Wednesday, December 10, 1997

AT THE WAR MEMORIAL OPERA HOUSE

AT THE WAR MEMORIAL OPERA HOUSE

We sat in paneled boxes waiting 
for the orchestra to fine tune itself. 
The tall Nutcracker stared at the audience.
It was like stepping back in time.
I was transported to the Russian Imperialist Court
Remembering how Valera stood outside 
the Bolshoi Ballet Opera House in the snow 
and it was all blue and white, and blue again.
Ya lu blu, he said. I love you.
It was a marriage of snow and sky
in post communist Russia. Dancing bears
and sugar plum fairies.

I was remembering a neighbor's friend, 
Fritz Leonhardt who took me to my first opera 
to see Madame Butterfly. I was dressed in teal
 & turquoise chiffon. My cousin's old prom dress.
Fritz was an illustrator for Macy's and I Magnan's.
He drew his signature long, willowy models
that undulated across the back pages
of newspapers and magazines 
with that aloof come hither look 
that would confuse generations of men.
Alien creatures, figments of his imagination.
He drew women of Amazonian proportions.
A gay man's ideal of womanly elegance,
giraffe-necked creatures with legs
that went up to their chins.
I despaired, these were ideals
I could never reach, I was not tall, nor elegant,
not like that social butterfly,Tallulah Bankhead 
who appeared in a peacock sequined gown 
that hissed like a snake when she 
slithered across the marble floor.

12/10/1997
10/15/2015
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
San Francisco

first draft:
We are in boxes awaiting the orchestra to fine tune itself.
It's like stepping back in time.
I am transported to the Russian Imperialist Court
Remembering how Valera stood outside the Bolshoi Opera House
in the snow and it was all blue and white, and blue again.
Ya lu blu, he said. It was a marriage of snow and sky
in post communist Russia. Dancing bears.
I was remembering a neighbor's friend, Fritz Leonhardt
who took me to my first to see Madame Butterfly.
He was an illustrator for Macy's and I Magnan's.
He drew his signature long, willowy models
that undulated and slinked across the back pages
of newspapers and magazines with that aloof
come hither look that would confuse generations of men.
Those alien creatures were figments of his imagination.
He drew women of Amazonian proportions.
They were a gay man's ideal of womanly elegance,
those giraffe-necked creatures with legs
that went up to their chins, unattainable ideals
I could never reach, I was not tall, nor elegant,
not like Tallulah Bankhead who appeared
in a green sequined gown that hissed like a snake
when she slithered across the marble floor.

12/10/1997
San Francisco

Monday, November 24, 1997

The Christmas We Had Two Trees (Prose) v2

The Christmas my grandmother broke with tradition and returned home dragging a bare madrone tree instead of the typical evergreen tree, I was thoroughly scandalized. Already on shaky ground with the thought of Santa Claus squeezing his girth down the stovepipe—no more than my plump Irish grandmother could do—I was convinced it was an unwritten sin NOT to have a real tree. These Things Mattered. The world might end if we didn’t stick to the pattern.

The previous Christmas I’d had my Santa logic seriously challenged with multiple Santas ringing bells over black cauldrons on street corners. Then one Santa dragged my onto his lap, I could see his beard was fake so I wet my pants and cried.

Early Christmas morning I tripped down the stairs, head over heels, but the sight of the Christmas tree with its multicolored glass bulbs and icicles caught my attention; I forgot to cry. All those presents! Since I was the smallest, I reasoned all the small presents were mine. Bewildered, I stared at a dozen key ring sets nestled in shredded wrapping paper.

The New Year: we closed up the three-storey Victorian house on California Street in San Francisco with its leaded glass cabinets, mahogany paneling, hidey-holes, fireplaces in every room, and moved to our West Marin summer home with its firebox attached to the Wedgewood stove—our only source of heat. No fireplace chimneys, only a stovepipe the size of my leg.

I was newly five and on loan to my grandmother to keep her company: from a bustling household of a baker’s dozen, we were reduced to only two: the aunts and uncles scattered to the winds, my parents were divorcing, both my uncle Myles and my grandfather, dead of cancer.


Etched into memory: the indelible image of my grandfather standing at the front door with suitcase in hand, saying goodbye. Suspicious, I wanted to know exactly where he was you going for Uncle Myles hadn’t returned from the hospital, would never return. I remember an archipelago of freckles set adrift on the bilious sea of jaundiced skin, his punishment for burning a mole with a cigarette.

Later I learned to wrap my mouth around the word “melanoma” and to watch my own skin.

My grandfather rasped, his soft Irish brogue interrupted by the throat cancer, “to the hospital.”

I demanded in typical almost five-year-old temerity, “When will you be back?”

Startled by the answer of “heaven,” I asked where else it was beside trapped in the vast painted dome of the Star of the Sea church.

My grandfather pointed up to the clouds grazing the brilliant blue sky and mentioned something of angels.

Of course I wanted to come too; he’d need someone to blow out his cigar matches there as well, I reasoned.

They laughed uncomfortably and shuffled their feet.

I was born on his birthday, a month before Christmas Eve, we were twins separated at birth by 60 years. Incorrigible equals in temper and temperament, I was Grandpa’s little monster: at a tender age, I’d learned some nasty habits from him—to cuss, smoke cigars and drink beer—to the horror of my family. Between tantrums, I wasn’t above snacking on stale cigarette butts soaked in beer or licking the festive red and white sulphur match sticks.

Uneasily I stood amid a forest of legs watching the stained glass window spill its crimson and green tide onto the black and white tile floor, the known world unraveling at the seams. If I went with my grandfather, would I see my family again?

I was relieved when he didn’t ask me along. I wrapped my arms around my grandmother’s leg. I don’t remember my grandfather returning home from the hospital, but he did—only to die New Year’s Eve.

The family all returned home from their New Years’ parties early. No one could say exactly why: a premonition. Our last year together as an extended family. Little did we know my mother's loan of myself to my grandmother was to last some twenty Christmases until I moved away from home.



Our first Christmas season on our own in the country, I was miffed that my grandmother managed to sneak out of the house undetected by me on the morning of St. Nicholas’ Day. (Dec. 6th; Old Saint Nicholas/ Sinterclaus/ Santa Claus is the patron saint of children and sailors).

My grandmother hiked up the hill with tree saw in hand, bundled in sweaters, longjohns, and baggy homemade black pants; she returned home the hunter dragging a bare madrone tree, a nest of leaves and twigs in her hair—smelling faintly of Wildroot—she swore by the men’s restorative hair tonic. Not that she was in any danger of going bald with a thick white thatch of hair she trimmed herself in front of the bureau mirror, with an audience of Jesus and Mary behind their gilt frames and a crucifix overlooking the unused bureau brush set and a small harbor of perfume bottles—unopened Christmas gifts. She preferred the heady scent of Bushmills. Uisge beatha, she’d say, giggling, water of life, dabbing it behind her ears.

At a loss, I wasn’t prepared to let go of the Christmas Tree symbol too. Ever the determined curmudgeon, I trudged up the ridge in a drizzle with my short five year old legs, and dragged home my own tree: a spindly Douglas fir that was more sprout than tree.

We made another cross for the base and the two trees stood side by side. My green tree was far too weak to hold ornaments or lights, the one angel we had kept doing swan-dives off the top. But the red-skinned madrone tree, aglow with its lights, silver glass balls and songbirds, was strong enough to hold up the Christmas angel. Begrudgingly, I climbed up the ladder and placed her at the crown of Grandma’s tree.

In retrospect, her madrone tree was beautiful, but at the time it just didn’t feel right. Only now does the metaphor shine through the branches of that tree, ten years after her death.

