Friday, March 28, 1997

Flying home on Good Friday

Crossing the Sierras, by moonlight at 30,000 feet, I can make out Tahoe by its rim of light. I can see Reno, the Bay Area. A canyon weaves down from a vast lake. I’ve been following a long glaciated valley, perhaps it’s the Hetch Hetchy? Or Kings Canyon?I can trace the course of the river canyon by a string of light that begins like a lone flame, and crescendos into a candelabra of light as it tumbles down the mountains to the Central Valley, ringed with lights along Highway 99, like a bathtub ring, light reestablishing the ancient shoreline of the inland sea.

Sacramento, a pool of light as if the earth glowed from within. The crossroad contemplating resurrection with light.I can even make out the edges of San Pablo Bay, the north country. The amber sodium vapor and the green fluorescent lights. Mt. Diablo’s silhouette, filament of moonlight. The freeways like cells moving through capillaries on 580.

The geometric patterns of industry and suburbs like ideograms of light for the moon to see. I try and recognize the constellations from this height. I can make out the Big Dipper, but the suburbs snaking up the canyons in dendritic formations, industry’s strange calligraphy of light abutting up to the edges of the Berkeley hills rob the sky with their light. A spillage of light up the canyons of the nobility’s territory, the privileged herringbone of empty parking lots, and the strange glow of stadiums lit from within, though the games been long over. 

Stray renegade light slices the night as we descend, Dante-like. I can begin to make out the contours of the land as we enter from the south along the black bay, to bow before Moloch on this eve of Oestare, looking like basilisk lizards about to run on water but land replaces the water at the last minute. Blue eyes to ward off the evil eye, greets us and guides us home to the portal.

Good Friday

Sunday, March 2, 1997


                        For Charles O’Neill  October  30, 1926   to January  22, 1997

A man caught between the old world and the new,
straddles the fine lines that time offers up
at the death of the father
and the preciousness of life becomes a gift daily given.
He asks, “Without a regular supply of grace
is one left in the ego… just to wonder why?”
I have no ready answers, The orb of the sun
sinks into the small of the back: Inverness Ridge
marks the equinox, and Tomales bay shivers—
caught between the tug of time
and the milk-pale moon rising over a salmon-hued ridge.
He says, “This land owns me. I’ve lived here before,
maybe as a Spanish padre.” His talk of monks alarms me.
As if I’d suffered enough in a past life at the hands of a priest.
I shudder, someone walking on my grave.
He says, “Tomales Bay could be back home in Scotland.”
Steals small bits of the bay’s soul with his camera.
I imagine the monster beneath the waves.
We take shelter in a copse of bay trees,
where, on my birthday, he conjured the face
of a shadowed bride, and contemplated
the relentless of mindful of living.
We watch the the earth’s shadow swallow the blue moon.
As we round the tump, the goats let out a plaintive cry
of recognition, of long lost kin claiming us like children
lamenting our passing. The loss of the father
buried in the sacrificial richness of tall oat grasses,
they nibble at the scotch thistles curling about our feet.
Already Neil is shimmering, an apparition
having been taken captive as our ancestors have done,
surely, for centuries on end. Reilly and O’Neill
on Irish battle fields, thickening blood ties into saga and legend.
The wind luffs and lifts his kilt as I raise the camera to eye level.
I will never see proof of this moment trapped on film
for the indelible ink of memory has tattooed it
onto the chambers of my heart for safekeeping.
In this, everything becomes practice for saying goodbye.
The goats are sorry for our going away,
but soon they will drop their heads to the grass,
continue on with the business of living.

            3/23/97  Palm Sunday,
            Eclipse Moon rising just after the Vernal Equinox, Marconi Station

Journal, March madness of the mad wench

3/2/97 Went to Brazilian event, just back from teaching two weeks in Montana, I was so tired, I didn’t want to go, Verona insisted. “Neil will be there. He’s just returned from Scotland. His father died.” Oh. Maybe that’s my role, to help him transition the death. Funny, I’d felt an emptiness in his photo since mid-January, so I must’ve known on some level he was gone. He’s outrageous, as usual, feeling me up, down and out… and I still don’t know whether or not to take him seriously—precisely because he is such a flirt. On the other hand, I don’t see him man-handling other women. Just me. He touches my hair several times (and yanks it once like a schoolboy). Talks about death and love. Puts his hand on my hips, then up my back. Under my sweater! I debate whether to bop him, the Brazilian dancers are nearly naked. I take it in stride, feeling overdressed. He said something about wanting to get married, maybe plant a few seeds. Then asking me if I’ve ever been married, would I like to get married, etc. I answered, “No, I’m just a fast runner.” He said, “Ah! perhaps that’s the best way. I quipped something about being a virgin—an open invitation. He goads me. I blurt out “I’ve had my moments…” realizing I’ve once again been “had.” I’m realizing I’m divulging way too much, he’s gotten to me. I’m actually blushing! He seemed to like my discomfort, saying, “Look. We’re roasting her.” So much banter about sexual innuendoes. I retort with a counter: “When you gonna show the goods?” to fluster him, but it never works. This man is incorrigible!

