Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Letter to John Oliver Simon

Dear John: 9 Aug. ‘91

I was so sorry to hear about Frances. I’ve been thinking about her lots lately. Coincidentally, my uncle is also dying of lung cancer. He’s chosen chemotherapy so we don’t know how long he has. Oddly enough, the night before the eclipse, it was around midnight—I’d just fallen asleep—when some presence with a green glow came through the door. I awoke screaming, as usual, but thought I recognized something familiar about her.

Most definitely female, short in stature, old, and at peace—I thought perhaps it was my grandmother, I knew it wasn’t my uncle. The energy wasn’t right. But as your know, I seem to only have these “dreams” when someone is dying or newly dead—not from someone who is four years dead. I haven’t really had any major memorable death dreams since San Cristobal de las Casas—the harmonic convergence, remember? So, as usual, I’ve been berating myself, saying “oh it’s just a dream” while deep down inside I was waiting for the news.

I was just writing about it yesterday when your letter came. It was vaguely familiar, as if I’d already dreamed of receiving it. I always knew I’d get the letter of Frances’s eventual death, linked with poor old Raineycat. But these images stay hidden in the shadow world and thankfully, I remember very little until something sparks off a memory. Sometimes I am able to record them in my dream journal, sometimes I’m only left with a fleeting impression of something not quite seen as if beyond the range of the corner of the eye.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve had a whole series of disturbing death dreams—and I didn’t know if I was dreaming of my own, or of someone else’s death. Housesitting seemed to help ease the burden, so I just chalked it up to stress—until I got the urge to call a friend. As it turned out, right before I called, she was debating to call me, thinking I was still in Hawaii—the next day was her mother’s memorial service and wake. 

I guess the reason why I sent you the postcard early in July is because I was plagued with the notion that I must call you, and I was resisting the impulse. And three nights ago, I had a long narrative dream. It seemed there were at least two shadowy figures—pale blue transparencies—making ready for someone who was dying. They were unaware of me—working madly at the foot of my bed. 

I thought it odd (how rude!), but it looked like they wanted to use my Mac—as if they were putting together a book or something. It was as if I were awakened by their commotion—though the were silent. One of them couldn’t find something, so I interjected a statement—I can’t remember what, probably something inane like where the gluestick was—but then my own voice woke me, and I felt stupid giving instructions to an empty room. 

For the first time, I had no fear of these dream beings—probably because I wasn’t the center of attention. Usually when the green presence comes, it most definitely comes for me and I cannot handle the intensity of it—that’s why I scream—to make it stop. I always awaken, screaming, shaken and out of breath. It seems, if they’re going to find me, they will—it really doesn’t matter where I am: Switzerland, Mexico, Hawaii. It’s too easy to dismiss them as nightmares—my fears manifesting in a pale green shape in the form of a human torso. It takes more guts to explore the possibility that they’re NOT dream beings conjured up by my psyche because it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities:1). I’m crazy, or 2). They really exist.

Our literature and oral tradition around the world points to the presence of other beings—whether in the shape of gods or ghosts—though modern science and psychiatry prefers the tangible, testable world. I love the analogy in “The Gods Must be Crazy” where the little Bushman maintains his belief in the gods. His task—as Campbell would say, the hero’s journey, and his belief are unswerving right to the end where he throws the offending coke bottle off the edge of the world—in spite of co-existing in the white man’s explainable 20th century world. It’s not the little Bushman, but the gods themselves who are crazy! Of course, in the movie, we “civilized white folks” seem a little crazy too.

Then there’s the notion that if you believe in one kind of reality, you will find substance to support your beliefs. Think of the rivalry between the clergy struggling to maintain one world view contradicted by the scientific and philosophical notions of Galileo, Copernicus, and Descartes. Sometimes I think we’ve come too far in the opposite direction—that of scientific logic verses belief. (Odd hidden pun in the very word logic, logos, the Word/belief.) 

The Bushman knew the coke bottle was an evil object because it disrupted the harmony of the tribe. He doesn’t change his world view but the journey and trials serve to test his “belief.” He returns home the hero. Who are we to destroy his belief with our 20th century notions of facts? 

Myth is the expression of spirituality and our western gods are dead. There are no more quests, no hero’s journeys to take; we cannot live if we don’t feed the psyche. Perhaps the dream world is the only thing that’s really ours—and even that world has become “polluted” by the technology of a given era. I’m thinking of the decoding process of the metaphor. 

A hunter-gatherer certainly wouldn’t dream of driving a car. Maybe a horse or a bison. Think of the quantum leap when someone first dreamt of riding a horse. Was it before the domestication of the species? Probably, it was the dog-wolves, the first domesticated animals, who led us into the tecnological era when they pulled the dogsleds. I’m not too sure where I’m going with all this. . . That’s it, blame Man’s best friend for our lack of faith—or our belief in ghosts! 

I am so pleased you are doing oral history with Frances. Oddly enough, I was reading of German woman photographer Handsel Hagel, aka Meith, of Mark West Springs, who worked for both Time and Life magazines. She got a grant to put her photos in order–and thinking of Frances, I’m sure Frances knows her—her work is nearly as famous as Dorthea Lang’s, and she seemed to have had progressive leanings in the ‘40s. 

I’m so sorry I wasn’t up to the task of taking more notes—better yet, audio tapes of my grandmother. I didn’t yet have the skills or the strength. Maybe you should also (video)tape her. Just to have her voice again. That’s one of the things I miss most. Please keep me informed. Give her my love and greetings. Tell her I’ve been thinking of her a lot, and am so pleased to have known her for those three short years. She’s a very special lady. I admire her fire and guts. Is it appropriate for me to write or come and visit?


P.S. Joseph Campbell waited for an auspicious day, Oct. 31, to pass on, and my grandmother very nearly made it to All Soul’s Eve. It seems that even while facing the ultimate deadline, death, there are still choices to be made.

Letters to Celia Woloch

c/o Vins van Neerven, 
Hogerbeetsstraat 97 III, 
1052 VV Amsterdam, Netherlands 

Celia, my grlfrnd— 

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

AUG 20—Even in between sobs, it’s good to hear your voice via the Ma Belle satellite. And yes, I’m not writing much, lacking the focus. Where are the poems hidden? Why won’t they come?

Maybe this letter will open up 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—with no agendas, hidden or otherwise—in a country not my own, seeking what oddities life has to offer.)

Where do poems come from? Page One of my notebook documents the oddities of The Final Frontier: After fighting nearly three years with Soviet bureaucracy for permission to hook up a computer telecommunications system with the Ukraine for a cultural exchange program, I finally let go of the idea. 

Then, shortly after April Fool’s Day, I received my first E-mail message from Oleg via GlasNET. Was it incongruous to read a satellite message transmitted half-way around the world that began with: “Cosmonaut lands, doesn’t recognize his own country?” 

Ex-lovers aside, how ironic: my first message from the new independent nation, Ukraine, is not about freedom, but about space, the final frontier. O-oh K.!?

Yes. 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 eventually returned to Earth after ten months in space, he didn’t recognize his own country. It was then discovered in the weightlessness of space, an astronaut’s heart shrinks. 

Moral: be careful of hasty conclusions and hearts stranded in space. Complex metaphor swiftly approaching from the starboard side. Will I regret not going to Russia after the Fall, and seeing for myself, the changes?

SEPT 8— Today I saw a huge wild swan cruising the Kattensloot (Cats’ Ditch) in the Jordaan (garden) District near where I live. As I approached, it swam beneath the bridge to Singelgracht, (Singel moat/cut—I kid you not! but it means “cinch/girdle”) bordering old Amsterdam. 

I was thinking of your poem—and I swear the swan coyly posed for photos on the the other side. The swans really are wild; they swim wherever they please. There are so many canals here I’m perpetually lost like a rat in a maze. At least the avians can take to the air and get an overview. Later I see another swan patrolling the opposite canal, Lijnbaans Gracht, bordering the east side of the Jordaan—watchdogs to paradise?

Years ago, I remember someone, maybe it was Mimi, or Joan Baez, who, after singing “Marika, Marika” a haunting love song set in the Flanderlands—say of the Belgian songwriter after his death—”Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris.” I was confounded, what did it mean? 

Well, here I am, alive and well, neither a song, nor a writer, which is neither here nor there, but really i am living in Amsterdam which is only an eight hour train ride from Paris. This is a story of memory, perceptions and unspoken thoughts. 

Joan, at the age I am now, cut her hair, and sang of her lovers, the inevitable crossroads at the places she’s been: “He slept with me under a burgundy quilt, Frankfurt (Amsterdam) is covered with snow. . . with places we’re longing to go. . . so we just lived in sin on the road. . .”

 And so I sleep under a burgundy quilt with another man in yet another country, remembering things I’d forgotten. Mostly we just sit around talking, or listening to Leonard Cohen. Been pretty sick with the grippe, no small wonder, but I want to finish this letter to you I began in August. 

(Did I tell you such trivia such as I used to work as a calligrapher for Mimi at “Bread and Roses” concerts, I shook Joan’s hand in the women’s bathroom beneath the stage at the Berkeley Greek Theater, or that Albert Baez gave me a hologram of a chambered nautilus sliced in half—such strange memories are unleashed while listening to the music of one’s youth—sort of like Proust’s memory jarred by the odor of madelines. 

Though this is not a tome like “Swann’s Way,” swans do enter into the equation.) All is not roses here—Vins and I get into terrible fights over psychology, and I wonder why I’m still here, wanting to leave him with his opinions intact, it’s not my duty to take on this monster. But let me catch up with my journey’s tale.

Budapest nights: to the wild strains of gypsy violins in deep summer, I walked alone along the fishmarket castle in the ancient walled city of old Búda while my high school friend Ken dallied with his Hungarian girlfriend, Judit, on the Pest side of the river. 

Ironic because I live across from the Houses of Parliament on the Pest side, while Ken lives in Buda proper. Buda and Pest, two cities joined by bridges. But this whole trip is filled with turned tables, burnt bridges, and switched alliances. 

This is the city of romance, and I was alone, thinking—trying to imagine myself the wife of a devoutly religious Russian man, and I couldn’t get the pretty pictures and the reality to merge. These are not the thoughts of a woman ready to meet her lover after an absence of 7 long months. I was in limbo, feeling quite lost. 

But I’ve been in a sort of limbo since John Oliver Simon and I split up. (How can I still be processing such shit when the distance between us is now longer than the length of the relationship?) But you know of such things because “we are not swans” mating for life–though I swam in the Duna, the Donau, the Danube with the other birds.