Resurrecting pieces of the story of Rhiannon’s Birds, we were building a new life, starting with the bones of the tree, the grief shining through the skeletal branches, the red-skinned flesh of madrone, peeling from the heat, revealed the green heartwood beneath, with the promise of the life to come in spring.


© 1990?   1997  Maureen Hurley

There may have been an earlier version of this as well... I'll need to check as many of these pieces began as a scribble filed away in a notebook and later rediscovered when I had enough parts to assemble it into something larger. I tended to shy away from prose as I didn't have the skill or craft. Dyslexia certainly didn't help either. I think that's why working for a newspaper taught me invaluable lessons about literacy and prose. I promised myself that when I turned 50 that I could begin to dust these fragments off and rework them into prose. I never envisioned that it would be as a blog format on the internet. But so far, so good. It's working. It's giving me the eye of distance to see what needs fixing.

Sunday, November 23, 1997

The Christmas We Had Two Tress rev 3

THE CHRISTMAS WE HAD TWO TREES




THE Christmas my grandmother broke with tradition and returned home dragging a bare madrone tree instead of the typical evergreen tree, I was thoroughly scandalized. Already on shaky ground with the thought of Santa Claus squeezing his girth down the stovepipe—no more than my grandmother could do—I was convinced it was an unwritten sin NOT to have a real tree. These Things Mattered. The world might end if we didn’t stick to the pattern.

The previous Christmas I’d had my Santa logic seriously challenged with multiple Santas ringing bells over black cauldrons on street corners. Then one Santa dragged my onto his lap, I could see his beard was fake, so I wet my pants and cried. Besides, I knew where Santa lived. That nonsense about north poles was just grown-up talk to kids. Didn’t I just see him on the hill straddling the Presidio tunnel? Early Christmas morning I tripped down the stairs, bumping each step ass over teakettle, but the sight of the Christmas tree with its multicolored glass bulbs and icicles dazzled me; I forgot to cry. All those presents! Since I was the smallest, I reasoned all the small presents were mine. Bewildered, I stared at a dozen key ring sets nestled in shredded wrapping paper, jingling them—their false notes grated.

The New Year: we closed up the three-storey Victorian house on California Street with its leaded glass cabinets, mahogany paneling, hidey-holes, fireplaces in every room, and moved to our West Marin summer home with its firebox attached to the Wedgwood stove—our only source of heat. No fireplace chimneys, only a stovepipe the size of my leg. I was newly five and on loan to my grandmother to keep her company: from a bustling household of a baker’s dozen, we were reduced to only two: the aunts and uncles scattered by the winds of change, my parents were divorcing, both my uncle Myles and my grandfather, dead of cancer.

Etched into memory: the indelible image of my grandfather standing at the front door, with suitcase in hand, saying goodbye. Suspicious, I wanted to know exactly where he was going for Uncle Myles hadn’t returned from the hospital, would never return. I remember an archipelago of freckles set adrift on the bilious sea of his jaundiced skin, his punishment for burning a mole with a cigarette. Later I learned to wrap my mouth around the music of “melanoma” and to watch my skin for messages from the dead.

Standing at the front door with suitcase in hand, my grandfather rasped—his soft Irish brogue interrupted by the throat cancer—that he was going “to the hospital.” I demanded, “When will you be back?” Startled by the answer of “heaven,” I asked where else it was located beside in the vast painted dome of the Star of the Sea church where I was baptized. He pointed up to the clouds grazing the brilliant blue sky and mentioned something about angels. Of course I wanted to come; he’d need someone to blow out his cigar matches there too, I reasoned. They laughed uncomfortably and shuffled their feet. Born on his birthday, a month before Christmas Eve, we were twins separated at birth by 60 years. Incorrigible equals in temperament, I was Grandpa’s little monster: at a tender age, I’d learned some nasty habits from him—to cuss, smoke cigars and drink beer—to the horror of my family. Between tantrums, I wasn’t above snacking on stale cigarette butts or licking salty match heads.

Uneasily I stood amid a forest of legs watching the stained glass window spill its crimson and green tide onto the black and white tile floor, the known world unraveling at the seams. If I went with my grandfather, would I see my family again? Why would anyone choose heaven over this blue sky? I was relieved when he didn’t ask me along. I wrapped my arms around my grandmother’s leg. I don’t remember my grandfather returning home from the hospital, but they say he did—only to die New Year’s Eve. They say the family members all returned home from their New Years’ parties early. No one could say exactly why: a premonition. Our last year together as an extended family. Little did we know the loan of myself to my grandmother was to last twenty Christmases until I moved away from home.


* * * * * * *

Our first Christmas season on our own, I was miffed that my grandmother managed to sneak out of the house undetected on the morning of St. Nicholas’ Day without me. She hiked up the hill with saw in hand, bundled in sweaters, longjohns, and baggy homemade black pants; she returned home the hunter dragging a bare madrone tree, a nest of leaves and twigs in her hair—smelling faintly of Wildroot—she swore by the men’s restorative hair tonic. Not that she was in any danger of going bald with a thick white thatch of hair she trimmed herself in front of the bureau mirror, to an audience of Jesus and Mary behind their gilt frames and a crucifix overlooking the unused bureau brush set where a small harbor of bottles—decades of unopened Christmas gifts patiently waited liberation. She preferred the heady scent of Black Label Bushmills. Uisge beatha, she’d say, giggling, water of life, dabbing it behind her ears.

At a loss, I wasn’t prepared to let go of the Christmas Tree symbol too, ever the curmudgeon, I trudged up the ridge in a drizzle and dragged home my own tree: a spindly Douglas fir that was more sprout than tree. We made another cross for the base and the two trees stood side by side, my green tree was far too weak to hold ornaments or lights, the one angel we owned kept doing swan-dives off the top. But the red-skinned madrone tree, aglow with its lights, silver glass balls and songbirds, was strong enough to hold up the Christmas angel. Begrudgingly, I climbed up the ladder, placed her at the crown of Grandma’s tree, and a tinfoil star on mine. Her madrone tree was beautiful, but at the time it just didn’t feel right. Old habits die hard—even for young children. Only now does the metaphor shine through the branches of that tree, ten years after her death. Resurrecting pieces of the story of Rhiannon’s Birds, we were building a new life, starting with the bones of the tree, the grief shining through the skeletal branches, the red-skinned flesh of madrone, peeling from the heat, revealed the green heartwood beneath, with the promise of the life to come in spring.



© 1997  rev 2000 Maureen Hurley  for Dan Langton class

Monday, September 22, 1997

Huckleberries

MY cousin Sineád and I went huckleberrying on the Autumn Equinox at our secret spot on Inverness Ridge near Tomales Bay, where we used to go berrying with our grandmother. Hard to believe so much time has passed since I hiked the highlands of the other Inverness, Scotland. I once thought that 20 years was a widening gulf—impossible to retrace extant memories of childhood. Here, at Tomales, it really is like Loch Ness; in the pine forest we’ve strange white deer from China instead of the red deer. Instead of Nessie sightings, the San Andreas Fault stretches its monstrous length northward and great white sharks relentlessly patrol the mouth of the bay. My grandmother said Nessie was a coelacanth—Gaelic ceili, for “singing” fish. As a child she remembered the fishermen catching the rare singing fish in the North Sea. From the isthmus, we could see Point Reyes in the distance, a mountainous corona against the shimmering sea, separating Drake’s Bay from the raging Pacific—a misnamed ocean!

