Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Letters to Sharon Doubiago

Dear Sharon—Happy Holidays to you wherever you are! November 22 - Dec. 30, 1996

Dec. 30: Thanks for all the poems; a feast. Before I forget, send me news of Bill Hatch and Maryna Albert’s address in Moscow. Bill’s too. I’ve lost contact. Distress. How’s her cancer... last I heard, she had a flare-up.

Yes, sad news about Judi Barri. Foul play? or luck of the draw? Article about Meridel enclosed. Yes, hard to comprehend. Your packet arrived on my birthday, Nov. 24. No, I don’t have the O.J. poems. On first read, Handcuffed and Political might work for Mother Earth; I’ll need to re-read them in context. In Nuclear Blonde you mean genital or genitals? Typo? 

I loved several of the poems: My Brother’s Keeper and Old Man—sounds suspiciously like Linda Gregg in that poem. Did you know she grew up down the road from me; we used to sneak through the Gregg’s Summer Camp on our donkeys? That’s the same place where Jerry Garcia died. 

The only solid memory I have of her (or was it her sister?—they were both golden in the sunlight, privileged blonde freckled goddesses—ponytails jouncing, with scant compassion for us little kids) was when she stole home at a softball match in the swampy field at Lagunitas grade school (where I once found a diamondback rattler). 

BillyJoe Bianchi (I’ve written about his grandmother) had hit a home run. But it was a foul ball and everybody had to retrace their steps. I missed the bus, a long walk home. In Deer, I’ve a vague recollection of you receiving that phone call of William Stafford’s death at my cabin. . . but I can’t remember who else was there, or even who called. Just the angle of light, the repose of books and papers like weathered shale.

I told Craig Taylor you’d be through in March, line up a reading then? Name any Monday night you want; if that doesn’t work, we’ll set up something on a night of your choice at North Light Books. 

I contacted Devereaux about the workshop, I can’t afford to pay—but I’m willing to be a slave, do partial payment, whatever! I think it’ll be a gas. Think up a role for me, darlin’ and I’ll do it! Two letters from you within a month! I tried to call you in France, but got an answering machine. The whirlwind of returning, the myriad tasks to catch up on, and the pressure to finish a large article on the Poetry International translation project took up most of my time, and here it is, nearly the end of the year, and I still haven’t sent this (somewhat fragmented) letter. (Bad dog!) This is a strange way to write a letter, in fits and spurts. Hope it reads OK.

I’m so relieved to be finished with my Breytenbach essay on translation (enclosed). I can’t believe it took so long to write, but I didn’t have the background or knowledge necessary to quickly write something. If I knew what I was going to write, I wouldn’t write at all. The essay & footnotes (nearly 10,000 words—verbose), very difficult for me. I hope J.L van Schaik Publishers (South Africa) will use it! 

I don’t know if I can help with Poetry International; it’s always during the Summer Solstice. Martin Mooij, my contact, just retired and the new director, Tatjana Daan is a 20-something-year-old icebitch with a superiority complex. She’s right about Martin favoring the old guard: famous old men poets, but seems not have a clue as to what’s good with the younger generation—she wants a different slant, I don’t blame her; she has some curiously conservative notions. 

Use my name if you wish, perhaps better to use Carolyn Forché’s name. . . she’s read there. I found Martin’s son, Mark Mooij more helpful & sympathetic. Write to him c/o PI, de Doelen Kruisstraat 2, 3012 CT Rotterdam 31 (010) 433-4211. FAX 413-4330. I’ve put your name in the hopper before. 

Keep me in mind for festivals too. I need to get on the circuit. Sharon, I’m drowning here in America, I can’t get enough work, a book published, etc. and I know I’m good but it’s not enough. That’s why I crashed PI in 1993; I was very shocked to be invited for my previous gate crashing has also closed a few doors. 

On the other hand, if we hadn’t crashed Meridel’s workshop, would Hard Country ever been published? What poem did you see of mine—so little published in the past few years. What flyer was I supposed to send to Shawn? Shit now I’m really confused. Where Are You? France or Oregon?

* * * * * * *

Back to my story: On August 31, my cousin Dave Dinsmore flew to Amsterdam to visit me for his birthday. We had a double party for it was my flatmate’s B’day too (a poet I’d met at Poetry International in Rotterdam—I house-sat for them in July). Biker Dave (with hair to his waist) works for United Airlines—Dave, Charles McGeehan (one of Mother Earth’s co-editors and translators), his girlfriend Bertaijn and I went to France for a few days—we rented a car and took the ferry from Vlissingen to Belgium. We took the coast route from Rotterdam to Zeeland islands—dunes marsh and grey sea. I saw the Vlissingen windmill that withstood WWII bombing, and had that curious sensation of collapsed time, remembering a mad walk along the windblown dijk the month before with a friend to the train station, wanting to return that visit, but we had no time, having stopped overlong in Middleburg. We had to hurry to Brugge—which was even more amazing—exhausted, we spent the night (in an inn) beneath the tower on the main square. We got caught in horrible traffic in Lille—no roadsigns on the freeways, so we circled and circled the countryside for hours trying to avoid the toll roads and navigate our way east by following topographic clues and a certain slant of sunlight until dusk overtook us; Lille, a real hellhole. Dunkirk ever to the west. The Battle of the Bulge was fought somewhere near here. You can still feel the ghostly reminder the bloodsoaked fields at sunset when the light is right and the fog rises up like apparitions. We wound up several times in a village where Reblais was born, Proust too. Closet hysteric Charles McGeehan forgot his passport (and his epilepsy pills) so we didn’t want to get caught up in a immigration control lines. Dave and I, having no French money, didn’t want to take the toll roads. Asking a Frenchman directions in a village square was a farce worthy of a Monty Python sketch. Only Bertaijn spoke French. A 6-hour trip from Amsterdam to Laon took us nearly three days. Kafavy said the journey, not the destination, matters. On the way back, we stopped off in Antwerp; sat in the afternoon sun in front of that glorious Gothic cathedral quaffing strong Belgian beer. We earned the sight of spires piercing the blueness of sky. Odd, Laon’s hill fortress Gothic cathedral has no spires, just stumps.

