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)

Thursday, January 7, 1993



As the plane taxiing out the runway,
a rainbow appeared right in front of the storm.
The plane’s red shark fins slice through the clouds,
as if to sever the rainbow for hope, for the gays,
for the artists, a rainbow for all of us.
Afraid of flying, you eat Mary’s brownies
I smuggled through security,
the plane was delayed and so we had a beer.
We are more than a little intoxicated,
chemicals within, chemicals without.
Last night I heard you whisper thank you for being there
as you turned out my light, kissing me good night
and then sleeping alone. It was not our time for love.
but the love is there nonetheless, yes the pull.
The heart wants what it wants.
Vins says you’re equally gay, I say equally straight.
But we kept kissing each other goodbye anyway,
your hand slipping down my back, skin against skin,
as you said, thank you for being my mother,
my sister, my grandmother, my brother, my...
stopping at the word that won’t rest easily upon lips.
I thought unrequited love was reserved for old plays.
Watching your plane rise, momentary smoke,
my heart in my throat, remembering the plane crash
I witnessed at the Bijlmer, and in Portugal.
Your plane pierces the sky, one moment a black dot,
another, gone forever. Will I ever see you again?
And I think of your fear of flying,
especially after the Dutch airplane disaster,
you said you didn’t want to be buried
in the hinterlands of Leissel,
you wanted to be among friends. And you said,
how lonely you are for no boys will sleep with you,
and the despair that you loved women too.
You get lost at the point between a woman’s breasts.
What I will remember is you rising up from the bath,
all brown and golden, a tawny feline,
something gorgeous to behold.
My eye grabbing that moment in time.
With your photography—the impulses in the moment of taking,
a thief of light, whereas mine is in the taking of images,
without film. A thief of memory.
These are the words of our lives.

First draft

Each Seeking the Other (no efile)

Monday, January 4, 1993

Journal entry, 1/4/93, San Francisco, with John McBride, Jan Bogaerts

1/4/93 I spent last evening with John McBride and Ken Bullock drinking wine and in Enrico‘s. John gave us the key to his uncle’s house on and we wound up hanging out in the Mission district going to used bookstores. I got a full length man’s tweed coat for six dollars. It’s freezing, I relish the warmth.

Jan went off on his own into the night. We didn’t have a preset time to meet up, he had no key so it was a bit touch and go. I’m sleepy, crabby, not particularly interested in either John nor Jan. But John looks better and better these days, he will never leave the memory of his exwife behind. I’m feeling a bit jaded these days myself. Confusion has fled and I am left with sheer crabbiness. 

We staggered around Washington Square afterward, and I was definitely feeling the wine, we were listing a bit. I was esconced between John and Ken so I wouldn’t get lost. We were laying hands upon each other quite a bit at Enrico‘s. Like raccoons at the cat bowl.  

Most likely it was the wine but John didn’t just put his arm around me to steady me, and I still can’t tell if there’s interest, or it’s merely politeness. John was looking particularly attractive, but it didn’t do anything for me. Timing is everything. And John tells me that Enrico‘s is where, after a couple of “far out motherfuckers,” which is a deadly cocktail, John proposed to Marianna Rexroth. It didn’t end well. Kenneth didn’t like him, mad their life miserable.

The trouble with all this attraction stuff is that once acted upon, you cannot go back to being friends, no matter what they say. There’s an easiness that flees when we become lovers. I thought love was supposed to draw people closer together. Instead, the walls grow higher. Maybe there something wrong with me that it happens so. 

I’m sorry for the vast gulf between Jan and me, I know there’s nothing I can do, after the fact. Again he tells me I’m so beautiful and that I should believe it. I’m perplexed. He takes myriad photos of me that I will never see.

After a meal, some harmony is restored, something that was there before all this craziness started, resurfaces. Friendship abides. We have a shared history to anchor us, when I stayed with him in Lissel, and Vins. We are torn between virtual realities. He was so pleased by my photo proofs, they’re not the best that I’ve ever done, but I just don’t have the time to work on them. 

