Sunday, April 30, 1989


(for the burden of my names)

1.  Baba—I was the firstborn to be placed on my grandmother's lap, 
fitfully thrusting my feet into the air, attempting flight without wings, 
naming myself again and again: ba-ba, ba-ba, ba-ba.
In the last sheaf sits the baba. I was born at the end of harvest, 
the burden of my name between fall and winter, 
I was born on my grandfather's birthday —
Some say I was the travailing great queen mother — both young and old,
male and female, the hag wrach the old woman, 
the corn mother Cailleach, and her husband.
I was born the corn maiden and her lover, giving birth before conception
to keep away the famine-fear in the field. Gort a bhaile.

At school, kids teased me calling me black sheep and Ali Baba.
I was the black sheep of the nursery rhyme, singing, singing,
pulling the prodigal wool over my own eyes
when they came searching for me in the darkness of sleep.
Somehow we all survived childhood. Out of the frying pan. . . 
I sang my A B C's . . . and drew an Aurochs for the sacred cave. 
The letter A: magic loosened from sleep undoes me.
The enlightened thief comes to steal our hope. Anguis in herba.
I hang eagle feathers over my bed to chase away the nightmares.
My friend blames the mirrors in my house, and wants to shroud them.
I had to climb down the throat of darkness to order reestablish light.
Avanti, avanti, maleficium defence. . . Honi soit qui mal y pence.
I burned the scrivened alphabet of your excuses in ritual fires.

Saturday, April 29, 1989



What if it's 1950, we weren't born yet.
There isn't a Berlin Wall.
Kennedy hasn't been shot.
The American Dream is in full slumber.
What if Rudy Valens's plane hadn't yet crashed,
no Big Bopper, no monuments to James Dean,
or Kerouac toilet papering the road.
What if we'd been around then,
going up in smoke, drag stripping
dangerous curves through the redwoods.
Perhaps our parents were thinking of marriage,
or at least sex, in the back seat of a Ford.
What if we were our parents
watching Leave it to Beaver and I Love Lucy
for the first time around, no reruns.
Everything in black and white.
The Sunday Barbecue.
Cocktails with the neighbors.
The American Dream hasn’t woken up.
No Fifth Amendment. No AIDS.
Homelessness is a third-world concept.
Howl hasn’t been written. No Suburbacide.
No Kaddish of words for the walls we build.
Instead, we liken kisses to radar missiles
and split atoms, confusing fission with fusion.
It took a Chernobyl to thaw the Cold War.
What if we invented memory
because things seem more real in print.
Especially when they aren't true.
Stigmatas nailed down on paper.
What if this were a thalidomide poem
borne without words?


Friday, April 28, 1989


Listen, I already know what it's like
to be on the other side.
That was me in the gray dress
orbiting behind the revenge of the camera,
because my man chose a blonde
his daughter's age to replace me
at what was supposed to be our reading.
I know what it's like to be betrayed.
What can I say? Who wants a poem
from the "other woman" that says:
For eons poetry has fed on the betrayal of love
and is fond of the victim's point of view.
That there are no casual spectators.
That we all err on the side of love.

Perhaps it's fitting we remain
disembodied voices over the phone lines,
though I already know who you are.
If not me, then who will accept your calls
late at night? Because I am not
the other woman—

Poetry is.


Sunday, April 23, 1989


          —for Bruce Isaacson, whether he likes it or not.

In the name of poetry sometimes
we go out of our way to invent trouble:
why we stole a few kisses against
the polite company of wolves,
how the answering machine found us out;
she assumed the worst;
our poems shattered against cold glass—
separating air from air, light from light—
She calls again to rant about bad poets
writing bad poems about who they've fucked.
I can say nothing to soothe her,
to convince her it's a mistake—
this tale only exists on the page.
But I asked the I Ching anyway
who would rub ochre on your chest
and watch the sky unfold blue secrets.

The oracle said, The marriage of thunder & wind
takes place according to immutable laws;
ground water is an invisible army filling the empty places.
It said, Those who run off are permitted to escape.

