Thursday, August 20, 1998

OMAGH BOMBING

OMAGH BOMBING

Am I a traitor to my race,
I drink Scots whisky.
and contemplate the half-life of The Troubles 
when the Plantation of Ulster's shame grew.

And the bones in that rough field 
sprouted another generation of hatred. 
We read about Omah in the papers
how the bombs dissected limbs of the innocent
and rearranged them into Daliesque clocks 
dripping from hedgerows and curbs. 

The Afghans have a saying:
I have never known sorrow, 
no it is a field I have inherited,
and I till it anew.

Meanwhile the disappeared in Africa 
have settled home into the earth's bosom,
without a trace. No witnesses. Meanwhile,
in the Gulf, we retaliate, I learn from the news,
a new word, preemptive, as in preemptive strike.
Death is death is death. Are we at war again?

And Omagh. Neil frets, his cousins 
will surely know some of the dead. 
I went to buy film at that shopping center, he said. 
This man who shares my food 
broke down and cried. As I held him, 
I told him tonight that I loved him. 
And already he's making plans of escape, 
as if love were a grenade 
waiting to rearrange the heart.

Today is my grandmother's birthday. 
She, who kept alive the fire within me,
Kindled the holy flame within me 
so that I would bear witness. 
The grand design continues to work
through you, she said.

I grab a book from the shelf, 
John Montague's Rough Field 
because I like the title and it reminds me 
of Seamus Heaney's collection, The Field. 
A good Irish read, I thought. That's the ticket.
Except Omagh crept from the pages.
After near nearly 30 years, we are 
recycling the violence that is Ulster.
She who kept the flame alive within me, 
a decade gone, to Tír na nÓg, or Hy Breasil,
or whereever the dead go to congregate. 
Ulster, the amber coating my glass, uisge beatha,
a Kabbalah of whispered secrets & peat fires. 

Neil, fresh back from the Highlands, 
bade me to promise that if he died soon,
to carry his ashes to Iona, Columcille
Columba, no doves rested in his breast.
Neil's namesake. Middle name 
that which spans the fathers, 
and the clan name. 
Neil's name repeats itself, 
a stutter in history, a chieftain's son, 
born in Scotland, because Columba 
turned his back on Ireland. But Neil's father
worked the land of his ancestors, 
with plough and turf shovel in Omah, Tyrone.
Where does one pain begin and another and?
Neil chastises me for not writing this past year. 
How I've been in purgatory for loving an O'Neill?
But as Montague says, one must begin at home.
Violence blossoms in Africa, in Ireland,
and now the Sudan. And then Afghanistan.
What fields have we inherited
beneath this vast bloodless sky?

The worst bombing in 30 years, someone said.
Kate Perry emails us a chain letter from Dublin
condemning the violence. What can we do,
so far from home. The garden of mankind.

A friend once misheard the word violence
and thought of violins playing.
But even violins aren't enough
to soothe us. No, our music is
missiles whistling a seamless melody
as they zero in on the target
with such ease. Preemptive strike.
Pogo was right, we were the enemy.
Ourselves, alone.

20 August 1998 
my grandmother's birthday

Omagh Bombing (prose) part 2


While Irish minds marvel over the Celtic inferiority complex. How much longer must we suffer? I think of Tocharian mummies 4000 years dead, in their plaids and sun tattoos, faces as familiar as kin, guarding the Silk Road.

Lately the news has been ladened with images of Ulster men and references to World War I, the Battle of the Somme. Or am I newly sensitized, how do I desensitize myself to it for the cosmic links and the laws of averages.

But the words Colrane, and the Foyle have a different attack on my psyche.

Neil is playing the Protestant priest in Frank McGuinnes's play, Behold the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. He is playing against type.

At the end they all put on their orange sashes, I didn't know what it signified, but it made me shudder anyway. O'Donnell Abu was the name of the song, we never called it the Old Orange Flute. It wasn't until I stood in Leiden looking upon the statue of King Billy, or William of Orange, that the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.

In late spring we used to suck on the oat grass joints, sweet with sap, piggyback thistles and oats from Europe, Spain and Scotland, non-native species. Always I've lived a life of identifying what belongs where, acutely aware that I'm a long way from the land of my ancestors.

I am Irish when it pleases them, or I am American when it pleases them. No one asks what pleases me. The blood of my ancestors, or the land of my birth, as if one annotated the other.

So what of those who came to Ulster? Are they Scots or Irish? Where does bloodline leave off, and nationality begin? And why is it so horrific? 

