Thursday, December 28, 1989

Press Democrat shoutout Some of the most interesting writers...

Apparently I got a Press Democrat shoutout, and never even knew it. “Some of the most interesting writers in the Press Democrat aren’t in the newspaper business.” The double truck spread ran from Dec. 28, 1989, to Jan 4, 1990

Wednesday, December 27, 1989

USSR journal: Frankfurt to Moscow, after the solstice

12/28? Gray sky follows us halfway around the world, a light snow falls in Frankfurt. Women are dressed in furs, the real stuff. At the Moscow airport we circle, see the sunset again and again and again. Two animated things frantically move like oil derricks, or wiggling dogs in red and white. Sudden realization of manic radars scanning the airwaves.

A light burns a field of snow. White trunks of birches at twilight, like ghosts. What was it that haunted me so as a child? Why was I so filled with such fear by the ghostly apparitions of tree trunks, otherworldly glowing wood phosphor?

I land in the heart of the beast again, I’m in Russia, twice in a lifetime. I expected nothing. Do I go on to meet a lover, or is that too, something in the past? Everything is gray as the Berlin Wall.

A woman from Poland talks to me about being a stranger in her own native land after a year in America. She has mixed feelings about returning to the land of bears—as do I. The runways shine like glass, shifting snow, directional wins. It’s five below zero, the captain says. Am I really inside the heart of the beast again?

Reading a spy book about Moscow, I arrive properly steeped in myth/truth, Pravda. I’m here on a business visa this time. Did I write that Sasha Karpenko went with us to the Soviet Embassy on Christmas morning? It was a poet who got us our visas— he helped to sway the Ukrainian with puppy dog eyes, he was 6 foot 6, whose last name Suchkov, Sasha translates as a bundle of twigs or switches.

I buy cigarettes to bribe taxis and I write in red ink. Everything here is called krashnaya this or that, which means red and beautiful. It means nothing if everything is red.

The rings of Moscow. Bull’s-eyes. Many American students arriving to Moscow. I want to know how come they’re all here now? John Masura is being enigmatic, he’s depressed perhaps. It’s more than a lack of sleep, there’s a wall between us. Perhaps we got too close.

When we enter into the Moscow airport we are shepherded into a long circular corridor lined with glass. Circular like the outer wings of Moscow. A babushka mutters a few words. We wait in line with documenti. The lines in Russia or as ubiquitous as birches in winter. I can’t help but think of Zhivago’s Peredelkino, a place where I’ve never been. This country that reveres its poets but muzzles them into silence. Tavarichi, the announcer says. The communist term, though officially not in use, is common.

The land of sable hats and defecting spies. The businessman behind me pulls out a flask of vodka from his coat and transfers into an inside pocket with practiced indifference—it is a movement most familiar to him. His posters are wrapped in newspaper from Beijing. Flying east after the solstice, the night is a hungry tiger that follows us down, and sunset follows us in rapid sequence. No white nights here. And I’ve had no sleep for 24 hours or more.

12/29  Small sparrows huddle on the Kremlin wall. Misha said, when I was four, I asked Breszhnev’s guard if he was a sparrow. My mother was paralyzed with fear. A sparrow is an informer. The banks of the Moscow River are made of the bones of the worker, he says. Now, Sakharov is considered a God. You have to die first, then you’ll be famous at 95.

We passed a dead pigeon in the snow on Arabat Street. Marina Tsarina’s sister sits on a bench reading poetry. Pigeons gather at her feet. Near Gorky Street, a woman is carrying a mesh bag of potatoes—survival food. When you have friends, you have everything. We have what is called the Bears gift. Sometimes we call it wooden rubles. For example, we supply Cuba with snow removal equipment. And we send cars with heaters to the desert. Vessels without refrigeration to Saudi Arabia.

Misha introduces us to a philosopher friend from Azerbaijan. He lives in a writers’ cooperative. He says everything is free of charge here, but you have to pay for it. Red carnations under glass by the street corner heated by votive lights to keep from freezing. Socialist altars. We’re watching Soviet  TV, counting the Rumanian dead. Real candles lit on the tree. The last three months of the decade, the most fantastic. We are sentenced to understand each other, he says. Nosdrovia, and drinks another shot of vodka.

Wednesday, November 29, 1989

Press Democrat, Gaye LeBaron, USSR, Sasha Karpenko, Maureen Hurley

I never even knew that I made a dubious honorable mention in Gaye LeBaron’s Notebook, a Press Democrat column on my dealings in the USSR, an event with Sasha Karpenko at The Sweet Life Cafe.