Like stealth planes flying over occupied space,
we avoided radar detection only to deliver ourselves
into enemy hands. Silos tracking missiles.
I am not another soldier of the Red Army swelling
in the slippery ranks of Stalin's bottomless heart.
We come to understand completion is reached
by systole, diastole: what endures
is merely poetic fodder.

I dreamed my horse labored for breath
as I walked the isolated beach
calling your name to the empty wind;
my dead grandmother came to take me home—
there was nothing left to eat but spoils.
Who sings in the night—wolves, or the wind
tying gordian knots? Escaping us both,
you've gone into exile, a half a year and a world away.
Late at night, the phone rings. No one the line—
your old lover and I keep in touch.


Tuesday, April 18, 1989


     —For Bruce Isaacson
in homage to Robert Sund & Georgia O'Keefe

You have found me out,
slipped in clean as a knife,
your poems lucid as a white room
in late afternoon where
I want to stand before you
pre-architectural. Slip off these words
into something more comfortable,
reveal the inner curve of femur,
the hollow of pelvis framed
against the purity of desert sky
& feel your breath sing against my ribs.

Where my breasts flowered
your disembodied hands harvest
brilliance arcing on blank pages.
We burn against the night's silence
lost, looking for home.
I taste your words on my tongue,
dreaming them as if they were alive,
incandescent as flanks of white horses
in the rain—your poems shed light,
nuzzle breathless in my ear.
It's not so much the words themselves
but the way they touch
the muddy river where, for a moment,
our tongues found truth hidden in the roots.

There is a curve of eyebrow,
an alluvial valley that speaks
of such tenderness, we turn stones,
& turn them again. What does it matter
if the sun will die, your kisses like stars.
The physics of writing consumes us.
Not ambivalence. Not the other sin.
It cannot hide serpentine from the river—
the brightness from within—a burning moth
circling the pale fire of your eyes.

You tell me : too many loves in our past
& slip into the Paris night, well armed,
calling it by the clear light of poetry
because love also requires such brutal attention.
Can one name the instant when the heart
of the untamable beast ignites or dies?
Afraid of what it might be,
in the naked room, what are we then?


Saturday, April 15, 1989



January      Sichen Windy days
February      Lutil         Severe weather
March      Berizen       The first birch trees bud
April              Kviten         Flowers begin to blossom
May             Traven         Grass begins to grow
June            Cherven Red flowers blooming
July             Lipen         The shade of a lime tree in summer
August     Serpen         A sickle for the harvest
September  Veresen Last yellow bush of the year to flower
October     Zovten         Amber trees
November   Listopad Falling leaves
December   Gruden Large snowflakes of winter
(Repeat for at least 75 years, call it a life.)


Sunday, April 9, 1989



                     Sex is like a glass of water.
                        ——Alexandra Kollantai
                          —for Bruce Isaacson