The weather at the Point is capricious. Once my aunts and uncles went out to the headlands to gather abalone. Caught in a whiteout of tule fog, they nearly drove off the cliffs. Only the urgent whispering surf on the rocks saved them. Offshore fog rising like a vast wall against a sky where tiny fishing boats disappear into its maws, makes me think of a Chinese silk scroll, or a painting I once saw in the Tate Gallery by Turner. The wind-ravaged bishop pines, draped in the pale traces of Spanish mosses we once used as green tresses, took a severe beating from last year’s storms. So many uprooted trees met an abrupt end—we used them as aerial pathways up the steep hillsides. This part, primordial as the beginnings of time, unscathed by the devastating Inverness Ridge inferno that blackened the hills for miles. But the resilient land is again clothed in the succulent grasses the deer favor at sunset.

Neruda wrote Death is an admiral on a ship. . . Many shipwrecks along this treacherous coast. We found hand-forged square nails, slow crawling moonsnails, and pottery shards in the lagoons and on the beaches of Limantour Spit. The natives of Point Reyes and Bodega Bay thought the sailing ships arose like white birds from the belly of the sea, and the white-skinned explorers—ghosts. They tried to sing away the apparitions of the otherworld. They had no words for this, other than the arrival of death.

Because this peninsula is now public land, Point Reyes National Seashore, we’re not supposed to gather anything: huckleberries, or moss-covered antlers. Short, thick branch: a fallow deer’s. Non-native, like us. We lugged our 2-year-old nephew, Seán, through the undergrowth. He plucked each berry like a little king appraising jewels in sunlight, then greedily fisted them into his mouth until he was tattooed with violet juice. Returning the memory of those who came before us, we re-enacted an age-old ritual, gathering berries before the fall—no matter that our skin is white, not red.

My aunt will make pies and ice cream, our teeth will be indigo-stained for days (like my fingers). How Pictish! The berries, so labor-intensive (cleaning takes longer than picking), we make jokes, compare them to caviar, as we drop them from silver spoons, polishing them, black pearls on purpling terrycloth towels. But it gives us an excuse to be together, like in the old days. We’ll eat pie and have tea from the Blue Willow teapot with a cracked spout. Later, we’ll go to a party at the Straus farm across Tomales Bay on the barren, grassy Marshall hillsides and make gallons of huckleberry ice cream with their cream fresh from the dairy. Jungle-lush Inverness Ridge is part of what’s left of the granitic Pacific Plate, while Marshall with its thin red soil of Franciscan strata, is part of the North American Plate. Two continents divided by a thin bay, different as night and day.


© 1997 revised 2000 Maureen Hurley

Tuesday, September 9, 1997

Modern Celtic Literature; Prof. Robert Tracy


FALL 1997  Celtic Studies 139? (4 units), Modern Celtic Literature; Prof. Robert Tracy;  (audited, no papers)                        
This course is structured around a chronological survey of Irish writing in Irish and English spanning the period from the 18th to the 20th c. It aims to give students a sense of the breadth of writing which emerged from Ireland during this period, as well as an exposure to the cultural and political debates which were explored through this writing.
                                                                       
TEXTS:
Penguin Anthology of Irish Poets
Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent
Elizabeth Bowden, The Last September
Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
Sean O’Casey, Three Dublin Plays: The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars
Lady Augusta Gregory, Cuchulainn of Muirthemne: The Story of the Men of the Red Branch of Ulster (See also Gods & Fighting Men).
John M. Synge, Complete Plays of John M. Synge (Riders to the Sea)
William Butler Yeats, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, Editor: Richard J. Finneran
William Butler Yeats, Three Plays
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
James Joyce, The Dubliners
Brian Freel, Collected Plays

Plus xeroxed readings. Roger Casement, etc.


Neil is signed up for this class at UC Berkeley but we are too weak to do much, so I'm to be la lecctrice, the shadow reader,  to help him through class.

Thursday, September 4, 1997

The Sky is Falling

A WELSH poet in living in Amsterdam’s benign exile, deep in his cups, lamented how we Celts suffer from a racial lack of confidence: A nation without a language; a nation without a heart. I dreamed I had to memorize 5 lines in Welsh—just sounds, no images. Each new line forced out the old one. Though I speak no Welsh, I awoke holding the cadence of a sister tongue in my mouth. I told him we’re archaic sentinels from a culture (and languages) stubbornly hovering on the brink of extinction for centuries on end.

In Louven, I found an arch, deciphered the Old Irish: another university founded by Irish monks in the so-called Dark Ages. Hibernius ipsis Hiberniores. Johannes Scottus Eriugena (Seán, the Irishman b. 810), a founder of the continental universities, taught at Laon and at the Paris Court School (when he wasn’t being accused of heresy. His doctrines championed free will long before Luther’s). He wrote: Nothing is more laborious than to fight against stupidity for it won’t bend to any authority and it won’t be convinced by reason. Punning in Latin, the king made a playful swipe at Eriugena, asked him the difference between a fool and a Scot (Irishman). The hot-blooded Eriugena replied, “Only the table.” (Quid distat inter sottum et scottum). Seated across from the scholar, the king was flabbergasted by the turned tables! But it is said satire was the first art form in Ireland. Or was it war?

One of Alexander of Macedonia’s generals, during negotiation of a peace treaty, queried a Celtic chieftain: What do you Celts fear most? The Gaul contemptuously replied: That the sky should fall upon our heads. How does one come to terms with Cenedl heb raith; cenedl heb galon: A nation without a language; a nation without a heart. I prefer phrases like Tá grá agam ort or Yr wyf yn du garu to the names of war. Words from the Irish: slogan: sluagh garim, a Celtic battle cry, and furor is to blood-summon. Glamour, corrupted grammar, this fierce love of words is in the blood. The dark, threatening sky again. Tantrum. I write in the enemy tongue, my own asleep.



©1997 revised 2000 Maureen Hurley

Wednesday, September 3, 1997

Anim Chara

The cats formed semi-colons at the foot of my bed: intensity overwhelms those who don’t understand the Celtic temperament. As if it were my fault, I dream of people before I meet them. A good Cartesian response to the unmeasurable.

I know craziness second-hand, my mother’s indulgements—influenced by the drug-induced ’60s & ’70s. Then, my grandmother also spent her free time wandered about the house muttering curses to Cromwell, the Anglo Saxons & Jutes. The sassanach, she spat.

When I was a child, I thought they were swear words. I knew they were bad, very bad, that I mustn’t forget my history. Who we are, where we came from. And when I recognize “kin” so far from home, I am overwhelmed. It’s a rare and pleasurable thing to meet like-minded souls.

At 30, I knew I was different than others. . . I‘ve learned that the doors of perception don’t open for everyone: if so, forgive my trespass. There’s an Irish word for it: an mochara (soul/heart friend).

To sleep, to dream. . . Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine: people live in one another’s shadows. I dreamed I had to memorize 5 lines in Welsh—it was all a jumble of sounds, with no images to hang onto. I no sooner got one line down, when it forced out the one preceding it, and so on through the night. I can’t even begin to pronounce Welsh, I barely know the rules of Irish. I awoke with the cadence. Perhaps this is the Welsh poet Paul Evan’s gift to me. Pay attention to the rhythms. Teachers come in the most surprising forms.

Once Vins van Neervan and I went to Louven in Belgium where he went to University to study philosophy. Wandering Marika's city, we stumbled upon an arch with Old Irish enscribed on the lintel.

To my surprise, I was able to decipher it. . . perhaps one of the few visitors able to do so in the past several hundred years. We found the gates to a college founded by Irish monks in the so-called Dark Ages. And here we are, archaic sentinels from a culture (and languages) on the verge of extinction for nearly as many centuries. And we’ve so rudely taken a long time dyin’ at that.

The Celts are going, the Celts are going at last. Hurrah! Soon a Celt on the streets of Dublin will be as rare as seeing an Indian on the streets of Manhattan.—British Government, ca. 1847.