Yes, I had cold feet at the thought of going to St. Petersburg, and yes, I feel guilty for being the one to say no, because real love is hard to find. I don’t want to sacrifice myself like that to another—the price is too high, because ultimately I love myself and my work more. . . even when the words don’t come. I cannot cut off a part of myself off from myself, and Valera and I don’t share the same mind values. 

No matter what rational I come up with, I cannot make peace with Valera’s religious tendencies. I cannot see myself struggling like that with a man who puts faith in God before love of a woman. I don’t want to change him; that’s what it would take, changing him in order for the relationship to work.

Then there’s the language, and the survival issues. Too many roadblocks, but it was a nice dream. You see, about in April, I was beginning to resent calling him. No other man on the horizon—it was looking pretty grim indeed. I was falling out of love by then, but wasn’t willing to admit it. (Who is able to let go of such a dream?) 

Sometimes I see him in dreams, or I remember some moment where he looked absolutely gorgeous (how much was I in love with that pretty face? Shallow aesthetic slut that I am, faces mean a lot to me.) and I feel a twinge of regret and loss, not for the relationship, but for something that can’t be, could never be, because I’m not willing to sacrifice that much to a pretty face and gorgeous smile. 

Yes, he’s beautiful both inside and out, but I can’t reconcile the God business, no matter how hard I try, and God knows (pun intended) how much I’ve tried to accept it. Am I crazy, or rational? Did I blow it, did I throw away a chance of a lifetime? Am I rationalizing to myself (lying)? 

Am I over-reacting because of Oleg—you saw first-hand the messes I got myself into because of Oleg. Fear of my experiences with Oleg interfearing with my relationship with Valera? Damn straight!

Vogel is the German/Dutch word for birds; John and I shared many wonderful moments on the road, and in the mountains. For some reason Vogelsang in the Sierras, comes to mind: while here I learn this means “the place of birds singing.” And this is what stays with me, the places we visited—the song of experiences, not the relationship. 

I was willing to accept a less than satisfactory relationship (“a good find” he wasn’t) in order to have those experiences. But it doesn’t work if you enter into a relationship with those kinds of trade-offs. You’re cheating yourself. 

And it’s harder to recover from those relationships, because truth somehow gets buried in all the deception of trying to hold together a relationship built upon false premises to begin with. And it’s harder to find yourself again after living with such deceptions. So maybe I’m sadder but wiser. . . The problem is not with Valera, it’s with me, and I cannot live with self-deception.

Back to Ken in Budapest: The afternoons were ours—we usually met at Santo’s Espresso café across from my room. Ken is my polar twin; unable to commit to his girlfriend, we talked of the problems between cultures in regards to marriage. 

The idea of Hungary and America merging is not such a stretch of the imagination—at least his girlfriend speaks English, and is in the same line of business as Ken (theater), and has lived in California. 

Yet he was extremely cautious. Obscure guardian angel—he said he wanted me to see an Eastern Block country that was full of joy and prosperous—not like the Slavic dolorosa I know so well. And my folly seemed to be an extreme form of madness under those extraordinary Budapest skies.

Still I wasn’t able to give up the idea. Was I in love with the idea or the man? I can’t separate the romance form the love. This is why I tell you don’t delude yourself in that search for romantic love with Andrew at this moment—you need to focus on your family, and love comes in many forms; it isn’t necessarily always filled with romantic notions. 

You’re being offered a kind of love based on friendship, and if you can stay within the realm of not defining it, and take what it has to offer, you’ll do fine. Consider it a gift. We get so few gifts these days. 

Strong arms to hold you when you’re vulnerable is also a kind of love. when the time is right, you can sort it out then. I hope I don’t sound like I’m contradicting myself. Just keep clear, don’t get snowed under the way I did with John—though I don’t think you will. I remember how you continually questioned your relationship with that cute Ital-stallion, Darryl.

Ken left a day early for Vienna to visit another friend, I was learning to navigate quite nicely in Budapest on my own—even without a language in common. Right before the end of my stay, I was over at László Tabóri and Irén Kiss’s house translating poetry, and a Rumanian woman playwright was there— out of six languages, we found the only language we had in common was Russian! 

I still love the Russians, and the language, and wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything in the world. I just hope my guilt doesn’t cut me off from that experience. (You know, burning my bridges.) 

After all, Russia was MY attempt to create some excitement and to fill the vacuum in my own life parallel to what I experienced with John’s Latin American connections. And I gained some invaluable experiences from it—my writing took a giant leap forward. I was feeling so isolated before, and I reached out and I did create some excitement, in fact, much more than what I bargained for.

But as the final day approached where I had to make my train reservation to St. Petersburg, the fears began to return full force; I was crazed. 

My friend Vins was amazed when I announced I wasn’t going as we went to the train station. talk about cutting it close! Ah well, think of it as a game of poker, bluffing yourself (your opponents) with a weak hand to win the jackpot. So I procrastinate! And I often don’t know how I feel until after the fact.

Let me backtrack and fill you in on Vins and Amsterdam. Vins, short for Vincent, a philosopher (working on his PhD), and I went to Sonoma State together. Vins and Luis—John in those days—Kong and I were friends. We all met through the Inter Cultural Center and worked on many projects, the most noteworthy event was a major (Nicaragua?) peace/ecology rally with Daniel Berrigan. 

We shared many late nights—talking of life, love, etc.; once we all sneaked into the school sauna after hours, carousing drunk as skunks, and busted by the campus police—you know, that sort of thing. We were all lonely and fucked up, 

Vins was a soul buddy, but not a lover. I never wanted him as a lover, and he never made a pass at me—since I was totally screwed up over Lee Perron those days, it was fortunate. Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be friends. Back then I was also lovers with Luis Kong—the list was rather formidable!

Vins, always the dark brooding loner, contained a lot of mystery—pirate earrings, a basso profundo voice with an exquisite accent—the ladies were interested in him, yes. But I wasn’t about to be sucked in on those terms. And my instinct warned me of danger, psychological issues I wasn’t able to deal with. 

Maybe we recognized something in each other. He repeatedly chooses wild women; I choose wild men for mates. He was married to an American woman, had broken up with her—she was a pothead—and was living out of his backpack while trying to finish his Masters degree in Psychology. (He has more than one M.A;, social work, and I think—philosophy too). 

I was thrown out of my home with Bob (because I was sleeping with Lee—and was pregnant!), had no money, and living out of my blue VW bug—but was determined to finish school. 

Yes, we had a lot in common. He said he took one look at me and decided I was the most unusual woman (American or European) he’d ever met. I guess he fell in love; said he wanted me from the very start, dreamed about it but never acted because I was always so remote and reserved. (Don’t tell him I was plain fucked-up!)

Vins told me things that I said to him years ago sustained him, and kept him going through the darkest of times. Told me I was so beautiful back in those days. That he always loved me—as a friend, never daring to make anything more of it. Of course, I didn’t know any of this until now. Not only that, I hardly remember it, he’s always reminding me of some instance or other. 

The other day we went into a 2nd hand shop in the Jordaan: I was looking at old lace blouses like one I have at home—ripped by some man—he reminded me he was that man. He’d pulled my shoulders back to give me a massage and all my buttons went flying! He felt so bad because it was my favorite blouse, and I was sitting on my anger, because it was an accident.

Through the years we kept in touch. When he came visiting, he was always so polite, sat on my bed, made no passes, though I always felt his sexual energy. He said because I never made any passes at him, that made me even more exotic; the general consensus of the rest of the world’s males is: American women are easy, but shallow. 

I asked why he never let me know how he felt about me, I guess he was afraid of being rejected, or valued the friendship more than an affair. How hard it is to regain a friendship when the love affair is over. I wonder how all this will end.

Eventually Vins moved back to Amsterdam with an American woman, Donna Brown; I remember feeling a profound sense of regret that we’d never become lovers when he introduced me to her. She was nice enough, a little too straightlaced for me; I turned her onto CPITS—she’s a speech therapist— and she successfully used a lot of my techniques with kids in Amsterdam. 

Periodically, he’d come back to the states, dropping by for an afternoon visit. Each Christmas I received a card from him, and infrequent messages on my message machine. A couple of years ago, he said “Next time you go to Russia, drop by and visit!” as if Amsterdam was just down the street. But I’d lost his address until last Christmas, when he sent me his new address. So I called him when I returned from Russia.

Then, as I was planning to return to St. Petersburg, Ken invited me to meet him in Hungary, and I decided now was the time to visit Vins, never expecting we’d become lovers. 

So I went through hell trying to organize this trip, and paid $1600 for a complicated open jaw (over 30 days, and they sock it to you!) airline ticket that allowed me to land in Austria, travel with Ken to Hungary, and Amsterdam, (for Ken the Amsterdam leg was aborted, he rode with me to Frankfurt, and returned to the States), take the train (Eurail) to Helsinki, then catch the St. Petersburg train into Russia, and return via Moscow. 

Hell, if I’d a known I was going to park for two months in Amsterdam, I could’ve gotten a cheap ticket, and saved myself at least $700! I also wasted three days of my five-day Eurail pass. 

Oh well! I wish I was organized enough to at least use my Eurail pass up, but since I waited until the last minute to achieve clarity, I was outa luck financially. The way I figure it, is that this is what I would’ve spent on therapy sessions, but I was feeling too poor this year to indulge. I’ve really been in a quandary over Valera.

Then there’s the obligation stuff I’ve got in my suitcase for Valera and friends—letters and gifts from Russians in America, stuff for Valera, the tele-communications stuff—telephone and connector wires, the Mac programs and Stylewriter printer I was going to trade/barter with Valentine Yemelin for an airline ticket for Valera to come to the states. . . The best laid plans of mice and men . . . 

All the shit I mailed onto to St. Petersburg: three boxes of books from the states ($35) and two boxes of luggage from Budapest ($50). Most of it I don’t need or want, but Valera has all this stuff of mine. I’ll have to tell him to give it away—the books to my American friend Maryna in Moscow—that’s where the books were destined for to begin with. 

Unfortunately, for the past two months, whenever I tried to call her in Moscow, no answer. I desperately wanted to talk with her—she knows Valera, and is a good “ear.” Finally, on the day I’m supposed to leave for Russia, I got this Russian woman who spoke no English—right number, no Maryna. . . She’s about to leave for America, and I can’t reach her. . . ARRGHH!! 

Talk about a breakdown in communication—everyone I called was out. . .including you! So I was pretty frantic, making such a big decision alone. However, once I’d made it, I quit trying to throw up, gnash my nails to the bone, or hyperventhilate. It was pretty touch-and go. 

