Friday, December 31, 2010

The Fireplace Screen

As the fuzzball sun nestles in scratchy southward trees on somnolent backstreets, the Flaneur, weary from the season of joy, captures his fleeting impressions.

Seated next to me in the Berkeley BART station is a seventeen year old girl with blue and white flower-colored bangs and a little hipster soft hat. She is reading an old used book and it's the same edition of William Blake poetry that I read when I was her age. She is lovely and warm when I tell her so and we enthuse about Blake. I sing her a little of "The Tyger" to demonstrate how he tuned his poems. She opens to a color-reproduction of his illumination of the poem and dear William Blake is reaching across the centuries to two lovers of poetry. It's an epiphany of inter-generational conviviality and the feeling lasts after my train pulls in and we say goodbye.

big black crow sails up
in a yellow ginkgo tree
the noiseless back street

A warm December afternoon beckons so I grab my bag and head down to the Marina. A quiet scene awaits me there strolling past the forest of sailing boats on the docks, past the faceless hotels so remote from day-to-day Berkeley that they could be anywhere. Cruise boats with idle crews await their next batch of marks. My destination is the rolling hills where people fly kites or otherwise frolic about. I'm taking a shoreline route that traces the shape of this man-made peninsula. The vista of Berkeley is all-inclusive from the flatlands to the crest of the hills with all the landmarks from a weird little hill in El Cerrito to the Campanile to Mormon Temple in the Oakland hills. Way off to the right one sees the high-rise crowd in downtown oakland and of course over one's shoulder over the green hilly park lies the Bay, San Francisco and massive Marin culminating in Mount Tamalpais, and beyond that the Pacific ocean and vast sweeping Western sky.
As I traverse the topography in a brisk walk, I approach two bird-watchers carrying huge binoculars mounted on tripods. I see a large bird take off and lead the two fellows farther along the coast. They proceed after it and I continue along after them. When I catch up they are in observation formation focussing on a marginal area roped off to keep people away from wild life. Last time I visited we saw the usual rock-dweling squirrels, and subterraneous ground hogs there and also a dark gray hare with the long ears of a jackrabbit throwing elongated shadows on a large rock. Today a red-tailed hawk a foot-and-a-half tall is standing and looking back at the two motionless bird-watchers who whisper to each other excitedly. I continue past them and just past the hawk who scrutinizes me casually and sit down half-concealed by an earthworks wall. This situation continues for quite a while until two bicyclists pull up from behind me. One lingers back near me but the other your big typical blonde big-bearded self-satisfied guy who looms on the trail above the hawk on his bicycle oblivious to how threatening his bulk might appear to it. Naturally it decides there are too many loutish humans for its liking and it launches itself over the water as various diving birds all dive to avoid it.
I shove-off just then myself along the lonesome trail in the mild marine air. Then as I round the far point of the trail there on a lamp post is either the same hawk or another identical example of the species. I come very near to being even with it when it swoops down toward the water passing within a few feet of me and not without inspiring a trace of alarm. It's splendid reddish coloration and the speckled markings on every feather are displayed to me in vivid detail. It is a thrill and a vision of power elevates me, inspires me and somehow perhaps changes me forever.
Returning wearily to the bus stop after my long hejira, I witness the once-an-hour bus hurl past the desolate outpost and race away without me. So it's the long haul walking the bridge over the horrific highway to the Amtrak station bus stop. On the conspicuous and else-wise deserted bridge I occasionally gesture to drivers crawling underneath by pinching me nose with one hand and making a thumbs-down gesture with the other

Dig the little fire in the hearth.

This year's Christmas Ghost story takes the form of a spectral occurrence in the skies on the longest night of the year. It is the first time the Solstice and a full-linar eclipse have coincided in 372 years. The spooky tide of darkness interrupted only by a short spell of pale daylight takes on a portentous tone as anticipation of the eclipse hangs over the day. A thin veil of cloud fails to obscure the mighty full moon rise which I observe from my figurative tree house window. Then on a night misty mild by most standards, sometime after ten the first bite is removed from the pie. The darkness of outer space eats itself and the moon is slowly devoured over the next ninety minutes or so. I bring my wrap-up down to the dark-end of the street for the denouement, the smoke curls into the fraught sky. Then it is gone. There was a moment of observation of its new roseate timpany that is almost immediately occulted by swelling clouds. In the dark night even the darkened moon is removed.

