Monday, April 27, 1987

Politicking Arts Day, NPW journal

4/27/1987

This time away from the real world has calmed me in a way that nothing else could. Easter was a bit much, overnight at my grandmother's at Forest Knolls, going to my aunt Canice's for Easter dinner in Petaluma, visiting Ken Larsen's parents in Novato, then going to San Francisco for the final National Poetry Week readings and party with Etheridge Knight. Then back to Novato, overnight at Herman Berlandt's, and then to Sacramento in the morning. A lot of couch surfing.

On Monday and Tuesday Ken and I did some heavy politicking for Arts Day at the state capital. I feel like one of those ancient ones, been in the game a long, long time. People are finally listening to me. It just takes time for the world to recognize and adjust to how you view yourself. Putting oneself out there has a lot to do with it. And for what? This this incredible resource pool I've developed, what do I want to be when I grow up? A good question for sure.

I got congratulations for all my CAC and artist and library grant, and I'm dreading the work. I'm dreading my CEIF grant, working with kids. The burnout has begun and I haven't even put the book together yet. The next two weeks will be incredibly intensive. Why, I've taken the past few days off, to be in slugabed city, just in order to survive.

Actually, it wasn't downtime. I revised several old poems on the computer. More like 50 poems. Oof. Of those 50 poems, a mere handful are even worth revising. The problem is that in my earlier work, I was moved by visual imagery, and the connections I made between my present emotional state of being, and nature were understated. The polar ice caps, volcanoes, and the ocean were my metaphor. I was developing my own mythos and my voice.

Poems that were a page and a half long, were edited down to seven or eight lines. I really learned something of the craft, I think. I hope. And it's never been obvious or anything I could even put my finger on and say aha. I understand. All of these summers at Napa Poetry Conferences, and especially with all my California arts Council grants, literally thousands of kids poems have that I've produced, have taught me the brevity of lines, if anything.

It's safe to say my first work is really awful and padded.

Kids really do write better than beginning adult writers, probably because they don't hate to write. What's missing in my early work is the engaged intellect, what I am, who I am, what is going on in my head, but the creative impulse is wailing away. More like flailing away.

Yes, the muses of my writing have abandoned me; I write less now, but before they were like cotton candy, all bulk and no substance, just sugar and water.

John says that I don't need his poetic critical advice on my work anymore, that I've learned it from him. We argue. I say I've learned very little from him as far as craft goes. He's not gone over very many of my poems. Ever.

Also, it's not something he likes to do. Therefore, to him, it all seems like he's done more than he actually has done. Because I'm in the middle of it all this trying to learn editing, I feel a little abandoned. I never quite got it right. And he's pulling out all the stops claiming turf. He claims he's taught me a lot poetically. And I'm not so certain.

When I wrote Falling to Sea Level, I had absolutely no help from John, everything was placed where I thought it should be, maybe I have learned it after all on my own. And I just don't trust it.

John is very facile at writing. I'm not. Perhaps that's why I never write in my poetry journal. It takes a crisis. Then it's more Dear Diary than poetry—and who wants to read that?

I've done about five or six watercolors in the past two weeks. I've gotten a show and a reading coming up on May 23, and I need more work – except instead of the tropics theme with watercolor crayons, the aquarelles, I'm deviating into straight watercolor and floral design elements. But I don't like most of it. So I've only got one new piece for the show after all that work.

I had planned to do several more pieces when I was in Baja, but since we didn't go, I have no new material. At this point I'm looking through my photographs for inspiration.

Out of the blue, last week, John decided we should break up, without telling me, so we held vacation plans in abeyance. He decided to go to the desert with his daughter and ex-wife. I'm enraged, but that isn't of much use. Jilted is more like it.

John gave me a writing  assignment. I find reasons not to write about it, but tonight my heart wants to burst, to weep all this sorrow into a saline river. So I make long lists. I have a fondness for semi semicolons; I like Philip Whalen's lists. He told me that he was mean to Gary Snyder when they were young; but now Gary's become a teacher. And Phil became a monk because of Gary; I tell Phillip I don't want to be a hermit. I like sex too much. He laughs. Ah, yes, the vagaries of circular writing.

John's more prone to black-and-white decisions. And I'm more ambiguous, knowing these things have their own rhythm ,and cannot be forced.  Like Whalen, I'm more of a Taoist in these matters, I think.

On the long solitary drive home from Fort Mason, the sorrow keeps bubbling up. So I distract myself with Spanish-language tapes. But it reminds me that I should be in Cabo with John. We would've been there yesterday, Ayer, entonces.

Sunday, April 19, 1987

Easter Sunday journal

419/1987
Easter Sunday –

Dear book, I don't know whether to obsess about John, or to get poetic, or both at once. Begin chronologically. Spent the night at John's Thursday after the reading.

Three galleries want to display my photos, Mama Bear's in Oakland, contact Alice Malloy. Also someone wants to see my di Prima photos with Kush at a new gallery in San Francisco. And Michael Sykes has a new gallery. Print up photos for possible three shows. Mama Bear's wants the big stuff. Ak! How am I going to manage to fund this?

Also, Neeley Cherkovsky mentioned a photo book of San Francisco writers, like Mark in Time. Christie Fleishman also liked my work. I got lots of photographic strokes. I was not expecting any of it. Let's see what actually pans out. Always a radically different story.

I'm at John's house, and I feel comforted.. I spent the day weeding and I dug in the garden and I cleaned the house. It's a mess. How can he live this way and his daughter doesn't do anything, obviously.

There are times when I'm 100% convinced to break it off and I begin to accept it. Then I flip-flop again, I'm 100% convinced that I want to go ahead with the relationship. On Friday I was feeling positive. By Friday evening dinner with Frances, his mother who pointed out to me the repetitive patterns, and my role as an anti-stepmother of sorts, whether or not I liked it. The daughter is moving out next week. If this is the problem then it will resolve itself, somewhat.

Frances's advice was enlightening, though I'm not sure it's entirely helpful. A part of me is so angry over the entire thing. I cleaned John's house because A. it needed it be cleaned. B. it was a gift for his birthday, C. it was a final parting gift, D. I wanted him to miss me, to feel badly about breaking up. E. to make my presence known to his daughter, etc. But the for the last time, so to speak.

Then later in bed, I thought of all that we've been through and had done together, how much I felt mated to John. In one and a half years we've shared a lot of profound experiences. Is this the right time to break it off? Well, we've had a good time of it, but is it a cop out?

The issue of having a kid, is it is an excuse, or isn't it? But I think it serves as a useful tool for not just dealing with what is really happening. But also the future. How can I begin to trust someone who has begun 16 major affairs and relationships in 44 years? Or should I say, in 26 years. That averages out to one and a half women per year, some of which were simultaneous. One major affair for every seven years with lots of affairs interspliced between. John is right. He is a mess when it comes to relationships.

If I break up with John, then the issue of the child is is moot. Will my desire still be there? Most men don't want to start over. But then it's all pretty straightforward. Why bring any more children into this world? Nuclear and environmental threats, population explosion, etc.
In other words, most men I go out with aren't going to want to do it anyway. John's just one of them.

So, if I resolve that issue, what about the quality of life we already possess? What about the sexual ambiguities? Will that change, or am I stuck with someone who is uninspired and/or incapable of satisfying me most of the time? How much of that is related to the kid issue?

My not trusting John, is based on very real conclusions, how much of this is a lack of trust, added to the destruction and the ambiguity of a given relationship. Friday I had resigned myself to breaking up. It was okay. By Saturday I was so depressed the thought of breaking up was much more real, as if I had already accepted it.

Thursday, April 16, 1987

INYO MOUNTAINS


My first time in the desert
I was a small as an ant
carrying one grain of sand at a time.

The moon recounts
these aging ripples in the pond,
growing younger after a rock is tossed in.

Blue edge of water
measures distance
between rock and beach.

Airborne prisms searching for rainbows.

Inyo mountains, jagged teeth
a portal of the sky
orange clouds tease the blue snow.

