Tuesday, May 27, 1997

A found poem on Ram Dass


He sits in the deep shadows of a long evening.
His wheelchair moored against an old picnic table. 
Silence. The mind is, he says. Leaves rustle in the soft breeze. 
The creek offers blessings over rocks, whispers. Silence. 
The mind, he says again. Silence. His eyes close, 
his head tilts towards the stars, as he searches for words. 
Doctors see the brain as the mind. He says, the heart,
a sudden rush of language. The mind, he says. Silence.
Before my stroke, I was looking forward. 
Are you still? No, he said. Silence. The mind.
But I’m here now. The creek answers.


A riff from an article I read in the Chronicle, Stroke Teaches Ram Dass Anew to `Be Here Now' / Spiritual teacher slowly recovering by Don Lattin 

Saturday, May 17, 1997

Poet/Painter Series at The French Quarter in Rohnert Park, curated by Geri diGiorno


Poet/Painter Series at The French Quarter in Rohnert Park, curated by Geri diGiorno, funded by Poets & Writers and the Lannan Foundation.

You can see the scratchboards here. And the poem here. It's a pity I no longer remember which line went with which piece of art.




Thursday, May 1, 1997

Journal entry, May Day. Beltaine



5/1            May Day. Beltaine. Odd to think I walked over the bones of Campbell of Glendyon—responsible for the massacre of Glencoe—in Brugge last summer with my cousin Dave. History lives beneath the shadows of our feet. I read about Scotland because of Neil, but have given up hope of consummating the relationship I was so sure would happen. All the false signals. But my dreams are rarely wrong. What goes here? I’m tired of waiting for the dance to begin. He hasn’t time for me, this fickle Scotsman who is to return home to Johnstone within the month. I’m disappointed, I thought he had more integrity. Did I read him wrong?

I read about the highland sheep shed their winter crop for the wool mills of Flanders. The unwinding of the thread that began in the highlands to Philip of Spain and the death of Charles V that set the turmoil of boundaries, nationhood and religion into action. The Jacobites. Bonnie Prince Charlie. The blood-soaked fields. 

It’s been nearly 25 yeas since I saw the fields of  Colloden Mór. One summer I stood in front of the statue of Willem of Orange in Leiden. This was the man my ancestral country still sheds blood over. The Orange Men. Dutch Willem (King Billy) became defacto king of Scotland. I read about the other William—Wallace, Braveheart. What has it to do with my life—other than my first boyfriend was a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce, and carried his name, plus Hamilton to the end of the 20th century. 

Neil was very nearly born beneath Wallace’s statue in Paisley. And Neil’s family from Tyrone were clansmen to my own family. I awoke singing “Come Back Paddy Reilly to Balley James Duff,” only to realize my grandfather was born near Baille Sheámus Dubh, at the crossroads of Moyne, our farm: Fiora. 

Philip of Spain sent a relation (my uncle’s namesake), John Alexander Reilly to build a fortress in Cuba. Many of my family married back into their own Irish clans: Walsh, Reilly, Sullivan. And into Irish and Scottish clans here in San Francisco: Ward, McCarthy, O’Neill, Driscoll, Dinsmore. A distant cousin of mine, Maureen O’Neill, could pass for Neil’s sister. I like the ring of that name.

Journal, Mayday memorials


5/1 May Day. Beltaine. Odd to think I walked over the bones of Campbell of Glendyon—responsible for the massacre of Glencoe—in Brugge last summer with my cousin Dave. History lives beneath the shadows of our feet. I read about Scotland because of Neil, but have given up hope of consummating the relationship I was so sure would happen. All the false signals. But my dreams are rarely wrong. What goes here? I’m tired of waiting for the dance to begin. He hasn’t time for me, this fickle Scotsman who is to return home to Johnstone within the month. I’m disappointed, I thought he had more integrity. Did I read him wrong?

