Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brownie Mary

Brownie Mary

"My kids [people with AIDS and cancer] need this and I'm ready to go to jail for my principles...I'm not going to cut any deals with them. If I go to jail, I go to jail."
—Brownie Mary

I covered this story for The Western Sonoma County Paper as Brownie Mary was busted in Cazadero (scoring her harvest). I can't find the story so the Wikipedia entry below will have to suffice. (Guess I'll need to write a blog about her—the photos are place holders.) Brownie Mary was a a real kick in the pants and I stayed in touch with her for some time after she won her case. We had Irish heritage in common so we got on like a house afire. She took me on her hospital rounds at San Francisco General Hospital, delivering brownies to her "kids," terminally ill AIDS patients—who (figuratively) lit up when they saw her coming. She had that effect on people. I originally posted the photo of her in remembrance for those who've died, but coincidentally California's medical marijuana bill, Prop 19 is also up for the vote. —MH

Mary Jane Rathbun (December 22, 1921 - April 10, 1999), popularly known as Brownie Mary, was an American hospital volunteer who became internationally known as a medical cannabis activist.   —Wikipedia

Que Sera, Serra: Remembering Tony Serra

Tony Serra took Brownie Mary's case pro bono

Brownie Mary
BornMary Jane Rathbun
December 23, 1921
Minneapolis, Minnesota
DiedApril 10, 1999 (aged 77)
Forest Hill, San Francisco, California
OccupationHospital volunteer
Cannabis activist

Dennis Peron & Brownie Mary


Yesterday at an Open House at an escrow service deep in the suburbs, an overcast day, sad drizzle softening our thoughts, we sat around a table, strangers from other worlds nibbling food and drinking wine, while drowsily droning on about this and that, name-dropping, pontificating, exchanging cards—seeking common ground the way folks do at cocktail parties…

And then—wham—with little by way of segue, we were suddenly onto the Holocaust, the WWII American concentration camps of Manzanar, and Topaz with a real Japanese American survivor. I was wide awake. I remember the desolation of Manzanar in the early 1970s before it was sanitized and upgraded into a national historic monument. No apple orchards—bleakness and fine red dust everywhere like pulverized blood.

I visited Manzanar around the time Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's memoir, Farewell to Manzanar was published (1973), but it was before the TV movie was made (1976). I think excerpts of it were printed in the SF Examiner's California Living. I remember meeting Jeanne later, in the early 1980s when I met with James Houston over some poetry matter when he was teaching at the U of Hawaii.

(I once met a Manzanar survivor in the 1980s when (my then boyfriend) John Oliver Simon's mother, Frances Cassandra Kehrlein Adler, was interviewing him for a newspaper—I  was the photographer. Frances was once the Look Magazine staff writer and photographer, and cousin to Ansel Adams, so the pressure was on. But soon I was entranced by his story of survival. I forgot all about taking photos. Someday, I hope to find that story and his name. It is a story that will have to wait its turn. Meanwhile this is a placeholder.)

Eddie reminded me very much of the Manzanar survivor—at first I thought it was him, but as his story began to unfold, I realized he wasn't the same person. Eddie said though he was born in San Francisco, they were given a hour to evacuate. They took only the clothes on their backs. Their new Chevy sold to a neighbor for $5. They lost everything.

As the afternoon stretched into nightfall, we sat transfixed as Eddie recounted the broken fragments of his life. He said of all the internment camps, Topaz, aka The Central Utah Relocation Center, near Delta, four times the size of Manzanar, was the worst. He was separated from his family, never got to know his little brother.

I had recently read Sandra Dallas' novel Tallgrass where a World War II Japanese internment camp called Amache, near Greneda, Colorado, as told through the eyes of a 13-year-old Caucasian girl, is the centerfold of the story. Eddie told us stories of life at camp—similar to Tallgrass—only this wasn't fiction, this was the real deal. Oral history at its best.

Returning to civilization after the war did not improve the plight of foreign-born Japanese Americans. Eddie told us how the foreign-born Japanese weren't allowed to own land and how they had to set up dummy corporations to own land.

(My grandfather helped Indians "buy" farmland in the Central Valley, we had our own Jahn Singh stories of social injustice.)

One place in San Francisco was "bought" by the YMCA for a Japanese American Club, but later, the YMCA decided to "sell off" the clubhouse—a Julia Morgan building. Eddie's brother knew where the bodies were buried, so to speak, himself dying of cancer, he tracked down the documentation, translated the minutes, and with a lawyer, forced an injunction.

Then he mentioned Cecil Williams and how Cecil's wife, Janice Mirikitani read a poem about the internment camp on Angel Island. The hairs rose on my arms, the room stood still. How small the world, how the stories survive us. I was there. I remember that day. Janice reading to us in the basement of Glide Memorial.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On my broken nose

When I broke my nose for the upteenth time, Kaiser wanted to fix it—make it pretty. The surgeon described how he'd sculpt it into a perfect WASP nose and he'd take the little ball off the tip too. Not pretty. I RAN from the hospital. Over my dead body. My deviated septum & I.

My only regret is that it is hard for me to breathe thru my nose—if the doctor hadn't arrogantly suggested that he could give me a perfect little pert pointy nose—I might have done it. I was ABSOLUTELY outraged. 

My poor nose has met so many mishaps. Horse rearing up, a coke bottle, a football tackle, the back of Sue William's head when the toboggan hit a pocket and stopped dead. The cable core rope swing at Devil's Gulch...

Then there was the round galvanized tin chicken feeder with scalloped edges stored up high on a closet shelf that sliced off the side of my nose. You can hardly tell now. Oh, the blood! The blood!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Sáami Culture

This thread was a rambling Facebook post with a friend on Sáami culture. Not quite a blog, and I'm not quite willing to let go of the information and shape it into a piece. But we uncovered a wealth of information in one thread in our wanderings. Note: not edited!

