Monday, March 27, 1989

AMBER TRAIL


AMBER TRAIL

On this bed, dreams gather, collect and fold
like a blastophore. Brainstem, backbone.
Jade rivers. Chalcedony birds. There are old
secrets I tell no one, I am the Whore of Babylon

dreaming of birds, the inside cat snoozes
in the rocking chair, whiskers and claws
twitching. Nervous chalcedony bursts into flight,
and amethyst shatters the night.

The carnelian on my skin glistens,
it's akin to coolness of wet kisses,
my nipples surrounded by fleshy stones
but the thought of stone chills my bones.

You give me amber from the Baltic sea,
show me pictures of a woman, another oddysey
but I've heard this story before. Fossil resin.
I rub the amulet until electricity glows from within.

In the dark I imagine the room to glimmer
like Merlin's cave but he's his own prisoner.
The amber necklace melts and bees gather
to dance the way back to the chamber.

What jasper will nest in my belly
and along the wild shores of my body?
Trapped in obsidian, Osiris's eye eases
the night watching us from the reeds.

In the last ancient dream of rivers,
who tricks sunlight to solidify into amber?
As it tries to escape back into air
bees mistaken it for nectar.

On the floor, stones gather in eddies
like flotsam around each point.
Quartz vessels transport patterns
and secret prisms toward the light.





3/27/1989

Sunday, March 26, 1989

COMIDA DEL MUERTE


COMIDA DEL MUERTE


At the outpost on the edge of civilization
there they were, black and wheeling
against bright storm clouds,
a vortex of condors cantilevered and herring-boned
at right angles to the sky.
A thermal updraft juxtaposes bird against bird,
until feathers weave the wind into funnels.
Seeking new heights, they spiral
in apocalyptic formation and make quenas
with their wings; group mind gives shape to the wind.
Caught between two worlds, a Quechua woman
palms intis from gringos who steal
small pieces of her with cameras
and in return, she gives thanks to the sun.
A bone of light falls on a hammer and sickle,
graffiti on the limestone of Puku Pukara,
the kremlin of the first Inca.
In the cordilleras, Sendero Luminosos
blaze shining paths with AK-47's.
Too much history, too much past.
We sing Que Condor Pasa?
and descend into the rings of Cusco.
When solitary creatures congregate
in all the skies of the world,
one begins to understand the uplift of continents,
but not the extinction of a species.
If my arms were feathered,
it would be easier to take
what is coming.


3/26/89

1994 Steelhead: Special Death & Taxes issue

1991  Sculpture Gardens Review


Monday, March 20, 1989

EQUINOX


EQUINOX
       When but to think is to be full of sorrow.
      —Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"
               
All this week I should have known the green tremor
in the air was more than planets aligning
their sights on spring. Lent. You, banished from memory —
your letter breaking vows of silence we took
when ones more sacred were profaned.
So you toss a $1,000 peso Sor Juana coin
to ask if we'd resurrect friendship.
It comes up heads & you give the coin
to a woman who restrings your horoscope.
Did the planets halt their carnivorous circling,
are the days any less profound than those of your birth?
The brotherhood of priests
   didn't like Sor Juana Inez de la Crúz
writing poetry. They said it was a sin against God.
    A calculated risk.
So, in the convent kitchen where God couldn't find her
between passion & reason,
   she practiced a more dangerous art—
spinning dredels in flour to measure the pattern
   of rotation & axis—
hunting the stars at night,
   writing verse by day. Inquisition.
Her body does not survive the suicide of the soul.
Let life be ashamed of lasting so long for me, she cried.
Did I tell you the river rose again encircling each tree,
claiming small vertical kingdoms? After heavy rain,
silence. Then the drains of the world emptied.
La Llorona, Malinche's first mestizo son,
   with odd bits of sky for eyes —
you were born in the alien corn. Huitzilpochtli
has decapitated his sister, the moon & his 400 brothers,
the stars because they didn't want him born.
Do you remember the thrumming insects who threatened
to overtake us in the jungle & what of the small
fish inside me eclipsed by your hand?
I am not yet middle-aged & can't help but think of you,
a traitor, sleeping with someone's young daughter.
Does the bird sing any less shrilly at dawn than at dusk?
I'm still half in love with the idea of easeful death,
so days and nights repeat automatically like bullets
& when Alberto wrote in the sand, I want to cry,
the sea will do it for me,
   he stood there until the waves erased it.
No one told the girls whose papa drowned in Chiapas,
We are made of the ocean, so when we cry
we are giving the sea back her due.
Night's pale vision. The Pleiades are restless.
Orion's belt loosened from the horizon.
In the desert you unroll constellations
favoring star charts & foreign coins
to the celestial bodies themselves.
The lights we see have long since died
& we continue to call them stars.
What tomb are you opening now?
I am not waiting like Lazarus,
for we're better off in unmarked graves
with nothing to resurrect,
save ourselves.