I read about the highland sheep shed their winter crop for the wool mills of Flanders. The unwinding of the thread that began in the highlands to Philip of Spain and the death of Charles V that set the turmoil of boundaries, nationhood and religion into action. The Jacobites. Bonnie Prince Charlie. The blood-soaked fields. It’s been nearly 25 yeas since I saw the fields of Colloden Mór. One summer I stood in front of the statue of Willem of Orange in Leiden. This was the man my ancestral country still sheds blood over. The Orange Men. Dutch Willem (King Billy) became defacto king of Scotland. I read about the other William—Wallace, Braveheart. What has it to do with my life—other than my first boyfriend was a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce, and carried his name, plus Hamilton to the end of the 20th century. Neil was very nearly born beneath Wallace’s statue in Paisley. And Neil’s family from Tyrone were clansmen to my own family.

I awoke singing “Come Back Paddy Reilly to Balley James Duff,” only to realize my grandfather was born near Baille Sheámus Dubh, at the crossroads of Moyne, our farm: Fiora. Philip of Spain sent a relation (my uncle’s namesake), John Alexander Reilly to build a fortress in Cuba. Many of my family married back into their own Irish clans: Walsh, Reilly, Sullivan. And into Irish and Scottish clans here in San Francisco: Ward, McCarthy, O’Neill, Driscoll, Dinsmore. A distant cousin of mine, Maureen O’Neill, could pass for Neil’s sister. I like the ring of that name.

5/7 How frustrated I am by distance and bad timing. True, my phone’s been out of order for a week, but I left messages for Neil to call me at a neighbor’s. I know I can be hard to reach, but it seems I have to call him three times for his every one call, playing phone tag for weeks on end. By the time he did call, I was too distraught to pick up the phone. He’d picked up on a line of mine, repeating my message: “I’m beginning to take this personally.” I wailed for an hour, grief bubbling up, drowning me. I was so desolate I had to call someone. Verona wasn’t home. Ann Erickson was very good about listening to an inarticulate friend crying over spilt milk. I returned his call when I was more composed, it was another two days before he returned my call. His sense of timing, very different than mine. Has he any idea of the grief he’s caused me with all this waiting? Or broken dates? (Or how hard it is for me to call him once—let alone, three times—I’m weirdly old-fashioned.) I retrace the whole gambit of emotions from hope, expectation, to anger and despair, so by the time he actually calls, I’m flattened from my roller coaster emotions.

Geraldine says, “You’re blaming Neil for not calling you. You want someone to blame.” True. This is it. He’s outa my life for good. I’ve had it! I channeled my anger into cleaning my truck, inside and out, even under the hood. It took me three days. I was so savagely thorough, the truck wouldn’t start. In my cabin, I attacked piles of clutter, spring cleaning had begun. Verona called about Herman’s birthday; Neil called her wanting to know if I’d be there (I told him no), she said “Yes,” twisting my arm to come. I said I had no idea how I’d act; angry, cool. She advised, “No, no! Just be yourself. You have so much power and magnetism. Draw on it.”

12-14 May I was both elated and depressed to see Neil at Verona’s. I was a dark, brooding child. A volcano. All the built-up frustration. He obviously doesn’t have time for me. And/or, he’s changed his mind, wants it to be more casual. Where does that leave me? Why doesn’t he just talk about it? This is beginning to seem cruel. Is he a cruel man? I don’t think so. What about our broken date? He finally returned my calls when I was out, I haven’t bothered to return his. At first I was too upset, and now I’m too busy hanging my art show, editing, etc. Fuck him! I don’t need the distraction. I never asked to love him. I originally began spring cleaning in anticipation of Neil’s coming to visit, now I’m doing it for myself, taking stock. Rearranging papers has dredged up a lot of memories and my nights are haunted, I remember little except the dead have taken to talking to me again. The dead offer me help, solace. Apparently I’m in need of it. I’m straddling both worlds. Something’s going on, cosmically speaking.

