Sunday, April 27, 1997

Glendale, Eagle Rock Wake notes, Barney O’Reilly’s funeral


I awoke to the unaccustomed heat of the desert, and this is only April. At least I remembered to bring shorts. My aunt Canice wore boots more fitting for the snow. An earthquake in the middle of the night shook me awake. The door jam creaking under the shifting earth. How far is Pasadena from Northridge? But we’re on bedrock.

At the wake, the family stories begin in short bursts and fragments. I can’t keep up, and everybody is mixing it up, no one finishes a thought, let alone, a sentence. Especially after the toasts began. How will I keep it all straight? Below are some of the fragments I managed to record, but in the process of trying to make sense of them, and find the thread, they may be even more convoluted.

My grandfather, Bernard Reilly was born on the Moyne farm but his birth was not registered in Cavan, as they left Bally James Duff because of the scarlet fever. Grandpa‘s older brother, Joseph Reilly had died of scarlet fever. The story goes, they opened the casket to put another child in young Bridget’s casket, she was three or four years old, and had been dead for ten years. They said she was perfectly preserved, and her hair and nails kept on growing all that time.

John was my grandfather Bernard’s father. William was Bridget’s father. Both were Reillys. They kept it in the family. Grandpa said that he born under a cabbage plant. His sister Annamarie Reilly married Jerome/ James Duffy.  Their son, John “the lovely “Duffy was a bit of a hellion. It’s about time they called you in and brought you back to school, said the priest.

Grandpa’s namesake, my first-cousin-once-removed, Barney O’Reilly, the man who died last a Sunday, was an American Vet, a sailor, in 1944, he fought in World War II, and later, in Korea. His was a sudden death, he went into the hospital last Sunday morning, April 21, and was dead by Monday morning, 11:25, his wife Ruth arrived at 11:30. she missed saying goodbye to him by five minutes.

Paul played Amazing Grace on the pipes, and the fading strains of Skye Boat Song finally brought us to tears. The Minstrel Boy was Grandpa‘s favorite song. One time he tried to play it on the clarinet, and murdered it.

Uncle John said that Barney lived at our house in San Francisco, and also Forest Knolls when he was a sailor. He said, We used to go up to Honeymoon Flats in the Sierras.

Someone begins a history lesson. There were four Reilly castles in Cavan. The last Reilly stronghold to fall to Cromwell was on an island, but the English brought in the cannons. The Flight of the Earls, the Wild Geese fled to Spain. Someone said Philip of Spain (Carlos III) sent Tomas O’Daley, a civil engineer, and John Alexander “Alejandro” O’Reilly to Puerto Rico, where they built a fortress, San Cristobal. John Alexander O’Reilly lived in Casablanca, Ponce de León‘s house in San Juan, Puerto Rico. John Alexander was the governor of Louisiana. Someone once called from Louisiana asking if we were we were related. We said no, not knowing this story.

28 April, Monday morning. Burbank to SFO. 

The north side of the hills, the southern exposures are already dressed for summer. One northern slope is fringed in green and yellow. I can see vast swaths of poppies and goldfields from this great height, it’s as if they were painted on the hills. A riot of color. The green lends dramatic relief to the shape of the raw ravines and erosion. We must be over the Carrizo Plain. We fly parallel to the San Andreas Fault, distinct north and south ridges and troughs separating the valley from the San Joaquin. Two continents fighting for space.

I dreamed Grandma said something in Irish. I’m not sure what she said. Perhaps she said the word glamour, or magic. I think it was magic. But glamour means magic. She then turned to someone and talked to him. I think it was Barney. He seem to understand her though I didn’t. It was late afternoon and they were happy to see each other. It seems that they do speak Irish in the country of the dead. There is glamour afoot.

Saturday, April 26, 1997

Dancing on the Brink


WHAT struck me most about coming home to the north coast of California after a long, wet summer in Europe, was the sharp, aromatic odor of bay laurel, sweet poison oak and sun-burnt hay, flavored with the acrid, thirsty dust—the mellifluous odor of Indian summer making me nostalgic for the past, for memory hidden in the crenulated folds of hills. Buñuel said: You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Pieces of memory resurrect in the mirrored San Francisco Bay and Mt. Tamalpais, the fire-ravaged Oakland hills. They resurrect against a cerulean sky, steep, tawny hillsides cloaked in sizzling non-native oat grasses like sleeping lions, and thick green-black oaks roiling in their crotches—so sexual—it surprises me anew each time I return. It steals one’s breath away, reducing all semblance of speech to that of monosyllabic moaning of prespeech. They say our earliest memories are the strongest. I was conceived on Mt. Tamalpais, my mother watching Point Reyes disappear over my father’s right shoulder at sunset. The lost pieces of memory, a mended patchwork quilt over the bed of time.