3/20/89
1990 National Writers' Union, Finalist

Friday, March 3, 1989

Novelist Don Meredith

NOVELIST DON MEREDITH WON’T GET OFF THE AMBULANCE JUST YET

Occidental novelist Don Meredith received a second coveted National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Fellowship in Creative Writing. His short story, “Desert Music” was among the 96 winning applications selected from nearly 1,900 entries. American writers in 33 states across the nation and two foreign countries competed for the $20,000 grants awarded in three categories: Poetry, Fiction and Belles Lettres.

The work was chosen by two nine-member peer review panels.-- a poetry panel and a fiction/belle lettres panel. A system of blind-judging was used for application review with the panelists basing their decisions solely on the literary merit of the submitted works.

Meredith’s short stories and fiction have appeared in many small press publications including The Texas Review, The Greensborough Review, Slipstream, Kingfisher (Berkeley), and Short Story Review (San Francisco). He also writes critical essays and reviews for the monthly periodical Short Story Review.

In 1984, Don Meredith was listed as an outstsnding writer in the Pushcart Prize Anthology VIII for his short story, “Comic Valentine.” He is also listed in the International Directory of Biography, and A Directory of American Poets &7 Fiction Writers.

Meredith and his wife of 23 years Josie, live in a multi-level shingled house right out of Architectural Digest replete with paintings, Persian rugs and a Siamese cat named Mr. Kim, whom Meredith affectionately calls “the Chinese landlord” while outside, the deer keep the meadows mowed.


The short story that won Meredith $20,000, and his second NEA fellowship “Desert Music”, originally published by The Texas Review is about a retired couple Barney and Gladys Rose, and their relatives, who wade their way through the Sonoran desert into Mexico like snowbird Kerouacs on the road-- the distances propel them “from one shapeless event to another.” While in Mexico, Barney’s mother dies but not before pointing an accusing finger at Barney saying, “what difference does it make where we’ve been? ....you haven’t a clue in the world what you want for yourself. There’s an empty place in you, Barney. What the star people call a black hole.”

“But this trip is for Barney. Every inch of it.” Barney discovers solace in the emptiness of the desert. “Maybe the emptiness is only echoing something in himself....the desert has slipped into the envelope of darkness, a wind leaking softly at its edges.” Fearing Mexican jails and red tape might interfere with the mother’s last will, they try to smuggle the body out of Mexico. This story is a journey of a spiritual awakening, alibet late in life.

Meredith, a tall, grizzly grey-eyed Celt of Irish and Welsh descent says he’s been writing seriously for about 20 years. His first published novel, Morning Line, his first published book circulated for a year before it was picked up by Avon Books. Meanwhile, he revised the manuscript which raised a few eyebrows at Avon. His wife Josie, a freelance editor, reads all his work before it goes out. He attributes her editing skills, in part, to his success. “So many writers need a good editor,” says Meredith. Grammatical mistakes can make or break a book.

A novel typically takes two years to complete. Meredith writes four to five hours a day, every day. He also manages to write short stories on the side. Gathering material for his first published novel, Morning Line, he spent a lot of time at the race tracks taking notes and for his second novel, Home Movies he used his own life-story--- he ran track in college--- for background.

Meredith’s natal waters are in southern California and his books are all set in California though he’s lived abroad for 13 years. The Newport Beach he remembers as a child was still filled with open fields and cattle. In 1956 he went to Cal Poly to study animal husbandry and took a freshman English class. He wanted to be a farmer and raise beeves but, alas, the wide open ranges were not for him. The Irvine Ranch succumed to housing and Meredith succumed to the pen.

Reminiscing, as to why he’s a writer, Meredith said he always liked to read. Becoming a writer seemed a natural progression. In college he realized people took writers seriously and one could make a career of it. While he was there, he wrote poetry. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that in 1956, Cal Poly went from a men’s college to co-ed. Meredith chuckles, “the ratio was 55 to one. I was just a freshman and I didn’t stand a chance.” While in college he switched to theatre “to get a well rounded education.” He majored in Drama and English at Orange Coast College, Long Beach State College and San Francisco State College.

Meredith and Josie migrated to northern California in the early 60’s. He worked as a bartender at the no name bar in Sausalito when he wasn’t traveling. “Sausalito used to be a real town before the hippies came,” Meredith recalled. “Jack Aranson ran the Gate Theatre and across from Elephant Park everybody met for coffee at the Rexall counter each morning to discuss the day’s business.”

After Sausalito, Meredith went off to live in Europe and “came back a writer.” Of those 13 years spent abroad, four were idyllic summers spent on a 20 foot boat and winters on the island of Kolcula off the Dalmatian coast in Yugoslavia and the other seven on a farm in the Chianti Hills of Tuscany, Italy. They were in charge of security for estates of wealthy Americans who summer in Italy. “Ironically,” he says, “I was doing animal husbandry. Picking olives and grapes.”