Thursday, November 23, 1989

Getting a Christmas Tree in Sonoma County, long version, no tear sheet


One Christmas we had two trees. At the tender age of five, I was scandalized when my grandmother brought home a madrone tree instead of the usual Christmas tree.

Already on shaky ground with the concept of Santa Claus not fitting down the stovepipe, I was convinced it was an unwritten sin NOT to have an evergreen tree.

I wasn't prepared to let go of the Christmas Tree symbol, so I trudged up the hill and dragged home a spindly Douglas fir that was more seedling than tree.

The two trees stood side by side, my tree too weak to hold ornaments or lights, and the red skinned bare-branched madrone aglow with silver glass balls and birds.

I begrudgingly admit her tree was beautiful but it just didn't feel right--like a dog eating cat food.

If you're wondering why the tradition of Christmas trees arose, it's a remnant of a pre-Christian symbol, like Easter eggs and Hallowe'en.

In the Nordic countries of Europe, when a house was built, a pine tree was tied to the eaves or chimney to ensure good luck. In the Ukraine and many parts of Russia, the fir tree, covered in red bows, was used for wedding processions and festivities.

During the mid-winter holidays, pine and fir boughs were spread on the floors and other evergreen plants wreathed around each window-—perhaps to remind the sun that even in the midst of darkness, life flourished—though the rest of the ground be barren.

My Victorian grandmother said Christmas trees didn't exist in Ireland and England until recently, but evergreens were traditionally brought into the house--especially the holly, the ivy and the mistletoe.

The ballad, "A Wassail Song" claims the wassail cup is made of the rosemary tree.

"Here we go a wassailing among the leaves so green."

Wassail, in Old Scandinavian means to "be well."

And of course, there's the Yule Log, usually a pine log decorated with evergreens and berries that Good King Wenceslaus warmed his feet by.

The Oxford English Dictionary claims a recent adoption of the custom of the Christmas tree during the early reign of Queen Victoria. The Christmas custom of the small fir tree decorated with candles, ribbons and presents probably originated in Germany.

I found an early reference in 1789, from a Mrs. Papendick's journal, "Mr. Papendick proposed an illuminated tree according to the German fashion."

According to Hazlett Brand's "Popular Antiquities" published in 1870:

"[T]he Christmas tree...came to us from Germany directly...and is still (1869) a flourishing institution among us."

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaun
Wie treu sind diente Blatter!
Not only green in Summer's heat
But also winter's snow and sleet,
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree
With faithful leaves unchanging
...hope and love and faithfulness
Are precious things I can possess.
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree,
Your leaves will teach me also.

And Christmas trees are still a flourishing institution among us.

Sunday, November 19, 1989

Press Democrat, Poets with the Write Stuff, David Bromidge, Elizabeth Herron, Maureen Hurley,

David Eisner on Mapplethorpe NEA and censorship

Yesterday, at the California Confederation of the Arts conference in San Jose, I was taking photos of David Eisner on the NEA panel on censorship and controversy, and he was so insidiously sweet—almost primping for the camera. I wanted an engaged photo and when he refused to answer a question—how much does the government spend on art versus the military budget—like a good politician, he prevaricated. So I yelled at him to answer the question—and then I took his photo. He and I had a stare-off. I got the enemy to drop his cute little mask just for a second. Unveiled, he glared at me with pure venom when I flashed the photo.

Eisner was steadfastly ignoring me as many people do, assuming the photographer is a non-entity, or a non-person. Brainless. He looked at me is if I were violating some unwritten code of conduct. Maybe I was. Ken Larsen said a good photographer will engage his or her quarry anyway he or she can. He wasn’t concerned, and noted that Eisner wouldn’t address any of my questions. Eleanor, from Artists in Corrections said, oh, you were editorializing a bit there. But she and I have jumped into many of fracas when no one else would, so it was more of a pat on the back than a reprimand.

When they opened up the panel for questions from the audience, there was a stampede to the open mic. Many angry artists and arts administrators vented. Portent of things to come. All this because of the Mappletorpe controversy.

When Eisner got graphic, describing the photos in detail, someone yelled, You really like those photos don’t you? Homoerotic phobia. Jackie Baas of the U. C. Art Gallery, said, you have to see the work in perspective, 150 photos, it’s a retrospective. These so-called offensive photos amount to less than 10% of the exhibit.

Eisner’s hard line was that there should be no NEA funding at all for art. He said, let artist just do what they want (no censorship) on their own dime. Does the public taxpayer have the right to dictate what is art? What qualifies John Q. Public, or Jesse Helms, for that matter, to dictate what is art? We are about to lose what few rights we have when these insidious bills get passed. 