He talks so entertainingly, I wonder if he uses words to keep a distance? I invite him to dinner after the event at Verona’s—she’s at an audition. I cook him salmon and couscous. I burnt the garlic bread because he was in the kitchen, hands all over me. It was all I could do to not lean into him, to surrender. I did put my arm around him once but quickly pulled away, unsure of his intentions.

Sometimes I can keep up with him smut-wise, then, I get embarrassed. He said how delicious it was to be naughty. Here’s a man who knows that anticipation is a big part of sexual stimuli (or unrequited sexual discourse.) I’m trying to stay detached from his patter, not trusting him or it. As we left Fort Mason earlier, he said something about my scent—the primeval salt-tang of women and the ocean, raising his fingers to his nose, sniffing them. I replied, “I know the signs of a randy man when I see one…” I don’t mean to sound old fashioned, but I don’t take hugging and holding lightly… I don’t think he’s dishonorable. I’m just biding my time. But, bottom line, we’ve covered a LOT of bases in a short time—I can’t believe this is only the third time I’ve seen him! Hard to believe. It feels like I’ve known him a long time, He’s so familiar, reminds me of someone, but who?

At my truck, he gives me a hug that finally felt real, and no, we didn’t kiss, but he thanked me for cooking his dinner. Salmon is a love food. I was cooking the salmon, the electric burner, too hot, he took it off the stove saying, “I’m a chemist—slow cooking is better.” I wasn’t offended, but I’d already dreamed of it: cooking salmon for him, etc. I asked if he ever had dreams come true. “You mean dejá vú?” NO, I mean real dreams, real events—I dream the future. We’ve already done this.” (He looks at me oddly.) That dream coming true, got me to wondering about him for I only dream about significant people in my life—I know I had this dream before I met him. So that’s why he seems so familiar!

3/4 Tues. TO SF to see Verona in a Beckett play, All That Fall. Neil came late but they wouldn’t let him in till the end. I’m trying to be cool, casual, but he holds onto my wrist again. What am I, his prisoner? We all go out dinner. I ride with Neil, he’s dropping his guard a bit, I think he’s also a bit down, despondent. His birthday is June 18 (a Gemini), I’d already figured as much. (He’s also blind as a bat! Asking me street signs. Yipe! He tells me where he lived, when he worked for Carnation and about working at Shell.) At the diner we crowd in, he sits across from me; my meal never comes, so he feeds me half his burger. I’ve no fork for the coleslaw, borrowing his, I ask if he had any communicable diseases I needed to know about. He says, “yes…,” muttering something about love being a communicable disease. Do my ears hear aright? Interesting comment. He covers his embarrassment by commenting on my feistiness. I begin to think maybe he’s as smitten with me as I am with him.

In the parking lot we hugged for quite some time, he made some obscene remark, my hands around his neck, and he wouldn’t let go of me, so I bit him on the neck, shocking him. He called me a little vampire. At the car he gave me a Scottish pin, I said, “Aren’t you going to pin it on?” He joked about sticking pins into my breast, “If you feel anything burning there later, Dracula, it’s just the pin doing its job,” patting my breast. I said, “Maybe you should move it lower down?” I can’t believe half of what we say. Does he tease other women as mercilessly as me? He says, “No, just you.” I guess this means he likes me. Verona said, “I’ve seen Neil with other women, but he doesn’t get wild with them the way he does with you. I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s usually so gentlemanly and polite.” Right.