After working as caretakers in Europe and Santa Barbara mansions with neighbors that included the Shaw of Iran and Gene Hackman, was when they realized it was never going to get this good again. It was time to settle down and buy a house in Sonoma County.

He has many painter friends and he marvels how succinctly they describe their work while he defines himself as both inarticulate and shy. “I’ve chosen writing to become articulate. Writing gives me the time and space to put my ideas forward in the best possible manner.” Writing is a solitary act and painting is a more tangible pursuit. “At least with painting you have something physical to show for yyour work,” says Meredith.

When asked what his novels are about, Meredith is at a loss for words. He is at his best when he can spin stories about family and friends. Leaning back in his grandmother’s rocking chair, he said, “ this chair has a history. I put my father in it and asked him if he remembered it.” His father rocked a while, felt it with his hands (he was blind) and said, “my mother used to rock me in this chair.’ “

A phone call interrupted Meredith’s story. In almost the same breath, he told the caller, “did you know I got a NEA? My father died January 6th. He was 94. When we came back from the funeral, Josie found the envelope in the mailbox.” Meredith confided to me, “when you win a NEA it comes in a big envelope. When you don’t, it comes in a business envelope.” I said, “I know. I have eight of those business envelopes so far...”

Meredith once considered a career in writing for the theatre. “Theatre encompasses all art forms-- poetry, painting and music. Drama is the oldest profession. When I was going to school there was no humanities major. That’s why I took drama. It makes me wonder about all those creative writing majors. Henry James was a late bloomer. He didn’t start writing until he was in his 40’s.” He quoted James, “one needs a little life under one’s belt before becoming a writer.”

When he’s not writing, Meredith works as an EMT--emergency medical technician for the Palm Drive Hospital Ambu-van. He needed a part time job when they lived in Sebastopol and he was a medic in the National Guard. He says the job allows him some free time to write but the NEA fellowship will allow him to devote himself full time to his writing.

He has two “pre-first novels.” Pendragon-- “everyone’s first novel must be about a sexual psychopath” muses Meredith dryly. “I guess you’ve got to get it out of your system,” and his second unpublished novel 86 is set in Sausalito. The title comes from bartender slang, “nix, nix, 86.” “It was two-three years before Pendragon was put to sleep after making the rounds. 86 is still out there somewhere.”

“I’m not writing anything right now. My last novel Marginal Characters has been out there two years and hasn’t found a publisher yet. It’s clearly my best work... and that troubles me,” said Meredith pensively. One chapter from Marginal Characters was published by Kingfisher of Berkeley last year.

His next novel in the works “is set in Santa Barbara in the year 2050 and it’s NOT a science fiction novel,” he says emphatically. He’s still playing with story line, characters and plot so he can’t tell us much more about it ... yet.

When asked if receiving the last fellowship put pressure on him, he said, “when I got the NEA, I’d published two novels in two years, several short stories, and the Pushcart. Then I had a terrible dry period.” He sold the option on his first novel to a movie producer. It didn’t fly. He labored over a novel that went nowhere, but he was able to salvage a short story, called “Wing Walker” from it. “I don’t want that to happen again.” He doesn’t have plans to quit his part-time job as a medical transporter at Palm Drive Hospital just yet.

Meredith pulls out a dog-eared manuscript from a cardboard box. I commented on the ubiquitous novel slumbering in a cardboard nest while awaiting its fate. Rocking in his chair, Meredith laughs, “I got it out of the dumpster at Palm Drive Hospital. Someone saw me and exclaimed, “Jesus Christ! You win a $20,000 fellowship and you’re scrounging boxes out of the trash?”

When I asked Meredith what was the latest book he’d read, he said a biography of Nora, the real-life Molly Bloom of James Joyce’s Ulysses by written by Brenda Maddox. Writers who have influenced Meredith are the greats: Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitsgerald, Faulkner and of course, Joyce.

Meredith concludes with an image from the biography of Nora. When Joyce finished Ulysses, Nora says to him, she says, now that you’re finished with that book, why don’t ye become a singer?”

* * *

For all you closet writers the next application deadline for the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creatrive Writing is March 3. For application deadlines or more information, contact the Literature Program, National Endowment for the Arts, Nancy Hanks Center, 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20506 (202)682-5451.

SIDEBAR

Home Movies (1982) is about the world of athletics, of a father who pushes his daughter’s Olympic potential to the limit, and of the tragedy the whole family faces as a result. Sherry Kincaid has been in training for track as long as she can remember. She does not know why she runs-- only that she does. She is caught between comraderie with her great rival and the pressure to win; between the desire to quit and her father’s insisting she continue to compete. After her brother’s suicide and her own breakdown, Sherry is forced to view the splintered fragments of her family, pick up the pieces of her family and possess control over her own destiny.