As Vins and I went to Schiphal airport/train station, he queried me, asking why I was staying; we’d only just become lovers. At one point as I expressed my doubts, he said “I should put you on the train to St. Petersburg right now.” Was I getting sucked up in his reality, did that affect my decision? I said no. 

But as I began to explore my feelings, I must’ve answered each question right; he felt reassured I wasn’t “off my head.” The way I figure it, I wanted to become lovers with him—not a good prognosis for someone going to meet her true love in St. Petersburg.

Back to the story of Ken and me: Our last night together, we’d gone to extreme lengths to find a suitable Amsterdam night train to travel on together that didn’t take him to the Frankfurt airport at three am. 

So, we’re on this goddamn funky freight train, our accommodations consisting of four rows of florescent-lit airplane style seats labeled first class —as if a sign should make any difference—it sure as hell wasn’t first class with no separate compartment, sleeper couches, curtains, or light switch. Just a bunch of mail bags for company. 

Our friendship was under serious attack, and we were wondering what the hell went wrong; our romantic picnic au revoir dinner (red Hungarian wine, cheeses, bread, chocolate, etc.,) waiting forlornly. I’m swigging on the bottle when the conductress, who speaks only German—which neither of us speaks, nor has a dictionary or phrase book for, informs us the train doesn’t stop in Frankfurt! Ken must get off at midnight in some hick town, St. Potsi, I think, to catch his train. 

I’m really pissed, and planning to get thoroughly drunk. Riding alone on an uncomfortable, empty freight train wasn’t my idea of fun. We spend the next hour amending our goodbyes. He gets off the train.

She comes by again, “But you must get off this train too; it is not for passengers,” she says. OMIGOD!! We literally throw my luggage (partially unpacked for the night, I was making a nest to sleep in) off the train, hoping we got everything, as it rolls off into the sooty darkness. 

Of course there are no hotel rooms available—even if we could afford one, which we can’t. I find out from the taximen; one shows me a better waiting room in the depot. The main depot is foul—potted plants reeking of piss sported clusters of lazy flies, peasants snoring lustily on the few benches. 

So, Ken and spent a sleepless night on a bench practically on the tracks in a backwater train station, listening to trains whistle in St. Potsi, in order to catch up with the right passenger train, or at least the next available one at 6 a.m. Each country uses its own phonetic spelling of foreign towns. So, Amsterdam becomes Amstel. You guessed it; there’s also an Amstel, Austria.

I was already pissed off because Ken was spread himself too thin as usual, trying to juggle two separate schedules in Vienna (both me, and his friend Marguerite), so typically, my last night in Vienna was on my own, which wasn’t too bad, except there wasn’t enough time to do very much. 

Then, he was over an hour late—I was stuck waiting for him at our designated meeting point; sitting on the steps of the Gustav Klimt museum I was in tears thinking I was lost because I couldn’t find the Sucession building. 

The map only showed the Sucession building; it wasn’t labeled—turns out it’s the Gustav Klimt museum after all. A totally dyslexic communication breakdown. My afternoon in Vienna shot to pieces. I was disappointed, and felt let down, my period starting. Turns out Marguerite’s clock was an hour off.

We’re disheveled, filthy and not quite sober, in the middle of god-knows-where in the middle of the night, I can’t stop laughing; it’s too absurd to stay angry for long. In the morning we catch a commuter train to the main railway line, and from there we get the right train and sleep our way across Austria and Germany. 

No way to call Vins to tell him I’m not on the right train—with only two minute stops at each city. A four-minute stop—I run out of the train to make a call, we get some German coins, but I’m placed on hold, and the train’s leaving. I hang up, catch my train. 

After Regensburg, there’s an eight-minute stop; somehow I finally manage to reach Vins collect, one minute before the train’s due to leave.—after the AT&T operator cut me off twice.

This boarding of moving trains is becoming quite a habit; and I’m terrified of escalators. The most comical incident was witnessed as I was leaving Hungary. In order to activate my Eurail pass, I went two hours early to the train station to get it stamped and activated, figuring I’d say my goodbyes to Budapest and do some shopping with my extra time. 

Like Murphy’s law, Soviet “efficiency” is still very much in operation in this former Eastern Block country; two minutes before my train to Vienna was to leave, I was 5th in line at the ticket cassa. Swearing like a sailor, I gave up trying to validate my ticket (warnings of severe penalties—your hair will fall out, we’ll throw you from the moving train, take all your money and revoke the ticket—threats didn’t deter me), I decided to take my chances with the conductor because Ken was meeting this train, not the later one. 

I grabbed my bags and raced to the platform, not even sure if it was the right train: earlier I’d overheard the girl in line in front of me say to her friend, “car 270.” To where I wasn’t sure. The gods must be crazy, the numbers checked, I threw my backpack, two bags (with computer, cameras and printer) and luggage rack onto it as it pulled away from the platform. 

I made a leap for it, from my daypack my waterbottle clunketing onto the tracks, leaving me to ponder if I could fight both gravity and physics. Running alongside the train, the train attendant literally lent a helping hand, and shoved my protruding ass up the stairs, locking the door behind me. I sat sprawled in an undignified heap over my luggage, taking a panicked personal inventory of luggage, passport, tickets, arms and toes. 

I stumbled into a compartment occupied by a henna be-wigged Hungarian woman dressed like a silk canary the other side of fifty, with false eyelashes and carmine claws, and enough luggage to go into business retail impetuously perched on four of the six seats. I asked if this was a smoking car, and could I sit in the only vacant seat. Crabbily, she said in an English more outrageous than the famous Gabor sisters, “No! Zis ees not smokingk; zat’s MY seat! I haf ticket.” 

But I was in a dangerous mood and told her she couldn’t have tickets for the whole compartment. Unbelievably, we became friends by the time it took her gooseliver (and I mean a whole, unadorned mountainous pale gooseliver the size of Mt. Rushmore) sandwich to thaw; my loaned pocketknife slicing neat pink cutlets from its generous slopes for breakfast.

When she was 19, Sylvia Tota left Budapest with her husband in 1954 via the underground railway; she was smuggled into Austria, where she lived in a refugee camp until passage was made on a ship to Canada for Hungarian refugees. Her crime? being Jewish. In Toronto she learned English, got a job waitressing, eventually divorcing her Hungarian husband for an Italian immigrant, wound up in New York, then Miami. 

She is a literary agent for the late Agnes Fedor, a famous Hungarian writer who wrote “Strange Carnival” which she hopes to get reissued in Hungarian, so that she can interest an American publishing house. We chitchat about the literary world, contracts, and rights.

I was in Hungary to meet poets; one poet whose work I’d worked on for the upcoming issue on Eastern Block poetry after Glasnost, Gyula Kodolányi, is now Secretary of State. I never did get to meet him, though I talked to his wife. 

It took me a full week just to get his phone number from Ken’s friend, playwright László Tabóri, a former student of Kodolányi’s. László’s wife, also a poet, Irén Kiss, a former editor of “The New Hungarian Review,” now has Kodolányi’s job at the University. 

Irén informs me everything is corrupt: Kodolányi married a famous poet’s daughter; Gyula Setijis—I’ve never heard of him, but then, I know so little about Hungary to begin with. Irén quit “The New Hungarian Review” because it was a communist party organ; they had an editorial parting of the ways.

Irén studied with Italian poet Edouardo Sanguinetti; we translated several of her poems done in the Italian style. Like in Russia, everything is 10 to 20 years behind the times here. Kodolányi is a member of the old guard, and the new wave. I want poets from the other side and have trouble finding them. 

I get alarmed when my journal nearly drowns in the Secheni pools, and turns into 300 pages of extraordinary Rohrschach tests. Now I have only my memory and some faded notes to guide me. 

Sylvia tells me there’s no money in writing. A friend of Isaac Bashevis Singer, when he received the Nobel, she called him up to congratulate him and he despaired, “Here I am, a famous writer, and all I get is rejected manuscripts in the mail. This is no life for a writer.” 

When the conductor came by to check tickets, Sylvia explained the circumstances in Magyar; she remembered me, laughed and said, “Yes, I saw her board the train at the last minute. If I validate the ticket on the train there’ll be a severe penalty, but she looks like a nice, poor girl. Tell her to take care if it in Vienna,” and so I rode to Vienna for free.

When I told Sylvia the story of Valera, at first she said very yenta-ishly, “Don’t marry him if he can’t support and take care of you. Marriage is a business” When I showed her his picture, she looked at a long time, perhaps remembering something of her own past. 

I told her of the unusual circumstances of how we met, she said, “I see, it’s very romantic, just marry him, if you wait you’ll rationalize. Don’t let it spoil by waiting.” Bolstered by her advice, I prepare to leave. We kiss three times, she sees me off the train like she was family. 

I am remembering other trains, seeing off the students at Kiev, staying behind with my lover Oleg. Ken meeting me in both times in Vienna. How special it is to be met at the train or plane; like when you met me at the airport before my last trip to Russia. These passages, or transitions, called travel are often lonely ventures. We never come back to what we were. 

But Amsterdam had other plans for me. Vins was late meeting the train, lots of bad vibes and druggies around. I wheeled my luggage into the nearest bank, got some money, and pondered the phone system. Vins eventually arrived, the years weren’t especially kind to him. 

Medium height, short graying hair, same earrings, eyes puffed from too many cigarettes, not looking too healthy and intensely wired as ever, Vins. I was glad to see him even if he did bring his bicycle to pick me up. I could carry my big pack and day pack short distances but I had all this stuff I was taking to Russia in my other bag on the luggage rack.

My first night here I meet the Italians, and Vins’s Dutch philosopher friend Eric, married to an Italian. So we’re at a neighborhood bar talking of poetry in Italian and Spanish, I’m in culture shock. 

Vins and I go outside on the bench overlooking the canal talking about God-knows-what, and I’m unconsciously relating to him like a lover, feeling guilty and calling myself a slut. There were many moments like that. Little things men don’t even notice, like the way he put his hand on the bare skin above my vee-back sweater, or sniffed my hair after I washed it, a protective arm around me at the train station. 

“European men and women touch more than Americans,” I tell myself I’m imagining things. Ah well, it was a crowded weekend, the German couple was sleeping in the living room where I first slept, I was sleeping in Vins’s bed. Musical beds. 

Nothing happened the first few nights, but the German couple was working away quite heavily in the living room. We were randy and ready, a full moon worked against us. I decided to seduce him since he wouldn’t make the first move (other than playing footsies in his sleep). 