Shadow and snow,
tree and dance,
what's left over is pure residue.

One more tree defines its role.
Each season, another job.

In the desert night, lights,
a mirage of conquered valleys
This fertile floor and strange harvest.

4/87
not sure of the date.
Next poem is dated 5/16.

A REPLY TO CARL SANDBERG'S "GRASS"


These things can never be
to hang onto that branch
the way all good apples do
when hummingbirds dance on their wings
and the stars know nothing better than this
the ceiling keeps rising, soft patterns, mute swans
Deep voices of the night keep coming in
but we preserve this craft at a snail's pace
and the grass keeps singing into the night.

April 11-20 (when?)
National Poetry Week
Toby Lurie, CPITS workshop
Conversations with Sandberg's Summer Grass

What would you like to eb for 24 hours? A redwood and a chickenhawk.
Go have a conversation , 2 stanzas, one lonely, another gregarious

Paula Gocker: Draw a line on a paper, now make it into something, and write about it.

Poetry therapy panel Poetry as healer, expressive therapy 
Apollo was the god of medicine and poetry
Dr. Jack Healey
If you were an animal 1) wild, 2) domestic 1/2 group  ea. psychodrama
Find a safe place in nature, visualization, use photos

Wednesday, April 15, 1987

SISHKABOB

SISHKABOB

Finding herself well skewered
on the end of a long Jewish cock
the goy girl, afraid of injury,
laughingly called herself a shiksa-bob.

journal Tax Day (photos)

4/15-16

I need to go into the darkroom tonight, and pack up for the next six days. I'll be on the road. National Poetry Week and the California Arts Council Art Day lobbying event. Note to self: Bring Ken Larsen all those Rural Arts Services photos. Darkroom tonight.

The chemicals from the darkroom have hyped me up unbelievably. I couldn't sleep at first, and then I was  glue-eyed and sleepy. I always feel hung over after a long night in the darkroom. I don't know how much of it is being up late at night and the intense activity, or if it's the chemicals. It takes me least an hour to come down afterwards.

I left the darkroom at 12:30 AM and it was 1:30 AM before I was calm enough to think about sleep. Some funny photos of Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen. One of Robert Bly as an old hag. Very appropriate. His fans won't like it as it captures a side of him that the majority of the world does not see. But I know about first-hand.

Sunday, April 12, 1987

4/12/87 journal 4/27

4/12 continued...

For months, weeks, I felt nothing, no processing was done, this journal is what follows.
I never write in my journal anymore. It's a stranger to me. I want to save the  pristine
pages for something important, like pure poetry, and for travel. 

It seems now that neither is on the agenda these days. Muchas tristes, I am very sad afar reading the social equivalent of 8000 kid poems for my residency, there is not much left of me. I am wrung out.

We struggle to find ways to either continue, or to part. Either way, the bases are loaded. Or the reasons for, and against, are equally weighted. We teach each other something of our habits and motives. And get nowhere.

He said, Oh God, you were right. Here I am acting differently when my daughter is is around.

I don't feel so crazy now, my intuition tells me what to say, but there's no reassurance that what I'm saying is right. I see so many sides at once, the dialogue gets crossed coming and going.

I hate that dark spinning place, I go into when we really fight. Last Saturday night we broke up three times and made up four times. (Sounds like a bad country song.) How angry I am.

Out of the blue, John decided we break up, so we held our vacation plans in abeyance. He decided that going off into the desert with his daughter and Jan was more important. He's already committed. I'm enraged, but that won't be of much use. Jilted is more like it. Thanks for telling me.

John gives me an assignment. Every writing assignment he suggests, I find reasons not to write about it, but tonight my heart wants to burst, to weep all this sorrow into a saline river. I refrain from screaming on the long solitary drive home from Fort Mason, but the sorrow keeps bubbling up. So I distract myself with Spanish-language tapes. It reminds me of being in Cabo with John. We would've been there yesterday, Ayer, entonces. 

Last night I went to him, crawled into his bed, and we were as close as skin. Somehow we both came through it. And it was so easily shattered this afternoon. He couldn't take the tension between his daughter and I. I'm not so sure there was ever any tangible problem between his daughter and I, but his incessant obsession has had certain deleterious effects on both of us.

Last Saturday John told me she didn't like me because I was rude to a waitress. His daughter was rude to John. John was rude to her. But she doesn't remember any of that, she is an angst-ridden teenager. And I'm yet another unwanted "mother" figure in the wings. I can't tell her that I don't want that role. Her judgement of me became a weapon in his hands. Something to be used against me. And excuse for an out.

He came up to Forestville the other day expecting to break it off, then it wouldn't matter that he was going to the desert with his daughter. But we stayed together. He goes to the desert knowing a price is to be paid between us. I keep score. I keep score.

I become a statistician as well. I think, well, 15 misses is a very bad batting average. I don't want to become #16. He will probably fall in love with #17, the next woman, at the drop of her pants, given his past track record, this instills such confidence.

We fight over the real issues in archaic couched terms... Ambiguity. Are we willing to commit to each other, no matter what? I think not. And therein lies the rub. The intangible thoughts of the neocortex had to go and ruin our mammalian bonding.

The issue of child, or no child aside, this is the real agenda. But, I think of the future 30 years down the road, no family, no one to be there for me when I am old, frightens me. I tell him I want to be taken care of in my old-age. I don't want to be a bag lady.
John is saying if she and I can't bridge the breach, he can't deal with it. I get that. I say, it won't last, it will resolve itself. She;s a teenager. Give her space. He doesn't believe me. She's looking for an excuse to dislike me, so she doesn't have to relate to me. Typical teenage angst. Like I said, I get it. So many girlfriends in the revolving door of John's relationships. She's amazingly strong, considering. I would've been in a permanent rage if I were her.
\
I could go on with this obsessing, John says he's written pages and pages, obsessing over our relationship. He is a sea cucumber, that he is.

Tonight when I returned home there was no call on my answering machine from him. I was crushed. He leaves early tomorrow, that is, today because it's 2 AM. Some solace. In the mail, with thanks to Voltaire, a poem from John, calligraphed with a spring of pressed sage to keep the ghosts in line.

 

And another thing, I'm still waiting for my kitchen cabinets to be installed. I'm living out of cardboard boxes and it is driving me nuts. The thought of moving; of major changes, frightens me.
Crablike, or should I say ghost shrimplike, I want to burrow in, safely away from all of these threats. I noticed I've been drawing up a likely list of candidates should John and I break up. But it's only a halfhearted interest, it seems to confirm my desire to stay with John, when I tell him why we fight, because I want to make sure. I have a lot to lose. He says maybe it's not worth it. Regretfully, no. But, thanks.
The dual nature of love makes me mistrustful. Duel nature? Perhaps he'll call in the morning. Besides, I stole his favorite pen. Touché!



 4/13, next morning Monday

Oh, this crack in the world. John does not call to say goodbye and I am heavy inside this grief. I reread my February 18 journal entry, when this all began, and so much as happened since then. I thought that was an emotional upheaval. We've gone much farther into it. So many other issues have arisen.

I am profoundly tired and I understand the middle body of depression. The endlessness. The waves of grief. And my morning, the end before it's even begun?

In February, when I went on about the past, my animal self rising, there was hope. Now, so many issues have come up and clouded those observations. Or is it all connected and I'm in the middle of it? John says, in hindsight, we shouldn't have seen each other so much during January to May when his daughter was with him. Somehow a lot revolves around her.

I begin to resent the way he's so generous with her, thinking that I won't have a child. I resent the timing. I keep waiting for the right man to have babies with and they're all willing to help raise another man's child, but not one of them wants to have his own.

In John's case—he said kids are used to having exclusive attention. He doesn't want to do that again. He's already done it. When he said to his daughter that I wanted a baby, she was alerted, so the negativity must've started then. Is this an issue of his daughter's, or is it just my generic urge of wanting another child that's triggered these responses?

