Monday, November 02, 2009

Summer Seems :Like a Dream

Malakai Spencer at the center of the universe.

We spoke with our wonderful grandson, Malakai by Skype on Sunday.  He is a charming lad, obcessed with soccer (Chelsea, please) and baseball--which is hard to come by in London, England.  This summer, we had a great time with Malakai and our son Andrew.  For two weeks, Malakai lived the life of an American boy--hiking in State Parks, walking to the post office, picking blackberries in the village, playing with our dog, Puccini.  It seems very far away, now.  I hope he knows how much we love him and how often we think of him. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Do Not Want To Talk About

I do not want to talk about
how pretty I looked in that
pink taffeta dress with
with a rhinestone fleur-de-lis
hair plaited in long, loose braids
sidewinder glance mad smile

I was smiling but I seethed

I was not happy that day
I am still not happy about that day
when they shucked my dirty boots
and tried to pry me into a pair of
black patent Mary Janes so torturous
my uncle threw them in the fire

I felt Joan of Arc at my side, and her triumph

I am not happy about what
happened subsequently, it always
took too many angry people to
get me dolled up, my mother
pointing to the burning shoes
I don’t want to talk about

what happened next

©2009 Viola Weinberg

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shake, Rattle and Book - SF Earthquake 1989

Any memoir of the San Francisco 1989 earthquake must begin with my old friend, Victor di Suvero.

He had everything to do with my whereabouts and frame of mind in that moment.  On October 17 at 5:04 p.m., I was sipping an espresso at Caffe Roma in San Francisco's North Beach.  It was the happiest day of my life yet.  I had spent the afternoon with Scott Beach, Gerry Nicosia, and Victor di Suvero dwaddling over a late lunch, practicing for our reading, "Love in the Afternoon," for the San Francisco Poetry Festival opener.  It was a raucus afternoon with many bottles of red wine emptied and booming poets' voices bouncing off the room Victor rented for our lunch in the back of a restarant that had some Beat associations. 
Victor di Suvero at Pennywhistle Press Santa Fe, NM Office 2008

That day, I remember noting the faded red and very flocked wallpaper, the nicks and bare streaks in old captain's chairs where we sat.  Clearly, we were all happy about a free lunch. We shreiked with laughter at Victor's sly jokes.  Gerry promised to read one of my favorite Verlaine poems in French and took a copy of the book.

Scott Beach

Scott, a legendary member of The Committee and a long time DJ on KKHI (a renown classical music station the Bay Area), was sad--as he emptied his bottle, he seemed to come alive.  What a witty and quick mind!  I also knew Scott's wife, Neva. 

It was a giddy day--and not just from the wine.  My chapbook, The Sum Complexities of the Humble Field, was being published by Pennywhistle Press, a passionate project of Victor's.  He savors the role of editor, but is also a fine poet.  The book party was scheduled for later on at City Light's books.  It was also the launch of Pennywhistle Press' series which was designed to release six chapbooks in "passport design" every year.  Very ambitious, but Victor knew no bounds. 

When the rehearsal ended, I declined the offer of a lift.  I wanted to walk, stride through the small streets of the Marina up to North Beach proper, dallying along the way to let small miracles and heart-thumping light sweep my head free of intellectual notions.  San Francisco, the city of multiple small pleasures and intense beauty.  I have always loved it.

Striding along, I thought of San Francisco's racy past.  I was making my way through the Barbery Coast area when I thought about the 1906 earthquake--and how wonderful it was that there were still survivors who gathered at Lotta's Fountain each year to celebrate their experience.  And that was all the thought I gave to earthquakes.  Other things occupied me: the snapping blue skies; the water flowing superfiscially over the bay as if over a mirror.

I thought of my wonderful friends who were coming that evening for the party: other writers, many of my music-related pals, artists and visionaries.  My interns from Food First were coming.  One, Uri, was bringing a huge wheel of cheese and a case of wine to the party.  He had stopped to pick up the supplies after class at UC Berkeley in his little Volkswagon convertible.  We were set to go.

With such happiness in my head, I saw the open windows of Caffe Roma.  It was empty, around 4 p.m., so I took a seat there, breathing in the tropical air and ordering lazily.  When the espresso came, I remember thinking how wonderful life was.  My life was far from perfect, but on that day, I was happy, really happy.