Bed and dailiness are good, very good indeed—except for some fights that have really left us shaken, and we work hard to build bridges to cross the breech. But it tells me that this is not THE relationship; just like with Valera, the flaws are just too great. A relationship just isn’t worth this kind of trouble, so rest assured, I’m coming home Oct 1st.

Though we get seem get to bed by 4 a.m., rising by noon, an Amsterdam habit shared by many, all is not slow lassitudes here. I send letters of introduction to my Amsterdam contacts: Martin Mooij, director of Poetry International, and Judith Herzberg, among others. I have a tentative appointment with Martin Sept. 23, and 

FamousPoet Judith has already broken one appointment. I also met Chilean poet Marta Manarini and translated some of her poems, though I don’t think hers are very good. Strange to continually speak Spanish in Amsterdam. 

Not much else happening in the way of poetry, I’ve done better by meeting people on the streets. Red Alert!!! Definitely some gorgeous men here—Marcel Koop, a boatbuilder we stumbled upon one afternoon, who just happened to finish working this spring at a Tibetan temple Odyan, in the Sonoma hills. Hell, if I’d ‘a’ known, I would’ve driven out there on some pretense just to meet him. Talk about a small world! He wrote me a three page poem after meeting me so I sent him some work which he’s translating. 

Sept. 12: Marcel came over (after Vins and I were fighting) and brought me a book on Amsterdam. He still looks pretty scary since he shaved his head—some Amsterdam trait, I don’t get it—Vins has SHORT hair too—and amazing, like a longshoreman/biker with all this music and poetry inside. You know bad boy/tough man/sensitive poet. My type of man. Spell that one TROUBLE. 

So many amazing stories he tells, but it’s always the stories that make people interesting. Turns out he was very active in the Squatter’s Wars in the early ‘80s. Urban guerilla warfare, spawned out of the civil unrest of the ‘60s—the provos (hippies) against the cops, and later the militia—with parallels to the riots in the US. Amsterdam was like Chicago/Detroit. The working class dream gone awry. I thought of your stories of the Hunkies. 

Speaking of extremely small worlds, Vin’s Dutch friend Wym (Veem—he’s married to an American) just arrived here on their way to Paris from Woodacre, the small rural valley where I grew up. They bought tickets from my aunt who is a travel agent. 

Met Jan Bogaerts, a handsome hotshot photojournalist friend of Vins’ from the south who gave me tips on how to market my work at a stock agency—I didn’t have much to show him. he wants me to come visit—with or without Vins? He continually lusts after sweet young things and so I demand equal oogling time too, but then we tend to lust after each other on a nightly basis—sweet love. 

More ironies: Ken’s Hungarian girlfriend was just in Amsterdam with the Hungarian Theatre co.; a decade younger, she shares the same birthday as me. When I went to find the name and address of the theatre where she was dramaturgist at, she’d just left. Her father just died, so she’ll be back next week. Since we didn’t have much in common, other than Ken, don’t know if I’ll look her up. Ken will be disappointed. 

A seventh child, Vins was born June 16 1952 in the south of Holland, what do your black book say about that? Vins’s father had another stroke but is OK, Vins’s just returned from teaching in Einhoven, and visiting his father—he was a theater director, by night, and accountant by day for a meat packing company in the south of Holland. He’s a shell of the man he once was and is pretty incapacitated—locked inside of himself—says VIns, horrified.

Sept. 13—I began an Amsterdam essay piece when I got here, been diddling with it off and on, same as with this letter, need to get back to it again and finish it. Some trouble with finishing things here. Must be that permanent cloud of hashish floating over the city—I want to do a drug piece too, I have notes for it; I’ve written only one finished poem (but it needs an ending). I’ve got lots more to say to you, but if I don’t finish this fucking letter NOW and send it NOW, I may as well hand-deliver it. This is why I don’t write letters anymore, I don’t know when to stop.

Love, Maureen
MAy 1994? 

Monday, February 26, 2007

Letter to Alberto Blanco

¡Querido Alberto! Feb 13, 1994

Mirable dictu—at long last I have found you! My letters and cards to you in Mexico City remain unanswered these past two years. By chance, I just saw your name in an ad for the Univ. of Texas in Poets & Writers. Congratulations on your new job! 

You, Pati, and your niña have finally left the world’s most polluted city, and resurfaced in El Paso, of all places!. 

In Sept. John Oliver Simon told me he’d lost track of you also, his registered letters to you returne d unopened. . . Funny, I was just in Texas in Sept. and in Feb., driving cross-country with a friend—Amarillo, where the Cadillac Ranch (13 caddies planted nose-end first in a straight line along Route 66, like an American Stonehenge). 

Not close enough to El Paso for a visit. I tried to get your phone number and address from information, again, no luck. Please thank Leslie Ullman for phoning me, and telling me it is indeed you, my Alberto!

I wrote to you in the fall of 1992, and again in the summer of ’93 from Holland, because there was a Latin American focus at the Poetry International festival, June, ’93 in Rotterdam. I had recommended you as a reader to the director, Martin Mooij. 

I also recom-mended Jórge, and Otto Raúl Gonzalez—though at this point, I have no idea if any of my addresses are current. The 12-day festival was wonderful—I met someone who knows you, Victor Manuel Mediola. Homero Aradjis was there—& many poets from Brazil.

God what a fall, the fall, as it were; my woes serious enough to desire Prosac (I’ll elaborate later), lacking prosaic skills, yes, I’m remiss in answering your letters, and you’re probably wondering if I fell off the face of the earth! Very nearly! How I miss you! I am so sorry I didn’t get a chance to write back to you—certainly you’ve been foremost on my mind, but I guess you can’t feel my thoughts! 

It’s taken a long time for me to find my way back to the world, coupled with the fact that California is slowly going broke, it’s been hard earning an income on CPITS work. I will probably need to get out of teaching in the schools, finish my Master’s degree, etc. 

What I need is a scholarship/ fellowship at a university in order to afford graduate school. I understand part-time teaching pay at the university level isn’t a whole lot better than in the schools, but it’s time for me to move on, find the next path of my life’s work.

Oh! we did an art and poetry anthology of Sonoma County children (tri-lingual—English, Russian, and Spanish) and since you were part of my project at Mark West School, you’re listed in the book. It was over three years in the making, and we had to raise enormous amounts of money to complete the exchange—but I’m very excited about the book. 

I was able to include others in the project (though you may recognize my book-making style). It’s one thing to create something on your own, but to pass on the seeds, and to network with others creates something larger than what I could have previously imagined—the vision far afield. 

Though I’d started my project long before I met up with John, in a sense, I owe him for the seeds of the vision from the Mexico City exchange—and how I met you! Funny, I was the one who went to Russia three times, but he was the red-diaper baby.

Now that that project’s done, I’m wondering what’s next on the list. The Soviet exchange program seriously depleted my energy, I’m still gathering in, but I’m interested in taking the seeds of the model afield. I spent over 6 months in the Soviet Union since Aug. ’89. 

In 1992 I was supposed to go a 4th time—perhaps permanently (someone wanted to marry me), but I got cold feet and chickened out at the last minute; I stayed in Amsterdam 3 months with a college friend. 

Last summer, I did a workshop in the Netherlands, training mental health workers to use poetry and art with their patients last spring. All total, I spent 6 months in Amsterdam as well—searching for myself away from the familiar busy-ness of home turf, searching for a new voice, a new vision, expanding my horizons.

Ideally, I’d like to be able to live part-time in the US and part-time abroad. I’m becoming increasingly detached from my country, my homeland. But I also know it is a part of me, and I cannot sever the connection—nor do I want to. I’ve had offers to live in Russia, Ukraine, and even in Holland, but, the relationships are not right, I’m still not ready to commit to anyone. 

I like to think of the heart, like cats, as having nine lives. I believe there is someone out there for me—blind faith? I’m surprised at how deep the scarring goes, but understand that time is the only answer. Sometimes I feel I’ll never fall in love again, not like that. Sometimes I get scared, thinking, at the age of 41, my life is slipping out from under me. What do I have to show for the sum total of my life but orphan poems swirling in a neap tide about my knees?

Careerwise, I seem to do well in national poetry contests, consistently coming in third place, or runner-up, or honorable mention, but that doesn’t bring in the prize money, nor the book I’d hoped for. 

And still I resist the well-founded notion that it’s all in who you know . . . a friend of mine who won the 1992 National Poetry Book contest—the judge already knew of her work, and told her to submit. Also I’m working with senior citizens, Elderhostel, teaching California history through literature, & creativity workshops, which I love.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact that I learned to babble in Russian, I thought to myself, what use is it to know fractured Spanish and Russian, when the rest of the European world speaks Italian, French and German. . . it seems I’m always in the wrong tongue. 

Last summer, it came of use, in all places, the Netherlands. At Poetry International—don’t ask me how, but I was simultaneously translating from Russian into Spanish—forgoing English completely. 

The Russian poets, Dmitri Prigov (I published him in Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost) and Ilya Kutek wanted to talk to the Mexican poets; no one else was around. I admit conversation was pretty limited. 

A Hungarian gypsy poet, Karoli Barri, and I managed to get by on some Russian. I always find myself apologizing for speaking in the tongue of the oppressor, but when it comes down to it, English is equally the tongue of the oppressor. 

James Joyce had the right idea to use the language of the enemy against the enemy. If the Cromwellian hadn’t been so successful in annihilating the Gaelic, would Irish literature be available to the English-speaking world? Imagine no Yeats, no Swift, no Synge, no Joyce. . These, my roots.

To digress, I have another story of family roots for you—not as wild as John’s, but close. Briefly, I was the product of a divorce, my father said if he couldn’t have custody of me, he’d have nothing to do with me. And very nearly kept his promise—except for when I was in my early teens and 20’s. On Dec. 12th, he died, the day after his birthday, and as in life, in death, his heart failed him. 

I was notified Dec. 22 by the Public Administration of San Francisco. I buried him, and meanwhile I found out he had money all this time, but my name wasn’t beneficiary on the accounts. Some sleuthing, I discovered that after retirement (he was a streetsweeper) he spent his mornings at the church, then, the local bar—a serious alcoholic. 

More family background: my mother was crazy (I won’t go into that here, suffice to say she is manic-depressive; the joys of lithium hadn’t been discovered when I was a child), my father blamed himself for her going crazy, and couldn’t bring himself to face us.

In spite of it all, I had a happy childhood, raised in the country by my Irish grandmother, who raised 8 kids before my half-brother and I. We didn’t name it poverty, but her meager pension didn’t go far in Marin County. I was a expert in not talking about my family, because my own family experiences had no parallel among my peers. 