3/14 After my reading at Copperfield’s in Petaluma I dashed down to Oakland—a farewell party for Zoravia at Neil’s—bearing heather, Hennessey, Guinness and chocolate mousse. I know I have to see him again. Even with Herman’s faulty directions I find Neil’s house, I don’t quite know how, I circled both sides of the freeway zigging and zagging, looking for Spanish style gates. Then used intuition to find my way, knowing they’re close by. I could feel it. Neil was glad to see me, the Charlie Musselwhite dress a smash success, he commented on it, fingering the plastic buttons that look like small hands. I made some ribald comment and he chastised me, “I’ll have you know I have a serious side too.” Glad to hear it. His friends were grand, we sang and danced, I read a few poems—but Neil didn’t hear them, he was outside saying a long goodbye to someone—she was the only one who seemed a bit cool towards me—is he interested in her? (Jane Ayles.) Hard to tell but I was minutely observed by Neil and several of his friends. I loved Wendy the second I lay eyes on her, and Gemma & Bob, and Margaret. People I want to know better. They all seem so familiar to me, like I’ve known them before. The old guy, Duncan’s an odd fish. The other one too, with the yamlika. Yeheil.

To cut to the chase: Herman got too drunk to drive, drinking my Hennessey like water, so Neil took Zoravia home in SF, imploring me to stay with them, making them drink water until he returned, then Herman or Verona would be sober enough to drive. Or to stay overnight. Verona was getting madder by the minute. I managed to get them to stay a little while, until she was sober enough to drive. And there I was stuck at Neil’s, a bit plastered myself, all alone, with no way to lock up and sneak off as I’d planned to do. Verona’s lecherous laugh ringing in my ears. I cleaned up, and played the guitar until he returned. We talked for quite some time. He was loath to let me go home. While cleaning up, I couldn’t believe I broke his teapot. I thought I was setting it down in the sink but he had a real deep sink, and I couldn’t see well by the stove light. (I had a flashback: I’ve done this before, cleaning up his house—why I dropped the teapot in the first place)—he made me fetch all the pieces from the trash… I was so flustered I managed to knock the stove off kilter, then a framed photo from the wall—like the proverbial bull in the china shop. He advised me, “Whatever you do, DON’T lean up against my bookshelf! Too many things to break.” He wants to know why he makes me nervous. I say nothing. My punishment for breaking the teapot—after considerable teasing on his part: “It was practically an antique. I’ve had it 15 years.”—was to sing him a song: “I Was Born in Portland Town.” But I was so tired, four days into my cold, here I was, up all hours. The evening’s three Guinnesses went right to my head—though I slowly nursed them over three hours and it’d been well over an hour since my last beer.

Every time I made leave to go, we got distracted by conversation—everything from marriage, children, spirituality. He asked so many probing questions. (Sinéad said I was being interviewed.) Did I have a spiritual life? Did I want children? Yes. I’d do it now (on the floor) if it was offered. He talked about the travails of being an older father. I said age wouldn’t stop me. The most surprising was a question of the soul. I’d gotten as far as the front door, coat on, computer bag hoisted, when he dragged me back in and said, “Let’s sit down and talk about this.” He said, “Do you know there’s a fire burning in you?” I answered, “I’m a fire sign,” thinking he was being trite. He said, “No, aside from that. Separate.” Yes, I know my fire, my divine spark. Unlike most women, I burn too bright. Most men who get too close go up in smoke. Gemini rising. Many men think I’m the most unusual woman they’ve met. It’s almost a curse. We sat on the couch, the bodhran, a chaperone between us. He asked if I had a spiritual life. Yes. Did it sustain me in times of need and despair? Yes. He said, “At 40, I hit a wall. Boredom.” He talked about wanting change. Talked about time—linear time passing him by, and the other kind of time—where everything expands. I told him about sitting zazen with Gary Snyder in at Robert Aitkin’s zendo on Maui, losing all sense of linear time. An awakening. If anything time sped up for me. He asked if I’d ever really been in love? Yes, and you? Yes. Yes and yes.

I told him about my precognitive dreams of him. “It’s a matter of trust—either you believe me or you don’t.” “When did you first meet me?” he asked. I was first aware of you around the Summer Solstice. The first big dream I remember was June 13, the night I also dreamt of Waldo and Paul Evans (I was to later meet in real life in Holland). Neil was the third man in the dream. I said, “It was your eyebrows I recognized. At Verona’s, when I was cooking the fish and you kept moving it off the stove, saying you were a chemist—I remembered you said that in the dream and was frantically trying to remember the pieces, the significant parts before they unfolded—a sort of check-point charley. Why I burned the garlic bread.”

I told him the dreaming was a major signal that someone will be important in my life, a friend a teacher—I almost always dream of my future lovers. But I didn’t tell him that for fear of scaring him off. He asked what his role was. I wouldn’t tell him. “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.” As I said it, I had a dejá vú of a dejá vú saying that to him…like mirrored speech. I repeated what I’d said earlier in the kitchen when he asked if he should return home to Scotland. I was learning to answer form the perspective of detachment, rather than my own desires. What could I say? “No, don’t return, I think I’m falling in love with you?” to a man I’d see five times in my life? He talked about the possibility of meeting people from past lives—the recognition factor, and why we choose who we choose as mates, as friends. I asked, “Did you feel you already knew me?” He said yes. No hesitation. So this kenning is mutual. We’re just downloading autobiographia for each other’s benefit. I tell him my dreaming is never about the past, or past lives but of the future, what is yet to be.

