Bryan R. Monte – AQ21 Spring 2018 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ21 Spring 2018 Book Reviews

Jacob M. Appel. Millard Salter’s Last Day. Gallery Books, ISBN 978-1-5072-0408-5, 245 pages.
Arthur Allen. Here birds are. Green Bottle Press, ISBN 978-1-910804-09-4, 27 pages.
Alida Woods. Disturbing Borders. Finishing Line Press, ISBN 978-1-63534-405-9, 29 pages.

It is my privilege, as a reviewer and editor of poetry and fiction, to regularly make the acquaintance many writers in the early phases of their careers. It is this discovery of new or not-so-completely-established writers that makes the hundreds of hours I put into Amsterdam Quarterly worthwhile. The three writers above (all former AQ contributors which makes me doubly proud, of course) have all, within the last few months, published beautiful, noteworthy books which I’d like to bring to the attention of AQ’s readers.

The first writer, Jacob M. Appel, is now, no longer a stranger to the publishing world. When I first met him almost coincidentally in New York City, in 2014, he had already published a few books, which had won some major awards. In the summer of 2014, I received an email from Appel asking if I’d like to review his books. Unknown to him, I was in Manhattan at that very moment to meet digital artist, Yolanda V. Fundora, (who would later contribute work for three AQ issues and two yearbook covers). As we met at the hotel’s street front café, I saw a young, (approximately twenty-years younger than I am), man wearing a name badge for a New York hospital. He stopped to give me three of his books: a novel, The Biology of Luck, an essay collection, Phoning Home and a short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper. I found him to be intelligent and articulate and I hoped the books he left for review would be the same.

And they were. Since then, Appel’s work has never ceased to surprise and delight me. His fiction, as I have remarked in past issues, reveals the work of a master storyteller. He grabs his audience on the first page and doesn’t let go of them until his intricately constructed plotting mousetrap artfully closes upon its victim on the last page. Millard Salter’s Last Day, is a perfect example of Appel’s fictive technique. It is about the life of a Jewish, New York doctor, a psychiatrist, who on the first page, expresses his desire to kill himself by the end of that day. This is due to the grief he has experienced after the loss of a second wife, whom he dearly loved, and a patient with whom he had a close relationship.

However, almost everything that Salter experiences that day seems to pull him back into the land of the living: a colleague at work, whom he hates, tells him she wants his position at the hospital when he retires. Salter’s first wife reveals that she doesn’t hate him for divorcing her because she was also having an affair and she makes a pass at him. So does a former schoolmate who is in town for more than one (she hopes) reunion. Later the same day, Salter’s luncheon conversation with his son, who, in his forties, has not make a life for himself, is interrupted by a gas explosion across the street which they both survive unscathed (except for a few scorch marks on Salter’s suit), but which seriously wounds the hospital administrator who just minutes before badgered Salter for an overdue report. Even a surprise 75th birthday party at his home, including friends and family, off foot him. Through all these events however, Salter continues his ‘Do I or don’t I’ meditation right to the very end. In the meantime, the reader gets a window into the current state of high-end medical and especially psychiatric care in America, ruled over not by doctors, but by hospital administrators. It is a world that is vividly rendered, where Appel adds one plot complication upon another until the novel’s very last scene. (Please, don’t read ahead, though, or you’ll ruin the ending for yourself).

The way I met the next writer, the poet Arthur Allen, is also fairly coincidental. Six or seven times a year I receive requests from university students enquiring about internships at Amsterdam Quarterly. Unfortunately, I must disappoint these young people with the news that AQ is not a business but rather therapeutic hobby for a disabled older man with multiple sclerosis. One of these students was Arthur Allen. I read through his résumé and wrote him: ‘Unfortunately, I don’t have an internship to offer you, but looking at your CV, I’ll bet you’ve got a few poems for me.’

And he did. He sent two poems, ‘On my father’ and ‘Unresolved harmonies,’ which I immediately knew I wanted to publish in AQ16’s issue on Interiors, Gardens, Landscapes and Music. When he attended the AQ 2016 Yearbook launch party, he read his poems from a journal in a hand with very few strikethroughs or other revisions. If I’ve ever met a natural-born poet, it’s certainly this young man. His chapbook, Here birds are is an excellent exploration of grief and intimacy related to the sudden death of one’s father caused by a hit and run driver. From the very beginning it addresses this grief through a description of how the father was found, ‘on his side, limbs like crushed cowslip flowers / tangled in the bicycle frame,’ to his mother’s unspoken grief witnessed when he was child: ‘She was siting gently / sinking without / sinking.’ In ‘The First Night,’ the poet asks: ‘the cosmos … “Why me?” … and it barely suffers to reply “Why not?”’

Allen continues to look for answers among the birds in the British countryside. In ‘Augury,’ he imagines his father’s body during autopsy as that of a bird’s: ‘gone / in wind, in perdu, insignificantly battered’ how the pathologists ‘opened and pinned a pair of wings… to relieve rigor mortis’ The poet’s loss of his father is further mentioned in the extended avian metaphor because ‘I do not know “the portent of the pitch / or direction of song,’ but the poet does know: ‘… it does not look like a man / asleep.’ ‘Poem after the manner of simple hearts’ describes the funeral and the mother and child visiting her husband’s/his father’s grave ‘The sky is bloody and violent.’ Allen’s thematic and imagistic concern with birds and bird metaphors in Here are birds is revealed halfway through the chapbook in its title poem’s epigram. Here Allen defines augury as “Interpreting the will of the gods by studying the patterns of birds, both from their flight, alites and their voice, oscines.” There is also the poet’s belief that ‘… Nature / cures Nature,’ in the next poem, father and his attempt to recover him, if not physically, then in his thoughts. In “Serenade” what Wallace Stevens, Schopenhauer and Mark Twain said all fail to comfort the poet who remarks: ‘What do they know anyway.’