What the Norwegians (and all of Scandinavia—including Russia) did to destroy Sáami culture is similar to what England did to Irish and Welsh (and Native American) cultures. Neo-colonialism at its worst. Sáami are (Caucasian) First Peoples. ...Their language is Altaic (or Uralic)—not Indo-European.

You have heard one Sáami singer—Joni Mitchell! And Mari Boine is awesome.ápmi_(area)

The Finns are sometimes considered to be a First People who lost much their culture to Christian Sweden with forced conversion in the Middle Ages, but many peripheral cultures willingly accepted Christianity and blending their cultures - until the Church objected.

Tho Sáamii and Fins share a linguistic connection, the Finns don't seem to be a First Peoples. One would have to include Basque into that mix. Linguistically, Finnish is related to the other Baltic-Finnic languages Estonian and Karelian. Genetically, Finns are a homogeneous group with a genetic heritage in common with other European ethnicities. The mtDNA markers of Finnish people do not differ from those of other European ethnicities. Hungarians (87%) and Finns (90%) are definitely closer to Europeans. Lapps/Sáami, by comparison, are 50% European.

Tho, like Sáamii, Finns (aka Fenni, Phinnoi, Finnum, and Skrithfinni / Scridefinnumin in the ancient texts) are present throughout Scandinavia & Russia (Kvens, Tornedalians, Karelians, Veps, Ingrians or Izhorians). A lot of controversy tieing Finns with Lappi/Sáami—which is an old school of anthropological thought,

"it has been suggested that the separation of the Baltic-Finnic and the Sáami languages took place during the 2nd millennium BC, and that the proto-Uralic roots of the entire language group date from about the 6th to the 8th millennium BC." Because there are nine Sáamii dialects—some mutually unintelligible—but related through the dialectic continuum— this suggests an ancient peoples.

There is also oral tradition suggesting the Finns moved into Jutland from the East. They weren't First Peoples in Finland. The original home of Finns "was in west-central Siberia." Or they were from central and northern Europe, moving north after the Ice Age. But even that idea is controversial.

The Finnish word lape, which in this case means 'periphery' could be the origin of Lappi. (The old us vs, them paradigm.) The Sámii were considered heathens, lost from God. You gotta sift thru a LOT of flaming racism when reading about the Sáami...

The nomadic Sáami are the earliest of the contemporary ethnic groups represented in the area, they are consequently considered an indigenous population of the area. Their relative isolation in the Middle Ages protected them from the bubonic plague.

During the 19th c. was when Norway began to stamp out Sáamii culture. "The strongest pressure took place 1900 to 1940, when Norway invested considerable money and effort to wipe out Sáami culture," You couldn't buy or rent land id you didn't speak Norwegian. After years of forced assimilation, Sáamii culture is reviving. The Sáami were recognized as an indigenous people in Norway in 1990.

I had a Lappi friend—she gave me an earful...and studying folklore at UC Berkeley also put this info on my radar...Finns are extremely nationalistic—and invented an epic founding saga Kalevala in the 19th c. (fakelore—from real folklore) so you really have to read carefully there. I'll shut up now.

Nik Gervae  Exhibits at the National Museum of Finland indicated that prehistoric continental or even Scandinavian peoples may have displaced the original Finno-Ugric peoples of south Finland, while adopting their language and culture. That far back, and considering migrations after the Ice Age, I just don't know how to apply the term "First People".

Finnish nationalism stemmed more from their precarious position between Sweden and Russia than their relations with the Sáami, but it's certainly true that the big nationalist revival saved their remaining scraps of folklore from the grave with Elias Lönnrot's and other ethnologists' collection of rune-songs, which are vaguely related to joik. He assembled the wide-ranging set into Kalevala, a coherent narrative that had not previously existed, and Kanteletar, which was all the rest of the material. (Estonia managed a similar preservation/reconstruction with their Kalevipoeg.) It's that culture that nearly got exterminated by European culture, so I'm really not sure how to qualify it relative to Sáami, considering the records we have of prehistory are largely in grave objects and in peoples' genes....

Nick—you've more than covered the basics here—good job! I didn't delve into the Kavelala because that's a whole 'nother can o worms! But there's no stong evidence that Finns and Sáami are from the same peoples—they may have been enemies as the so called Finnish saga suggests. The Finns probably displaced the Sáami—based on linguistics alone!

Romantic Nationalism was central "in post-Enlightenment art and political philosophy. From its earliest stirrings, with their focus on the development of national languages and folklore, and the spiritual value of local customs and traditio...ns, to the movements that would redraw the map of Europe and lead to calls for "self-determination" of nationalities...

the romantic ideal; folklore developed as a romantic nationalist concept. The Brothers Grimm were inspired by Herder's writings to create an idealized collection of tales, which they labeled as authentically German. ...

Romantic nationalism inspired the processes whereby folk epics, retold legends and even fairy tales, published in existing dialects, were combined with a modern syntax to create a "revived" version of a language. Patriots, it was expected, would then learn that language and raise their children speaking that language, as part of a general program to establish a unique identity. "Landsmål", which is the foundation of modern Norwegian, was the first language to follow this program, and it was joined by modern Czech, Slovak, Finnish and later by Hebrew as nationalizing languages. ...

Romantic nationalism is inherently exclusionary, and that, in the 20th century, proved to be a tragic flaw.....

The concept of a "national epic", an extensively mythologized legendary work of poetry of defining importance to a certain nation, is another product of Romantic nationalism. ...