He probed me further on the issue of children. I said, “I’m ready right now, but I don’t want to do it alone.” I told him a little about John Oliver Simon’s betrayal, the abortion, He said, “You don’t have to answer…” when he saw how much of a spot he’d put me into. But, hard as it was to tell him, I floundered for words, I figured he wanted to know specific details about my reproductive capabilities. I told him the women in my family typically had babies at age 47, so it was still possible. He said Seán Connery and his wife married and had two kids. He was 45, she was 42. Neil said, “But at 40, who has the energy to have kids? I said I do. I have the energy. “I bet you do,” was his reply. Is this an offer?

He said that I seemed calmer. It was 3 AM, I should be, I was exhausted, wanted to go to sleep on the couch. I must seem like a high-strung horse, and he observes me so minutely. I wonder if he wants me to stay, but is afraid to ask, for I saw him eye me speculatively for a moment like I was horseflesh. I finally did make ready to leave at 3:30. At my truck, we began talking about rocks, I showed him the petrified wood I’d found. He said, “I’ll take you out to Point Reyes. we’ll look at rocks. I studied a few semesters of geology.” This man definitely wants me to be in his life—under what capacity? And who did he go to Ashland with?

Today I feel depressed thinking that he might fall in love with someone else—he has his heart on his sleeve. I imagine the woman who left early (“Jane”?) was the one. Was there something there? Was I jealous? Perhaps. I told him that trusting someone again enough to be able to fall in love was a big issue for me. I didn’t want to say too much because I’m still not sure where we’re heading. If he’s leaving in May to move back to Scotland forever, where does that leave me? I’ve had enough bi-continental relationships to last a lifetime: Oleg, Valera, Vinz. I can see he’s torn, but wants something else in life, the old way isn’t working, and his father’s death opened up something in him. He mentioned his father’s betrayal… I interrupted him, “But when you last saw him you said it was a good visit.” He confessed his father said things that left his trust shaken. He didn’t elaborate. His wounds still glistened. I wanted to reach up and touch his face, but was too shy to comfort him.

I’m still trying to figure him out. Finally he’s put his public persona away and the air between us became comforting instead of electrified with unrequited sex. And our friendship grew a little more. Earlier on, when he was offering couch space for Verona and Herman, I asked if I could stay too (I was so tired, and still ill from a cold), saying, “I’ll behave myself.” He said, “But I won’t. I’ll pounce on you.’ I replied, “I wouldn’t mind.” He mumbled something like: I bet you wouldn’t. I teased him about teasing me. He said, “I knew you could take it.” I told him I don’t mind, it made me feel strangely comfortable—a familiar gesture. Like my own family. I like it when he says, “Ah, but you’re a mad wench!” We also talked about death, creativity, and what sustains us. Or rather, I talked about creativity and its many forms: art, writing, cooking, making love…cutting my sentence short when I realized it might sound like a proposition, because we were on more serious turf that warranted exploration.

He led me to the hall and showed me a tiny photo of himself in a play—20 years ago, when he first met Verona, asking me to pick him out. It was easy. The eyebrows. Would I have been attracted to him if I’d met him then? I need to see a bigger picture. He came here at 19, a student hitchhiking across the USA. We both worked for Bread and Roses—though at different times. He was trouper of the year. I may even have seen him in a B&R newsletter photo! I told him of the time I met Eric Idle backstage while Robin Williams was performing. Robin came off stage, spotted me, said, “I know you! I know you!” giving me a great big sweaty hug. Neil said, “Yeah, I was in the audience with a ticket…” when I entertained the idea that we met before backstage.

At my truck, when he hugged me goodbye, I just lay my head down on his shoulder, it was as if I’d come home from a long, long journey across time itself. It was freezing and so very late, we broke it off before anything more developed. Part of the problem is, we can’t seem to shut up long enough to develop that kind of tension. Both of us know the spark is there, waiting to ignite, and we’re moving cautiously—probably for the same reasons! I drove home, noticing a big blur in the sky, thinking my eyesight had failed me, I continually rubbed my eye—only to realize it was the comet! A fortuitous sign! First sighting! Wishing upon a comet has to be stronger magic that wishing on a falling star. I wish for this relationship to work out. I think he’s the one. No one else will do.

