Pat Seman – Paska

Pat Seman
Paska

Easter. The biggest festival of the year in Ukraine.

It begins with Willow Sunday and the ceremony of the blessing of the willow, a practice that stems back to pagan times when the willow with its healing properties was a holy tree and one of the first in Spring to show signs of life. People believed that by tapping each other with a freshly blooming willow branch they could draw upon its energy and strength.

There was no sign of tapping at church that morning, simply an enormous crowd of people, everyone clutching pussy willow twigs and pressing forward into an already packed church. Once inside, standing squeezed like a sardine and peering over a sea of shoulders, I could see nothing of the ceremony. But the singing was sublime. One voice emerged in what felt like the crescendo of the service, strong and deep with an ever greater sense of urgency, till at its peak it melted into a sea of harmony, one with the rich and sonorous tones of the choir. Then abruptly, the service over, the crowd turned and I was carried with them as inch by inch we shuffled and stumbled our way out into the pouring rain.

Holy Week or Willow week as it’s called in Ukraine is a period of cleansing both spiritual and physical in preparation for Easter. In my street the women were out sweeping the pavement in front of their houses, scrubbing doorsteps, cleaning and polishing the windows till they shone. In courtyards and gardens, carpets were hung out to air. Caught up in the general fever of spring-cleaning I cleaned my flat from top to bottom. After such a long winter it was good to open wide the doors and windows and feel the first balmy breath of Spring entering. At school my students and colleagues, their figures trim from weeks of dieting and fasting, were all talking about their trips to the ‘bazaar’- an enormous market on the edge of town – and the new clothes they’d bought to wear on Easter Sunday.

The girls in my groups told me that they were making ‘pisanki’, the beautiful traditional painted eggs for which Ukraine is famous. Decorated with stylised symbols from Nature they were said to contain powerful magic, a protection against evil and natural catastrophe. Once they were painted by women only. They would gather together in secret when the children had gone to bed, singing and telling stories as with wax and plant dyes and a special stylus they created the delicate patterns of the pisanki. For centuries the tradition was handed down from mother to daughter only to be banned under the Soviet regime. It was the Ukrainians in the Diaspora that ensured its survival. I know my grandmother took this skill with her to Canada.

Now the girls have lessons at school in dyeing and decorating pisanki. In the weeks before Easter you see these decorated eggs everywhere. They come in many colours – orange and red, yellow, green and deep blue. Often the patterns are geometrical or with spiral motifs, but there are also motifs of birds, flowers and animals. One, which I saw amongst a cluster of colourful pisanki in the local market, was encircled with a chain of young women dancing.

Pisanki represent the gift of life.

At Easter they’re placed in a wicker basket of food, which is taken to the midnight mass to be blessed. In my cousin Masha’s basket: pisanki, ham, sausage, horseradish, butter, cheese and rye bread, all covered by a white embroidered cloth. And a ‘paska’, or Easter bread, a round, sweet loaf, decorated again with motifs of plants and flowers formed from dough to celebrate nature’s rebirth.

The paska must be made with great care. When preparing the dough and during the kneading you must keep your thoughts pure and the whole household quiet to ensure the bread bakes properly. This means that no-one, not even friends and neighbours are allowed to come in during its baking lest they make a sudden noise or cast the evil eye, causing the paska to come out flat.

We arrived at the cathedral about an hour before midnight. Masha gave me a candle from her basket, then we both put on our scarves and joined a throng of women jostling to get in through the door. Inside they parted to leave a clear passage down to the altar, placing their baskets on either side of it ready for the priest’s blessing. We stood on the cold stone floor amongst the crowd of worshippers listening as the deep voices of the priests and choir intoned the solemn liturgy. The sequin-sewn white scarves of the congregation glimmered and glittered in the soft candle light, while over their heads, in the shadows near the altar hung a life-size figure of Christ on the Cross surrounded by a mass of deep red carnations.

A stirring, a murmur of expectation. Heads turned as some men entered carrying banners. Masha, checking her watch, muttered that it was now gone midnight. Still we stood waiting patiently as the priest continued his incantation. Then all at once the chandeliers went on in a blaze of electric light. Red neon letters spelling CHRISTOS VOSKRES flashed above the altar and a procession of nine priests, resplendent in white and gold followed by the choir, led us out of the cathedral with the bells wildly pealing. Out into the cold midnight air as the Easter flame was passed through the crowd from one candle to the other, then in a rambling procession we circled the cathedral three times, singing and stopping every so often to roar out a reply to the priest’s call ‘Christ is risen’, ‘He is indeed risen!’

At 6 in the morning I ate with Masha and her family as they broke their fast. All the food from the basket, which had been blessed by the priest at the cathedral, and more, was spread out on the table. We each had a hard-boiled egg dyed red which we had to hold firmly while tapping everyone else’s trying to crack them. Masha’s husband, Vasili, was the one who came out victorious; the last with his egg intact, his face creased into a big smile. As I walked back home through the early morning mist, the streets were still full of people carrying home their baskets and flickering candles. The aim is to bring the flame safely home and with it to trace a figure of the Cross on the lintel of your house. Mine had gone out in a gust of wind within minutes of leaving the cathedral.

Later in the day the mist turned to bright sunshine and the unpaved road to Vasyliv, my family’s village, was shiny with puddles and mud. Fields stretched on either side of me, empty and grey. But in the village the freshly dug earth in the gardens was a rich, dark brown covered here and there in a haze of fresh green. I arrived to the clanging of bells, drove past a group of boys taking it in turns to pull on the rope in the small bell tower by the church gate.

Masha with her parents and Vasili, their son, Pavel and Masha’s brother were all waiting for me, bunched together on two beds around a small table which was crammed to overflowing with dishes: hard boiled eggs, salads, fish fried in batter, meatballs, salami, cold pork, cheese and a sweet, creamy macaroni-like pudding. Vasili told us that he was going easy on the vodka as he was saving himself for the next day, the first Monday of Easter or ‘Wet Monday’, when he and his friends would hit the streets to douse the women passing by with water. Yet another old custom rooted in pre-Christian rites of purification and rebirth, and one which, according to Masha, is practised with an unbridled enthusiasm. ‘Never mind’, she said, ‘on Tuesday, it’ll be the women’s turn’.

Masha then told me that when she was young, on Easter morning, she and the other village girls would dance and sing in front of the church, round and round in a circle in imitation of the movement of the earth round the sun, to encourage the Spring to waken and bring them good luck and a plentiful harvest.
 
 
An integral part of the of Easter ritual which follows Easter Sunday is the honouring of the dead, when families gather at the graves of their loved ones and ancestors bringing food for them. Often they stay and eat together next to the grave, so that the dead too may take part in the celebration, the joy of Easter; the idea being that the ghosts of the dead are always with us, that the border between life and death is as permeable as a cloud.

Driving out of Chernivitsi towards Vasyliv the next Saturday I saw heaps of plastic purple and pink wreaths for sale at the side of the road and people walking along the verge with these large wreaths slung over their shoulders or on the handle bars of their bikes. In the countryside I stopped at a cemetery just outside a village where so many wreaths had been laid or propped against headstones you could hardly see the graves. Between them wooden tables and benches had been set out as for a party. The sky was sullen with dark clouds threatening rain, the cemetery empty, except for a man and a woman and two children who were sitting at a table next to their ancestor’s grave, quietly eating and drinking. Out of respect I kept my distance, but as soon as they spotted me they sent over the young boy with an Easter bread and a pisanka. The bread was ornamented with a cross made of dough, the four arms curved at their tips as if about to spin into motion – an ancient symbol of the sun and the wheel of life.

In Vasyliv the cemetery lies at the centre of the village, a large field full of stone crosses, many of them ancient, some all but toppling over in the long grass. There were no wreaths and no tables and benches laid out when I arrived. All was quiet. A football match was going on in the neighbouring field. Every so often there’d be shouts from the small tribune alongside the dirt path skirting the graves.

I trudged through the mud and wet grass in search of Masha and her family. She’d promised to take me to our great-grand-parents’ graves and say some prayers for them on my behalf. She was at the edge of the cemetery with Vasili, their son, Pavel and Vasili’s mother. They were gathered round Vasili’s father’s grave. His mother was in tears. Vasili came to me and solemnly handed me an Easter bread, an orange and some chocolates in memory of his father.

The spot where my great grandparents lie buried is marked by two stone crosses. They stand side by side, leaning slightly towards one another, not far from a border of tall, sheltering acacia trees. My great grandmother Vasylina’s cross stands on the left, and on the right, that of my great grandfather Vasil. Their surfaces are so worn that it’s impossible to trace an inscription. The arms of each cross are decorated with flower patterns, and at the centre of Vasil’s is another pagan symbol of the sun: a circle, from which branch out four short arms like rays. Clearly engraved within the circle is a wreath of flowers, symbol of Mother Earth.

Masha and I stood silently at the graves of our great-grandparents. It started to rain. We returned to her parents’ house where her father and his family were waiting for me to join them in yet another feast.

