Thursday, February 3, 2011


Poetry is the grass that comes up in the cracks of the sidewalk.

I’ve been a housepainter and on one particular job there’s a woman from Germany.  As we precariously dangle from ladders, she wants to find out more about me.  What do I do when I’m not painting houses.  I paint pictures with words as a poet.  She gets a look on her face like someone awesome has just walked into the room.  I look around and we’re the only ones there.

She explains that poets in her country are revered revolutionaries.  Some time later I read a newspaper headline:  Polish Poet Shot to Death for Treason.  I utter a sound like the moment somebody hits a baseball right into my throat.  It’s not a memory I remember too often.

I really understand the part about revolutionary.  It’s revolutionary to be a woman poet in the seventies; there is poetry after Beat.  It’s revolutionary in the 1800s when stalwart women poets, who quite often start out with male pen names, publish poetry with any name at all; the most prolific of women poets is Anonymous.  Then, women are called poetesses; obscured by "ess" sounds.  It’s revolutionary for women to speak our words in our own voices.

As to the awesome part, well I don’t know about that.  Sometimes I just like to play with the words. I can cram as much as possible into the usual five minutes allotted at fundraisers; 15-20 minutes, whoo, turn me loose. This is possible for poets: a poem, perhaps two, can be written on a matchbook cover.  I  prayer-form to thousands and to three when there could be more; I also know that three is enough. 

Poems are ashes blown by the wind.

I come to California from New England in 1979.  The purposes of moving are to write, to heal which aren’t necessarily separate activities. Before I begin writing again, I do a purging, transformation ritual.  I take a bag full of poems written ten years before and burn every page.  When I tell this story, I sometimes get a reaction like the listener’s throat has just suddenly closed off oxygen to the lungs.  It’s a ghastly sound so I don’t tell the story too often.

Fire is transformation; burning the poems enlightens the way I write poetry.  I decide to stop saying I’m a writer and say: I am a poet.  My verse forever changes. Taking my self seriously as a poet is a profound moment.  I understand how Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Bronte craft words to sound like bells, feel like the moors. I become fluent in the poetic language of the disturbed common ground found in a book From the Ashes written by young residents of Watts after the 1968 Martin Luther King assassination riot.

A poet’s verse is a stone thrown into the pond.

In 1980 I begin reading poetry in public, like with other people in the room.  Then I move out to women’s bookstores and bars.  There’s a line in one of the bar dyke poems about lesbians being beaten to death by strangers and lovers.  I’m cautioned that “we” shouldn’t tell “those” stories because “they” could be used against “us” by homophobes. I take out the “and lovers” for one reading.  I put the words back in.  I witness the life of another bar dyke who is beaten to death by her lover.  If I lie about that, I’m not a poet.

I view and explain life in poetry, metaphors, alliterations.  When I write news articles, columns, short stories, they’re disguised poems.  I use commas, periods, whole sentences.  They’re poems none the less.  Poetry isn’t just form.   My work as a poet is to take everything of a story, image, feeling, anything really and write the essence.  The listener brings it back out to everything.  It’s a different everything than mine and that’s as it should be.

Poetry is the work I love to do.  The Tibetan Buddhist monks create intricate, exquisite sand paintings, then sweep them away when completed.  They love that the creation and prayer is their work and that is enough.  Still, I probably won’t burn any more poems any time soon.


In 1967 I stand at the Sunday vigil now up to a dozen people, inspired by the woman who stands there in all the weather of snow, rain, icy cold, muggy hot -- every Sunday.  A white van circles around Court Square, once, twice, three times…  It disappears for awhile; then a man with a 35mm camera appears and stands in front of us taking our pictures.  I ask who he is; someone casually says:  he’s an FBI agent.

I hand out leaflets.  A woman stops, addresses me directly:  I won’t take your leaflet.  My husband works at Pratt and Whitney (the maker of bombers sent to Vietnam, many many bombers).  His job puts food on the table that feeds our children.  Supporting this takes away his job.  What he does is the right thing to do.

In 1970 the vigil crowd swells to hundreds.  The crowd is restive, wants to lower the flag to half staff honoring all US and Vietnam dead; they chant for the mayor.  They are increasingly agitated as no mayor appears to speak, or to hear their request.  A group of us race up city hall steps into the reception area, rush right into the mayor’s office. 

Sitting there is the vice mayor who explains that the mayor is out of town.  Even so, could he in the mayor’s stead order the flag lowered.  He responds he doesn’t have that authority, the supervisor of the janitors has that authority.  I step forward:  so let’s be clear, you’re saying that you have the authority of the mayor to run the city in his absence, but you don’t have the authority to direct the supervisor to lower the flag.  He grins:  that’s right. 