A South African writer I know coined the word outgasm. I want to tell Breyten an outgasm of light dances on the bay; I’ve taken in some of his memory into my own. The parched savanna juxtaposed against the funereal odor of escapee calla lilies. “Arum lilies here?” exclaimed a Capetown realtor from the group we led on a hike past an abandoned ranch to view the mouth of the Golden Gate from Indian Cove. I mouth the unfamiliar word, arum; the sarcophagi of Egypt or the pelican daughters of Lear comes to mind. Alcatraz. Angel Island. We resurrect place names of the Coast Miwok, mouthing a dead language: Tamalpais—the land of the Tomales, O’onopais—the land of buckeyes, and Yulupa—the place of the shining Golden Gate. Explorer John C. Frémont’s epithet, Chrysopylae, a historical footnote. Sadly, all that survives of the Ohlone tribal stories of this landscape is: Dancing on the brink of the world. We gently retrace our steps along the seething faultline, the Farallones and the Point Reyes Peninsula draw our eyes to the curvature of the sea’s final horizon.



© 1997, revised 2000 Maureen Hurley

Wednesday, April 23, 1997

Journal entry, Barney O’Reilly, Sr. died

 
4/23    I go home, smudge the house and spread rose petals on my doorstep for the dead. My neighbor Steve confesses he gets nervous: “Every time I see you do that, somebody dies.” Odd, I never connected the two. Sinéad calls to say our cousin Barney O’Reilly, Sr., died. We prepare for an Irish wake: whiskey and bagpipes in Eagle Rock. I sing Danny Boy. The earth is shaking again. Time is imploding.

Sunday, April 20, 1997

Journal entry, Allen Ginsburg Memorial, Passover Eve., Buddha’s Birthday.


4/20 Allen Ginsburg Memorial, Temple Emanuel, Arguello St. SF. Passover Eve., Buddha’s Birthday. In the courtyard, poets greet us in white robes. Oranges and gardenias float in the fountain. We enter the temple like wedding guests.

Said the rabbi, “‘Others criticized, ‘How could you honor such a person as Ginsburg in a holy temple?’”

Said the rabbi, “A temple is not sacred until sacred people gather in it. Welcome.”

A tribe of poets gather here today, some 3000 strong: an Ecstasy of Poets. The energy is like at COBRA founder Bert Scheerbeek’s funeral in Amsterdam, last June, I stood between his disciples Jan Volkers, Hugo Claus and Willem van Toorn. Breaking from tradition and metered verse, Bert’s post W.W.II vision begat Allen’s voice, which in turn, begat our own poetic voices. I never again thought I’d experience the chaotic force of poets united in one mind. Surely this is Godhead. Yes, we who work at living… and what is the work? To ease the work of living…

So many long-lost friends I haven’t seen in ages, I thought them dead: Steve Petty, Stephen Kessler, the Joannes: Kyger & Hotchkiss, the Jacks: Micheline, Hirshman and Foley, Noni Howard, bald as an egg. A trick of vision:

I imagined the dead joined us. Embodied poetics. Was that really Boschka Layton in the wings, with her face adroop with Bells’ Palsy, dead these 22 years, (Donald Sutherland’s sister). And was it Cliff McEntire serving us platters of sea bass at poets dinners in the Haight? John Logan. Brother Antoninus? (William Everson in his fringed buckskin jacket and boots).

And Robert Duncan in black, like a Zen master Bending the Bow? Kerouac, Cassidy, Brautigan? One-eyed Creeley? I swear I saw Lew Welsh’s face in the crowd. Ring of Bone. Paul Mariah smoking, swigging from his flask and giggling. And the ones I once wished dead, the ex-flames: John Oliver Simon. And a current flame: where is Neil? Oh, to have arms big enough to embrace this room! People five-deep in the aisles: I give Neil’s seat to Terry Ehret. Good to see her.