The four-part poem, ‘From Amsterdam,’ towards the chapbook’s end, continues this conversation, but in a setting more familiar to AQ’s Dutch-resident readers and without the previous avian imagery. It also reveals some negative elements of the speaker’s relationship with his father. This poem begins with a letter addressed to G. with various dates which, in its first section, describes a night with friends in the Vondelpark in which he uses an extended arachnidan metaphor: ‘we hung in the / nets, strung out and dozing and everyone changing the / sound of my name in their mouths.’ In section I., the poet returns to the theme of his lost father, and his father’s perception of him as a ‘lazy’ because his ‘drawing in the sand with a stick’ wasn’t enough for his father. Now, writing in the Vondelpark his ‘notebook has become a sign of occupancy.’ In section II, even looking at ‘Picasso’s fish’ sculpture reminds him of his father’s absence. In the third section, a somewhat weaker section of this series, the poet describes ‘hot pancakes wrapped in his hand,’ which he wanted to ‘skim…into the canal like perfection reflections of the moon.’

The last poem in the collection reveals finally an intergenerational conflict between father and son which has gone on for three generations in which the poet describes ‘Bill,’ his grandfather ‘whose death was a scandal only to himself’ This rich, rhythmical poem with its very original images describes sometimes standard, generational, pendular personality type swings between father, son and grandson. The grandfather, like his grandson, was also called ‘lazy’ because he was a farmer who ‘wouldn’t hoe his corn / and lost to frost the lot he’d sown.’ The poet describes his grandfather as dead before he died ‘Scratched to death by his familiars,’ … grown white … put himself to bed / each night on butcher’s ice,’ … and his ‘coffin-varnished mind.’ These descriptions of his grandfather’s laziness and his preoccupation with death is also reflected in the poet’s own perceptions. It is perhaps a bit unfortunate that the poet didn’t explore his similarity with his grandfather a bit more and also their differences with their father/son. Nonetheless, collectively, these poems are the product of an inventive, intelligent mind trying to grieve, through art, about a parent’s sudden, tragic death and about what separated and connected him to his family whilst they were still alive.

Similarly to book above and all good books of poetry, Alida Woods’ book Disturbing Borders tries to cross the line or bridge the gap between what is said and not said, what is seen and what is only felt, and between life and death, mortality and immortality, through images from landscapes, home interiors and her family. I first became acquainted with Woods’ work at the Blue Flower Winter Writers’ Conference at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in January 2015. She attended a class led by internationally-renowned, multi-award winning poet, Carolyn Forché. During class, Woods read a poem entitled ‘The Clearing.’ I told her about AQ and asked if she would consider submitting the poem for AQ16, whose theme was Interiors, Gardens, Landscapes and Music. She promised she would, but like many promises made at conferences thousands of miles away, I wondered if she would actually send it.

And she did. I paired her poem with a digital image by Yolanda V. Fundora entitled Jockey Hollow #3. Her poem’s placement next to Fundora’s golden clearing received many positive comments from readers. In addition, I got to know Woods a bit more when she visited Amsterdam with her partner in April 2017 and attended AQ’s Writers’ Group. She told me at the time she was working on finishing a book of poems for a publisher. Disturbing Borders is that book.

This chapbook of twenty-seven introspective and meditative poems describes how desert, seacoast, suburban gardens, ageing parents and lost things transport the poet to places ‘beyond maps.’ In the book’s opening poem, ‘Crossing,’ she describes how watching her daughter carry her child reminds her of watching war refugees carry their children. She wonders how they will find ‘a place we called home.’ Then harkening back perhaps to a time early in human history, she writes about the necessity of human cooperation. ‘We will arrive carrying each other / across the river / across some faint line in the sand / or we will not arrive.” The theme of refugees is addressed in the next poem at the end after the speaker has lost a glove and remembers the effects of a flood: “three people downriver … or a boy and his mother crossing some border’.

In ‘Valley of Fire, Utah’ and ‘Folding Lesson’ she mentions the lost civilizations of the Aztec and the Wampanoag and relates them to lost parts of herself from her childhood in the second poem when she goes to visit her mother ‘in a home not is not her home’ or ‘in the village of the elderly’ as the poet refers to it in third poem entitled ‘Eighty seven.’ In ‘Peripheral Vision’ the poet relates her mother’s blindness to her own drive from the mountains into the valley where, because of a storm the poet reports it is ‘darker here and deep green’ and ‘I cannot see’.