In 1966 I’m a student on the campus of American International College.  The definition of a college includes living on campus, although every student’s dream is to live away from home and off campus.  At AIC, we’re all commuters; we matriculators refer to the alma mater as Almost In College.  I'm not fond of the place because I’d rather be at UMass where the beatniks are.

I’m at AIC, a rebel without a cause.  Whenever on the campus, I want to act like I’m away from home.  I hang out with a group of poets that morphs somewhat.  We are sort of hippies, sort of existentialists, sort of beatniks; sort of not.  We write an underground newspaper, start a coffee house, go to coffee houses together. This is an enclave of rebellion.

On a cold Sunday I pass Court Square in Springfield, Massachusetts -- one lone woman stands with a sign saying something about some place called Vietnam.  I bring this news to the group.  We casually study pacifism.  We connect with two radical history professors, one is a pacifist and the other is a historian; they say this Vietnam “Conflict” needs scrutinizing.  It’s the right thing to do.

On a crisply clear fall day in 1966, I stroll the small campus; some tables have been set up in the quad.  There are books, pamphlets covering the tables; staffed by slender unassuming young men.  They’re representatives of the pacifist way. 

I have an attraction for books; I head in that direction.  A pack of frat boys descends on the display.  They verbally harass one of the guys, spit in his face.  He stands there without flinching.  One of the frat boys grabs a book, sets it on fire.  That makes me an activist, that burning of the book.  Books are sacred in a free society.

At UMass in 1970, I write several peace movement letters to the editor, against what is now called a war.  Each time, the next issue publishes a respondent to my previous letter, protesting my opinion on war.  It’s always signed with the same name. 

The next semester, I meet the fellow a woman friend is dating.  It turns out he’s a Vietnam veteran.  It turns out he’s the respondent.  We have a very long conversation about my opinions, his experience.  He admits he argues my opinion because he has to believe that the terrible things he sees and maybe even does in Vietnam are the right thing to do.


In the seventies women's liberation movement, we let go of the vision for liberation and get mired in equivocation, a drive for equality that thirty years later we still haven't got.  We settle for equality which quite often means "the same as".  We can make the same money as a man for being a CEO and earn more money than any human has a right to or a need for.  This is a result for many liberation and civil rights struggles that emerge from the era.

In our political activism we're often met with adamancy, stridency, resistance.  Ultimately we get out-chessed in the game. The experience for some of us leads to a cutting cynicism from knowing that not all that much has been changed. When the outcome is broadened to the world, the effort still has a long, long way to go.   We haven't been able to bring down the patriarchal institutions; we haven't been able to eradicate the pervasive attitude regarding women's status.

When gay folks begin the chants for marriage, I'm sitting here saying to my self:  oh yeah here we go with "the same as".  We're still failing to get at the linchpin, to fundamentally challenge the institutions that keep the patriarchy looming over us.  Now we're gonna get the right to divorce and have nasty custody fights and spend too much money on a wedding.  Swell.  Still I can't stop reading or watching the persistent stories, listening to the rising swell of voices, observing the narrowing focus on this one issue.

As this goes on I notice something amongst the clamor and clash and flash of it all.  There's panic; the reaction to the call for gay marriage is inducing a panic.  This is different than the adamant negative reactions to Blacks calling for civil rights or women chanting for equal rights or even gays asking for the simple right to be out.  When gays start with the right to marry, though, one state after another scrambles to pass laws stating that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The news media and even those of us pushing for marriage seem to miss this panic.  The overriding description of the action is that this issue is one of equal rights.  The recurring legal argument is that separate but equal hasn't been right for other groups and it isn't for this group either.  Because we've used this rhetoric for so long to wheedle and cajole bits of rights, we fail to understand what we're really getting at.

When I see a picture of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin marrying after 51 years of a committed relationship, I notice something.  They are the same height, the same build; and obviously they are both women.  Suddenly I get what the panic is about. We have finally, though perhaps unwittingly found the linchpin of the patriarchy and we are tugging furiously to pull it out.

Marriage is traditionally between a man and a woman.  Traditionally in that relationship the man is taller, broader.  Often the woman is his little lady.  Even when a woman hyphenates her name, the man is still the reference point.  Even if they use an "alternative" commitment ceremony, most usually it's the man's name she adopts.  These are vestiges of the premise that women are literally the property of their husbands.  In a lot of places in this country and around the world, the sun hasn't really set yet on that premise.

The panic about gay marriage isn't about the need for the species to reproduce more. If we were rabbits, humans would be finding ways to reduce our population.  The resistance isn't about the natural order of things.  Gay is in the wild as well as the history of the strongest civilizations.  It's not about the Bible.  There are several instances of gay that God doesn't seem to notice. 