Nancy Peters said City Lights was inundated with letters, tributes, calls from all over the world. Larry Ferlinghetti said “I’ll always remember Ginsburg’s voice singing Blake.” And read “Allen Ginsburg Dying.” Mark Linenthal who brought Howl into the classroom, said, “He, more than any other writer, changed what a writer could, or should be…”

Ginsburg, our uncle, our poetic ancestor, gave us the right to write from the heart. Kyger, who went to India with Allen, read from his journal: “Widen the area of consciousness until it becomes so wide, it encompasses its own death… widen consciousness…keep it simple…behind writing is the practice of meditation.” Kyger holds up her hand, says “It’s 1977: Allen makes a literary map of Bolinas: ‘I hear the waves of Bolinas reef saying, boxcar, boxcar, boxcar…’” We chuckle.

Pantherlike Ann Waldman notes: “The weight and desire that human attachment brings…Allen flossing his teeth… making chicken soup…” Did someone say he resembled Dostoyevski in death? “All ashes, all ashes again…”

Bob Hass said, “Allen showed us the importance of breath in prosody or free verse—how they breathed their very breath. ‘The point wasn’t to suffer, the point was to get it.’” We murmur in appreciation. Michael McClure, ever in black, “I met Allen in ’54 at a party in SF for W.H. Auden. We were both wallflowers. Allen set benchmarks of political consciousness and speaking out.”

Diane diPrima said: “The excellence of every art is its intensity… How will you measure Allen’s passing… how will you measure the dark?” Gary Snyder remembered Allen visiting in Berkeley, with Rexroth “drinking our graduate schooling down the tubes… Howl held the power of the voice, of the breath… Allen broke that open for all of us.” Gary’s long, rangy voice filled the temple, “It’s Buddha’s birthday. Allen chose to die during the month of cherry blossoms blooming.”

April is poetry month, not T.S. Elliot’s cruellest month… Gary sings from Magpie’s Song: “Here in the mind brother, turquoise blue…” I hum along. It’s Passover Eve. Fill the temple with the sacredness of poets. A kaddish beyond words. Shalom. You spoke of simultaneous thought, Allen: First mind, best mind. Full moon! And Earth Day! Timothy Leary takes to the skies in his silver ship! Bon Voyage Timothy Leary. Say Hello to Allen!

At intermission Herman Berlandt said Neil wasn’t here, but I knew he was, I could feel him. There: standing on the pillar steps. I yelled Neil! several times. He searched, but couldn’t see me. Across the sea of faces, I watched him, as if stranger (who is this man?), before I wormed my way across the courtyard to his side, reclaiming my destiny. Whoever he is, we are linked. There is magic afoot. I touched his arm and he burst into smile.

So many people to talk to: Joanne Kyger asks about the lump in my breast… resuming a conversation we’d had 2 1/2 years earlier. I hug David Bromige, Steve Tills, Ann Erickson, Gary Glazner, Duncan McNaughton—the old Sonoma gang. Last time I saw Whitman McGowan, his face was painted blue. (Light-years before Gibson in “Braveheart”). I choke, suddenly remembering my dead mother’s hands in front of the bonfire in Whitman’s videopoem. An aftergift for the survivors.

The scent of gardenias and 3000 fresh orange rind simultaneously releasing essential oils: the juicy tang of communion. Noni Howard and I nip Hennessy's by the fountain, she was captivated by a man with knee-length dreadlocks, a felt pelt, and here she was bald as an egg, painting on eyebrows and lashes longer than he’s been growing dreadlocks. I don’t think Neil fully caught the irony of the situation. Poets really are wonderfully weird. I hold my breath.

He looks a bit bewildered, but seems to be taking it all in stride. Good. Another test passed. This is where my prospective men have failed the test unless they happen to be crazy as poets too. It’s as if poetry makes us unfit: unable to fit in with the rest of humanity. He walks me to my truck, we lean on the brick wall gazing into the park. Talks of his father, again. And the spaces between worlds. The universe puts me on alert. Something big is about to happen. And he is central to it. Something inexorable closing in.

Jack and Adele Foley, Herman, Neil and I went to the Mission District for dinner at an Indian restaurant. All over the city, poets were feasting and fucking in honor of Allen Ginsburg. Over chapatis, Jack tells us about a long, spontaneous interview he just did with Allen for KPFA. A pregnant woman joins us and announces she’s a single mother looking for a husband. No one makes her an offer. Neil mumbles into his plate: “It’s easier to give birth to a child than to give birth to a husband,” as if he were struggling with the concept himself.

Over dinner, I marvel at how Neil and Jack’s bodies are cast from the same mold: short, barrel-chested, foreshortened arms, diminutive starfish hands. Fir Bolgs? Neil’s a handsome man, most pleasing to look at. Jack’s stringy hair and glasses hide his face, but his eyes and brows are similar. Jack tells us stories of his father, an Irish vaudeville actor blarneying his way out of a ticket from an Irish cop. A lesson on how to grease the spoon.