You know it happens each time I read poems
about sex & death in the afternoon.
One poet or another wants to follow me down
the smooth truncated saplings of bar stools,
& small infields of hallways & closets—
Call me on the carpet saying, You need a good man.
It's been 6 months & at the erotic poetry ball
the last barbarian in black leather
& studs sweet-talking me in Spanish
tangles up the night in my blue silk dress,
saying, I know you. Verdad?
We neck a bottle of chardonnay & steam up the sunroof.
Not quite unrequited lust in the cab of a pick-up.
Who's keeping score? You get to second base,
I steal third but home is an illusion.
Where does Einstein sleep? We confess
our tongues collude at the speed of recovery. Besos del mar. 
When you let down my hair, tuberoses, primordial
star-scented edens fall beneath your knee
giving up their bounty all at once——both acrid & bitter.
There is a fine line of distinction between perfume,
the sweet smell of decay & desire deep in the jungle.
Statistics change with each cycle;
we continue to make love in the mirror
of each other's eyes but I've prepared for this by eating
Russian chocolate in late afternoon.
My girlfriend's pissed, waiting out in the cold
for us to stop all this sexual innuendo
so we can go home saying, You straight women are all alike.
Men come first. Says you're trouble with a capital “T.”
She's right. I want to ride you across wheat fields
of midsummer Russian steppes,
Tchaikovsky's violin concerto
plying more than sum totals of notes or words.
You want to follow me. Down the road, headlights
never abandon us though we travel at a snail's pace—
breaking speed limits tho not the speed of light.
If sex is death, let me die a little in your arms again
because death is dressed in violets, the color of mourning
but I've said this somewhere before in a poem
to another man. Where does consumation begin
or conception or addiction? If it weren't so late
in the season we could listen to the rain on my roof
but the tiny dog-faced violets know the direction of dawn
without knowing the concept of east or death or spring
training. In the ball courts of Chichen Itza,
the gods wait for the climactic ending; both teams
lose their heads but I lose your address.
Poets are cheap. We will do anything for a good line.
More than once I've caught our names coupling in print.
It's beginning to look suspicious
& we're always the last to know.
Tomorrow we will wake up pretending it was a dream
but our words unzip the secrets of the universe
& we come down so hard
even the Milky Way screams, Galactos.
If you look closely, you can still see the old moon
on the sidelines coaching the new moon to steal home,
saying, Slide, slide. The bases are loaded.
It's an easy victory.


Wednesday, April 5, 1989

Letter to David Best

An issue of Creative Discourse arrived in the mail reeking of oil paints. I marveled at technology—an arts magazine smelling like an artist’s studio!

I've always had an intimate association with paint. When I was very young, I ate some of my mother's white oil paints. Making my first metaphor, I assumed, because it was white, and looked like ice cream—though it was in a small glass tube and not in the freezer—ergo: it must be ice cream. Pavlov rang a bell.

Van Gogh had a certain fondness for cadmium yellow, and his habit of indulging in eating paint was partially responsible for his madness.

My mother who was also mad, didn't have to eat paint, but that’s another story. Her studio was, appropriately, at the Project Artaud in San Francisco. Artaud was another madman. However, when an arts magazine carries the odor of an artist's studio, the mind has a way of unwrapping itself from linear time.

Since I no longer have a studio, having forsaken brush for pen, this made me nostalgic for our old painting studios at the College of Marin, and the basement of Darwin Hall Science building at Sonoma State University. Fledgling artists worked in scientist's basements.

Einstein, who prized creativity over knowledge, would have loved this admixture of art and science. But the ventilation in Darwin Hall was non-existent, and one way or another, we were all stoned out of our minds. Eveything is relative. Einstein, couldn't add simple equations, nor remembered to wear socks. What Einstein and I have in common is an inability to add.

After I collected my degrees in painting, I became disillusioned with the gallery-pimping art world, and took up the horizontal process of writing around.

I remember a childhood visit to my mother in the City, I wandered next door to the San Francisco Art Institute and watched a man painting in the courtyard under the Spanish tiled arches.

Not a brilliant conversationalist at the age of eight, in a child's drooling of absorbed preoccupation, I finally slurped, “I paint too.” When he asked what I used, I said, “Oil on newsprint.” His surprise turned to disbelief when I elaborated that I didn't like canvas. I liked watching the linseed oil make ghostly halos on the unpainted surface.

He resumed his painting without saying another word, his lips making a thin line of concentration and denial. The courtyard was filled with the pungent smell of turpentine, and the soft scratching of a brush across canvas orchestrated its own kind of silence. I remember how cerulean the unadulterated sky was, and a crow with blue-black feathers sat watching us with an indifferent gaze.

A Xeroxed drawing of a deer with oil paint fell out of the magazine: Number 214. Signed, Best. David Best. A name crawled out of my reptilian memory.

It was 1970, David was making odd altars of clay and baubles in the ceramics lab. Overnight, glue-sniffing artists crawled out from under Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul refuse bins and Dipsea dumpsters—glass and junk, old bureaus, chairs, spheres and cars were transformed into glittering altars.