In ‘Deadheading Daffodils,’ Woods writes how gardeners ‘create their own geography / careful boundaries drawn, / plots of obedient perennials / resurrecting each year’. In ‘Cartography’ Woods wonders where sleep and the unconscious take us: ‘Where we go at night after night / on this pilotless craft / heading beyond maps—’ Loss in represented in two poems, ‘The House of Forgetting’ and ‘Pigeon River Gorge,’ the first about the memories her mother’s house still holds after her death and the second about the slaughter of an entire species of hundreds of millions, the carrier pigeon, by American immigrants in a little more than a century. ‘In the Drawer’ the poet finds a letter her sister wrote to her ‘two days before she died’ but never sent, among a collection of pencils that have ‘reproduced in the drawer, / Chap Stick and three tubes of sun cream.’ It is a message that in: ‘Buried there’ it reminds her ‘that life is messy and unsharpened’. Framed by the event of an autumn dog walk, ‘The Clearing’ is meditative poem in which the reader can feel and see the dog’s ‘fur ripples in the brittle air / that draws us into this amber afternoon.’ This poem is about more than a dog walk. It contains an epiphany, perhaps with her mother’s and sister’s deaths in mind, when the poet notes ‘The moon lifts her belly up over the trees’ and ‘shadows reappear and ghosts speak softly’. Her mother’s shadow is specifically mentioned in the next poem, ‘In Your Mother’s House,’ in which there were ‘an abundance of things and a scarcity of love’. In the poem’s conclusion, the speaker’s mother’s shadow ‘slid onto / the pages of her / unwritten book’.

‘Dancing in Cassadaga,’ is about a visit to a psychic village that helps define another disturbed border in this collection. The psychic’s home décor and ambiance includes a talking bear ‘warning intruders / that crossing the line may / involve intricate encounters with poetry.’, ‘the smell of patchouli’ and ‘made in India drapery’. The psychic tells the poet about her children’s lives or characteristics in the present, the poet’s past life in Egypt and her advice for the poet’s future. “The Color of Morning” the chapbook’s terminal poem is located in some borderless time and place although it takes place in the poet’s hallway at 4 a.m. Here, the reader cannot be certain at first if the poet is describing an apparition of her mother in the hallway with her daughter, the poet herself, in her arms, or her own daughter with her grandchild. Once again, as in Allen’s collection’s terminal poem, the generations tumble one into other as a family travels through time, past, present and future, trying to find its way. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – Harry and Me: The Honeymoon

Bryan R. Monte
Harry and Me: The Honeymoon

I met Harry Britt on election night November 1982 at San Francisco City Hall. I had just taken part in a victory party crawl with members and officers of the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club. One of our stops had been to Democratic Party headquarters to congratulate Phil Burton on keeping his US congressional district seat. Burton had also been one of the first, major heterosexual politicians to appear with the Milk Club contingent earlier that summer in what was then called the annual Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade.

In the age just before personal computers, I watched as the vote was updated on chalkboards in the City Hall basement. Sister Boom Boom, who had run unsuccessfully for a SF City and County Supervisor’s seat, nevertheless attempted to enter City Hall triumphantly on the shoulders of her supporters. (Sister Boom Boom was from a gay male order of nuns called The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who wore full, traditional black habits with white wimpels, but also extensive makeup such as white face paint, very long fake eyelashes and dark eye shadow). Unfortunately, Boom Boom’s veil got caught in the metal work above the door, so they had to wait a few moments to untangle her before her supporters performed some sort of street theatre accompanied by music from a boombox. Boom Boom’s campaign had included various colourful, attention getting stunts such as a poster of her riding a broom above the city hall dome whilst skywriting in pink smoke “Surrender Dianne” referring to both Dianne Feinstein, then mayor of San Francisco and the Wicked Witch of the West’s warning to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She also rode in the lesbian & gay parade in a car with another slogan ‘Am I Supe Yet?’ echoing a popular, national soup TV advertisement slogan.

This was in stark contrast to a very calm Harry Britt who wore a Harris tweed jacket, a buttoned-down shirt, a tie, and dark trousers, and who watched quietly, leaning against a wall, at the updated race results. We’d been looking at each across the room at the Women’s Building at the Harvey Milk Gay Democrat Club’s monthly meetings since last spring, but this time Harry was just a few feet away and, for the first time, I  felt a distinct physical attraction to him. I found Harry attractive because was tall (6’ 4”), had a broad chest, a slight Southern accent and a full head of brown, curly hair. From time to time, some news crew would switch on their camera lights and film as they asked Harry questions about how various races were developing.

Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club Contingent, 1982 Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade, Rink Foto, photograph, 1982. L. to r. with flags: Bryan Monte and Paul Melbostad; in car: Harry Britt and Phil Burton, driver, Bob Ross; under banner in jacket, John Bardis; far right, Ron Huberman.

In between interviews, Harry asked me what I did. I told him I was a Berkeley student. He asked if I was a polysci major. I told him I studied English and semiotic textual analysis. When he mentioned he had studied hermeneutics, he really got my interest. After most of the Democratic Party candidates’ winning results had come in, Harry and I rode with Russell Fields to the Elephant Walk, a gay bar at Castro and 18th Streets. There we met Tim Wolfred, who had won a seat on San Francisco’s Community College Board two years earlier, and Bill Kraus, Harry’s political advisor. We had to leave a half hour later, however, because the bar was closing. As we stood on the sidewalk, I told Harry I wanted to see him again. Without hesitating, Harry gave me his card. He told me to call on Friday, because he was leaving on a three-day trip to LA the next morning.

I called him on Friday and left a message with Harry’s secretary. Then I went for a walk. When I returned, I discovered Harry had called, but left a different number than the one at city hall. I rang it and this time Dana van Gorder, Harry’s aide, answered. He told me Harry had just gone to the store and would be back in about five minutes. Ten minutes later, I rang again.

‘Hi. I’m staying at a friend’s apartment for a few days. What are you doing this weekend?’

‘Nothing much,’ I said. Then after a brief conversation, he gave me the address of the flat for a date the next evening.