In my family, we eat sodabread with tea, croon Irish songs when the uisge beatha gets the better of us: Oh the praties they grow small. . .

My grandmother, Jennie (Sínead) Walsh Reilly, never let us forget our history: 1 to 4.5 million dead from the Famine Years. We managed to hold onto our farms: the Walshes, and Sullivans of Bantry—at Coomb an n-Or; the Reillys and Duffys of Long Kesh, Fioragh and Drogheda on my grandfather’s side.

They came to America in 1919 and 1904, respectively. They were active in the Gaelic League, my grandfather was founder of the Knights of the Red Branch in San Francisco, the IRA gunrunning story I’ve told before.

When Lord Russell said: the famine is good, teach ’em a lesson, the Indian nation collected something to the tune of $212 for food; they sent us maize. Too late. Coffin ships to America. Slavers to the Barbados. From the Celtic Fringe to the Celtic diaspora. All those children sold in slavery: this is why so many Blacks have Irish surnames, blue eyes and freckles.

They say there was enough food in Ireland to feed 20 million. Instead we fed the British with our bones. Their sheep replaced us. But we survived. Sínn Fein: Ourselves, alone, she said, Never forget. Use their language against them, she said.

This, my inheritance. Slainte Gael macushla mo chroidhe. During the famine years, ships filled with Irish cattle and grain sailed for Britain while we died with grass stains on our teeth. Béal na blát: from the mouth of flowers. I am allergic to both corn and potatoes (as well as hazelnuts—the kernel of knowledge).

My father’s history I know very little of: Joseph Hurley from County Cork. There’s a Rebel Cork connection, but I believe Viola Heaney was born in Boston. Something about Lace Curtain Irish, that may be a rumor, but I have a sideboard of heavy Irish crystal.

Odd that I might be distantly related to Séamus Heaney. . . At Poetry International in 1993, I told him of this connection, he laughed, called me coozin, giving me a big smacker. We sang Irish songs, lifted our glasses high.

I told him of my grandfather’s IRA connections, I was surprised to learn he knew of my grandfather’s friend Liam Mellows. And of course, Parnell. All this fragmented history, my grandmother literally cursing Cromwell till her dying day.

Something struck me about our having a racial lack of confidence—rang a bell: my grandmother said similar words to that effect. The fighting underdog. I wish I knew more about our Welsh connections, other than Strongbow, and the Norman Invasion: Hibernius ipsis Hiberniores.

My grandmother maintained we got the name Walsh because we came from Wales—what, 1000 years ago? A bit distant. My great-grandfather Michael Walsh raised fast horses, drove cattle between bonfires at Lúgnasadh to ensure fertility. Ironically Walsh/Welsh means foreigner in the Germanic, wealas. An Anglo Saxon appellation?

One of Alexander of Macedonia’s generals during negotiation of a peace treaty, queried a Celtic chieftain: What do Celts fear most? The Gaul replied in formal address: That the sky should fall upon our heads.

Slogan: sluagh garim, a Celtic battle cry, furor is to blood-summon. How does one come to terms with: Cenedl heb raith; cenedl heb galon (a nation without a language; a nation without a heart). I prefer phrases like Tá grá agam ort or Yr wyf yn du garu to the names of war. Glamour, corrupted from grammar, this rough magic by which we strike. It’s in the blood. The dark, threatening sky. Again.

My anim is Maureen/Little Mairi/Mara/Maura (bitter herbs or small rebellion) not the more common Muire (mother of God). I prefer my crib-Irish: she of the sea.

Mor could be translated as great, or muir/ sea, depending on the fada. The Mórríghan is great goddess of the sea. Rí is royalty. The shapechanger war goddess Morrigu isn’t exactly milquetoast, there are others I’d prefer to emulate. At least she doesn’t lie.



© 1997? Maureen Hurley (Originally a letter poem to the Chilean poet Waldo Rojas Serreno)

Wednesday, August 27, 1997

An Inarticulate Hunger


HUNGRY for words, Sineád has read some 5000 books in her 30-odd years of life—a book a day. Final chapters of bodice rippers orchestrated in the wee hours by the heavy breathing of real birdsong. Aunt Toddy used to bring us huge red onion sacks full of books. A consummate literary escape-artist, I struggled through my grandmother’s bookshelf: Sir Walter Scott, Burns and Poe, hating poetry, but hungry for the stories gleaned from opaque lines and songs. During dry periods, I puzzled over Finnegan’s Wake, the banned Ulysses, The Dead. Even in her 90s, my grandmother could recite passages from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, I couldn’t recall the right facts at school though friends called me a walking encyclopedia. A diagnosis of dyslexia would have to wait decades to dispel the myth that I was dumb.

A poet wrote I am uneasy with this love of books. And at 40, I vowed to buy no more books or to take more lovers. All this love of books, I never heard the word love pass between my grandmother’s Victorian lips. Unmentionable as sex, though she had eight babies; the last in the procession was Sineád’s mother, Canice, who hated porting the armloads of books to her father each week. He devoured the meatier stuff: anthropology, archaeology, history. Some habits seem to skip a generation. After Canice left Sineád’s father, she met a man who couldn’t read; the sons took after the father.

“During the Cromwellian,” my grandmother said, “we kept the tongue alive, sent tykes to the priests in the hedgerow schools.” This hunger for learning distilled for generations. Sometimes I’d sneak off to read in the tall grass as if to keep memory alive. An inarticulate hunger raged unchecked, devouring me from the inside, pre-verbal desire and gnawing in my mind as I teased the dark veins from chicken thighs at Sunday dinners. I sucked pomegranate seeds in the dark and counted the tide of seasons with new lovers while Canice gathered her stories from a long line of bar stools. My tally of lovers, longer than her reading list.


© 1997, revised 2000 Maureen Hurley

Tuesday, August 26, 1997

THIRST


THIRST

Last full moon of summer, a tide of ants journeys
to the evening’s dishes stacked in the sink.
Colonies­—eons before we paved these headlands—
why do they ring the bathtub like flotsamic ink?
Counter our battle with traces of formalic acid on bread?

They’ve no need for time or history or maps,
breaching bungalo walls to win the font.
Neil brings me some sweet tea in the bath,
removes the sugar to a stove island where at night
a pilot light guides lost craft and keeps ants at bay.

By the soapdish, ants emerge from riddled plaster,
they pool by fallen brethren, staining the tub.
Perhaps seeking the end of religion they eat their dead.
The communion of phagos: no sweetness wasted.
No tyranny of soul or tragedy of self to proclaim.

Unmade dreams slip from the thicket of thighs
where I caress the cloak to see if I’m alive,
having dreamt of women chadored and circumcised,
hemmorhaging on the white tiled floors. No words come.
I cannot help them nor staunch the red tide.

Who else sat in this tub watching the ants’ progress?
What clothing was shed on the honeycomed floor,
what seminal dreams were flushed down the drain
with little to survive them except the salt-
sweetness of laborer’s sweat at the close of day?

Sequestered on the parched bed, he sleeps with
hands wedded to thighs drowning in moonlight.
Moans in the night, dreaming blank futures,
returning to the womb with tonsured ardor,
leaving a river of ants to circumscribe my thirst.

8/26/97
Oakland

Monday, August 25, 1997

Blue Willow


WHEN I was a child playing at the seashore, I imagined the Coast Miwoks wrapped in bright silk brocades, supping from celadon bowls, dining from blue and white plates painted with rural scenes of China. When Sir Francis Drake the Pirate landed here in Nova Albion the summer of 1579, claiming Point Reyes for the Crown, he left behind a legacy of coins, glass beads, and his cargo of exotic silks and porcelain from China. Later shipwrecks offered up inlaid rosewood tables, ornate carved chairs waiting for an audience to gather on the beaches. Tabula Rasa. Feathered cloaks for the wind.