When men marry men, they are refusing to own women; when women marry women, they are refusing to be owned by men.  The ownership of women is the linchpin of patriarchy and we are about to pull it out.  The panic is that when we manage to do this, the patriarchy may come down.


When I attend UMass Amherst, I major in sociology.  I choose this major because I want to know the people's stories.  This is because even though I have cynical moments (ach, people, who needs them anyway), I love the people.  I am hungry for a good story.  What I am taught are phrases like abstinence syndrome.  Sociologists get lost in the syllables; we study studies, we study black dots on demographic maps.

These black dots represent people of certain classes, cultures, educational levels and other such groupings.  Sociologists like to look at groups with a good deal of distance between them and the individuals of the groups.  Perhaps they really believe that the dots and numbers tell a story.

In some ways they do offer some information.  For example, when the groupings have to do with poor people of color living in the projects, the black dots are crammed all together in the center of a city.  When the groupings have to do with rich people living in estates, there's more space and room for a person's life.

I take one day away from the university to visit a friend living in New York City.  I am a working class rural woman of color (which I don't realize then).  She is an upper class urban woman. At a drug rehab program I meet up with her; she once is a client and now is a member of the staff.  She introduces me to a young (actually we are all young) poor Puerto Rican woman.  We spend the day at the beach, all of us together.  We are able to converse with each other, enjoy the company of each other even though we come from different realities.

When day is done, we take Maria "home".  Rising from the ground is a cluster of sixty-story buildings in which thousands of people live.  She advises us to stay close with her and not to stray.  As we go up many stories on the elevator, she explains to us that the noise level is always 24/7 as loud as it is now.  I am sure there are studies that talk about the effects of constant noise.  We get off the elevator about midway up the tower and go into her apartment which is hermetically sealed; no windows open and all the sound is shut out.  I am certain there are studies about the deleterious effects of oxygen and sound deprivation.

We sit at her kitchen table and she tells me the story of her eighteen year life.  At fifteen she is a prostitute, at sixteen she is a heroin addict, at seventeen she is raped and all she can think of to say is:  don't mess up my new boots.  The way she tells the stories makes me listen with my whole body; I feel every word.  Then she asks me about my life.

I explain I am going to the university, that I have political activist friends who are working hard to improve the quality of life.  She gathers me in with her fierce ebony eyes and holds me very firmly with them as she says: I want you to go back to the U-ni-Ver-Si-Ty of Massachusettes Am-Herst and I want you to tell your Po-li-Ti-Cal activist friends that they don't know Nothin about My life.

She is not angry with me; she just wants to make sure I have her message and that I will deliver it.  She gives me my work for the whole rest of my life.  I am to tell the stories, mine and hers.  I am to stand at a bus stop and listen intently with my whole body as a perfect stranger tells me the story of life full of pathos and terrible things and profound courage.  I am to know that each dot represents a life.  I am to know that abstinence syndrome means puking up all the pain and sweating out the horror of a life someone has the courage to live.

Ultimately this life's work that she gives me is as described by the poet Muriel Ruckeyser:  time comes into it.  say it. say it.  the universe is made of stories not atoms.


In a recent trip to Oakland, I stand on a side street with three other queer women.  On this corner is a café nobody seems to know the name of but they know where it is and go there.  On the sidewalk all along the front and side of the café are tables and chairs, every single one full.  Among these people within and without the café there is a good number of old seventies Berkeley radical literati.  It has been oh… thirty years since I have seen them.

The seventies is a time of the Black Power, Gay Liberation and Women's Liberation movements.  This is a time of the Berkeley Barb, Black Panthers, Shameless Hussy Press, COINTELPRO.  This is a time when I choose to write sports for PLEXUS which is a small press newspaper of radical notions: producing a women's feminist newspaper, writing about women's sports. 

I am required to go to the news collective meetings which is responsible for reporting a great upsurge of urban political activism.  In the early seventies on occasion in places like New York City or Philadelphia some underground radicals have an accident with the production of explosives.  The resultant explosion takes out them and a tenement block.  There are robberies of large sums of money.  A rich heiress is kidnapped and turned into an urban guerilla (what's known as terrorist and looter in 2004 terminology).

The guerillas are few.  The rest of us are caught up in a high wind of creativity, activity, productivity.  There is an urgency to get it done.  We spend hours talking about what "it" is: feminist presses, women's coffee houses and bookstores, newspapers and magazines, and women's land.   We talk about woman hating, gynocide, music production companies, birth control, sexuality.  We are rushing to dream a new world.  We think we will get "it" done soon.

It is a time when we become aware that the federal government isn't benevolent.  Dissent is not a right, it is a threatening bother.  So the government moves to squelch even the hint of a threat.  It is a time when the government sends provocateurs to blend in with the restless, to stir up trouble where there is none.  It is a time when informants are rampant; if they don't get a good story, they create one.  The government initiates COINTELPRO.  Phones are tapped, people followed, groups infiltrated.