Over and over, the CCA panelists Pat Daverra and Chuck Mark said, don’t let them put language into your mouth. They’ve won the battle. It goes back to definition. The outcome depends upon some concerted fighting from the arts communities.

I brought 30 copies of my article on the Rohnert Park gallery censorship of a photo of a young naked child in a meadow—a photo taken by her mother—which quickly disappeared. It was too bad that I didn’t have copies to give to the panelists, Pat Daverra and Chuck Mark, and Charles Christopher did receive copies. When censorship begins, it knows no limits, and erodes our freedoms. If this takes a hold, where will it stop?

Keynote speaker, Isabella Allende said, the moral majority has burned books just as the Nazis did in Germany. Books don’t burn easily. It takes them a very long time to die.


Saturday, November 18, 1989

Monday, November 13, 1989

Journal entry, John Oliver Simon review of what became Lord of the House of Dawn

Reading, skimming John’s poems, I came away with a sensation that he is/was incapable of truly loving anyone but himself. It was obvious to me that I have tried to make a silk purse from a sow’s testicle, and since sows don’t technically have any, you can see the dilemma it caused.

Two end poems seem to be a half-hearted attempt at revenge, or perhaps in answer to my manuscript. Hard to say which – the very last poem, it’s definitely a stab at me, but what did I expect,? So few poems about me, per se—is telling. Guilt. An obvious S&M section for KT, his former student, oh, how cute. I only hope no one will mistaken me for her.

And all those poems to the other women—it could be me. It could be someone he has not yet met. He’s able to get graphic, his poems to her, so full of S&M, and I am not turned on at all by them. I find it in incomprehensible that one human being would willingly torture another soul in the name of love, or lust. I feel like I need a shower, and to put out a disclaimer, I am not Katie! I am not the woman between the lines. He is so full of himself, there is a little room for love. 

I can see the difference between men’s writing and women’s writing. He makes pretty connections and observations—maybe a line here and there, but he doesn’t stay with the metaphor behind the poem for any length of time. He’s too busy being intellectual and smarty-assed. The feelings are very shallow. He gushes, but has trouble emoting. The emptiness within him, filled with seductive images and clever ideas. 

I come away feeling like he never got it. About depth, or who I was. All that registered was anger, fear, and revenge. What is missing is the tenderness, the love – except maybe for the one about Romeo and Juliet. But even that is tinged with the Big No on the lack of commitment. 

Why oh why didn’t I see that the clay was no longer malleable? That he was so empty, after all? Friends tried to tell me but I wouldn’t listen. This incredible hindsight does a little good now. The a-ha! I’ve learned a lesson of emptiness in a full bowl Thank you Michael Daley. 

And I am experiencing anger anew, seeing the final insomnia poem, he was planning to leave me in August and I was the last to know. I had to find out through the grapevine. It was a set up, his glib cowardice, his feet his fear of facing himself – all along he was posturing and that’s the violation, the treachery. He was using me to hide from himself. I was a pawn, a victim and he doesn’t like my anger—because it’s too honest. 

I’m surprised there really aren’t any poems about our breaking up, at least not a poem where the relationship is central to the poem. All is periphery, a glistening sleight of hand. It’s another layer, a maya veil tossed into the poem. Of course he may have others and they were no good, but he is so self-indulgent, he would’ve put them in, so it’s safe to surmise that there are no new surprises, no poems to me, because he never wrote them.

My poems about him are definitely much more blunt and angry. I don’t think I’ll have much more to say about him in the future, that anger is well spent, and I don’t want to re-introduce new dialogue. Let him publish his vainglorious poems, and my name will fall into obscurity in his circles, until it stands alone, no association with Tragasol, or is it Tragaluz?

Maybe, in this light, it is better to let Falling to Sea Level fall and drown—no matter how good the poems are. No need to resurrect the dead. How different we are as poets, what different voices. I will not glean his poetry for ideas and lines, the way he did mine, to throw back lines at him, like undersized fish, nor will I reclaim my stolen images. Let him keep them all. 

Once I was flattered he stole my spontaneous images and recorded them in his journals. He has made them his, and he sinks beneath the weight of theft. Vain man. He assumed my poems were to him rather than others, as if there were no other man in my life.

Now I see him how the women who came before before me saw him. The before and after photo—not a pretty sight. Beware of the waiting room! Any last regrets must be put aside now, because, on some level, he will always be waiting for me—and not necessarily as a lover. There is an unbreakable bond between us. Like that final executioner, not content with my life, he wanted my death, not content with my death, he tried to resurrect me, but I am stubborn, even in death. Transformation.