on the night of the solstice
full lunar eclipse
I saw a pattern of black ants
on the wall in a dream

Ray's smoking Grand-daddy

I have a dear friend I don't see very often though I pass by her home a few times a week. Her name is Mary Fabilli and she is a forthcoming saint. I became acquainted with her at the Roman Catholic Mass at 5 0'clock at the chapel at St Albert's college. For a long time it was Mary who prayed near me and with whom I began to walk to the bus stop after Mass. She was in her mid-eighties by then.
When she learned I was a poet and she surprised me by saying she had known Robert Duncan a poet of the Berkeley/San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the forties and fifties. And yet still I lingered in my obscured thinking. Even when I put a call out for new Catholic poetry and received a submission from another well-recognized poet of the Berkeley Renaissance Mary Fabilli, the coin had not yet dropped.
Finally after Mass one evening Mary said to me, "Well, what do you think of my poem?" I had only ever seen a couple of photographs of Mary Fabilli, and one which I had seen recently at that time was in a book entitled "Women of the Beat Generation." The photo showed a middle-aged poet with her hair piled-up on top, smoking a cigarette and it just hadn't registered that this bohemian poet was the snowy-haired saint I prayed alongside in church. She had dropped out of the poet's public life quite a while ago and never gave readings or talks. Her new work appeared in the small press traffic but received little notice anymore. Her name appeared mainly in the histories and biographies of herself and her associates. As a consequence, I had never laid eyes on her despite my twenty years in the San Francisco Bay area with an avid readiness to go and meet her.
We laughed that day in the peaceful chapel courtyard and a few months later I published her poem in a collection called Jubilation (even though her poem was more one of protest). What was more astonishing, she agreed to attend the publication reading at Moe's books on Telegraph Avenue. Astonishing not just because she once wrote in a poem of walking on Telegraph with Duncan many years ago and stating "I don't walk there anymore," but because she never read her poetry in public in her life.
The night of 19 January 2001 entered literary history when she was joined there by a dozen fellow contributors and by her contemporary poet Philip Lamantia. She and Philip had been colleagues in the Poetry Renaissance in the forties but had not seen each other in fifty years. The whole story would really merit another essay: how Lamantia read the same poems for a Catholic group in Washington DC that same day. He was ushered straight from the airport to the reading at the last moment and made his first eye contact with a radiant Mary only after taking the lectern himself. The night opened up like a cathedral ceiling when these two great souls met again and spoke.
I later edited a volume of Mary's recent poetry entitled Pious Poems. It was published at her suggestion by my own Beat Books imprint. We spent time together at her home where, with her hearing loss and my increasing hearing loss, we enjoyed quiet conversation. We very rarely do any longer but are planning a visit, when her age and frailty and my own various states of being permit. We have also written to each other across town quite a lot. I donated her letters and cards along with my other archives to the Bancroft library at the University of California in Berkeley. I received a long, fairly undecipherable multi-page missive from her as recently as this November and somehow I got through most of it.
So on the feast of St Stephen, a friend with a camera visited and we went over to her quaint and holy house to take a photograph of this place in the heart. She was no doubt with her sister Lily for Christmas and so I didn't knock. I'll write to her to arrange a visit and spare my blood pressure the effort of a semi-deaf phone call.
She has lived there quite a long time and lives there still as the year turns again. When I pass by on a bus as I often do I make the sign of the cross and say an Ave Maria as if I was passing a church, or, in this case, the home of a saint.

One night on my midnight walk, which now occurs more often at eleven o'clock, I noticed more than the usual clutter in front of the hallowe'en die-hard house down the block. A couple of plastic bags full of small paper boxes had been put out for recycling. Amid the dangling spiders, fake cobwebs, and half-buried bones were dozens of empty cartons for some inscrutable product, all with a printed pattern in one bright primary color. I selected all the red ones and came home to construct this year's impromptu Christmas centerpiece display. I assembled a toy fireplace festooned with vintage elements including my late Mom's home-made needle-point and knitted items that had come in the mail over the years. Arranged on top of the fridge, this little oven of Santa-anticipation with its glow-in-the-dark Baby Jesus halo candle crown has charmed visitors of all ages.

A Christmas Blessing to you.