After our party at City Lights, we scheduled a real wingding at Spec's Bar across the alleyway.  Spec's is a real San Francisco haunt.  The place is small, rather like sitting in a train car. 
Elly, Spec's daughter at the bar in Spec's

One wall is one step of liquor after another, across a mirror.  Spec Simmons -- who founded the bar and who was still the bar tender -- was getting ready for the influx from City Lights when the earthquake struck.

Spec Simmons at the entrance to Spec's

Back at Caffe Roma, my boyfriend walked up to the open window with a smile.  We were glad to see each other.  What happened next is confusing to me, still.  I have a memory of the table suddenly jumping up in quick horizontal motion from side-to-side.  The quake went on.  The old building began to moan, deeply. I smelled what I thought was a burning cable from the Jackson Street cable car.  Glass was breaking on the sidewalk outside.  I remember grabbing at the chair, thinking I should dive under the table, but didn't.  For 15 seconds, the whole city was shaken, as if a table cloth trick for our astonished eyes.

Somewhere in there, I had to pee.  Stupidly, I borrowed a flashlight from the barista, and descended into the basement where the bathroom was.  A seedier place I had never seen  I picked my way through debris and glass (the mirror had broken) and found the old toilet.  For some reason, I left all the doors open.  Finally, I sat down and relieved myself, but everything began to shake again.  My next memory is screaming, standing in the center of Broadway with every gay waiter in North Beach.  The TransAmerica pyramid was rocking back and forth in a cartoonish ship's roll; pink dust was roiling up from the underpinnings.  The streetcar lines were sparking.  Over in the Marina, they were catching fire. 

I wasn't as afraid as you might think; I grew up in Japan and was very familiar with life on an earthquake fault.  I had lived on a houseboat in Sausalito and knew how the bay shook and fish jumped out of the water and birds screeched when earthquakes hit.  So much of the world's beauty runs along these trenches, and I was unafraid and unconscious of the crazy night I would enter in a matter of minutes.  Plus, I wanted to celebrate that book with the rest of the Pennywhistle poets: Sarah Blake, Richard Silberg, Jerome Rothenberg, Phyllis Stowell, and Jorge H.-Aigla.

Walking into City Lights, fearing the worst, I was astonished to find every book in its place and no broken windows.  Someone explained to me that City Lights, a former gas station, was built on bedrock, and thereby safe.  We poets were bumping into each other in the dusky light.  Only the front room was lit, and that by the gathering gloom. 

Friends began to appear for the party.  Jack and Jane were there from LA in a cute little hotel up the street.  Barny ran in and had been on BART when it happened.  Ed Cahill appeared and told a wild story of seeing a one-legged man whose leg had fallen off during the shaker. Jok and Adam arrived and there was merriment, albeit in a band-playing-on-as-the-ship-sinks kind of way. My buddies from my foundation life were there--Fitzie, Susan Silk and a couple others. George Ann came in from traversing the Golden Gate Bridge.  As she crossed, she thought she had a blow-out, but kept driving.  When she arrived in North Beach and discovered a parking space, she began to panic.  "This never happens!"

The Pennywhistle poets gathered in front of the bookstore for a photo.  Victor arrived and pronounced the launch of the series "Auspicious!" and told everyone a story about Italy and volcanos erupting on the birthdays of people who were bound by fate to have an auspicious life.  By now, quite a lot of people had come.  We realized there would soon be no light to read by, and decided to adjourn to Spec's, where we found Spec with a huge broom and thousands of broken bottles.  I felt drunk just standing at the door and inhaling.  Spec shooed us away; every bottle of booze was on the floor.  We decided to cross the street again and go to Vesuvius, which was a bit shabbier than it used to be, but a good choice--as it turned out.