Neil chastises me for drinking his whisky, is if I'd asked for something unattainable, like his heart. The thornless magenta rose I planted is about to bloom and already he is asking me to leave. The potatoes have yet to be harvested, and he is asking me to leave because I might get too close.

Tobar is Irish for the well, the sacred spring. I drink sacred water uisce beatha. In every language, it is the water of life. Mea maxima culpa.

The summer fog lifts long enough to reveal the turquoise jewel of the bay and it resonates against the flame trees on Bay Street, and the rust red of the Golden Gate Bridge. The straits of Chrysopylae shimmer like molten gold.

Yes, this city is the city of judgment, the judgment of Paris, an apple in the lap of California on this 150th anniversary of the Gold Rush. Gold flakes in a bottle, a souvenir from the feather River, where I toiled for pieces of the sun. And put them in the vial.

Omagh Bombing (prose) part 1

Omagh Bombing

20 August, my grandmother's birthday.

As if a traitor to my race, I drink scotch whisky, the half-life of the Troubles, when the Plantation, and Ulster's shame, grew restive, and the bones sewn in that rough field, sprouted another generation of hatred.

As we read about Omagh and how the bombs dissected the limits of innocent children into Daliesque clocks dripping from hedgerows and curbs. The Afghans have a saying: I have never known so much sorrow. Now it is a field I have inherited, and I till it.

Meanwhile the bodies of the dead in Africa settled home into the earth's bosom. We retaliate. I learn from the news the meaning of pre-emptive strike. Are we at war again?

 And Omagh. Neil frets. His cousins surely know some of the dead. I went to buy film at that shopping center, one survivor said. This O'Neill who shares my food, I told him tonight that I love him and already he is making plans of escape, as if love were a grenade, ready to rearrange the heart.

Today is my grandmother's birthday. She, who kept alive the fire in me, kindled like the holy flame of Rome within me so that I would bear witness.

The grand design continues to work through me, and at random, I grab a book from the shelf, John Montegue's Rough Field, because I liked the title and it reminded me of Seamus Heaney's The Field. A good Irish read, I thought, except Omagh crept in from the pages anew after 30 years, recycling the violence that is Ulster.

She, who kept the flame alive within me, a decade gone, Tír na nÓg, or to Hy Breasil, or whatever the place where the dead congregate.

The amber coating of uisce beatha and the whispering secrets of extinguish peat fires. Neil is fresh back from the Highlands, but he bade me promise that if he died soon, to carry his ashes to Iona, Colum Cille's Isle.

Neil's middle name is Columba, but no doves rested on his breast, Neil's namesake. A name that spans the father's and the clan's name. Neil's name repeats itself, a starter in history, a chieftain son, born in Scotland because St. Columba turned his back on Ireland.

Neil's father worked the land of his ancestors, Tír Eoghan, Tyrone, Omagh and Strabawn. Where does one poem get begin and another in? Neil chastises me for not writing. This past year have I been in purgatory for loving an O'Neill? But as Montague says, one must begin at home.

Violence blossoms in Africa, and Ireland, and now the Sudan and Afghanistan. What fields have we inherited beneath this vast sky? The worst bombing in 30 years. Kate Perry email us a chain letter condemning the violence.

A friend once misheard the word violence and thought of violins playing. I saw gangsters toting violin cases.

The Rough Field, an garbh achaidh. Should I be drinking Bushmills? A Protestant whiskey? Hugh O'Neill sleep sound in his bed.

Lamb dearg abu, the knife slipped and my left hand, red with the blood. The Red Hand of Ulster? I crossed myself, out of habit and think of the poetry plumping in the garden end Tyge buried in John's name. The Catholic slur. I learned well at my grandmother's knee. She gave me the Cailleach's skeleton one Halloween, Samhain and burned the candles.

My grandmother dabbing uisce beatha behind her ears like a rare Arabian perfume.

Will you dance with O'Neil
in an Irish battlefield?

But we chose the vast plains of the grafted tongue, and the only real famine in our lives is the lack of love. Did I have the music? Was it within me? It was attached to the words of an alien tongue nesting in my mouth. Wild Gaelic vowels, unbidden like feral cats beneath the sodium lamp, that darker permanence of ancient stones formed in the mouth.

As a child, I dressed my fingers and foxgloves, fairy bells, my grandmother said. Digitalis, pointing to her heart. Mo chroidhe, she said. I cannot separate the heart from the small trumpets that dressed my fingers in the medicine of the heart.

And thus, I learned about poison and trespassing, as if happiness was meant solely for others. I learned how to say the words for love, heart, and blood in several languages.