The tactics are aggressive, divisive, destructive, effective.  The social, political movements are set back by pressures from within and without the groups.  The intent is to divide and destroy lawful political dissent.  People lose their jobs; some people lose their sanity, faith, courage; and the lives of many people are unnecessarily shattered.  Not one CIA or FBI detention, action or list is lawful.  Still it happens all over the country.

The nineties are the sixties upside down.  We are suppressed and tricked by the smiley good will of Clinton.  The millennium is the seventies unmasked.  There is no Tricky Dicky (Nixon); we have Master George and Darth Dick.  What happens in the seventies illegally, is now made legal.  The government can spy at will on the citizens of this country and with the blessing of congress.

This is a dangerous moment.  The pretenses have fallen.  We see what we are looking at.  This is a delightful moment.  The reality has risen.  I have seen this before.  I  see what I am looking at.  We have an opportunity now to make this our world, not theirs.  Carpe diem: seize the day, seize the god.  Now is the time to set intention, pick a work, do it, and hold to knowing that it is "dark before dawn".

In this moment I work without fear of Master and Darth because what I know from the seventies is that it is they who are afraid.  In Star Wars the rebels have a long journey of struggle.  There are many scary moments and some unsavory villains.  In the end, the rebels, the Jedi, the Wookies, the robots, the Ewoks are all gathered around.  They are at peace in a great forest.  They drum, sing, chant, feast and speak sweetly with each other.  May it be so for us.


Of late I've been called to stand up with my understanding; be a poet, witness.  I watch, listen and speak what I see hear.  I travel a narrow passage between one side and another.  It's difficult to keep balance and not tip too much one way or another.  This isn't about neutral; this is about following the precipitous trail of truthfulness.

"I've found in poetry that it's better to ignore the facts and tell the truth."  (Ani DiFranco)

When I'm in high school we play various team sports in gym class.  During an inning of softball, I'm playing first base.  A woman from the opposite team smacks a powerful line drive toward the short stop who manages to field it, and she zings it over to me.  It's one of those sports moments when the action is faster than the humans playing the game.

The ball and the runner arrive at the bag at just about the same time with a whisker's width of a difference in timing.  The gym teacher who's umpiring has her view slightly blocked by my body.  She misses the play and doesn't know if the runner is our or safe.  She needs a second opinion.  The runner can't give it because she is only aware of when she hits the bag, not when I catch the ball.

The only person who can answer is the first base player; that would be me.  I know for sure because  I can feel both the runner touch the bag and the ball touch my glove.  The fact is that if I say she's out, my team gets the advantage.  If I say she's safe even if that's true, her team gets the advantage and my team gets even with me.  I could say I don't know, but there's no honor in that kind of obfuscation.  So I answer with what I know to be true from my view of the bag:  the runner is safe.

"The politics worth having, the relationships worth having, demand that we delve still deeper."
(Adrienne Rich, Women and Honor…)

In the early days of my arrival in California I participate in a therapy group.  There are seven of us and the counselor.  One night the counselor throws a Kleenex box into the center of the circle.  She asks: What do you see?  We look at the box; we look at her.  We look at each other' we look at the box.  In the interim created by these silent glances, an exasperated incredulousness grows in us:  we're paying her forty bucks each; that's $280 for two hours worth of work; and here she is asking us the silliest of questions.  We look back at her and a few exclaim in annoyed unison:  It's a dang Kleenex box!

She asks again:  No, I'm asking, what is it that you see?  Now we're absolutely piqued to redness of the face:  just Exactly what is your point; it's a dang Kleenex box!  We fail to notice that this is a Buddhist lesson moment.  The point is actually at least two.  It's a Kleenex box because we, as a group, agree to call it a Kleenex box.  What each one of us sees of the Kleenex box is different depending on where we're sitting in the circle.

Two people sitting across from each other will see not only a different side but different directions.  My left and right is the right and left of the woman across from me.  We all see different sides and ends; and some of us only see extended corners.  These are blocked from each other's view until we describe them.  Even though we can all see the top, we see different angles of the box.  None of us can see the bottom.

I know what my view is; I speak it without alteration or apology.  If someone sees something different, the difference does not make either view untrue.  I don't have to change my view in deference to someone else's; I understand there are different views.  How we honor the group is to describe our view.  How we come into agreement with the group is in the naming of the dang Kleenex box.

Dia de los Muertos

In the sixties the police have the right to harass, beat up and jail lesbians and drag queens.  These are not wanton acts of violence by rogue cops.  The laws of the time clearly state that "sodomy" is a crime.  Gay bars stay open by giving free drinks and payoff cash to cops.  Our protectors are the mafia.