We spent a few days at Bertaijn’s dilapidated country farmhouse in France, in a tiny hamlet of Rogny on the Abbey Road (founded by Irish monks in the Dark Ages) between Marle & Laon, in Picardy, Ainse. Charles’ ex-wife/ girl-friend Bertaijn’s farmhouse needs so much work. I’d love to stay there next summer in exchange for working on it—it reminds me of my grandmother’s house where I grew up in Forest Knolls. A certain angle of light, red roses splayed against a wall, farm machinery from another era strewn in every nook and cranny. Triggerpoints of memory. Charles is an interesting character, a GI stationed in Germany in the late ’60s, on furlough, who never left Holland; he’d met a Dutch girl on a train: Bertaijn. Now he’s 60 years old, an expatriate, neither wholly Dutch nor American. Though Charles has disabilities (a serious brain tumor was removed several years ago), he actually accomplishes more work—primarily poetry translations—more than most people I know. Charles (the late Dutch poet Bert Schierbeek’s English translator) also runs a sort of flophouse for political prisoners and wandering poets. His address: Rustenbergerstraat 66 huis, 1074 EX A’dam 020-675-0778. He always has (funky) flophouse floorspace for political prisoners and outcast poets. Bertaijn was Bert Schierbeek’s sister-in-law; we met at Bert’s funeral my first day in Holland in June. Imagine a poet’s funeral with some of the world’s poets in attendance. We were 500 strong, the coffin, a barge dressed in flowers and sheaves of poetry—including our own Mother Earth Journal. Bert used to spend time at Bertaijn’s farmhouse. Dave & I felt his presence there. . .

I want a life where I can spend time in Europe, as I am always unhappy returning to the states. I’m in the process of applying for an Irish passport (my grandparents left before Ireland became a republic, so I’m the last generation allowed to apply for a passport.) My uncle John was in Dublin this summer and got his inside of two weeks. The passport allows us to work in the European Community, an important consideration. I guess I’m tired of having to always struggle to find work each year, with no future, retirement, or security—nothing at all, for this is the life of an “independent contractor,” outside the system, so to speak. This is life in America for the struggling artist. Brains and talent account for little in the land where the greenback dollar is God. I think I’d like to work at one of the American schools in Europe—Poetry, English & Art. Any leads?

* * * * * * *

NOV. 22: 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. Flash flood warnings in N. California, Oregon & Washington; 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. Before I left Amsterdam (Poetry International festival in June; I stayed all summer), I was in a bicycle accident. As I was returning home, some idiot took a wrought-iron flower trellis out of the back of his double-parked car 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 wrist when I hit the back windshield. It was either smash into a parked car or fly into the canal—which to choose? The bike’s brakes were no good on wet cobblestone & brick. I ignored my wrist for 2 months—until it hurt so badly (I was smashing a clove of garlic with the flat of a knife; the little bones made a crunching sound like potato crisps!). The doctor put it into a splint to rest it—a bad sprain with injury to the ulnar nerve. I’m slowly typing (two-fingered pecking) this letter wearing a stupid wrist brace which looks (& is beginning to smell) like an old gym shoe, and as winter’s chill creeps in, my bones ache (more snow in the Sierras); injuries don’t heal quite as fast as they used to.

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—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). Newspaper photos of ice skaters in Holland & in the Midwest; -40 in Laurel, Montana where I just got a two-week poetry gig in Feb. Brrr!!!

* * * * * * *

Weeks later: This is just to sat that I’ve completely failed my first attempt at the generic Christmas Greeting Letter (a form which I find problematic)—so I’ll conclude with an apologia (Gr. for argument, or rant). The term “Christmas Letter “is an oxymoron for it’s not truly a letter. It’s a burdensome list, an adulterated letter of reckoning to oneself. It’s not just the fact that it contains generic material chock-full of mundane references to things of little interest to most recipients, but that it’s so impersonal, lacking in the very juices that makes a letter a letter. Everything sugarcoated, no spice. It got me thinking about various forms of writing—why the epistolary letter written to one person and available to all, is more interesting than, say, a shopping list. And I realized part of the problem was a dearth of anecdotal material and the metaphors we writers so preciously cling to. And there’s no place for interaction for the reader unfamiliar with those facts that comprise our lives. . . I used to think those self-absorbed Christmas Letter scribes, like Scrooge, must live the most thoroughly boring and mundane of lives, they get one literary hair up their asses per annum and decide that everyone needs to know just how wonderful the material life is, but when all my writer friends began sending form letters to me (you too!), I had to rethink the genre. Make some excuses. At least writers tend to add in a few bits of human dross—I’d much rather read about Uncle Joe’s ’roids, or where Aunt Milly long-lost false teeth finally showed up. . . versus how well the job is going, or what the stock portfolio bulges with. When we reduce ourselves to statistics, what’s left to ponder? No magic conjuring up or acknowledgement of the other. On the flip side of the coin, we live such a frenetic lives, stacks of unanswered letters haunt us like ghosts of Christmases past. To wit, the lowered literary standard of the Christmas Letter at half mast, or no communication at all? Dog-eared choices. Though I dislike the Christmas Letter, or any form letter, I’ve come to the conclusion I’d rather hear some news than no news at all.
The power’s threatening to go out all day, flickering on and off; my computer’s not a happy camper. We’ve had terrible winds. Small branches falling on my roof and the hood. Another storm due in New Year’s Eve. Think I’ll practice growing webbed feet and feathers, or build an arc. You must be evolving into salamanders and fish in Oregon! Luckily the post office is nearby, though I may need a snorkel to get there! 