When I left, Masha gave me one red carnation. It had been blessed in a service of remembrance of the village dead, my Ukrainian ancestors. It hangs now, dry and drained of colour, at home above my desk.

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

Jerilyn Friedmann Burgess – Life Lessons

Life Lessons
by Jerilyn Friedmann Burgess

While spring cleaning this year, I came across a small canvas bag emblazoned with the words “Chirag Premium Rose Long Kernel Basmati Rice. Product of Pakistan.”

Perhaps others could discard this humble item, but I cannot. It is a memento of the sweet students I taught eight years ago, refugees from Bhutan, at a time when I was a stranger in a strange land of my own.

In early 2009, my husband found the perfect job in Houston, Texas. After a few years in Washington, D.C., I simply wanted to go home to Ohio, but that wasn’t meant to be.

Houston is a fine place for people who call it “home,” but for me, the “everything-is-bigger-in-Texas” mentality made me feel small, insignificant, alone. Everyone seemed to own a gun, and weapons scared me. The Texas drawl was annoying for this fast-talking Yankee. Texas politics were ultra-conservative to my liberal bent. The beef-centric cuisine did not appeal to this part-time vegan. This city was not for me, to say the very least.

While in D.C., I taught English as a Second Language, or ESL, to the spouses of wealthy expats. Many of my students had a little English background and were quite easy to teach. When our sessions were done, they presented me with expensive jewelry. I was uncomfortable accepting such items—I was just doing my job!—but a refusal would have offended the students. I learned to simply say “Thank you.”

Soon after arriving in Houston, I received my first assignment, a six-week class to be held in the old party room of a rundown, Houston apartment complex. I was going to work with Bhutanese refugees. It wasn’t exactly the luxurious suburban homes of D.C. expats, but it got me out of my house.

A case manager briefed me on my new students, explaining how they became homeless in this world, a sad old tale about hatred against one’s neighbor. On a less profound note, she added that their apartment furnishings were only second-hand card tables, folding chairs, mattresses, and pillows. Even pretty containers and bags from grocery goods became prized possessions.

Refugees brought to the United States have six months to get a job. They must learn English. They are provided housing, food, and the other essentials of life but are expected to be self-supporting quickly. And I wanted to help.

On my first day of class, lessons plans in hand, I waited for my students. Into that old party room they came, raven-haired women wearing the brightly-coloured saris and the red bindi of their Hindu culture. The men dressed as casually as any other Texan, clad in t-shirts and jeans. About a third were young married women, another third, their husbands, and the rest were elderly. The young students were definitely motivated to learn English not only to fulfil the language requirement but to help them converse with doctors, store clerks, and their children’s teachers.

Usually ESL teachers employ an immersive approach, not allowing anything but the target language in the classroom. This assumes that students are already literate in their own tongues, but I immediately discovered that half of the Bhutanese students couldn’t even use a pen.

Fortunately, an intense young man, Tashi, was able to assist me. He had taught beginning English to his compatriots in their Nepali refugee camps, and they trusted him. Tashi helped me demonstrate how to pick up pens and make letters and numbers. He also translated for the pre-literate students, but most of the time I came up with communication techniques. A smile is the same in every language, so I smiled at lot, even though it felt forced. I mimed verbs such as “walk” and “eat,” and the photos in our textbook illustrated many concepts. I repeated myself constantly until the students could replicate those basic sounds of English.

After a couple weeks, laughter and hesitant conversation filled that old party room, and my own smiles were no longer artificial but heartfelt. Through “my refugees,” I found purpose in Houston. I felt at home.

But it certainly wasn’t all happy. I soon learned that teaching English involves more than articulating phonemes. I learned to ignore textbook pages with photos of hamburgers, televisions, Christmas presents, or Hollywood actors—these topics were irrelevant to students whose culture was not at all Western. I sometimes jumped ahead to chapters explaining how to call for immediate medical, police, or fire response. I empathized with mothers who were preoccupied with worries about sick children. I applauded the efforts of the shy elderly students who could finally say “Nice to meet you” after four weeks.

On our last day of class, one of those young women starting crying. “You teach us no more,” she said sadly. The language school I worked for didn’t ask me to work another six-week session, tersely stating that these good people needed to find jobs immediately, fluent or not. That angered me, so before I left them, I connected the students with a local Hindu charity that I found.

And then it was time for me to walk away from the refugees who made me feel at home in Houston. As I was about to say a final farewell, Tashi and a couple young women approached my desk, the entire classroom breaking out in big smiles. He handed me a plastic grocery bag. “Our gift to you,” he said proudly. To thank you.” Inside was the canvas rice bag, folded carefully, the most precious gift I have ever received. Given to me with gratitude and love, I will always cherish it. AQ

Jerilyn Friedmann Burgess, The Present, photograph, 2017

Pat Seman – Rushnyk

Rushnyk
by Pat Seman

Maria Vasileyevna. Tall and firmly built, she wears a bright yellow, floral headscarf. Immediately I see my father in her, the shape of her mouth, her eyes.

She’s waiting for me in the small council office of the Ukrainian village where I’ve come in search of my family, and already I’ve learned that half the village bears my grandmother’s surname. Maria, as teacher at the village school and local historian, is a fund of knowledge when it comes to the genealogy and blood ties of this close-knit community. She’s here to help me trace my family.

“I’m a Semenyuk too, on my mother’s side. We’re all one big family here.” Blood is strong,” she tells me, “it pulls you back to the earth it was fed on. The earth of this village is a magnet. It has brought you back to us. Welcome to Vasyliv.”

She sits down with us, puts on her glasses and studies the photograph I’ve brought with me, then takes out a notebook and begins to write.

The next day she phones to tell me she’s found my family.

 
In the spring of the next year, 2010, I was back in Ukraine, working as an English teacher at a language institute in the main provincial town, Chernivitsi. I wanted to stay longer this time, explore the country, go for long unhurried walks through the lanes and tracks of Vasyliv and, above all, I wanted to get to know my family. At weekends I’d take the local bus to the village. Long afternoons spent with cousins and second cousins, their children and grandchildren, often taken from house to house and at each house another meal spread before me. Eating and drinking and talking until the early hours of the evening. Whenever I could tear myself away from my family’s infinite hospitality I’d visit Maria, who by now had become a firm friend.

 
Maria lives in a small two-roomed house. There’s a courtyard with a fenced off section for her animals—two baby goats, some chickens and a big gobbling turkey. In the middle of the courtyard stands a well and further back, near the entrance to her garden is a wooden hut, which serves as the outside toilet. When I arrive she always has food waiting for me—blinis, borsch, fresh boiled eggs with crunchy spring onions, a dish of chicken or succulent kid. I sit at the table in the corner of her room with its two beds against the walls and picture of the Virgin Mary hanging above the wood stove.

“Eat, eat! I promise you’ve never tasted anything as good as this before. Everything’s my own produce, fresh from the land. Here, take some more bread. Everyone must eat. That’s the way it’s always been. You can’t work on an empty stomach.”

 
Maria is a history teacher at the local village school. Every morning she’s up at dawn to tend her garden, her cherry and apricot trees, vines and flowers. By 8 o’clock she’s at school ready to begin her first lesson. From my own experience, teaching English to school children in Chernivtsi, I imagine her sitting at her desk on a raised wooden dais in front of the blackboard as the children, neatly dressed, file in quietly, hang up their jackets in a wardrobe at the back of the classroom, take their places at old-fashioned wooden desks lined up in straight rows. A classroom with white lacy curtains at the windows, pot plants on the windowsills, pictures and maps hanging on the white walls. The room clean and tidy, everything in its place. It has a typically Ukrainian atmosphere of domesticity; warm and comfortable.

But Maria tells me proudly that in her school instead of blackboards they now have white boards and that the old coal stove central heating system has been replaced by electric convection heating.

“It’s so warm in winter now that the temperature may even reach 24 degrees and the children can sit and study without having to wear their jackets! We have a special computer room and in each classroom there’s an overhead projector that can be connected to a laptop.”

She comes home in the afternoon to more work, hard, manual work this time on her land. Everything she does herself; follows the tractor as it ploughs the earth, pulling out weeds and stones; plants the potatoes, corn and vegetables; weeds and harvests them.

“In everything I do, I find something special. I give it my best.”

 
One afternoon as I’m walking along the path to Maria’s house I pass a bridal procession making its way towards the church. My attention’s caught by two children who go before the bride and her family, one carrying a large decorated loaf and an icon, the other a long, white, embroidered towel. When I tell this to Maria, “Ah, the rushnyk!” and she disappears into the next room, returns with her own beautifully embroidered example.

“Here. This is my rushnyk. A rushnyk symbolises life’s journey, so it must be long and beautiful. It’s with us at all our most important moments—birth, marriage, death. See the red thread running through it? Red is for life itself, fertility, joy. The bride you saw today will take her rushnyk into the church with her. She and the groom will stand on it during the ceremony. And here”, she lays out on the bed a long-sleeved, embroidered white blouse. “A blouse, woven and embroidered by my great-grandmother.” With her hand she traces the paired motifs that rise in dense formation up each sleeve; a red rose for life and fertility, a black rose for the earth, repeated time and time again. Each pair, she explains, represents an ancestor, going back as far as the seamstress could remember.