I want to stop this obsessing. I keep thinking of the issue of child, is it masking or is it triggering these events? Do I really want a child or is it my biological clock ticking?

I feel guilty when I trace back the origin of my frustration and anger to something John did. It's good for me to say you did this, and I reacted this way. What amazes me is that my observations deeply tucked inside this emotional morass, seem to be so accurate. Certain patterns of his trigger responses in me. And at least he owns up to them. And I begin to understand something of myself in this process, but it's too stormy. What I feel guilty about is that I can say, you did this and I reacted like this.

I'm feeling I feel I'm putting all the responsibilities of blame on him. I can zero in and understand something of my own behavior if I can specifically point out something he did. Do we just react and overreact to each other's reactions? During nuclear meltdown there are no winners.

He acts differently toward me when his daughter is around. I feel a little bit foolish, a little superfluous. He's often affectionate, but only in two-minute intervals. I feel like I'm a fix, and sometimes I feel rejected by this. Open the door, let me in, shove me out again. Like the cat.

I have a fondness for semi semicolons; I like Philip Whalen's lists. He said he was mean to Gary Snyder when they were young; but now Gary's become a teacher. And Phil became a monk because of Gary.

I don't want to be a hermit. I like sex too much. There are too many variables in our sex life. I don't come very often. There's too much sameness. One leg akimbo, John at my left breast, me underneath, tweaking his left nipple, my right thumb hurts from all of this. He isn't always there for me. He removes himself from intimacy.

We rarely kiss I mean deep kiss, while making love. Where are the fat slugs spinning clear ropes of saliva? He wants to be taken, I want to be taken, neither of us is completely satisfied with the other's quirks and idiosyncrasies. And yet when we are mindful, and paying attention, it's very good.

I keep telling myself, there are sacrifices in every relationship. Sexuality is part of the sacrifice; it's not all or nothing. We speak two different languages, sexually speaking. Sometimes, something gets lost in the translation. It took me a long time to adjust to him and to accept his kinks because of his needs to be held down, or tied up, and taken. I want said he wasn't making use of my sexuality. He said, likewise.

Statistically, we feel it averages out and we're both content most of the time, and we can work with it. I've never had to work at sex before. It's like memorizing and conjugating endless rows of verbs in Spanish; work. Just when I give up hope, everything changes and we work in tune with each other once again. It can work after all. The surprises.

A friend wisely said sex can change for the better with time. If she judged her husband's performance when they first met, she would've left him. We are adaptable and can change.

So many things on my list for an acceptable mate. Like minds. Intelligence. Not just high IQ, but how it's processed. Intuitiveness, I get irate if someone is pedantic. Physical attraction, corporeal body. Over time I find John more and more attractive.

I remember looking, once at a CPITS meeting in 1979, at Mary Norbert Körte's place, Sanctuary Station on the Noyo River, saying to myself, No way, he's just not right for me. His eyes are too odd, that white green color they become as if he were only looking inward, or looking outward with a blind man's clabberd eyes. Reasonably attractive, yes, but not my type. I'm not attracted to him.

Not with the same moth-like intensity I had with Lee, whom I was seeing at the time, or Jim Byrd. How easily I become burned, attracted to the light. That light which burned so brightly. Sex and mind, all parts of it. I find few men who have this burning quality that I seek.

Sex with Jim wasn't all that great either. It had something more to do with the mind I think. But I am fire too. I've seen men go up in smoke when they touch me.

Sex with Lee was always good. But there was also pain. I wonder how much the continual pain of a non-relationship and sexuality had to do with the intense eroticism that we shared. But I came out of that relationship tougher.

A lesson too long in the learning. The years of anguish. Why did I choose to suffer so? Why was my faith in love so unshakable? White knights with real armor. Armor and amor, oh for the loss of an R, goes my heart.

Lee says we fall in love nine times during our lives. John must be going for double, or nothing. Bases are loaded and we're switchhitting for the season of glove.

Imagine my surprise when John and I did finally connect. I had dismissed him so many years ago. Once, as he was leaving the statewide position at CPITS, we did a skit. Apparently I played Alta, his first wife. Little did I know I'd become part of his bizarre harem. An unkind hand of fate dealt to me that day.

Alta was rude to me for the first year of our relationship, a part of her always wanted John back. Well it's fitting, somehow that her daughter now dislikes me. Like mother, like daughter. Yet her older daughter and I get along famously. And the irony is Alta and John's daughter are not speaking to each other. It's a complicated business.

And then there's a wife number two, Jan whom I didn't know, but whom I very much like as we're both Sagittariuses. John says I'm like a very much younger version of her. She got her tubes tied, and his daughter became her daughter. John said in February that he wanted to get his tubes tied. That's when we started fighting. I said, if you get a vasectomy, a door closes. Who else would I trust John to go off into the desert with. His ex-wife. I trust them implicitly.

Lee once said that John needed the stable wife, Jan, and the outrageous woman, Alta. Shameless hussy. I believed him, I thought he was wrong, but there's something to it. I'm a little of both, so is he. But it's more complicated than that. Domesticity and Bohemian outrageousness.

I feel like we're reenacting the Diego Rivera / Frida Kahlo love story. I like John better when he's in Mexico. He's more humble; willing to please. I get so irritated sometimes by his obsession with Spanish. I had no real interest, but that was a hidden surprise. Now, this obsession is a part of my world too, my eye too. I understand quite a bit of step Spanish, though I still can't speak.

We test each other… as it turned out one of John's tests for me was could I even learn Spanish, could we travel well together, spend part of our lives in Mexico, could I survive his Mexico world. Could I accept his need to travel alone in Mexico? And to the desert? Ironic, he surrounded by three women going to Hanaupah Canyon. He won't take me there, but it's okay for his daughter to take a friend there.

.

Then there was Oliva, his love in Mexico. He asked me to accept his relationship with her when we first met. But she was in Mexico. And they haven't slept together in ages. It wasn't easy sharing him via the post office, but she wasn't a real threat being that far away. I sensed it was long over between them even before he did.

And I'm grateful to her. She taught him faithfulness and steadfastness. Though he wasn't faithful to her, he is amazed by his faithfulness to me. We've both been very faithful. I secretly want a fling but I am afraid of what might happen.

He blames the open relationship he had with Jan for its failure. He was mostly unfaithful. Faith is important to him. It comes to me a bit more easily, I think. this low-level urge to have a fling surprises me a bit because it's so natural for me to be monogamous. I suspect it's part of my backdoor escape plan.

Could I accept his extended family? Not a problem unless you count the friction with his daughter. Oddly his stepdaughter and I get along just fine. I can't stand how everything is so open. There are no secrets. John's the biggest sea cucumber alive. When they are frightened, they spill their guts, literally.

Our affairs of the heart are communal property. We might as well sick sell tickets to the world. I share John with two ex-wives, a daughter, a stepdaughter, and his mother, whom I dearly love. This man is surrounded by women. Like some flawed God. Well, I like Jan, Lorelei, and Frances. One blood relation, and two by proxy. Alta is in the proxy category, but I don't have to like her.

Could I get along with his daughter? A biggie on his list. Well, I've covered enough journal time over her. He said that initially she liked me. As if he needed official sanction from his daughter. Maybe that's why we're fighting, because I resent that. I think I'm fairly well accepted and even liked by most of its family. It's like a big ex-lovers club.

At first I felt so estranged. But if I am to be his mate, he has to be willing to place me first, not last, in the pecking order. There are times when family comes first, but he can only place family in front of me, pushing me to the end of the line, then there is something wrong. I don't foresee this as a major problem. I think it will work out in time.

I'm sure there's more to be said, but I am fatigued by all this list making. I've been so preoccupied with all this this morning that I poured half of the milk into my tea. And made a note to buy more milk, and then proceeded to pour a bowl of cereal with only a thimbleful of milk.

The other night after leaving the reading in Sebastopol with Leonard Cirino, I drove the wrong way down Main Street to the local saloon. Automatic pilot. So many years doing the same thing after readings. I slipped back into automatic pilot when the road was still a two way street. Luckily I turned the car around and park the right direction before the cop came by.

