Sunday, April 28, 1985

San Francisco to the Bahamas at 27,000 feet

April 26, 1985

Below me is an unnamed lake in a bowl tinged with green mountains on the west. One  side of the range is green, the other is brown, in a rain shadow.

The Central Valley and the edge of the Mohave Desert, a dividing line of plenty rain and no rain. Soft undulations of land and hills give way to pinnacles and mesas, fantastic forms, and the patchwork of crops along the I-5 highway.

Trees cluster on the north sides of slopes, etched on the steep mountainsides, are giant stairstep terraces, from the departure of the great inland seas and lakes. 

Waves of topsoil flow from one field to the next. Commuting in the wind. Playing out the dustbowl. Again. You can literally see the wind patterns in this great inverted bowl. The Imperial Valley is moving itself southward towards even less fertile ground.

It's agribusiness as usual, enormous grades and scars from where small farms once stood, now turned to alkali flats. Toxic nitrogen poisoning in the soil. We passed an enormous cloud of dust that hangs over the middle of the valley like a brown fog bank, but it's too early for the photosynthesis of smog at 8 AM.

Miami is almost 3000 miles away. For every thousand miles, the clock goes forward an hour. It takes the sun three hours to travel across the state, not distance as the crow flies, but distance as the sun shines, or as the Earth turns. 

We travel down the West Coast, the plane buckles in the wind. Air is something you can't see or touch. But if you take one quart of air and compress it into a pint, you have a working knowledge of E = MC2. It's all relative. 

How do I tell the kids what Einstein is remembered for: the bomb, and he is responsible for Reagan being in office? Write him a cowboy poem about how life used to be. Write him a postcard of what you will miss. That redwood tree. Because I haven't yet seen them all.

Brown brown brown San Fernando Valley. Alkali peeling off like skin from the sunburnt earth. Runoff hurries down to the sinkholes before the sun plays havoc with it. Small truck farms fringing the edge of existence.

Below me, is the trajectory and support system of the space shuttle. Call it Edwards AFB. Call it China Basin. Mothballed planes. And Jim just cinched up his car, belly kicked it, and drove south across the Mojave, just like that—so desolate, hills freckled with creosote and mesquite.

Dry riverbed – the Colorado? Funny circular irrigation: Israeli style farming kibbutzim? Kidney-shaped farms. Renal failure? A vast circular disc glints: maybe it's a colander in the desert. Panamint Mountains emerge from under a low tide of drifting sandstorms, that obliterate the view of the Sierras.

Reservoirs and dams abound, like small jewels in a land so arid, even the river can't coax the green out of its banks. Borax mines further south, drain the sky of color. White noise of the desert, extinct species, and dry riverbeds meander through the silent desert.

Now you can see the oases: 29 Palms. I wanna know who counted them all, and if they got it exactly right. Will they have to change the name of the town if another palm tree grows, or dies?

You can't have an oasis without a drought. So many beginnings and endings of dreams in this agricultural desert, this cultural desert, this emotional, just desserts? People come, and go, but the desert remains, obdurate as an enigma, this is the truest face of the desert.

The last plane I rode in, you couldn't see out the windows because the sharp ash of Mount Saint Helens had ground the surface into frost. Helens—why is she plural? Is she more than one duality? Sovereign mount?

We fly back out to the coast. The fringe of habitable land. Living on the western edge of this continent becomes a real phrase. Owning language, reclaiming it, mean what you say. Say that again until it becomes you, and you become it. 

Like geography, I remember making that topo map of California out of dough and salt on the rusted stove. Grease catcher tray, little top knob at the Mexican border. My mother's blue oil paints became the inland sea. I painted. I remember feeling ashamed because my map looked so different from the other kids' maps, but I used what tools I had.

Magnificent cloud formations across tumulous clouds, or is it cumulous tombstones? Rain and a dusting of fresh snow on the peaks. A desert plateau with precipitation, is a gentler desert.

The buttes jigsaw together, I marvel at how the land fits sublimely together. On the banks of this conundrum, houses and greenery. Clouds change they become cirrus, they become fog, as we enter into the heart and the soul of clouds patterns, changing slowly with the shape of the land.

