Saturday, July 31, 1982

AFTER THE HONEYMOON

AFTER THE HONEYMOON

Yet another year passes
my lip remembers the curve of yours
the bed was a mouthpiece
and our bodies spoke simply.

All words are suspect.
Hands betray us
by covering the eye, the ear, the throat.
Our bodies never forget the touch of old lovers.

Sea voices whisper, "time is woman-shaped."
As the sand rushes through the  hourglass,
the sea hisses, "a drowning body
means the honeymoon is over.

I have no hands to turn the glass on its side
and the sand within is the color of white noise.
I come away, feeling old.

7/1982
Napa

Tuesday, July 13, 1982

SEASONALLY, LIKE A FLOWER

SEASONALLY, LIKE A FLOWER

I enter the church late and slip into the last pew.
At the altar, my uncle's widow remarries.
During the nuptual mass,
The priest raises his hands high holding the Host.

I look up, after years of superstition
The nuns said, "Don't look at the body of Christ, 
or you'll go blind." Bells ring. Mea culpa.
I place my clenched fist over my heart
and close my eyes for old time's sake.

Mary Azalie marries again after 25 years of widowhood.
Her husband died so young of cancer.
My uncle's jaundiced skin
yellowed like the pages of a book left in the sun.
I was four. I remember the way light 
filtered through the windows
of the hospital ward.
illuminating the sheets a radiant white against the skin.
The white tile floor in chicken-wire patterns
was stained with rust like his skin.
"It was the liver." they said. Melanoma.

When my uncle Myles died, he left behind a widow
and three sons — one in utero.
And my grandmother lost another son
so soon after her husband.
The three sons consoled the mother.
And then there were only two sons.
One lay dead across a parked car,
The Harley's stuck throttle roared like an enraged bull
in the neon-dawn.
When the news came, they couldn't waken me.
I wanted to sleep dreamlessly, without effort.
My dreams of violence.
Is the dreaming
waking?

Bikers from all over came to see him off,
With their chrome and steel gods
Roaring through the streets of Santa Rosa.
The last time I was in this church,
the pallbearers wore armbands of green, gold, and white,
and an Irish flag was draped over the coffin.
Another son dead.
And the mothers of Ireland keening. Mea culpa.
And the priest says to the married couple,
"Let us pray for those souls so long departed 
in the hopes that they will rise again." 
Pray for those who hope to rise again?
Hope? The charade of Mass -—
And the priest gives the body of Christ to the living?
Should we go forward willingly into death
in the hopes that we too will rise again? 
We chant, "I am not worthy to receive you. 
Say but the word, and I shall be healed." 
And we shake each other's hands.

I kneel.
Dressed in virginal white.
After ten years of trying to cast off the faith
I'm beating my heart
and chanting mea culpa as the bells ring 
and the Heavenly Host is risen.
If I look, I'll go blind.
Body of Christ. Body of
Christ.

"...and a half a loaf of bread," the priest concludes. 
"I now pronounce you man and wife." 
Christ said, "this bread is my body." 
Marriage, the sharing if the bread, the body. 
The priest says, "You may now kiss the bride." 
The congregation applauds.

Do we choose who we love
Or are we chosen by love?
The golden age of lovers is in the past.
And I wait for another man who can't say the words
as if love were death's bridesmaid.
There is nothing to do but wait
With my fate sealed shut in the coffin.
And time marching through the unopened womb.

As the newlyweds leave the church,
I am sobbing.
Not for the wedding,
Not for love, or my lack of faith,
But for the sons,
The sons and lovers we all try to bury.
It's not the death we mourn for,
But the grief which starts anew each time,
and blooms seasonally like a flower.

I gather my bouquet and leave the church.
Beside me, my grandmother says,
"Its OK for me to grow old,
But I can't bear to see my children so old.
Those children with those bent grey heads,
they belong to me."

7/13/1982

Added 10/16. My aunt Mary Azalie Reilly, a widow most of her life, married Young Smith, of the Coast Miwok Nation, so the wedding party included most of the Coast Miwok and the Coast Pomo nations.

Thursday, July 1, 1982

IN GENETIC MEMORY OF STONE


IN GENETIC MEMORY OF STONE

1. I read in the paper that men prefer blue and green
while women tend toward reds and yellows.
A man dressed in red empties his wash cart into the dryer.
Every item of clothing is red or in variations of red.
An occasional pink sock lightens the load.
He sits beside his woman who's also dressed in red.
Part of some religious sect dressing in red instead of orange?

