Friday, September 28, 2007
Almost an entire week has gone by since she's left for college, and today is payday with one of those virtual pieces of paper slipped beneath the door that says a certain amount of money has been deposited on my behalf into a bank account. What's important is that the money is there and not particularly how it got placed there, but even as I write those words I shudder as I hear the moral implications of my statement which sounds entirely too Machiavellian although I understand that the guy got a bad rap and his world view was actually more than the end justifying the means which is how his work has been handed down throughout the ages although his emphasis on the skill of applying morality to practical political life lesser so the case and I think of Arnold Schwartzenegger and wish him success in brokering a Northwest passage of medical insurance in the state of California particularly to further the national discourse on this issue. Last night I heard Immaculee Ilibagiza speak at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, author of "Left to Tell," story of how she survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994 by hiding in a 4 by 6 foot bathroom for 91 days with seven other women and went on to develop a profound personal relationship with God, faith, and hope for the survival of the planet in the midst of brutalizing war. Even her name with all those Is and As rolls off the English-speaking tongue like some dazzling miracle on a Cirque du Soleil scale with visceral joy and beauty, which seems to be the kind of thing us human beings respond to from the center of our beings, and there's nothing virtual about it.
My daughter is at college. I'm here and my memories of her are real.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Diary of an Empty Nester (DOAEN 1)
I think writing with a typewriter or a pencil when I first started was a different kind of writing for me, more physical in its sensibility, while writing with a computer is another experience eliminating a tactile energy that goes into forming words by pressing a pen to paper or by striking the hammer of a keyboard; with the computer I hear the musical sound of words in my head, which makes laptop writing a more private experience, after all it's happening within a small theater that sits a half foot away from me with few interruptions having to do with the rolling of paper on a platen, or the sharpening of a pencil, it's more about the flow of words, forming words on a screen instead of on a sheet of paper, which in some ways makes the creation of meaning more direct, faster, but how has that changed anything, a question from an empty nester at a time when I have the luxury of indulging myself in such thoughts listening to jazz playing after midnight in my living room while I lay on the couch rather than deciding what sandwiches to prepare for lunch, not that I was ever a sandwich maker because the truth is I've always found it a bother to prepare something I didn't enjoy eating so I got as far as peanut butter and jelly and then stopped, but on the other hand, writing letters was always easy, and I can remember learning language, which is what took me to forming letters like some iconography of my soul.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Third Floor Dorm
In those last several weeks you let me tell you
not to get home after midnight.
You smiled without saying anything.
We both knew it was already too late.
I brought your old clothes stored in the trunk
to Goodwill so we'd have room
to pack your things for college:
an old soccer ball, tennis shoes, a pullover,
nothing remarkable except
you removed everything from plastic bags
to reassure me you weren't throwing away stuff.
I saw there was nothing to rescue.
We needed to rent a U-haul. You didn't start packing
until I'd finished my third cup of coffee.
Your boyfriend helped. Good thing too.
By then we discovered you were on the third floor of the dorm,
as he pulled the dolly upstairs
only a few weeks before his court date
and the chance of jail time, even with a reduced sentence.
One of those stupid mistakes.
On the way outside to the commons,
you held hands with him, fingers threading.
We each carried our own weight.
Your boyfriend rebolted the bed higher
so you'd have more storage space.
We put on sheets. You and I looked at each other
from the corners.
I'll cook a pot of soup
to have for the week,
or maybe not.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I am dressed in white linen to celebrate the New Year but know that in Japan, white is the color of mourning, the color of Hiroshima, while black contains all spectrum of possibility. I am feeling brown, not shitty, but filled with the mulch of my many years, as I throw in greens, aerating myself with hope in the event that one of these days things will turn out right. I can only wonder how I smell, even though I use politically correct cosmetics that have not been tested on animals, and not really cosmetics, but more oils and lotion, and rosemary with its sharp clean scent that starches my nostrils open as I rub its essence into my scalp and touch my bush that has burned itself to a gray ash.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
balancing a cup of coffee
white porcelain handle
held between fingers
from outside my patio window
in these moments before
and the boxcar of my day
rattles along its rails
the same way
cats meow me out of bed
for their appointed
bowl of food and fresh water
they are hungry and can do nothing
until I walk to the closet
measure a cup of food
refill their water bowl
as we both return
to our designated corners
coffee and cat food
inaugurating the day
last night the sun in the sky
appeared blood red
sinking inside a pile-up of black clouds
from fires in the south burning
around Morgan Hill
and in the north from Tahoe
there will always be fire
coffee and cat food
there's that morning sun again
as I backtrack
to wanting you next to me
like a star of new shoots
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
What I remember about the radical poet, Walter Lowenfels, was his vast generosity, and commitment to the word. He wrote a book entitled, The Revolution is to be Human, a slogan which has guided my life and work. He believed that change comes from young people and nurtured those friendships throughout his lifetime, encouraging new writers at the time like Clarence Major, Marge Piercy, and Ishmael Reed. Walter also confronted the New York Times Book Review section, and wrote an editorial which was called “The White Poetry Mafia,” accusing the establishment of failing to review and publish a burgeoning group of new Black writers.
He had come from a wealthy family of butter manufacturers, but gave up the soft life to throw in his lot with the literary expatriates in Europe including Michael Fraenkel, Henry Miller and Anais Nin. Throughout his lifetime he was a member of the American Communist Party, able to reconcile his discomfort with bureaucracy with a greater commitment to change.
Visting Walter on the Hudson
Between 1966 and 1971 when I attended the City College of New York, on occasional Saturdays I’d take the railroad from Grand Central Station in New York City and visit Walter and his wife Lillian in their Peekskill, New York cottage. Once I’d arrived at the station, I’d call. In a few minutes he’d pick me up in a light blue car, almost shaking his hand loose from his wrist waving to me through the window. Then we’d drive back to the cottage where he parked between several trees, and flung open the front door. Our afternoon had begun.