Beowulf, Macphearson's Ossian and the Kalevala...were examples of new national poetry – forged either out of whole cloth, or from cobbling together folk poetry,...

linguistic and cultural nationality, colored with pre-genetic concepts of race, were employed for two rhetorical claims consistently associated with romantic nationalism to this day: claims of primacy and claims of superiority. Primacy is the claimed inalienable right of a culturally and racially defined people..."

(That vein of this thought directly contributed to the "superiority of the Aryan race...")

"The idea was that Germans should "naturally" rule over the lesser peoples. Romantic nationalism, which had begun as a revolt against "foreign" kings and overlords, had come full circle, and was being used to make the case for a "Greater Germany" which would rule over Europe."

In the US it played out as The Frontier, Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny—not our most shining moments.
Nik Gervae Yow. But yes, that's what I was saying, the original inhabitants of southern Finland (purporteded migrated from what is now Spain during the ice age), were displaced northward by another people, blond, fair-skinned.

I've been very curious to  learn more about the creation of Kalevala. There's only one good book I know of in English (Pentikäinen's "Kalevala Mythology")...and my Finnish is nowhere good enough yet.

From what I remember—w/o digging out my (really old!) notes—Kalevala is a modern Romantic construct, understand there were no folklore collection rules yet in place, it was very much a product of 18-19th c mindset, some real folklore was us...ed—but it's definitely a collage, a pastiche. An attempt to create a national literature.

Think it was patterned after Jamie MacPhearspn's equally romantic (read nationalistic) attempt at trying to abscond with Irish sagas, by claiming that the Scottish Oissin was the extant story—earlier by 3 centuries.

Sadly, MacPhearson really did collect some old Gaelic verse—but he bowlderized (and plagiarized) so much of it—and then deliberately destroyed the notes, so nothing can be verified.

Point being—the two sagas were modeled on the same construct. We did not study Estonian version. Don't know if it too is a construct. Nothing wrong with that—but claiming it as a national literature was the real problem. More like Oh look I just happened to find this old mss in a trunk or a cave—when in fact, it was a forgery in MacPhearson's case.

Something about the form in the Kalevala—was a giveaway. Can't remember what. Not an ancient form? Anyway, there's been a LOT of misdirection and bad scholarship around it—and I can see in the Wiki articles, the attempts to ameliorate the contradicting schools of thought. Thus confusing everybody even more. Not just grains, but vast piles of salt are needed while reading about it.

Read it for what it is, but don't assume its veracity. Weirdly, Tolkien was attempting to do something similar—create a national English literature. it is said the Simillaron (sp?) is based on the Kalevala...

That's why I posted all that stuff about Romanticism—you (not you, but one has) have to understand the circumstances that spawned it. Romanticism was in direct (antagonistic) reaction to the Age of Reason—I like to think of it as a collective battle of the psyche of modern man. Sorta like The Bible told me so—stance.

As for translations‚ no clue there. I did read it in translation but don't remember who. I found it challenging to read—probably because it is a collage. But Irish medieval mss was really my thing—and the occasional Icelandic saga-for cross reference. The Kalevala was, along with Ossian, when we were studying fakelore. Everybody was doing it—it was all the rage.

Joseph Jacobs, Wendt, and Yeats fall into that category—it's not to say they didn't collect folklore but they sure "improved" it, thus destroying its integrity. Luckily for the Irish—there were all these very real medieval manuscripts to back it up. I took this cool class where we plowed through stacks of books and looked at them as cultural artifacts of Romantic thought. An interesting way to read.

Re  original inhabitants of southern Finland (purporteded migrated from what is now Spain during the ice age), were displaced northward by another people, blond, fair-skinned.

Yeah, I was just reading a variant of that theory—But the Sáamii (who seem to be older than FInns—linguistically, etc.) are pale (and many are blond) tho their skin color is more golden—perhaps belying their eastern heritage. So don't know ow that all fits in. Don't forget there were fair people in Northern Japan—the Ainu...who may be related. (Japanese tried to obliterate them too...) Another wild school of thought!

Nick—this is what I mean by so much misinformation: "The Sáami people, an indigenous race related to North American Indians and Eskimo tribes, were colonized by the Christian Scandinavians." Fail! See what the idea of First Peoples conjures up? Argh!


There was an old pruning saw
I favored that folded in two
with a wingnut hinge
curved handle and blade
two crescent moons
that hung from a rusty nail
on the wall of the back porch
of my grandmother's house.

The saw curved like a comma
and I could pull down hard
on it with my 12-year-old arms
and cut the slender branches
that threatened to pull me
from the back of my horse.

No one else to do it for me
I made do as best I could.
Like the time the Toby's Feedstore
driver delivered a ton of hay but
dumped it at the bottom of the hill
because he couldn't be bothered stacking it
assuming there was a man about the house
to take care of such ordinary things.

I was faced with hefting hay bales
a tenth of a mile up to the old barn
and the sky spitting, rain was coming.
No matter that it took me most of the summer
babysitting to earn enough money
to buy that ton of shining oat hay
for my old glue factory rescue horse.

I wailed, wiped my nose on my sleeve,
jabbed rusty hayhooks into a bale
and frogmarched it to the barn.
Then another, and another.
It was hard work for a child.
It was the only way I knew how
and I was never going to make it
before the rains came.

My grandmother took pity on me
and together we heaved the bales
into the old wheelbarrow but the path was muddy
so we strung together a series of planks
and wheeled hay up that hill all afternoon.

A passing neighbor saw our plight
an old woman and a slender child
bent over a rusted wheelbarrow
grunting and pushing hay to the barn.
In no time, he hefted the bales up,
safely stacked under the eaves.

Then the rain began to pour in earnest.
We were thankful but I felt betrayed
by my own frailty and inability to manage
such a Sisyphean task. I was grateful
that the rain hid my raging tears.
The old horse, sensing my distress,
sidled over and rubbed her muzzle
across my aching arms, her breath,
small comfort on my cold, wet skin.