In the seventies lesbians who are married and have been enlightened and are getting a divorce, face the probable loss of custody of their children on the basis that lesbians are unfit mothers just because they are lesbian.  Some lesbians of the time stay married just to be able to keep their children.

In the seventies Harvey Milk is shot to death by a cop turned council member.  He is arrested and goes to trial.  The infamous Twinkie Defense gets him off thereby igniting a large gay riot in San Francisco.  That defense is acceptable in large part because Harvey is gay and Moscone is a gay sympathizer.

In the eighties a man I work with at a women's bar in Oakland is murdered in Concord.  When there are large parties at Ollie's, he shows up in a black cocktail waitress skirt, complete with frilly white apron.  Our current governor would probably call him a girlie man.  This Black Cherokee gay man who survived the Indian reclaiming of Alcatraz is found hanging from a tree in Concord.  No one is ever arrested because his death is ruled a suicide.  I still cannot imagine how he hangs himself with a backpack strap or how while choking he manages to scream.

Around the turn of the millenium there is a case brought to trial regarding the murder of a young Oakland Bay Area transgendered man/woman.  The defense is that the young boys who are involved in doing the fatal beating should be forgiven by the rationale that they are duped and then embarrassed to find out they've been intimate with a man's body.  There is still socially acceptable justification for the  murderers of gays.  The jurors still struggle with the issues because the murder of someone gay is different than the murder of someone who is nongay.

About the same time Arcata high school administration bars Spare Change from doing presentations in part because of the frankness of their presentations about sexuality.  There are some including a school board member who loathe the idea that the group also includes intentional information about the "disgusting lifestyle" meaning those disgusting queers.  Underscore: this is said in Arcata not just in Myers Flat.

In 2005 locally there is a politician whose sons make sport of harassing two neighboring lesbians.  He says of his sons that they are just "boys being boys."  There are young queers being disowned by their families or afraid to come out because they still justifiably fear being cast out by their families. 

In 2006 there will be scores of teenage lives ended by their own hands because the pressure of being queer in high school is too great. They will be harassed either because they are gay or their parents are.  It may even be because of the more benign seeming but pervasive trend among teens to tag anything or anyone odd as being "so gay".

I would like to believe that all this happens in a red state.  Truth is the acts of deadly violence and spirit killing happen everywhere, even in the annoyingly self proclaimed "progressive" city of Arcata.  The savage cruelties of the persistent loathing of gays is still pervasive.

We have come a long way from the sixties.  It is now nearly forty years since the spark that ignited the fire of gay liberation, of our passion for the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness and freedom.  We are one nation and queer folk are vital living people of this nation.

In our rush for rights it is important to know that these rights are useful only to the living and those who are murdered will not enjoy the fruits of our labors.  It is important to remember those we know and those we will know who are killed because they are gay.  May their memory be for a blessing.

Big House

Some time ago one of the Kulture Klatch writings talks about gay marriage.  That writing could leave the impression that I encourage gay marriage.  I do and I don't.  I do because it's a choice, and I encourage the right to choose.  I don't because it's complicity with structures that continue to institutionalize oppression.  Whatever truth is manifested by my life, the same has not ever been legitimized by the Big House.  I am not welcome there.

I remember the night of a fundraising dinner for a foundation that consists of the children of very wealthy massas who live in very big houses.  These children have broken from the strictures of their class and use their money to fund a wide variety of community organizations, the kind that scrap for every dollar and over and over make the miracle of the fishes and loaves.  The speakers include people from the neighborhoods who do everything they can where they live to save lives, create change, manifest dreams.  There are also luminaries such as Joan Baez and Alice Walker.

Surprisingly Harry Belafonte is there.  I first hear him in the sixties and this lesbian is sitting there in the eighties listening to him again.  In the first moments I'm adjusting myself in a time warp.  When we are all one in the sixties seems like a long time ago.  In the seventies separate groups partition into various branches of the liberation movements such as Student Liberation, Black Liberation, Black Power, Black Panther, Women's Liberation, Gay Liberation, and Lesbian Nation.  These all evolve from the Civil Rights Movement in which "Freedom" is the power word.

Harry Belafonte is a radical man of the sixties Civil Rights Movement.  He begins his speech by recounting the changes that have occurred since then:  how many Black mayors, government representatives, fire chiefs there are now.  I have no idea where he's going with this statistical accounting.  I'm looking for the fire, some glimmer of the radical.  He drifts into a story from the Civil Rights Movement.