Guess I’ll be forced to finish that flood prose-poem (now up to 36 pages—& line art; Mike Tuggle & Susan Kennedy love it, they say I should make a full book of it). God, Sharon, there’s still so much to tell you but I am fatigued, and want to send this letter in 1996! I haven’t even mentioned Paul, the young Welsh poet I hung with in A’dam—our magazine & reading series at the Hotel Winston in the Red Light District, nor of my sweet/torrid PI affair with Chilean post-modern poet Waldo Rojas (I became his interpreter for he spoke no English—only Spanish & French), nor of the philandering hotshot photographer (w/ John Oliver Simon’s b’date & personality/ a twin) I, er, house-sat for across from the YabYum brothel. . . Saw JOS in Sept. at CPITS; still can’t forgive him after all these years. Saw Bill Mohr in LA in Nov.—after 15 years?—at Celia Woloch’s 40th; he was stunned! Said I looked just the same; I gratefully kissed his hand. His hair, so grey! Saw Phoebe McAdams too. Reunions, reunions! When do I get to see you? 

Sharon 7/30/94, Eureka

Staying in the Steelhead Special office this weekend after a reading with Crawdad Nelson at Coffee & Co Thurs. nite (small reading. . . made $8—wow. Spent it on cafe latte & beer, gas: $25. Obviously I’m not in it for the money). Just finished teaching some art classes with kids at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, and the Pickle Family Circus also taught a circus class/performance—the kids did a fabulous job. My last class (clay) was at 4 PM then I drove like a bat outa hell to get here in time for my reading at 9 PM—but it’s nerve-racking to drive that fast SR to Eureka in less than 4 hrs. I think of you driving that blue van up and down the coast (and from coast to coast).

Thanks for your “I love you” card and the Ramona alert. I was feeling particularly unloved when your card came, so it took a few days to accept/acknowledge it. Am I loved? Am I a shit? Will this depression never lift? This thing with my father goes deeper than I ever dreamed. I gave up trying to track down a lawyer to fight that swindler—every time I dealt with it, I’d slide down that dark throat—and it’d take me a couple of weeks just to climb out again. So for now I’m trying the bricked-over fireplace approach, cleaning up the tinier loose ends I can deal with.

Even in my darkness, I refuse to give in, holding onto some shred of hope, who I am, who I’ve become—why I am a writer. I type up things I write with the kids from my journal just to keep in contact with myself—even if it’s no good. So, though I haven’t written a real poem in ages, the pile is growing—30 pages since last month. There may be a poem or two in the pile. Time will erode away the debris. Been rescuing old poems from Appleworks files—converting them over to Mac. Sort of a shock to find those first drafts. I feel like a tin miner. Migod, that’s what the poem originally looked like? Also I found a LOT of material that I edited out, or didn’t know what to do with—seems to me in those days the poems came 2 and 3 at a time—all at once and images jumbled together—only I had no concept of what was happening—dyslexia hiding the structure as usual. I did find some old poems with a few images I liked, and was able to revise them.

The Steelhead office reminds me of the Sonoma County Stump—do you remember that paper? Same technology, but with Mac flourishes. For some reason I couldn’t shake it from my head that I was in the Port Townsend hotel—how many years ago—1981?— with D.J. Hamilton. Whatever happened to him? I could’ve loved that boy. Wrong time/place. . . story of my life. Remember the fabulous Bosco Brothers? Did you come with us to Anacortes to see the Pickle Family Circus? We sat in the sun laughing at their slapstick antics. Funny, how people play through your mind like ghosts.

Evidence of you all over this room— South America mi Hija, The Round of the Earth, Ramona Then, Ramona Now. . . Been reading the first two installments of Ramona—rather nasty letters from the first installment, wouldn’t you say? Sounds like the same person, or a crony wrote them. Funny how you address that Ramonan hostility in the 2nd installment. Sounds like the good old boys are writing in. Purty little thang grew up to be an asshole when it was discovered she had a brain as well as a cunt. . . Hey, at least it’s a reaction! Interesting to wrap the story around the ’92 election. You’ve taken on an enormous chunk of history on—so many threads to keep track of.

As I read your essay, I find I have so many questions and notes for you. Only the articles are here, and my reference books are at home, so please bear with me. (When I do my Elderhostel classes on Sonoma County history, I’m often asked questions about the California Indians—a man I work with, Ed Castillo, is Luiseño. I’d love to give him a copy of your article. Unfortunately the copy I’m reading is so grey, it won’t xerox. Can you get me a clean copy?)

I liked what Michael Ventura said, “Memory is a record not of events, but of their imprints on the soul.” The idea of imprint on the soul vs. what happened also made me uneasy. I too always want to know what happened, inasmuch as one can know (the example of three blind men describing the elephant comes to mind). History is the record of what happened, too often transcribed in the language/writing of the victor, history doesn’t describe the story of the loser. What I learned in history had little to do with my culture’s (my grandmother’s) stories—something we all face in this predominantly Anglocentric culture. I struggle between the accepted norm and what I learned, passed down from the heart.