She brings out a dress made for her by her mother; a long, white woven dress with crocheted hem and cuffs, the top and sleeves all closely sewn with tiny beads in a pattern of large red roses against green leaves. She insists I try it on, kneels at my feet to roll up my jeans, adjust the hem, squeezes my feet into a pair of her daughter’s tight, pointed shoes, then wraps a long black apron skirt around my waist, bright with tiny beads that glimmer and shine in a pattern of flowers as varied and rich as those in her garden. The dress feels heavy, almost regal in its weight and flow and, tottering out to have my picture taken amongst Maria’s tulips and sweet-smelling narcissus, I wish I’d inherited just some of that poise and elegance that I’ve seen in so many young Ukrainian women, immaculate in their high heels and tight skirts, strolling along the streets of Chernivtsi.

 
Out through her garden and onto a wide sweep of land that curves gently down to the river, I follow Maria as she strides over the tilled earth, down along a track between plots furred with tiny green shoots.

“There, those are potatoes and over there corn, here beetroot and cabbage. The earth is dry. We need more rain and soon, if they’re to grow.”

She points back towards the ridge we’ve just come from, with its scattering of low-roofed, wooden houses. “That’s where your great-grandfather’s house was once, there where they’re now building a big brick house. Your grandmother worked on this land, in summer she and all her family were out in the fields together hoeing from dawn to dusk. Hemp used to be grown here, great stretches of it. It had to be picked, soaked in the river, then laid out to dry. Your grandmother would have spent the long winter evenings spinning and weaving it into carpets and blankets for her trousseau. And she would have embroidered – bedcovers, pillows, and a pair of white trousers and white shirt for her future bridegroom to be worn at their wedding, and of course, her rushnyk.”

 
Maria and I are sitting by the river cracking sunflower seeds. She’s laid out a blanket for us just clear of the sheltering trees. Nearby some goats and a tethered cow graze on the grass verge. A stork sails by, skimming the opposite shore, which is steep and wooded, its green reflection wavering in the water’s steady flow.

We talk about the recent elections. Yanukovitch, with his connections to Russia, has come to power. Maria tells me that one of his first acts has been to deny that the terrible famine of the 1930’s, in which at least 7 million people starved to death, was an act of genocide committed by the Soviet Union upon the Ukrainian people.

“The Soviet Union stripped the Ukraine of all its harvest leaving our people to starve. They even skimmed off our rich, black Ukrainian earth, took it away by the trainload.” She tells me that this part of Ukraine, Bukovina, escaped this catastrophe; it didn’t become part of the Soviet Union until 1940. But in 1944 collectivisation was introduced into the village. Any peasant who protested against the confiscation of his land was deported to Siberia. The grain too was confiscated, even the seed grain. Soviet agents were sent into the villages to search from house to house for hidden stores of food. Many people died.

“There on the other side of the river,” she points to the steep, wooded bank, “the situation wasn’t so bad, they had rain. The people of Vasyliv would go there with whatever they had and barter it for bread. Just downstream from here there’s a spot where the river runs shallow, that’s where they would cross over. There was a woman; she was pregnant. She was coming back weak with hunger, exhausted, clutching a bag of flour. She’d just exchanged it for her embroidered, beaded blouse. She didn’t make it, couldn’t keep her footing. The swift current swept her away. “These are our stories, our history, written down in every school text book in Ukraine. I am a history teacher. What am I to tell my pupils now? That what they’ve read, what I’ve told them, given them as their history, is not true?”

 
Vasyliv was once an important town in the rich and flourishing principality of Kiev Rus. Situated on the River Dniester, it was part of the crucial trade route that linked the Baltic to the Black Sea and Constantinople. With amber from the Baltic shores and rich brocades, wine, oil and perfume from the Black Sea and beyond, ships sailed into harbour and traded for the local produce –honey, wax, fur, grain and pottery. It had numerous churches, monasteries and a castle, the residence of Prince Vasili, grandson of the Grand Prince of Kiev, Yaroslav the Wise. But its prosperity was short-lived. In 1241 an invading horde of Mongols burnt it to the ground.

I know all this because Maria has taken me along the river, shown me the site of the ancient harbour, the trading post and the large ploughed field nearby where once stood the Prince’s castle. She’s given me a tour of the village museum of which she is curator, with wave of her teacher’s rod, guiding me through the carefully executed plans, diagrams, archaeological drawings and finds that tell the story of Vasyliv’s long history, reaching back 7,000 years. And together we’ve been to the site of the White Stone Church on a rise at the edge of the village with its remains of 12 stone sarcophagi, where princes and boyars once lay; where during the excavation in and around the site, skulls were found.

 
“So many skulls, here and in other parts of the village. Piled high they were. When the experts examined them they proved to have exactly the same proportions as the skulls of our present day villagers.” Hearing this I wonder, if my skull were put to the test, would I too turn out to be a direct descendant of these citizens of Ancient Rus. Could my connection to this place and its people really go back so far?

 
Whenever I can, I go back to Ukraine, to my family and Vasyliv. The last time I was there, as always, I sought out Maria. I found her at the bottom of her field of vegetables down by the river, which was swollen and seething after several bouts of heavy summer rain. She was hanging onto a tree branch, leaning over the fast flowing water, trying to catch a long branch floating by, her face shining with sweat from the effort. She told me that her daughter had gone to find work in Poland. She’s a qualified teacher, but there’s no work in Ukraine for young people and no motivation to study, since a degree is no guarantee of a good job; it’s only money and the right connections that count. The crisis in Ukraine was making the situation even more acute and forcing many of them to seek a better future abroad.

“Ah,” says Maria, “there are so many places to see, so many countries I’ve read about, talked about to my students. If I only had the money, could leave this country, travel, I’d go to Germany, England, Canada, Brazil, India, Greece … a trip round the world! Maybe I’d live abroad for some time, Canada or Sweden, probably for five years, and then I’d come home. For me there’ s no better place to live, my roots are here, here in this earth of Vasyliv. I plant the seeds in its rich earth, they absorb its goodness, grow into the food I eat: the potatoes, the carrots, the cabbage, the beetroot, the sweet corn.

Wherever I am in the world
I won’t forget Vasyliv.
When I think of it, my heart misses a beat.
My Vasyliv, my Vasyliv.

We walked back up the hill in the late afternoon light following the track through Maria’s long field of vegetables, the corn hip-high, potatoes, carrots, beetroot, beans laid out in neat rows, every inch of soil used. On into her garden, which was a tangle and explosion of green. There were roses and lilies of all colours, tall yellow irises, peonies ready to burst their buds, flowering beds of strawberries.

It was time to leave. Maria disappeared into the house, came back with a large jar of preserved cherries and a bowl of eggs, each one individually wrapped in newspaper.

A last hug.

“Come back soon. Don’t forget us!

As if I ever could. AQ

Maryah Converse – Friends with Goats

Friends with Goats
by Maryah Converse

It was 2004, not long after the United States began occupying Iraq. In the neighboring Arab kingdom of Jordan, sid Muna was the headmistress of the girls’ school in the northern village where I would soon be teaching English. About mid-way through my Peace Corps training, she came down to our training center in Madaba, Jordan, to meet me. She was tall and statuesque, in a long, loose olive green duster coat called a jelbaab. We had a list of questions Peace Corps staff had given us to ask each other.

“Tell me about your family.” Sid Muna had a husband and five children, a small family for Jordan. My parents had four children? Allah kareem—Generous God, that was a large family for an American!

How big was sid Muna’s village? A couple thousand, she thought. That would make my new community twice the size of the closest town to my rural Pennsylvania childhood home.

What did people in sid Muna’s village do for a living? Mostly farmers and shepherds and some military families. That was also not so different from my Amish and dairy farming neighbors growing up, where a few years in the military was a common way to pay for college.

I don’t know how it was for the other trainees, but as we went from one question to the next, sid Muna’s answers seemed perfectly calibrated to put me at ease. I knew her people, hand grown up with sprawling extended farm families. Back home, they raised cows and farmed corn. In my new community, they raised goats and grew olives, but I felt reassured that I would find commonalities there, touchpoints for mutual understanding.

***

Two weeks later, I visited for the first time the village where I would spend the next two years teaching, improving my Arabic, and integrating into the community. I spent two nights at sid Muna’s home, next door to the little house where I would soon live.

I was sitting in sid Muna’s dimly lit living room after dinner that first night, tiny glasses of hot, sweet black tea with sprigs of fresh mint set out before us on her worn Persian rug. A cold rain lashed the windows. Her second daughter Samira brought out plates of apples, oranges and little cucumbers. Her husband, eldest son Alaa, and eldest daughter Safaa were chatting with me in a mélange of English and Arabic, while the youngest son Hashem did homework in the corner.

I had only just realized that I hadn’t met all of sid Muna’s children when a dark mop of hair on a wind-burned face popped around the corner, tall, with thin cheeks and bright dark eyes, asking his mother for something.

