Saturday, September 30, 2006

Amelia and the Chickens

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction) Part 14

I am thoroughly urban. I am more comfortable standing somewhere on Montgomery Street in San Francisco then anywhere else in the world. The little marble tables in North Beach, the fresh killed black-footed chickens hanging in the shops in Chinatown, the retro smell of fresh baked bread from some lunch shop in the Financial District, cheap cut flowers everywhere.

I still have a coloring book of The Saints I picked up at the Catholic store on the floor here when I was in the market for a rosary in my witchy phase.

So it is no surprise really that I got lost in the woods when I went to the one and only “Writer’s Workshop” I’ll ever go to, “Flight of the Mind”. I went the last year Judith and Ruth ran it. Beautiful spot on the McKenzie River, I loved the huge dragonflies and white butterflies that accompanied me through the dry grass labyrinth at this retreat center in Southern Oregon.

The place was pretty darn rustic. I am used to wandering off by myself and had done so in the afternoons a few days before the day I fatefully fell for the scrap of caution tape tied to a tree as my marker for a return to civilization.

Some forest workers were actually doing something with that tree so when I blissfully headed back in the late afternoon light I had not a care in the world other than to think how strange and sad it was that at the assignment earlier in the day in poetry class, when asked to write a poem to an unborn child every other woman in the class wrote one to a miscarried or aborted child.

I took the assignment literally and imagined Amelia. A child I may or may not ever have. And wrote about the world she might or might not come into.

I thought I was mistaken and the tree must be just over here, down this kind of sort of trail there, as I totally and completely managed to get myself in the underbrush and disoriented. I know nothing of the life cycle of pollywogs or what one is supposed to do in a situation like this but have blind faith it will all work out.

Like some crazed deer I stood stick still and used all my senses, heightened by fear and feeling like an idiot and then headed off in a stumbling branch and bramble poking in every possible place of uncovered skin extravaganza as I blundered off.

And I was lucky.

I managed to find a house with a naked woman sunning herself on a lounge chair placed in the rough driveway. She was as startled as I was when I burst out into the clearing.

As cool as a filthy young poet can be I strolled down that driveway to the road below and made my hasty retreat back to the company of all those hungry wanna be women writers and the blessed sound of the dinner bell.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday - Part 13- Forever

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction)

Early on in seeing Peter I got in the habit of bringing a poem I was working on or one of Christian’s. I did this for a very specific reason. I wanted him to know that we were “real” poets. The distinction was critical to our work together I thought. I desperately wanted my work to be taken seriously.

And that was exactly what wasn’t happening in the chapbook workshop. My experience wasn’t valid because I was younger than most of the participants and had no academic underpinning.

Just like a painter who paints from life I write from life and pretty soon into seeing Peter the stuff that came up in our sessions together started making its way into my poems.

It set up this feedback loop that became more and more intense. It was like being engaged in this hothouse environment where I finally had a perfectly wonderful audience once a week for an hour. I could relax, I could stretch out, and I could bloom.

At the end of the workshop we had to go out alone to the teacher’s house for a “private” critique of our manuscript. The thing about the teacher is that while she desperately wanted to be taken seriously as well, (her father was some hotshot academic at a prestigious school back east) she isn’t the brightest bulb on the block.

She was self-important, good natured, well intentioned and energetic from her pit of ambition, but clueless. She massacred my manuscript.

She didn’t understand the poems or the editorial arc of the positioning and I honestly felt like we were not speaking the same language. I just let it wash over me.

And besides… I had Christian to talk to and Peter to look forward to. I think I smoked a whole pack of cigarettes that afternoon, though.

It was only a few weeks later that things started to change with Peter.

At first I kind of sort of ignored it. Actually I kind of sort of ignored it for way too long. He was looking at me differently. His body language towards me changed subtly.

I so wanted him to not be interested in me.
I so wanted him to be interested in my poetry.

The images, the line, the shape and substance. I wanted that so badly that I ignored the sharp little competitive comments about Christian, the laughter and intensity of the whole thing.

Christian started to notice a change. And he too would make sharp little barbed comments about Peter.

This time that was supposed to be about me and my stupid raging hunger and body image problems and my frustrations and difficulties getting recognition for my work was turning into something not about me at all.

So you tell me what I was supposed to think when my therapist, this former monk, Zen Priest, PhD in Psychology told me that he loved me and that he would love me forever?

(And when a Zen Priest tells you something is forever, he isn’t kidding.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction)

Part 12

Drives me crazy, not having titles and as it seems like I’ve completely taken over this blog from my kind publishers, I’m thinking you can assume unless stated otherwise that for the moment any posts here are by me. Stand by for titled entries, okay?