As if to draw on the fire. Who do I celebrate? My grandmother who suffered the tongues of Americans—WASPs stinging her with words as she boarded the cable car in her third trimester. My mother stirring crazily in the womb.

Mount Tamalpais rises up, a sleeping maiden against a flawless August sky. How many can claim such a place as their beginning? For, I began there, was it beneath an oak tree growing out of the dolmen at sunset, or was it in the backseat of an old Chevy or Ford? No matter, I exist. Anyway. The twin deaths of my parents, long-divorced, a cosmic joke.

The pain gathering in my mother's nervous hands fed her, until her breasts glowed. Light leaking into the cellular darkness. The idea populates my mind, the generational pool towards a further light, the identity we run from, or try to deny it like St. Paul.

The odor of my grandmother's white hair nested on Neil's head. And I caress the confusion of his hair that is also my grandmother's hair, I have no desire to delineate the vagaries of the heart.

Is it so hard to look into the eyes of the living? My mother's eyes, long dead before the final curtain. The pale, exquisite beauty, as she stood in the floodlights. Limelight, once the brightest of lights, beckoned, and the wild applause. Later, she couldn't distinguish between the audience of the stage and the audience of the streets. Ministering angel of the marginalized, no angels came to her rescue in the end.

Lately the earth's been trembling through no fault of her own. And the rational ones begin to discuss earthquakes, weather, and the Richter Scale. The house moans in your absence, as if keening for you, as you deliberate between the land of your birth, and the land of your life, the family closing in.

What if what you desire is also what you abhor? A hollow note from the next offering, that was your youth, you confess your frozen heart is irrepairablly damaged. You ask me not to get attached to outcomes, or have expectations, s if you owned the patent on loneliness, that blind animal rising from the abbeys of shunted desire and pain, towards nothingness.

The siren replaces the banshee's wail in this swollen city of crack and the timetable of the net high metered out. The landlord says you can time the arrival of the welfare checks by the speed of the dealers driving on the shoulders of the freeway. The iceplant, punished for the burning flame in the veins of those who've assembled at the altar of misconceptions.

I remember the nuns telling us not to chew the wafer, to let it melt on our tongues, but they also told us the rain was God's tears. I knew I wasn't that bad though my mother caught me scolding myself as a child, saying: Bad girl! Bad girl! A mantra to carry me forth. It was then that I knew God was peeing on us. Clear, and simple. We were shyte.

And the old women, dressed in mourning black, believed, believed, like my aunt who pleaded with me to believe so that I would be saved when the time came, for the Man Upstairs.

The Bread God obviously never stood in the bread lines of Russia, as I did, in the bitter cold of winter, in Leningrad, only to arrive empty-handed. Body of Christ.

And my Soviet boyfriend, a fanatic believing every word to be true. Darwin is dead. My cousin teaches a dead language to the young who have no fear of dying.

Bog Latin commemorates the hedge schools where we cobbled together bits of history that will scar us into the next generation.



Sunday, August 9, 1998

Pat Wall, Modern Art Dealer: 3 Henry Miller and the Avant Guardians (journal)



Amazing to spend the morning reading about the Pat Wall Art Gallery and its wild guests, then to look around Micaela's room and see the very art mentioned in the reviews. The Avant Guardians are watching over me as I sleep.

I'm looking at Henry Miller's self-portrait with its red and green five sided frame, the brushstrokes are deft. Henry, supposedly in his 50s, stared back at me across the years, a young man with sallow skin and Prussian blue ears and nose. 

You painted what you liked, Henry. I hope you died happy. Henry looks a bit like Oleg Atbashian, which puts me off a bit. Self-absorbed men. Was it the talent that made them so self-absorbed, or was it the rank self-absorbtion that allowed them to become so talented?

I recognize so many of the paintings: McClatchy's Door. Several Graham paintings: Lament, and The Beginning of War. Other unnamed pieces. When Graham and Miller became rather famous, things changed. 

In the early 1970s, I remember traveling to someone's house under the Bixby Bridge to see Henry Miller's watercolors. I was not duly impressed. But I dutifully read everything that Miller ever wrote, so I felt compelled to witness the paintings too. I think I was reading Nexus at the time.

I think the owner was rather hoping that we'd buy a painting, but we were as penniless as Miller was when he moved to Big Sur. Micaela has more articles on Henry Miller's watercolors. Wish I had time to read them all.

Henry moved to Big Sur in 1943 and lived in a tent alongside the highway, he was already living the life of Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, it was a cult of sex and anarchy on the coast. He said, "I'm not perverse, but the idea of looking through a keyhole fascinates me."

A keyhole in a tent? I asked myself. And thought of camera obscurae.