“Maryah!” exclaimed Alaa, a big grin on his broad face and an elder brother’s glint in his eye. “Look!” he said, pointing at the head peering around the corner. “The enemy! The enemy! It’s your enemy Osama, ya Maryah!”

Poor Osama flushed red and his head snapped back out of sight. For months, although I would sometimes see him at dinner, he would avoid eye contact, eat faster than anyone I have ever seen, and head immediately back outside. We never spoke.

***

“Every time we pass a herd of goats, you turn your head to look!” said sid Muna.

Since I had moved to her village, the headmistress would occasionally take me with her to the Jerash Directorate of Education, just to remind them that she had a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching in her school, the only one in the governorate. At least, I assumed that was her reason.

On this particular day, returning from the Directorate, we were driving through our little village around the time of ‘aSr, the mid-afternoon call to prayer. This is also when the shepherds returned with their herds, lines of goats and waddling fat-tailed sheep trotting single-file down the road, but not following their shepherd. The shepherd sauntered casually at the back, clucking and tsking at his flock, who responding by going left or right, stopping or moving faster.

Like sid Muna, everyone was amused by my fascination with goats, but it was what finally allowed me to have a relationship with her second son, Osama.
 
The first time I saw someone herd goats like that was on my first visit to the home of Umm Tareq. She was a close friend of sid Muna, who introduced us not only because Umm Tareq was an English teacher like me—a professional resource—but because she was also the best candidate in the village to continue my Arabic language lessons. I had a little money from Peace Corps to pay her to be my tutor, but she was even more important to me as a cultural interpreter … and a dear friend.

***

The first time I visited Umm Tareq in her own home, four houses down from mine, she made me thick, sweet Turkish coffee, and we talked about how we would schedule our Arabic lessons. “I’m not going to teach you that Standard Arabic they speak on TV,” she warned me. “And I won’t teach you what sid Muna and your neighbours up the hill think you should learn, either. I’m going to teach you the real Arabic, like the Bedouin speak. With ‘ch’ instead of ‘k’ and all the rest.”

“Good!” I would sound like a hick on my periodic trips into the city, but I would sound like all the other shepherds and farmers and car mechanics in our little village.

I knew first-hand the value of a local speech pattern. I knew how my mother’s misplaced New England ‘r’s stood out in Pennsylvania Dutch country where I grew up. I knew, from giving up my studies of High German in Bern to immerse myself in Swiss dialect, that sounding like my neighbors could help me integrate into the community faster than anything else. That’s what I wanted in Arabic—to be able to simulate belonging right down to the shape of the last vowel on my tongue.

Once that was settled, she called for her daughter to make us a pot of strong, sweet black tea. Umm Tareq started telling me about her father’s British friends, who were frequently in their home as she was growing up. She had learned English from them, then gotten her university degree in English, and I believe she could easily have gotten a scholarship to go to England or America for graduate work. I think her family would have supported that.

Then Umm Tareq fell in love with an older Bedouin man with a coveted stable government job. Against her father’s advice, she chose to pursue a childhood dream. Just as I had longed as a child to be Sacagawea or Laura Wilder, so she had longed to be Bedouin. It was a dream she never claimed to regret, though it led her into poverty, and aged her well beyond her years.

We talked for a couple hours that first day, until Umm Tareq yelled for one of her daughters to clear the tea and little glasses away. To me, she said, “I want you to meet my husband. He’s out with the goats, but should be coming back soon. Let’s walk out to meet him.”

Umm Tareq and I walked the rest of the way down the big hill at the end of town, and up the next big rise, where the first goats of a herd had just begun to appear in a single-file line from beyond the crest. Last of all came Abu Tareq, a short, leanly muscular man in a long white robe, the pale ochre dust irrevocably ground in. He wore a faded red- and white-checked kufiyah wrapped fully around his head, neck and the lower half of his face, protection against both sun and dust. He pulled the tail of it down beneath his chin to greet us.

Introducing us, Umm Tareg said, “My husband Abu Tareg was the postmaster here for many years. Now he’s retired.”

Abu Tareg spoke rapidly in Arabic, looking earnestly back and forth between his wife and me. I thought I heard a name I recognised. She laughed, a long, uninhibited outdoor sound that revealed a deep sunburst of joyful lines radiating from the corners of her eyes, creasing her temples and half her cheeks, lighting up her round face. It was impossible not to smile back, even though I didn’t know the joke yet.

Turning to me, Umm Tareg said, “He wants you to know that he is like President Jimmy Carter. At the end of his term, the president was coming out of a fancy hotel, and a reporter asked him, ‘Mr. President, what will you do next?’ And Mr. Carter said, ‘I was a peanut farmer before, I’ll be a peanut farmer again.’ That’s Abu Tareg. He was a shepherd before, and he is a shepherd again. Never retired, always a busy, working man.”

Abu Tareg nodded emphatically at me, rapping blunt fingertips against his chest. “Jimmy Carter.”

I grinned and nodded enthusiastically, understanding that he was deliberately building a bridge between America and Jordan with his considered anecdote. It was the work that I had come to do, too.

Following his flock, Abu Tareg hurried back ahead of his wife and me. We had the perfect vantage point to see how the goats seemed already to know where to go, half peeling off into Abu Tareg’s pens, the others continuing on to the pens where his young nephews were waiting to feed their father’s flock. In two years in the village, I would never lose my fascination with the flocks peeling off in seamless formation and filing home in the waning afternoon light.

***

Goats were something Abu Tareq had promised his wife years before in their marriage contract. One day, he said, he would buy her goats and they would raise them together. Over the two years I lived in their village, I was able to watch Umm and Abu Tareq negotiate goat husbandry together. He had experience from his childhood, but she had never owned animals.

At first, there were no baby goats, but after the first kids were born and sold, I would follow Umm Tareq down to the pen after the goats had come home. Milking the nannies was a two-person job. Abu Tareq held them by their ears, and Umm Tareq squatted behind, milking between the hind legs into a big bucket that, in the beginning, sometimes she couldn’t protect from being kicked over.

As I grew ever closer to their family, I would come to recognise that, while Abu Tareq framed his continuing work as an endeavour of the heart, noble and post-presidential, it was also a necessity. Goats didn’t just bring milk, but a greater variety of dairy products than we have words for in English. Alongside the occasional slaughtered goat, this was often the only protein he and Umm Tareq could provide for their six children. Other times, small excesses in production could bring in a paltry income from the neighbours, too.

***

I didn’t visit sid Muna as often as Umm Tareq, though the headmistress was my closest neighbor and we often traveled to or from school together. I would occasionally join her family for tea or dinner, especially when she was hosting extended family or other guests she thought I should meet. Sometimes, too, sid Muna would summon me to her house to help her roll grape leaves, stuff cabbage, help with the olive harvest, or paint the wrought iron fencing around her porch together.

From time to time in honour of some special occasion, Osama and his father would slaughter one of their goats. I would usually be sitting on the porch, drinking tea and visiting with out-of-town family members or other guests, while the animal’s throat was cut and it was strung up by its hind legs from the back side of the little shed where the goats sheltered at night. Osama and his father would slice open the centre of the torso, remove the organs, carefully peel off the skin in a single piece, quarter and carve the carcass, all just beyond my line of sight.

Osama always made a point of parading past me with the severed head cradled in his hands before him, its eyes rolled up and tongue lolling, neck still bloody around the edges.

I always winced and looked away.

He would find some flimsy excuse to walk past me with the head again, and again, until his mother scolded him to “stop fooling around and get back to work.”

These were the only interactions Osama and I had. Thanks to his elder brother’s laughing introduction that first night, Osama mostly avoided me.

***

One cool, crisp April day after school, passing sid Muna’s goat pen, I saw fuzzy new kids staggering around on their knobby little legs. I jogged home, dropped my bags, and came right back with my camera. I squatted patiently at the wire fence, waiting for the resting newborn goat babies to stagger onto their hooves for another try.

When he came home from school, that’s where Osama found me: hunkered down beside the goat pen with my camera. He grinned from ear to ear, looking me straight in the eye with obvious pleasure and pride. Everyone loved my camera, the only one in the village, and Osama loved goats. It was the perfect combination. He vaulted nimbly over the wire fence into the pen, crowded with bare, gnarled olive branches.

He picked up the kids, cradling first one, then both in his big palms. Their little heads and pointed shoulders leaned against Osama’s ribs, their spindly little legs dangling down from either side of his long fingers and bony wrists. He posed this way and that with them. Putting one back on its belly, he set the other on its little hooves and urged it with little pats on its rear to take wobbly, mincing little steps towards me. I snapped away with my camera.

As we went along, Osama chattered on and on about the life of goats. I didn’t understand most of it, but I grinned and nodded. This was more than he had said in all the time I had known him. I learned that, though his parents wanted him to go to engineering school, he wanted more than anything to be a shepherd when he grew up—with any luck, a farmer as successful as his Uncle Mohammad, whose opinion was valued across three governorates.

