Wednesday, September 25, 1996

Letters to Frances Galloway

Frances Galloway/JLvan Schaik Publishers, S. Africa 9/25/96

Frances, I've an essay on Breyten Breytenbach & tr. (indepth w/ pix.) focus on ethics/general tr. issues & process. I just returned from A'dam—I still need to add quotes/examples on tr., or should I fax final draft ASAP? I think you'll like it.

Maureen Hurley

Frances, Did you ever receive my essay? I just got a card from Martin Mooij who received it. Said he was on his way to S. Africa. Ask him if he has any comments on my essay, or if it's ok.

I received replies from Miroslav Holub & Gert van Istendael—who offered two minor corrections: 

1. Fr Embassy in Belgium sponsored project. 
2. Breyten isn't a man w/o a country, but a French citizen. 

You may want to clarify. 

Maureen Hurley 2/5/97

Sunday, September 22, 1996

Seven Sisters

Flies pester the duckweed while the river converses with both shores at the same time. An ex-lover on the opposite bank, and the creek divides our past. A narrow tongue reaches to the bay where, as a child, I thought surely the gods must inhabit this place.

His eyes pester me like the river flies and midges and gadflies. A lizard does late-summer push-ups on a tree stump. Spring is over, lizard. No time to mate. But hope springs eternal.

First day of fall, the water holds the promise of the seasons. When John Oliver Simon vacates the opposite beach, I climb down to a rock in the river, bubbles and duckweed strike the submerged rock like migrating islands.

There was a time when I caught fish barehanded in these same tributaries. In the backwaters and eddies, bent light and dark oscillations fragment the surface. Stone pool and moss, miniature vortices, like lost conversations.

Below the rock, the crawdads wait for the dead. Water skeeters jet against the current, streaming bubbles of air. Migratory birds pester the alders for hidden seeds. Midges circle the palpable air, loose spiderwebs luff and stray.

Last night, we sat up late discussing the names of plants. The ridge, Wildcat Ridge, a watershed between my past, my childhood, and my present state. Cattails like young trees, guard the umbrella plants. I tell Arthur Dawson, they are related to papyrus. As we write.

Our eyes connect to where I come from and where I live. Scorpio and Sagittarius wheeling and rising in the sky. I relearn the names of stars under a full moon readying for the eclipse, September 26, the last eclipse of the century. Fin de sicle, how do we know where we're going with our art? Did the Impressionists and postimpressionist have foreknowledge?

Later, seven women will swim nude in the reservoir above the creek. And we will admire each other's bodies in the sunlight, breasts floating like lily pads, nipples beckoning. Someone says I want to suck them all. And this water within us is also part of the cycle. Who is peeing in the pond?

We are the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades, who don't want to rush back to the daily grind, not yet. Ruth Gendler dries off. She is meeting a friend for Yom Kippur, but the water draws her back again in one last time. A baptism of sorts.

Saturday, September 21, 1996


Voice 1: Sometimes the sky reminds me
of the buckeye's leaf molt in summer,
when the sun burns like friendly fire.

It doesn't matter if logic
is a theory of structure,
or the color of a successful bombing.

No I won't, I mean I can't. It's too late.
It's not going to be all right
if Republican cross-dressers
take both sides of the argument.

Right brain, wrong brain,
like Army intelligence.
It's going to be all right, or all wrong,
depending upon which gutter.

Voice 2: It doesn't matter
if friendly fire burns
the leaves off trees,
or if our own smart bombs
can't tell whose side is whose.

Look all you gotta do is read a little song.
Say a little poem, speak a few reasonable words.
And all will be forgiven. Didacticism aside.

Relax, who's taking the right
angle approach?  Right angel?
Just tell the right brain to shut up,
turn it off. Turn it off, I say.
This isn't going to hurt at all, trust me.

Arm my intelligence?
I have seen the sky at sunset
seeking the sun as if all that fire
was a song for the eye's mind.
Right or left, it's you approach it.
Maybe reproach it.
Did the bomber feel remorse?
Now, there's an odd idea
of successful bombing.

Why take both sides of the argument?
It's too late for Kuwait.
If I was a duodong, the sea's betrayal of sky,
burning. Which side are you on?

Name rank and serial number
says God, who side are you on anyway?
Carpet bombing in Iraq.
We keep coming back to a gulf of words.