Neil spoonfeeds me the last of the mango chutney. Walks me to my truck “Like an Old world gentleman.” “In which case,” I say, “I’ll take your arm (and a leg too, if I can).” I give him some Irish books, for, though he’s a descendant of Irish kings, he doesn’t know his own cultural heritage, the Ulster stories of Cú Chullain, Conchobar and Deirdre. The Táin. Fionn McCumhail.

He said, “My flabber is gasted. This merits a kiss…” Our first beneath the orange glow of sodium lamps. He loves to tease me. I like who I am around him: shy, gawky, a child, a sophisticated woman. He pulls me to him, I lay my head on his shoulder. This is becoming habit-forming. I’m still torn by the daisy petal routine: he loves me, he loves me not…

Thursday, April 10, 1997

OCCASIONAL POEM FOR NEIL

 
OCCASIONAL POEM FOR NEIL

Did you know I carry
your photo with me
for the times when I need
to restore the grace lost,
for when I’m battling
mad drivers on the road,
for when I’m late again,
for when my mind takes me
to places no one should dwell
overlong,
for when I doubt
that true love exists,
or comes again
for those who’ve hit their 40’s,
childless,
because the stars were too distant
(or too close) after all,
but we weren’t about to admit it.
For dreams were filled with their dazzle,
and we couldn’t see what dwelled
in the darkened rooms of sleep,
because sunspots dazzled us
with sapphire splendor.
And from looking too long at the sun,
by necessity,
we learned to navigate in the dark.
By naming the object of desire,
we could never be satisfied
with the imperfections of an empire
of lost souls adrift on a dark sea
of chaos and survival,
stripped of dignity and grace,
so that I seek…

            4/10/97

Tuesday, April 1, 1997

Journal, April Foolishness


4/1 Easter Sunday, April Fool’s day, and Canice’s 60th birthday. We BBQ lamb and beef, a good party. Neil comes late: 10 PM, we all sing until the wee hours. Neil sleeps on one couch, me on the other—talking until dawn. I confess to him, “How you shed light. You’re so easy to be with, I don’t have to be anyone but who I am, no pretensions or posturing. I can be myself. What a relief!” He talked about his parents’ marriage, and how they were great friends too. I asked why he never married. He said it never felt right. Something was missing. He let go of the idea; it didn’t bother him so much now. He didn’t want to marry when he was young because everybody was doing it. He asked why I never married. For similar reasons. I don’t tell him of my lack of faith, my loss of passion and desire, my inability to fall deeply in love again after breaking up with John.

The cats raced through the house using us for launch pads. Neil’s allergic, so of course they want to visit him. He was so thrilled by the view outside the window, I opened the blinds, noting the sensation of dejá vú as I leaned over him. I’ve done this before. Our energy isn’t just sexual, it’s a settling into each other. I began to think he wasn’t interested in me because he said he had monkish tendencies when we were talking of marriage.

We caught a few winks somewhere between dawn and 11 AM, when I dreamt of Ram Dass. We cozied about in bed until Sinéad got up and served us tea, toast and huckleberry jam. Went to the Swing Café, met up with my aunt Jane. Already we were intimate, having shared toothbrush and razor. Last night I handed him my tin whistles, he played a tune, handed them back saying, “Play something.” I put it to my lips, still wet from his, it was as if I was tasting him and we hadn’t even kissed each other. Swapping spit. We’ll be doing more of that soon anyway. At the café, he stood behind me, I unconsciously leaned into him, brushing against him like a mare in heat, I pulled back just as he trilled his hands down my back to my waist, grasping my hips, pulling me in. Dangerous ground. It was all I could do to keep myself from rubbing my ass into his groin. And my family there! The first flicker of heat from me in ages! Long buried desire—something I haven’t felt since my parents died. (Him too I think.) A transitional moment, a flickering of lust, promises to come… we were still checking each other out. On the other hand, if we were dogs, we’d be fucking right there in the café… someone throwing cold water on us to separate us…

We went out to Mt. Vision, hiked down the trail overlooking the estero. I wore his shirt under my jacket. The wind, so strong it nearly blew us off the face of the earth! We took shelter on a grassy path overlooking the estero. I gave him a gift of wild strawberries, but he absent-mindedly threw them away. Uh-oh! I played with the violets and pussy’s ears as he talked about his father, wanting to do a film of him. “Return to Redargan.” The story of the farm in Ireland he lost and the resulting 50 years of his life. The flashbacks of multiple selves meeting each other… Our deep reverie interrupted by a mountain biker who appeared from the middle of nowhere like an apparition! Meanwhile, our own meeting contained multiple dejá vús—more so for him than for me. We talked of death, the fire burning within our journeys, through suffering, Buddhism, why he became an actor—all through the afternoon.