I’ve written so many poems inspired by the Chinese Garden it was like visiting a lost love yesterday, a love that has gone on and become something more than when you knew him. My favorite part was the Chinese Buddhist nun being shown around by her Western handler, the ubiquitous slim serious middle-aged follower.

The nun was full of fun and laughter as she was reading the banners with poems about spring and snow.

The two most impressive people I have ever “met” were Tibetan Buddhist practitioners. Gehlek Rimpoche , who looked like a bullet headed mobster in his black shirt and tie totally knocked my socks off and Tenzin Palmo who was born in England and is a Westerner who made the transition to fully ordained nun.

She is kind and funny and absolutely direct. When she looks at you she sees you. She has learned how to so get out of her own way.

I’m thinking about this Buddhist thing because of my dad and because of Peter. Before he got his doctorate in psychology he was a Buddhist monk living in the Zen center in LA. He gave up his vows, married and had a son, but he still teaches meditation and has a center and a group of fiercely loyal followers here.

He wears dark clothes all the time and has his hair close-cropped. I remember the first time I ever saw him I talked to him about Original Sin. I was explaining Christian to him, my Christian, not the religion and our poetic companionship.

Which was a lead in to talking about this workshop I was taking on how to make a prizewinning chapbook manuscript. It was truly awful.

Once a week at this woman’s expensive home in the burbs, upstairs in her writing space. There was only one guy, but of course he got the most respect, as he was a star student of David Bicycle, the head of the local writing workshop “space” called The Kitchen. Bicycle’s claim to fame was a shot at the US Olympic Curling team, not a bad poet, a beloved teacher. Our teacher had just published a chapbook of his work.

The star student was well off financially and a successful attorney in the “real” world. Some insurance company published a bunch of his truly mediocre poems in an insert in The New Yorker last year. I wonder how much he paid for that.

Anyway, I liked Peter and felt comfortable with him as he seemed to be most knowledgeable about the things a therapist should be knowledgeable about and he had a sense of humor and I wasn’t attracted to him and I got the vibe he was truly concerned about me and my poetry and my weird relationship to food which is why I was there in the first place.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Rose had tea at the Chinese Garden this afternoon. She thinks it important to always have some color on the page.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction)

Part 11

I’ve been busy, okay? reading and having a minor nervous breakdown. (I used to have a boyfriend who would tell me I read too much. Now he sends me emails about George Orwell.) Oh, Ativan, my Ativan, the absinthe of the modern world.

Hey, it’s better than rocks in the old pockets now isn’t it?

One of the books I read was The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird. Lots of foot stomping and over the top chick lit drama, but one part did get me thinking…

The more outgoing character tells the more wallflower type character before a heavily freighted audition, talking about the older star performer, “You do everything she does except compete. Story of your life in a nutshell.”

“Girls always wait for the world to give them things. To see the sweet, smart, obedient girls they are, then paste a star on their foreheads. It doesn’t work that way. The things you really want you have to take…”

There is a nice rhyme in there.

I don’t know, maybe it is the home county, one quarter Chinese, blood in my veins, but ever since I met him Christen has been hammering me with the same message.

The thing is people do give me things. Clothes and first class tickets and… well—men do.

I had a date on Sunday with this world-renowned classical pianist that was in town. We went to the art museum. We saw the lovely Japanese wood block prints of birds and flowers. The ones I like best were hand sewn into these beautiful books. He wouldn’t stop talking. All about how he owns a print by this guy or that and look at this detail or that.

A real collector. The good news is that he bought me a membership in the museum so for the next year I can go whenever I want. He said when he kissed me goodbye on the forehead that he’ll think of me there, a beauty among beauties…

Yeah, yeah.

Man, he had extraordinary expressive hands that played me well.

This competition thing though, it is up for me right now. And of course the food thing and my doctor was telling me yesterday he thought well maybe it is time for more talk therapy and I didn’t really want to tell him that my last experience with talk therapy was a disaster and that it well kind of umm fucked me up…

And that got me thinking about how hopeful I was when I first went to see Peter in his spare Zen office down at John’s Landing with the atrocious Ikebana on the table.

The bad flower arrangement should have been a tip off to the trouble to come but I was so wrapped up in my hurt and wonder at the rejection I was receiving in the “Poetry Community” that my trouble ahead radar wasn’t working and he was highly recommended by someone I trusted.