After we had taken photos for a while, the shepherds began to return with their long lines of sheep and goats along the hilltop road at my back. When his own family’s goats peeled off towards their shed, Osama didn’t open the little holding pen, with its fencing of piled up, denuded olive branches pruned during the last harvest.

“Come on, ya Maryah! We’ll take more pictures.” Osama leapt nimbly out of the pen. With a shepherd’s clicks and sharp syllables, he led the family’s goats away, and with a sweep of his arm, he led me, too.

I followed Osama and his goats towards my little neighboring house, over the disintegrating dip in the low wall around my landlord’s orchard, and into my own backyard. In the deepening emerald grass of April, under drooping trees dripping with long, lacy strands of short-lived little white flowers, Osama stalked, chased and grabbed this goat and that for a portrait.

They were unenthusiastic models, more interested in the grass than the camera. Osama wrapped his lanky arm around their necks in a wrestling hold, or straddled their skinny ribcages with his long legs and held up their heads with two hands around their long ears.

As the other kids came home from school, they wanted to have their own pictures taken. That was fine with Osama, who had lost his interest in my camera and was just wrestling playfully with his beloved goats.

After that, I found myself receiving Osama’s gracious, grinning help whenever I had to lug a new propane tank for my cookstove from the delivery truck down to my house, and even occasionally the bashful request for help with his English homework.

His older brother’s teasing was finally forgotten. “Osama the enemy” was gone, and Osama my little brother took his place. AQ

Darya Danesh – A Letter to Round One

A Letter to Round One
by Darya Danesh

I was terrified.
I was so afraid of what you were going to do to me.
I didn’t know what to expect.

E said you were the worst thing in the world. That you burned in his veins. That you turned him blue.

Mom was scared, but she didn’t dare tell me. I could see it in her eyes; I could feel it in the way she held me, trembling. I could tell she was holding back her tears, trying to be strong for me. In our days of silence, I could almost hear her asking God or whatever it is she believes in: Why is this happening?

What had we done to deserve the horror of this meeting?

Round One.

It was September 1st when they told us we’d be meeting you soon.

The nurses knew you well.
They knew what harm you might cause me. They knew that maybe you would sink into me and do nothing. That your presence could very well just be a Band-Aid on a terminal problem. They knew that the minute our chemistries mixed together — the moment you and I became one — that I would never be the same.

In the days leading up to our meeting, I fought hard not to be afraid. I kept on my biggest smiles and reassured everyone that I was fine. I belly laughed and hobbled around like it was just another normal day in a normal life.

It wasn’t a normal day or a normal life, was it?

It was 9 p.m. when a panic set in.
F asked if I was a spiritual person, if I believed in anything. He said this was the time his patients would normally reconnect with their devotion, their Gods. This was the time they would ask for guidance and for the strength to survive.

I’d never believed in God.
But in that moment believed in the power of you, and in the power of the Universe. I still do. I believed that — along with my unwavering positivity — you and the Universe would work together to get me through this.

I took my mom’s and F’s advice and took a small tablet to calm me down, help me sleep. Just a few more hours until our dreadful meeting, I thought.

The plan was for us to meet at 3 a.m., and to be together — without pause — for an uninterrupted seven days.
For seven days, you would hang atop the cold, metal pole and be pumped through me. You’d be on your homicidal mission, killing anything and everything in your way.
For seven days, we would be confined to those three silent halls, always smelling of alcohol.
For those seven days, we would hang out with family in that cold, uncomfortable room with the windows that looked out onto the university campus where I so longed to be.

The nurses woke me just minutes before the moment of induction. They asked for my name and date of birth; quietly so as not to wake E who was sound asleep in the opposite corner of the room.

It was 9 a.m. when your friend joined us for a few hours. Mom sat next to my bed but we refused talk about you. We acknowledged your presence, wondered how long your friend would stay, and carried on as if things were normal.

But things were still. not. normal.

Weak.
Cold.
Each day more awful than the last.

You made me sick.
You had me shivering and feeling brain-dead.

Some days, you had me throwing up more than I care to remember.
The first time I was sick, I rang for help. I held it in as long as I could but my body couldn’t fight the feeling.
When G finally walked in, I’d already made a mess of the floor.
I felt horrible.
Like a burden.

I won’t ever forget the feeling of knowing our week was up.
Freedom.

My hair was still long and H had finally arrived. We headed downstairs with the tiniest sense of relief in our hearts.
Finally together.

Day fourteen the alopecia kicked in.
It took a fever and the chunks of hair falling out of my dreaded locks for me to accept that you would do to me what you’d done to many before me. It finally started to kick in that I was not immune to your nightmarish side effects.

With my legs trembling and hope filling my heart, I left the hospital twenty one days after our first meeting.
Three days until we’d meet again.

You were the first, Cytarabine.

But you weren’t the worst.
No, definitely not.

Bryan R. Monte – Don’t Leave Europe: My Memoir of Harold Norse

Don’t Leave Europe: My Memoir of Harold Norse, 1981 to 1991.
by Bryan R. Monte
Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

It was hard to miss Harold Norse at Café Flore in San Francisco during the 1980s and early ’90s when I lived there. He was a short, old man with a round, slightly wrinkled face, who wore a black, leather jacket, blue jeans, biker boots, and a black toupee that never fit quite right but which, nonetheless, I never saw him without. Norse could be found most days around lunchtime at one of the café’s tables usually alone but sometimes locked in discussion with one or two writers. There he would sit into the early afternoon, reading a book, writing and looking at the people and the traffic passing on Market Street, until he headed for home, down 16th Street towards the Mission. Flore was where Norse held his “office hours” as he called them since he received so few people at his carriage house on Albion Street. Steve Abbott introduced me to Norse at Flore sometime around 1981. Unfortunately, I didn’t record this first meeting in my journal.

From what I can recollect, however, Norse didn’t seem very impressed. He gave me a quick, critical and perhaps dismissive once over with his dark, sharp eyes. At first glance, he appeared to me to be the sort of abrasive curmudgeon who didn’t suffer fools. I also had the impression that Norse was afraid I might be one of those empty-headed, pretty-boy, literary gay tourists/groupies who wasted his time wanting to know what it was like to be one of San Francisco’s Beat Generation.

The next time I think I saw Norse was when Abbott took me to one of John Norton’s Christmas Anonymous parties in Pacific Heights. He was sitting by himself in the living room looking out at the skyline until Abbott and I came over to sit and talk with him. I remember it took a while to get to know Harold—to be given access to his circle, to show him I wasn’t just another pretty face, and to gain his confidence enough for him to allow me to publish in No Apologies in 1984 and 1985 excerpts from his memoirs about his life in New York with Chester Kallman and W.H. Auden that would later become part of his book-length Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, A Fifty Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey, published by William Murrow in 1989.

My proximity, contact and confidence increased when I moved to 20th and Guerrero in the Mission in November 1982, joined the Small Press Traffic Bookstore’s gay men’s writing group the next spring, started collecting work for the first issue of No Apologies that summer, began working at the SPT that autumn and then at the Walt Whitman Bookshop on Market Street in early 1984 where I edited the second issue of No Apologies.

The first journal entry I have about Norse is from 3 February 1984:

“Ran into Harold Norse at Café Flore by accident on my lunch hour from Walt Whitman. Harold dove right in and told me how nervous he was about Robert Peters publishing a new collection of his poetry which would only be available to libraries. He felt honoured for posterity sake, but sad that people wouldn’t be able to buy his new book in bookstores. Harold was sitting with a friend named Floyd. Both them had to be 30 years older than me, but they solicited my opinion on various questions concerning publishing as if I were an equal. That’s what I like about Harold. No pedestal & no worship required.”

By then I had become much more welcome in Norse’s circle and I sent a letter on the 29th, to the Advocate in praise of Norse’s:

“…groundbreaking memoir of W.H. Auden…because it tackles many of the barely discussed problems of gay writers…(including) working with a literary past which has been deliberately distorted or sanitised…discussing the exploitation of younger gay writers by older ones and vice versa (Auden later “stole” Norse’s boyfriend, Kallman) and the reluctance of powerful gay writers such as Auden and Forster to come out of the closet to create a better world for gay people.”

I added that: “in the 1940’s—(gay) men lived as eccentrics or in constant fear of being discovered and posed the question couldn’t:

“Auden’s regular rhyme schemes and meters in an era of broken forms be seen as a way to buy into some form of respectability while describing his awareness of the apparent dissolution of the modern world?”

In a letter to Phil Willkie dated 10 March 1984, I wrote:

“Just back from Harold Norse’s house where I talked with him at his invitation about my poetry. He’s really amazed that my work hasn’t gained more notoriety in S.F.  He went over “Intimations of Frank O’Hara” with me, pointing out what he thought were weak lines that could be altered or removed. On the whole, he really likes the way I zero in on people and the scenes around them. I told him I like to concentrate on one person, just one person in my poems—sort of do portraits. I also left him with some more recent work to look at—“Words Sentences and Paragraphs” and a couple new poems, which were in process and with which I am not emotionally attached so they can be dissected by him without any emotional ambivalence or resistance on my part.”