April 14, 1947: Henry Miller talked about how his paintings morphed from landscape into fish. I wonder if that's a reference to his Red Fish? 

Said Miller, "When I paint I have a lot of fun but I feel I'm on a tight rope. I'm jittery sometimes when I start out to do a landscape I end up with a fish I worried about this until the other painter said they do the same thing."

I had to laugh, Mike Goldberg's painting, Sardines, came to mind. See, Frank O'Hara's poem Why I Am Not a Painter sums it up nicely.
....I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.
Pat Wall's art gallery became the focal point in a Harpers article on the new west coast cult of "sex and anarchy." A Times reporter descended, to buy a Miller painting, then left for the East Coast, calling it Paris of the West. Miller was a Paris expat, so he had several threads going. The race was on.

About the same time, the restless New Mexico contingencies (Wilfred Lang and Co.), were experiencing hot flashes, the Age of Light was born. (My grandmother's niece was working on the Manhattan project).

And somehow the role of art went from the cultured confines of the City of Light to the Age of Light. Miller detonated a moral code in Big Sur. The world fell apart, the center did not hold.

Henry must've loved exhibiting his thermonuclear watercolors next to the surrealist nudes of Dutch oil painter, Cock van Gent (a she!), and Edward Weston's extreme close-up photos of bell pepper buttocks.

The Grahams, Toni & Ed Ricketts, James Broughton, Virginia Varda, Dr. Rodin, Henry Miller's physician, and someone named Brewsie were among those attending. Everyone signed the register as Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so, as if that slender slice of decorum could contain the avant guardians.

I assume that Micaela's mother, Rosalind Sharpe, a Bixby Canyon girl, was not yet part of the wild art scene at Pat's Monterey gallery on Olivier Street. Where does painter Bright Bonnier fit in? And whatever happened to Sue's daughter Hyale (sp)? Who was her father?

Speaking of brewsies, Pat Wall said that for the openings, he provided a large punchbowl filled with tea with lemons, laced with a bottle of cooking sherry. Guests were expected to provide the booze—it all went into the punchbowl, indiscriminately. That was the price of admission. And well doctored, they all were until dawn.

I remember Miller's Red Fish, one of the paintings in the controversial show at Pat's gallery. Love the price list ranging from $5 to $400 (Graham). One could pick up a Varda from $25 to $175. (Varda had to bolt his paintings to the walls of the Charles van Damme to keep people form stealing them. I loved admiring my ten-year-old fragmented self in his mirrored mosaics painted in cobalt and crimson.)

Of course, Pat sold next to nothing. Nobody who attended had any money to buy art.  He squandered his inheritance on a dream of art. But because of his vision, the art world imploded on itself, and was forever changed. Art dealers looked to the West for inspiration.

rev. 6/17

Part 1 & 2

Pat Wall, Modern Art Dealer: 2 Betty Wall (journal)

Pat & Betty Wall, me, Arthur Boericke, Fort Bragg 1971

One of Pat Wall's gallery artists, Joseph Albers, a Bauhaus student and teacher, painter and poet, taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina with Jean Varda. Varda I remember from the Sausalito houseboat days when I used to stay at Pat and Betty Wall's house. Micaela, Chris and I often played on the Charles van Damme ferryboat.

I knew Walter Gropius's name would eventually crop up in this crowd. Too bad the Hexagon House in Guerneville burned down. We used to go to tea dances there in the early 1980s. I remember sitting on a tall stool admiring that open beam work.


Another clipping on top of the scanner: thieves broke into Picasso's home, took his clothes, took his money a radio, but left the art. Thieves also broke into a Berkeley woman's house to steal a painting by Dan Harris. Who is Dan Harris?

Names from my childhood kept cropping up. Sue Wall dressed as a girl sucking on a lollypop, a painting by by Dan Harris. Pat's other wives: Rosalind Sharp, Mrs. Margaret Lane. Did those women have any idea what was in store for them? Still in their separate identities. 

Pat would later divorce Sue and marry Rosalind and have two children, Micaela and Chris. Meanwhile Mrs. Lang and Wilfred Lang separated… Which one? My God is that a reference to Betty Wall, Micaela's stepmother and Pat's third wife? 

So, who was married to Wilfred at the time? I can't imagine Betty as the "other' woman. But they all were "other" women, one way or another. Betty was more of a mother to me than anyone else in my life, certainly my own mother—besides my grandmother that is… The other women who raised us. Art was also the other woman.