Goes to show you never can tell…

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction)

Part 10

God, this place is a mess! I need new clothes. What happens when I need something new is that I try on everything in about 50 different combinations before I go out and I end up with piles on the ballroom floor under the windows.

My dad was a bond trader in San Francisco and when I was little and very very good sometimes I could go to his office, a high rise. They all had these pretty empty offices with piles of paper stacked neatly in front of the floor to ceiling windows. So when I throw a tiny sea green layering t-shirt on a stack of other clothes under the bell shaped windows I think of him.


Jack had me read my poem outloud to the workshop group. No problem. I am an experienced reader, my voice only quavered at first. Then he asked the group, “So what does it mean???” Dead silence. Silencio.

It killed me, that silence.

Broke my heart. He even tried giving hints…”Do you think it might be about…” No one spoke up. Everybody just made nice nice and after awhile he told some story and mumbled about the benefits of clear writing and moved on.

Later, Christian, my champion, said to Jack privately, “It is about death you know, her poem.” Jack, said, “Of course it is about death! I knew that but they didn’t.”

Love and sex and death.

When it comes down to it every poem that matters is about those things in some way. Even poems about the inevitability of regret are about loss, which is a kind of a death.

So here is my hint to you, if you ever find yourself in an odious overpriced workshop and can’t think of a thing to say about somebody else’s work, ask yourself what part of love, sex and/or death is it about and get a clue and say something intelligent, okay? Somebody's heart is most likely at risk.

There was this middle-aged woman in that workshop that could not stop talking. After about four hours of her nervous nonsensical ramblings I thought I was just going to deflate and die right there on the spot. It was exhausting.

I wonder what she said to herself when she went home. If she had any awareness that her compulsive babbling was killing anything that even resembled a creative or an intuitive spark or passing on of some august teaching?

The other day I asked a receptionist at this office I was in if she was okay, she had this odd little bandage on her face and not only did I get the story of her frightening trip to the dermatologist, I am not sure how but that turned into a description of the place she wanted to have her son’s birthday party and then, and then as I am trying desperately to back away and out of there a description of the death of each of three kittens she brought home from the Humane Society!

Where in there, in my inquiry about her wellbeing did I give her permission to tell me that! Eek.

Poetry, the art of saying so much with so few words.

The antithesis of our modern world.

I think my cell phone is probably under one of those piles of clothes. I am ignoring the ringing.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction)

Part 9

Angie and Beth have alternative sources of income, the band gigs sometimes do pay and the modeling of course does. Plus they have...well…parents.

I, on the other hand have been chosen by this stupid avocation that pays nothing but the leering affected lust of older men with no resources unless they teach. Oh to be Jane Kenyon and “discovered” in class by Donald Hall! Discovered in bed too I am sure.

Everybody says I should go for my MFA at some prestigious school where I can sleep with the right assholes to get me connected enough to get a book. How many blowjobs would it take I wonder? How much spanking?

Anyway, a few years ago still all bright eyed and believing I got excited because the amazing poet Jack Gilbert was coming to Portland. He was going to read at PSU and then teach an all day master class at Mountain Writers.

Christian and I scraped together our meager resources to pay for memberships and the workshop. We had to submit to Jack of course first but that wasn’t a worry. I picked one of my best poems. Christian is a hoarder of his best work and picked a lighter metrical poem he thought would be cheerful. Jack hated it, but that is another story.

Jack was 86 back then and losing it. He recited from memory at the reading and lost track a few times and it was painful to watch. But still you know it was the mysterious brilliant Jack who had won the Harvard Younger Poets and then went off to live in Greece with Linda and Japan to marry again and break her heart.

But now he was back and we found him in the kitchen the next morning at Mountain Writers talking to a pale hung over looking Dorrianne Laux about money. Or lack there of.

A scene I have seen, since repeated again and again between “famous” living poets when they get together. Jack told us later in that same kitchen, Christian and me, the only reason he was doing these loathsome workshops was for the money. He was broke.

Jack started off the workshop talking about meeting Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s and hanging out with William Carlos Williams in the basement while his wife made dinner. I was totally blown away.

And blown away too when Jack, not knowing at that point which of the participants belonged to which poem, had one in his hand and muttered to himself outloud, “Think of the mind that wrote this poem, think of it!”

This is from a man who met Ezra Pound who was the guy who shepherded T.S. (…and the fire and the rose are one fucking) Eliot! I could feel a sense of lineage all the way down into my toes...

And he was talking about my mind and my poem.

That offhand compliment is most likely the best praise I will ever receive in the arc of my creative life…