I use the word Anglo- vs. Eurocentric deliberately, because I am a full-blooded Celt, not an Anglo, and the Celts still are the Anglos’ Indians. I believe the imprint of the soul is what leads us to the “truth,” or towards the layers of what we construe to be truth. The imprint makes us curious, and as writers—or should I say, poets—we can’t afford to stop there. I guess I’ll never make a good fiction writer because someone once told me to change the names of the people I wrote about, and I found I couldn’t because the sound of the names conjured up something unnamable that went beyond identity and imprint.

Interesting too, the continuation of the story of destruction of the California Indians at the hands of the Spanish, Mexicans, then the Californios—leaving the Anglos off the genocidal hook. At least the Spanish assumed the Indians had souls (were human), more than most Anglos were able to grasp—especially those mountain men—e.g., Kit Carson and John C. Frémont. Frémont was sent by congress to deliberately agitate so the US would have a reason to annex California. (The treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo aside.) If that very nearly successful Indian revolt had succeeded, it’s quite possible Californian history would read differently. Actually, Sonoma County was a pivotal place for several possible scenarios—under Mexican, Californio, Russian or Indian rule. . .

One class I taught focused on the literary history of California—and little is written about Helen Hunt Jackson’s real mission/ role on Indian reform other than the Ramona story. I had no idea she died in S.F. Is it true Columbus wasn’t looking for India? If in dios ( or en dios in Spanish?) is in/with/of God, when/how did India get that moniker, and how/why did we confuse the two?

Wild scenario: fantasize when/where you’ll find Ramon. Visualize at least two contradictory scenarios of what will/might happen next. True love vs. reality sandwich, or are the stars made of blue rhinestone necklaces after all? Why did you break off with him? Only outside pressures? I love following the tracings of your return to Ramona, the autobiography becomes clearer—I recognize pieces of you, stories you’ve told suddenly strung together—necklace of memory. Migod George Doubiago is tall, you never did talk much about him. He’s still a flat character to me. So what’s the story behind the wedding, why didn’t your groom speak to you since the wedding? He looks too much like my last lover, Marcel, the sailor from Amsterdam who came to stay with me last fall. Then fell from grace. He was there for my father’s death/funeral in Dec. so I guess that’s whey he came. Otherwise I could’ve done without him—too much trouble. Neuroses cubed=trouble.

Ouch! Those lines about the Daughters of Job—with no Catholics in your family tree. . . Go back far enough (pre-Cromwellian) and all Irish blood has that taint! I remember in grade school the sociological dividing line—even in west Marin, the Rainbow Girls, an exclusive Protestant club—no Catholics need apply. We Catholics with surnames like Nielson, De la Montaña, Villenueva, Nuñez, Bianchi, Reilly, Tanzi. . . we lived in Forest Knolls and Lagunitas, while the Prots lived in Woodacre and San Geronimo. They had the money, the clubs, the social status. . . I too wondered what was behind all the hostility, the resentment toward me, my friends. It wasn’t until I was in Amsterdam that I slowly began to put the picture together—realizing how much the Reformation and Dutch philosophy (Erasmus, Spinoza, Decartes) has contributed to the WASP principles that this nation was founded on. Pecking order? What about freemasonry?

Of course, the Anglos blamed the Hispanics for destroying the Indian population—it’s the old reformation come to haunt us again and again. Like Einstein, and Robert Oppenheimer, disillusioned, betrayed by byproducts of their genius, Rotterdam’s famous son, the humanist, Erasmus, was horrified with what others had done in the name of his philosophy. He never wanted the division, just more freedom. But the cat was out of the bag. Another crusade. We learn to read between the lines of Richard Henry Dana, who distorted truth to fit his world view. Not an impartial observer, he criticizes the civil servants who follow the priests, yet the Anglos were (and still are) even worse stewards of CA.

Previous to statehood in 1852, the only way Anglos could legally obtain land in California was through marriage to Californios. Another little discussed issue are the conceptual differences of the laid-back Californios whose views of land ownership/trust was closer to that of the Indians than to the Anglos. Anglos held the notion that everything had to be individually owned (this refers back to groundwork laid during the Reformation, the Age of Reason, the rise of the individual vs. the control of the patron, the king, the pope. And in Sonoma, and elsewhere in California, it took an average of 17 years to clear land titles—if ever. Kit Carson left his mark here too—he left his brother ensconced as majordomo at the Fitch Ranchero in Healdsburg.

I never knew the details of the story of Ramona, could never find a copy of the book, only exerts. I wish I’d known about the Mt. San Jacinto connection when I hiked up it with John. What an incredible view to the west, a lush alpine valley with a homestead—like paradise. The village you refer to is Palm Springs?

Isn’t the woman I met with you at the Mendocino Hotel last year your friend Julia? God, you mean her eyes. . . are not her own? Whose soul resides in the county seat of her eyes then? (My mother wills her eyes to Stevie Wonder.)

Gossip, gossamer, godspell, good story. . . Afraid of the nunnery, I was a deliberately bad child. I collected venial sins—white lies—to keep back that abiding fear of God’s prison gate. “Zounds” came from the slurring of “God’s wounds.” As did “swoon.” Wounded, we’ve lost the group art of oral tradition. Blame St. Augustine, the first to read without moving his lips. The slow sibilance of speech went underground, the death of the spoken word. The monastery scriptoriums fell silent. The esophagus interred in the sarcophagus; sacred flesh eaters, the subterranean words devoured the silvered sleep of bones. We sing the words to the old songs to keep from falling off the earth, creating the words that dreamed us into being.