There's a night when Martin Luther King, Harry and some others eat supper together.  Martin is quiet all through the meal.  Afterwards a group of them remain and gather to drink cognac and smoke cigars.  Harry makes note of King's quiet and inquires as to the reason for it.  The Reverend Dr. King responds that there's a disturbing thought that sticks with him.  He considers all the work they're doing to get into the big house, and the thought occurs now that they're running into a house that's burning down.

I think of the houses that do burn down in the seventies with the bodies of radical groups buried in the ashes.  Houses are surrounded by scores of SWAT cops and federal agents who enter shooting.  Showing warrants, knocking on the door are unused formalities. These days are the beginning of the police tactic to shoot so many tear gas canisters into a building that it's set on fire.  It's easier.  The inhabitants will either come out and often be shot, or burn to death in the fire.

The power of the message rises as Harry chants a litany of causes, freedoms, rights and failure, massacre, genocide.  Each one is followed by the same refrain: we go to them for… and they don't get it done; we go to them for… and they don't get it done.  They don't get it done; why do we still keep going to them.

In the year 2006, it still is not done.  We go to the churches for our dignity and they do not get it done.  We go to the legislatures for our rights, they do not get it done.  We go to the nations for our lives and they do not get it done.  We go to the White House for our invitation and they do not get it done.  We still keep going into a house that is burning down.  It is still not done.  There is nothing inside worth saving.  Freedom is already out on the lawn and it stands inside each one of us.  Let the house burn down to the ground.  As we build anew, Freedom will sing.


In the dimmed past the word "girl" is used to describe both female and male children.  Ever since I've known this I wonder why the word use changes, what original reality the word's concept symbolizes.  It could imply that all people at one time are hermaphrodites.  It could also mean that there is a time when all children are female.

There are women who use the word "womon" to indicate the relationship between woman and the moon.  The nature of that ancient relationship is stolen from us.  Some of us continue to work to recreate myths from the few remaining fragments.  The usage of "women", disconnects us from the moon, notably originates  in the myth of Adam and Eve.  Eve is said to come, not from the moon, but from the rib of Adam.  The archetype underscores the misogynistic arrogance of relegating a woman to a part, a fraction of a man, thereby establishing our relegated role in the patriarchy.

My mother once takes on one of the uncles (married into the family) who is a far right Christian and a rabid sexist.  He makes the mistake of saying to my mother that Eve is made from Adam to serve him and, by genealogical extrapolation, all women are created to serve men.  At which point mother takes umbrage and sticks him with the point that Eve comes from Adam's rib, not his foot, not his head but from his side thereby creating woman equal in stature to him as a partner.  Of course being her daughter and her legacy, I have to go further with the thinking.

When re-viewing what we are told, I look to the part of the story that disappears from the telling.  There's the fragment about Lilith who exists before Adam or Eve and actually is equal in status to God.  Eve is so inspired by Lilith that she deigns to eat an apple of wiccan knowledge.  When the story part destined to become a lie is added that Eve is created from the rib of Adam and thereby less than he is, Lilith leaves the Garden of Eden by her own will.  She realizes that the menage-a-trois of two patriarchs and one woman is going to lead to absolutely no good.

She leaves Eve with her freedom to choose, to stay or go.  Eve stays hoping that she can change things.  She needs all her wits about her so she eats from the Tree of Knowledge.  God gets angry, Adam wimps out.  Even so, Eve decides to go with Adam.  I don't understand why she would miss the opportunity to go off in search of Lilith.  The fragmentation begins with that separation.

Wemoon are separated from our ancestry, stories, cultural heratage; we are separated from our past as Lilith and Eve are separated from each other in the myth.  I suppose in part I don't understand Eve's choice because I'm a lesbian woman/womon.  By connotation lesbians are driven from the whole of womon, defined in such a way as to imply that because I am sexual with women, that I am more man than woman.  There is another trick of patriarchal language.  Nowhere in the word lesbian is there any indication that we are connected with women, that we are wemoon, womon connected originally with the moon and Lilith.

Words change intentionally to reflect the structural reality of the world.  Language has the power of symbolic magic which is probably why the Bible's creation myth has Adam obsessively naming everything.  It symbolizes his "power over" all other creatures including women.  Yet his is a false power because no man has yet figured out how to obliterate our true origin.  The memories are carried in our blood even if the genes have gotten screwed up somewhat.  Now, there are girls and boys rather than just girls.

A lesbian is still a woman and a woman is still connected with the moon which has the power to move oceans, influence the people, to hold and reflect the great light of the sun.  If we remember our origin we will discover the knowledge.  With that knowledge we'll become whole, the Garden will be restored and Lilith will return.


Sometime in the eighties I work in Tony Serra's law office.  (It's not on my resume).  Serra's firm is a gaggle of leftie lawyers.  That moment is similar to the moment in which I find myself now:  dedicating myself to giving up my routined life for the uncertainties of being the poet, performance artist.  I have part-time jobs mostly and fill in the budget deficit with odd jobs such as work as transcriber for Serra.