Perhaps I became a writer because I ate morning cereal from a story painted inside a Chinese Blue Willow bowl: two birds on the wing. It’s spring: fruit trees bloom beneath a surreal tree near a temple. Though a path of light invites us to the temple, a fence stops us because we are not Chinese. Though I am four, I know this, for my grandmother takes me to Chinatown to buy new pieces for the set. Old men in black robes with thin grey queues down their backs, kow-tow to her, offer me sweets. I stare, round-eyed at the rows of pale celadon melons glowing with a mysterious verdant resilience beneath a grotesque curtain of plucked fowl hanging by the neck. Gateway to another world. Here, we are all immigrants.

When no one’s looking, I climb over the temple fence. (Later I will find a gate, learn the story of the lovebirds—changelings: to escape her father’s wrath, the forbidden lovers find each other on the wing. A story that includes European colonialism and the Far East—a Chinese story from an English design by way of the Dutch, or was it the Portuguese? Evolving into Blue Willow pottery, ideas shipped back and forth across the oceans.)

I am in love with the blue language of the teapot offered up each evening and the insistence of silver spoons against teacups calling us to vespers. My grandmother says the designs on the edges of the bowl are like hieroglyphic Greek keys—a symbol for clouds, or, the Almighty. (She knows that I will search for celestial dragons in the mountains of the world, for I was born a wanderer during the tail end of the Year of the Dragon.) Every morning I’d wait for the two lovebirds to meet mid-air. Messengers from the otherworld .If they emerge through the thin layer of milk, upside-down, did it change the story? They say birds are the kisses of Aengus Óg, the Love God. My grandmother urges me to finish the last two swallows of milk—because babies are starving in China. My eating habits will become inexorably linked with the welfare of those babies.

I gaze deep into the milky scene: A fisherman in a junk casts his line into calm waters. Distant islands. I’m trapped within the white heart-shaped void between island, trees and slender birdwings. No children. I hardly notice three men dressed in robes on the bridge, who, after morning prayers, leave the temple, carrying the tools of my profession: walking stick, scroll and lantern. As they approach the archway, so like a Japanese torii gate, the ancient willow, roots bared by time, weeps and leans into the east wind, small hands of branches claw the air as if to follow them. Every day they’ll begin the journey but never reach the portal, the birds will never quite meet mid-air. Soon my grandfather will die, the dinnerware and our family will scatter when we move north to the Point Reyes Peninsula. Only a platter and a teapot will survive the uprooting. My grandmother and I will drink tea from it for decades. And the platter will bear the holiday bird at family gatherings.

But from my coffee mug made during the height of the Cold War, modern Blue Willow—not from the English copper engravings of the 18th century—tells another story. Memory reemerges with a different historical slant. The two birds meet mid-air, but have grown into fat, complacent pigeons, the fisherman still fishes, but the boat is farther from shore and the fish don’t bite. Our eyes are no longer drawn to what lies beyond the uneasy sea. The islands are gone. Three men still cross the bridge, they’ve lost more than priestly robes: the first one carries on his walking stick a bundle of rags, the second man still carries a scroll—what is written on it we cannot decipher—, the third has lost his lantern. They are centuries from home. The shining path to the temple is dark, the celestial gate is gone—bringing us that much closer to the land. And so I am alone on the edge of the continent, dancing on the brink of I know not what.


© 1997 revised 2000 Maureen Hurley


Unearthing the history of Willow Pattern
The pattern’s popularity was so enduring that by the Victorian period it had even become the subject of its own song:
‘Two pigeons flying high
Chinese vessel sailing by
Weeping willow hanging o’er
Bridge of three men maybe four
Chinese temples stand
Seem to take up all the land
Apple trees with apples on
A pretty fence to end my song’

Saturday, August 23, 1997

White Deer


My grandmother and I used to travel to Inverness Ridge each fall to pick huckleberries, and to watch for a glimpse of Old Man Ottenger’s exotic white deer and the spotted fallow deer; but the National Park Service took the land from them, parcel by parcel—destroying most of the dairy ranches in the process—

The NPS gave the land to the public, tore down historic farm buildings, killed off the exotic deer: non-native species. If the alternative was a future of tract-housing, then they did a good thing, taking the land, but what they destroyed in the process was a thriving community of farmers and ranchers—for the greater good of tourists and their easy dollars.

But most of this land commuting northward at 2 inches a year along the Fault, is so far from civilization that its isolation is its salvation and its reward.

Trigger-points of memory: a certain angle of light reposes on the blood-red roses splayed against the limed wall of an abandoned farm. A bleached redwood wine vat holds the music of spring water plashing into the mossy trough where cattle and deer come to slake their thirst at sunset. Generations of barn swallows sip and weave the air into arabesques. No one wants to look at the moral dilemma: ranchers—treated like the Coast Miwoks their forefathers displaced—offered land treaties in the form of 25-year leases. Polyester tourists, also a non-native species. Rarer now to see the white deer.

Once while camping, I saw a big white buck in the night mist—an otherworld apparition of white on white—his antlers tining the haloed moon. But another kind of darkness hid in the pale Albion moonlight.

A sudden chill, a premonition drove me deep into the arms of pine boughs as truck lights severed the darkness. The silhouettes of two men illumined by red tail lights filled me with unseasonable fear.

At Limantour Spit death’s admiral was waiting in the staccato report of poachers’ guns—like Chinese firecrackers—the night they shot Ranger Kenneth Patrick for the rare white deer hides. Like the dried penises of white tigers, the deerskins were destined to be sold as aphrodisiacs and for healing magic to the highest bidder in the black markets of China.


© 1997 revised 2000 Maureen Hurley



The poem this prose piece came from:
WILDCAT BEACH, BELTAINE 5/5/89

"Clem Miller, a US Congressman from Marin County wrote and introduced the bill for the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 to protect the peninsula from residential development which was proposed at the time for the slopes above Drake's Bay. Miller's vision included the continuation of the historic ranching and oyster farming along with the preservation of the grasslands and open scenic vistas. The mix of commercial and recreational uses was the reason the area was designated a National Seashore rather than a National Park."


Sunday, August 17, 1997

Celtic Fringe

The Celts are going, the Celts are going at last. Hurrah! Soon a Celt on the streets of Dublin will be as rare as seeing an Indian on the streets of Manhattan.—British Government, ca. 1847.



IN my family we eat soda bread with tea, croon Irish songs when the uisge beatha whets our pipes: it helps us reach that 2nd octave in Danny Boy. My grandmother never let us forget our history: the millions dead from the Famine Years. A dirge for the dying: Oh the praties they grow small. . . My great-grand-father raised fast horses, drove them with the cattle between bonfires at Lugnasadh. My family is of the earth, they survived because they held onto the land, the farms: at Coomb an-nOir, the Hill-of-Gold Walshes, and the one-eyed Sullivans of Bantry; the Reillys and Duffys of Long Kesh, Fihora. My ancestors survived by eating the blackened potatoes, cow fodder, and wild grasses. Then, when that was gone, they sucked stones, swallowed dirt, buried their dead and dreamed of another country to the west: Tír na-nÓg.