So your references in part 2 on the origin of pamo come from? Warm watering place of bighorn sheep? I wish a map was included in the article. I knew about the bighorn sheep in the entire Sierra range (Baja too)—they’re in the Chumash petroglyphs too. Hot springs? Yes, I thought it odd, the Hokan group in Southern California. I wanted to know why. The predominant theory is that the Hokan family is the oldest language group in the New World. They include the Pomo, the Chumash, and the Yuman (Diegueño). Luiseño-Cahuilla and Gabrielino are Ute-Aztecan (Great Basin Shoshoneans who came in much later). The Shoshonean expansion most likely divided the Hokan groups. If my memory serves me right, the Colorado river tribes (Ute-Aztecan) were the only Alta California group to practice extensive agriculture/irrigation. Also, Southern California was not always dry desert: Lake Mohave has come & gone a few times as has the Salton Sea—not much separates the Slaton Sea from the Sea of Cortes. Imagine the sea extending northward for miles and miles, following the faultline to the Tehachipies.

Of course the concept of border is relatively new, as California was never even divided until sometime before U.S. statehood. (1824? not sure of the date) The U.S. Congress thought Baja was a useless territory—no water, or gold, and so passed it up when it was again offered (Hidalgo). Thank God, because only in the past 10 years has Cabo been developed. (And I have a major gripe against most scholars and writers who systematically exclude over half of California from their research—because it isn’t part of the U.S. How myopic. When they refer to the 26 missions of California, they never include the ones (29???) in Baja—not even a mention of them. I’ve stood in Loretro’s cool mission (the first—can’t remember the date—1765??), trying to imagine the string of missions a day’s ride (on donkey or mule, not horseback!) apart all the way to Sonoma (the last—and only secular—mission, 1823). Most of the Baja missions are now little more than mudwall ruins. We camped in a couple of them. God, one cliff wall we slept under was covered with petroglyphs—waking, we saw them in the morning sunlight. Rolled over & found dozens of scorpions snoozing under my air mattress. Tried to walk on air for several minutes. Now when I dream of lovers, I dream of being stung.

Q. Is Quechua a Hokan language? If there is a Shoshone (Uto-Aztekan) and Inca connection, look for evidence of quipu strings. They do show up in Hawaii, California, Siberia, Japan, and China as well as in Peru. Best rule of thumb is to pronounce CA Indian words/place names w/ Spanish accent—it’s the closest approximation we have at this point.

In reference to the Diegueño/ Luiseño languages. . . even if they were speaking the same language family, chances were, they might not’ve understood each other anyway (other than sign laguage). The Pomo of Sonoma/Mendo. had developed no less than 7 distinct languages and 25 “dialects”—in some instances, some were as different as Spanish, Italian and German are today. Nowhere in the world are there so many diverse languages than in California. There are 100 to 200 separate languages (depending upon how you define separate tongues) in California alone. UC professor of Slavonic languages, Johanna Nichols, estimates that the diverse new world languages are the result of no less than ten separate infusions—with an average of 5000 years life span for each language family. (Indo-European is more than 6,000 yrs. old.) She concurs the diversity of the languages is the result of 35,000 years of occupation in the New World. Using genetic evidence (DNA samplings) she concluded that two South American sites are at least 30,000 years old (vs. 5000 - 12,000 yrs. old).

So of course I want to know more about your sources—esp. the reference to the Quechua word huaca. I love playing with sounds too and could also argue that huaca/ inaja also sound like the Spanish word for water: agua/ a-wha, and therefore is a corruption of a Spanish word. . . . e.g., Wappo (Napa) comes from the mispronunciation of guapo (good-looking/ handsome). G j h & w are shapeshifter sounds.

Here’s another hunch: I’ve always maintained that the Ainu (those hairy caucasoid blue-eyed, red-loving, bear worshippers with epicanthal folds) of Hokkaido were related to the Lappi/Hungarian (Finno-Urgic) tribes. Unfortunately the Ainu language is lost so we can’t test theories (DNA??). However, we do know that Finno-Urgic (or Urgo-Finnish, if your prefer) groups traveled across northern Siberia (a touchstone is the word, shaman). Turns out in Finnish, there’’s a word aino, from ainoa, which means splendid, peerless one. Stretch connections a bit farther. Japanese Jomon-style pottery from Hokkaido turns up in Peru. . . does this mean the Ainu, proto-Finns or Hungarians introduced that style pottery? An extreme: both Indo-European languages Irish & Russian share some common words. Cruish means “pot” in both languages, and stanye a close approximation. Dubh in Irish is black (Dub-lin = black pool) Doubiago = Black James. (Iago-ignious-ignite)“Black” in Russian however, is chornai. . . Without a language to work back from, it’s hard to make conjectures from inajana to huaca. Fire & water.

When referring to the single Gabrieleño Diegueño/ Luiseño woman, note the vowel ending should be feminine—Gabrieleña woman, Chicana, Mexicana. If you were referring to men, men and women, or 99 women and one man then it would still be in the masculine: Gabrieleño, Chicano, Mexicano.Is it Gabrielino or -eño?

Pelote—direct connection with Tenochtitlan, Uxmal, Tikal. . . Ball courts turn up throughout the entire Southwest too. Don’t forget they grew a lot of tobacco too. Most groups used datura and jimson weed. I forgot about the throwing sticks—an anomoly? Many bolas. Not colorful enough??? Imagine cuisine without corn. No tortillas, chiles, lima, kidney and pinto beans. Salads (or pasta) without tomatoes and avacados. No chocolate, vanilla, or sugar cane. No pineapple. No guavas. Summer without watermelon. Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes, cranberries, pumpkins or turkeys. The movies without popcorn. —all S. Californian/Mexican foods!