I never seem to tire of looking at the land from above, it's pure magic. We fly sandwiched in a free zone between two cloud formations. Quite bold, white below. Flying over Arizona. 

Poor dear Stephanie. I am not response from my pain. Did she object to the line where I wrote how the Arizona sun is soaking her dry? We were best friends once. But years go by without a letter, without a call. So much flatland out there. Arizona? Texas? How did she suffer in her silence? I grieve for her. My best friend.

And Jim, I forgot his address, he's down there in the suburbs—somewhere in Houston. After all this time, I'm surprised by how much I miss him, and I don't know what to make of his wife Rochelle calling me up on their 18th anniversary just to have somebody to talk to. Didn't think I would miss the friendship. 

Carolyn says you feel all this because at one time you really loved him. It was over at least a year ago, it was really over. I guess the body never forgets. We made love before he left. It was dry like the back of the throat after a bad dream, and a thirst that leaves you wanting.ut not for more.

And now Geoff. God, I sure know how to pick them. One minute wanting to live with him, be with him, have babies. Then he goes away to Fiji for three months. And I go through it all. Again. The doubts the fears, should I, or shouldn't I, and the decision is out of my hands once again. In balance. What do I do this time? Stick around? Like I did with Lee? Become a masochist? 

Last vacation, it was Jim I was pining for, this time, it's Geoff. Will I spend all my vacations mooning over one man or another? With Geoff, it forced me to consider what I wanted out of life, besides make babies, that is. Something I do have to come to terms with, and soon. 

I am ambitious. I want recognition. I am getting it slowly, slowly. I have a fear sometimes, but my writing isn't good enough, so I do a little bit of everything to make up for it. Journalism, photography, anything to get my name, my persona out there—and it does. But what are my goals? How do I envision survival one, two or five years from now? 

Part of me wants the whole ball of wax, the kids, the home, the dream. But it's not real, though billions of people go through the motions. Desperate, like the cat wanting in, only to want out again. It becomes a dream of nirvana. Or rather, the Maya veil. 

I can also picture the other side too. I know how awful it can be to be tied down with responsibilities that I couldn't get out of. I thought of Geoff. Would I be the type of woman to abandon her children for a career if it came to that? Assuming it didn't work out but that's just how love is. Be with a man of few years, have kids, and then what? 

A fragile thing, love, but maybe that ball of wax is the placebo. I think I won't have to worry about supporting myself if I have a relationship with kids. I won't have to worry about the future because I will no longer be in control. Then there's no fear of failure but it's a case of real bad yeah-buts. Is important to keep a clear perspective and not be flooded with emotions and fantasies of a life not lived.

Not having children, is that something I can live with that without? Sure, if I wanted to. I could find an anonymous father, or a turkey baster, but that's not what I want. I want love too. 

This is a very occasional diary journal. I write this stuff when I travel because this is the only time when I'm free. Free of the confines of home and the narrow paths. Last year, I made a vow to travel two times a year. So I could free myself. Perspectives are so different. 

Geoff took off for three months of travel, already his perspectives have changed, and what he writes of now, is not having to own the other person's life. Fear of what? Jealousy? Need, let it go? To hold your need in your hands, there's the question.

There is a strange shimmering blue light below the clouds, or should I say, between the clouds and the land. It looks like water. Must have something to do with atmospheric conversion, illusion more got a Fata Morgana. A mirage. All that flat land, the wonder of it all with no boundaries.

Below me is a dam, and another reservoir, the land is so flat that the waterways training into the lakes are backed up for miles, and there are many lakes. Two huge links. We must be flying over Texas right now. Three and four huge reservoirs. Maybe it's Phoenix, Lake Havasu or Lake Powell? The waterways go on for miles and miles and the distance never comes closer, not matter how far you travel.

April 26, 1985
slightly revised 11/8/2015.