He keeps talking of what a good friend Barbie is, whoever she is—probably one of Katie‘s friends. Or should I say KT, daughter of cannibals. He wrote poems to her the way I wanted him to write poems to me. Particulars, not generic ideas. Ugh I’m still disturbed by the sex slave stuff all that leather and blood. Where is the loving in all of this?

Some  of the poems in the MS became the basis for Lord of the House of Dawn (Bombshelter Press, 1991).


Sunday, November 12, 1989

Journal entry, surprise visit from JOS

A half-hour visit from an ex-lover. I’m strangely calm, unemotive, which means I’m still not OK about it, but it least that part is over with. The meet-n-greet. I have finally seen him face to face after all this time, and I am relieved that I feel nothing for him. Nothing at all. My heart hurts, not because I have feelings for him, but because there is so much water under the bridge, and we can never go back to who we were.

At the end, he said, I’d better leave before I get maudlin. And, outside, he made a move as if to hug me, and I backed off, saying no. That was a trespass. In that split second, I realized he was prevaricating. But I was resolute. We stuck to safe subjects. When he asked if he could show me his paintings, I said no. I am protecting myself as best I can. His stiffness makes me stiff too. Wooden figurines.

He brought me a gift from Mexico, a ceramic burnished black-ware box. I made no effort to give him anything at all from the USSR, because it didn’t seem right. Still, I am unwilling to share anything of myself with him. I thought he looked awful, today’s stubble, and no mustache. I decided I don’t like how he looks without a mustache, there’s an ugliness and callousness around his mouth that the mustache hid. Telling. Though, with a headache, and desperately needing sleep, I wasn’t in the finest shape either.

I hid my truck, parking it at Laurie’s, down the street. I don’t want him to know what I am driving. I got rid of my Bug because I want to have some anonymity when I drive in Berkeley in case I need to sneak up on him, to drop something off. We talked about his car briefly. I made little attempt to be vivacious or friendly. I wasn’t unfriendly, I was a non-person, unwilling to unveil my inner self to him. The doors are closed. He has no right to my inner self. I will always be guarded around him.

He said Mike Tuggle and Susan Kennedy had hoped that I would be friends again with them in the future. I said it would be hard to do that. So much has happened. So, the unsaid betrayal is out in the open. They know that I’m angry with them because they bumped me for the Cazadero reading. I never asked them to take sides, but their meddling, even though it was meant as kindness, is what I have trouble forgiving. 

It must have been bizarre for John to come up to Sonoma and not come to my cabin. Or maybe not, he’s had lots of practice going back to where all his ex-girlfriends’ haunts.

He said he has been running around with the younger generation and was dearly sick of it—not having anyone to sharpen his intellect with. We were good together. Intellectual sparring partners. He talked also about being stuck, and about having to grow. I said, when you finish with one problem, another one always crops up and if you don’t pass the test the first time, you are condemned to repeat it again until you’re ready to go onto the next phase. I was speaking generally, and he was all l/me, responding personally.

We are on such different wavelengths now. He is still so self-absorbed with his problems. New labels and concepts, but has he changed? He always was good at saying with his problems were. Once I believe that by stating one’s problems meant that they were on the way to being resolved, not true. So I am a wary beast while he is a clumsy mammal. 

I didn’t ask him about reprinting Falling to Sea Level. I think he was surprised that I gave a copy of it to Isabel Allende, and to Steve Wozniak, when I told him about Etel Adnan wanting a copy for her radio show, his face showed genuine surprise. On the other hand, I was refusing to make eye contact, so it was hard making the connection.

I’m very sleepy. Not at my best. I also feel a sense of relief. Now, that’s over. I can get on with my life. I was actually feeling much friendlier than I let on, part of my coolness had to do with a profound lack of sleep.

Also, the hermetic sealing off of pain leads to abscesses later. I hope I haven’t done this, and if so, perhaps my wounds will reopen and I will heal again from the inside. I was very aware of how alone each of us truly is. Not even love itself could save us. 

He wants me to read his poetry manuscript, and a translation manuscript. Why? Why does this even matter to him? I am not willing to be his Frida to my Diego. I say, I can read them, or not, in the end, it’s ultimately my choice. He said the translations are fairly safe, but warned me that his poems may bring up some sore points. I’m tempted to read them now and get it over with, and to also ignore them. Always the one to jump into a fracas, I know which I will choose. It’s only fair.