One's own real history
is buried beneath layers of detritus
what one carries with them
a passel of old suitcases
bound together
with belts and bungie chords
a portmanteau of the past

Then memory serves up
a variant at will—or not
depending upon the state
of one's mind

This is what we press into hard labor
try & mine it for meaning
and forge connections
into a chain-gang of thought
then swear it's the soul truth
and nothing but.


Goldfish —After Frank O'Hara

Last night I dreamed that I put toy goldfish into my hair product. I have a mane of waist-length hair which requires a certain amount of upkeep to keep it from tying itself into gordian knots. I use Citré shine Anti-Frizz serum.

I am not endorsing a product here. Merely mentioning it so you can imagine a clear oval plastic bottle filled a with viscous fluid. Besides Mandarin orange oil spiked silicone gel, the laminating serum has neat's foot oil in it—before a horse show, I used to put a little neat's foot oil on my horse's mane and tail to keep it silky and flowing.

In the dream, I shook the Citré bottle like a snow globe and I marveled how the fish swam and drifted as if suspended by their own volition in the serum.

Of course, I remembered none of this in the morning—my mind was a total blank slate until after I'd showered, and then I rubbed some hair serum on my hair—wondering what had happened to the goldfish.

Then I thought of Frank O'Hara's poem, Why I Am Not a Painter about a friend's painting called Sardines but it had no sardines in it, and how it made Frank write a poem in 12 parts called Oranges —only with no orange or oranges in it.

Like with the goldfish in the hair serum, it's not about drawing parallels, or internal references, it needed something there. Sometimes a fish is just a fish.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Copy, Right?

UnFckngBelievable—I wrote a long blog on Irish monks rewriting themselves back into Biblical tracts, the Tower of Babel, Pharaoh's daughter Scotia, and baby Moses in the reeds.

I wrote of medieval mss, bowlderization, Ptolemy, Cleo, mercenary Celts in Egypt, history real or otherwise, grains of salt, Alexander the Great, St Paul's letter to those pissy party animals, the Galatians, Paul's poor accomodations in Corinth as he crabbily scribbled his famous letter, mosaic laws, thou shalt not steal, lie, copy those sins of omission. Why the Galatians never wrote back.

I wrote about my own sins of omission. My parish priest, Father Connery at St. Cecelia's Church, Lagunitas. I delved into the persona. Why I was a lapsed Catholic during a time of Women's Rights.

I did an epistolary thing with Dear Reader, I made revisions and and virgin posts.

I invoked the story of the 1st © law, I channled St Columba, & St Fininan, monks burning the midnight oil to copy the psalters but next day St Finnian knew something was up—maybe they put the psalter back askew. 

I had a great segue into Tinsleygate...posted the letters, made connections. I wove knots.

Blogger said Copy, Right? It was saved. Hallelujah, it was saved. Several times over. But it began to hang, then in front of my eyes, it fucking disappeared. The entire post. Blogger's auto-save command lied. it lied.

Like now, it says it's saved. Even gives a reassuring little time stamp, but now I know better, unless you publish it—warts and all, it's not saved. It just says it is.

All that's left of an entire afternoon's frenetic work is the fragment below. All that survived is this wan paragraph that I had simultaneously posted on Facebook as I wrote:

A dispute arose over the ownership of the illegal copy of the psalter. St. Columba and the monks squared off, hitched up their nasty habits up around their waists, threw some ballsy taunts, and had a good go at it with whatever was at hand, rocks, dung, swords—forcing King Diarmait Mac Cerbhaill to intervene with a judgment: "To every cow, its calf, to every book, its copy." First ©opyright. 6th c.

I brought the piece into the 21st century and now it's all gone. Gone. Pfft! Just like that. As if the gods were angry I was invoking such nonsense.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chilean Miners

When Copiapó Valley miner, Florencio Ávalos broke surface from the penance of his underground dungeon, the collapsed San José copper-gold mine, ten minutes after midnight, Chilean time, everyone cheered and applauded. I couldn't help myself. From another hemisphere, another time zone, I too clapped and cried for The 33.

Los treinta y tres—a fortuitous number in Latin American history—the equivalent of freedom—the 33 liberators of Uruguay, Jesus's age, and his 33 miracles. But this is indeed a story of miracles. Though I suspect Roger Ebert would take umbrage over my fast and loose use of the word miracle or milagro. Mea culpea. And he's right. But I love the sound of miracle in Spanish. Let's just say it was a miracle of technology and tenacious know-how.

I don't have TV & it blows my mind that I can watch in real time this Chilean rescue mission. Amidst a covey of balloons against a backdrop of inkdark lapis Chilean sky, a tinabulation of church bells and the braying of  zuzuzuelas, or Genesis alarms, on CNN, they're saying their minds are blown… All our minds are blown. And it's a full-blown media circus—imagine 2-3000 media hounds at full bay. Though the media is literally being held at bay some 300 feet from the emerging miners, I can hear fragments of nasal American English twang rising over the din. Izzat Larry King?

The first miner to be rescued, "Florencio Ávalos came back to us on the 13th day of the 10th month of the 10th year of the decade —which adds up to 33," President
Sebastián Piñera said. It's also the numerical equivalent of AMEN: 1+13+5+14=33.

(There's great RTE timeline and photos here).

As he sipped his first breath of pure mountain air, Florencio's smile was "as wide as the Atacama Desert," said one news report waxing poetic. I was expecting a scruffy Tom Hanks in "Cast Away." not this fit, clean-shaven fellow with a blinding smile. Church bells pealed amid the chanting of “Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!” What's that spell? Chile! We've come a long way from the days of General Pinochet.