Someone lined the toilet bowl at the Sausalito Art Center with pennies. We polluted our lungs with verdigree fumes.

One afternoon, a life-size bejeweled horse showed up on the San Geronimo Valley Golf course with a real Lady Godiva on its back. Her red velvet cloak, a gaping wound on the putting green. Golfers and commuters either ignored the apparition, or nearly drove off the roads in disbelief; some making hasty mental notes to stock up on more of that good dope.

Artist Dickens Bascom's beaded Ford Falcon with its fins covered with scales made from the soles of tennis shoes, actually worked. It had to, the sight of it was like the siren call of a red flag in front of the bull for the local cops who were always pulling him over for vehicle safety inspections.

After a while, they’d hit the lights just to keep in practice, or to see the latest additions. Once, in front of the Fairfax Hardware store, I tried to use the typewriter glued to the back of his Ford Falcon but that was before I became a writer. There were no words. Just blank paper for the accolade.

David also decopaged an entire vintage ’50s Cadillac. The hood ornament was the stuffed head and horns of a water buffalo with red eyes.

I like to think of that Cadillac as an homage to water and 20th century of abandoned technology. A Las Pulgas water temple on wheels. The sides of that gas-hog were of faceted glass and on the mink-lined back seat, plastic ketchup bottles, stuffed toys, and toasters were chauffeured about in style.

This was during the great Marin County water drought, which rode hot on the heels of the gas shortage. I remember old Mr. Buck smoking stogies on trail rides up at the Meadow Club. When his wife died, she left a few Standard Oil stocks in a trust fund for artists—who’d have forseen the gas shortage would make Mrs. Buck so posthumously wealthy?

We became experts at siphoning gas, and rustled county water with a double-ended hose that connected the county pipes to ours; at night we ran water uphill to fill our tanks. An artist, inspired by David's eclectic stable of cars, covered an entire Oldsmobile with chia plants, but he couldn't drive the delicate, undulating carpet very fast. At night, the deer came down to graze on it.

An old gas station with the flying red horse in Mill Valley became the temple of The Unknown Museum. The jeweled mannequin with antlers greeted the visitor. A wall of old T.V.'s, overgrown with nasturtiums and electrical cords dangling like roots.

A weathered Fiat filled with rubber Disney toys. A mandala made of bullets, pencils and toy cars. Bureau altars with fur-lined drawers as elegies for Vietnam and Reganomics. A decomposed teddy bear was caught napping in the baby carriage by a leafy green spear of dandelion blooming from his navel.

What survived of the Unknown Museum are merely frozen images on film. The trashman cometh and he taketh away. Recycled technology. One man's garbage. Out of the rubbish heap, a phoenix circles the place of birth. Glittering birds.

Every seven years our cells regenerate. My cells have resurrected themselves five-times-seven. Memory is locked within the skin.

There was a meat company that wanted to boost sales. Expecting a Pavlovian response from customers and increased sales, they ran bacon-scented ads of ham, but all the neighborhood dogs ran off with the newspapers.

Some things are hard to forget. A taste for paint. A drawing of a deer against green pigment. A cloudless blue sky reflected in a mirrored Cadillac with chrome mag rims.

© Maureen Hurley 2007 Reprinted from Creative Discourse, Petaluma, Ca 1989

Saturday, April 1, 1989



The mind is a sieve—rain falling
water seeks its own level
& dammed during the spring flood
it loosens debris from riverbanks
only to clog the mouth with ideas.
Someone must sort the flotsam
from the jetsam before we can speak
of things important—why pulsars implode
and why black holes are hungry for more light.
Each seeks an opposite. Light seeking dark,
dark seeking depth. The blue eyes of oceans,
the first memory of sky loosened 
from a field of chickory or was it 
the other way around? But will your green eyes 
seeking my riverbeds suffer drought. 
Already my lips seeks the small hands
of rain to quench the thirst from the fire.