5/16 I dreamed Neil lay his head on my chest and I awoke with a start. He was actually here in my cabin sleeping next to me, having come to my reading at the French Quarter after a Bread & Roses party in Tiburon. It was as if he’d given in, let go. I think I dreamed of it twice. What I remember was the gasp of surprise, and the returning of desire. I was pretty cold to him yesterday. Has he a clue as to how close I was to completely writing him off, had written him off? If he hadn’t showed up at my reading, that would have been it. I’d drawn the invisible line. I sent him a flyer as an afterthought, I no longer cared one way or the other, positive he wouldn’t come. We’re still platonic but there’s still sniffing on both sides. I recall my November vows of wanting friendship over sex with some regret. Careful what you wish for. Did I neglect to mention the consummation part? I despair the loss of desire and intimacy we had at Easter, but the time we’ve spent together has been strong. We slept so peacefully side by side, something I’m usually not able to do with anyone. I still don’t know if we’re going somewhere or not, has he put me on the platonic shelf with his myriad woman friends, or are we building strong foundations? I’m content to wait. Take this one slow.

I cooked him salmon with shallots, salad, wine. We walked in the moonlit orchard, the cats excitedly trailing us. He confessed he was emotionally dead inside. (Warning!) I said death will do that to you, cut you off from yourself. He countered with, “What do you do when you were like that before the death?” (Bigger red flag!) I replied, “Death enhances those negative character flaws.” They say when a man tells you of his childhood, he’s in love. He doesn’t stop talking about his youth, saying, “There’s still so much more I want to tell you.” As if I were his confessional. So why is he telling me all this angst, merely to unload? Why does he want me to be the repository of his entire life story? What happens when I know all the stories? When do we strike a balance? When will it be my turn? What will it be like then? Am I to be the bridge to help him through his father’s death, and become his bridge back to the living, back to the heart, love, and sex? We lolled around in bed drinking tea until noon, he massaged my feet, told me the story of how his parents met on a street car (named desire?) in Johnstone, how they found love. How he wants that kind of marriage too. We drove to Healdsburg to hear Roger Bolt play in the plaza. Neil’s doing a gig for Roger in July and they’ve never met (a Geraldine connection), so it’s business too. It’s hot, we lick sorbet, spray each other with water on the park bench. Roger sings Summertime real slow. Our relationship keeps on deepening.

A BBQ that evening. Dorothy Beebee joins us. Talks about her daughter Myra, and the Isle of Skye. Neil mans the fire, I watch him handle it, learning to let go (I’m always the enabler, always so responsible). Domestic chores can undo the best of relationships, he seems to be doing fine. He leaves near midnight. I say, “You’re more than welcome to stay.” He answers, “I know, but if I stay, I’ll get a late start. Please help me to help myself.” I pushed him out the door and into the night. He kisses me quick. Off, goodbye!

5/27 Recovering from a Celtic family gathering Memorial Day weekend. Neil said, “There’s a poem brewing” when the drunk at the Nicasio Bar asked if I knew Chicken Bill from the Valley. “You mean Chicken-Fat Wilson?” I asked. But he clammed up. Neil was playing Joplin (Scott) and the Beatles on the badly-tuned piano. Danny, the bartender, misty-eyed with a wistful look on his face, singing along. The power of music: Neil’s catalyst wherever he goes (even when he’s a little down, like tonight. But then, I’m sensitive to his moods.) Was that really George Lucas at the bar with a thin woman in red, singing along? He does live down the road. A doppleganger at any rate. We’re knee-deep in family lining that bar. Hard to believe I’m related to nearly every person here (at least a dozen), and I like the lot of them. There’s a disproportionate number of men to women in my family: 3 to 1. I looked down at those huge mounds of hefty flesh and marveled at the generational insistence. How we are so alike, yet a mystery too. Kate, Sinéad and I, the only women.