In this letter, I also tried to convince Willkie to do an interview together with Norse for both my magazine, No Apologies and Willkie’s James White Review. Another letter to Wilkie dated 19 March states that:

“I spent most of the day Saturday, 3/17/84, with Harold Norse going over two or three poems, Harold reminiscing about William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, e. e. cummings, Hart Crane, etc. Harold also showed me some of his early poems (written between 18-24) literally hundreds of them all publishable. He showed me one entitled “High School” which as an imitation of Auden and which had strong evidence of his homosexuality before he (Norse) was even consciously aware of it.

I told Harold that you were interested in having him read maybe in the fall and the terms (I read your letter to him). He said he will be reading in St. Louis and Detroit in the fall, so I’m sure you could snag him for a couple of days in Minneapolis. (He seemed very excited about your offer).”

I continued the letter by writing that:

“Harold did an incredible amount of opening up to me—telling me about his life as a child in the slums of N.Y.C. His mother fighting with his father over a bottle of milk that his father tried to guzzle down in derision—his mother yelling — “it’s for the kid—it’s for the kid!,” meeting Tennessee Williams & Auden for the first time, living overseas in Spain, Italy and Greece for 15 years. He’s led a very adventurous life.”

In April 1984, Rink took a series of individual and group photos at Café Floré of Norse and I with Jacob Lowlander (Jim Holmes), Phil Wilkie, and Steve Abbott for The Advocate. This was for an issue headlined “New Writing and Erotica” in The Advocate’s 1 May 1984 issue.  Headshots of Wilkie and I were included with Robert Fero’s to represent the more traditional writers at the top of the left hand page and those of Boyd MacDonald, John Preston and Phil Andros, to represent the erotic writers, atop the right-hand page.

Gay Writers at Café Flore, San Francisco, April 1984. Left to right: Jim Holmes, Harold Norse, Phil Willkie, Bryan Monte & Steve Abbott. Photo copyright © 1984 by Rink Foto. All rights reserved.

Gay writers at Café Flore, San Francisco, April 1984. Left to right: Jim Holmes, Harold Norse, Phil Willkie, Bryan Monte & Steve Abbott. Photo copyright © 1984 by Rink Foto. All rights reserved.

It was during this period that Norse began to telephone me and he began to emphasise the importance of what I was doing with No Apologies. As I got to know Norse better, we also began to share some of the non-literary parts of our lives. During one phone conversation I told him about the gold and orange clouds that would sometimes roll across my white ceiling as I lay in bed breathing deeply. I had thought this was just a hallucination after a hard day’s work, but Norse seemed to think it was some sort of psychic gift. He told me not to be ashamed of gifts and to use them. He told me he was impressed with my magazine and my poems. He especially liked my poem “The Cyclist” about a man’s struggle to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito against the wind. I thanked him for his comment by dedicating the poem to him and read it a month later at the No Apologies benefit.

It was this belief in my psychic ability which coloured the description of a telephone call from Norse, the important points of which (including his anticipation of his journey to read at the One World Poetry Festival in Amsterdam) I recorded in my journal of 16 May 1984:

“I was think(ing) about Harold Norse, Robert Goldstein and the magazine (No Apologies) tonight as I sat at the kitchen table finishing my dinner. It must have been ESP because a few moments later, Harold called on the phone and asked if I’d gotten his message (the part about how happy he was at the No Apologies #2 benefit reading and how outstanding and unique he feels the magazine is). The other half is that he’s going to Europe to give readings later this year to celebrate/promote the translation of Beat Hotel into Italian.”

Harold took a great deal of time to tell me how important he thinks No Apologies is, in fact he thinks that #2 is even better than #1. He said that the magazine will make literary history as the first collection of good, gay writing and that it could be the proper vehicle for a career in writing or editing if I should choose those paths. He did stress most of all that I must continue with the magazine no matter what to destroy what we both call the conspiracy of silence about the lives of gay writers and explicitly gay works by the straight, dominant literary establishment. We also talked about how Ginsberg and Kerouac have still to win the approval of the straight dominant literary mafia. Harold’s encouragement was most gratifying to me. He also said that my writing is just as good as if not superior to the group of writers I hang out with and he mentioned a paper on gay writing he was doing implying that he would mention me in it. I feel great! Harold wants to see me on Saturday, so I’d better get some new poems ready.

As Harold began to know me better, he began to tell me about the gay writers and editors who came through town. Once, he mentioned that Donald Allen, a very distant man and Frank O’Hara’s publisher, was in town. Allen came by the Whitman to talk to the owner, Charles Gilman. I can’t remember the occasion, whether it was for a reading, or just to chat with Gilman up on his podium office at the back of bookshop behind the type of twilled, thick burgundy rope used at cinema or theatre premiers to keep out the riff-raff, but Norse mentioned somewhat later that I must have made a good impression on Allen because Norse commented: “You melted the iceberg.” (Allen corresponded with me at least twice over the next year once in a short note on Grey Fox stationary dated 17 May 1984 and the other sent to Brown University on 19 February 1985. The first note praised No Apologies’ first issue and asked the magazine published short fiction…?” The second came with a review copy of “Richard Hall’s new book of stories” (Letters from a Great Uncle). Allen again asked if I’d be “interested in publishing any of Hall’s shorter stories?”)

In May 1984, Norse was the star reader at No Apologies’ second benefit reading held at Newspace, the art gallery and performance space across from New College at Valencia and 19th and next door to the Valencia Rose, the LGBT comedy cabaret and café. Norse agreed to read, but he demanded top billing. Further conditions were that he would only read if he had a microphone and if someone was at the door to stop people from walking in during his reading.

No Apologies #2 Reading, Newspace, San Francisco, May 1984. Harold Norse, front, Steve Abbott, left front. Photo copyright © 1984 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

No Apologies #2 Reading, Newspace, San Francisco, May 1984. Harold Norse, front, Steve Abbott, left front. Photo copyright © 1984 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

As Norse had predicted, just as he got up to read, a disheveled, disoriented, grey-haired man in his 60s started jiggling the front doorknob. I went outside and made several attempts to reason with the man and steer him away from the door. Several times, however, he turned back towards the door and I had to take his hand and walk him down the street a few storefronts further. By the time he finally decided to leave, I returned to Newspace just in time to hear the applause of those inside. I realised I had missed all of Norse’s part of the reading, but I rationalised with myself that this was just one of those sacrifices hosts made to take good care of their guests. Fortunately, Norse’s reading was not interrupted and no one missed me. I went back inside, thanked Norse for his contribution and introduced the next reader as if nothing had happened.

Over time, I was able to gain more credibility with Norse as a writer and as a publisher. We had a short period of intensive correspondence between September 1984 and April 1985. During this time I published a six-page excerpt, part 1, of Norse’s Honeymoon memoir in No Apologies #3 (autumn 1984) and a much-longer, 16-page excerpt, part 2, in No Apologies #4 (spring 1985).

In a typed postcard dated 16 September 1984, Norse wrote that he “loved yr letter…a breath of fresh air…like Marco Polo discovering Cathay.” This must have been in response to my letter about my removal to and my new surroundings in Providence, Rhode Island where I attended Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program for the next two years. I had literally moved from one end of the county to another, substituting California’s sunny, warm clime for an already cold, New England autumn. (I remember calling my landlord in September to ask why the heat wasn’t on and he just laughed). I also tried to fill in Norse on my first impressions of Brown’s campus, its students and the locals. Harold envied my ability to travel and to start a new life in a new place. A few lines later he wrote: …I wish I were there…but I’m not. I’m here (San Francisco)…not in Berlin, or Lugano or Amsterdam.” The reason was because of “a bad heart.” Due to this, Norse wondered if he would still be able to make it to his “European reading tour” later that year. He mentioned further: “people were organising a big benefit reading for me because of the frightful huge costs of the treatment.”

Always the self-promoter, Norse also wrote short notes at the top and bottom of the typed postcard. He mentioned that the current Poetry Flash had “his mug on the cover and a long retrospective review of his Mysterie of Margrite.” At the bottom he wrote that the current Advocate had his Tennessee Williams memoir. Harold’s roommate, Robert Goldstein also sent me a letter around the same time. He wrote that Norse had misplaced the card I had sent him that motivated his comments above. He also said he’d enjoyed reading at the No Apologies #3 benefit in San Francisco and had enclosed a poem, “H2O,” for my consideration.

In December 1984, one of the writers, who had also read at Dutch poetry festival with Norse, complained to me when I saw him on the East Coast. He said that Norse had demanded a two-page introduction before he would read. After editing Norse’s two-part memoir about his relationship with Chester Kallman, how W.H. Auden stole him away and Norse’s knowledge of other notables in New York in the early 1940s, however, I didn’t feel such an introduction for a well-known, 70+-year-old, Beat poet was unwarranted.

Goldstein wrote me again around the first of the year. In his letter he said that Norse was “ungoing chelation therapy…He feels hopeful about his condition so his condition has improved.” Whether real or otherwise, Norse was always preoccupied about some ongoing ailment whether it was his heart or something else.