Voice 1: What's left at the end
will survive us.
That's the structural approach.
To broach the subject with reproach.
Take two step poems
and call me in the morning.

Why say it's going to be all right?
It's never too late to send the dumb bombs
to training camp so they'll know
which side they're on.

Don't you know. Might is right
with God on our side.
Tulip patterns in the Koran
a whirlpool of fire flowers
blossoming in the Gulf.

9/21 or 22/1996


I am the empire of light,
the blue square on the mosaic wall,
looking for the shadow behind the door.
I am the sound of a book opening,
the silken rustle of the casket,
the open window, the spiraling leaf,
the shine on your car hood,
the dust on your window blind,
the voice of the nameless cow on the hill,
the invisible footprints in the stream,
the lemon flavored sunlight on winter grass,
the high note of the soprano sax,
the painter inside the tube of paint,
the canvas inside the painter.

21 Sept 1996

River of words watersheds

Riding through the watersheds, be quiet, let the river come to you. Use nature and preserve it as a resource. The culture we live in affects the poetry of rivers. East west. Field guides become textbooks. Forgotten languages. Discover your life place at the river's edge. River patterns in the Bay Area, 16 rivers speaking in tongues through the mouth to the bay, it is an unparalleled language. Water thieves: Peripheral Canal, Owens Lake, the Cadillac desert, Mono Lake. Water wars and designer water. What about the underground rivers and the archaic aquifers? Who will speak for them?

REDTAIL HAWK, & SAND (2 poems)


I am the redtail hawk of imagination
From the blood of my prey
I learned the persistence of red at sunset.
The sun taught me the importance of thermal updrafts.
My wings learned to trust the density of air.
My eyes gained the inside of distances
Desire learned to move like the sea
Inside inside the stormy halo of my cry. 

21 Sept 1996 
Walker Creek

I am the despair of sand
always searching for a lost home.
The wind drives me to a frenzy
It drives me from the crest of mountains
to the depths of the sea. 
Once I counted the breath of stars 
from the top of Everest to the Dead Sea. 
Then I found myself falling 
from subterranean cliffs 
to the dark crevasses of the earth.
I have measured time in faithful increments 
for those who needed that kind of solace.
I have scoured the faces of mountains 
until they forgot how to be jagged 
until they forgot how to cut the air
until they forgot how to stand tall as the sky. 

21 Sept 1996 
Walker Creek

Friday, September 20, 1996


Half the American public cannot read.
I am functionally illiterate in an alien culture. 
I buy food by pictures & make educated guesses. 
I memorize foreign words by sight 
and guess at the deeper meaning
by repetition and predictable sight reading,
sometimes to hilarious or tragic results.

Recombinant writing ideas

Recombinant writing ideas

Combine writing elements making connections with disparate objects to shake us out of our established writing patterns. We're forced to create connections between things. Tobey Kaplan has us create odd lists by reading several poems.

The secret trying to grasp
with everyone witness
larger blue lettering
it involves a historical surface, a patina.
Musées de Orsay
the opera of silence
a sliver of self
something they should have done
deer with antlers of fire
Baroque light seed
Lucid Astronaut

The electric sanctuary,
unfurling currents of whistles,
the elegant launch.
Something like gardens,
along with lemon trees, gardenias,
pigeon blood rubies,
skillful detectives radiating out
on plateglass windows.
Mercury vapor, buy and sell
light dressed in crêpe de Chine
reflecting prerogatives of violet,
metallic pearls, crocodile lame,
new perfumed bills in his wallet.

The road rises, we climb and roar like voyages
a precipice moon rising.
How does God authorize this sun
precipitating, as far as we know,
simplicity taught us how to be free.
Dogs, horses, birds simple tales,
they are not afraid of talking,
they always know how to give their own smiles.
They may hate music, there are three of them.
Sovereign elegance, social rules,
black hummingbirds covered with flowers & moss,
the last swarm finding a balance
among the simplicity of life
while holding a riding crop.

not afraid of talking

With everyone unfurling current currents of light,
something like gardens arises in brothel doorways.
Skillful detectives in front of plateglass windows
witness the surface pattern of light
dressed in crêpe de Chine, and metallic pearls.
The perfume of newly minted bills.
There are crocodiles among the lemon trees
and gardenias, something like gardens.