Danny pours Neil (now, he’s the house musician) Piña Coladas from a bottomless pitcher. Tony buys us a round of Jaegermeisters (cough syrup) and beer. I tell Neil he’s not going to like tomorrow, but he doesn’t seem to care! The guys had gone off to Petaluma to play pool, while Sinéad, Kate, Neil and I went to Rancho Nicasio. Neil looked a little strained, never quite relaxing, but when the rest of the gang drifted in, he seemed to let go. It was like a joyous reunion, no matter that we’d spent the entire afternoon together. They did their male bonding thing and came back to see the girls—no matter that we’re all related. We all like each other. Alcohol flowed, I don’t remember paying for any of it! Just two families and we take over the bar like our aunts any uncles did before us. Toddy said, “We’d go somewhere separately and would all wind up at the same place. It was uncanny. Wherever the Reillys went, there was always a party.”

Myles, the youngest, age 22, was designated driver. Not that we had far to go. I mean, we could’ve crawled down the double yellow line down the center of the road to get home. We all piled into the back of his truck like a bunch of drunken cattle, or very noisy sardines— shrieking and howling the short distance around the square from bar to house. A good thing Nicasio is so isolated. No cops. James, who was in love with Neil’s playing the Beatles songs—Imagine, was down for the count, a beached whale, barfing out the back of the truck. We gabble on till 4 AM, Sinéad’s place has turned into a flophouse. People are crashing right and left (in some cases, face forward).

Neil and I stagger to my truck. Really loaded, he swaggers up some determination and climbs aboard like a drunken sailor on a rollicking rowboat, or a bucking bronco. He’s pretty funny when he’s tight. With that amount of alcohol in him, I’m surprised he can walk. We’re too drunk to logically think of a dry place to sleep, like on the porch. I haven’t the faintest idea how I managed to blow up that air mattress, except I used my lighter to run the pump in the back of the truck. Probably why we slept there. We watched the dawning of the day blossom in the sky. Beneath the heavy dew, we snuggled in each other’s arms, taking turns holding on (I say spoons; he says motorcycle). Beneath a gibbous moon and comet, under reeling stars, we attempted sleep, serenaded by the lullabies of coyotes. He claims he didn’t sleep a wink but snored like a lion. We’re not going to be happy campers tomorrow.

Sunday was a dog. Church plans were out. We went to brunch at the Two Bird Café, Neil didn’t want to go, he was broke. I said, “Don’t be silly. I’ll treat you.” He played the piano while we were waiting. Toddy and Jane found us, thus demonstrating the Reilly family magnet in action. Salmon and eggs benedict. Heaven. The waitress asks if he wants an english muffin. He mumbles something about being a Scottish muff diver. I flame red for my aunts sit across from us.

Useless for much else, I dragged the mattress to the orchard, and crawled under the sleeping bag. He was quick to join me as if we’d been sleeping together all our lives. Whenever I put my arm around him, he’d pull my hand to his heart, cradling it. He held me, said I was starved, “The boyos haven’t held you in a long time…” How did he know? It was utter heaven that afternoon as we napped beneath the pear trees. This time the cuddling was more direct, not accidental. At one point I felt shy, asked if I was crowding him, and he snuggled his bum into my crotch, saying “I like a good cuddle.” We had plenty of room to be circumspect on the mattress, to keep our distance, but we didn’t. We wrestled a bit, he climbed on top of me, his body between my thighs, as I was trying to extricate my arm from under his. There was a frozen moment we stopped to look at each other: the debate. But those moments are followed by great distances of time when he is no longer affectionate. We are a curious combination of Catholic chasteness and New Age AIDS aware. The new celibacy. He said something snide about my prominent hot bum, but I was too sleepy to reply. Twenty minutes later, I retorted, “And what about yours?” He chuckled, “I was wondering how long it would take you to get it.” Not that I actually got it.

Late afternoon sun slanting over tawny coastal hills crowned with Holsteins. Sinéad and I peeled potatoes in the field, he read his lines from the Ulster play. I asked, “How does it feel to be hanging out with two Irish wenches?” “It makes me want to be a farmer, plant some seeds,” he said. I was pretty rummy, gallons of tea didn’t help much, nor did dinner. He ignored me, my head in his lap. I was feeling too peaked to see him off, so he tweaked my nose, and sat on me, flattened me, when I wouldn’t rise to give him a hug and see him off. Oof! Again, that curious admixture of resistance and desire. Neil left late, desperate for a job, he scanned the want ads. He was beginning to distance, because of me, or because of general stress, I can’t pinpoint. We’re like yo-yos coiling and recoiling, spinning in place at the end of the string.