One Sunday he finds my poems on his doorstep, the next, I have two of his manuscripts on my doorstep. Tradeoff. No incantations of love. Climbing the mountains wasn’t enough after all. This opiate, this brain residue, the dregs at the bottom of the barrel. No joy. Only a garden of silence. All my sadness. 

And now, he’s gone safely south. I don’t have to worry. I’ve done it. Seeing him. I looked into the face of fear and emotional abuse, and found it was easy to not let it in, easy to turn my back on it and him, easy to let him go, because he can no longer get to me. I’m no longer his victim, nor am I my own.

Nov 12, or 13? 1989

Saturday, November 11, 1989


           —F. Stop Fitzgerald

In a Bedouin's darkened tent, a pinhole
projected images of camels upside down
on the far wall.
It was first recorded
on a Paris boulevard in the fall of 1838,
a man stopped for a shoeshine,
the horses moved faster
than the speed of silver on sunlight.

Here in America, manifest destiny
focused in on silent, grim poses.
Metaphysical stealer of souls—
all we have left of entire nations
is recorded on gelatin plates.

Obscure rooms, the heart of darkness,
the mecurial greening of plants—
art and science wrestle under bedcovers
with the names of war—
the battle of Gettysburg,
the Japanese womam bathing her hibakusha daughter,
the running Vietnamese girl, napalm on her arms—
these images burn into the cornea.

You prefer to do it in the dark,
then wait to see what develops
but this is not a negative image—
every lining has its silver cloud.

A king in the attic of Banquo's ghost
never milled redwood on the Slavianka.
Jose Revere herded cattle not far south of here.
Did he recall his grandfather's famous cry?
Silver solution put into babies eyes
at birth keeps them from going blind.

date? 11/11/1989 
rev. 7/15/94 (last saved version)
see  EQUIVALENTS  11/11/1989, expanded version



In a Bedouin's dark tent, a pinhole
projected images of camels
an upside down mirage on the far wall.
This phenonemon was observed under certain conditions
and blue stones were cast to protect them from evil.
No one wanted to talk about what wasn't there.
Who could believe children and horses
were running across the sky,
no one could keep the world righted.

"Man is made in the image of God
and no man-made machine
can fix the image of God,"
shouted an enraged man
when artists built small dark rooms,
the camera obscura
to gain a better world perspective.
They copper-coated plates with silver
and let them tarnish in sunlight
but the image only lasted hours
before it returned to night.

The painter Daguerre named after war,
finding no solution to fix these images
depressed, left the plates overnight
in his studio and mecurially
they remained in the morning.
The first photograph of a human being
was in the fall of 1838, a man stopped
long enough to get his shoes shined,
early morning, long shadows,
buildings toothing the sky.
Horses in the Paris boulevard
too fast for light to capture them.
Photos of asylums, a child's death in white
the mourner in black with a bowed head.
Lola Montez. Andrew Jackson—
Thousands posed for a piece
of God's likeness in silver.

Matthew Brady packed glass plates
across the southwest recording the Civil War.
Confederate camels in the distance,
not Bedouin tents, but hospitals.
He followed the contract undertakers
to record the spoils of war.
After the Battle of Gettysburg
he arranged bodies for more impact
as if death was not enough for the final act.
A gangly Abe Lincoln with General Hooker
posed in front of the white tent
while Hooker's women tended to their needs.

The camera forged west. Timothy Sullivan
& William Henry Jackson glimpsed hell on earth
in the sulphurous geysers and fumaroles
of Yellowstone. Who would have believed him?
After traveling across the U.S.
photographing nature's private moments
one of his mules tripped and fell
ruining months of work but that didn't stop
the expansion westward.

Edward Muybridge resolved for once and for all
the argument of galloping horses—
did their feet really leave the ground?
His studies of motion showed horses with hooves
tucked under but he murdered his wife's lover.
Art and science wrestle under bedcovers.

A Baptist minister discovers the color spectrum.
The world no longer appears in black and white.
"When the time is right I will let you know"
but takes his secret to the grave.
Everybody is looking for an audience.
He sends long rambling episodes of his life
when others asked how to take the world in color.

we carry them around the globe stealing souls.
This the Indians knew
but Edward Curtis was persistent.
Perhaps they were right,
perhaps disease and war
is caused by the stealing of souls
slowly over time, eroding the self.
Silver solution is put into babies eyes
at birth to keep them from going blind.
All we have left of entire nations
is recorded on film.