Yesterday I sloppily tapped the car while parking, luckily it was just a bumper. I wasn't paying attention. I'm distracted by all of this. And I'm tired of writing about it. I keep counting the pages, this page makes page 10 and I'm still haven't written a poem. My head cold has me worn out. Time for a relapse.



4/14 Yesterday, I called my therapist. She's on vacation for a week. The receptionist said, unless it's a crisis, wait. How did you define crisis? I sobbed after I hung up. No escaping this one. It takes everything I have just to go see her, I am no fan of therapy. So the mere fact of my calling her is crisis.

Walking to get the mail, Richard Salzman sees it in my face, and pulls me in. My lame excuse of a cold melts before the words escape my mouth and I am sobbing again. The well of grief. I am uncomfortable in sharing this grief and I'm soon distancing myself.

Alastair Ingram asks questions about John, and feels like he's put his foot in his mouth but it's okay we're all old friends, having helped each other through this before.

Richard's friends, his amigos Mexicanos arrive fashionably late. We barbecue in the new fire pit and we drink. They get mas boracho on tequila. I abstain, and I go home. Richard follows me also drunk, he holds me, and I stay distant for a long time, old memories, things we shared, we laughed over, and he doesn't let me go. He doesn't let me escape. Not sure of wanting to escape, I begin to soften.

All those forgotten things lovers do, come back, and we never really forget. It's been a couple of years. I figure we have an annual affair each July, and we missed last July. He tells me it's been five months since he slept with anyone, and though we never worked as a couple, the deep friendship remained intact.

There is a safety factor making love with ex-lovers. Not like starting a new affair or a fling with all its complications. I wanted to sleep with someone else for quite sometime now, and I felt guilty, but I knew I'd have to do it as part of my testing of John because our sex is merely adequate but not a dance.

How lovely it is when a man can dance the slow pleasures of the bed. Richard is an especially sensuous lover and takes his time getting there.

If John and I work this thing out, I'll have to put him into training. How easily he slips into the functionality of sex. No wonder I don't always come. But he can't help the physicalness. I like a lot of heavy meat grinding, hard fucking, which he only does before he comes, I need that grind to turn me on, otherwise he's too passive. I quickly bail out, and lose interest. But when we're on, it's silken, even the touch of skin has that wavering electrical charge to it. When the skin too, is in love, that's magic.

Richard, technically better, and my equal in bed, doesn't have that quality. That's the intangible part of true lovers. I cried as Richard and I made love, the grief bubbled up. And then I laughed at my tears. He said, It's okay, let it come up. He made it so easy for me. No future, no expectations, no complications. Just the present moment. We laughed, and babbled in Spanish, that was comforting.

I talked a lot about John too. I got the feeling Richard thought we'd come around, the bond is so strong. He should know, his relationship with his ex, another woman named Jan, 10 years back-and-forth, never quite committed.

And Richard understands that ambiguity too. He and John are somewhat alike, never able to fully commit themselves to a relationship. I suspect John's asking to marry me is his desire to submit, to surrender. It's been a rough three months since January, that fight in Mexico, funny as it was, was at least something concrete. Yes John and I are well matched in most ways. The question is, can we work through this current crisis?

Richard says there's so many choices, it's too easy to say goodbye if it isn't working out. It's so true. These problems are all part of the cycle. Is it necessary to change the face of one's lover each time a crisis arises? A long commitment is still more appealing and more realistic. I'm tired of wandering the earth in search of the new mate.

Shishkabob

Finding herself well skewered
on the end of a long Jewish cock
the goy girl, afraid of injury,
calls herself a shiksa-bob.


As far as John's being faithful to me, and me breaking that bond, being faithful to someone isn't an issue with me. I know I can do it. It's easy enough because I'm monogamously inclined. John has never had the experience. I don't think I can tell him about this interlude. It would encourage him to break his faith with himself. He marvels at how long he's been monogamous. I feel that's a major part of our commitment to each other, not just the fear of AIDS. We don't need the classic complications.

If the relationship doesn't work, there won't be others between us to be used as weapons. I admire his ability to see and act upon this. I feel sad and that I had to go to my limits, like I was testing, or attempting to break those delicate ties, but I always knew I would have to test the bonds for myself.

I also feel he drove me to it, not deliberately, but because of the problems we are facing. I am entirely responsible for my actions. I made deliberate choices, but they're based on what's been happening with John. Is it right, is it wrong? It's not an issue. It's done, now.

We do things for different reasons. For me, it was a major step. I took the first safe opportunity and went for it. I knew I would. Should I have waited? Held that faith longer? No, our relationship should not be dependent upon that. If it's to survive, it's because of its strengths, not weaknesses.

I am glad John has finally learned monogamy. I am 180 degrees opposite. If it's appropriate, I might do it again. So much depends upon how it is when we see each other again. If we see each other again. I'm also suspecting that in the desert, John will decide that it's over, first one out of the out of the chute saves face?

He said last night, under the pre-numbral eclipse of the full moon, he came to a decision; the moment I had broken the bonds of faithfulness. Faith, of another sort, will arise. We are still faithful in the sense that neither of us has taken on new partners. Yes, something has ended. A chapter. But a new one is about to begin. The question is, will it include a new chapter for us as a couple, or do we bail because that's the tried-and-true method of the 1980s?

I think I've always been terrified of John's going off to Hanaupah Canyon because it represents a cyclic change for him. With his ex-wife and his daughter, his older roots will call out. There's a safety factor involved. He has a choice to make. Several paths will lead him to the same place, but only one of those paths is with me.

He goes off to the desert to decide to break up. What do I do? How do I decide? What if each of us decides the opposite thing? If he decides no, do I go along with it, letting fate take its course, do I say no, we have more business, even if the answer is still the same a year, or six months from now?

Are we done with each other? Can we make the choice to stay together longer? What is the end shaped like, how will we know? Are there many choices, none of them incorrect? All appropriate? Has our time together ended, are we prolonging the inevitable? Or are there other possibilities we have not explored. Should we decide to continue? The paths yield no clues. It's either yes or no, and seems appropriate, a crack in the world.

=========

Finally, I am able to take the time to begin processing my relationship with John. It took a last misunderstanding, and his leaving on an uncertain note, by not calling to say goodbye, to loosen the bonds sufficiently for me to explore my own conflicting emotions.

It is an odd thing that to be willing to break up, is what keeps our relationship strong. We are here by choice, not by necessity. Are we testing the  adage: If you truly love someone you must be able to let them go?

When John lost the blue lapis heart that I gave him, I was crushed. He took it as an evil omen. He couldn't find the heart anywhere. He bought me a huge See's heart candy box filled with truffles for Valentine's Day. We began to fight that evening. We were with the girls, no privacy, no time to be lovers.

The next few weeks brought more of the same. He quit wearing the woven wristband that I gave him, he discarded the symbol of our being a couple. The first act was an accident, the second act was deliberate. How quickly he cuts himself from me, how much practice he's already had in ending relationships. He is a consummate master.

He came up last Saturday night planning to end it all with me, and made plans to go to the desert with his daughter since we weren't going to Cabo after all.

I was feeling better, wanting to continue and go to Cabo thinking that week together would be the best thing for us, a week together we sorely needed.

So we fought a lot and cried, broke up a lot, made up a lot, broke up again, and again,. Achieved some tranquility, some peace. We broke up again. We made up. Made up again and made love, and made more tentative promises. Broke up again. Made up again....

I dreamed we were on our way to a meeting in the city. We were going with several others. I was late and John was in a group ahead of us. The directions weren't clear. I got off at the wrong BART station. It was getting late, and when I tried to board the train, it went the wrong direction. And I had no money. I was crying, frantically trying to explain my predicament to strangers, in the hopes they they would help me out. No way to call John enroute. I was left to my own wits and devices.