I took the bus over to Arguelo and California Streets, near the Presidio. When Harry opened the door, I was floored. To my surprise he’d slicked back his hair so his beautiful curls had been tamed into evenly-combed rows. What have you done to your hair? I thought. He looked more like a middle-aged, Sunday school teacher than the attractive, intellectual politician I’d just met.

After spending an hour or so talking, (Harry was probably screening me before we went out), we drove to a gay restaurant called the Fickle Fox at Cunningham Alley and Valencia Street, just a few blocks from where I lived.

The restaurant had a baffle just behind its front door, so people passing on the street couldn’t see in. Inside, the dimly-lit restaurant seemed to be a remnant from the 1950s with its red-flocked wallpaper, a miniature statue of Michelangelo’s David and porpoise fountain. It looked like the gay restaurant time had forgot. It was quiet, though, which helped calm my first-date nerves.

The waiters wore traditional white shirt and black trousers. They gave us gold tassled menus and asked if we wanted something to drink. When I asked for a soda, the waiter raised an eyebrow as if I might not be old enough for a place with a liquor licence. Harry said the sirloin was good, so that’s what I ordered. I hadn’t eaten sirloin since I had returned to college at Berkeley, more than a year and half ago. Money was always tight for me then. My most extravagant restaurant forays were limited to once a month lunches at La Fuenta’s on Telegraph Avenue and Channing Way where I ordered chicken and cheese flautas with a bean soup or salad and water for $4 on the rare days I’d forgot to make my lunch. It had been a long day and in addition to being nervous, I was tired, hungry, and afraid I might faint. However, I didn’t ask for coffee to stay awake or alcohol to relax because I wasn’t used to stimulants or intoxicants. (There had never been any coffee or alcohol in my family home). I knew that drinking alcohol to soothe my nerves would make me fall asleep. On the other hand, coffee would keep me awake all night. This complicated things either way because I had to get up the next morning at 6 a.m. for my weekend guard job at a senior citizens’ tower block in Oakland.

Harry observed me looking around uncomfortably and told me that even though the restaurant’s décor was dated, the food was good. He told me used to have lunch at the restaurant when he’d worked nearby first, as a mail carrier and later, in an office. Harry was right, and I enjoyed the dinner. Afterwards we drove down to Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge and enjoyed the view, until a lit cigarette, dropped from the fort above, fell onto the ground a few feet from us. Harry thought it would be best to leave before a brick came down on one of our heads.

During the next two and half weeks, Harry and I saw each other regularly at least at the weekend and sometimes once or twice during the week, usually after a Board of Supervisors meeting. The more I got to know him, the more I was attracted to him. Physically, he was the exact opposite of who I was. He was tall, broad and looked like he could take on anyone whereas I was so thin, friends joked that if I turned sideways, I disappeared. I frequently put on a coat and a hat before I went outside. Harry hardly ever wore more than his Harris tweed jacket. He didn’t seem to feel the cold fog as I did. He also bragged about winning at playing ‘King of the Hill’ on the dirt hill behind his Duke University fraternity house because he was: “bigger and stronger than anyone else.” Harry gave me a sense of security on the street. Alone and a skinny 5’ 8”, I bobbed and weaved to avoid the panhandlers and drug dealers between the 16th and Mission Bart station and my apartment at 20th and Guerrero. However, when Henry walked the same route with me, people gave us a wide berth and left us alone.

Once I even flinched when Harry went to put his arm around me on the #14 Mission Street bus on our way downtown. Instead of sitting in the front of the bus near the bus driver as I did, Harry sat in the last row right in the middle so everyone could see him. ‘What are you worried about?’ he protested. ‘Nobody is going to bother you—not with me.’

In addition to his physical strength and size, Harry wasn’t affected by bouts of illnesses or weakness as I was. These had begun the summer before my senior year in high school when I got scarlet fever. That fever left me weak and since then I had been afflicted by periodic, mysterious illnesses that would cause pain and then disappear after a month or two before the doctors could make a diagnosis. (This continued for the next 25 years until I was diagnosed at nearly 50 with MS). Due to my vacillating health, I worked and finished reading assignments and papers as soon as I got them because I never knew when I would be too tired or ill to study or to go to class. The week I met Harry, though, I was walking on air. I got a 90 on an English midterm and spoke with confidence in my literary criticism class. The next weekend, Harry and I went out to various gay bars, but ended up at Amelia’s, a lesbian bar, because the patrons left us alone so we could dance together.

Despite our physical and health-related differences, however, there many things we had in common. Harry was also a bibliophile and an intellectual. One of the things that won my heart was his city hall office bookshelves stacked to the ceiling with his own book collection, not just legal books. Another was that Harry had studied at Heidelberg University in Germany. I had worked in Hanover in 1978 for six months as a Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints service missionary, so we could compare notes on what we thought of Germany’s social, economic and transport systems.

However, even though I was happy to be dating Harry, I kept it a secret for as long as I could for three reasons. First, I wasn’t sure if our relationship and our attraction to each other would last (What’s Harry doing with a guy like me?). Second, I feared someone might intentionally try to break us up. Third, I was afraid of gossip and unwanted interest.

My secrecy, however, led to an embarrassing situation for my roommate, Rob, as he ran into Harry in the hall one night in his underwear on the way to the toilet. ‘You dog!’ he said the next morning after Harry had left. ‘Spill.’ I did share when and where we’d met and how long we had been going out, but not much more. Rob was a good roommate and he didn’t press me for more.

A few weeks later Harry and I spent Thanksgiving at Yosemite National Park as part of a Milk Club leaders’ campout. We stayed in a cabin heated by glowing-red coils behind metal screens powered by the nearby hydroelectric plant. It was the first holiday I celebrated in San Francisco with friends. It felt good as I got to know Harry better.