First things first, we ordered martinis and lit up cigarettes--the ban on smoking was in effect, but suspended for the moment.  The bartender turned on a TV that had batteries.  We crowded around and watched surreal reports from other cities far away.  The Bay Bridge had collapsed and it was the first word we had had of it.  It was a 15-minute walk to the foundations from Vesuvius.  A freeway had pancaked in the East Bay, but where the Cypress Structure was located, nobody in the bar knew.  I was bumming cigarettes and offering them to others.  Women who had never smoked pulled hard on their cigarettes and coughed, woozy.  We all had a second martini before the party began to break up.  I remember Susan Silk, normally perfectly dressed, walking into the dark with her high heels strapped around her neck.  "I heard there were ferries that are going to Marin," she called as she disappeared.

The Cypress Stucturre

It was clear that I wasn't getting home that night, so I asked Barny if we could stay the night.  She said sure, and we all went our ways.  I walked with Jack and Jane to my car, parked up in Chinatown on a ridiculously slanted hill.  I wondered how the hell I would pry my VW Rabbit out the space that surrounded it, but got in anyway and managed to get out with the help of the hand brake.

Darkness had fallen with a thud.  The city was on fire. 

The Marina District

Bridges and freeways had fallen. I drove alone, but with the help of ordinary people standing in intersections with flashlights.  At one point, I realized I was somewhat stuck in the Fillmore District and felt completely safe.  I saw no violence, mayhem, or robbery.  I only saw San Francicans helping each other, a sight I won't ever forget.

I drove through the Panhandle, the little cat tail of Golden Gate Park that is wedged between the Haight and the Hayes Valley area.  Animals were running through the park--skunks were discharging their unforgettable scent, dogs, cats, racoons, all wailing.  It was the only time I was afraid.  Finally, I arrived at Barny's apartment in the inner Sunset.  I had lived there with her before she married Martin, a Brit who we met on a trek through Scotland. 

Books were out of their shelves and the TV had fallen on the floor, but not much was broken.  I poked my head out the window of her apartment and felt like I was in an apocalyptic film noir.  Smoke was everywhere.  The place next door had lost its brick facade to a pile that fell on the sidewalk and street. 

The corner store was open so I offered to get provisions.  It was crazy, people were speed shopping.  The women who managed the store were sweet as always, but wild eyed as the rest of us.  When I stepped up to the counter with a strange assortment of stuff I asked what their best seller was that evening--batteries?  water?  No.  lottery tickets. 

Back at the apartment, everyone was reacting to the stress differently.  Barny, Martin and Joe started playing cards, each with a Sony Walkman on to listen for news.  I felt suddenly sleepy and lay down on a futon.  As I drifted off to sleep, I heard them talking in that loud, headphone-kind-of-voice.  I didn't know if I'd ever get home. I clutched a copy of my book as I slept.

Two days later, at home in Berkeley, the phone rang.  It was Uri, my intern, who had been stranded on he Bay Bridge.  I asked where the wine and cheese was and he just laughed.  He never came into San Francisco to work again. And that's the way it was, deep in the chaos of a beautiful but disheveled city of dreams.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Smaller Than a Mote in the Ocean

I am feeling very small today--small in the universe, small in the grand scheme of things. It is both good and bad to feel this way. The ego recedes, which is good. Sadness and regrets gather and swell, not-so-good. I am hopeless about something and that makes me feel small and helpless. Something I have no control over, and that is a good lesson, yes? Or not.

Someone I love is having their future crushed by stupid actions that happend 95 days ago. Yes, they are responsible for their own deeds, but it is hard for me to completely understand. What they did involved cruelty. Yet, my someone has been the object of cruelty. I thought I saved my someone numerous times. It seems to be true; we can not save anyone. Someone I love feels lost to me. I ask for help, but there is none. Someone I love can not be saved by me. I meditate on this. The word that keeps coming back is "small." When I open my eyes, I see how large the universe is, starting with the billowing yurt, up to the skies, beyond the sunshine and into the spheres where only stars and weird gasses and black holes exist. This, too, shall pass. Someday, my someone will know the love I sent out to the universe. It was a gift for someone I love.