3/18 Neil called tonight to say he’s coming to Sinéad’s Palm Sunday. We talked at least an hour. He was tired from Ashland, a little down, drained by the plays, “‘Death of a Salesman.’ It could be my father, or me for that matter.” Or King Lear. I was right, he went with Jane, the woman who was so cool to me at the party. What is their relationship? He said when he returned home, and saw the heather I’d brought him, he thought of me, and he again thanked me. Then demanded, “Where’s my teapot?” Feeling guilty and a bit mortified, I cringed and said, “I’m still looking.” So this becomes a source of teasing. He said someone almost bought him one in Ashland. But he said no, not knowing I was searching for one. He enjoyed our little talk the other night. I said, “Yeah, we certainly covered a lot of ground.” He confessed he felt guilty sending me off. Good! (Sinéad said it’s hard to be romantic after that kind of interview. Also it might be awkward in the morning.)

He’s taken to calling me Maureen O’Hara. I watched “The Quiet Man” last night, what part did I remind him of? “When she threw the dowry in the furnace.” Oh, I was afraid it was the part where Danaher drags her kicking and screaming across the fields. He snickered, “I’ll drag you across the fields on Sunday if you’d like.” I giggled. “You’re always laughing!” he accuses me. He talked about his family, his cousins as playmates and how he was alone here, never setting down roots, he always felt like a guest here. Never bought a home. “If a cousin had come with me, it might not have seemed so lonely.” I wonder if he can truly go back to Scotland after having been here for so long? Half a life living in exile.

3/23 Palm Sunday. Partial eclipse of the moon and the comet in the evening sky, Vernal Equinox, a fitting end to a good day. Neil came to mass with us in Nicasio, dressed in a kilt, he was a smash success at the Druid’s Hall breakfast. Michael Collins was there, he and Neil hit it off well. Neil said he could become great pals with Michael if he were staying. He’s in a grand nostalgic mood thinking he might be leaving forever—torn between two countries. He gets along famously with my family. This is a big test. None of my boyfriends felt comfortable with my family. A source of friction. He fits in well with our family tradition, gathering in Nicasio every Palm Sunday.

After brunch we’re sleepy, Neil says, “I just want to lay my head in your lap and take a nap. It would be lovely…” and puts his head in my lap just like that! I’m afraid to breathe. Seán makes a great entrance peeking through the stair rails—when he spots Neil, he gives a squeal of joy. Neil plays with him, we sip tea, then go to the Swing Café. He brought his guitar and we all sang until it got cold. A woman from Cape Breton Island joined us. It was magical. Later, when we were driving along the road to Tomales (he wanted to got to the Marconi Center), I joked, “We’re probably related to each other in the distant past. He said “We were probably lovers. Or even married.”

We hiked up the hill, he took photos of me facing the bay. It looked like Loch Ness. He expressed regrets about not setting down roots here, esp. in west Marin, he always felt a kinship with the land. I said, “But you know us!” “Ach! I was talkin’ about 20 years ago. I thought of moving here but I didn’t know anyone. I thought I’d be lonely.” I asked why didn’t we meet back in ’73? He said, “If we did, we’d have a whole passle of bairns.” He says things like that all the time, I get flustered. Then when he leaves, he gives me a lightweight hug, like he’s afraid to touch me. I just don’t get it. One minute he’s mad about me, and the next, I wonder if I imagined the whole thing. We spent a lot of time gazing into each other’s eyes, singing, that requires real intimacy. I get shy though. yesterday, on the phone, he asked, “Did I make you nervous?” Yes. He’s gotten good mileage on the teapot, teasing me to no end. I think he was quite touched when I gave him the replacement teapot. We made tea in it “strong enough to cut with a knife, as my mother used to say…” So familiar. He exclaimed, drawing me in, “Ah but you’re a mad wench!” with a twinkle in his eye, “I love it!”

3/31 Dream Journal: I was in a flood carrying messages. Neil was wandering from place to place. I saw him, but wasn’t with him. I interacted with several people. A boy. Down at the river a gophersnake reared out of the water. I waded to shore, climbed the stairs to my house. No, Neil’s house. Our house? The rails too steep to clutch, my hands full of other people’s torn messages. Seán’s little red time-out chair, and typed postcards signed from Ram Dass. I could hear Neil inside the cabin, washing dishes. I yell out, nearly falling backwards down the stairs. He doesn’t hear me. The door is locked. I have no hands with which to knock. Just my voice, but he can’t hear me over his own noise.