Lord Russell said the famine is good, teach the Irish a lesson. Ships laden with Irish cattle and grain sailed for Britain while we died with grass stains on our teeth. Béal na blát: from the mouth of flowers I came. In America, the Cherokee Nation collected $200; they sent us cargoes of maize and beans. Too late. “Coffin ships to the Americas. Slavers to the cane fields and estates of the Barbados,” she said. From the Celtic Fringe to the Celtic Diaspora; countless children sold in the West Indies, destined to enter the bloodlines of Africa. A Black woman asks why she never learned this in school. I tell her we share the same Anglo roots of history. She said, “I had an Irish grandmother,” we joke about being black Irish.

I’m allergic to the new world foods: beans, corn and potatoes. They say there was enough food in Ireland to feed 20 million. Instead we fed the enemy with our bones. Their sheep replaced us. But we survived. Sínn Fein: Ourselves, alone, she said, Never forget. Use their language against them, she said. This, my inheritance. Sláinte Gael macushla mo chroidhe. I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone, though there was little need. The cats form semi-colons at the foot of the bed: what was the lesson were we supposed to have learned? The Irish nation scattered to the winds. Full glottal stop.

© 1997 , rev 2000 Maureen Hurley

Friday, August 15, 1997

VIENNA, 1939

VIENNA, 1939

An old woman contemplates 
a passage in her black book.
She sits alone in a park.
It could be it be Vienna, 1939.

She sits in a metal chair, 
her purse sits on the wall 
like a well behaved cat. 
An umbrella bridges the arms of the chair.

She is dressed in black and white.
Her earrings are of gold, 
she wears a worn wedding ring.

On the other side of the park 
three people sit lost in thought,
as blurred as daydreams they once held.

Her hat and glasses, are from another era.
She primly crosses her ankles, 
maybe it's earlier than I thought. 
The dress is too long and her gloves dangle 
helplessly, and swoon from the arms of her chair, 
a white shawl, in case there's a chill.

Her hands are thick with age. 
The young moon of gold on her ring finger 
remembers her wedding day.

She is, like Proust, stirred by remembrances 
of things past. Perhaps it is Paris. 
Will she go go into a café at teatime, 
order madelines and think of her well spent youth?

She's dressed in widow's weeds.
The dark mourning after the war. 
Was it the first one? Or the second one? 
Did she lose a son, or a lover? Or both?
But that's all in the past. 
She's sitting in the park, lost in a book 
and the city waits for her to reinvent it.


8/15/1997
10/15/2015


COLLAGE

COLLAGE 

The beach rises from the swamp, 
rise and fall by the edge of the sea.
Bring out the lions. 
Little remains of the next frontier.

How lovely, this green made of spring.
Deep in the heart, the earth will translate your arrival
Calling out the names of cattle 
on this last handful of dying earth.

You better find another way out 
of this country by the execution of desire.

A Celtic lion, the flowered word.
Writing jails a tropical sunset 
with its Venetian blind approach to image.
Line after line in pewter script, 
it relentlessly marches across a trinity of palms. 

The ubiquitous cliché of paradise.
But below that crepuscular sea, 
lines and words become like strata 
and break into symbols. 
Like schools of fish in the sun.

At the bottom of the ocean 
the lion is awake 
spewing forth the flowered word 
into the depths of the abyss. 
He is awake, not rampant.

The artist practices her name 
over and over again
Design elements and fluid writing 
like the ripples on the pond 
breaks the surface. Hold her sanity in check.

Sometimes if you sit still enough,
you can see where the fish come to feed, 
breaking the mirror with their small o's
of their mouths as they breach the air. 


8/15/1997
10/15/2015

CORIOLIS EFFECT


South of  the equator 
water doesn't swirl in the opposite direction. 
The Coriolis effect in the bathroom sink, 
is as confused as my current relationship.

Postcards from Fiji and the Southern Cross
arrive. Images of Islanders, Polynesia, 
cave writing, the hieroglyphs of a lost culture.

Red lateen sails at sunset. An Egyptian dhow.
Island pals shimmer and dance and sway.
Coconuts are like money in the bank. 
Copra currency in the tropics.

Meanwhile back at home, 
snow falls in the coastal valleys.
Mount St. Helena is like a white lion 
stretched against the empty winter sky.

The equator divided us, 
it did not make us equal, or whole. 
It divided the distance of seasons, days.
Enough to say that I still miss you, 
Especially at sunset in a strange land.

The fish knows no boundaries
other than infinite variations of blue.
The sky fills up its vault with careless stars
and the Southern Cross is crucifying me.

I know of the infinite variations of blue 
in the sky, I know they named the darkness too.
But I no longer know the real word for balance. 

Already the nights are growing colder. 
We've had our first unseasonable snow. 
Postcards floating like rafts 
on the edges of memory.

8/15/1997
10/15/2015


VALLEY FEVER

VALLEY FEVER

It's the way the ivory keys line up 
at the ready, like so many tombstones.
Lives were lost dragstripping along backroads 
where dangerous curves and soft shoulders 
collided at the speed of thought.

It's the way the tree held me, 
as we crawled out of the wreckage, 
all missiles, silos and combines.

Fingernails in columns in varying shades 
of red and gold, and the silk tassel 
of pomp and circumstance.
We were among those who 
almost didn't make it back, like James Dean.

I remember my mother's voice, 
disembodied, and she told me how 
Brenda Fullick's mother crawled out 
of the burning car, her face rippled like water.

My aunt can't abide the dirge, Danny Boy 
because of a boy she once loved.
She would never tell me his name.

My uncle loaned Danny his car 
with a jerryrigged battery 
and a milk carton for a seat.
When the headlights went out
they didn't see the parked truck.

Before the accident, I dreamed 
of images of wheels spinning in dry earth, 
I dreamed of the fragile beauty of flowers
harvesting the dead.

I saw seven keys for the days of the week 
opening the memory of destruction. 
I think of cars and locks that once held keys—
they are no longer whole, or complete.

They are separated from their source. 
Time reels me in, in increments of weeks.
I still dream of those wheels spinning 
out of control as they bit into the soft shoulder 
and screamed at dangerous curves. 

Eucalyptus trees that loomed in the sky. 
The odor of fresh grated earth. 
At least this time it wasn't a grave. 
A John Deere tractor awaits a writer 
to plow and scribe the fields beyond.

8/15/1997
SRJC Workshop with Terry Ehret
10/15/2015

AN ALPHABET OF WAR

AN ALPHABET OF WAR

She purses her red lips beneath the archway
waiting to be kissed under a storm-laden sky,
a vulture's wingspan completes the doorway. 

Once I tacked vulture wings over the barn door
not expecting their enormous span to engulf me.
Or the stench. The cats lunged skyward like birds.

Over the dead cities of the Fertile Crescent, 
palm trees from an earlier era, pray in the wind.
Mirage water mountaineers the horizon.

Did I gather apples in the Gardens of Babylon 
by the canals, where wild strawberries grew?
This valley cradled a swamp, teaming with life,

where blackbirds whistled drills in the reeds.
Lions guarded the gate as alphabets 
began their ascent from the mud 
and the cuneiform of clay tablets.

Imagine a culture where the aurochs, 
the ox used to plow the field, 
becomes the sound of a baby,
or the barrier of the lips.

The walls of the house, 
the temple in the beginning, 
was the alphabet of lips. 
Mountains on end.

But in the temple. God breathed, 
the sacred ladder of the sky rose up, 
became smoke in the hollow of the hand, 

Became a hook, then an arm, an eye for an eye, 
became a mouth seeking revenge,
a tooth biting off more than it could chew.

It became the head in profile, resh,
pulled back in introspection, or in sorrow.
And see how the monkey turned its back 
to look one more time at Gomorrah?

And that final mark, the tau
that X marks the crosses of the dead, 
and the illiterate mark of the unlettered,
has fresh fodder for its hunger.

A stone angel stands in repose, 
lost in thought, head turned down, 
arm to mouth, in that lovers stance, 
his shields and arrows at rest.