The next letter was from Norse. It included a handwritten note dated 15 January 1985 and a clipping from the 8 January 1985 Advocate that included a photo of him standing next to Jim Holmes, James Broughton, Steve Abbott and Dennis Cooper at the One World Poetry Foundation in Amsterdam as part of a “Poetry Gone Gay” evening reading. He assured me that he would have the manuscript of his memoir for No Apologies #4 ready “very soon.” Norse also asked that this time his memoir appear in the front of the magazine and not at the back as last time (when Kevin Killian guest edited the magazine whilst I was getting settled in at Brown). He then wrote that Beat Hotel “was now being read by the youth of Germany, Italy, Holland, Hungary, Finland, Greece” and that he “was among the handful of 5 or 6 contemporary Americans they admire.” He added that he felt his reading in Amsterdam had been “a triumph” and that “I will consent to an interview for N(o) A(pologies).”

Norse’s next missive was a half-page, typewritten note dated 23 January 1985. He wrote that he was still working on the second part of his memoir for me. He also mentioned that he was reviewing “(Kallman’s) stepmother’s book, Auden in Love, for the Advocate.” Norse reassured me that what he was putting in his memoirs for me was “a first-time publication,” and that it “completely confutes Farnan (Mrs. Kallman) whose book distorts and sentimentalizes without making any mention of me.” Norse continued that his health was still “touch and go,” and that he was “spending his last money on the only treatment that can help, but there’s no guarantee.”

Then, Norse sent me a full-page typewritten letter dated 30 January 1985. He continued to discuss the difference between his memoirs based upon “the letters of C(hester) K (allman)” which was “a first for biographers and scholars” and Auden in Love’s “romantic twaddle.” He also mentioned meeting Armisted Maupin at a party at Steve Abbott’s and how “delighted” he was to find that Maupin was a “rabid fan.” Maupin, according to Norse said that “it was red-letter day for his diary” and that he extended an invitation to Norse “to come visit.”

The second half of his letter was concerned with corrections and notes that should be added to the second part of his memoir that I was about to publish. He also mentioned that all of his surviving correspondence with William Carlos Williams was about to be published in HELIX and gave instructions to mention the Lily Library and a copyright note in a first page footnote of his memoir.

The last letter I have in my possession from Norse is a two-page, typewritten missive dated 10 February 1985. This letter is concerned primarily with two additional copy corrections. It begins, however, with the sad news that Norse was mugged just outside his apartment on the first of the month as he was carrying his groceries home. Norse wrote that the man used a “choke-hold, pulled me to the ground, and tightened his arms around my larynx. Luckily he let go before I passed out.” He wrote that due to the hold “he still can’t talk”… and he had made an appointment with “a throat specialist.”

I had suggested to Norse in a previous letter that he leave out the last letter in his memoir, which commented on a letter by Kallman, because it made Norse “look bad.” Norse disagreed. He said that his letter in the memoir illustrated “the growing separation between us (Norse and Kallman) that dates from this period—Wystan begins to drive a wedge between us—” and that Norse was trying to “establish the roots of a future rift.” He added the World’s Fair description was “essential for on-the-spot interest in the contemporary scene of New York—slice of life—in contrast to Chester’s Disneyland in Calif.”

In the second last paragraph of the letter, Norse mentioned Judith Malina’s Diaries (Grove Press, 1984), which mentioned “me, Chester, Frank O’Hara, Ashbery, Nin, W.C. Williams, Ginsberg, Paul Goodman, all of us from 1947-57 literary NY.”

This second page also includes two handwritten notes: one at the bottom of the page and one in the left hand margin. The former mentions that Goldstein offered his services for distribution (of No Apologies) and the latter a list of where and to whom he wanted review copies of No Apologies #4 sent.

After this letter, I received another from Norse in gold, handwritten script. Norse thanked me for publishing his memoir and told me again I should continue with my magazine and my writing. Unfortunately, this letter was stolen by a Silicon Valley roommate in 1988. After I discovered this, I deposited all my literary correspondence into a safe deposit box.

Thus ended my formal correspondence with Norse. When I returned to San Francisco in 1987, my contact with Harold was almost exclusively via the telephone with some occasional journal entries. On 16 October 1989, I mention of a visit to Harold’s carriage house. I noted that:

“…nothing had changed…Harold met me at the door and said I looked the same thing. I told him he looked the same also (I lied. He also had on his black toupe with some grey hairs to make it look more natural, but it still looks awful on him). We talked about Brown and his noisy neighbours and roommates who kept him from his writing. I told Harold about some big readings I’d organised at Brown and showed him a photo of myself standing with Olga Broumas and Dennis Cooper and picture of my ex-, Jim Guglielmino, sitting next to a Christmas tree. I also showed him pictures of Hans van K. from the Netherlands and that I would like to move there. Harold talked about going to read there in 1984 with Steve Abbott and Dennis Cooper at the One World Poetry Festival. He said while in the Netherlands, a man had offered him a loft space for as long as he wanted so he could to write. Harold said he wrote continuously for six days. Then he ran out of money and had had to come back to the States.

“Harold spent a great deal of time rummaging around in his cabinet to make some tea, but all he came up with were a bunch of mouldy mixes, so I took him out for tea at a Mexican café on 16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero.

We talked a little bit more. He told me he was going to read that night at Fort Mason with Allen Ginsberg as part of National Poetry Week. I told him I had heard Ginsberg read at Brown and that Ginsburg had read spectacularly (whilst accompanying himself on a zither). Then Harold began to go on about how Ginsberg couldn’t read well anymore. I assured him Ginsberg was in top shape and that he had read Howl in its entirety and an excerpt from his then unpublished, White Shroud. Harold then apologised and said (that) if Ginsberg had read Howl, he must in been in top form that night.”

A flyer in my files for the month of November 1989 from A Different Light Bookstore lists a reading for Norse on Sunday, 19 November at 3 PM. I also have a signed copy of his book, Memoirs of a Bastard Angel which reads: “For Bryan Monte */With warm feelings & strong feelings that you will be recognised for your gift as a poet. * Best, Harold Norse, SF 19.XI.1989” repeated the same warm feelings (and the exact words) he used in when he signed my copy of Beat Hotel in March 1984. I don’t remember attending this reading, however, nor is it mentioned in my journal.

My next mention of Harold is on 2 December 1989 when I telephoned him to try to arrange an on-air interview with him during my Lavender News & Interviews segment on Fruit Punch on KPFA-FM. On the phone, however, Harold “complained of having a cold, so he decided to stay in today and rest up for his book signing tomorrow at City Lights. I asked him if he heard my announcement on Fruit Punch last week and he said imperiously: “It was announced.” I said: “Of course. Remember, I told you I would do it?”

In June 1991 I met Norse for the last time at the annual gay pride parade near a monument in the Civic Center close to Market Street. It had always been my dream to live in a Queen Anne Victorian house, to spend Christmas together and to go to the gay parade with my lover as we called partners back then. Unfortunately, none of these things ever happened in San Francisco. Watching the parade go by, I was alone and depressed and found myself being cruised by a shirtless, muscleman who’d had both nipples pierced with rings big enough for the nose of the county fair’s prize bull. Just as I was considering something I would probably later regret, I saw Norse. We talked for a while and then caught the MUNI, an hour or two ahead of the crowds, up to the Castro and spent time together at Café Flore for the last time.

While we sat and listened to the music, Norse told me his health was failing compared to when I’d known him in the ‘80s. He also told me that the two biggest regrets he’d had were first coming back to the US from Europe and then moving from Monte Rio on the Russian River in Sonoma County down to the City. He told me that if I ever got to Europe, to stay there, to write and to edit, and never come back.

I remembered this advice as the insurance company I worked for went through its fourth reorganisation in three years and I hadn’t been able to find another job in California after an 18-month search. I remembered this advice once I found my first job in the Netherlands in 1993 and I was living in two, un-insulated attic rooms. I remembered his advice when in 1996 my friends back in San Francisco wrote or phoned: “Come back. No one’s dying of AIDS anymore,” due to combination therapy I reported about on the radio in 1990, or in 1998 when they contacted me again and said: “There’s plenty of jobs,” just before the Dotcom Bubble burst.

I did come back on holiday almost annually around Christmas. However, every time I visited, I overheard the same, desperate, worried conversations in supermarkets, gyms and churches—not about AIDS or losing jobs—but about the skyrocketing rents and real estate taxes in the City. I thought of his advice as I sat down at my second-hand dining table in my one-bedroom, Ikea-furnished flat in the Netherlands in a poor, predominantly Turkish and Moroccan neighbourhood, which my Dutch friends referred to as an achterbuurt (Eng.: slum), and corrected my students papers. As a free-lance and later tenured college English teacher with single-payer healthcare and a roof over my head as long as I lived, I could no longer believe that San Francisco, despite its natural beauty and its vibrant gay and literary communities, was the best place for me to live.