For hours Walter held court in a kitchen alcove talking about different poets, anthologies he was putting together, the birds outside his window, fruit and cheese, all with equal knowledge. He was a hummingbird sampling everything within his field of energy. “Do you know this writer?” he asked. “Do you know this music?” he inquired. I sadly shook my head and accepted whatever he pushed across the table for me to examine, only able to turn a few pages before he leaped to the next subject.
Walter vibrated with palpable energy, hovering in that conversion place between matter and energy, a black beret angled over a nest of wispy grey threads that resisted encampment. He’d always serve me something to drink, lemonade or coffee, whatever was available in the kitchen, a small and narrow space which seemed to have been imported from a trailer with coffee grounds spread everywhere.
Meeting Lillian Lowenfels
His wife, Lillian, daughter of a Yiddish scholar and humorist, occasionally summoned Walter from their bedroom, or emerged herself sitting in a wheelchair. By the time I’d met Lillian, she had suffered several strokes and seemed to be held together by pillows and white cord. Her face was frozen in a permanent grimace. She always stayed for just a short time. Walter solicitously escorted her back to their bedroom. “Lillian, be careful how you move. You’ll hurt yourself.”
Lillian translated Spanish poetry and had co-edited as well as financed some of Walter’s anthologies. When he returned to the kitchen he’d point to several photographs on the piano mantle of a dark-haired siren and say, “She was so beautiful before she got sick,” as if to ask me to see beyond the woman whose body was occupied by pain.
I’d first met Walter during a Communist Party convention in New York City. During those years I’d attended so many meetings, I can’t remember the particulars, except to see a large hall with bridge tables covered in white tablecloths. It was toward the end of the summer, hopelessly hot without air conditioning. I was getting tired of speeches. I was a newly recruited youth. I wanted to be in the company of worldwide revolutionary artists who had caught my attention: Neruda, Casals, Picasso, all Pablos -- Berthold Brecht, Paul Robeson, Ben Shahn, the Hollywood 10 and many others who’d been called to testify in front of the witch-hunting McCarthy Committee including Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, and Stella Adler.
Walter was also circling the back of the hall. "Are you Lenore?" he asked, extending his hand.
Technology and Language
I’d just gotten to know Walter who was involved in editing the Cultural Commission’s publication, “Dialog Magazine,” a mash-up of the “New Masses,” which itself was modeled upon “The Masses,” published between 1911 and 1917. Walter had gotten wind of fresh blood around the Cultural Commission and always eager to befriend a young person, invited me within his circle. This was more toward the latter years of his life. (He died in 1976.) Walter was beginning to embark on a series of anthologies, excited by the success of The Writing on the Wall: 108 American Poems of Protest published in 1969 by Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Walter published my first poem which ended with the line, “this bioluminescence still swimming in the dark.” I was excited by the relationship between science and language. So was Walter. He wrote about it a lot in a great many of his books. From “Every Poem Is A Love Poem” included in The Portable Walter edited by Robert Gover, International Publishers, 1968:
“I am trying to break through this language to get to
without the copperbelt lining that keeps my hope
from exploding out of this typewriter,
desk, window, through the pines, down the
Little Egg Harbor River, across the
Or from The Poetry of My Politics, Volume 2 of My Many Lives self-published in 1968:
“My campaign against nostalgia has its base in language, i.e., to use the language of today for today’s emotions: the clean, new, scientific word, woven into the fabric of the poem so quietly the reader doesn’t sense anything but the contemporary pulse modulation. That’s the test of language – that it is alive with today’s electronics – not Ben Franklin’s kite key.”
Summer of Love
So why am I thinking of Walter?
This Labor Day Weekend past, I attended the 40th anniversary Summer of Love celebration together with 40,000 other people in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, everyone dressed in a version of the sixties, tie-dyed, tattooed, and carrying cell phones. There were clouds of a sweet-smelling substance emanating from different points from within the crowd.
Just imagine. More than 40,000 people who had streamed to the park, finding their way on public transportation or struggling with parking, babies carried on shoulders, men and women who’d been the flower children of yesteryear either as part of the Haight-Ashbury scene, a movement that put free community clinics on the map, or who had been located someplace else, and members of a younger generation now wanting to sniff the air in more ways than one; everyone hoping to reconnect with something that had been magical, to feel the spark, to be alive once again with hope. How do I know? I saw it on all of our faces. Then there was the music, lead guitarists or saxophonists from different bands, or almost fully constituted bands and by listening to them, we time traveled back to that era.
There was an ongoing effort to make the day-long celebration more than an exercise in nostalgia, people at the podium addressing a need to keep the resistance going. However, no one mentioned the word, revolution, at least none that I heard. I thought that was curious. Maybe the terrorists of the world and George Bush have co-opted that word for their own use. Or maybe we’ve become tired of hearing it.
Have we become jaded? Do we no longer believe that change can happen, or is that kind of thing only reserved for Hillary Clinton being elected president?
As for Walter, I miss his courage. I miss his ability to constantly reinvent his work and play with language. I miss his insistence on being relevant and honest about love and politics.
Today I know he’d be involved with computers, zipping along on a high-speed connection to the Internet, exploring new metaphors and keeping his light burning in face of humanity’s ongoing war with itself. I think if he was around he’d explore the meaning of this new global consciousness, how we are serving up each others culture and language through a medium that concentrates the world into a gateway that moves as we move through our lives.
In a world of literary dog-eat-dog, Walter helped anyone who was dedicated to the Word.
He heaped food on me, the first thing any young writer needs, the first thing anyone needs.