Frozen moment in time. 
Whose lips were waiting for a kiss?
Did a woman come to the city, 
wait beneath the lintel of death?

A woman's lips waiting for the man.
As the red letter a escapes: an ahhh!
merging with God's aspirants.
But the old men objected to this lip service.

Fearing contamination,
they closed the doors to the temple 
of the heart. Slammed shut. The letters of war.
This is what's written in stone. 


8//15/1997
10/15/2015

Sunday, June 29, 1997

Journal entry, post-op

 
6/29             Sun. I’ve been in Oakland with Neil since Friday when he was released from Highland after his surgery. Funny, on an impulse, I’d packed my bag that morning, somehow knowing I was to leave, when the phone rang, Neil asking me to care for him—out of the blue. I was not consciously expecting it, but I was nearly frantic with a desire to be with him. 

Driving down to Oakland in his car alone was one of the hardest things I’ve attempted since the accident. I couldn’t put the car in reverse nor crank the wheel. I had no upper body strength where they sliced my right pectoral to insert the valve. And my left side was still useless. 

Ortho put my arm in a sling, a brace on my wrist. Highland is a trauma center where the addicts, the homeless and those suffering from the fallout of violent crime land to either recuperate, or die. So different from Kaiser. Neil was lucky, a whole cadre of doctors rebuilt his face from the jaw up. But recovery is akin to reliving the pain of the accident. How much more pain can he endure? Not enough Vicodan to last until Thursday. I enjoy caring for him but too many visitors wears us both out. Friends and old girlfriends call—I can tell by the tone of his voice!

Today I fed him mashed yams thinned with broth, introducing food for the first time in 10 days. Ten days into the nightmare… I told him our lives are irrevocably altered, We can’t go back to who we were. Ever. We are like Siamese twins, joined at the psyche. Where does one of us end and the other begin?

Last night he felt too frisky for his own good, serenading me with his broken mouth, jabbering up a storm till all hours. Tonight he’s paying dearly for that excess. Deep exhaustion and pain. I check for fever, worried we’ve introduced too many new foods today. Smoothies too. But I also worry about his nutrition. He needs to knit bones. 

Alison wanted me to stay at her house tonight, she’d stay with Neil. But I didn’t want to go. She’s afraid I’ll get burnt out. I appreciate her concern, but I sense a darkness, an irritation—territorial? Something doesn’t quite ring true. Determined, I fight to stay. I’m almost irrational with fear of leaving him—as if my very presence was keeping him alive.

Adele Foley took me shopping for healthy foods—a grueling 2 hour excursion. Shopping at Lucky’s is almost more than I can bear. I slipped on a lettuce leaf, and it took all I could muster to keep from falling, but the pain was so intense I nearly fell anyway. 

I now have trouble reading fine print on the labels.( Do I have a concussion too? I took a good bang on my right temple. Neil’s elbow, I think. Reading’s hard in general, I can’t seem to make sense of the words. They either float about, or collectively lose their meaning. My cognitive skills rearranged.) Adele is my eyes. I am determined to get the best nutritional food possible for Neil. B vitamins, connective tissue, healing—all my previous study of biology and nutrition comes into play. 

Everything in the 20th century seems to exhaust me: lights, noise, color, chrome, a riot of details all demanding my attention until I’m reeling....







(There's more to this day's journal entry, just not sure if I should post it...it's too raw. even nearly 20 years later. So I'll end here for now. The electronic journal goes up to the end of August. I couldn't physically write, and the PTSS was so bad, I couldn't spell either, this is where I make a break with my nearly 20 year tradition of daily journal writing. I migrated more and more to the computer as it was easier. I miss the process, but not the shaky hand,  A printout of these journal entries were rediscovered in an old notebook (trying to fluff out my blog), and posted 10/4/2016. Luckily I found the electronic file, it'd be too daunting to redo all this. It's daunting just to read it.)

Friday, June 27, 1997

Elemental Portraits



Here's a link to our debut performance  in 1997. I was in a car accident on June 18th, so I never had my debut. A punctured lung precluded my participation at the events on June 28 and 29.  We did perform a preview at the Friedman Center on Mother's Day.  It was hotter than Hades. And it was a luncheon. Nothing like the clatter of silverware during a performance. 

Wednesday, June 25, 1997

Joournal entry, viewing the car

 
6/25            Sinéad takes me to Highland Hospital (more like Calcutta without the sacred cows than the Highlands of Scotland) where they moved Neil to operate on his face. So depressing after Kaiser. He looks better every day. Just to be near him, I massage his feet. He sticks his toe into my boob. Feeling a bit better are we? 

Yesterday we went to the wrecked car and took our things out, and to banish ghosts. (Blood over the car and my book of Scottish kings we were reading from when it happened. The other day, he drilled me on the dates of the kings, our first attempt at reclaiming our lives. 

I couldn’t remember very much, I worry about his concussion, his spinal fluid’s quit leaking. In my Famine book, a list of Scottish kings on Kaiser memo paper—something he’d written down to wile away the hours. I nearly cried when I found it. I took his jacket home and washed the blood from it. 

The car was in worse shape than I expected. I noted the bent steering wheel, the broken windshield and the missing rear-view mirror where Neil’s face made impact, the driver’s seat shoved forward from my body. The right fender utterly crushed, the doors buckled (they wouldn’t open after the accident—we had to crawl out the window). The engine dropped down like it was designed to do.)

After leaving Neil (who goes into surgery at 7 AM tomorrow), Sinéad and I went out for sushi in San Anselmo. Things are still pretty foggy. The baby’s pelvis was crushed by Myle’s truck, an accident while we were in LA with Barney O’Reilly, Jr. Dave was in an accident too. Dave takes me back to Verona’s for I ache so much I’m weeping, and I can’t stand the noise of the TV at Sinead’s. I have no reserves left whatsoever. I resort to a Percodan to relieve the pain. Weep uncontrollably in the hot tub.

It hurts to sit up and write. I’m still at Verona’s, dependent on Vicki and Sinéad. Vicki took me home to get clothes, pillows and videos on Fri. She had a Dr.’s appt. in Santa Rosa. I was exhausted from the ride north and the heat. I dozed in the car, in suspended time. The trees, and parking garage seems so surreal. 

I visited my chiropractor. He said it looked pretty bad, my back was swollen too. Didn’t want to do anything for a while. Vro’s to come home today. I’ve been tending Herman who’s not so chipper, with a crushed lumbar vertebra. 

I begin my mornings with Ibuprofen and a hot tub. My left knee and right ribcage hurt the most—especially my right kidney, where Niel’s knee caught me square on (which probably saved his life, keeping him from going through the window, though my lung was punctured in the process). I can barely walk or breathe. (Vicki and I check Herman into Novato Community Hospital for observation.) I’m afraid to be alone, and so push myself too much: I break out into adrenaline sweats and can’t stop shaking.

I can barely handle clothes on my body, more than half of it is bruised, mainly my left side. Huge hot hematomas on my thigh and upper arm. Feels like I broke something in my left hand. I can only sleep on my back (carefully), and every move is excruciating. Getting into and out of bed is an expedition. The hot tub is my only salvation. 

I’m worried about scar tissue forming in my muscles and lung, so I try to do some exercise in the pool every day. Can’t use my left arm yet. My lung is bothering me. I miss two paid performances I was supposed to do with Kirk Whipple in Santa Rosa. I sound like a bellows, breathless, wheezy. No way I could read poems out loud—even sitting down. Peggy Maddock’s husband tells me it takes 6 months or more. I’m beginning to believe him.