Wednesday, April 24, 1985


Something about flying off
unhinges the door to creativity.
My inner dialogue begins.
I'm putting it all together. Bits & pieces.
What I learned in fourth grade,
as I sculpted California from salt dough
was that I could make do with what I had,
despite my classmates' jeering.
Eva Poole invited me to teach poetry
at Lone Pine and I can't go. So bummed.
So many poetry invites this week.
But I am enroute to the Bahamas.
I ran into Jeannie Bogardus today
at San Francisco international Airport.
She's now with City Celebration.
No more Bread & Roses, she, who hired me.
Today, Carolyn Kizer wins the Pulitzer
for "Yin." God knows she deserves it.
She's been passed over so many times.
Her dead mother's ashes, nestled
in the closet amid all those size 11 shoes,
and mink coats, would approve.

April 24, 1985
rev. slightly 8/11/2015

Friday, April 19, 1985

De Young Museum April 19, 1985 (GARBLED TEXT)

Field trip to the De Young museum
We get Mr. Hudson again,
he may be old as a river
and talks a garbled talk,
but he is the best docent ever.
Pam Milia's class experiments:
using red cloth for red flesh. 
He says: the round brush gives us color 
and drying was the sole of painting             xxxx?
Ingres used gray paint, and charcoal chalk 
They did a painting first in black-and-white 
and then they added the color 
It was the underpaint that gave it life
and the thin linseed varnish
over the paint, makes it float.
He says: it's transparent—
look at that blue vault of heaven
and the robe of the Virgin. Such blue!
ropes a palm branch and marcher.   xxxxxx
Baby Jesus with the sparrow 
Goldfinch lives in the door thorns 
Jesus is nearly weightless,
he is so holy.

Salt follows sweet and 
we drink scalding hot tea
a jasmine garden.

We transcend folly
boldly skirt the construction
zone, to climb the bridge.

I read Aiken's Zen Wave
to my students as they draw
in the Tea Garden.

what are OS HI eight can a IT KE    xxxxxx?

and this is an easy way to send wave W ABE

April 19, 1985


                       —for Geoff Davis

1. The ancestral path led to the adobe ruin;
a buckled porch shifted its ghostly weight.
This was Wild Bill Walsh's house,
& later, it was Julia's.

When the liquor ran dry,
he drove his truck into the town of Ione
and sold it for a five-gallon barrel of whiskey
& a good game of cards—or so the story goes.
They said that when he wasn't drinking,
he was a fine blacksmith.

After a hundred years, his handiwork, still in use—
I fondle the door hinges, the gate latches,
even the twisted juniper beams in the barn
preserved by the dry desert air.

Birds flew among the rafters to open sky.
A half-century of melting snows
dissolved the adobe into rich chocolate streaks
on the whitewashed walls.

2. At family gatherings there was talk of incest.
First cousins, my grandmother said.
From that union of Wild Bill and Julia,
one daughter sat in the corner by the stove
sewing with imaginary needle & thread.

What wasn't mentioned was the other
became a scientist. Jornada del Muerte.
Alamagordo was like Home Ranch,
Los Alamos, White Sands, New Mexico,
& Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Pioneer names for home.
Code name: Manhattan Project.

July 16, 1945, Fat Man.
Oppenheimer's trinitite, green desert glass
from ground zero was the dowry for my cousin Mary.
Ghosts of the Cold War swarming in the singing sand,
& the sound of war growling across a cloudless sky
were what survived her.

I spent eternal moments under my school desk
during bomb drills, thinking of Russia and Cuba,
not knowing Mary was implicated in all this too.

3. She let her thoughts go out the same way they came in
through the ruin of the back door.
What she wanted was to feel was his rough hand on her skin,
& in the ruined kitchen they'd couple in the alkali dust,
their bodies, stone mills to grind the earth to powder.

On the porch roof, a baby bird,
mistaking me for his mother,
ravened at the edge of his nest,
the red lining of his mouth, a wound.

I sat on the far side of the old well
watching a cloud cross a minute patch of sky
in the dark eye of water, to worn out to cry.
I was composing a letter in my head—
what I should have said, but . . .

Tired of waiting for god-knows-what,
I knew he'd laid aside the hammer & tongs &
cracked open another bottle in darkness.
What could survive that?

rev. 3/90


Salt butter following
sweet scalding
scented jasmine tea
in the Japanese Tea Garden.
Art transcends falling boulders
and construction chaos.
I read Roshi Aikens' Zen Wave 
to my poetry students
as they draw small haikus.
What would Basho have said?