Circa 1980, I remember listening to Ronnie Gilbert (of the Wavers) and Holly Near (who was from Ukiah), in Sebastopol: Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida en Chile, en Chile, en Chile... Banish the thought of the disappeared, this is about what is found. No one has gone missing. Not anymore. A spirit grows in Chile/ New lives, new songs are rising up. 

Not long after The House of Spirits came out, I first met writer Isabel Allende who was living in exile in Northern California, she affirmed the stories were all true. "The CIA-backed military coup in September of 1973 (that brought Pinochet to power and the assassination of her cousin Salvador Allende) changed everything." Somewhere I've a photo of her holding my chapbook, with John Oliver Simon, Falling to Sea Level, that appeared on the front page of Poetry Flash (1986).

Hard to believe—that NASA space capsule is barely as wide as a man's shoulders. The borehole and ascent to freedom is a mere 28 inches wide and its umbilicus is 2041' feet deep.

The escape capsule descends into Dante's 7th circle of hell. And then some. Rebirth into the light—In an capsule named Fénix 2—Phoenix, Beatrice calls from the depths. She is the fire and the light, her song is the guiding path.

That fragile cable—a slender lifeline. Umbilicus. So much could go so wrong. Steam rises from the vent. Everyone yelling. Echo & answer from the shaft.

One rescue worker keeps saying fantastico! I don't have a translator—I get ¡buey! & ¡cabrón! But not much else. The body language says it all.

When the second miner Mario Sepúlveda was lifted out, he hugged his wife, President Piñera and rescuers, handed out souvenir rocks from his undergound home of 70 days of endless night. Then asked: “Como está la perra?" —"How’s the dog?”

"I had extraordinary luck. I was with God and with the devil. And I reached out for God." On Chilean Independence Day, he danced the cueca—saved from oblivion by poet Violetta Parra. He also celebrated his 40th birthday underground.

I can't believe that Mario brought back souvenir rocks from a half a mile below ground! Chilean miners are the highest paid in Latin America. Probably why there is one Bolivian miner in their midst. Paperweights for the president, he quips.

I am struck with the fact that venir (to come) is embedded within the word, souvenir. And why not? Spanish and French evolved from the same parent language. Though souvenir means memory/memento. Yea, we are coming. We didn't forget, or abandon you underground. Someone planted 33 prayer flags in the desert. The wind licks them with a relentless fury.

Thirty-three miners entered the earth like a lover & emerged in a crown birth—more like a second coming. Doubt they'll want to go underground any time soon. The horror, the horror! I unconsciously invoke Conrad's opening lines in "Heart of Darkness." But this is a heart of darkness too.

San José mine in the northern Atacama Desert  —NASA

Miner # 3, Juan Illanes, looks like Waldo Rojas Serrano‚ an exiled Chilean poet-lover. We are all lovers reunited—as we watch this miracle rescue operation unfurl from all corners of the globe.

The 5th miner, Jimmy Sánchez steps out of the capsule, falls to his knees, spreads his arms wide in a cruciform as if to embrace life. Releases the safety harness with a flourish.

All that is silver and gold, is silver and gold and copper. All that is gold is darkness. The Phoenix capsule takes the miners toward the sky, fire and angels resurrected. From the dark cocooned silence of their underground chamber, miners emerged to a blaze of world attention.

The rain-free Atacama Desert, a 600-mile long plateau (40,600 square miles) is one of the world's most barren places—the driest desert in the world—but it's rich in minerals and iron ore. Having traveled in its northern reaches in Peru, the Sechura Desert and the Altiplano, I can vouch for its extreme dryness—it makes Death Valley and the Mojave Desert seem like an oasis.
Atacama Desert —NASA

My cousin writes from Tralee: the capsule was made in Shannon, County Claire, Ireland. "Hope it is successful in bringing all 33 of them to safety." Some elevator ride. May the luck of the Irish be upon them. The valve that finally capped the hemorrhaging BP oil derrick in the Caribbean was Irish made too.

The 13-foot tall capsule, capable of traveling 1.8 meters (about 6 feet) a second—fast enough to give you the bends—takes 15-20 minutes to travel a half a mile through the earth. The spinning capsule travels fast enough to be an official vomit-comet but NASA stepped in with a special astronaut magic potion. Indeed, it is an open-air mini rocket, repelete with telecommunications camera, oxygen, escape floor hatch, and belay line. The miners wear compression socks—support hose to prevent blood clots and a biometer to record their vital signs. No mention of barf bags.

The capsule may have been Irish made and built by the Chilean Army, but the bore hole was pure American work. The curved 28-inch 2041-foot deep shaft was drilled by an American team: chief driller was contractor Jeff Hart. Jeff was drilling water well in Afghanistan for the US Army when he got a call to deploy to Chile. The Colorado native literally spent 33 days on his feet—drilling. The gold mine is embedded in a sheath of quartzite and silica—rocks so tough that it took all his expertise and skill to keep wayward drills from going off in the wrong direction.
"You have to feel through your feet what the drill is doing; it's a vibration you get so that you know what's happening," said Hart. 
"It was horrible," said Center Rock President Brandon Fisher. Fisher, Stefanic and Hart called it the most difficult hole they had ever drilled, because of the lives at stake." (Read Michael Warren's full story, Driller from Denver becomes Chile Mine Rescue Hero  here.)
All the rescued miners look like movie stars with their Oakley shades—the world's most expensive sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection for the miners' sensitized retinas. The exposure to light must be excruciatingly painful after being underground for ten weeks living like moles.

I watched the rescue mission until late into the night—one of the pulley wheels went bad on the capsule & I thought—Oh Lord, it'll be a long night. It looked like a large polyurethane skateboard wheel, a vertical skateboard ramp straight into hell. The mechanic inserted the guide wheel three times before it seated. One false move, a broken wheel, a fray in the cable nearly a mile long—and all is lost. Please, no ollies. Irish luck is still holding.