Before this dream, I also dreamed were together side-by-side planting, working in the garden, it went on for hours, turning the rich loam to make a satisfying garden.

When I gave John the blue lapis heart, he took it as a deeper symbol than what was offered. It was a spontaneous gesture on my part. A blue heart given to me by the Meier family ten years ago. I never used it, but kept it anyway. It seemed appropriate. I glued in a clasp knowing it would loosen someday.

And I gave it to John who wore it over his own heart for more than a year. Blue being his color, somehow. It went through the wash unscathed. The glue held. Sometimes he wore it pinned inside the shirt pocket so as not to lose it. And I kept thinking the glue wouldn't hold, it wouldn't hold. Then one day it disappeared.

He looked everywhere, not even the pin or clasp was to be found. I think the glue held, but the pins that anchored it didn't, or in his carelessness, he placed it in jeopardy, lost it, and doesn't have a clue as to how it happened.

About the same time poet Veronica Cunningham gave me a red heart on a pin. The spirit in which it was given was similar, she liked me. It was an impromptu and appropriate gift, though I have no urge to love women. I like and care for her. This circle of hearts given in friendship.

The first button was missing on my shirt. And I use the heart to hold it closed. One day I accidentally tugged on the heart, and it came away from the pin, and I couldn't get the clasp to go back in. A tiny plastic heart loosened from its moorings. I lost the clasp but not the heart. Effectively broken, just the same.

I transferred the symbol of that heart from Veronica to John. And thought how strangely synchronistic the world is, if we let it be. At the same time he sent me a poem about the loss of his blue heart. Everything moves in cycles. Especially hearts.

The loss of the wristband was a deliberate symbol. I gave it to him at Christmas. One day it came off. He took it as a symbol. I tied it back onto his wrist. Later, as we fought, it became a reminder that he took it off. That act hurt me. He said he put it on the little gourd cup and then he broke the cup that María Engracia gave me. How sad he was when he stepped on it that night.

We fought throwing dirty laundry at each other, being careful not to hit each other. Brutal anger. We didn't make up that night. I was going to break up with him then. And I wanted my air ticket back and my passport.

We envisioned taking separate taxis to the airport but negotiating the flight home was beyond my travel capabilities and I knew it. I was so scared. I was relieved when we made up, as we were truly shaken by this fight, our first real raging knock down fight.

And it was all so silly, we were overtired and cross, and utterly exhausted. I accused him of throwing away the ropes we needed to finish packing our luggage. I saw that as a symbol of his callousness. We had a bit of falling off at Los Arricifes, nothing major. A profound talk about our sexuality, how I felt used and how it seemed so mechanical vs. passionate.

When these crises come up, I assume there is no way to fix them. The issue of sex seemed insurmountable, but we did talk about it, and it made a real difference. He was there for me. Something I didn't think he had any control over. It was a welcome surprise. And when we made love it was special.

We were uneasy, Rebecca being pregnant and seeking a second abortion in two years, and John saying why don't they just go for it. They both want kids. I suspect a lot started coming home for us too. It was after Tulúm, in February. John told me of his decision to go ahead with the vasectomy, and the quibbling began. I knew that Rebbe's predicament would stir up a hornet's nest.



The chain of events that triggered off this catastrophe began in Mexico. The Yucatán. Tulúm unfolded us. We became sensitize and reactive in a predictable manner. But all events aside, we chose to read the symbols, and act upon them as if they were truth. In fact, they were just yarn and rock. We needed to something to point the way in any direction.

The rest is logical when you think about it. So, we were being tested, testing ourselves and testing each other. We call each other to task. Be here now. Live fully in the present. Don't withhold yourself.

I told John last Saturday if we're destined to break up, then let's live what time we have together fully. We should live it a hundred percent. No withholding. I think he withholds more than I do. He's more prone to black-and-white decisions. And I'm more ambiguous, knowing these things have their own rhythm and cannot be forced. Like Whalen, I'm more of a Taoist in these matters, I think.

Last April John tried to break up with me too, only, he forgot to tell me about it. So I challenged his reasoning. We made it through. I remember I came down because it was his birthday. And he was withdrawn. I said the reason why I am here is because it's your birthday, not because I'm clinging to you, or am afraid to break up. He opened like a flower. His insecurities backed him into a corner and he couldn't get out.

A few times when he was in Forestville, these moments struck and he was awful. I said, if you want to leave so badly, just go. Get out of here. I won't be party to this. And he always stayed. I think he was expecting me to cry or cling to him, If I had, he said he would have left. But because I clearly wasn't going to do that, telling him he was a free agent, his fears of being smothered, claustrophobia vanished, and then he realized he wanted to be with me. Each time it's come up, I've said the same thing.

He's afraid of being stuck in the trap: if I love you am I trapped forever? I don't let him use this ploy. I'm probably the first woman who refused to be sucked into this no-win game of his. It's a cyclical pattern, the opposite of his urge to marry me. I've always mistrusted his reasons for asking me, and have refused on those grounds. Also, the issue of sex and the child, ironically linked, would have to be resolved.

He said he would get a vasectomy if we got married. A little insurance to keep me from saying yes, I suspect. There were times when he wanted me to say yes. There were times when I wanted to say yes, but how could I, knowing it was a set up, though the question was genuine. He is a past master of setting up the double-blind. Ambiguity, of course, is the predictable result.

This all started when he dared me to have an affair with him, mind you, a casual affair. And I took him on. Having refused his offers in the past, the challenge was on. I don't know who was more surprised.

We were at the Calistoga spa. And he was so unsure, standing there looking uncertain, I made the first move, saying to myself, okay Simon you want to score with me so bad, I'll give you something to remember! Calling his bluff, so I think that's a strong component of our relationship. We don't let each other pull too much wool.

He took up the challenge saying, it's a short-term affair. There is Olivia in Mexico, whom I'm still seeing. He thought he'd see me every so often, a long distance affair to remember. I had already broken up with Duane BigEagle, not that we were ever exclusive, that same weekend, and half out of spite I went with John, but also, because it was time to end it with Duane after two years of casual sex. I never once looked back. I wanted a lot more out of the relationship and Duane was always in it for himself. When he snubbed me at the CPITS conference that was the end if it for me.

John envisioned a similar casual relationship I think, but after the first night together, he began revising his plans. First it was once in a while, then every other week when we were supposed to see each other. But it was a rare week that passed that we didn't see each other. One of our first dates was backpacking at Sonora Pass in October. That was the first test. What was I like in the wilderness? My poem, Falling to Sea Level, comes from that experience. I passed with flying colors.

Then irony made itself felt. This was a temporary relationship because even then, those first nights, he was very clear about not wanting kids. Suddenly I was being challenged too. Incredible depression, mood swings, break up. Finally I made peace by saying no more obsessing until the next September.

Remember that song We'll sing in the Sunshine? And when our year has ended, I'll be on my way… Unbelievably that work. He was able to relax. There were times when he softened, saying, Yes well perhaps it's possible. We'll have kids. A couple of times, making love, he said if a baby comes of this then it will be okay. A thin ray of hope crept in. There was a chance I could have it all. But it volleyed back-and-forth, all, or nothing.

Somewhere, along the way, he became clear about his relationship with Olivia. She was his backdoor, his way out of the relationship. His addiction. It was both a source of grief and relief for me. When he broke up with her, I felt only mildly elated, it came as no surprise. It was so obvious as I was taking up all his available time.

Sure, it had it hurt when the letters arrive from Mexico. Ironically, he chose to break it off just as she was coming around. She, having pushed him aside. When he went to Mexico last February, I was so jealous, thinking he changed his mind, but he didn't.

We, meanwhile, having only been separated Christmas and February, when he was in Mexico, we were getting into it much deeper. Some casual affair it was. The first time we went to Baja was in November. Hung over, after Sean and Nancy's wedding, on my birthday, he gave me a gorgeous massive turquoise necklace.