April 19, 1985
added 9/17

Wednesday, April 17, 1985

Letter from Governor Deukmejian; CAC artist in residence

Sorting and scanning old documents, I found this among my grandmother's papers in Dec. 2014. 

I was a CAC artist in residence for 6 years at Mark West School in Santa Rosa. My residency led me to Sacramento to politic for Arts Day, then it led me farther afield with a Sonoma County poetry and art exchange with the USSR in 1989 - 1990. An eye-opener, teaching poetry in the USSR.

This is where it all began. With the meatpacker governor who gutted the CAC and carved up public education in California. You'd never know it from this letter, now would you? He was nice enough in the flesh. I could have liked him except for his priorities: art and politics.

added 12/29/2016

Monday, April 15, 1985


                  —After Lorca
                    for Bob Hass

1. While you told me what was wrong with me
I watched TV. What I could have said, you said for me.
Because of your style for building circumstantial evidence 
into a tight case, a lawyer would have trouble searching 
for loopholes. Reminiscent of an eye for an eye, 
any game is best played when both players know the rules. 

2. She said all the tangerines in the world 
won't shed any more light on the subject
& slipped into the night because the moon's
face in the pond was hers. 
He noticed how like the frost his breath was. 
The odor of tangerines in a cold room
 made him more humble.

3. I direct my thoughts to the mountains 
where rock altars are hidden among the trees. 
I direct my thoughts to the mountain with its collar 
of early morning fog warmed by the sun.
I direct my thoughts to that place in childhood 
where god lives in the leaves of the bay tree, 
the oak, the grasses and rock.

4. Long shadows. 
Slabs of rock pointing like autumnal sundials. 
After the leaves turn color, they're cast off. 
A quick flamboyant burst. 
Shadows tend toward blue and orange. 
Chainsaw stacking of days. 
How like the body of a woman is the madrone in fall. 
Then, there are the trees which never lose their leaves. 
Oak, pine, & bay dress the hills. 
Shadows of trees keep the sun 
from the hoarfrost buckled earth. 
Harvest fills the storage shed.  

5. I say to myself, you musn't let obligations and responsibilities stack up. And then, because I'm afraid to answer the phone, I let it ring and ring. Invent excuses. Or, why you're late—small lies. When there's a valid delay, no one wants to hear them. 

6. The escalator where the dragon lived kept its teeth sharpened on lost children. I was afraid to step over the stairs. When I was lost, I thought you were hidden behind the next row of clothes. Mommy, I parted their wooly depths, their dark secrets closed around me until I struggled for air but you never came back. Endless. Row after row of coats and hangers making ghostly metallic judgements. Crying seemed the best solution. Often, I'd retrace my steps but I was afraid to step over the cracks. Now, every act is an archetypal betrayal. When I choke and scream in the night, no one comes. 

7. There is a point before tears, 
when fear warms the cheeks 
and the chin grows numb. 
Breathing is labored and shallow. 
Time, between each moment, 
takes infinite pauses. Video replay. 
The blood rushes in my ears 
like high tide, and she comes, 
smiling, laughing; all mother. 
The camera fades.

8. The odor of tangerines 
makes me feel humble 
in the cold room 
because the odor 
of tangerines is humble. 
Cold room the color 
of tangerines 
and she is eating. 

9. Lenador, this is the song of the dry orange, 
round and beautiful as the sun 
who wanted to be like the other oranges
who couldn't sing. Come to the fire.
Stay as you are. Stay the child.

10 a. So what if I did eat it? I
t was there for the taking.
Who's asking you anyway?
Who are you? 

10 b. Divorce her. Move forward. Marry her. 
Do you want to spend the next year in translation? 
Settle down into yourself and take root. 
It will not chain you down like marriage or divorce

11. We slip into the night. The frozen air breathes halos around the moon.
Hidden in the leaves, the odor of tangerines. This has nothing to do with tangerines or songs of dry oranges. Our faces reflected in the pond makes us humble enough if we take the time to look. How, like our breath, they are shedding light.

 Spring 1985
Falkirk Cultural center, San Rafael/Napa

I salvaged this from SimpleText—lots of ascii. No idea what the line breaks were.