A Mexican worker converses in hushed tones with his comrade
and his eyes are on every woman here.
His red skin glistens from the heat of the dryers.
Hola. Que tal? Como estas? but one can't address
a stranger in the familiar tense—only the putas, the whores do.
They eye the forbidden breasts of American women.
What is the attraction for pale sallow flesh
while dark wives sing niños to sleep in southern villages?

Young women with blank faces and bored boyfriends
attend the machines in some mysterious rite of passage.
They watch older women who ignore screaming children.
A child with a shaven head stares at the entrance
and the couple dressed in red return.
He wears red shoelaces on his red sneakers.

The Mexican watches women fold laundry to their breasts.
Is he thinking of darker-skinned women beating laundry
on the rocks of the stream near the village?
Or is that also just a myth fallen by the wayside
with overcrowded barrios and polluted streams?
The baby dressed in red reads the pink section 
of the Chronicle upside down. 
What is this fatal attraction to red?
Will he grow up hating the color of passion and life?

The Mexican waits for my dryer.
There are other vacant dryers near the maze of women
folding clothes on the table. But he waits for mine.
He places his meager load in the dryer—
a beige nylon jacket, polyester shirt and pants.
A friend told me, that in his country, Peru, the natives
dress in their polyester Sunday best
and climb the slopes of Macchu Picchu
expiring from the heat.

I fold ragged hand towels, my eyes
catching the furtive glance of the Mexican man.
His sad rabbit eyes drop floorward. No eye contact is made.

My maiden aunt told me she used to wash
the same clean pair of boxer shorts
over and over again so the men in the laundromat
wouldn't know she was single. What was she expecting?

2. A student of mine, Sally Luna, a slight, beautiful child
with black hair cascading to her waist wrote:
"I love the trees. They have feelings locked inside them
and they are brown like me. They understand."
She washes the hair from her leaves
and refuses to write poems in her own tongue.

No tears to turn into leaves and land on this earth.
Whole forests have been decimated on this earth.
They said there once was a time squirrels
could cross the entire country
leaping from branch to branch,
never once touching the ground.

Sally Luna's hair is a waterfall where wild birds nest.
To what oracles will the trees
listen to after her leaves fall?
We close our eyes to memory, Poland. Ireland.
Sandinistas of the world watching
someone go down.
The real struggle is in trying to forget
what you know to be true
but the skin holds memory.

They say every atom ever created
is still around after three billion years
of constant recycling.
On this earth, we are part tree, part dinosaur,
part rock, star, sky and air
the genetic memory of stone.

Memory continues unbroken.
They say red is the color of passion
and blue the color of tranquility,
but this beige, the pale earth tones
the brown polyester of the Mexican's work clothes
are the color of cultivated earth.
The oppressor and the oppressed.
They say their women pass the time
pressing strawberries between their thighs.

One can tell much about a stranger in a laundromat.
In the laundromat, we're all a little seedy,
hiding secrets from each other's prying eyes
because our worn clothing divulges too many truths
and the dryers whisper secrets to each other.

In this uncomfortable village
we're all eyeing each other up and down.
The mountain streams are gone.
There are no women washing clothing by hand
and sharing each other's dreams and sorrows in the sunlight.

No, we are not touched by those brown people
pruning vines in prize vineyards.
They drift in from across the border
and from the riverbanks they watch us swim
laughing silently at our pale nakedness.
They are shadowless in the bright sunlight.
Only in here, the laundromat,
do their shadows become faintly visible.

summer 1982


PAINTING THE HOUSE: for Lee Perron

PAINTING THE HOUSE
        —for Lee Perron

After dinner we walk in the strange July rain.
You say it's tornado weather
and the radio reports strange snow in the Sierras.
The Valley town of Winters was struck by its first tornado ever.

This bowl of landscape reminds me of Wyoming.
The Midwest, you say, and you couldn't be happier
tho you call yourself a Hoosier from the plains of Indiana
by way of Boston, stranded in a place called home, California.
What stirs in this alchemy of clouds
spread across the Healdsburg valley?

Cattle tear at the grass. Bullfrogs squeak like mice
as they dive for cover in the roadside ditch.
The cloud feathers funnel towards the east
and the sky burns like salmon eggs on pale gravel.

We return to paint the Victorian doors verneer and birch—
color names for variations of white paint.
Locked in thought, we quietly work,
our daydreams spread across freshly painted walls.
Soon, the house is flooded by the light.

7/82
added 10/16.