We crossed into Mexico in a downpour. In La Páz, I distanced myself from him. He was too open for me. I was afraid, I had recoiled from him. Part of it was because of our sexual differences. I'm pretty straightforward sexually. It's hard for me to be comprehend his need to be held down, and to be tied up. Or the connection between cock and nipple. Tweaking his nipple for an erection, for him to come. We eventually worked out a system where we were both comfortable.


4/15/1987

Taxes are due today. I spent the morning painting and obsessing about John instead of doing my taxes.

I'm in the it's over mode, rather than the positive mode. I'm so certain he's given me up. The irony is we will each decide the opposite, whether it's to stay together, or to break up. We seem to be diametrically opposed. And I keep telling myself he'll be coming up to see me in two weeks. A lot can happen in two weeks. I'm thinking no, partially because I suspect he is going to say yes, and if I focus on the negative things, I get so mad, I want to break up.

Richard came over to help me put the doors on my new kitchen cabinets. I spent the rest of yesterday putting together the cabinet. By the time I got to the hinges, my dyslexia went into overdrive and I couldn't make out how they worked. It turns out there right and left hinges, not easy to fathom. I wound up calling Richard.

 John and I must both be easily addicted to ambivalence, because I wanted to sleep with Richard again, but felt it would be a dangerous thing to do. That it would open up yet another can of worms, I think. Besides having been rejected enough times in the past, it's mostly lust. That's how I got into this predicament to begin with.

I must admit a small part of me wants to go back to those free and easy days when I was always obsessing about sex and relationships and doing nothing about it. But I've been there. And I've fully explored its possibilities and there's nothing there for me new there for me. It's safe. Nonthreatening.

It's hard being with John, but I feel like I'm making progress, that is what I'm supposed to be doing right now, not hiding out. In my development as a human being I need to do certain things. A relationship has been deeply satisfying. The need to send roots deep into the soil. That part feels right.

I always keep thinking that if I want to have a few flings before I decide to settle down with the relationship, now is the time. But I keep thinking that it will only confuse me further.
Donna says I should not sleep with any men during this time. Shit, out on a date? I suppose if I cast my net about there'd be a few stragglers in the net.

I'm ready for the dailiness of a relationship, but I also don't want to give up my cabin, even if I move away. It's so lovely being here, outside in spring. I've been spending my days outside writing, snoozing, reading, painting. I've been busy every minute. I've been doing what I want, when I want to. A break from the real world. No kids, no phone, no one to invade my space. A time to be creative.

The cats are very loving. The highway is far too noisy. It's so rare that I have the time to stay here, uninterrupted by schedule. I want someone to roll in the grass with, and make love in the afternoon. Afternoon delight. Time to be sensuous in the spring. Working on a suntan.

Slept until 10 this morning. Noticed how I'm not quite so driven to write about John. I suspect this is a good sign, but the bad news is that I'm about as horny as the cats.

My head cold went right into my lungs. And I haven't an excuse at least to keep quiet. I'm tempted to go to the beach, call up Dwayne and roll in the sand. It's okay to fantasize. I feel a little unfaithful, pulling up the cocks of all my ex-lover is like this.

I need to go into the darkroom tonight, pack up for the next six days. I'll be on the road. Poetry week and the California Arts Council. Bring Ken all those photos. Darkroom tonight.


4/16

The chemicals from the darkroom have hyped me up unbelievably. I couldn't sleep at first and and then I was the guide and sleepy. I always feel hung over after a long night in the darkroom. I don't know how much of it is being up late at night and the intense activity, or if it's the chemicals. It takes me least an hour to come down afterwards. I left the darkroom at 12:30 AM and it was 1:30 AM before I was calm enough to think about sleep. Funny photos of Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen. One of Robert Bly as an old hag. Very appropriate. His fans won't like it as it captures a side of him that the majority of the world does not see.

=========

4/27 (I took some of this out of Politicking Arts Day, NPW journal as it was not appropriate)

John called me many times when he got back from the desert. It was all he expected it would be, father and daughter, and Jan, the ex-wife, and I'm glad it was a good experience for him. It was hell for me. I came home Tuesday night from Arts Day feeling quite agitated. My gut said, come home!

I had convinced myself that it was truly over. While I was working it was okay, but when I had a chance to reflect upon it, the depression cloud descended. All his calls, his birthday, etc. I finally called him back on Wednesday evening, but I barely wanted to talk with him.

He was feeling positive albeit tentative, and I was feeling quite the opposite. We've been doing this dance for a while. Anyway, after two long marathon talks, even when I said: if you don't think it will work, let's end it now, we manage to agree to see each other on Saturday. I was still not convinced.

When he called Thursday morning sobbing crying, saying he was willing to give it his all, and not withhold from me, My immediate reaction was loving. Something I hadn't felt in weeks. He came up on Saturday afternoon and we were tentative and shy. A bit awkward like young colts in the field.

And when I'm evasive, I get sleepy. Also, I was hung over from my neighbor George's birthday party. So, I wasn't in the best of shape physically.

We went to dinner at Chez Jano's. I couldn't eat, was I still hung over? But we didn't make a birthday fuss, and I did feel better. When we were lying on the bed reading, I didn't want his weight on me, his arm in the middle of my back, etc. The hugging was fine. The other was the other had something more to do with shared space. I'm much less giving this time around.

Being held by him is wonderful but the lovemaking become somewhat sterile or was it because of the great distance we have traveled away from each other? It was better in the morning. I keep thinking how he withholds sexually, or is it because he's never been properly taught?

Snyder, Whelan, Waldman at National Poetry Week


It's come to this: after an emotionally draining day, I leave John's house to photograph poets at National Poetry Week in Fort Mason. Gary Snyder is good, Will is smutty. I cringe when he reads his raven love poem. Phew, I'm off the hook. Another lover recorded in blank verse. Not me.

Will introduces me to Philip who smiles at me knowingly as I chew Will out for smoking a cigarette. Gary Snyder doesn't remember me. Again. But Phil does. And hugs me. I'm assuming Gary's just being cold. Later, he puts it all together, and says, You're Maureen Hurley who took that photo? I said, I feel stupid reintroducing myself every two years. He said, I didn't recognize you. Grief does that to you.


I recounted, Yeah last time I saw you, you cut off all your hair, and mine was long. Now yours is longer than mine was, and I've cut off all mine. Remember sitting zazen at the zendo? Gary gives my hand a warm squeeze, and says, Yes. And we talk about the nesting habits of peregrine falcons in cities and the plumpness of pigeons.

I hand Gary our chapbook, Falling to Sea Level (John Oliver Simon). David Bromige testily commented, with a bit of an edge: Yeah, I heard you two had connected up. Awkward pause. Makes me sound like a hitching post. Or a fishing rod. He didn't think I was capable of pulling one in, and landing him too? He's always ready with his subtle English digs. Doesn't want me to swim in the big poets' pond?

I was so distracted this morning, I nearly hit a parked car leaving John's house. It was difficult to arouse myself. Sleep, sweet oblivion. How desperate he was, saying, Please please please. We fought in whispers as the girls are in his daughter's room. Quarrels over relationships, and his daughter. How desperate we've both become. We cry, kiss, and cry again. Lunch sticks in my throat. I'm determined to fight it out. His daughter stays central to our conversation. It's all Oedipus and divided loyalties. We both bleed the same time each month. Tonight the full moon pulls it out of me, a few days early.

Ann Waldman knocks me over when she reads a poem called Cracks in the World. I am reeling, stunned after her reading. Imagine Snyder and Whalen and Waldman on one bill! I am already tortured. I feel shaky, in need of a friend. And I seek out my friend Will, who is busy sniffing out poontang, and he slinks off like a coyote in low profile. Duane BigEagle, too is less warm. Why do I expect lasting faithful devotion, or friendship from ex-lovers?

The other photographer at National Poetry Week turns his brown spaniel eyes on me. I want to tell him, I'm not the one. And he is smitten in less than 24 hours. Whereas I'm facing borderline mania. The bubble of grief boils over as Ann Waldman reads. I am in tears at the end of her reading. The other photographer tries to offer solace.

