Friday, January 29, 1993

Teaching journal, 1/93 Two Rock School

SchoolTeaching journal, 1/93 at Two Rock School I read a poem about a mask to stop war, forgetting for a moment where I was. This is a military base. It keeps coming up, the gulf war revisited. Seeking safer ground, I asked the students where are the two rocks were at Two Rock. They tell me the rocks are  fenced off by the Coast Guard station. They’re in prison, doing time. A father in uniform comes in to speak to his second grade son, a mother, also in uniform drops off her child. We talk about the moon and making copies of poems. I feel like I’m on the moon. Some kids don’t even know English yet so I babble in third grade Spanish. There are Many codes here. Cattle, dairy, eggs, chicken, soldiers, civilian and military government laws and systems. The kids write of their feelings, stones, rocks and missiles. Again there’s trouble in Iraq. Anniversaries are cyclical, two years ago today, we marched in protest to the invasion of Iraq. I think Bush is truly insane. It’s not a war we can win.


                                —for Jan Bogaerts

With that feeling of déjà vu, I came home to a land
bright with flowers and heather bogs wrested
from the distant mouth of the North Sea.
The wind lifted my skirt, verifying my sex,
as I gathered metamorphic rocks—
once the backbone of mountains—
reduced to lining these raised roadbeds.
Strangers, we were sleepwalking the fields;
the cows watched with indifferent eyes.
I saw you radiant in the afternoon light,
your camera, like a bird poised for flight.

The alluvial grass frantically waved
as if to warn us of lions and dangerous currents
hidden in the transparent layers of history:
this ancient riverbed where the golden armor
of a Gaulish warrior from the quarry was dredged.
We made allusions to walking on water,
I stood in the arena of the mirrored afternoon
wondering which reflection to trust,
afraid to find myself on the other side,
like you, no division between the sexes.

The pantheistic September sky hissed,
wounded by the forthrightness of distant steeples,
all that blueness leaking back into the sea.
Like salmon roe, mountain ash berries,
enflamed the carnivorous sky.
The milky horizon blurred until we
once again were sleek silvered fish
readying for that final incestuous journey.
We forgot about extinction,
hypotenuses of triangles,
or the collapsing of time itself.

Like lowing cattle, eager for salt,
the wind licked at our legs.
But it was time to return to the barn,
we had no arms to let them in—
only the dark, knotted tide rising
over the shield of grasses
and defeated stones.

1/29/93 & 8/13/94
2000 Transfer Magazine

Thursday, January 14, 1993


THE HEALER                 
            — for Jan Bogaerts, photographer                                                                                                                                                 

The new year: I slalom to work on back roads,
thinking of whales & the coming extinction—
Rare snow in the folds of Mt. St. Helena:
I can't tell the clouds from mountain or ocean.
Cliffs rocks thaw and tumble and spout
to the middle of the road like noisy children.
I cannot separate the pieces of my life:
artist, teacher, poet, photographer . . . 

Through the camera lens, an empty house
on a steep hillside reflecting blue sky,
arched windows eyeing a cosmic joke.
Grateful for the weak sun,
a grey horse in a pale field
practices for that final sleep.
I think of age and love—not seasonal love—
but loving a cat, a stone, the sky equally.
Nothing readied me for losing my horses in winter.

Telegraph Avenue dusted with the purity of snow,
the homeless dressed in something acceptably white.
Snow turns to the sentience of a rainstorm.
The children write, making comparisons.
The word that comes to mind is hunger—
Light grabs water with a desperation born of darkness,
dancing with its own origins, its own death.
They are hungry for the archaic language deep inside.

Extraordinary light after rain.
The seven-year drought officially ends.
Beneath swollen creekbeds,
the fossil thirst of water, unslaked,
underground rivers older than civilization.
I have trouble staying on the road,
gravity’s uncertain which way to go.

I count my friends among the homeless
who, having nothing, hand me small gifts.
Stuffed toys, polar bears and blue whales.
In the Tenderloin—the River Styx—I seek Daniel,
finding only vacant pools of pavement.
Charon is well paid for his time.

Tracing the coastline with new eyes
reminds me of the time we don’t have.
To make up for it, I write letters no one will read.
Through the aperture of memory, I want to say graphos,
for the time when words and pictures weren't separated.

Artist-shamans. A sculptor working with AIDS patients
thought she was inured to death:
each one took its own time sinking in.
The HIV women who are next, won't come to my workshops.
The nature of her work has changed. Artist as healer,
she makes shields of shining copper with faint ciphers.

Today, in San Francisco, the undocumented life
of the 10,000th AIDS victim flickered out—
Each silent vigil, a statistic for the record,
enigmatic obituaries in hometown newspapers,
interred skeletal lines of artifice.
The sculptor stressed the art of saying goodbye—
She miscalculated, thinking she'd have time:
I was so sure he'd live another two months.
She spends her nights fighting the facts.