5/27-28 2 AM. Off the phone after three hours with Neil; his crisis state, enlarging in geometric exponentials. His mother called wanting him to come home; she’s suffering the loss of her husband and wants her 44-year-old son to live at home. Neil sees it as a return to a dead end life he’s wanted to escape from since he was 12 years old. He says he’ll go back in Sept. The play runs until Aug. 2. He’s utterly devastated by all the slaps life has given him. He says, “We’ll keep in touch via the internet.” Yes, I say, but the personal contact, the human voice, nothing can replace that. He thinks if he moves back—if even for one year (and what if his mother dies in the meanwhile?)—he won’t ever come back; he hasn’t the energy to start all over again there, then again, here. But I can’t imagine him spending the rest of his days in Scotland. That close-minded world would suffocate him. He describes his mother’s council house as a crackerbox with rooms the size of cupboards. His mother’s needs, her distrust of outsiders—he’ll be expected to carry the emotional and financial burden. He says, “But in times of crisis, the family pulls together.” “What if she lives to be 80, then what?” I asked. He said, “I’ll only commit for a year. Otherwise it’ll be like a prison.”

I almost asked, what about me? But we’re not at that stage. How could I overburden him with that when his plate is overfull? On the other hand, I feel like I’ve committed myself to him—even if he hasn’t done the same for me—because he needs a friend he can depend on to make it through this crisis. There’s this tremendous drawing together, this intertwining of lives, personalities, testing the waters… I don’t want it taken from me before it’s begun. But he’s more ambivalent, I think. He keeps on carping about “My last great California summer…” How do I figure into the equation? Am I delusional, willful? I can’t imagine him having any clarity over wanting/not wanting me—with the stressload he’s carrying I can’t imagine a single clear thought in his head. I’m torn between trying to be considerate of his situation and the needy, screaming ego of self wanting constant reassurance.

5/28 Next morning. I try to imagine not knowing him, not having him in my life. I have the capacity to let go, to sever the ties that bind us, but do I want to? He said he wanted to squeeze in as many experiences as possible before he leaves, not being attached to anything or anybody. He said, “For the past couple of years I’ve been living like a monk, getting up at 5 AM, meditating, not going out…This is a new phase…” How strangely similar our interior landscapes. That fear I’ve been sensing must be about attachments: loving/not loving. Does he love me? Me. Who I really am, not an icon of me. I believe he does, but isn’t conscious of it, compartmentalizing it with grief and fear, living from crisis to crisis. He was so stressed, I asked if he wanted a visitor, though it was near midnight. He said he wasn’t in that bad of shape. We talked until he began to get sleepy, my arms not long enough to span the distance from Sonoma to Oakland. How will we span half the circumference of the globe?

I feel him letting go again. “I think Vinnie fancies you.” This, after we’d seen Orla and the Gasmen at the Front Room after the cable TV show Friday night. A man pays me a bit of attention and he’s either jealous (and won’t admit it), or is he playing cupid? He said it before at the Ranch House. Some jerk moved in on me, and I up and left in a huff. I watched Neil from afar; he watched me. We tested the distance between us, made sure the lifeline was anchored. Leaned farther out, tried it on for size, and within minutes we were back within orbit of each other at the piano. Sinéad observed, “He stays close to you, gravitates back. Keeps within visual range of you.” We are like twins. What is the right thing to do? What has fate in store for us? Are we destined for each other? I’ve never felt this way before, that he’s the right one. None of the men who wanted to marry me: Not Bob, not Edwin, not John, not Valera or Oleg. The idea of marriage always felt wrong with them. I don’t know how he feels, this is all subjective. A part of him wants me (compartmentalized). Yes, I connected to Vinnie, we were attracted to each other. Neil rightly saw it, he’s no fool. But Vinnie also saw how well Neil and I suited each other, that my heart belonged to Neil after all.