And over dinner at Café Reyes, we’d spent 24 hours together, most of it talking, and we’d barely scratched the surface! If it’s going to be platonic, then we’ve covered more ground than most couples ever do—in an amazingly short time. Over dinner he said, “I suppose you know we’ve begun the dance?” I answered, “Yes.” Why play coy? Lay our cards on the table. “I don’t know what will happen or where it will go…” he added, his voice trailing off. This, slipped in somewhere between Descartes and states of grace. Can I trust him? I watched his body settle into the words, some resistance, perhaps resignation, or surrender, saying the words out loud, he met them head on, took responsibility for them, and more important, I believed him. This, after nearly bursting into tears when I talked about my dead mother. Yes, we are both suffering but this is larger than our individual pain.

This morning, he was lazing on the couch, a bright form beneath a red sleeping bag, I brought him a pot of tea, he muttered under his breath, “Shall I pour for you? Take care of you? With me, you’ll not suffer for want. This, I promise you…” I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say. Was he practicing some lines, was I hearing something so private, as if he never uttered them aloud, and was I eavesdropping, or had he said those words to me before, in another lifetime? I nearly dropped the teapot. “This morning I watched you sleeping… You were snoring” made me realize he was watching me as much as I was watching him. But I was caught unaware, an unguarded moment. All this talk of marriage. Does he know what he wants from me? Do I trust him? This is all happening too quickly.

That evening we watched the comet, he hugged me long and well, I felt like I was coming home. He placed a hand on my shoulder, turned me to him, chucking my chin with his finger, searching my face, as if debating to kiss me…then thought better of it. We may have begun the dance, but I guess it doesn’t mean we don’t have second thoughts. Over the safe distance of my truck he asked, “When will we see each other again?” I said, “It’s your turn now. I invited you here to meet my family.” I told him I wanted to go to the SF Film Fest. I decide this is a test. See if he’ll come through.

We’ve made so many tentative plans to go out to the Point, to see a play, a movie—plans that have never materialized, he’s never followed through and I’m a bit leery. The urge, the impulsiveness was there, but now there is a deliberation, a formality. He still owes me a dinner, and $15 (never paid back!). He might not know what direction we’re heading, but I do. My dreams told me ages ago, but it has to come from him—and his plate is full, indeed. In debt, in mourning, uprooting to Scotland in May, Hell of a time to start a relationship.

4/9 Been feeling a bit desperate, uneasy and abandoned all week long—as if a gulf has opened up between us—thinking I’d hear from Neil. I sent him the stuff on the film fest on Mon.—circled the films I was interested in, the fest came and went, and he never bothered to call to confirm or deny our plans, leaving me hanging so I didn’t get to go at all. I was very angry. I also left a message re: Ken Bullock’s birthday party, but again, no answer. Gena said “Don’t worry, he’ll call tonight.” A forlorn red light blinking on the machine. By the time Sinéad called, I was thoroughly depressed, then it dawned on me, he couldn’t call me because the line was busy. I hung up and he rang within minutes, from Mendocino, he decided to stay, “Jammin’ with friends at the Gualala Hotel on an electric Gibson. I’m thinkin’ about startin’ a band,” he says. (He had an epiphany while playing, it was magic.) Why did that bother me? An inconsistency? Minor alarms sounding. We talked for an hour.

He said he read the excerpt from my flood piece, “Building an Arc,” which won 2nd place in the Copperfield’s literary contest, and really liked it. “They really gave you quite some bio. Was that the same Maureen Hurley I know?” teasing me. “You’re important. I’ll have to watch it.” He saw a lot of women like me in jeans and pickup trucks—a west county phenomenon—wholesome and fresh. He met someone from Forestville who didn’t know me. Thought about driving over for a visit (but I was teaching all day). While I was feeling desolate, he was thinking of me and I didn’t even feel it. Just the distance, knowing I wanted to see him again, feeling abandoned… Gena said, “That’s about your own fear. You have to let go of it. He’ll call.” And so he did.