Herman Berlandt gives me a copy of his anthology. It's come to this: I count how many ex-lovers are included in the poetry books before I read them. It reads like a shopping list of ex-lovers. I scrutinize dates, and compare notes. I look for some grain of myself in all that male ego. Of course, John's poem is about Here, a woman, and there, a woman. What was I expecting? That his womanizing past would change?

How we remain faithful to each other is by not using a third-party option as a way out. It's not just fear of AIDS, he says, monogamy is a new leaf for me. I guess I should be honored for reforming John. He is the Bill James Encyclopedia of broken hearts. Ever the statistician, John adds up the various scores. An almost wife, I rank in at #16 in the Here a woman, there a woman, category. A dubious distinction, at best.

Thursday, April 9, 1987

WARLORD: after Kurosawa's RAN

WARLORD
            —after Kurosawa's RAN

Praise to the external Western Paradise.
Time to come alone,
time to come to the garden, in exile,
to go back and apologize.
To withdraw within and to wail outside.
Enough is enough, he said.
Only the birds and the beasts
live in solitude.

Lift an umbrella over the stupa.
Now I understand it was a trap.
We really are in hell.

The sun grows redder with each visit.
A warrior holds up his severed arm and laughs.
At the ridge, a rain of arrows.
The carnivorous ground irrigated with blood
is a silent harvest meat and bone.

He who wears the sun on his back
dies but once a day.
When the father can find no other way
to surrender his castle, he dies.

The yellow and red armies part like a sea before him.
He who can no longer turn back
is no longer a son; no longer a father.

The inland sea of grasses offers
a kinder harvest to the deposed king.
The jester says, In a mad world
only the mad are sane.

Not one day do I forget, not one night do I sleep.
The past comes back in twos and threes
to haunt us—like the melody of a flute, token gifts.

When the widow walks, the noise
of her garments is like the hunger of young birds.

The deposed king wears a helmet of grass and lilies
for plumes, a white fox with nine tails.
The bird who hatched to serpent's egg, died.
We are in the hell, when we've cried enough, we die.

The Azuza Plain is littered with the dead.
The mad old man in the garden thought he was king,
and he asks the trees, why am I here?
The ghosts come back to haunt him are alive.
The jester was found crying on the Azuza Plain.
The gathering dead caught the mad king
and the midst of all the carnage, he asks if he is in paradise.

He had three sons who died on the Azuza Plain.
He had no words to excuse himself,
or to forget the bad dream. He asks, is this justice?

Do not call back his spirit. He has suffered enough.
Are there no gods? Buddha?
They see us killing each other over and over again
and cannot help us to stop this carnage.
The clothing of the dead are flowers in the grass.

The blind prince on the castle ramparts
was the only witness to the setting sun.

 4/9/1987
added 9/17

Saturday, April 4, 1987

While Reading Essays by Robert Hass

Dear Ones: This old post from 1987 languished for years, literally unread—and suddenly I have an audience, I don't know why, but thank you for stopping by. A little Blogger stats sleuthing uncovered Ron Siliman's blog as a redirect. I am thrilled that Ron mentioned it. Over the moon. But puzzled as there is no mention or link anywhere on his most excellent blog. Or why this particular blog piece—as it's merely an old journal entry, not literary criticism. Ah. the vagaries of the internet. Dear Reader, thanyou for stopping by. Feel free to drop me a note via comments. I won't publish them if you don't want them published. I'm dyin' to know how you arrived here in this remote corner of cyberspace—Maureen Hurley 4/29/12

One April Fool's Day, circa 1985, I was reading a book of new essays, "Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry," by Robert Hass (Ecco Press—a well-respected independent New York press, now an imprint of HarperCollins), but his riverine metaphors contained so many geographic errors, I completely forgot what the poetic point of the essays was. What kind of joke was this?

No typo, the 140-mile-long Truckee River was suddenly emptying out at the headwaters of Lake Tahoe and switching directions mid-stream by running down along I-80 into the Pacific Ocean instead of dying in the alkali sump of Nevada's Pyramid Lake—remnant of prehistoric Lake Lahontan? And my natal West Marin watershed, Lagunitas Creek, was apparently running uphill into the Nicasio Valley instead of by Camp Taylor to Tomales Bay.

At least my grandfather's summer neighbor, Kenneth Rexroth, who had a cabin near China House in Lagunitas, knew which way the creek ran:


   Under the second moon the Salmon come,   up Tomales Bay, by Papermill Creek,   up the narrow gorges to their spawning beds in Devil’s Gulch.
I was far too shy to to say anything to Bob at the time, but poet Sharon Doubiago said, You must write what you know to be true—even if it's hard, or rubs against the grain. It is the poet's job to get the facts right. Besides, it was the fragile beauty of the West Marin landscape that led me to the art of poetry.

So, afraid of the commitment to prose, I scribbled a few dyslexic notes I didn't know what to do with, typed it up, transferred it to my old Apple IIc, and forgot about it— until now, some 20 years later, when prose no longer frightens me off with its insistent tyranny of syntax and logic, and an injured knee is keeping me flattened and couchbound.

A friend gave me a pile of old software with a translator tool that allowed me to (sort of) access the archived floppy disks that imprisoned most of my early work by way of obsolescence, which made my enforced immobility more bearable.

Though I had many opportunities over the years to mention the error to Bob, I never did summon up the courage to tell him that both watersheds would have to defy gravity and run uphill—the Truckee River whould have to reroute itself and climb out of the Tahoe Basin over Donner Pass (even the Donner Party ran into some trouble at the pass), and my own Lagunitas or Papermill Creek would be forced to leap its bed from one valley, and defy gravity to traverse the next valley to Tomales Bay.

Now, Bob Hass grew up in San Rafael, so he should have known where Lagunitas Creek emptied, but then he didn't spend any time in Lagunitas Creek. Not like me.

***

It was a bit ironic, if not poetic justice, that Bob was instrumental in the creation of the eco-poetic Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival. The last time I read at Watershed, we began with a medicine wheel and a drumming circle at Strawberry Creek at the bottom of the UC Berkeley campus.

Someone (was it my ex, John Oliver Simon?) read some Lew Welch poems, then traced the route of the undeground creek to Martin Luther King Jr. Park in front of City Hall. With a clear view down to the bay, at least Bob couldn't get the creek direction wrong here.

We straddled the millennium with poetry readings, we daylighted Strawberry Creek. Kush of Cloudhouse, who was filming the event, dropped a mike down the manhole cover in the midde of the plaza and the miked creek was allowed to speak in silverine during the readings. Our students read their River of Words poems to the music of the creek.

It was a glorious day—even if Bob got my name wrong and announced to the world that I was Maureen Heaney. Ironic, one of my grandmothers was a Heaney, a fact which once caused Seamus Himself and I to declare ourselves cousins after a tot or two of uisce beatha in an elevator.

Ironic also that Bob now lives near the mouth of Lagunitas Creek, a few miles from White House Bend in Inverness. I wonder if anyone ever told him, or if he ever corrected the error when the book was republished by HarperCollins?

***

But back to my story: the name of Papermill creek changes according to history and whim and usage. We locals called it all Lagunitas Creek. I know where Lagunitas, or Papermill Creek empties. At one time or another, I've ridden, swum, and fished most of the entire 20-mile length of the creek from what we called its headwaters in Woodacre. (The topo maps differ from our collective knowledge, calling it San Geronimo Creek, with Lagunitas headwaters arising on the north slopes of Mt. Tam. My uncles called that creek out of Alpine Dam the Cataracts and the Great Carson, not Lagunitas. Outsiders are changing our collective oral history with printed maps.)

Whatever you want to call it, Papermill Creek, or Arroyo de San Geronimo, traverses to Olema and Point Reyes, to its final destination, Tomales Bay. I've traversed most of it, except for one last stretch at Tocaloma, to the Gravel Pits, to Point Reyes—a missed opportunity—but the new landowners are possessed by the idea of boundaries and fence lines. Not like the old days when we were left to our own aimless wanderings. As I thought about all the creek names, my memory took the long road home.