Not just the Maliwu practiced abortion/infanticide—as far as I can tell, virtually all the mission neophytes did. . . And most groups practiced it who weren’t associated with missions. I have some points too. That the word “digger” was a general pejorative Anglo term placed on all CA Indians in order to invade CA. That there was no such thing as “digger” Indians. That we were taught this excuse for Anglo invasion as cover-up for genocide. That Europeans were horrified Indios didn’t use (inferior) European farming methods. That they had so much free time, because the land was generous. That it went against the grain of WASPthink. (That the padres too devised cumbersome farming techniques with alien grains that failed—just to keep the neophytes busy working, therefore closer to God. No matter that in lean years they had to barter with the “wild” Indios for food. . . That once baptized, Indios were considered God’s property, and therefore hunted down each time they ran away. If Serra was Hitler, pray tell, what were the Anglos? In 1854, California Legislature denied Indios any redress in Anglo courts, or basic human rights, not just the ban on the ownership of guns, land, etc. Slavery was alive and well in CA.) The premise of CA missions was that they were supposed to be self-governed after 20 or so years, with the Spanish turning the missions over to the Indios. That the whites blatantly took the land with or without congress’ aid. etc., etc., etc. . . .

Anyway, a smashing good (and ambitious) essay you’ve written so far, a pity I won’t see parts 3 - 5.

* * *

Sharon,   4/93

Fantastic that I should write to you from 30,000 feet, but as I fly back to San Francisco, I think, I should have delayed my flight—and as a letter to you is so long overdue, I hardly know where to begin, other than to say I want a kissing rematch with Michael Ventura—for all that chocolate cake (I’m easy. . . ) Little did I know I was kissing him, of all people; I met him at a PEN Awards event in LA last year with Celia, and he was so cold. I guess it was shyness.

And so where do we begin to catch up with each other’s lives? As usual, we sit next to each other and talk to others at restaurants, in our lives, we are always destined to sit next to each other, but never to quite have the time to talk, to visit. Ah well, such is life. 

I get goose bumps thinking of Maryna and those lumps in her breasts—because though she’s been in the states for months, we haven’t talked. And last year, my best friend from when I was 5 years old, died of breast cancer, and it was the same thing—no news; and now we descend into the bay area, my ears shrieking as we descend seeking the Beatrice of incoming planes. 

I am so keyed-up, I hardly know where to begin. Shall I begin with Russia? Maryna has filled you in with her story of Valera; suffice to say, I also had a Valera in my life; that Maryna and I were soul sisters in Moscow, in Petersburg. And last August I went back to meet my Valera (a totally famous has-been Pop singer) and bailed out in Amsterdam because his idea of love, a four-letter word, replete with shackles.

I think of you deliberately conceiving Shawn, in love, with hope for the future, and I wonder what’s left for me, having succumbed three times to the abortionist’s knife. The men. Ceila says she’s only attracted to the bad boys, and I have to agree with her. The bad boys steal my soul, my heart is merely a casualty on the sidelines. So who is in your life, anyone? and you going off it Israel, and I’ve known for quite some time that Israel is on the path for me, denying it, because it scares me. 

But the Dream Vessels poems are about Israel, and I am an Irish Catholic with a suspicion of hidden Jewish ancestry somewhere in the genealogy charts But there’s now way of finding out and always I am following a cold trail, and I am blind but I have no choice because I am slave to this cuneiform we call thought, we call writing. Marsha Connell, the artist, and I are doing a limited edition color Xerox collage chapbook with poems from Marsha, her daughter and me in time for our reading/art opening at the Badè Museum in Berkeley, Apr. 27.

I keep thinking I should be more organized, I should do this, do that, try to get A BOOK OUT, try to get published, to make it, but that’s not why I write. It’s infrequent, incubating, slowly, writing to take on a new form, because it’s gotten so dense. (Like my breasts during a mammogram.) Where do I go from the inheritance of Derek Wolcott, who told me to make my lines so dense, that it would be a surprise to see the beginnings and endings of each line as the same thought process, so now I’m drowning in the dense, compact line format. Where does it end, with all these references imploding like black holes within each other?

The plane has landed, the keyboard shaking like a horse at the end of a race and the final horn has sounded, the thought like a cold sweat egging the horse onward, no matter how tired, no matter how broken. I ran to the bus stop and missed my shuttle by minutes, and so, sitting in the aisle at SFO departures seems as likely a place as any to continue this story. 

You might ask how. I got one of those portable Macs. Somehow, a letter to you I not how I envisioned this technology. Maryna got a laptop while she was in Russia, and I knew I couldn’t go to the land of carbon paper samizdat where paper is hard to come by without a computer. I got this small fellowship, and it very nearly paid for the computer. It’s fucking magic, to be able to whip out a computer and bang away on the keys. I’m in love with technology. 

Also I was selected to be on the Montana arts council poets in schools roster, and knew I needed some technology to do anthologies. Irony is that not once in nearly two years have I been called to teach in Montana. You have to have an IN first, like John Brandi. He’s gotten a good series of gigs going in Montana and Nevada. Have you done any PITS work lately? it’s been so tough to survive—Ca schools funding dried up, and I’ve really been having to hustle. I circle the perimeters like a wolf honing in on its prey.

Let’s see, lots of small publishing kudos lately.Was featured poet in Chaminade Literary review’s latest magazine—David Fisher wanted to know how I scored that one; says he’s been published for years and never gotten such a prominent spot. (A photo I set up during the 1991 eclipse in Hawaii—my thighs on the cover—some of the Dream Vessels collages & poems in it as well. 

The editor asked me to judge their poetry/fiction contest. I suspect that’s why I got such a prominent spot. (Send me a copy of your Guggenheim letter.) No I didn’t have your latest address, when did your mom move back to Florence? Such a beautiful place. I remember how the fog broke in incomparable ropes in the morning sun across the delta. How primeval. I wonder how the party with you continues through the night... Dan seemed a nice man. An old friend? 