When someone asked, Who heals the healer?
A photographer said I am a servant of the light.
To serve light, one must also know the darkness.
I am hard at work, unearthing
incandescent ancestors of words
for the time when language took its first gulp of air
and cried out in the night.
I am working hard
to fortify the ramparts of memory
for the time when words fail us.

1/14/93  (rev. 8/4/96)

The Healer (prose, no efile)

Sunday, January 3, 1993



                                                      —for David & Rose McCaffrey McBride

There's something of that peculiar weight
of age which falls upon us when we
enter the empty rooms of abandoned houses
as if conversation from another era
had suddenly ceased, and found tongue
again in the silence after a point well-spoken.

What survives us most accurately
are things ordinary and plain:
The particular way, for example,
in which objects of everyday life
resonate in the memory
and take on new significance.

Or how a death in the family
increases the value of lost heirlooms,
anchoring us to what's no longer there—
On the blank wall, a sooty outline of a clock,
& the shadowy remains of a crucifix—
as if the silhouettes themselves

stood in place of an idea,
and the resurrection of things not intended
to witness the end of a life: the wooden box
with faded Kodak snapshots of dead horses and cars,
the spring bonnet & frothy veil, matching gloves,
a clouded mirror dreamily reflecting

the round face of the sky. . .
The streetsong of the rain escapes
from clogged gutters with a skilled ease
drawn from the nostalgia of the past.

1/3/93   San Francisco

THE ENTROPHY OF EMPTY ROOMS                      v.2
                                    —for David & Rose McCaffrey McBride

There's something of that peculiar weight
of age that falls upon us as we
enter the rooms of abandoned houses
as if conversation from another era
abruptly ceased and found tongue again
in the silence after a point well-taken.

What survives us most accurately
are things ordinary and plain:
the particular way everyday objects
resonate with newfound significance.

How a death in the family
anchors us to what is no longer there.
On a coal-stained wall, a sooty relief of a clock,
& the shadowy remains of a crucifix—
as if the silhouettes themselves

Resurrected things not intended
to witness the end of an era—in a cigar box:
post cards from the World's Fair,
snapshots of children, dead horses and cars;
a spring bonnet & veil, matching gloves,
tea china still waiting on the sideboard.

A clouded mirror dreamily eyes
the round face of the sky
& a streetsong of rain escapes
from clogged gutters with a practiced ease
drawn from the nostalgia of the past.

rev. 2/2001
2001 Transfer Magazine #81, spring issue

Friday, January 1, 1993


—for Jan Bogaerts

When the film in the camera
winds down to the last few exposures
what remains are small pieces of the self
scattered across the globe;
there is less of me returning home each time.
The concept—elusive like the notion
of the camera stealing small pieces of us—
inevitably thins the soul
till it becomes translucent as isinglass.
They say travel toughens the heart,
but the heart is another matter—
each time I begin to believe love is a thing of the past,
some man crosses my path
and I am a fallen Magdalen weeping at his feet,
the carpet of my hair hiding my shame.

Two men contemplate the acute angle of the sun
piercing the dome of City Hall.
There's something of that time of day
when everything is crepuscular in notion,
I am haunted by ordinary light and shadow.
I cannot escape the clutches of a dream
as if reality bent itself towards sleep,
toward the void, the depths from within
where reside broken pieces of the dream
while the truly dead wander the parameters of this house.

Ask me why this matters and I will tell you
I have seen Jesus living in a desk drawer
in this abandoned house full of empty rooms
while those statistics sleeping in Market Street doorways
roll up their sleeping gear each morning
with the sacramental tenderness of priests readying for mass.
What of the thousands dying of the dreaded acronym
no one wants to name?
The homeless spread shrouds over their belongings.

Reduced to numerical equations                                                                    
the layer of humanity stretched thin as ice
at the altar of the streets, prays for oblivion like all the rest.
It is so silent, reminiscent of the many dead, with more to come:
What of their stories? Who will write them, who will listen?
You say they've gained the wisdom and clarity
usually reserved for the aged, and they are not yet old.

The glitter of the city pushes back the invading darkness.
Cavities of desire and grief implode into this room
as we gather the evidence of light for the proconsul.
We need arms to hold us, to stop time—
not just the camera defining angles of light.




Feeling guilty,
for switching lovers so easily,
& used to pain and suffering,
I keep trying to diminish
the definition of love,
as if loveandpain were one thing
etched in stone. Feeling used, I recoiled
when he said, We all use each other,
from the dungeon of his own choosing.
Vera assures me each relationship
is a stepping stone to the next.
Love is sometimes like that—
one day you just fall out of love.