The road rises as if trying to grasp
the precipice of the moon rising,
an offer of silence in Terra Lingua.
It involves a sovereign elegance.
We climb and roar like star voyagers
trying to grasp the social rules of space,
finding no balance among the generations
of blood pigeons, deer with antlers of fire
witness the digestion of stars.
Black hummingbirds covered with flowers,
they're not afraid of talking.

The electric sanctuary enters the past or the future,
but not both at once.
While a sliver of self is trying to grasp the secret
something they should have done a long time ago.
Historical silence follows covered with moss.
How does God authorize the Sun?
It's all done with smoke and mirrors.
Welcome home astronaut, welcome home.

Thursday, September 19, 1996

Journal fragments, Amsterdam, Brugge, Laon

Journal fragment: 19 Sept., 1996 (midnight insomnia)

Home, I am—and after a week of sunshine, I need dark glasses—unused as I am to so much concentrated light. The weather’s turning cold. Fingernail moon (and a total eclipse on the 26th—the last one of the millennium.)

Still suffering from acute jetlag & tunnel vision, disorientation by late afternoon is typical (6 PM is really 3 AM—and I wonder why I have no appetite for dinner!).

Driving is excruciating (asleep at the wheel is a reality). My cousin Dave’s having the same symptoms. We may have jumped into this culture/time zone but the bio-rhythms aren’t yet shifting. He said “I have to keep moving around, flapping my arms, just to keep awake at work.” I laughed at the idea of Dave flapping his wings in an airplane hangar with all those dismantled 747 planes.

At a lively Brazilian party in San Francisco, I made the mistake of sitting alone on the couch for a few minutes. My eyes may have been open, but that’s all. I couldn’t even speak, let alone understand the Brazilians’ Spanish (who speak with a Portuguese accent).

I drove Herman Berlandt & Verona home to Novato in Marin County, north of San Francisco, literally cross-eyed, thinking “I’ll never make it home” (an hour and a half’s drive) so I slept on their couch.

They say it takes a minimum of 1 day of suffering for each time zone. I remember how it took me weeks to recover from Russia. How long will I suffer this time? Someone said that in a Concorde jet, you travel so fast, you hypothetically arrive before you leave—earlier, that is, in New York than when one leaves Paris! Where’s Einstein when you need him?

In August, my cousin Dave Dinsmore came over to Amsterdam to visit me—he works for United Airlines—Dave, Charles McGeehan and his girlfriend Bertaijn and I went to France for a few days—

We took the coast route from Rotterdam to Zeeland islands—dunes marsh and grey sea—and the ferry at Vlissingen to Belgium. I saw the windmill and had that curious sensation of collapsed time, remembering our mad walk to the train station, wanting to visit Wim Hofman but we had so little time, having stopped overlong in Middleburg.

Dave was so amazed, we wound up staying overlong, and had to hurry to Brugge—which was even more amazing—we were so exhausted, we spent the night (in an inn) beneath the tower on the main square.

We got caught in horrible traffic in Lille—no road signs on the freeways, so we circled and circled the countryside for hours trying to avoid the toll roads and navigate our way east by following topographic clues and a certain slant of sunlight until dusk overtook us;

Lille, a real hellhole. Dunkirk ever to the west. The Battle of the Bulge was fought somewhere near here. You can still feel the ghostly reminder the blood-soaked fields at sunset when the light is right and the fog rises up like apparitions.

We wound up several times in a village where Reblais was born, Proust too. Closet hysteric Charles McGeehan forgot his passport (and his epilepsy pills) so we didn’t want to get caught up in a immigration control lines.

Dave and I, having no French money, didn’t want to take the toll roads. Asking a Frenchman directions in a village square was a farce worthy of a Monty Python comedy sketch. Only Bertaijn spoke French.

A 6-hour trip from Amsterdam to Laon took us nearly three days. Kafavy said the journey, not the destination, matters. On the way back, we stopped off in Antwerp; sat in the afternoon sun in front of that glorious Gothic cathedral quaffing strong Belgian beer. We earned the sight of spires piercing the blueness of sky.

Odd, Laon’s hill fortress Gothic cathedral has no spires, just stumps.

I was able to spend some time at a friend’s dilapidated country house in France, in a tiny hamlet of Rogny on the Abbey Road (founded by Irish monks in the Dark Ages) between Marle & Laon, in Picardy, Ainse.