Their big case is an assignment from the federal government.  (The same government that recently jails him on the ruse of tax evasion.)  It's a spy case covered in the papers because it's a big deal.  The man supposedly sells secrets to the Russians.  The FBI goes into his home and steals, excuse me, appropriates all of his anything:  files of credit and utility bills, correspondence and tapes. The man and his wife correspond by tape.  It's my job to transcribe those many, many tapes.

There isn't often anything of much importance to the case.  This is correspondence typical of married couples distanced from each other including mundane daily details: I'm gonna be home on this date; I got the leaking faucet fixed.  Every once in awhile there's mention of kugerands which are gold coins.  This is subject matter due attention along with even seemingly insignificant dates because chronology is important too.

Even though it's for his defense, I feel disrespectful because I'm eavesdropping on private conversation.  Sometimes my mind wanders as I listen and type mechanically, shutting off any emotion I feel about the current circumstance of these people's lives.  Aside from some heartfelt political conversations, usually spoken on the porch or in the parking lot, I necessarily make it pretty humdrum work.

The humdrum is disturbed during a meeting even I attend.  It's a warning meeting to alert us to be careful of our conversations.  Some of the lawyers have met with the fed prosecutors who alarmingly exactly quote back to our lawyers, privileged and private conversations we think we're having with ourselves. It's apparent from these quotes that the feds have wiretapped our offices.

I sit there and all the chill and madness from experience with the FBI COINTELPRO action of the seventies returns.  Perhaps they assign this case to Serra as an excuse to get into Serra's offices.  Their true interest may not be a spy's defense; it may be an offense to spy on lefties.  It's hard to sit in my seat; I want to run.

After that meeting, I have an earnest conversation with one of the lawyers…in the parking lot although we're aware of the feds' capability of listening with electronic devices from parked vans.  I speak of the prickliness that comes from the heat of personal experience with government mad dogs.  I say that I'm not ready to give myself up, to have them jail me on extenuating circumstances, in-passing associations.  I don't return to work after that.

What the feds do now with the Patriot Act is what they do in the seventies; only then it's illegal, now it isn't.  If I'm ever arrested by the feds, I want to be sure it's clear why they're arresting me: because I'm a poet witness and they're afraid of what I know, what I say after I say what I know to a whole lot of people.  I hold to the seventies motto: we can't really stop them; we can make it as difficult for them as possible; work publicly so a lot of people know we act in good faith exercising our inalienable rights.  They can silence us individually.  Yet the sheer weight of collective poet witnesses' words will accumulate until our voices' vibrations change the tune and bring down the system.

I am a poet; for that I'm prepared to be arrested.  From that point let the six degrees of separation be created as I make it as difficult as possible for them to commit their crimes; I'm watching and saying what I see them do.  Whatever each of us chooses as our part:  choose it, do it.  Make it difficult for them until they're removed from their offices or even their offices are removed.


A new-becoming friend takes me to a place called Fossil Bluff.  It's rather amazing and kind of an adventure.  It's in Scotia (the land of PALCO timber).  The path to the bluff is right across the road from the gargantuan Very Yellow Palco mill building that's seen from 101; and reminds me quite a lot of a dinosaur.  This is the first time I've set foot on the devil's soil.  The clay bluff has many fossils of sea shells.  I'm astounded: once upon quite a long time ago the ocean was up that far on the land; currently it's about several miles away.

To get to the bluff requires crossing a longish railroad trestle.  Hoo shit.  For awhile I'm walking the open ties which have rather large spaces in between allowing for a view of the distance between trestle and terra.  Them's some hard earned sea shell fossils.    At various moments, I consider stopping and turning around.  So I change this walk into an extreme challenge strolling meditation.  Suddenly revelation comes and what the new-becoming friend has said, gets my attention.  There's a supporting beam to the side, under the ties so it blocks the sight of land far below.  Phew.

As we return to leave, we see a guy closing and locking the 10-foot high chain link fence gate; he hasn't seen us.  I think to my self that while I probably could climb the fence if someone is chasing me, I'd really prefer not to clamber over the obstacle.  He still hasn't seen us.  He gets in his landroverish SUV, drives a bit away, stops at her car; gets out of his vehicle, looks in hers.  We both are waried by this so I distract him by yelling in big voice:  We're here.  Thereby I'm overlooking that draws attention to us, and temporarily forgetting we're on the devil's soil.