***

In deep summer, we rode our horses bareback down the tree-lined length of Lagunitas Creek, swimming them through dark pools. One hot summer afternoon, I rode the entire length of the creek bed from Forest Knolls to Tocaloma on an elderly white Arabian gelding named Namún. It was well over 100° and he was at least 100 in horse years.

And though we were lazily plodding along, cool and deliciously wet beneath a canope of alders and redwoods, on the way home, my horse broke out in heat welts and began to wheeze and cough. I thought, omigod, he is going to die right there in the creekbed.

How was I going to explain to his owners why their favorite old horse died in the creek? I splashed Namún's body with water, but it didn't do any good. I had to leave the old man cooling off in a deep, sheltered pool near Jewell. I stroked his neck, he nuzzled me, as if seeking comfort, then despondently hung his head dangerously low into the water, and began to buckle his legs, as if to lay down.

I felt I had inadvertently broken some rule, but, other than distance, what was it? Arabs, renown for their stamina, can go on forever. Namún, don't lay down and drown on me! I pleaded. He seemed to understand. Straightened and locked his legs. Hung his head dangerously low to the water.

I scrambled up the silted embankment to the highway and ran through the hamlet of Jewel, screaming for help—and got someone to call to Namún's owner, horse trainer, Edie Lehman. Jewell had about three houses. Luckily someone was home.

Edie arrived in no time, pulling the big horse trailer with its green Rafter L Ranches logo. They lived down the road from me in the old Berini place on Arroyo Road. I was a stable hand and exerciser for her horses.

She showed me how to inject Namún with the antihistamines and when his breathing stabilized, we led him up the embankment and loaded him into the trailer. I never rode in the creekbed again.

***
Papermill Creek changes its name depending upon which part of the valley one lives in. In the San Geronimo Valley it's called Creamery Creek, the Dollar Creamery is long gone, but the place name survives as a Creamery Road.

In Lagunitas it assumes the moniker, Lagunitas. At Shafter's, the pools are all named. The creek becomes the Inkwell, and China House Bend. At Camp Taylor, where the rag papermill was founded, it becomes Papermill Creek, where it winds around the dark side of Mt. Barnabe, named after Sam Taylor's white mule.

Then there are the Gravel Pits, my family's favorite swimming hole. Right before the creek reaches Tomales Bay, it becomes White House Pool—where Teddy Roosevelt was fond of fishing for coho and silver salmon.

No wonder Bob Hass had a hard time with the direction of his rivers. We had a handful of conflicting names for the same creek.


I grew up on the other side of Mt. Barnabe, on a southern slope in full sunlight. Barnabe's mule bones have long since slipped back into the earth. We used to loiter by the pools of Lagunitas Creek, Carson Creek, Devil’s Gulch, and Arroyo Creek when the salmon were running, we waited for that flash, coinage of silver, vermilion and green heralded the fall.

Though the Devil's Gulch route was the most direct route over the mountain, and was one of my grandfather's favorite hikes, it was such a long, hot and desolate ride over the summit of Mt. Barnabe to Camp Taylor, we kids avoided it.

Following the flat railroad bed from Lagunitas, or the creekbed to Tocaloma was the easiest route.

There was also a more northerly route over Mt. Barnabe that avoided the summit. It took us along the hogback ridges through abandoned apple and bitter pear orchards down to the deserted settlement of Devil's Gulch. I felt so far from home, thankful for the warm reassurance of my horse under me.

It was in Devil's Gulch where my mother stumbled into a wasp's nest as a child and was nearly stung to death. My grandmother cooled the poor child off in the creek and covered her stings with fine clay mud to draw out the poison. My grandmother said it was always a longer walk home. But when something went wrong, the road home doubled in distance.

Sometimes I made a circle up over Mt. Barnabe and down its steep slopes to Camp Taylor and then return home up the railroad bed to Lagunitas and Arroyo Road. At one point or another, I've ridden most of what's left of the railroad beds from Woodacre to Tocaloma.

Early mornings, we'd race our horses along the flat stretches of railroad bed to the park gate. I always pulled out ahead at the quarter mile, but a two-mile course fatigued my quarter horse, and the nags would always pull ahead. Even Brenda Bullock's Icelandic pony, Helgar, or little Susie Mattsson's plug could beat my mare on the two-mile run.

Soon after that, my mare pulled up lame, but I was 15, and addicted to racing, I avoided the warning signals. Riding her bareback at breakneck speed was an unmatched thrill. She was pure verve and muscle, it was like riding a barrel down Class Two rapids.

One time when Becky Dart ran away with me at Kent Lake, I sawed on the bit until flecks of blood and foam decorated us, her tongue nearly cut in two by the metal snaffle bit. But still she ran, a Three Bars mare at heart.

It was spring, my sorrel mare was out to grass, but foxtails carpeted her wound. Every day I had to tweezer the stickers and oats out of the raw flesh, which I cauterized with silver nitrate. Daily I was reminded of what I'd done to this animal by racing her, she came from a long line of champion race horses, it was in her blood to run.

Granddaugher of the fabled Three Bars, my mare had the thoroughbred lineage of kings in her blood. She was one degree removed from The Preakness, the Kentucky Derby, Sarasota Springs. When my aunt's friend Chuck traced her pedigree, at first, he thought it was forged, but he said, If this proves to be true, you've got quite a valuable mare there, she could beget champions even if her knees were bad.

It was like finding a secret treasure in the woods, or a Vermeer hidden under an artless painting. There wasn't another horse in the valley who could match her at the quarter mile, and no one would race me unless it was a long track.

It was precisely on those kinds of afternoons when you knew spring had arrived. We'd ride and ride for miles on the open road. Time took us on a curious echoing quality. I can still recall the poignancy of late afternoon rides and the dappled roads under tall trees. Bleeding hearts, checker lilies and false Solomon's seal nodding their heads. Trilliums spreading their tripartite wings.

Riding horseback was as natural as walking or breathing. My best friend Stephanie Stone and I rode everywhere. We grew up and lost touch. I hadn't head from her in years. Her brother Eric said she had a horse in Arizona to ride and that helped to keep her sane through a loveless marriage. But that's when the drinking began. She kept it to herself. Held it in until the cancer ate her marrow.

At seventeen, after my mare tragically died of colic, from eating too much new spring grass in the Bianchi's pasture, I worked for the Lehman's training stable. I showed their horses at gymkhanas, I collected armloads of blue and red ribbons, but I didn't want to own another horse, losing her was devastating. She was big and beautiful, there was so more of her to love.

At nineteen, my other interests, my art—demanded that I move into the larger area of the world. I was at odds. Two worlds colliding. I had a chance to travel, a work-study job in Switzerland. I was sorry to leave, I almost didn't go to Europe, but Edie said, Don't be silly! It's a chance of a lifetime. Go! Have fun!

There were plenty of other girls, like Donna Lopez—who once unscrupulously kicked my horse right when I was in front of the judge, costing me the blue ribbon—girls like her were only too happy to step into my coveted job. And so she did.

I felt a crippling loss, separated from the horses like that. There was nothing much left of my childhood landscape. And so I sometimes dream of horses, and wake up with an inconsolable sense of longing. Everyone else moved into bucolic Marin. They came from LA, and from back east, they bought up the valley, they quickclaimed it and put up plywood palaces, they put up electric fences, they dammed the creeks and gated the roads.

They brought their urban nightmares with them. Runaway horses on the precipice.

When the invaders came, we lost more than our right of way. We lost our way.

The wild creature within me has slowly become urbanized with time. But I still dream of following the horses on endless fire roads running along the horizon.

Twenty years later, laid up with a bad knee, I am remembering it all as if it were yesterday. No point, no point of view. Merely Bob Hass's rivers running uphill against memory and time.

© rev. 2007; April 1, 1987, Maureen Hurley