Charles (Bert Schierbeek’s translator) McGeehan’s exwife/girlfriend, Bertaijn’s farmhouse needs so much work, I’d love to stay there next summer in exchange for working on it—it reminds me of my grandmother’s house where I grew up in Forest Knolls.

A certain angle of light, red roses splayed against a wall, farm machinery from another era strewn in every nook and cranny. Triggerpoints of memory.

Charles is an interesting character, a GI stationed in Germany in the late ’60s, on furlough, who never left Holland; he’d met a Dutch girl on a train: Bertaijn. Now he’s 60 years old, an expatriate, neither wholly Dutch nor American.

Bertaijn was Bert Schierbeek’s sister-in-law; we met at Bert’s funeral my first day in Holland in June. We were 500 strong, the coffin, a barge dressed in flowers and sheaves of poetry—including our own Mother Earth Journal. Bert used to spend time at Bertaijn’s farmhouse. My cousin Dave & I felt his presence there. . .

1 Dec. Sun. I’ve been reading up on my ancestors, the Celts—I discovered that Laon (where I was in France) was an Irish monastery until ca. 1500 to 1700 AD.

My favorite mystery scholar whom I know little about, a founder of many of the continental universities, was Johannes Scottus Eriugena (or John, the Irishman b. 810).

He taught 25 years at Laon and at the Paris Court School for Charles the Bald (when he wasn’t being accused of heresy—which was often—for his radical doctrine preached the concept of free will. Note: this was long before Luther was a gleam in his great-grandparents’ eyes).

Here’s a little story about Eriugena: An emperor (Charles the Bald?) made a playful pun on two similar sounding words in Latin: sottum and scottum, and asked John what’s the difference between a fool and a Scot (Irishman) to which John replied, “Only the table.” (In Latin, of course: Quid distat inter sottum et scottum?). The king must’ve been seated across from the Irishman. I bet he was flabbergasted by the answer—talk about turned tables!

But then it is said in our myths, satire was the first art form invented in Ireland. I found this gem in my friend Vinz’s flat: Adversus stultitiam pugnare nil est laboriusius nulla enim auctonate vinci fatetur nulla ratione suddetor. Which goes something like: nothing is more laborious than to fight against stupidity for it won’t bend to any authority and it won’t be convinced by any reason. He must have had some very challenging students at Laon University!

I’m in the process of applying for an Irish passport (my grandparents left before Ireland became a republic, so I’m the last generation allowed to apply for a passport.) My uncle John was in Dublin this summer and got his inside of two weeks.

The passport allows us to work in the European Community, an important consideration. I guess I’m tired of having to always struggle to find work each year, with no future, retirement, or security—nothing at all, for this is the life of an “independent contractor,” outside the system, so to speak.

This is life in America for the struggling artist. Brains and talent account for little in the land where the greenback dollar is God. I think I’d like to work at one of the American schools in Europe—Poetry, English & Art. I want a life where I can spend time in Europe, as I am always unhappy to return to the states, where I need to earn money.

My 2nd night home, I was invited to a Sebastopol Arts Council meeting for the promotion of poetry in west Sonoma County, and I felt so jaded. “Been there, done that. Got the shirt. . .” Guess I should be glad poetry is so “in” but it just makes me bad-tempered and ornery—especially when they dream big, and haven’t a clue as to what goes on in putting on reading series and workshops, wanting more volunteer labor to make it happen. . .and I’ve got that shirt too—in several sizes. (And it’s got bloody holes in it by now!).

It feels a bit like a mausoleum here, in this poetry mecca of the world (and in my cabin too). I know I’ll grow used to it soon enough. I saw a bizarre English movie, The Draughtsman’s Contract, by Peter Greenaway, the director of The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. At the end there were all these Dutch references—someone speaking Dutch which I could almost understand. It had the peculiar effect of making me homesick for the wrong country.

They say you always leave a part of yourself behind when you travel. Does that mean there’s less of me returning home each time I go away? (Hemingway said: Travel broadens the mind. Writing broadens the ass. I write standing up.)

Before I left Amsterdam, I got into a bicycle accident. As I was returning home to Oetgenstraat from Westerpark, some idiot took a curved wrought-iron flower trellis (the arch that goes over a gate) out of the back of his double-parked car on Prinsengracht (near Utrechtstraat), and swung it in front of me, cutting my right hand.