I don’t remember the context, but he said he could find me in the dark by smell alone—not that I stink, but that we’ve imprinted to the point of odor recognition. He says I smell like his sisters. Is this good or bad? I wear his tee-shirt to bed, engulfed in his smell. On Saturday morning, as he made me tea and oranges, he blurted, “I’ll take care of you forever…” I studied him for a moment and replied, “Be careful of what you wish for, You just might get it!”

I’ve been writing this scenario so backwards, I can’t remember what I’ve written. We’ve been living fast and furious in each other’s pockets all weekend. A memorial weekend indeed. Recap: Friday he called to ask me to go with him to TCI’s City Vision channel 53 Open Studio. We met up at McDonald’s on Van Ness; I was 15 minutes late, he was later. We went over to 15th St. and waited to go on. Heavy metal, jazz, etc. Neil only did two songs, and me, not expecting anything, did a 10- minute set. I was pretty frazzled as I’d prepared a 2-5 minute set. We went to the Front Room after, he sang at open mike and I got tweaked on Guinness—too much excitement, hadn’t eaten all day. We inhaled a pizza. After 2 1/2 pints, I was two sheets to the wind. He tweaked my face, rubbing his hand down it, saying “You’re pretty pasted all right. You’re letting me do this to you.” I insisted I wasn’t, of course, embarrassed. He said “Leave your truck in the city and come home with me. I’ll drive you back in the morning.” He wasn’t in much better shape. We talked till 4 AM, it was hard getting started on Sat. I didn’t get to Nicasio till 3 PM, the mother of all traffic jams. He arrived in Nicasio later after the LA O’Reillys had gone, and party number two commenced.

5/29? Since he got the call to come home, he’s been near hysterical. His aunt had broken an ankle, his mother’s grief was such that she couldn’t bear it, she begged him to come home. He’s afraid of her dying, his sisters unable to cope. So, he’s to do the right thing, come home and save his mother from her Oedipal grief, playing husband to her, while becoming a 12-year-old boy living in a crackerbox of a house, in a room the size of a closet, and regress back to the very life he was trying to escape. Morosely he said, “Next time you see me, I’ll have three double chins.” After 20 years in California, he dreads the isolation and narrow-mindedness, the lack of winter fruits and vegetables, and the indoor life as a kind of prison. At first he said he was going to sell everything, pack up forever, but now that’s being tempered with: “a year” then, “six months” We’ll see. No use panicking for I can’t change it, and he’ll never be able to live with it if he doesn’t go home and she dies. He says he resents being the martyr yet jumps right in. Dorothy Beebee said, “How very Scottish!” I am confused by his “Scottishness’ for there’s little difference between it and the Irish (a few words said differently, vowels broadened), our roots so alike. If he were Protestant, it would be more obvious. He was a bit full of himself carrying on about my being enamored by his foreign accent. I nearly read him the riot act for the first accent I heard as a child was Irish lilt, American was second. I’ve been accused on more than a few occasions of harboring a lilt myself. He forgets I was raised by Irish grandparents.

Already he’s becoming preemptory (my woman!), asking me to fetch something or another. He comes to depend on me for nest making qualities. Shared toothbrushes and pillows. The small things couples do out of habit. The unconscious sharing of chores, etc., creates an intimacy, but where are we headed?

5/29 Thurs. Maybe I should do something way out of character: drastic measures to hit a man being broadsided—give him a reason so that he can’t go back! What if I take him up on his garbled proposals, and tell him I accept? It’s the last thing he needs to hear, but it also offers some refuge. His family can’t expect him to stay in Scotland forever if he’s a wife in the U.S.; it might also change their perceptions of him, and their expectations to ask him to give up his life here to take on responsibilities there: to buy the house, and take care of the mother is unfair. It sounds like they’re manipulating him, playing on his guilt factor. How Scottish, how Catholic.