Below the mission outpost of civilization,
three cultures clash with time:
tarpon roll in the Múlege River,
holding midnight's secret under their skins.
Desert palms clatter, venetian blinds in a storm.
Copper women walk barefoot & wash laundry by hand.
We live in a hostal with feeble electricity,
by the prison walls, satellite disks track quasars.
You are my companera of the mythical journey,
my lover whispers, buying me with turquoise.
We don't look too far beyond condemned flesh
and eat only what is offered—sea turtle steak
under the bouganvilla arbor of El Candil—
rationalizing: the turtle's already dead anyway.
A tide of carmine blossoms eddies at our feet.
Even from the beginning, we were planning
the extinction of love, silent tapers in the church;
the turtle's plight beyond salvation.

11/11/89, Mulegé, Baja

Sunday, November 5, 1989



How many men have sworn undying love
under the last full moon of summer,
bartering for it like blankets in native markets
of the Andes, Oaxaca, orTikal? In Iqiutos,
where the Spaniards sailed upriver looking for El Dorado,
and dolphins are thought to be half-human,
men still rub dolphin oil on their pricks,
calling them bufeos, then fuck them for good luck.
The canoejueras, plying their profession from bank to bank,
who harvest gold with their porpoise mouths,
suck and lick the river with such skill, it is said
they can make even the dead come in the rocking boats.
A woman walked along the banks of the Amazon—
where truth becomes a seductive blur—
miscarried a small dolphin,
and they burned the poor creature
who flew up into blue smoke.

I believe in anniversaries.
If you want to talk, go back to that night
when the stars wavered under a moon so full,
there weren't enough arms to hold it,
and undo those promises made on the road to Oaxaca—
because something in my reptilian brain
still waits for you under the marriage blanket.
But an unseasonable seed sprouted
in my garden, and so, you wanted my death
in the Temple of the Jaguar at dawn.
I should have known darkness devoured each shadow
our feet planted and we never escaped the jungle.

The cats are fighting tooth and claw again.
At least each knows the other, and in this knowing,
the separate sheets of memory are shrouds
for the eventual death of stars and angels.
Something of the past resurrects in telephone lines,
satellites orbit loneliness and other notions of guilt.
After your call, the house rustles, things fall from shelves,
I think rats & opossumsóno, the earth is trembling again
and I blame it on my wildly beating heart.
Inconsolate weeping has little to do with why we failed.
And so, we wear this badge, our voices prayerwheels
carved from heartwood of felled ceiba trees.
Mending broken shards to tell the future by
is almost like reconstructing the past to fit our needs.
The cat does his laundry with his tongue.
Southern birds rub wings with a milder winter.
If you go south long enough, it becomes north.
One can argue almost anything but I'm tired & want to sleep.
This poetry which preserves us
is our final inheritor,
our final judgement.




To break night's spell
the sun rises each morning.
We spell words on white paper
to break the silence
& night spills onto the page.

What is unwritten is more infinite
than what is written.
Therefore, every time we make a choice
we exponentially reduce the choices left.
When we think of the future

the archaeology of knowledge
meets the contradictions in the self.
Genetic code holds the memory
of the ancient world
before there was language.

When we define it, we must begin again
because poetry is the structure
inhabited by stromatolites,
the first "I am" life uttered.


Wednesday, November 1, 1989



The story is unlikely:
a dream of white walls, oak sills
twin beds, the north-facing window,
a radiator, Bing Crosby croons from the stereo,
a deluge of words that make no sense:
snake betrayal of the earth.
I must have known something, but how?
Like when the Challenger blew up, I saw something
from the Möbius strip teaser of time, convoluted
amoebas blossoming against a blue-mantled sky.
Tell me why we share dreams even now,
on opposite sides of the earth
with day and night between us?
I worry about where Einstein sleeps
and write elegies for the dead.
The Chernobyls, t he Manhattan projects haunt me—
my cousin helped to build the bomb.
The age of enlightenment burns words right off the page.
There's more work to do, I'm not sure what it is.
Think of the secrets locked inside stone,
where does the memory of the earth sleep?
Gaia. No wonder she trembles,
shaking parasitic cities from her skin.
I've planted a stone in the garden for you.
What else is there to do?
They say the role of the poet is to reinvent the myths.
It's not the accumulation of knowledge,
but something deeper, akin to the group mind of Neanderthals
born with the mythology of an entire species intact.
We work with a genetic cuneiform,
and have no rosetta stone to decode,
only vague hunches we call by the name of poetry.
What do we leave our children—
is this truly the last of the line—
venerable dinosaurs of the modern age?
Maybe none of this is real: we're fictional
characters, suspicious we don't exist.