To shorten the story, we went on welfare and I was ashamed. Thank God the Summer of Love, and the hippies came about, who could tell what was what? The ’50s values of America washed away. 

My father always told me if anything happened to him there was money for me. He told my mother and my uncles as well there was money for me. So, my father died, I’m sole heir and next of kin, responsible for his estate, and to cover his shame, he left $100,000 to a co-worker he didn’t even know all that well—outside of the estate (two cars: a Jaguar xjc with a chevy engine, and a Volvo sports car) my inheritance. 

At the wake and funeral, first, the co-worker was surprised to learn of my existence, then he told someone I hadn’t seen my father since I was a baby. (I talked with him 4 years ago, Christmas.)

Friday night I met some of his friends, including a woman (Mimi) he almost married—they all knew of me, some had met me when I was young, knew of my grandmother. Said he talked about us all the time. (There were photos of me by his bed and in his drawers.) Mimi told me that if she married him, he made her promise that I was to get money. . .all the stories corroborate. 

I don’t know the circumstances leading up to his giving the money to this man, but it may be hard to prove my father was incompetent, or unduly influenced. We don’t know if there was blackmail involved, or what. I can’t find a lawyer who’ll take the case on contingency—not enough profit in it. If I had money, I could hire a lawyer to get the money. . . 

Then, I found out I have another half-brother in his 20’s up in Washington! Another trail to follow. Chances are I’ll never see my inheritance. I can’t help but think what I would’ve done with the money. 

It’s been difficult in getting work (I’ve gotten some, all’s not lost), this, at a time when everyone in education is saying how marvelous my programs are, and that I’m such a gifted teacher, blah, blah, blah. . . but the bottom line is, that the state of California’s broke; I need a new career (& my Masters). Other than the unfairness of it all, I keep thinking there must be a moral buried somewhere in this story, and I’m just too daft to figure it out.

Today is better than yesterday, sunshine, after rain. It washed away the pun of the cat’s investigative paw prints off the hood of the Jaguar. A glimmer reaching into the place where the concept of soul dwells; today is the first day I’ve had the initiative to do those things that must be done, pay bills, answer letters. 

It’s so strange to me to have to be out in the open about all of this family stuff, but I can no longer keep it inside. There’s a creature called the sea cucumber, who when threatened, literally vomits his stomach out to fool the hunters. I’m used to keeping the shame of family secrets buried, but to do so now requires a psychic death, and I’m not willing to be a victim. So this is an intense time of growth and change for me. 

I am, excavating the basements of the self, uncovering old pieces of art amid the debris, the source materia is preferable to the illusion of artifice. I am alive, my father gave me life, I am restoring something of myself to myself. The Spanish saying, The best revenge is living well, we are among the living; dare I say, it’s our duty to make the most of it?

On some obtuse level I am reminded of when I went to Russia to see Malevich’s paintings, but none were available to the public, though Glasnost was in full swing. Malevich may have been reinstated but his paintings remained in the basements of the Russian State, and the Tretyakov museums. (Moscow’s Tretyakov is where the statue of Swords into Ploughshares is). 

Why, because it was easier to go with the system than to change it, though the means to do it was there. I couldn’t understand the Russian psyche, and the posters that stood in place for the real art didn’t fill the need, they didn’t satisfy the hunger for what was real. 

Paradoxically, there was a time when I fell in love with the paintings by Matisse and Gauguin (or so I thought) until I saw the real paintings at the Hermitage in Petersburg. They were raw, the pigments different—I was shocked until I realized it wasn’t a question of like/dislike; I was using the wrong vocabulary, but the rawness, the power, direct source/link, versus the glossed over second generation candy-colored posters. The original paintings had the ability to move me to tears. I seek truth, and write very little these days. 

Are you still painting? Music?

I did a series of poems to collages on the Gulf war by a friend, Marsha Connell—and received a small fellowship for them. One of the poems was runner-up in the Kalliopea/ Paper Mache poetry contest. I’ve also been editing a magazine based on Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost, a sort of international journal in tabloid format called Mother Earth, with regional inserts. 

I’ve completed Eastern Europe and Africa; we’re just now starting Latin America. Send me some translated work by mid-March? Also, if you’re in touch with other Latin American poets, please ask them to submit as well. 

Right now I’m collaborating with a modern composer, Kirk Whipple, who is writing 11 nocturnes—elemental portraits. I know so little about music, but it’s interesting writing to music. They’re due on Mother’s Day, at the premier concert. Kirk is married to pianist Marilyn Morales (una Cubaña) and they founded the Unconservatory. 

They have Yamaha pianos you can put a computer disk in! I’m blown away by the technology. He can program a piece, have left hand play, and ad-lib with the right, re-record, etc. Magic! We’re planning an international CPITS conference in Oct., perhaps you can come?

Other news: my neighbor, the potter Joel Bennett (with whom you stayed with) had an accident with a filet knife. He didn’t think anything of it, but later he discovered he’d severed the nerves in his hand. He’s had two major operations; they took pieces of nerves from his legs to repair the damage—but he still can’t grasp things. 

I don’t know how he’ll be able to continue making pots. It’s been a hard year all around. I hope you are all well and happy. How old is your daughter now? I’ve forgotten her name. . . are your parents still in Mexico City. How is Pati? Happy Valentine’s Day. Muchos besos! I miss you, write soon.

Feb 13, 1994

Letter to Richard Benesevich

Dear Richard—   8/93

God what a fall, the fall, as it were; my woes serious enough to desire Prosac (I’ll elaborate later), lacking prosaic skills, I’m remiss in answering your wonderful letter, and you’re probably wondering if the reply got lost in the mail—one reason why I’m writing to you on the computer—I learned to make copies of everything in Russia. (My laptop computer blew up (as did my truck) this fall—the mother-board—it’s working by sheer luck at this point, as long as I don’t unplug it. When the batteries go, I have to find another laptop to recharge them). It’s lucky I even got your letter as it was glued to a completely frayed envelope, open on all four sides like two sheets to the wind! If you hadn’t reglued the flap, I’d have gotten what once was an envelope with some stamps on it—is this known as pushing the inside of the envelope out?

My dearest proletariat, I hope you’re surviving well, in spite of everything. Shall I send you a phone so you can wander around looking for a place to hot-wire it to? I was under the impression Poland was slipping off the sexy wrap of communism. . . Well, after Hungary, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by Eastern European concepts of reform. All of the former Soviet Bloc is construed of paradoxes. Try Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, and the story’s always the same. Push the inside of that dox out and what’s left? An urge for Ken’s awful Hungarian pear brandy? So what’s the latest commerce in baksheesh besides bad puns? Anything you want from the states? Yes, I would like to hear from you, but, gulp, did you say collect? Hey, with some serious discounts, my Dutch phone bills still run about $50 a call! That’s a lotta zlotii. Hell, one of the reasons why I got this ATT single country plan discount was because you were in Leiden, and then you had to go and move!

So, you don’t live on the street of busy-ness (but I bet Poland’s keeping you busy—lines, shortages, etc.). And yes, before that, Poland was part of Germany before the war (which war, any one of several will do), once Poland was part of itself, more or less. I’m dimly aware of Poland’s centuries-old inability to maintain its borders, and bizarre rites of parliament and kingship succession. Walden Pond? And what of those Lithuanian borders? Six feet under is a good place for the Germans (and my father). That’s great you can trace the origin of those cryptic place names. I was just re-reading Dracula; you know Bram Stoker never went to Hungary? Wagner as in the Nieblunglied? Where’s the dragon and the gold? Sounds like you’re taking long, cold, solitary walks. . . all those coffins, bones and carcasses of dead leaves. . . Since I don’t speak German and missed the significance of Sei uns heilig, I can only say gesundheit and proost! Maybe you can do an underground guidebook to Poland! Har, har!!! No need to apologize for your “hysterical diggings,” I loves ‘em!

How’s the teaching going? I still have to send you the poetry magazines—maybe today, under separate cover. How’s your Polish coming along? Someone said that my poetry is so like the Russian soul in voice and vision. I squawked, But I’m Irish! Maybe the Russkogo yezik is no longer, shall we say, popular, but I’ve found that my smattering of Russian has saved me upon more than one occasion—in Hungary, for example, when I desperately needed a train schedule. And in Holland, of all places. I think I told you of the story of the Mauritanian, Sedhu and I conversing in our only common tongue, Russian, while Vins and Moniel chatted in high Dutch, Brabantese, German, French & English. . . talk about polyglot!

At Poetry International, don’t ask me how, but I was simultaneously translating from Russian into Spanish—forgoing English completely. The Russian poets, Dmitri Prigov (I published him in Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost) and Ilya Kutek wanted to talk to the Mexican poets; no one else was around. I admit conversation was pretty limited. This Hungarian gypsy poet, Karoli Barri, and I managed to get by on some Russian. I always find myself apologizing for speaking in the tongue of the oppressor, but when it comes down to it, English is equally the tongue of the oppressor. 

Joyce had the right idea to use the language of the enemy against the enemy. If the Cromwellian hadn’t been so successful, would Irish literature be available to the English-speaking world? Imagine no Yeats, no Swift, no Synge, no Joyce. . . Have you (or Doreen) seen any productions of Brian Freel? I understand Dancing at Lugnasa was fabulous. Someone recommended his play, Translations to me; I’ve yet to read them.

I bet you were going through a bit of general insanity in leaving Leiden—but having to move from the place where you and Doreen once lived is, perhaps, the best way to go forward. The only way out is through? 

I wish to apologize to you; I was terribly embarrassed by the way Vins was acting so boorish (to use a Dutch/English word) when you came to visit—as you know he’s an old, old friend, and yes, we were lovers (but not in love, if I may be so bold as to make the distinction) the summer before, but this time something had changed in both of us; it wasn’t a happy visit. 

Though I love the time I’ve spent in Holland, and I’d like to be able to go back upon occasion, at this point, it would be foolhardy of me to stay with Vins. What does it mean when someone doesn’t want you, but doesn’t want anyone else to love you either? Maybe I’ve been lucky, or naive in the past, but this kind of jealousy has never before entered into the equation of love and friendship. 

I’m feeling a little shell-shocked; wonder if I’ll ever fall in love again—a little lust here, a little intrigue there, but not that deep, abiding love I know exists. I guess I’m still recovering from love gone wrong—a man whom I thought was going to be it. We even talked of marriage; John Oliver Simon hit 45, and ran off with a 19-year-old student of ours.