See Journal entry, Allen Ginsburg Memorial, Passover

4/23 I go home, smudge the house and spread rose petals on my doorstep for the dead. My neighbor Steve confesses he gets nervous: “Every time I see you do that, somebody dies.” Odd, I never connected the two. Sinéad calls to say our cousin Barney O’Reilly, Sr. died. We prepare for an Irish wake: whiskey and bagpipes in Eagle Rock. I sing Danny Boy. The earth is shaking again. Time is imploding. (My cousin Barney O'Reilly died)/

April Foolishness

In the weightlessness of space,
an astronaut's heart shrinks.—Omni Magazine



A VOICE from home via the satellite link-up lessened the burden of homesickness. But where were the poems hidden? Why didn’t they come? Maybe living in another country would open the dam. Amster-dam: the 16th c. dam on the Amsterele river is real, not a metaphor. I've given into the timelessness of being at loose ends—no agendas, hidden or otherwise—in a country not my own, seeking what oddities life has to offer, for death takes such a long time coming in. In another country I could no longer dam my grief, I shed my skin, undressed down to the bone, and resurrected small pieces of myself from the ground up, for death irrevokably changes you, you cannot go home to who you were. Ever.

Death arrived out of breath, I was an orphan. I trolled old sources searching for my lost art. Page One of my journal documented the oddities of The Final Frontier: After fighting three years with Soviet bureaucracy to hook up a computer telecommunications system with the Ukraine for a cultural exchange program, I finally let go of the idea. Then, one April Fool's Day, my first E-mail message arrived from my ex lover via GlasNET. Incongruous to read a satellite message transmitted half-way around the world that began with: “Cosmonaut lands, doesn't recognize his own country.” My first message from the new independent nation, Ukraine, was not about freedom, but about space, the final frontier.

In another journal I found the story of a physicist who told me a story how he demonstrated jet propulsion while seated in his daughter’s Red Racer wagon; using a fire extinguisher for a booster rocket, he shot through the ivy league halls to the surprise of students and faculty alike. He liked to clown around, to act foolish. He gave me one of the first holograms ever made of a chambered nautilus sliced in half. It reminded me of the cross section of a space ship. I was not immune to his charisma or the three dimensional illusion of physics: a rainbow of light, the visible spectrum trapped on that sheet of mylar set my blood racing, but I was uneasy with the whispered secret rumors. Was it in spring? The word fool once meant someone who was in love. Foolish love. April Fools, a day for practical jokes and sex role reversals. My foolish Papá, said the daughter whose warrior soprano vision guided us through the turbulent protests of the ’60s and ’70s. Show me the prison, show me the jail... I study the exposed labial chambers of the nautilus for clues. What’s worse, the walled silence, or the knowing? Will I be silenced for writing holographic truth dammed behind the slander of divided light?

Inexplicably it reminded me of a hologram of St. Steven’s crown with its bent cross László gave me as we stood on the banks of the Danube the day my half-Russian childhood best friend, Stephanie was cremated on the other side of the world. My hands let rose petals stain the muddy river, I wanted to be home to touch the place where the wind took her up. Home to where her Nanna greeted us each day after school in the old tongue where ikonii and troikas were uttered in the present tense. That place called home that Nanna left, became the wind’s body, Stephanie came to me in sleep, we rode our horses out into the deep. Orion’s belt marked our crossing. She was mute, her eyes like stars. Death swallows the unspoken words hovering in the mouths of the dead. When she comes to visit from the other side, my grandmother’s mouth is a thin line dividing worlds in the country of death. I watch Lír’s sea foam horses racing the wind down the strand.

Death nearly boarded the spaceship Mir, forgotten during the 1991 August coup. Stranded Soviet cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev helplessly watched his country disappear: changing its name, anthem, and political order. The abandoned space program was officially broke with no way to get him home. Secret calls in the night; someone trying to sell Soviet space ships for hard currency. When Krikalev returned to Earth after ten months in space, he didn't recognize his own country. White ravens in the snow. In the weightlessness of space, an astronaut's heart shrinks. A loss of innocence. Complex metaphor approaching from the starboard side. In the safe harbor of Amsterdam, I mourned the mounting bodycount, my uncles, parents and best friend. I couldn’t go to Russia after the Fall, to see for myself, the changes. Instead, I translated mute testimony from the dead: my words took on the art of silence and omission. I placed my heart on a small casket, set it adrift in a dark, weightless sea.

Said No to another man who wanted to own me because he loved God more than me.

Who could compete with that?


© 1997, revised 2000 Maureen Hurley