Thursday, October 26, 1989



The predictable paths we make daily
are beaten smooth & polished like bone.
After years of disuse and neglect,  
those less traveled become spongy with rot.
The old couple radiantly warbles a welcome
like birds in spring, oblivious to their house  
falling in, who's to evict them? Jigsaw
crazed white paint exposes the heartwood.
Down the back porch stairs, a missing step,
a vacant tooth whispers something I can't grasp.
The shaky rail offers no shortcuts,
but a leap of faith to collect the mail.
And it is not spring, sometimes life is like that.
It takes an earthquake to shake the foundations,
so why did I awaken at one a.m., my unfeathered feet
ready to flee, with nowhere to go?


Monday, October 23, 1989



Where the Spaniards sailed upriver looking for El Dorado,
and dolphins are thought to be half-human,
men still rub dolphin oil on their pricks,
then fuck them hard in the sand for good luck.
The canoejueras, plying their profession from bank to bank,
harvest gold with their porpoise mouths,
still suck and lick the river with such skill,
it is said even the dead come in the rocking boats.
A woman walked along the banks of the Amazon,
where truth becomes a seductive blur,
miscarried a small dolphin,
and they burned the poor creature
who flew up into blue smoke.


Tuesday, October 17, 1989


          –for Susan Swartz

I yell at the cats fighting in the basement,
my cabin dips and sashays a slow dance toward the creek.
The mirror sways in supplication, oak trees shimmy,
acorns, falling hailstones, scolding squirrels and cats
aren't to blame, the deep growling is the earth itself.
Half-dressed, I run outside, laughing with neighbors,
there is almost a festive air, the ground undulating
beneath bare feet, a small boat on a bilious sea.
Eerie static fills the airwaves, when news finally breaks,
we are voyeurs watching events unfold on TV.
The Bay Bridge, a toy drawbridge, toy cars,
a mile and a half of collapsed freeway, Cypress St.,
a roller coaster bed, with cars sandwiched underneath,
bottles of unbroken wine no one scavages,
a column of literate smoke from the Berkeley Library.
The Marina's on fire and sinking, someone says.
A B-grade disaster movie upstaging the World Series`
and space shuttle to Jupiter. Atlantis rising.
The Ferry Building clock stops at 5:04 pm.
Women jog with firehoses, victory streamers,
bikers carry the old ones to safety on their backs.
Just five minutes from the street of death,
my exlover interjects how he's single again
and of the two women living in his house.
4It takes a 7.0 on the Richter Scale to break the ice
but patterns of behavior limit us. Rescuers,
out of body bags, switch to sleeping bags, who will help them?
Gallons of paint, spilled rainbows, symbol of hope,
my friends draw arches in the dirt to heal themselves.
The Pacific plate leaps ahead of the American plate`
in a slow race toward home—Alaska. Terremoto.
Like a war zone, as the landfill liquefies into jelly,
rubble from the 1906 quake rises to the surface
 in a horrible resurrection
of chaos, a system of physics, wild and convoluted.
Parking garages squash
into cement pancakes. Apartments fall, card houses. 
Already the dispossessed talk of rebuilding on the ruins.
Fissures in the streets boggles the mind.
In the time it took God to make the universe, the ballgame
is rescheduled. Disaster transcends the World Series.
When Gorbachev offers aid, many weep.
It takes the heat of Chernobyl & the 25,000 dead of Armenia 
to thaw the Cold War. Thousands homeless.
VP Quail smiles photogenically in the face of tragedy.
Bush calls up to say his presence would be a distraction,
then changes his mind. Though scientists claim there's no such thing
as earthquake weather, it's hot, still, like April 18, 1906.
We've become impatient with the notion of the unseen, the unexplainable.
Children are hearing things, closer to nature they feel it sooner.
With phone lines jammed, I don't even know if my mother is alive,
I get an obscene phone call. A media carnival descends upon us.
One more good aftershock and the newscastors would sink into the bay.
In a few million years, Los Angeles will be somewhere
off the Bering Straits. Hollywood, USSR.
An occupational hazard of living on the edge of the continent,
we're always waiting for the Big One to strike out.