The waiting time between emerging miners is longer than forever. Not as long a wait as for the relatives at Camp Esperanza—Hope. We will wait, we will wait. "One for all and all for one," said the Galleguillos brothers waiting above ground for Jorge.

One miner donned a blue hard hat with the word "Vive," meaning "live," scribbled on it. Another had "Díos" printed on the brim of his hardhat. Vaya con Díos indeed.

"Today, October 13, 2010—33 has become a magic number," Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said, "this was a night of high emotion." Today, we are all numinious.

Omar Reygadas knelt to the ground and prayed as he raised a bible towards the sky. Printed on the backs of the miners' Tshirts: "Porque en su mano están las profundidades do la tierra. Y las alturas de los montes son suyas." Psalm 95: In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. On the fronts, a Chilean flag with ¡Gracias, Señor! emblazoned on a field of red.

Some great photos from The Boston Globe.

Victor Zamora the poet and pigeon handler, didn't spend too much time inside the mine, working as a vehicle mechanic. Wrong place, wrong time. I fear he will write dark words that will combust across the page.

The lifeline bore shaft used to deliver messages, water and food and oxygen was called La Paloma—the dove (or carrier pigeon). The blue plastic care capsules themselves—las palomas. A flock of birds from the outside world.

The steady whipping of the cable, a sharp stacatto, a heartbeat of sorts. I am learning the Chilean anthem poco a poco: “Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!”

After embracing his wife, the oldest miner, at 63, Mario Gómez dropped to his knees to the desert floor, and prayed with his hands entwined in the Chilean flag and Bible. He was the appointed spiritual leader who requested a crucifix be sent below so the men could construct a shrine underground. La Virgen del Carmen de Chile smiled upon the miners in starry blue and gold—as she smiled on Bernardo O'Higgins, Liberator of Chile after the Battle of Maipú. The Irish connection in Chile runs deep.

La Virgen del Carmen 
Gómez raised his hands gave a two-thumb up, he will never set foot in a mine again—a place he has worked since he was 12. The day of the cave-in Gómez was getting ready to retire but found himself in the mines to test a new truck. This was his second time being trapped underground. The mines have taken two of his fingers and his lungs—silicosis. He vowed that he will never set foot in a mine again. Ever.

Jorge Galleguillos playfully asked for a guitar to be sent down the air shaft to him. The mining minister wrote back, saying unfortunately they couldn't fit a guitar through the small doved air shaft, but he sent down music to lift their spirits in that unholy cathedral of volcanic stone and ore. Galleguillos emerged from the capsule to a chant of "sing galleta" —a play on his name and a reference to his request for a guitar.

Edison Pena was dubbed "the runner" because he ran 3 miles a day through the mine tunnels to keep himself fit. Running from himself or toward himself—one way or another, he came to terms. Edison. Ah, the light.

And Franklin Lobos, the retired football (soccer) star, who only took the mining job to make ends meet, spins and and the autographed soccerball handed to him by adoring fans—as if he were searching for a secret message. I suspect he'll be permanently retiring from mining too.

Claudio Yanez and Esteban Rojas both proposed to their girlfriends from deep underground. It took Esteban 25 years to take the plunge. Guess the constant heat of the mine (30° celcius) warmed his cold feet.

One family reunion will be strained—Jonni, or Yonni Barrios. Wife put 1 and 1 together and came up with 3 when she heard the mistress cry out her husband's name at a prayer vigil. They came to blows. The Chilean miner-medic, nicknamed Dr. House, was in a tight spot. His house was not in order as wife of 28 years did not attend the rescue. He stood stoic as stone as his mistress kissed him. It was not quite the reunion he had hoped for.

The Phoenix capsules are beginning to look worse for wear. Only a dozen more miners to go. Scuffed and banged up, slender lozenges of steel will pierce the mineshaft at least 38 times each way—that's something like 40 vertical miles of travel in less than 24 hours!

"The greatest wealth of our country is not copper - but our miners," President Piñera said. He praised the miners for showing the country how to endure and thanked the rescue workers for "carrying out a rescue that seemed impossible."

Chile's richest man, and 35th president, Dr. Piñera, was sworn in during the 6.9 Chilean earthquake. "You never surrendered, you never gave up, and today we are harvesting the results," he said to the miners. Of Austurian and Basque descent, Piñera grew up in Belgium and New York, was educated in Chile—top of his class, and he received a Fulbright scholarship in economics at Harvard. He has divested most of his holdings. Here's hoping he will go down in history as a great president like Allende—not Pinochet.

Former miner Richard Trumka said: "It is a rare blessing. I know last night there were tears in every household in Chile, tears of joy when the Earth gives back up those that it has trapped within. Watching these brave miners return to the embrace of their families is an indescribable joy."

My poet friend Sandra Hoben, with whom I've been on a marathon Facebook chat of Joycean proportions throughout the rescue, says she comes from a family of miners, knows firsthand of the hardships suffered. She writes: "The Hobens came from PA, all miners and all the men died, in the mines or from black lung."

Sandra writes: "I am hoping Neruda will arrive, with a glass of red wine, the sea, and his wife's eyes; in Chile, cherries are singing..."

Ah, yes, invoking Neruda. Yes. Death is dressed as an admiral but today he'll get no new followers. Some 23 hours later, the foreman, Luis Urzúa, the last miner, arrives safe & sound.

Luis says, "The worst moment was when I saw the rocks, I thought it was a movie. It took hours for the dust to settle. I thought maybe one, maybe two days—but 70?—a long shift. We hope, never again." The last to leave the mine, Luis holds the Guiness Book of World records for most days trapped underground. The half-moon shines over the Atacama Desert ringing with the miners' rousing national song.