Then Harry left for a fundraising tour Back East. It is this tour that provides the first personal documents of our relationship, where I have words he wrote to accompany my memories. For about two weeks, Harry travelled from Montreal down the East Coast via Boston, Albany, New York City, Hoboken and Philadelphia (at least from what the cards and the postmarks record). Harry sent cards with series of teddybears dressed in various gay drag—leather, construction worker, hustler—probably purchased from a gay store in San Francisco or Montreal.

Harry’s written messages in these cards and their frequency (seven cards and one letter in two weeks) demonstrated his continued interest whilst on the road. From Boston, the second stop on his eight-city circuit, Harry sent a card with Sister Boom Boom being mounted by a giant stuffed panda bear on a wooden bench in Buena Vista Park. Inside Harry wrote that the trip was ‘barely tolerable’ only because ‘he would see me again at the end of it.’ He also wrote that he ‘really need(ed) to hold me.’ Hold is written three times over so it looks fuzzy. On his way to New York City, Harry regretted he didn’t have a photograph of me to show to people who seemed ‘happy I have a Bryan in my life.’

One day after Harry had been on the road for about two weeks, I lost my patience waiting for him to return. I telephoned Van Gorder, at city hall and asked him where Harry was. He told me he could not only pinpoint Harry on a map, but he could also give me a number where I could reach him at that moment. I dialled the number and got some guy with a Jersey accent, who quickly gave his name and the name of a restaurant. I asked for Harry and he put the phone down, during which I heard banging pots and pans, sizzling meat, and a swinging kitchen door. A minute later, Harry picked up the phone. ‘How did you find me?’ he asked. ‘I’m very smart, remember,’ I said. We talked for no more than five minutes, but it meant more to me than all the cards that he’d sent. He told me he’d be home in a just a few days. I hoped that was true.

The last written communication I had from Harry from the East Coast was a letter on Supervisor Harry Britt stationery headed “Wednesday night” in an envelope postmarked 9 Dec Philadelphia. He wrote that when I called I had reached him: ‘in a crowded clam house, … like Spengers in Berkeley’. He added: ‘knowing you cared enough to call was a big deal.’ He also reassured me that: ‘After Philadelphia, it’s Baltimore, Washington and home.’

Another reason Harry might have been feeling low and wanting to get home was because Mayor Dianne Feinstein had just vetoed his first domestic partnership legislation, which had been adopted and passed by the Board of Supervisors by an 8 to 3 vote the month before. With such a majority, Feinstein didn’t need to act on the bill for it to become law. However, she did, choosing to veto it. Harry telephoned from the University of Pennsylvania to tell me about the veto and the protest rally planned for the City Hall steps that evening. Harry said Feinstein had been pressured by Roman Catholic Archbishop John R. Quinn who was quoted in The New York Times on 10 December as saying that ‘domestic partnership…is injurious to our legal, cultural, moral and societal heritage.’ After talking to Harry, I went jogging and saw two protest notice signs taped to the walls of the Bank of America at Castro and Market and the Hibernia Bank at Castro and 18th. The one at B of A read: ‘Feinstein Betrayal / Protest Rally 5 O’Clock Tonight, City Hall.’ People were also passing out leaflets at the Castro Muni Metro Station that were printed so quickly that Feinstein’s name was misspelt as ‘Fenistein.’

That evening, 400 protestors gathered on City Hall’s Polk St. steps. Randy Stallings from the Alice B. Tolkas Democratic Club and Paul Boneberg from the Stonewall Democratic Club (the Milk Club’s two rivals) addressed the crowd. According to my journal, Boneberg said that Feinstein had finally shown her true colours and demonstrated she couldn’t be trusted by the gay community. I also recorded that he said he’d been in a relationship with his domestic partner longer than Feinstein had been with her current husband. Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver said that Harry’s ordinance was not tearing at the seams of the social fabric, but rather reflected the reality of a society in which single parents were the heads of households. Boom Boom denied wanting to tear the social fabric by adding humorously: ‘we are (just) letting out the seams of the social fabric, so society can grow a little.’

After the rally, one of the sister’s cornered me saying she’d heard Harry was a real dud in bed. I looked up at the bearded man in a full black nun habit and white face makeup and said: ‘That’s not been my experience.’

Whilst I was anxiously waiting for Harry to come home, I wrote the poem: ‘To Harry in Hope of your Speedy Return’ with its nightmarish, anti-ascension ending.

I do not know which city you have travelled to tonight
nor which hotel room bed holds you between its sheets
like a business letter slid into an envelope

But cards sent to mark your departure
sit like phantom songsters in my mailbox
and whisper at my neck and ears like cologne

against the dirty tread of faces and voices on the subway
that smudge the (memory) slight weight(lessness) of
your arm against my shoulder.

The postmarks read: Montreal Boston
                                          Albany    NYC
                             Philadelphia    NJ
a map of the places you no longer are
your handwriting as if at sea
or on a commuter train
the h’s falling back on themselves
the t’s crossed lower and lower.

And I sleep in a tangle of sheets
running through a landscape of too much sun and sky
the ground disappearing beneath my feet
as I become weightless
not sprouting wings or fins
to swim through these deep skies
but floating higher and higher past the clouds
suffocating in the thinning air.

(Thom Gunn, my poetry instructor at Berkeley from the year before, commented a few years later that this poem reminded him of Ezra Pound’s ‘The River Boat Man Wife’s Letter.’)