No need to face Hamlet’s rhetorical question just yet, Richard. Like poor Yorik, the corpses of our hearts are buried in the past. I like to think of the heart, like cats, as having nine lives. I face a similar dilemma, I know I’m not the ordinary woman. My talents are my curse. I do not lack for intrigue, I seem to attract crazy, impoverished men who want me but are threatened by my talents, and/or have no visible means of support! 

Like Marcel (from Amsterdam) who came to visit me this fall on his way to Guatemala, and stayed three months. 

Or Valera, the Russian singer who spoke no English but wanted to marry me. I believe there is someone out there for me—blind faith? Though I want a lot: physical and emotional attraction, creativity, and intellegence, I find the intellect to be more erotic than just another pretty face. 

There are worse banishments than teaching English in Lower Silesia. All I can say is the journey is always within and for the self, and the relationship is not just with others; or the troubles will follow you to the ends of the earth like the hounds of hell. 

One thing that those sailors never mentioned was the running, what it did to them. We are always at sea with our emotions-we’re taught to place and categorize everything, and when it refuses to be contained within those artificial borders, we’re at a loss, and don’t know how to proceed. 

The river of oude vijn is not deep enough to drown sorrow, eventually you have to come up for air. My father was one of the drowned. I think of the beckoning arm of captain Ahab, as Moby Dick swam to the briny depths.

To digress, I was the product of a divorce, my father said if he couldn’t have custody of me, he’d have nothing to do with me. And very nearly kept his promise—except for when I was in my early teens and 20’s. Dec. 12th, he died, the day after his birthday, and as in life, in death, his heart failed him. I was notified Dec. 22 by the Public Administration of San Francisco. I buried him the 28th, and meanwhile I found out he had money all this time, but my name wasn’t beneficiary on the accounts. 

Some sleuthing, I discovered that after retirement (he was a streetsweeper) he spent his mornings at the church, then, the local bar—a serious alcoholic. More family background: my mother was crazy (I won’t go into that here, suffice to say she is manic-depressive; the joys of lithium hadn’t been discovered when I was a child), I had a happy childhood, raised by my Irish grandmother, who raised 8 kids before my half-brother and I. 

We didn’t name it poverty, but her meager pension, $220 a month to pay exorbitant land taxes and to feed us didn’t go far in Marin County. (The Prop. 13 Jarvis-Gann initiative that rolled property taxes back didn’t happen until 1976.) I was a expert in not talking about my family, because my own family experiences had no parallel among my peers. To shorten the story, we went on welfare and I was ashamed. Thank god the Summer of Love, and the hippies came about, who could tell what was what? The ’50s values washed away. 

So, my father died, I’m sole heir and next of kin, responsible for his estate, and to cover his shame, he left $100,000 to a drinking buddy he didn’t even know all that well—outside of the estate (two cars, a jaguar xj with a chevy engine, and a volvo sports car) my inheritance. I can’t help but think what I would’ve done with the money. It’s been difficult in getting work (I’ve gotten some, all’s not lost), this, at a time when everyone in education is saying how marvelous my programs are, and that I’m such a gifted teacher, blah, blah, blah. . . but the bottom line is, that the state of California’s broke, economists say, due to that same old Prop. 13. 

I need a new career (my Masters); that money is like a siren-call, and I don’t want to be tied to that carcass. Lawyers won’t take the case, not because it isn’t just, but because there’s not enough profit in it for them. I might have to spend $50,000 I haven’t got in order to get, at best, $25,000. Other than the unfairness of it all, I keep thinking there’s a moral buried somewhere in this story, and I’m just too daft to figure it out.

Today is better than yesterday, sunshine, after rain. It washed away the pun of the cat’s investigative paw prints off the hood of the jaguar. A glimmer reaching into the place where the concept of soul dwells; today is the first day I’ve had the initiative to do those things that must be done, pay bills, answer letters, meet my father’s friends tonight to find out what kind of man he really was. 

It’s so strange to me to have to be out in the open about all of this, but I can’t keep it inside. There’s a creature called the sea cucumber, who when threatened, literally vomits his stomach out to fool the hunters. I’m used to keeping the shame of family secrets buried, but to do so requires a psychic death, and I’m not willing to be a victim. 

On some obtuse level I am reminded of when I went to Russia to see Malevich’s paintings, but none were available to the public, though Glasnost was in full swing. Malevich may have been reinstated but his paintings remained in the basements of the Russian State, and the Tretyakov museums. (Moscow’s Tretyakov is where the statue of Swords into Ploughshares is). 

Why, because it was easier to go with the system than to change it, though the means to do it was there. I couldn’t understand the Russian psyche, and the posters that stood in place for the real art didn’t fill the need, they didn’t satisfy the hunger for what was real. 

Paradoxically, there was a time when I fell in love with the paintings by Matisse and Gauguin (or so I thought) until I saw the real paintings at the Hermitage in Petersburg. They were raw, the pigments different—I was shocked until I realized it wasn’t a question of like/dislike; I was using the wrong vocabulary, but the rawness, the power, direct source/link, versus the glossed over second generation candy-colored posters. 

The original paintings had the ability to move me to tears. So here I am, excavating the basements of the self, uncovering old pieces of art amid the debris, the source materia is preferable to the illusion of artifice. I am alive, my father gave me life, I am restoring something of myself to myself. The Spanish saying, The best revenge is living well, we are among the living; dare I say, it’s our duty to make the most of it?

I can’t imagine you living in Poland for the rest of your life, I’m not sure where your journey will take you, but certainly Poland is grist for the mill. You may be one of the lucky ones—maybe Doreen will realize your worthiness, come back to you, but you know what they say of sow’s ears. It’s hard to make any enlightening comments because I’ve never met her. All I can respond to is what I know about you. 

I do know the first time I met you in 1992—even though you talked incessantly about Doreen—I saw it was over. I mentioned it to Ken, who, of course, denied it. It sounds like she doesn’t know who she is, that she is sheltered, perhaps a bit spoiled, and terribly young for her age—both emotionally and in life experiences. You may have been a teacher model to her, and, alas, the student must always leave the teacher. I will resist adding any puns about violins here. I wish you luck and love; Valentine’s Day is at hand. Carpe deim!

P.S. Which # is the fax? 011-48-74-786-95; 786-94, or 789-69? I assume the last one? What days are you at the college so I can coordinate a fax? For obvious reasons I didn’t fax this letter—even if you say no one can understand English! I’m getting a stand-alone fax soon. Meanwhile, Fax me at El Molino Pharmacy (707) 887-0106 (no cover letter—I pay $1 per page. Put my name & # on top.


BUCHAREST—From the Pacific Coast, California, there comes to us a cultural surprise and exceptional reading: a poetry magazine—or rather a tabloid review, like our weeklies. It is not a mere publication meant to convey to readers the latest production of American poets (as many other poetry reviews do) but an entirely uncommon one: a sort of Secolul XX (the 20th century) of the Romanians, yet devoted to poetry alone, in order to spread publications which the public has few opportunities to know.

The first issue of Uniting the World Through Poetry (UWP) is devoted to Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost, a 24-page tabloid, with a similar format to our Romania Literatura, is full of translations from Arabov, Slepynin, Lubenski, Soloviov, Kulle and many others—verses written in the last six or seven years. With the decoration of the journals—or perhaps it’s pop-art—with press clippings, photos, collages, and vignettes, an entire page is devoted to a poem of Oleg Slepynin’s, printed in the shape of a cross, with the title buried in the center: SYNCHRONIC. Some general data, with a short excursion into history, and with substantial topicalization, are offered in the essay entitled, “A Poet in Russia is more than a Poet” by the Ukrainian poet of Armenian descent, Oleg Atbashian (who, with UWP editor, Maureen Hurley, did most of the translations).

The general presentation of the themes and aims of the review is made by the two UWP editors, Herman Berlandt and Maureen Hurley. Berlandt is chairman of the National Poetry Association, and editor of Poetry: USA, a quarterly, and after more than 30 lectures on this very theme of uniting the world through poetry, he decided to publish these international anthologies with Maureen Hurley (an educator, graphic designer, photographer, and writer, with poems translated into Spanish and Russian. She is an initiator of an international conference of writers for the 30th anniversary of California Poets in the Schools (CPITS), tenatively scheduled in San Francisco, in October 1994. An earlier CPITS conference, (the 25th) was joined by more than 150 poets from the U.S. and Mexico.)

The second issue of the review is entitled Mother Earth, with the same internationalist motto as the subtitle “Let the voice of the poet be heard throughout the world”. These 24 pages bring together (in translation, or in the English original) the voices of poets from Bulgaria, China, Poland, Hungary, Holland, Macedonia, India, Pakistan, Italy, Israel, Greece, Great Britain, Argentina, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Russia, and—surprise—Romania: Geo Dumitrescu (translated by the late Dan Dutescu with post-translation by Maureen Hurley) and Ana Blandiana (translated by Andrea Deletant and Brenda Walker, as well as by Andrei Bantas, also with Maureen Hurley). They are accompanied by fine engravings by Victor Brauner and a Romanian stamp.

In the third issue—devoted to East European poetry, Romanian poetry (including Valeriu Matei of Moldova) is represented in over three pages by the same Geo Dumitrescu and Ana Blandiana as well as Nichita Stanescu, Maria Banus, Nina Cassian, Daniela Crasnaru, Carolina Ilica, and Mircea Dinescu. The translators are the same, with the addition of poet Fleur Adcock, the version being reproduced mainly from Silent Voices: an Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Women Poets, published by Brenda Walker and Andrea Deletant in Britain about 5 years ago (when they also published Mircea Dinescu’s Exile on a Peppercorn—their persons and books were proscribed in Romania—but well-received in Bulgaria!)

Highly valuing these new tokens of appreciation offered by foreign publishers and translators of Romanian poetry (I happen to know of the financial efforts made by these two English women and the editors of UWP), I am taking the liberty of asking two rhetorical questions: What are we doing for ourselves and for our poets, for our literature, as a whole? Suppose I rounded off my anthology of 20th century poets (Like Diamonds in Coal, Asleep, Minerva Publishers, 1985) with poems formerly banned by censorship as well as with those of Romanian poets abroad, who would publish it? (today, tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. . . .?

Noon: Thurs. August 18, 1994. Forestville, CA USA

Well wrichard, you wreally said to write; will you accept a binary faxsimile (or faxmetaphor) instead? Been meaning to answer your last postcard but have been bogged down with details. This year my work was so sporadic, I had to take any contracts that came through—wouldn’t you know it, a job every few weeks. Yuck. Been teaching mostly art (my degrees are in painting & drawing; it seems so strange to re-enter that world. But that’s where the money is. No one wants to hire a poet these days; artists, yes. . . How’s your job, developed any black lung lately?