"Never again in our country will we permit people to work in conditions so unsafe and inhuman as they worked in the San José Mine, and in many other places in our country," said Piñera. Those responsible for the mine collapse "will not go unpunished. Those who are responsible will have to assume their responsibility."

From far below, the last five rescue workers hold a cloth sign, "Mision compleda, Chile." Piñera said in closing, "God never gives us a job we cannot do. Tonight we have experienced something we will never forget—full of emotion. We have experienced a kind of rebirth. From the bottom of my heart, Viva Chile!"

Canto XII, from Alturas de Macchu Picchu
(tr. Maureen Hurley—with a little help from Google Translator)

Arise up to be born with me, brother.
Give me your hand from the depths
of your grief.
Never to return from the rocks.
Never to emerge from subterranean time.

Look at me from the depths of the earth...
And tell me from the depths of this long night
As if I was pinned down there with you...

And let me mourn, hours, days, years,
Blind ages, stellar centuries.

Give me silence, water, hope.
Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.
Cling to my body like magnets.
Enter my veins and my mouth.
Speak through my words and my blood.

             —Pablo Neruda

©2010 Maureen Hurley

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hitching in Marin during late 60s, early 70s

When I was a teenager, I bought my guitar stings from Van Morrison's mother at Caledonia Records in Fairfax.

It was worth the bother to get there as she'd make us a cuppa tea with shortbread. I was round-eyed—she sounded like my grannie but was from the north of Ireland. I looked for horns. We shared a name in common: Violet—but her fingernails and mouth were little scarlet wounds circling her cigarette.

Mr. Morrison, in his tweeds, was sitting on a stool, puffing away on his pipe, smiling at us from afar. Meanwhile one of Van's songs—maybe it was Gloria—was blaring on KFRC's Top Ten. I was learning Pastures of Plenty, and Cottenpicking—they chastizing me for not having a guitar case for such a valuable guitar.

One time she was shop-sitting for a friend at Amazing Grace Music, an old gas station cum music store on a tiny wedge of land between the Miracle Mile (Red Hill Ave.) and San Anselmo Avenue in San Anselmo. It was much farther out of the way for me so I rarely went there, but I had a Martin and I needed some Martin strings.

Mrs. Morrison made Van give me a ride home. Van the Man in the van was not pleased. He was seriously bent out of shape by the request so I was terrified to speak to him. And it was a long ride home held in utter silence. I lived far from town—way out in Forest Knolls, and he lived even farther out in Inverness.

There was no bus service out to The Valley so it was either thumb, or shank's mare. Van the Man drove a van. I had no real idea who he was at the time... I was so fecking shy I couldn't talk to him even if I wanted to.

It seems that every rock musician from the 60s moved out to West Marin—sort of a fallout from the Haight. West Marin was invaded by the likes of the Sons of Champlin, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane—to name a few. 

They saw us kids hitching home every day—to us, it was merely an alternate bus service. We didn't think twice that these guys were famous. The road out to The Valley was long and winding, and in those days, people generally stopped for hitchikers.

Jesse Colin Young, who also lived in Inverness, was much easier to talk to than Van. He had cute little kids who took swimming lessons with ze French Mrs. Zettl who lived half way up Arroyo Road—so I got a ride almost all the way home from Jesse.

Carlos Santana was silent like Van—absolute mauna. He had a nice Mercedes with fawn leather seats though... One morning, I was still half-asleep, hitching into Drake High School (emphasis at that point was on getting high), Carlos pulled over to offer me a lift.

It was pretty early so Carlos might not have been awake either. He was pulling pretty hard on both his coffee mug and a joint. He looked half-dressed—like he just rolled out of bed. I remember being a little shocked that he wore those baggy string pants. Them string pants were riding dangerously low on Carlito's hips as I recall....

Carlos moved into my friend Lindy Young's place on Tamal Road (right up from Linda Gregg's place—where Jerry Garcia later died) and he had horses too—that was our common ground. I don't remember much else—other than I got to school on time.

Got a ride from decopage artists Larry Fuentes and Dickens Bascom too.
Dickens' art car had an entire Remington typewriter that still worked glued to the trunk of his Fort Falcon. The sides and fins were lined with worn out sneaker bottoms—like fish scales. Poetic justice.

My College of Marin classmate David Best copied Dickens Bascom and Larry Fuentes' art-cars and came up with some amazing art-cars of his own—and made a career of it. I loved the flocked chia seed Cadillac punctuated with mirror shards and a water buffalo head hood ornament that he used to park at Micky McGowan's Unknown Museum in Mill Valley.

The Unknown Museum, (founded ca. 1974—but I think it was earlier than that) which closed its doors in 1989, was something to behold with all its repurposed Americana detritus as iconography—the ultimate recycler's wetdream.

David told me that at night the deer came down to graze on the car. Mickey the cobbler had a Fiat stuffed with Disney toys and Barbie dolls.The Fiat didn't run, but David's Caddy did—I sat in it with David and talked until the cows came home, but never got a real ride in it. So I guess it doesn't count. Somewhere I have the slides... fodder for another blog.

One time Dickens and Larry hauled a découpaged life-size fiberglass model horse out to a pond where the Dollar house once stood—on the San Geronimo Golf Course. I had my camera with me (and a fresh roll of Kodachrome) so I stuck around. They did a great Lady Godiva number at sunset. The girl wore a red cape and a fierce mane of red hair. Not much else. People nearly drove off the road. But I still had to walk all the way back home to Forest Knolls from San Geronimo. No one would stop along that section of road. Shank's mare.