After returning to San Francisco in the second week of December, Harry and I had another two and half weeks together before he left for Texas to see his mother who was having health problems. Since I had moved to San Francisco, I had always wanted to spend Christmas and New Year’s with a partner (instead of alone as I had my first two years in San Francisco), but I also understood why Harry had to go. (This would be his second of three absences during our first four months together. The third was a journey to Australia as the headliner of the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras in mid-February 1983.)

Harry tried to make up for his Christmas absence by buying me three gifts—two practical and one extravagant. The practical ones were a purple and pink, thick terry-cloth robe from Joseph’s near Polk Street and a white comforter decorated with yellow, red and blue tulips, (which I still have), to keep me warm in my then cold flat. Either from earthquake settling or poor construction, none of my flat’s windows closed completely, so wood wedges and/or rags were pushed into the open corners to keep out the draft. In addition, my flat didn’t have heating.

The extravagant gift was a large box of Godiva chocolates. My roommate wasn’t as impressed with the gifts. ‘He’s treating you like a like a hausfrau’, Rob snapped. Then he went back East for the holidays so I was home alone.

I tried to keep myself busy with more guard or temporary office work (I worked Christmas and New Year’s and kept the television and radio off as Steve Abbott had told me, the year before, to avoid hearing Christmas music). I comforted myself by saying the extra workdays were a good way to take care of my precarious financial situation and to stay out of trouble.

So I stayed home and read ahead in my course syllabi and interviewed Steve Abbott and Steve Benson for material for my Berkeley honour’s thesis. I attended Christmas Anonymous at John Norton’s house in Pacific Heights and saw Steve there but had just missed Harold Norse, who had left early wanting to be home before dark.

Sometime after New Year’s, I finally got to see Harry’s place in the Nob Hill District on Sutter or Pine. Before he took me there, however, he told me that until recently he’d shared a house with some men on 16th Street between Market and Castro. He said he had liked that place, but for some reason, the household had disbanded and Harry had had to move. Through a friend he’d got his present flat, which was just temporary. His friend was going to renovate the caretaker’s quarters in the building’s basement for him.

Harry opened the door to a small, three-room studio apartment, with a living room/bedroom straight ahead and a bath and a kitchen on the right and left respectively. Harry’s flat also had extension cords running from the living room to the kitchen to provide power for a refrigerator, a Dutch oven and a hot plate on the kitchen counter. The kitchen had a large, gas stove that took up a lot of space. There was also a wobbly, wooden bookshelf blocking most of the kitchen window. The shelves held a motley collection of cast iron skillets, pans, pots, and silverware, community award plaques and trophies, and books including James Joyce’s Steven Hero and Maurice Eliade’s Shamanism.

Most men would have run once they discovered Harry’s living situation, since happiness, in even then in high-priced San Francisco, required three “R’s”—romance, rings and real estate. However, Harry’s “bohemian” apartment didn’t put me off. I was in love with him and also lived simply and economically. I drank out of recycled jam jars and bought second-hand clothes and housewares. Occasionally I adopted furniture—night tables, chairs, etc.—abandoned on the street—for my own flat. So the things Harry owned didn’t matter to me; what he was doing with his life did. I also knew that City Supervisors then made around 10K a year and were expected to have second jobs as the source of their real income. Harry, however, devoted most of his time to his constituents. I found that admirable.

I slept over that first night and found his flat warm and comfortable. Within a month, we had exchanged keys. We also made sure we coordinated when and where we were going to sleep together. In the era before cell phones, one evening we ended up sleeping at the other’s flat the entire night—alone.

Usually Henry or I would arrive at the other’s flat late at night, startling the other awake, but then receiving a warm welcome nonetheless. At my flat, Harry usually let himself in after a late night political meeting. At Harry’s, I usually arrived at 2.30 a.m. after spending the evening typing my honour’s thesis at Harry’s office on an IBM Correcting Selectric II typewriter (the closest thing there was to a PC in those days). I’d find Harry asleep with the television on. One of the things I looked forward to, no matter where we were together, was going to bed and putting my head on Harry’s barrel chest after which I almost immediately fell asleep and wouldn’t wake until he got up the next morning.

###

After living in my shared flat for about four months, Rob announced one day that he was moving in with his boyfriend in Oakland. I was flabbergasted. Having lived four different places in one year, I was not about to move to a fifth. I decided to remain in my present flat as long as the landlord promised not to raise the rent. Then, I began to interview flatmates via a listing at Community Rentals on Castro Street through whom I had found my shared flat. The first guy came to his interview with a tall can of beer wrapped in a paper sack. The second, who was younger than me, wore very tight jeans. Less than a few minutes into his interview, he let me know that if he was ever short on the rent, I could take out the difference in sex! The next interviewees must not have been much better. That weekend I decided to keep the apartment and, for a time, not look for a roommate. I was worn out from nearly two years of working two or three jobs while attending university with little time for breaks or holidays. I was tired of choosing between buying groceries or textbooks or about paying tuition or rent. I decided to drop out of Berkeley for a quarter and work full-time to build up my savings and keep my flat.

When Harry and I got together that weekend, I told him my plan. He didn’t say anything then, but the next time we talked on the phone, he said he didn’t want me to drop out. ‘I’ll move in,’ Harry said. ‘You shouldn’t drop out, because sometimes it’s very hard to go back.’ I didn’t agree with Harry right away. I wasn’t sure it would be good for us to rush into living together. I mentioned this to my gay friends who knew about our relationship.