I almost went to Prague for a writers’ workshop to present the Mother Earth Journal; Herman Berlandt (did you meet him in Leiden?) went in my place. I just haven’t earned enough money this year to warrant any travel, and so, am going crazy—which happens when I stay in America for any length of time. Up to the last minute I held fantasies of getting a cheap flight to Prague, and was wondering how I’d contact you in Poland—I wanted to get a visit in.

In between jobs I’m editing the latest issue of Mother Earth magazine (Latin American focus), and producing a weekly poetry & prose series at the Johnny Otis Cabaret in Sebastopol (remember the r & b song, “Hand Jive”? Otis is the one who made it famous.) Am doing a series of lectures for Elder Hostel (senior citizen classes) right now, and am up to my ears in California pre-history, and history.

Also am preparing for California Poets in the Schools first ever international conference in Oct.—some of my M. E./ Poetry International contacts are coming! Marianne Larsen form Denmark, Maria van Daalen form Groningen, etc.

Just talked to Vins, he’s been working every day, all over the NL! Eindhoven, the Hague, & a village near Zandfoort/Castricum. Guess he’s keeping the railroad in business. Says he’s up by 4 am, & doesn’t return till late. In other words, his Ph.D. thesis has come to a standstill, & he’s totally fried.

Did you ever meet my friend Marcel Koops from Prinsengracht? Enroute to Guatemala, he came for a visit (and stayed nearly 3 months—through my father’s funeral, etc.,) then went to Chiapas just as the uprising was happening. Seems Central America is a bit rough for traveling these days. Whatever happened to your friend Karel’s sister who went to Guatemala? We had a few conversations/letters, and I haven’t heard from her since.

So, how’s the beer in Polska? Miss Leiden at all? Another friend was in Vilnius last month—I think it’s the American invasion of Eastern Europe. An Irish friend is working in Czech rep.; I’m in the process of applying for an Irish passport: there may be some work through her organization. Herman’s friend’s daughter is “Girl Friday” for Havel’s wife. Apparently there’s a housing shortage in Prague, so they live in a castle. Tough life.

Have you read any poems by Ioanna Veronika Warwick? She left Poland at 17, and is becoming fairly well-known here—grants & awards (I know she also publishes in Poland—by the way, how’s your Polish coming along?) If I remember correctly, you also speak Dutch & Lithuanian—any linguistic connection between Lithuanian & Polish? 

To my surprise, I can understand a few words in Polish & Bulgarian because of my gutter-Russian. The Slavic languages that use the English alphabet are easier for me to decode on an extremely rudimentary level, but it’s a slow, inexact process. (We got some poems in Bulgarian. An article about Herman & me—in regards to our journal—appeared in a Bucharest newspaper. Romanian, like a bizarre form of Latin-Italian with Slavonic flourishes.)

Well, all this talk—& my thinking kindly of you on our brief visits in Leiden & Amsterdam, I’m raising a glass of Hungarian Cabernet (Marika) in your honor. (Somehow I thought you were so annoyed with me, that I was uncertain whether or not I should write—after I was over being offended. To say the least, I’m relieved you sent me another postcard.) How about Cabaret Sauvignon for a Yuppie Niteclub?

Is there any such thing as decent Polish wine? Or is that an oxymoron? I found the fabled Georgian wine practically undrinkable in Russia. Sounds like you’ll be gainfully employed next year at Walbrych next year? How many zlotii does it take to fill the piggy bank these days? Did Ken ever write to you? He kept misplacing your address—and would ask me every few months for it. He’s still hung up on the Swiss musician, he saw her at Xmas, & they’re positively writing tomes to each other. So he may be travelling again right now.

Feb. 2, 1997
Well, Richard, me lad,

On the eve of my departure into the wilds of Montana to teach poetry for two weeks in Billings (did I mention I got a reading at Writer’s Voice?) I’ve been having a movie attack, Il Postino, just out in video, and am I waxing sentimental when a whole town breaks out in a metaphor epidemic (or was it the wine?). Do see the movie if you haven’t. We’ve a video store with a great foreign film collection in Sebastopol (5 movies/$5 /5days); my neighbors & I share movies. I just finished up The War of Buttons, an Oirish film about boy gangs that works on both the historic and modern level. It’s rare to find movies that go farther than the storyline originally intended. (It’s not just what we bring to the films, intellectual baggage, or otherwise.)

I’ve a friend, an actress who gives me tickets for dress rehearsal, I’ve become an impromptu critic, observing the mechanics behind the staging of the play. I rather like it. 

A three-person play, Questions of Mercy, about choice of euthanasia, two veteran guild actors as husband and wife (my friend) blew the Marin Community Playhouse favorite “son” off the stage, his lines lacking in rhythm. . . I chastized the playwright for his tin ear, who in turn blamed the actor’s delivery, commending me on my poet’s ear. I dunno, the “son” had credentials—he’s a favorite at Broderbund software, his voice is used on many computer games. Wherein lies the problem that disappoints me, the script or the delivery? 

But, then I’m battling with another notion that most actors (or people) can’t read poetry—not that his lines were poetic, more like pathetic. I thought of all those stars reading Neruda badly for a commemorative record of Il Postino. ACK ACK ACK! I was trying to pinpoint exactly what was so annoying, Alastair Reid’s translations, the actor’s lack of rhythm, what? I think it goes deeper, the conviction behind the words, a paradox, because actors are supposed to make the lines of a play come alive. Can you shed any light on the subject? Do you have any involvment with the theater in Poland? Or are you content with teaching?

You’ve been on my mind the past few days, I’ve found myself answering your letter mentally in my head at odd moments. Pity Poland’s so far off, I’m wishing we could stop off at the pub, raise a jar or two. . .someday soon, yes? Your letter redolent of tobacco, an odd intersection of memory a cross purposes with time. 

For me, Leiden still carries your memory, I had no heart to revisit it this last time, for I would want to go down Papengracht to see if you’re home. Why does memory do that, trick us, make us nostalgic for a fleeting moment in time, years ago, in a pub with pretensions of grandeur (Corinthian columns?) filled with the blue odure of tobacco—the moment indelible, though I can’t stand cigarette smoke, I withstood it, for . . .how do I say it, time stood still, no past or future, no mechanizations. 

Sometimes that happens to me, a chance encounter becomes a tableau and I don’t know why, and I am attached to reality enough to wonder what the significance is, and the beauty of it, there isn’t any. Just Proust’s madelines.

(rest of letter is lost).

Letter to Charles McGeehan

Dear Bertaijn & Charles—Happy Holidays!

It’s been raining steadily for a week, a slow, gentle rain, drumming fingers of rain on the moss-green scalp of my cabin roof nestled beneath live oaks. I’m cozily curled up in bed with the flu, playing with my computer.

There are flash flood warnings in Northern California, Oregon and Washington and record feet of snow has fallen in the mountains. I’ve been lax about writing to anyone since I’ve been back home. A kind of lethargy creeps over me. I do what’s necessary, read, and little else. Perhaps hibernation. . . Of course, it doesn’t help that I have an injured wrist.

Right before I left Amsterdam, I got into a bicycle accident. As I was returning home to Linde Voûte’s on 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 would you choose? It was raining, and the bike’s brakes were no good on wet cobblestone & brick. 

Anyway, 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 finally went to the doctor who put it into a splint to rest it—a bad sprain. 

I’m slowly typing (two-fingered pecking) this letter wearing my stupid wrist brace—which looks (& is beginning to smell) like an old gym shoe, and as winter’s chill creeps in, my bones ache (snow in the Sierras); injuries don’t heal quite as fast as they used to.

I’m finally finished with my Breytenbach essay on translation. I can’t believe it took me so long to write it, but I didn’t have the background or knowledge necessary to quickly write something. 

Besides, if I knew what I was going to write about, I wouldn’t write at all. What’s the point? The essay & footnotes is nearly 10,000 words (verbose), and it was very difficult for me. It’s long overdue, I hope J.L van Schaik Publishers (South Africa) will still use it!

It’s hard to say exactly how I’ve been wasting my time as I’m never idle. You know how it is, the life of a writer is a proverbial black hole. In Autumn I never have much ($) work: I’m teaching a poetry class to children, ages 6-8; I finished 3 “Elderhostel” classes (California history, poetry, art, etc.) to 60+ year-olds—and my strangest job yet—was as a naturalist leading a group of businessmen on a day hike to the headlands near Sausalito (& the Golden Gate Bridge) last Friday (probably when I caught this cold). 

Did Paul Evans do another issue of ORAL magazine? Charles, you haven’t sent me the second batch of poems that I typeset—you were going to proof them, remember? As soon as I get them, I’ll make corrections ASAP and send you a clean copy of all that I’ve typeset so we can see where the “holes” are. 

Herman got a letter from Guillermo Gelacio, & some photos. Guillermo was concerned with, among other things, Herman’s general sloppiness in the Asian issue. I’ve tried to tell him to take care, he’s losing credibility. 

A good thing we’re near the end of the project. He’s truly incorrigable, and becoming worse with time, impossible to work with. I want to make sure we get our issue together soon so send the corrected poems.

Here’s a letter fragment I never sent:

19 Sept., 1996 (midnight insomnia) Home, I am—and after a week of sunshine, I need dark shades—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 millenium—which I doubt you’ll even see, Dutch weather being what it is. 

Still suffering from acute jetlag, tunnel vision & disorientation by late afternoon is typical (for 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 virtual 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 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 & his girlfriend, Verona home to Novato, literally cross-eyed, thinking “I’ll never make it home” and 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 arrive before you leave—earlier, that is, in New York than when you leave Paris! Where’s Einstein when you need him?

My cousin Sínead (Dave’s sister) and I went huckleberrying last weekend out at our secret spot on a hill near Tomales Bay, where we used to go with my grandmother. (They’re like tiny blueberries with 50 times the flavor.) 

From the isthmus, we could see Point Reyes in the distance, like a comma against the shining sea, separating Drake’s Bay from the raging Pacific—a misnamed ocean. 

Offshore fog rising up like a vast wall where tiny fishing boats disappeared into its maws, made me think of the painter, Turner. The pine forest took a beating from last year’s severe storms—so many uprooted trees met an abrupt end—we used them as aerial pathways up the hillsides. 

Since it’s all part of the Point Reyes National Seashore, we’re not supposed to gather anything—even huckleberries, so I stole an antler. We were hiding from the rangers but we had Sínead’s 22-month-old nephew, Séan to lug through the undergrowth. I had the odd sensation we were re-enacting an age-old ritual, gathering berries before the fall—no matter that our skin is white, not red. 