I never got a photo of Dickens' art car, but I did manage to document his horse at the San Geronimo Golf Course. But Long's Drugs Kodak developer sliced all my negatives in two lengthwise. I was able to salvage a few sliced photos (magically healed with a cloning tool).

See Paul Liberatore's article on Mickey McGowan in Exhibit of 55 recycled, reused artworks gets once-over from Mill Valley's Unknown Museum's ex-curator

Somewhere in all this thumbin- for-a-ride business, I actually owned a car, or rather, a funky 1958 panel Singer Sewing Machine Volvo van that my uncle gave me—but keeping it running was a full-time occupation. The carburetor linkage was held together with baling wire because I couldn't find the parts. So I was often car-less. David Best wanted to découpage it. But I let it rot into the hillside when it died, thinking I would revive it someday—like Kesey's bus, Further. But the spare parts were just too hard to find.

Ken Kesey stopped for me in Fairfax on The Magic Bus, or was it Further? We generically called it the magic bus but its destination was further. Now, that was one way cool ride. The Merry Prankster himself grabbed the hand door crank and opened the glass doors and said with a huge grin, "Climb aboard!" 
Kesey's original Further (not Further 2) was like an old Bluebird schoolbus, like the mad buses in Guatemala.

Not only was the outside painted in rainbow hues, the entire inside of the old yellow bus was psychedelically painted and collaged. It was another world. I was like Alice down the rabbithole. I pretty much had the bus to myself. So I migrated up and down the aisles, sitting here and there, checking out the artwork. Lots of music posters from FIllmore and Winterland daze.

Some dude was splayed out, smokin' in the back seat with friends. I believe courtesy inhaling was involved. BTW, Ken Kesey pulled over for everybody who was hitching. So it took a very long time to get home.

Years later (ca. 1976), Ken Kesey told me that the fabled old bus was mouldering away in his lower south 40 field in Pleasant Hill, Oregon. He was doing a magazine called Spit in the Ocean and I was working for the Western Star Press 
selling tarot cards, of all things. Rosalind Sharpe Wall and John Starr Cooke made a New Age Tarot deck, The New Tarot: a deck for the Aquarian Age (1969). Ken wanted to buy some tarot cards.

It sold for $8

On Amazon now for $125+

During the mid-1970s I worked for Alice Cooke Kent at Western Star Press. I had to hand-sorted every 78-card deck I sold as the printer had a major collating fuckup. The decks arrived loose, jumbled in big boxes—it was like a colossal 52-card pick-up party. I sorted so many decks, I was stacking major arcana in my sleep. They're imprinted indelibly into memory. Rosalind Sharpe Wall, the artist, was my friend Miranda Micaela's mom. She and my mom, who also designed a deck—were arch enemies. So I was working for the opposition.

I was loath to cash that small check with that famous Ken Kesey signature on it. We struck up a correspondence of sorts and he sent me some signed books. I'd give my eye teeth and molars to have them now. I wasn't yet a poet, so I didn't pay close attention. Didn't take notes. Didn't listen to the music of the words that were coming unbidden.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Isla Mujeres

Here's an old memory and I don't know if it's even true but I've always associated Lorna Dee Cervantes with Isla Mujeres—don't know why. I remember standing at the dock looking at the ferry longingly‚ we couldn't go for some reason and it was such a siren call. I kept thinking, wait! We made a mistake. That was back in the days with Sweet Old John (Simon) Who Done Me Wrong. Lorna Dee, your name must've come up in conversation. Do you feel like you're living in a Loretta Lynn song with a Yucatan twist?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fundraiser for Lagunitas Montessori, Point Reyes Sta. (photo)

I was a featured reader for the Lagunitas Montessori School.
2010 Pt. Reyes Fall Festival fun-raiser for the Lagunitas Montessori School—housed in my old alma mater—Lagunitas Elementary School. A one-school district—aka LSD. (LOL—it was the '60s!) 

Jay and Leora's October Fest at the Pt. Reyes Surf Shop with the whole crew from the San Geronimo Valley Montessori program. 

Can't remember this guy's name—but he lives in Dogtown (I think) and we seemed to know everybody in common. Ah, West Marin, my heartland, my anim cara.

added 4/24/2016 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bantry cousins

Still recovering after partying with the 80-year-olds. Nothing like a small, intimate 4-generation family clan gathering of nearly 50, with cousins from Ireland (many who've never met) plus two birthdays. But we were in Caesar’s and the Italians understand family gatherings. When Neil and Michael broke into O Solo Mio, it was a showstopper. They also entertained the waiters at Ceasar's with Molly Malone. We closed the joint down. After we closed Caesar’s, we headed over to the Sheraton Hotel and had a another gabfest and singalong until 2AM in the Sheraton lounge. I'm both hoarse and deaf.

What was a scream was all the Sheraton customers who wandered in and stuck around to listen to us singing—a real Irish session. Even the bellhops. One guy brought his bottle of wine over from the bar and watched us. Ah but the craic was good. I once said "craic" outside of Irish circles—and the guy thought we were referring to doing heroin! I was gobsmacked.

Funny, though I'd never met  my Irish cousin Teresa before, the minute I saw her, I knew we were related. She looks like my great aunt Peg. Little kids too recognized kin, they were wrapping their arms around any available leg.

We don't have that many family gatherings—usually wedding & funerals. But when we do, everybody makes up for lost time. This was a first in that this particular lot of Irish cousins hadn't ever been to America—and the long "lost" Nevada Walshes hadn't met either of us. So it was a historic event.  We need to actually plan a picnic. We used to do that in the 60s-80s, but too many of the matriarchs died and the families scattered. This reunion was put together at the last minute—with a week's notice. Finding the lost Walshes from the 1930s via the internet (or them finding us) is a new miracle twist.