‘Six months!’ Rob said. ‘That’s the equivalent of six years in straight relationships.’ Other gay friends, who knew Harry and me, echoed this sentiment. So I told Harry I would like him to move in.

Harry and I spent five evenings the last week of April moving his belongings out of his apartment and from his building’s basement, where more of his things were stored, into my flat. Whilst he was moving one box, a copy of St. Anselm’s Proslogion split out onto the dusty cement floor along with past issues of the Gay Atheist Newsletter. I was not disturbed by this philosophical contradiction, but rather thought it was the stuff of T. S. Eliot’s negative capability and another indication of Harry’s voracious reading habit.

Harry Britt and Bryan R. Monte, Guerrero St. flat, June 1982, Mary M. Monte, photograph, 1982.

The first few months, having Harry as a roommate gave me the social, economic and emotional stability I had never known before in San Francisco. It was comforting to have Harry as a roommate because we agreed on bill paying and apartment cleaning. Rent and utilities were split down the middle and we bought and prepared most of our own meals separately because we were hardly ever home together for dinner. If we thought something needed cleaning—the toilet, bath, kitchen—and we had the time, then we cleaned it. There were no long, drawn out discussions, no weekly rotas of what needed to be done and when. In addition, sometimes when we went to the supermarket, we bought things for each other—ground beef and lettuce for me, popcorn and oil for Harry—if we saw the other needed it. Finally, neither Harry nor I used non-prescription or recreational drugs. Many of my past roommates had been addicted to marijuana or other substances, one of the reasons they had moved to San Francisco. Harry and I didn’t use any and we rarely had a guest who did. (The one exception to this, our first months together, was when I came home after unknowingly eating two, mushroom-laced brownies at a Channel Magazine reading at Newspace, which I described in detail in my Steve Abbott memoir. Harry, to his credit, lay down next to me on the bed and kept me calm through the night as non-existent green, gold and purple comets shot across the bedroom ceiling).

In early May, I went to the UC Berkeley administration to see how many more quarters I had to go before graduating. I was finishing up two incompletes in a William Carlos Williams course and in a Latin language class due to an operation the previous year. I learned I still needed to complete a freshman science requirement.

‘What about the physical anthropology course I took at Bryn Mawr while at Haverford, where I measured cranial capacities of humanoid skulls and sketched strata in rock beds?’ I asked. The woman at the administration counter told me that might qualify, but I would need to get the course description from the college and it would need to clearly indicate that my year of anthropology had included a full semester of physical anthropology. I called Bryn Mawr the next day to request the courses’ curricula. A week or two later I received them and I went to Berkeley to deliver them personally. I met with another administration clerk who said she needed to check with her boss. I waited in the office for about twenty minutes. Then, the next thing I knew the door opened and the woman happily announced: ‘You’re graduating in June. Congratulations! Go down to the ASUC and get measured for your gown.’ I couldn’t believe her words. I was in shock all the way down the hill to the student centre and during my fitting.

Harry Britt and Bryan R. Monte, UC Berkeley, June 1982, Mary M. Monte, photograph, 1982.

A month later my mother flew in from Ohio to watch with Harry as I walked across the ASUC auditorium stage. As I received my diploma, I turned to the audience and called out both their names to thank them, causing the audience to laugh. My mother took a photo of that moment and also of Harry and I standing down the road from the Berkeley Campanile and in our flat’s living room. It was my happiest time in San Francisco.
AQ

Simon Brod – Tree of Plenty

Carla Schwartz – Tax Reform

Carla Schwartz
Tax Reform

You will pay only with German pancakes and peach pies,
your donation to those in need.

You will teach a child to read.
Start with a Heffalump, end with a Sneetch.

You will glean the vinca from your small plot of land,
a fistful tugged from soil for every dollar gained.

You will inherit kindness from your benevolent neighbours,
and for that you can drink in the pastels across the sunset sky.

You will credit yourself to finish early.
You will deduct what you cannot attend to.

You will look up from your book and smile
at a crow, swooping overhead.

Grateful to live in a wise land,
to understand what it means to pay tax.

George Franklin – Heads and Tails

George Franklin
Heads and Tails

Passed from hand to hand, everyone’s
Fingers touching them, rubbing the
Edges, the milled ridges that scrape
Against a blunt thumb, cold at first,

Then warming in your palm’s center or
A pocket next to your thigh, coins
Are a promiscuous species. Some are
Older and more experienced. The effigy

Has softened, grown almost smooth, the
Legend barely discernable. Now, it’s
Just a silver disc with a story, tarnished
By all the skin that’s squeezed it, that’s

Hesitated before letting it go for some
Better thing, a bag of white rolls, a
Newspaper, a glass of red wine. Then,
There are the new ones, fresh from the

Teller’s window at the bank, the obverse
Proudly refusing to look back at you—no
Kissing on the lips—the reverse declaring
Without equivocation some piety in Latin,

Decorated with a wreath, each leaf
Sharp, pointed. How innocent they are,
Still smelling of the mint, untouched
By sweat and dirt, but already eager to be

Bartered, a tip for the server, a phone call,
A piece of chocolate. Maybe this one will be
Dropped in a moment of thoughtlessness or
Confusion and picked up from the sidewalk by

A student on his way to class, who’ll look
Closely at its scratches, its obscure symbols,
And then spend it quickly before he can
Change his mind.

Peter Neil Carroll – American Dream

Peter Neil Carroll
American Dream

Shouldering window glass, unlit
cigarette in his lips,
a youth enters a side street,
Minsk, 1904.