Aug 9, 1998
added 6/17 slight revisions

Banana

Pat Wall, Modern Art Dealer: Ellwood Graham (journal)



When I was a child, my eyes feasted on the paintings collected by my best friend's father, Pat Wall, when he was an art dealer in Monterey during the 1940s. Pat's gallery was on Olivier Street, we never did collect his oral history, so this is a placeholder for what we collectively remember. We also didn't realize that Pat singlehandedly changed the face of West Coast art with his unorthodox exhibits.

Pat, who was from Jersey, the Channel Islands, UK, came to California with his inheritance and a dream of art. He took a chance on the local "moderns" and this is how I got to know the work of Ellwood Graham who "painted out loud" with lots of hot colors. His abstract portrait of John Steinbeck was controversial at the time—circa the 1940s.

What I loved were how Graham's personal hieroglyphics, or pictogram paintings which were almost quilt-like in nature, I loved the way the heavy dark colors were a combination of thick impasto, a drawing, and transparent glaze. A doodle, a half a whale (the tail end) captivated my attention. He compared his work to a composer working on a "musical canvas." Graham painted an egg tempera mural in the Ventura Post Office. Is it still there?

So much history attached to those paintings of Pat's. There was John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, known as Doc Ricketts— they too were juxtaposed in Graham's work. It was John Steinbeck who told the artist to paint out loud imagine that—paint out loud. Graham moved to Monterey because of John Steinbeck.
Steinbeck also created in Graham's [Monterey] studio. He wrote Sea of Cortez while Graham rendered his portrait. Of course he sold the painting to Steinbeck, but "I kept some studies and sketches." 'Where is that portrait now? "People have been calling me for years... I don't know." he says, "I haven't seen it in over 50 years."

Then he adds, "That portrait was very good... I hear it was bought by Burgess Meredith but I also heard it belonged to John Huston. —from Alta Vista Magazine, 1992 "Ellwood Graham: Never Say Die," Susan Lea Hubbard (see bottom of this post for more stories).
In Micaela's room is the Graham painting her father left her. I am transported back in time to our childhood. We practically lived together. We were inseparable as children. Like Samese twins joined at the hip.

It wasn't until adolescence that we drifted. Micaela was lured into the world of music and drugs. It was the Summer of Love, a watershed year for many of us. She was too young for sex and drugs but not for rock 'n' roll. An overbearing father pushed her out the door too soon.

It took Micaela an half a lifetime to come back home to herself. So when I look at the paintings on her walls, pieces of those worlds not only decorate the walls of her house, but her inner house as well.

I realize that's what Graham was doing compressing a personal archaeology into a rectangle of color and geometric form.


Scattered amid xeroxes of my own work and her fiber art, and recent pastels, a  checkerboard history on the walls.

On top of the scanner I find an article about Graham called The Gift of Love. It was comprised of section notes that he took as he cared for his dying wife. Her face emerges from the grid, ghostlike, for she is dead. As his he. But not the memory.

For a long time I quit being an artist, thinking what's the use? I was bored with the photographic approach most artist were embracing at the time. This was during the heyday of my former art teacher, Bob Bechtel, whose work I absolutely could not stand. The camera could do it, so why should I spend hours laboring on something that could be captured in the fraction of a second? I switched mediums I ran from Art I got my degrees but I left town.

For a long time, I measured minute increments of time, my shutter slicing off random bits of shadow and light. I wanted color for my palette. I wanted light and shadow—and that became my medium.

Then I read this article on Elwood Graham who compared most paintings to creative photography. He said that singularity is the is the rarest ability and any artform. This is why our way of saying that a work of art should have the impact of the artist. This was from a man who painted Robinson Jeffers' twins: one extrovert, the other an introvert. He said they later grew up that way too.

I read through other memorabilia of Pat Wall's gallery. I remember sitting in the shadowed stairwell one summer afternoon as Micaela told me of her father's gallery, and of his first wife, Susan.

Bob and I later went to the place where Pat's gallery once stood. What was I looking for? By that time I knew the the names: Henry Miller Jean Varda, Andre Moreau, Pablo Picasso, and Wilfred Lang. Now I could put it all together in retrospect. But when I was young, they were a litany of mysterious names.

July 15, 1947 the Wall Gallery shows the work of Joseph Albers, who later went on to Black Mountain College. And I thought how intertwined the world of poetry and art really was. I thought of Charles Olsen's Call Me Ishmael. Am I not an artist, or am I a half-artist when I don't practice? Am I Ishmail because my pen has been so silent?

9/8/1998
added, somewhat revised 6/17. This is probably a much bigger assignment than what I originally signed up for. So I broke it into sections. But that also requires revision and I'm trying to fill in old work, not recreate it.