Ah yes, the interim between shifts, we are off again to Enrico‘s. Who knows where it will take us this time? I may wind up coming home alone. I walk on, Jan photographs Columbus Street from inside Enrico‘s, I feel at home, the waiter recognizes me from last night. Ken is a few minutes behind me. 

Ken and I managed to kill off most of a bottle of Beaujolais before Jan returns. He has shot over three rolls in less than 45 minutes. I thought I was fast. But he has a sweet and stealthy Leica camera. Ken tottered off, and we headEd for the Saloon. I have been inside more bars during the past two weeks than I have in an entire lifetime.

Jan is working the crowd. I am alone, but not alone—which is an interesting phenomenon. He is very good at working his way into people’s psyches. He both charms and disarms. He will do anything to get the photo. I watched him get right into the singer’s face, rhythm and blues, heavy on the rhythm.

It truly is interesting hanging out with him. I can observe in a way not necessarily available to me if I was on my own. He’s like a satellite knight. The world really is a stage. Some drunks turn up, break the 4th wall. 

Before dinner, we tore down the walls that had risen between us. Jan said, I am a servant of the light. We talked about the stories of who, and what we are. We were in agreement that we have met in previous lives, that everything is circular. He said, you don’t have to explain it to me, I know. 

We listen to 60s music and have trouble with our relative age. Are we 40 and 44, or are we 20 and 24? How ironic, he’s the same age as Bob, my old boyfriend. He tells me about Mark’s story, how his father came home looking for his wife and she was upstairs, dead, having killed her daughter as well. Mark was only six when this happened.

Jan says he loves Mark’s vulnerability and wants to have sex with him. I say I hope you want to make love as well… Need I remind him that he is in the AIDS capital of the world? He wants to fill this trip with as experiences as possible—soon he will fly home to Amsterdam.

When Jan tells me Mark’s story, I cannot stop the tears from falling, maybe it’s because my own mother tried to commit suicide so many times. Maybe it’s the immediacy of words following between us, across the dinner table, the intimacy of shared meals softens the harshness. Jan says, as a man I know what a man wants, I like to have a cock to hold onto so I won’t fall out of bed. I can’t begin to know what a woman wants.

We wind up in the Castro, at Moby Dick‘s, he’s saying goodbye to his new friends—it is a dead night in North Beach as well. We stumbled into Spec’s on Saroyan Alley, the poet’s bar, I an on home turf. I haven’t been there in years.

Jan wanders off to take photos. I’m sitting at the bar, taking it all in, and it’s OK really, though he claims to be a gay lover, there’s also the heterosexual attraction but he can’t negate it, hence the dilemma. Spec asks me about Herman Berlandt, and how the writing is going, offers me a drink.

Weird, I can sit in a gay bar and feel OK. I am as sexual as I want to be, and I don’t have to worry about fending men off. For Jan, it’s the possibility of an endless meat market, and all I can do is to be a buffer for him. Who’d a thunk that I’d be in such a predicament? Jan thinks I should document the lesbians of Castro Street as my assignment, but I don’t have an interest in lesbians. I am content just to watch him in action. I tell him I am looking for poems, not women.

Sunday, January 3, 1993


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.


Journal entry, New Year’s Day, 1993

Journal entry, New Year’s Day, 1993 I dreamed of men pulling moss off the branches of oaks, gathering small green tufts of them. I don’t know what for. It had something to do with the evolution of love and time. Today it is sunny, welcoming after the hard rain. Paul Ellis said Eastside Road was pretty bad last night, he had trouble getting home, and he thought it was going to flood. Deep, distant roar of creeks after the storm, a new day. A new year. I’m catching up on the old year by reading my mail stacked in uneven piles all throughout the house, I have been away since mid-December when photographer Jan Bogaerts arrived from Holland. I’ve been booking venues for him to photograph and researching, making contacts in the gay community for his Granta photography project. It’s been a tumultuous couple of weeks, flirtations gone horribly awry. Jan is all over the place. It’s like he’s in the world’s biggest candy store—men, women, me. He doesn’t care. He’s out there. I’m so out of touch with time, that I’m surprised to find a blurb on my project, I get a mention in the cultural arts newsletter. And all I can think of is that I desperately need to sleep.