Dear Pablo Neruda, no. 201

I wander when I leave you, Pablo
I walk among stars that blink at each other
as if they are telling secrets
about my fate, as if they know
what is next, quivering there
in the shimmering dark

They murmur over me reassuringly
Sometimes I need them so that
I can find my way north
so I can find the path home
As I pick my way between love and poems
in the blue-black diamond field

There! Like a splash in the water flies the comet
with a tail like Isadora’s scarf
From each side, it appears solid, heavy
In reality, it is airy and light as
an inflamed accessory in the sky
or an inflated starlet in chandelier earrings

I walk crookedly; I’ve had too much to drink
I approach temple steps to ruins I’ve read about
I stumble, distracted by the constellations
calculating the age of the stars—
the influential lamps that have always
drawn me here away from the pin point

Hand over brow, as if looking into the sun
I remember that the sun is a star
our closest star, but a minor light
Standing firm on waving stacks of sand
I reach out with my beating heart to
the pulsing fields of the sky above

© 2007 Viola Weinberg

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Natural Magic Never Fades

At the top of the Eiffel Tower, 2008.

In the three years and three days since I've posted to Natural Magic, life has been busy, puzzling, adaptive, romantic, frantic and often completely content. Peter and I celebrated 12 years of marriage this year. Last year, we celebrated by taking a month in Europe--on board a river ship down the Danube and into London and over to Paris by Eurostar--and finally to Amsterdam. We returned home to the U.S. the night Obama was elected. That was some trip!

Unfortunately, when we returned, Peter was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. He went on the Stanford 5 Protocol chemotherapy (a particularly difficult course of treatment) and suffered through a month of daily radiation treatments. Recently, we had good news about his outcome. Click on the link to Healing in Kenwood for more.

Since the last post, I've published two books: Letters to Pablo Neruda (an epistolary exchange between myself and one of my favorite poets long dead) from The Duck Brothers Press (2008);

and Enso: Twenty-four Paintings and One Poem with the talented painter Mario Uribe, Enso is a beautifully made, traditionally styled Japanese book with hand-stitched manuscript.

We welcomed a new grandchild, Teagen (whom we call "Miss Tiggy Winkle"), now two years old. She is sweet and smart and has the best giggle, ever. You will see more of our grands as I build this blog.

Unfortunately, with life comes loss. Within the last year, we lost both Uncle Howard (to Parkinsons Disease) and his much loved wife, Auntie Diane. We'll miss you both, and always think of you!

Our little companions left us, too. Sweet Dashiel, our little Min Pin (miniature pinscher) and Miss Biscottini Zuccharini (also known as Biscott) both passed. Dashiel was 13 and Biscottini was 25.

Biscott on her last day on earth, enjoying the sun and shadows.

Life is precious; we know this. We decided it is time for us to enjoy ourselves. We've thrown ourselves into gardening and landscaping the place in Kenwood. There isn't a day that goes by when we are not delighted by the birds that feed from old sunflowers, radishes popping up, the intensity of sweetpeas, the beauty of strange things like our Yugoslavian squash. Small things are treasured. You are treasured.

You will see many more images of our life together on this blog. You will also see more of my poetry and some links to places I enjoy. Thanks for coming on this journey with me!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Take Me Back Out to the Old Ball Game--of Writing

I met my husband when he hired me--about 13 years ago--to help him organize an idea he had for a screenplay. It was a great idea and used improbable winners in an uphill battle in softball. During the time I worked with him, we slowly fell in love. I stopped taking payments and he started writing, doing everything he could to learn the screenplay formula, including classes and books, etc.

I am a more spontaneous writer, but Peter was a new writer. Granted with lots and lots of talent and promise, but new. He gained confidence as he wrote, but eventually put his screenplay on the back burner to do other big things--become the president of the California Chiropractic Association for one. Then, both of my parents became very ill--For five years, we worked really hard at helping them. I have a job as an editor that is demanding and sometimes distracting to my creative river. Slowly, the softball screenplay faded away.

Then, suddenly, Peter resurrected it! Last night, he began to spin out a fiction version that could be a short story, a novella or even a novel. I read his work with curiosity this morning over coffee. It still intrigued me, but I wanted more action. I realized that, in the screenplay format, action is often sacrificed for dialogue--and dialogue will be sacrificed for rolling image. I should know this instictively after working in television--but it certainly seemed like an explosive insight.

Then, just a day later, he retired the book idea in favor of another great idea that he has been working on, word-by-word. I just had to start editing many raw and rough pieces after that! Somewhere in the midst of this fertile creative patch, I had a long-overdue knee surgery. I'm recovering so quickly! Just a week ago, I was lying around on pain pills. Today, I walked--without a walker or cane--all the way around our block! It feels good, so good, to be on the trail to health again.