While he's backing up, I'm staving off images from a Massachusetts memory of an idyllic moment being created between two women lovers on the brink of fully expressing that love in a patch of woods surrounded by the Fall scent of maple and oak leaves.  Apparently this patch of heaven is owned by a New England farmer who comes to check out who isn't supposed to be and who is on his land.  He has a shot gun in his hands.  This is an uh-oh moment; such farmers aren't reluctant to use their shot guns and the general population at the time isn't reluctant to hate lesbians.  We get out of the jam with wit.

In the present moment I'm calling out to a guy who also is a guard of property, and also is about to encounter two lesbians, albeit friends.  He returns to the gate, leans out his window.  There's kind of an awkward pause moment.  I ask him if he's going to let us out.  I say this with a bemused and perhaps slightly charming smile.  He kind of smirks as he exits his SUV like he knows how to drive trucks, Very Big Trucks.  He approaches jeaned and big buckle belted; he lets us out, mumbling something about trouble with tree sitters so he's been locking the gate.  I get an awkward silence in me.

He sees our rock picks and surmises we've been fossil digging and then goes into a brief acknowledgment of his childhood memory about going to the bluff.  I show him one of my gifts.  And I don't know what comes over me:  I note that the bluff is all shell fossils so the ocean musta been there.  Even though he's one of the my-family-has-been-here-for-four-generations timber-people, a look comes from his eyes like he's never considered that.  He looks like how I feel when I realize that reality at the beginning of this adventure.

I ask if he supposed the ocean would come back.  Standing on the devil's soil, the devil comes into me:  I note that would be a true restoration.  Again I speak with the bemused smile.  Then cross-stereotype and conveying a sense of nostalgic loss, he protests that would mean the end of the trees.  Nothing is said about the loss of the people or of the mill.


I’m stuck terribly stuck this month because there’s much to write about that I don’t want to write about because these are things that I’ve been writing about,  about which much has been written and about which I really wish to say nothing more ever again.

When I say that I’m a bit tired of being called “princess” by a guy who’s flirting with me, a guy responds: oh he always calls everyone princess.   Well no actually he doesn’t call the guys princess; he doesn’t even call them prince.  When a guy passes by me and puts his hands on my shoulders and even though he isn’t being salacious, he is in part doing this because I’m a woman.  He doesn’t do this with men.

When  I wander aimlessly in a store, staff seem to have been instructed to sort out the genders of customers even though it’s not necessary to genderize to assist me to find an item.   There is an insistent persistence to genderize.  Yet, even though humanity has done this for some time, the length of practice hasn’t improved discernment.    At least half the time, I am called “sir”. I’d like to shout:  don’t call me “sir”! It’s a bit aggravating because I rather like being a woman.

Oh there seems to be the good old days when women wear skirts and men wear pants even though we all know there are many exceptions to these presumptions based on costuming even in the old days.  Even though one notes the exceptions and exemptions such as drag queens, geishas, Joan of Arc, Amazons – there have been whole eras when there is some confidence  in genderizing even though the necessity for doing so has never been clear. Apparently lesbian is not a category of gender.

It’s amazing how people inquire about being a lesbian while deftly avoiding having to say the word.  It’s almost as if people expect to be turned to stone if they use the word.  On the other hand there are those who use the word without comprehension, perhaps attempting to be kool without having response-ability to reality.  There’s the recurring use of “he/she/it is so gay” and the  emerging use of the phrase “honorary lesbian”.

The other day I’m asked:  when did I know.   (Note that lesbian is missing from the question.)  I am fifty-nine, out for three and a half decades; and it’s been a very long time since I’ve been asked that question.  As many times as I’ve been asked that question, I still don’t understand its relevance.  It’s really only relevant that I am and I know that I am a lesbian.

The more salient consideration for me is that I know and am so.  With so many signs, sign posts, instructions, propaganda, pictures, words, costumes, accessories constructed to establish gender and the roles thereby defined, I still manage to be my own woman and manage to discover that I’m lesbian.  When I come out there aren’t even many books on the subject;  Ellen de Generes isn’t born yet.

The other part of the conversation being deftly avoided is that the people who ask never once question the why of not being a lesbian.   They don’t ask; they don’t tell.  Sometimes I want to say, even though it may be deliciously impolite,  that it’s a lack of strong character on their parts and in their weakness they cave to the prevalent peer pressure.

I don’t.  I keep writing repetitiously snippits and tidbits here and there, suffer being called “sir”.  I still don’t cave to peer pressure.  I’m raised in the same kind of family found commonly in the country.  I go to the same schools, grow up eating hot dogs in white buns.  My beaded hospital baby bracelet is pink like other girl’s in the forties, I still grow up to be a lesbian who says that as many times as I have to even though it’s a word that gets stuck in the throat and often seems awkwardly said like it has way more syllables than it does.  The gender of the word lesbian is feminine.  No matter the gender roles, genderization isn’t working to keep some women stuck in place.