik Publishers, South Africa, wanted to use my translations in an upcoming collection of Breytenbach's.

Nor have I recorded Zein al-Abidine Fouad's extraordinary story working among the outcast women of Egypt who worked in the garbage pits, and how he brought guerilla theater to them, and changed a society. I was so caught up in living in within the moment, I never got a chance to record the event itself. My plate was so full so to speak. Perhaps photos will help to jog my memory, later, and give me reason to write about the many poets I met.

I also have a cryptic note about Irish short story writer, Seán Ó Faoláin, who died in 1991, and Homero Aradjis, I don't know what it means. Forever lost. Perhaps Seamus was urging me to read his work about the Easter Uprising. Or perhaps Homero was telling me to look up something. As it turns out Waldo was friends with Raúl Ruiz, Ken Bullock's friend. Small world. He and Ruiz were part of  La Cofradía de los Caballeros Antiguo in Chile.

There's always that feeling of life slipping away, out from under you. No matter what you choose to record, or not record it at all. Fleeting memories, not important in and of themselves, a collection of disparate lives during a a brief moment in time. Poetry was our timeline.

This was a June 22 journal entry that was later transcribed, hence the jumbled format. I may untangle it later.

7/9/96
added and revised for clarity

Monday, July 8, 1996

Amsterdam journal: predictability in writing 7/8


Derek Walcott once took a poem of mine, and folded it in half, lengthwise, and then said, if you can guess what will follow from the first half of the line to the second half then there is no mystery.

I had asked Paul, what do you think when you can second-guess all that A poet is going to say? Idea for idea. He said, I think you can say that in the structure of a common language, we unconsciously follow established paths. A manual of expression. Sometimes it is significant, how little we have we are original, or creative in our writing process, and in our reflection of predictability.


Amsterdam, journal: seeking light 7/8


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 McGeehan. 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 Marnixkade in the Jordaan district, 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 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 Magere Brug, the skinny bridge made famous by Van Gogh, on Kerkstraat, 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.