Sometimes when I can't get it together to write a poem, or write an article, I turn to writing to you because you once said "record everything that happens to you." The letter allows me a voice that journals, articles and poems don't convey.

Today's subject: Jim Dodge. Remember when you asked where's the woman on the bearshit trail? Have I garbled the quote over the years? So, I'm to do a feature article on him and I'm struck by how similar he is to all the men writers I know from a certain school or camp. How well he knew John Simon's male writer's ego. How he buzzed on about Snyder, Berry, Lopez, etc. Don't get me wrong, I like him, always have.

Don't know him really well. Hard to get to know someone at readings. The distractions, the adoring fans, etc. So, to start my article, I'll write to you and hope you won't be too bored. Mea maxima culpea!

First time's a charm, they always say. For poet-cum-novelist Jim Dodge it was more like the second and third time that brought the good luck to launch his newest novel, what he dubs "my first and my last," Stone Junction . Fifteen year on The Ridge—I always think of West County Cazadero as The Ridge in capital letters—was the spawning ground, or should I say, the nest that hatched two nationally acclaimed novels that launched Dodge into the literary limelight.

Translated into eleven languages, Fup , a story about a 20-pound duck was hotter than the Creighton Ridge fire. There was talk of movie rights. Not Fade Away, a smashing story about a car and the Big Bopper took off equally well burning rubber from Meyers Grade across country and back again.

Meanwhile, Dodge flew the coop. Went to Mexico in '85 to take a long vacation. A bout with hepititas and a serious intestinal bug almost made his vacation terminal so it was back to the States and a little farther up north to Arcata where hippies, college students and rednecks collide like crude oil (tankers and sea stacks during rush hour. "I don't look back very much."

His agent asked if he had something else in the works. Nothing other than a first novel that was bad, really bad. She asked to see it and said it has possiblities. So Stone Junction was dusted off and

(rest of letter is lost)


I’m in hell. John left. Thanksgiving’s my birthday. I’ll be 36 and nothing seems to stop the pain. I’m so depressed and angry. At least it wasn’t another woman, so he says. Just mid-life crisis. Said he doesn’t love me. Feels sentiment, pity, etc. As if I wanted that. Says he doesn’t know how to love anyone right now. Says he does love me but wants to dance alone. Wants to know what face he’ll wear in old age. Keeps telling me I’ll be a famous poet. As if that were a door prize. I’m not even writing. Said Alta got to be better known than him & he’s done his dues. It’s his turn. Shithead. Fear of loving, being able to give and receive love. Fear of failure, competition.

After an epic South American journey, we touched the belly of the earth, Cuzco, the navel of the world. Sailed the islands of Lake Titicaca the birthplace of the divine Inca. Hiked the Inca Trail. Visited holy site after holy site. Met with poets. Witnessed a murder. So much, and now, this.

I’m trying to sort 2,000 photos, culling them down to 30 for a show. How hard it is to even look at them. In one photo, a Quechua woman caught between two worlds, palms intis from gringos who steal pieces of her with cameras. Culling down the years. Sum totals of nothing. What do I have to show for all this? A series of bad dreams come true.

I’m teaching two days a week and I can barely get myself out of bed. Sometimes, it’s the kids who keep me going. Nothing else. Some kid said he wanted to nuke the commies on Election Day. great. Another red-neck. I want to make a poetry and art bridge with Santa Rosa Schools and our sister city in Russia, Cherkassy. Writing a grant with Karin, of all people—another ex-lover. She was wise. She left him. Gives me healing advice. I’ve got to pull it together. I’ve been in hiding since Hallowe’en.

I keep coming back to the Cold War in Latin America. I was sick in Cuzco, reading Gorky Park, of all things—and now something’s turning me toward Russia. A bone of light falls on a hammer and sickle, graffiti on the limestone of Puku Pukara, the red fort above the rings of Cuzco. On a shining path deep in the Andes, friends carrying medical supplies were stopped by leftist Sendero Luminoso terrorists on horseback who let them go when they answered each question right. Having passed the test they feel reborn. Their path leads forward still.

In Guatemala, I held a Mayan smoking mirror in my hand, a piece of fallen star. In the highlands I never saw boys or men—only women and babies waiting under the volcanos of Atitlan. In the Peten jungle, saraguato monkeys howled, making no distinction between exiled guerillas and the invading army—uzis bought with U.S. dollars. AK-47’s. The tour guide abandoned us at Tikal and we had to hitch out with a photographer visiting his sister, a nurse in El Salvador. He said it is dangerous to drive alone. If the army sees you, they’ll mistake you for a guerilla; if a guerilla sees you, he’ll assume you’re with the army. Five of us and luggage crammed into a small jeep—we were stopped at three roadblocks before we got to Flores.

At home I dream of snipers in the jungle and wake up on the floor crawling toward the safety of closets. I worry about borderline madness but there are those in power who don’t dream. Ever. When the last condor dies, who will strip it clean of flesh and make a quena flute from the bones of its wings?

They keep showing Kennedy, over and over on TV. Seeing it again, the grief unfurls anew. Jackie forever piecing together bits of skull and memory with ineffective hands. She crawled out onto the trunk of the car to retrieve part of his skull as if it were very important to return all the pieces— what was she thinking of? Did she believe she could turn back the clock by gathering in the debris of what once was her husband?