To motivate me, Peter has reserved places for us in a Rick Steves tour of Italy for next year. I can't explain how touching that is to me! And I will get there. There will be many entries in the interim--as I scrabble toward my dream (since I was 19) of seeing the art, walking the ancient streets, feeling the presence of Romans and Visigoths! Really, to live again . . .

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

There's always a surprize in the garden!

Glorious Autumn! We find ourselves growing older and happier as our lives go on. Peter, my husband, is a very unusual man--he has been a chiropractor, retired, gone back to school to learn energy management via a degree in environmental studies. We are always busy here in Kenwood--lots of work in the garden and house. It's been a summer of changes for both of us, but now, it's September and we are looking forward to birthdays and our anniversary.

Life is good!

Journey to Oregon

In late August, we bundled up our woolly jackets and flew to Portland, Oregon, where I was reunited with my cousin, Denton Todhunter, who I fondly refer to as "The Tattoo King of Portland, Oregon. Denton has two tattoo parlors (Beaverton and Salem) and has found a remarkable canvas for his art--the human being. Aside from his impressive skill in the art of tattoo, he is a kind and gentle man, a bit younger than me and a whole lot taller! He and his remarkably funny wife, Lanna, are settled into a lovely neighborhood with a larger-than-life Great Dane, named "Harley" because he is such a knucklehead! I was really glad I made the effort. Denton replaced me for a time as the black sheep of the family. He has settled into a big life full of interesting ideas and many thoughtful endeavors. My parents were proud of him for finding a way to make a living with art--in some ways, similar to the way I have made a living as a poet by writing poetic materials for corporate clients and employers. We are both living proof that all humans can adapt--even when they know art is their calling.

It was especially important for me to see Denton after losing my father. It made me happy to hear stories of my parents from someone who found their eccentricities as dear as I do. And it made me feel that I am not alone.

From Portland, we drove a rental car to Astoria to visit a place I've always called "Wee Willie Winky Town"--the gorgeous and vivid town that nestles on the cusp of the mouth of the Columbia River. In Astoria, we stayed at The Hotel Elliot, a faithful and comfy restoration of a grand old hotel. We loved staying there! Reasonably priced for such a nice accommodation--their motto is "Wonderful Beds!"--This is not an idle boast. We had room 502, with views of the Columbia and its indolent, yet busy sea traffic and the Astoria bridge, which spans the Columbia to the Washington state side.

For two days, we enjoyed Astoria and my pal Gordo's world. He took us to his community radio station where he runs a Saturday night shift, and to numerous seafood and pancake establishments where we ate like hungry dogs. One of the most wonderful mini-excursions was to the Astoria Column which Peter climbed and took photos of the Columbia and the farmlands below.

We laid around in that marvelous bed, drank great red wine and completely relaxed. A true vacation!

Finally, we wandered down the coast to Yachats, a small and funky town (verging on village size) where we stayed at the Shamrock Lodgettes just off Highway 101. This was wonderful--our room faced the ocean, included a kitchenette and fireplace and access to the beach. Despite my gamey leg, we managed to get down on the beach for a terrific walk in the morning among sea birds and ravens. We recommend that little spot in the road if you want to feel you've flown to another world.

From there, we reluctantly made our way to Jacksonville, knowing that it would be our last stop before returning home. We stayed at TouVelle House, where we stay when we are in Ashland for plays. Our hosts, Gary and Tim are always wonderful and funny and the food and rooms are the best!

It's kind of funny how hard it is to realize you need a vacation until you are in the middle of it! One must put enough miles (mental or physical) between themselves and the mean modern world that has grown up around us--to understand the meaning of re-creation. To linger under a particularly beautiful bridge--even if dump trucks are rolling and dumping gravel for the next rainy season--to stop at roadside attractions that remind us of being little kids whose parents needed a break from driving--to suspend disbelief and order something entirely foreign from a greasy spoon menu--all these things contribute to the sense of being reborn, even if it's a transitory (and hopefully endlessly repetitive) emotion.