Thursday, October 5, 1989


    That philosophical understanding of carnage,
      that concentration of the species.
            —Gerald Stern

It was not easy making friends with wolves.
I'd sit on a ladder by the wire-link fence,
careful not to make eye contact or they'd lunge—
their yellow eyes; calendulas eating the sun,
hot flickering grassfires and phosphorus.
I'd listen to them worry cow hocks (or was it horse?)
across the stained plywood partition,
the bones echoing with a hollow thud.
Was it the slaughterhouse stench of dead meat
or the primal odor of concentrated wolf?
Full moons, they'd answer in chorus for unseen kin
ambulances, fire engines and police cars
the cubs knowing only the endless pacing of caged life.
The man who kept wolves—the town dog catcher.
Late afternoons, I heard his woman sobbing and crooning
like a sleepy child. Did she really come like that?
I felt envy, slow to notice my lover's eyes had turned
the color of Indian corn. I learned to sing louder
and longer with each passing stranger
running a practiced hand along my flank
until I was wolf-mother beneath the fig tree
sucking a rivaling empire of boys in men's bodies.
Sensitized by pain, I sang best, seeking asylum,
I studied the flight of vultures and despaired;
was the idea of love, a vulgar carcass of bees and hornets,
romance, attainable as the horizon, or Mars?
Each moon, a new eye. I learned carnelian hunger,
my spoor took on the scent of wolf
and I devoured the Möbius circle of desire.
It was never so bad or as good as this.


Thursday, September 28, 1989


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN                                                  

The first hunters who crossed Siberia
survived winter's ancestors
because they wasted nothing—
something of the Inuit remains.
What do we know of Siberia?
We say Siberia, naming the nameless zone
between the taiga  and the tundra.
We say it because it conjures up the idea of wind and snow
unfettered by man to come and go where it pleases.
When we say Siberia the air fills with tundra flowers
and we mean the Siberia of stunted pines
and caribou migrations, but it's also the Siberia
of strip mines and  nuclear physics.
We say it midsummer, under a curtain of fire,
where night never begins;
and in winter, where it never stops.
We say it to sustain us as the invisible wolf
testing the strength of double-paned glass
stares in from the pupiled eye of night.
We say Siberia, stretching out syllables
until it becomes the wind's voice.
We say it as a punishment to our children.
We will ship them off to Siberia.
Banishment is always another country.
We make jokes about it,
and so I touch your golden skin in summer,
how it radiates the sun
while mine is the white of winter.
In the land of exile,
the land of the long ruble,
of opportunists and political prisoners,
where does the Siberian tiger sleep now?
We say Siberia and know nothing about it.

You tell me someone has to be the first
to love across political boundaries
until nations put down their ideals.
There's little comfort in knowing tears or blood
are the same chemistry as their mother, the ocean.
In Novosibirsk, scientists in white rooms
play nuclear physics with God
like ours at White Sands and Alamagordo.
Something of the landscape must touch them
surely they dream?
Last night, the sky wore red
and I stood between two rainbows.
Prisms and physics could not explain away refracted light.
There are those desperate enough to drink perfume.
They must've pissed the very heart of summer flowers into snow
only to go blind, was it worth it? Nosdrov'yeh,
a toast clawing olfactory nerves and tissueó
the period between midwinter and spring. Asylum.
But you've been there too, a spy among inmates,
your drawings record far better than any camera
life within the walls of insanityówho's more insane:
the Georgian man over and over again in pencil,
the scientists who turn their backs on the earth,
or those who send the flower of their youth
to front lines to bathe in jellied gasoline
in the name of an idea?
We are all crazy.
It comes with the territory.

Did I tell you Solzhenitsyn lives in a fortress
of his own choosing, deep in the mountains of Vermont?
It's the Gulag  all over again.
He brought his Siberian islands with him.
Dogs patrol the electric fence in regimented intervals.
Stalin's been dead nearly as many years as we've lived.
America is also an experiment,
an armed song singing itself
toward extinction like all the rest.
Yes, we are victims of historyó
fill the silos with grain.
But I touch your face,
my fingers memorize geography.
You ask, how does it feel to be living with bears?
Everyone loses their teeth in Siberia
and you never met a woman before who bites.
I cannot forget your eyesóall that blue,
not of glaciers and ice but of the soft secret heart of stone.
Translucence leashed and folded like linen bedsheets.
Your hand reaches for the moon hidden beneath my shirt,
seeking familiar patterns in a gesture that's timeless.
Learning to live with the land is something the Inuit knew
but even they've begun to turn their backs on it.
We should be around the fire telling stories,
buried in thick furs, safe in each other's arms
but we're not dressed in skins.
I carry a bear's tooth in my pocket
and keep skulls outside my window, just in case.
We live on opposite sides of the earth,
lovers in exile, but love is like that.
We need visas and annulments.
By naming it, it's too late,
we're no longer in the country of origin.
Siberia is singing from the heart of deepest night.
Small hooves pound in our chests.
We live on blubber,
savor fatty tissue and cannot sleep.
V'kusna ? Out of death comes life;
from life, death follows like wolves
trailing the caribou herd.