I tried to protect my face but smashed into a parked car, bruising my left wrist when I hit the back windshield. It was either smash into a parked car or fly into the canal—which to choose? The bike’s brakes were no good on wet cobblestone & brick.

I’ve been ignoring my wrist for the past 2 months—until it hurt so badly (I was smashing a clove of garlic with the flat of a knife; the little bones in my wrist made a crunching sound like potato crisps!).

I went to the doctor who put it into a splint to rest it—a bad sprain with injury to the ulnar nerve. I’m a slow typist wearing a wrist brace which looks (& is beginning to smell) like an old gym shoe, and as winter’s chill creeps in, my bones ache; injuries don’t heal quite as fast as they used to.

Sunday, September 15, 1996


Make no bones about it,
said the dice player, as he
slammed down another cup. 
Blood is thicker than water. 
The last straw that breaks the camel's back 
is a big needle in a small haystack.

Too many irons in the fire? 
Well then, skip the ironing. 
I'll trust him no farther than I can fling him,
she said. 
An omlette run afowl, is a lot of broken eggs.

Keep your eyes on the stars,
and your feet on the ground, 
said Teddy Roosevelt. 
The moon comes up 15 minutes later 
than it did the day before, you can count on it. 
Only 4% of a light bulb's energy is light, 
all the rest is heat. 
Politicians shed no light whatsoever.
It's all hot air.

A Russian saying: he's looking for the horse 
he is riding, means he is absent-minded.
No computer can translate idioms. 
In Swedish: Who stole the cash box?
means how are you? Program that one in. 

There is no word for problem in Quechua. 
Dust devils are called mothers-in-law by the Navajos. 
To take a walk in the Malay, is to eat the wind. 
He went to see a man about a dog.

The Germans are called German 
because their ancient forefathers 
hollered and screamed in battle,
so the Gauls called them Germani 
from a Celtic word, meaning to shout. 
Julius Caesar was credited with Juvernia 
which became Hibernia, which is Ireland.
A 9th-century Irish saying:
love is a drowning in floodwaters. 
Terra Nullis: No man's land.

The Arabs said, One is the first number 
in a series of endless numbers. 

Rosebush, in the Warm Springs Pomo language
translates as the mean old lady who sticks you. 
Tell that to William Randolph Hearst. 
Rosebud. Citizen rose Kane with thorns.

A gray whale weighs a ton at birth. 
A blue whale's tongue weighs as much as an elephant.
Its heart, the size of a car, the aorta is big enough
for a child to crawl through.
The octopus hunts only at night. 
The blue of icebergs is not a reflection 
of water or sky but of old compressed ice 
where all air has been squeezed out.

One tear met another tear floating down the river. 
Said the first tear, I am the tear of the woman 
who lost her love. The other tear replied,
And I am the tear of the woman who got him.
An old Chinese saying proves 
that some things never change.

I have written only one masterpiece, 
said Ravel, it is called Bolero. 
Unfortunately it contains no music. 

Spider silk is so light that an ounce 
would stretch a thin strand 2000 miles. 
There are those who weave garments 
from the webs of spiders, that glisten like gold.

Scientist queried: why do snakes have forked tongues? 
An Italian naturalist said the forked tongues 
were used for picking the dirt out of their noses.  
The better to tell lies about the Garden of Eden.
Aristotle thought it gave snakes savory pleasure,
their gustatory sensation doubled. A good thing 
he didn't know about the opossums' double penis.

They say pleasure is plural and pain is singular. 

Nothing is more laborious 
than to fight against stupidity 
for it won't be any connected to reason. 
When we ask for advice 
we are looking for an accomplice. 
Paul Gauguin said, life, being what it is, 
one dreams of revenge. 

To compat the dust storms of the Gobi Desert 
the Chinese planted 300 million elm trees 
parallel to the Great Wall of China.

It is said that those who can't read,
sing the songs in the streets of South America
about the characters in A Hundred Years of Solitude.
You have to begin to lose your memory, 
if only in bits and pieces, if only 
to realize that memory is what makes our lives,
said Luis Buñuel.

Storm petrels trotting across the water 
were named after St. Peter, the Apostle 
who walked on water. Peter means rock.
Hummingbirds can fly upside down. 
What god were they named after?
Huitzilopochtli the god of war.
Warriors slain in battle
returned as hummingbirds.
Stone sink to the depths of the river.

rearranged & revised 11/17