The aproned shop girl Mata
watches him pass. He doesn’t know
yet but in time he’ll become
my grandpa, married to Mata at 18.

Minsk, another stop on his road.
The itinerant glazier stays, he says,
for Mata’s cooking and the revolution.
Amid conspiracy, Cossacks shoot
into a secret meeting. Nearly killed,
he leaves for America.

Poor then and ever after,
stealing ship’s food, he arrives
in New York, marvels at insatiable skyscrapers,
their greed for glass. His trade lives
in his hands, splits from splinters,
bones shattered by faulty ladders.

What he finds in America he told
ever after, a recurring dream—awakening
inside a vault filled with pennies—stuffing
his pockets—entering another room piled
with nickels—leaving behind pennies,
taking nickels, then with dimes in the next room,
reaching quarters, dumping again, re-filling

then, he says, I woke up with empty pockets.

David Subacchi – Money Talks

David Subacchi
Money Talks

The Walkie Talkie sells for one point three
That’s billion pounds. A London tower block
With a crude design many chose to mock,
Towering above streets defiantly.
This “Fryscraper” reflecting light fiercely,
With charm quite impossible to unlock,
Bubbling paint on parked cars at twelve o’clock
Was soon re-branded the Walkie Scorchie.

But corporate investors from the East
Encouraged by the weakness of the pound
Saw only great beauty and not a beast
And hurried to purchase a bargain found.
Now China owns the vulgar creation
For money talks in this situation.

Margaret Koger – Money Comes to Apalachicola Bay

Margaret Koger
Money Comes to Apalachicola Bay

I.

Apalachicola rests beneath misty river-mouth salt air
Here where wharf boards rot and shrimp trawlers rust.

Where ages ago stacks of 500-pound cotton bales waited
To be loaded on sailing ships bound for distant mills.

Where boats filled with mountains of living sponge unloaded
A golden harvest brought up by immigrant divers.

And workers lined up barrels of turpentine pine rosin
Refined in Cracker stills and sold for ship’s caulking and soap.

Where crosscut thousand-year-old cypress logs floated
Downstream to sawmills till there were no old cypress left.

Where roofless buildings now house riots of green upstarts
And leaning walls support wild trumpet vines.

Where oyster-gatherers and shrimpers maybe pull in
Enough to feed a family—weather providing.

Where everybody who lives here knows it won’t last
Property prices skyrocketed so high nobody can . . .

Homes sheltered by Historic District regulations
Victorian mansions, cottages, and brick one-levels

Cost so much these days a person would hardly believe
Two blocks down there’s not even a sidewalk to walk on.

Sweeping Magnolias shade verandas and screen porches.
Empty rockers witness how folks once sat out evenings.

Refined old Gibson Inn still shelters travelers and lazy cats,
Green anole lizards in cycads flash their pink throat fans.

Church bells ring at eight, noon, and pews fill up on Sundays
Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic congregations meeting since 1830 or so.

Apalachicola Library’s got free email for anyone who drops in
Thanks to Bill Gates. Open 10-12 and 2-5 most weekdays.

Here in Apalachicola, fixed-up Cracker-box houses
May sell for a cool half-mil …

At Lafayette Park landing marsh rabbits roam
And young yellow-crowned heron fledge.

Along salt marsh stalks of knotgrass and sugar cane
Yellow-striped lubber grasshoppers cling undisturbed.

Tiny black crabs on the wooden landing skitter and pick
At discarded bait shrimp left by fishermen.

Black skimmer gulls drag wide-open beaks over shallows
Common terns plunge deep as surface water explodes.

Under the Lafayette Park gazebo (honouring our dead)
Guests witness as a bride and groom promise to uphold.

Cicadas ratchet from live oaks as mockingbirds call
And red cardinals flit anxiously from bush to tree.

Collared-doves ca-COO-Kuk in symmetrical tone
Their flush notes steadfastly resonate in the steamy air.

Common cooter turtles a foot long scoot over grass
As a northern flicker feeds its baby in the bird-box.

II.

Stock market climbing, taxes for rich folk falling
Getting ready for a new day on the Forgotten Coast.

Developers eager to buy up the whole Florida Panhandle.
New investors needed for the survival of the one percent.

There’ll be rich newcomers clogging up the Piggly Wiggly
Dribbling bits of money to the minimum-wagers.

Buying up history and habitat so no matter
They drive away exactly what they came for.

Pattie Flint – Rice Cats

Pattie Flint
Rice Cats

The woman who cannot stand up
feeds rice to the cats that are missing ears and toes
and I think about how wasteful my life is
as I stuff souvenir saris into my backpack

The starving cats will eat the rice and be thankful.
They will puke it up and lap at the mess,
their ribs heaving as they purr like turbines,
while the woman with a back curled like a dry leaf
watches them passively and clicks her tongue.

I will grow up to feed lost things.
I will grow up beyond my need for nail polish and candled restaurants.
Bend me over.
I am tired of looking up.

Mark Danowsky – Market Waste

Mark Danowsky
Market Waste

Clerks pass by my sampling station

One wheels a grey trashcan filled to the brim
with cherry tomatoes

Another grey can holds scooped cantaloupe rinds
weighed down with leafy greens

My father couldn’t do this job; he’d get himself fired
for asking too many questions, expressing his horror

No one complains

If asked ‘How’s it going?’ there are two answers:
‘It’s going’ & ‘Living the dream’

The only mask you have to wear is the one they pay you to