The day Kennedy was shot I was home from school, sick, by the kitchen stove, in my red paisley quilt robe and socks. It was overcast, a deep bone-chilling cold. My aunt’s drunken husband came in announcing—no, crowing the news—so pissed he could barely stand. He seemed surprised by what his own mouth was saying. As if it were a joking matter. My grandmother crying,”oh my God, no!” We turned the radio on, having no TV. Later, we watched it on a neighbor’s TV. Next day, I went to school, I’d painted my blue cloth binder black with shoe polish. It rubbed off on my hands, my arms. Everything looked the same, but different, as if it were in a dream. I can’t remember going into my classroom. I can’t even remember what grade I was in. It was two days before my birthday. For 25 years, I’ve celebrated my birthday with the memory of his death.

When I was in Ireland, every house had a corner shrine devoted to Mary and Jesus and JFK. His eyes followed me from house to house, my relatives still lamenting his death in 1972. Tiny American flags. And this summer, in Peru, the same shrines with a multitude of assasinated “saints.” And JFK’s eyes, a startling green amongst all that brown. Like the grass of Ireland. And now my grandmother’s dead. I feel so alone I could die. Those anchors seemed so strong when I was young. Cut loose from the umbilicus, I dream of small children with starfish hands crawling over my body.

They loved JFK in Peru. How would the world have been different had he lived? Everyone says we lost hope. That is why Reagan’s in the White House—the Irish have no shrines in their houses for Reagan. The son they’ve been quick to disowned. I remember the Cuban Missile crisis, we spent four days doing bomb drills. Lying face down under our desks we placed our heads in the crook of our arm, hiding our eyes from the light, the other arm across the back of our necks for when the bomb dropped. I had nightmares for years.

During the beginning of the Vietnam years, I heard explosions out to sea at night, I thought the bombs dropped. I’d look for the lightning flash and begin counting to see how long it would take for them to reach our coast. I knew if I kept going west, I could reach Vietnam and Korea. I was born on the edge of this continent. I couldn’t go any farther west than here. I thought the Farralones were Hawaii. You could see them on a clear day from the Golden Gate Bridge. My uncles talked about Hawaii. Pearl Harbor. Korea.

I’ve always wanted to travel to those exotic places. Peru, Ireland, Russia, Hawaii, Mexico, Guatemala, Easter Island. My grandmother telling me about the stone cultures. Mayan, Inca, Aztec, and Polynesian star charts. Phases of the sun and moon decoded in stone. I’ve climbed so many pyramids of the new world, sometimes I’m confused as to where home is. A small island in the north Atlantic—the ancestral stones. I never saw New Grange or Stonehenge but my grandmother kept me informed of their progress. She showed me the standing stones on the west coast of this continent. Ice age relics, erosion or Indian monuments—it didn’t matter. They were there, weren’t they? I am a mover of small rocks. I took rocks to Machu Picchu and brought them back from Paracas, always sacrificing something in order to go on the journey but there is a price to be paid. Sometimes I wish I could tell my grandmother I’ve actually been to some of those places where my imagination caught fire. The ancestral spark.

25 Nov. Before I didn’t know what hell was. He lied. It was a student of mine, his daughter’s age. I had no idea it could be as bad as this. Happy birthday to me.

New Years: I crawl out of the hills to hear John Handy play jazz solo. John Handy brings me a purple one—the color of sorrow. Earlier I was celebrating New Year’s Eve in Moscow with Gorbachev via satellite T.V. at the 3220 Gallery in San Francisco. The Soviet project continues in spite of it all.

Jan. I crash his reading at Cody’s. She reads in my place. The weight falls from me like water. I can no longer eat. My clothes hang like ghosts about my body. At dinner, Alberto, visiting from Mexico is visibly affected by my rage, weeps. John and I are like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo trying to destroy each other.

Easter—Soviet kids from Cherkassy came to Fort Ross. We camped out and did poetry and art workshops. First Russians to sleep here since 1841. We met with Pomos who were very happy to meet Russians. Their ancestors went back to Leningrad when the Russians left. The roundhouse ceremony seemed to last all night. Counterclockwise, we circled the building and cleansed ourselves two times around the fire. The Pomos talk of going to Leningrad to do a burial ceremony for their dead aancestors in Russia. I might go to Russia this summer.

21 June. CPITS retreat, SHE’s here. I’m still insane. When will I heal? I keep remembering how easily he undid me with promises under the stars of Chiapas only to bury a child’s eyes beneath the stones of Tikal. I wear trophies of where we’ve been: Baja, Peru, the Galapagos. An equator of pain visible to the naked eye takes on the green form of air above the pond. I struggle for balance, drawn to obsession like fire to air, and learn first-hand the meaning of words: betrayal, abandonment, she. They are leaving for Guatemala. I wish them death.

8 Feb. 1990—I have been to Russia twice! Walked across Red Square and met with poets. We are translating poetry every day. The USSR is like Latin America—it has prepared me well. I took photos of Pomo ceremonial baskets in Leningrad. All the feathers gone. Moths, the scholar said. New images weave with the old. So odd to hear an Inca song in Cherkassy. So many dreams coming true, literally, my memory jerks upon the psyche like a rubberband. Curious overlapping of times/events. Full circle. So this is what my dreams were trying to tell me. I’ve found a partner in the USSR who conceived of the poetry exchange at the same time I did. Synchronicity. Oleg is the other person I met in my dreams. It’s been a long, hard two years. Believe it or not, I’m healed though I still won’t have anything to do with John who wants forgivness because he’s starting yet another relationship with a feisty Irish woman “not unlike” me. Though I’ve made many friends in Russia I have no desire to live there, the systems as horrible as you’ve heard. There’s a revolution brewing in the Ukraine. I’m not sure what will happen next. Traveling across Russia midwinter by train with a lover to Leningrad—so much of it reads like a novel about someone else, not me. I hardly have time to write. Another page fills itself.

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