Tuesday, June 30, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 30

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Day 7

6/30, Tuesday. 9 to 9:45 AM. I work with Annabel's group, the kids are a little restless. So we use word cards. Terrel really can't read, and Lee is so hyper, he has to stand. Lee writes a great poem, asks for more and more word cards. He is voracious. I tell Terrel to fake it, it's OK, he can invent what words he wants to use. It turns out that he can read more words than he gives himself credit for.

1030 to 11:30 AM Linda Wargo's class. I go to Linda's art room, the class is much better, we accomplish more stuff, I like this group. I give them a sample of of last week's poem, a group poem, with the starter line: I remember the sanatorium walls, and we write ekphrastic photo poems based on photo-poems by fellow CPITS poet, Juan Felipe Herrera. 

I hand the students photos, they eagerly write. Dan says, oh I get it. You put your feelings down on paper. Yes! Yvonne is quite taken by Juan Felipe's work, she wants me to xerox several of his poems. Some students admit they used to write poetry. I tell them to write me poems during the week. 

As a warm-up poem I handed them each a mask. We had the masks talk to each other. Of course, we got a Satan poem, it was interesting because Satan is forbidden here, but I tell therm there's no censoring here. If we use it for publication, we can change the title. As it turns out, they were testing me. 

I wrote down what they said during in class discussion, and I asked each of them to give the mask authority to say one truth about the world, it was a pretty good poem.

I asked them how old they were, it was a bit of a shock to realize these kids were born in 1970, the year I graduated from high school. Most of them were born in California. So we have that in common.


Kids behind sanatorium walls 
lined up for a light 
during cigarette break. 
There is a whole culture 
around cigarettes here. 
I begin to understand 
what my mother said 
when she said I'm going mad. 
The only thing she could relate to 
was a cigarette. 
No one's allowed 
to have their own matches here. 
A human train of smoke and fire 
weaves out of the room.


These kids were born the year 
I graduated from high school, 1970.
Are they part of the love child crop? I feel old.
There's a 17-year gulf between us.
These kids don't know about Kennedy or Vietnam. 
Some of the girls I went to high school with 
have children old enough to leave home 
or to come here to this sanitarium.
These kids, how long have they been here?
They left home earlier than most, 
but will they ever leave this place behind? 
Their speeches punctuated with phrases like 
When I get out... When I leave... a
Some actually do leave for a while. 
Their successful matriculation from this place 
is measured in months. 
Sometimes even in years, 
if they're lucky enough.

Afternoon session with John G, we made math poems. Kathy K, Chuck, Mark and Barry joined us. Full house.

Finally I am at a place where I too can write it is been frustrating not to be able to write while teaching. This residency is so intensive, I can barely think, let alone, drive home—1.5 hours each way. My personal best, so far, is 1 hour and 20 minutes. Sometimes I stop off at Calistoga for a soak. Leaving here, the Silverado Trail is my personal motherlode. I'm fixated on RLS's mule.

Five minute freewrite: I introduce the concept of five-minute freewrite to them I tell them to write faster than they can think. To demonstrate I showed them. I too, write. 

Limpear, this blimp of earth and the sunshine falling beneath the sky. Oh heavens Spears! Milton's lost again and we can't find the key. I say, llave, in Spanish. The car stalled and she's wearing florescent green spangles on her cheeks. Someone tells me that the angels are loose in the library again. Again. And she's gone and left me again. I could walk out, have a tantrum, scream do what they do. Instead, I am writing as fast as I can. All this music drips off the ceiling, half notes looking for completion in the ear, and my wrist wants reprieve. 

And the Arabs invented the idea of zero out of one. They tied it into knots because the desert has so little water. I'm looking for an oasis in the stars. A black hole is like an ice skater who, spinning with legs and arms akimbo, suddenly tucks close to her body, and increases the drag and spin until light can no longer escape.

This is probably from word cards.

He who makes a revolution 
in South America is sowing the sea.

When it snows in La Paz, 
the government will fall – 
Bolivian tin miners.


Bolívar paying his hotel bills 
with bricks of dollars in a handbag, 
paper money by the pound.

Se me cayó, what I've lost
The multicolored balloons 
along the Reforma 
marionettes dancing 
mimicking the tourists.

Tuesday afternoon recap. Open afternoon as Patricia, the librarian, is not here today. I expected a lot of free time. Suddenly I was jammed with people wanting to see me.

John end Dennis, both new to the workshop, wrote a math poem. Kathy K recited two of her poems, and begin a new one. Chuck took out his locker poem and revised it. It wasn't done with him. They carry their poems everywhere with them. A kind of hall pass. Validation in this hellhole.

Mark talked about having writer's block. He and Barry, another new client, did five-minute freewrites together. We talked about our problems, etc., mined conversation for poetry. They convey a message to me that the T-12 gang all say hello—including Karl, end the oboist with the badly burned hands. 

I'm finally making leeway here and it's nearly time to go. I am building favor, or maybe it's street cred. Hard earned.

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