My aunt will make pies and ice cream, our teeth will be indigo-stained for days (like my fingers). How Pictish! The berries are so labor-intensive (cleaning takes longer than picking) we make jokes, compare them to caviar. (We went to an equinox party at Albert Straus's—a local ranch and made gallons of huckleberry ice cream).

I spent my flight over the Atlantic being terribly sleepy but wide awake with fear. Unfortunately my airplane dessert had hazelnut filling in it, tho they said it was jam. . . and I had to take antihistimines, the stewardesses coming by periodically to see if I was still breathing. I was trying to figure out a place where I could hide to inject myself with adrenaline, if it came to that. 

I’m such a coward around needles and every muscle in your body contracts at once on adrenaline. The one time I had to take it, I could hear my scull crack as every muscle in my scalp went into shrinkwrap overdrive! Zip!

What struck me most about returning home is the sharp, aromatic odor of bay laurel, poison oak pollen, and sun-burnt hay, flavored with the acrid, thirsty dust—the smell of late summer making me nostalgic (like Proust and his madelines?). 

Seeing all the lovely, steep hillsides against a cerulean sky, cloaked in tawny blond oatgrasses like sleeping lions, and the thick green-black oaks roiling in their crotches—so sexual, it surprises me anew each time I return. 

I’ll never forget how the mirrored San Francisco Bay and Mt. Tamalpias (our Mt. Fuji-san) from the fire-ravaged Oakland hills takes my breath away. The Sonoma-Marin Coast Miwok Indian word for the shining golden gate, Yulupa. 

All that’s left of the Bay Area Ohlone Indians’ stories of this landscape is: Dancing on the brink of the world. 

I love this landscape, but not the culture. I hate the vacuous American loudness, the lack of body awareness, the shallow chrome and Formica existence, the urban sprawl. . . the ultimate loneliness. I try to be somewhat tolerant, but I guess it’s not within my nature. And so I am alone, dancing on the brink of I know not what.

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? (Heminway said: Travel broadens the mind. Writing broadens the ass. I write standing up.)

I’ve got to find a new home for our poetry reading series—book 20+ readers thru Dec. & do a newsletter /mailing on my own (done!). I’ve got a few 2-day teaching jobs with Elderhostel (open university for retired folks) in Oct. One on creativity and the arts, the other on early California history—I’ve got to start cramming the info. in soon. It takes me a while to re-establish those kinds of facts—I teach through telling lively stories and anecdotes—otherwise my elderly “students” will fall asleep.

* * * * * * *

Charles, today’s the anniversary of day President Kennedy was shot. The proverbial question: what were you doing, where were you? (Not on the grassy knoll, I presume!) 

I was in 3rd grade, sick with a flu (like today), sitting with my grandmother with my feet propped on the warm sides of the stove firebox (we have a gas stove with a wood burner for heat in Forest Knolls—not that newfangled modern heating! 

Bertaijn, my Grandmother’s house in Forest Knolls reminds me so much of your wonderful farm house in Rogny! Thank you again so much for inviting us, it was a highlight of my summer). Actually, she was sitting by the stove, I was wallowing around on the floor in my quilted robe like a red and yellow paisley dust-walrus. It was a dreary day, much like today.

My aunt Canice’s husband Bill (Dave’s father—they were staying with us a while. At one time or another, my grandmother’s house was a second home (a flophouse?) for three of her four daughters in various incarnations of distress). 

Bill Dinsmore (a sloppy drunk) came bursting through the front door, mid-afternoon—full of news. He was so excited, I mistook it for joyousness or frivolity. “The President’s been shot!” he shreiked. In retrospect, I think it was merely excitement and shock enhanced by the booze. 

My grandmother’s reaction of anguish (she who had buried a husband, a son and several brothers and sisters by this time), such a bizarre foil to my uncle’s giggling, I didn’t know what to think, only that Kennedy was akin to being a relative in our household. The Irish Catholics have elevated him to secular sainthood.

When visiting my relatives in Ireland in 1973, I was struck by how every house had its altar niche with Jesus and/or Mary (rarely Joseph) and Kennedy illuminated by a (red) votive candle. The sacred heart. Later, in 1989, when I visited Peru, it was like being in Ireland—Kennedy’s half-mast eyes blankly stared out at me from every niche. What do the dead still see from the eyes of photographs?

Of course, lots of controversial stories about Kennedy have surfaced since then. But, regardless of his politics and womanizing, he truly represented something as intangible as hope to so many oppressed peoples the world over. 

I can’t think of another American president that had that kind of global impact. Certainly not the Rosevelts, nor Eisenhower (course I wasn’t really politically savvy yet—born in 1952). Clinton’s been compared to Kennedy—but that’s a joke. Clinton couldn’t even fill the shadows of the soles of Kennedy’s feet. Still, I wonder, what would our perception of Kennedy been like if he’d run for office now, more than 25 years after his death; how would the world view him now?

Weird to see Fidel Castro on the telly the other night, Knnedy’s embargo from the Bay of Pigs crisis still in effect—we get little news of Cuba. I saw him on a Mexican TV channel—no voice of James Earl Jones sonorously announcing in that rich baritone: This is CNN! 

Charles, remember those radio emergency broadcast tests when we were kids? The piercing tones followed by the announcement, “This is only a test. If it had been a real emergency . . .” and we thought maybe the bomb was gonna drop? They’ve just eliminated them (I was surprised to hear them on the BBC radio broadcast you listen to in the morning). Now there’s new technology, just some computer chirps and clicks.

Charles, happy birthday to you too! I forgot the date, fellow Sagge.; my birthday’s in 2 days. I’ll be 44, or as my grandmother would say: Farty-Faer. Fulla hot air in more ways than one—nasty flubug!

1 Dec. Sun. Well, a friend (a student’s mother) whisked me away to the beautiful tourist town of Carmel-by-the Sea for the weekend, so I turned 44 beneath a full Gemini moon by the Pacific Ocean (we were 2 houses away from the beach, a painter friend of hers rented a house for a full month). 

I no sooner returned home (Tues.) and left again to spend Thanksgiving in Novato with Herman and Verona (his actress-girlfriend) and her 2 (adult) children, a Brazilian artist (Zoravia), and a Scottish actor (Neal O’Neill from Glasgow in a kilt (I think I’m in love!) played guitar, so we sang for our supper on full stomachs. 

Herman said he was going to call you, Charles, but every time we get the urge, we realize the hour you definately would not appreciate. There’s that little matter of time. He said he wrote to you but you never answered. He was worried about you, your health. Please write back to us soon.

My innards are still unhappy, so I spent the weekend back in bed reading after nearly a week of socializing. I’ve been reading more on the Celts—discovered that Laon was a celtic hillfort, and later, an Irish monastary 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 (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). In 486 the Loire was settled by Merovingin Franks, I don’t remember the dates at Marle. 

Do you have any information on the Abbey ring, Bertaijn? Suffice to say, there were probably still a few Gauls around—surely the Romans didn’t kill them all? Certainly most of the so-called “Roman’ troops were comprised of conquered Gauls—and with the fresh influx of Irish blood—well it seems to explain why everyone was wearing those Celtic beltbuckles! 

The thing is, no other group of people ever accomplished that kind of inlay design work. The Merovingian buckles were pretty crude workmanship though. Let’s all go back to Marle next summer—for a longer stay so I can scout out some history. 

Bertaijn, if you need some manual labor, I’ll be your slave. I’m very good at that sort of thing. Plastering, painting, gardening, etc. I’ve done all kinds of hard labor growing up in the country. Guess I’d better learn some French!

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! If I don’t send this soon, it’ll be Christmas! Adieu. A’voir! Kisses & hugs!

P.S/ Well Christmas has come (the goose—well, actually, the turkey— is come and gone), and your package sat on the floor waiting for the last of my photos, and though the pieces were assembled, I forgot to mail this, so now I make another feeble attempt before year’s end. 

When I started this letter it was raining; would you believe it’s still raining! We have flood warnings for tomorrow, the Russian River is to crest at Hacienda Bridge in the afternoon, just 2 miles from my house. The power’s been threatening to go out all day, flickering—we’ve had terrible winds. Small branches falling on my roof and the hood of my truck. In today’s newspaper, a photo of ice skaters in Holland and in the Midwest—South Dakota, I think.

Charles, twice now I’ve tried calling you but no answer. Hope all’s well. I spent Christmas Eve and morning with my cousins Dave and Sinead in Nicasio; Christmas dinner and Boxing Day with Herman & Verona. 

Herman was given an old Mac computer, I have to find him a printer and a monitor. Did you ever get a better computer? What you really need is a letter quality printer ASAP! Your old computer programs might not be able to run the printer though, nowadays everything has its own special programs. 

You really should upgrade your whole system all at once if you can. Surely Anjum can help you? In the past two years there have been so many new chips (Intel, Pentium) invented, that the relatively new computers are now considered “obsolete” and if you can find someone who’s upgrading to a newer system, you should be able to find a deal somewhere. 

Since you only need a system for relatively simple wordprocessing and printing, it doesn’t have to be brand-new! You could get by with a small hard drive of 40 MB and 4-8 MB memory, both of which are upgradable. It would be nice to get a fax-modem too, because the telephone is so expensive. 

I realize you want an IBM style clone system, and they’re probably much cheaper, but if you should happen to come across a Mac system, Vinz has a Mac LC, and we can give you all the software and fonts you need. IBM’s highly touted Windows ’95 operating system (it runs the machine—you can’t get computers that run solely off program disks anymore) is merely a rip-off of Mac’s operating system invented circa 1989.

I don’t know if Dave’s sent you his photos yet, he’s been meaning to. Dave’s been working long hours on the “swing shift” (getting home at 2 am) in order to “buy” his grandfather’s house—an unscrupulous unrelated cousin managed to get her name included on the will and by California law, if property isn’t specifically bequeathed, it goes to whoever’s on the will. A real mess for him, but at least he’ll eventually own the house in Nicasio. 

The irony is that his so-called “inheritance” house will cost him about the same as if he were to buy it on the open market! But it’s a sweet old house—fraught with structural problems. That’s why he could relate so well to the problems of your house in France. 

(Do you think this is a long enough P.S.? I’m obsessed with filling the entire page with writing, I abhor the blank page in a letter, squeezing in as many words as possible, thinking I’m somehow getting my money’s worth at the Post Office. I know it doesn’t make sense, this obsession of mine, that’s why it’s so difficult for me to write letters—because once I get going I can’t stop! Enough already!!!)

November 22 - to Dec. 31?, 1996