6/26/            Alison called to say Neil came through the post-op fine, though it took longer than expected. I begin to weep. My stomach’s been in knots since 7 AM. I said a mantra for him over and over.

Sunday, June 22, 1997

Journal entry, back at Kaiser


6/22     Yesterday I went into the emergency room  and I wound up spending the night in the hospital after two visits to ER for a collapsed lung. A nightmare of a day and a night. I knew the nurses and lab technicians by name by the time I got out of there. 

After hours of fiascoes, being shunted around from ER triage nurse to Outpatient Clinic where the doctor went out to lunch during my appointment, and the receptionist told me to do the same, I flipped, with what little lung power I had, I began screaming obscenities, and hobbled back to ER nearly collapsing from pain and a lack of oxygen.

Back at ER, I was finally seen to, only after throwing a tantrum and weeping hysterically. The triage nurse I’d seen earlier, came to my rescue and said “Admit this woman.” After hours of waiting for ex-rays, the surgeon said, “Congratulations, you seem to know your body.” 

Fuck You! How come no one listens to me here? I said I had internal bleeding when I was admitted, and again when they released me. I said something is terribly wrong: “When I turn my head to the left, I begin to lose consciousness.” Arrogant bastards can’t handle the concept of the patient self-diagnosing.

(I know plenty about medicine. They released Herman with a “strained back.” I was standing there when the doctor read the ex-ray; saw the cracked lumbar vertebra myself. Granted, I was wandering in and out of everyone’s examining rooms like a zombie, fighting to stay conscious, but I wasn’t about to lose sight of my “patients” for I was the one administering first aid, getting everyone out of the car, etc., before help came. 

I watched them flush Verona’s eye cuts, stitch them up. I Insisted the doctor stitch up the gash on Neil’s nose, a three corner tear needing 8 stitches. They were more worried about the fractures in his skull, and rightly so, but meanwhile, I knew his face needed attention too. Since I was a patient, they couldn’t very well throw me out. There was no one to take me home. I was already released, but I couldn’t stand to be separated from them. Safety in numbers?

I gave the ambulance drivers hell too when they tried to separate us—especially when they were going to send Neil and Herman to Novato Community Hospital. I screamed legalities, Hippocratic oaths, saying that by law, Kaiser had to admit us all. Fuck the system. Neil’s life was endangered. 

A mouthy, feisty patient from hell, I even unstrapped my head restraint to go fight them off, when they made to move Neil, but they assured me we would all go to Kaiser. (Was that really me?) Then I had to insist they take us via Novato, a ride down Lucas Valley Road would’ve killed us off for sure. 

The ambulance didn’t have good shocks. Lord knows where I found the strength and resolve to stay on top of it like that. Everyone else had long since succumbed to their individual pain and retreated from ordinary consciousness. I was the consciousness of the group. Somebody had to be in charge.)

Puncturing the lung is an extraordinary pain. I’ve got a Heinlich valve in my lung, but it took a surgeon three attempts to insert it through my chest wall; I was screaming in agony. My chest wall is tough and thick, he couldn’t get between my ribs. I made him go through the procedure beforehand, explaining my body was not like other women’s: more muscle mass, denser bones, but he didn’t listen. 

They wanted to release me from ER, when I was in such great pain I couldn’t even move. I was fighting off shock to the best of my ability. The doctor wouldn’t check me into the hospital, but kept me for observation. I was afraid of hemorrhaging, of dying the hall.

I call Neil on the house phone and begin weeping. He said, “Not to move, help is on its way. I’m sending the yoginis.” What’s a yogini? I wondered. The nurse said, “You have two visitors.” I said “I don’t know you,” to the two women from Neil’s ashram who handed me a coral rose. “From Neil,” they said.  “A rose from the Gurumayi’s visit.”   

I wasn’t sure who the Gurumayi was, but this wasn’t the time to ask as I was barely conscious and had to fight to get a pain killer. I can’t believe doctors would deny me pain medicine at a time like this! After the doctor bungled the insertion twice, trying to slip it between my ribs and poke it into the lung without having gone deep enough to make an incision into my lung. Barbaric! He had to slice me some more. I was traumatized, clinically speaking. 

I told them I could handle Percodan but because it’s a controlled substance they didn’t want to give it to me. “It requires special paperwork,” the doctor said. So? Demerol’s out. As are most of the IV pain killers: I had projectile vomiting after knee surgery. Vicodan also makes me vomit, I can’t handle Tylenol. Codeine surely wasn’t going to work. 

The pain was so great, I could hardly figure out how to breathe, let alone vomit. Each breath, the tube rubbed the pleural lining. More ex-rays. The tube, like a tiny coiled snake sleeping beneath my collarbone, the shadowed half-moon of the collapsed lung, like an eclipse.

The yoginis (tiny poodle-haired Jane Bark from the Isle of Barra, and a giantess with coal black hair named Laura—kindly, compassionate faces) wheeled me down the endless corridors to the hospital and into Neil’s room. I thought they were angels. I was in the hands of friends I didn’t even know, having to let go, too weak to stay in control. 

(Looking back, I’m surprised by my incredible reserves of strength, rage, and functionality under extreme duress. I always knew I was strong, but not that strong! Superhuman strength and will was required of me again and again. Conversely, the physical pain was quick sapping my strength, my will to survive, weakening by the minute. I was letting go…)

Neil played some chants, we meditated as pain spasmed through my body. A steady stream of tears slipped down my face, I could only take in the tiniest sips of air. He said, “You’re in the best of hands now, you’re right where you need to be. With me.” 

Maybe it was the Percodan, I was hallucinating, but I swear I had a transcendental experience: energy running up my spine. I had the thought as the energy radiated into a branched pattern up my spine, that the so-called “candelabra” etched in a sand dune in Nazca is really a map of the kundalini’s path. Earlier, as we meditated, the faces of gods drifted before me beginning with the Aztec gods ending with a pantheon of Hindu gods and I don’t even know their names.

Another image I’ve had was of the dream fragments sliding into place from last June. So, some of it was also to prepare me for this accident. I’d already told Neil he was to help me through a trying time when I was very frightened. (In one dream we were married, though, and I had fear… but the image was that he took me through and out of my fear—which was connected to him. This isn’t that dream, but it’s connected. Like a dress rehearsal.) 

I’m released from the hospital after three long days and nights. I’m so weak, I mostly sleep. My pulse drops so low: 113/58, but they don’t seem worried. My fever breaks the 3rd night. They remove the valve next morning. Take more ex-rays. The lung puncture has sealed. It’s staying inflated. I’ll have a scar on my chest, like a knife wound. Everything hurts. They took Neil down to Oakland yesterday. I feel so desperately lost without him. Afraid to let him out of my sight.


Saturday, June 21, 1997

Journal entry, Solstice

 
6/21 Hard to believe this is the Solstice, we are so broken of body and psyche, that time itself has become meaningless. Verona’s clock continues to chime every quarter hour, dividing the tedium of 24 hours into four more meaningless segments, the bells are not on daylight savings time. Twelve bells at eleven, and one forlorn bell at midnight. 

I don’t want to remember my dreams anymore, too much distress and gore. I’ve become obsessive about details as if they comprised the underpinnings of life. Writing is difficult, but I fear I’ll go mad soon if I don’t write. Concentration is an effort of sheer will. I’m still on adrenaline overload. My body suffering from the ultimate fight-or-flight experience.

(My lung is gurgling, I’m bleeding internally, and now, spontaneous sweats and fevers). I make an appointment with Kaiser. I reason, if I die while waiting, they’ll find my symptoms written in my journal. I’m really scared for I know I’m broken inside. Why wouldn’t the doctor listen to me? I’m becoming too tired to fight.