I remembered Norse’s advice and I did my best to hang on and make the best of my new life in Europe for as long as I could. After work or at the weekend I tried to retain some energy to attend readings in Amsterdam’s and Utrecht’s many bookstores and art and cultural institutions whilst continuing to write mostly poetry, sometimes in pencil in the margins of my students papers and exams. Unfortunately, I couldn’t write much my first 17 years in Europe, but ironically due to my disability, since 2011 I have finally had the opportunity to write and edit as Norse had always encouraged me to do. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – The Political as Personal. My Memoir of Steve Abbott

The Political as Personal
My Memoir of Steve Abbott, 1980-1990

by Bryan R. Monte

Steve Abbott was the first writer I met in San Francisco when I arrived in the summer of 1980. We met at a poetry reading, held in a Haight Street bar or restaurant, where one of the poets, a female African-American, complained about “gay men in Gucci shoes” who were ruining the Haight. I looked down at the scuffed and worn toes of my grey Hush Puppies and my second-hand store clothing, thought about my cockroach-infested, small flat with six, all-night bus lines under the window and considered leaving before the reading concluded. I was at this reading, my first in the City, because it was listed in a free newspaper, Poetry Flash, that I had found on the shelf at the cobbler’s below my flat in the big, yellow, wood-frame building at Haight and Clayton Streets.

It was fortuitous I didn’t leave early because after the reading I struck up a conversation with a thin, middle-aged man with thinning, black hair and glasses. He wore slender black jeans, a thin, thrift shop, early-’60s tie, a light blue shirt and a second-hand, thin-lapelled, black suit jacket. Somehow we struck up a conversation perhaps because we were both natural talkers or because we felt an affinity for each other. Whatever the reason, on our walk back to our apartments, we discovered we lived not more than a block from each other and we had both moved to San Francisco because of politics and poetry: Abbott in the mid-70s and I just months previously.

In the course of our walk, I mentioned the reading’s listing in the Flash and Abbott told me he was one of its editors and had a monthly column called “Up to the Aether,” from a poem by Jack Spicer (San Francisco Renaissance poet, active 1950s and ’60s). Abbott said the column sort of made him the Hedda Hopper (an actress cum gossip columnist for the Los Angeles Times, 1938-1966, and House Un-American Activities Committee informant in the 1950s) of the San Francisco poetry scene. He said that he and Poetry Flash sometimes took a lot of heat for what they wrote. Abbott also told me he worked as a freelance journalist for the city’s gay newspapers—the Bay Area Reporter, Sentinel and Advocate. Before he’d moved to San Francisco, he’d been a monk, a university newspaper editor and married. I told Abbott about my recent move from Ohio and how I was just getting oriented to the City’s cultures and its weirdly, quickly changeable weather (hot and sunny one minute and cold and foggy the next just over the hill). Abbott explained the City’s various microclimates—Mission and Potrero Hill hot and sunny, the Avenues and the Haight, foggier and cooler—and SF’s reading venues and locations.

Either the same day or soon thereafter, Abbott invited me to his apartment at 545 Ashbury. His flat’s furnishings were what I would call basic Bohemian. I think there was a large, wooden spool, the type used by utility companies to coil cables, in the center of his living/dining room (the first room when you came in) that functioned as a table. This table was used both for eating and for writing and always held stacks of books and papers (and sometimes a few dishes). The room’s walls were lined with bookcases filled with double rows of books on top of which were loose papers, letters, mailing envelopes, magazines, newspapers and clippings. There was also a second room off to one side that overlooked Ashbury Street, separated by a curtain and/or French doors. It had a futon that was rolled up into a couch during the day.

I don’t remember much more of what I talked about with Abbott that day but I do remember him showing me his first book of poetry—Wrecked Hearts with its cartoon cover of Jesus and his sacred heart being shot through by a cowboy who had tattoos on his biceps such as “Kill Faggots” and “Anita (Bryant) was right” the latter referring to a 1977 campaign against gay rights in Dade County, Florida. Abbott mentioned he’d given the book to the first gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, and wondered if its cover had flashed through his head as he had been murdered by one of his former colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, Dan White. Wrecked Hearts also has a cartoon of Baudelaire and Rimbaud first having an argument and then sex in their flat and later, Rimbaud’s desiccated face in Abyssinia 20 years later wearing a pair of big sunglasses (similar to the ones Abbott wore and to the faces of men I would later see of men who, before they died of AIDS, actually shrank behind their glasses and clothes) where he’d gone off to make his fortune, underneath which Abbott had written “The Dismal End — Abbott.” (I wonder now how prophetic this was of Abbott’s own death). I was excited about Abbott’s poetry because of its honesty and its political awareness. A brief scan through the table of contents yielded poems such as “Three Revolutionary Poems,” “Lines Written for Chairman Mao,” “To A Soviet Artist in Prison,” and “So Why Did We Go To Vietnam.” Abbott gave me a copy of this book inscribed: “To Brian (sic)—In friendship and struggle for a better world. Steve Abbott.”

I read it and found Abbott’s poetry surrealistically co(s)mic and what I would refer to almost three years later in my UC Berkeley English B.A. thesis as “religiously irreverent.” It was quite different from the Modernist poets such as Eliot, Pound, and W. C. Williams that I studied during my first two years of college. Abbott’s poetry reminded me more of Allen Ginsberg’s, (who Abbott told me he’d first met at the University of Nebraska in the ’60s), and his cartoons’ reminded me of Robert Crumbs’ naked honesty. Abbott also mentioned that poet Thom Gunn, another Haight-Ashbury resident who I hadn’t heard of at that point, taught every other quarter at Berkeley. Abbott promised to introduce me if we ever ran into him. I also remember that at some point I met Abbott’s nine-year-old daughter, Alysia. I remembering being consciously shocked that it was the first time I had met a single parent, let alone one that was gay.

I don’t remember the next time I saw Abbott. I do remember that both of us had nowhere to go at Christmas for several years, when Alysia went off to see her maternal grandparents in Illinois for the holidays. Due to my poverty then as a new arrival and later as a single, self-supporting student, I usually worked through every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, if possible, to make as much money as possible. So on Christmas Day 1980, Abbott and I ended up in the Castro only to discover that the only store open was the 24-hour donut shop.

Then we walked down Market Street to a place at 16th that looked like a green house, its glass walls and translucent, green, corrugated ceiling panels, however, vibrating from punk music. Inside an upside-down Christmas tree hung from the ceiling and behind the bar was an old, sideshow poster advertising a turbaned Karmi. We sat and listened to lots of loud, punk ballads such as Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” Lene Lovitch’s “Angels” and The Clash’s “London’s Calling.” I was surprised to have missed this literary, musical jewel so close to the Castro my first seven months in San Francisco. But then, at that time, I was so poor I only went to gay bars without a cover and ordered a bottle of sparkling water that I refilled in the toilet when I thought no one was looking.

Abbott explained to me that Flore was Writers’ Central for most gay and some straight or bi-sexual writers in San Francisco and not a bad place to pick up guys. He also mentioned that Finnela’s Sauna was also just one door down. On another occasion, Abbott introduced me to Harold Norse at Café Flore.

Sometime during the next few months I received a copy of Abbott’s second book, Stretching the Agape Bra. It had another memorable cover: a photo by Ginny Lloyd, of Steve dressed in a dark suit and white tie holding a white flower next to his daughter wearing a long white dress. Both stood next to the columns of The Portals of Past in Golden Gate Park at the edge of Lloyd Lake. It was this same photo that was used for the cover of Alysia’s memoir of her father: Fairyland. Abbott inscribed Stretching the Agape Bra: “For Bryan—This is a book to mellow out to (I have). Steve Abbott.” This book’s poems seemed to be more private than public compared to Wrecked Hearts and concerned with shape, texture and stance in a poem as well as a political agenda. I wrote an analysis of deformalisation of the images in “Do Potatoes Want Sex After Highschool” for my thesis because of its formalist turns and camp persona. The last poem “Elegy” is especially chilling in that it seems to foretell some of the circumstances of Steve’s own death. Steve told me personally that he thought he had had at least one previous lifetime in which he needed to escape to the North to avoid the Black Plague. According to Alysia’s memoir, this poem was read at her father’s funeral.

My first journal entry that mentions Abbott is the one for 29 March 1981 about “Riding to Oakland in Abbott’s car” (his old, beige, Volkswagen bug he mentions in his poem “It’s a Strange Day” where Alysia discovers a mushroom growing in the backseat). Here I was “Putting the Flash together in the basement of a downtown printshop.” I was excited because I was “getting to know everyone on the Flash staff—having dinner together at a Mexican restaurant on Telegraph—near campus—across from Cody’s Bookstore.” After that visit and dinner, my phone was “ringing off the hook,” and I was glad to “have broken into the (SF) literary scene.”

On 23 April 1981 I had a rather long journal entry about Abbott and socialism. I wrote “Abbott…came by my apartment to see me. (I’m still flattered and amazed) and to invite me out for a drink. Great time with him talking about lit.(erature) and politics. Everyone— A.(bbott), Alison Brown, Beth Craig, Jim Peters—all say I should get in(to) UC Berkeley Professor James Breslin’s course this summer—either to associate w/ a great mind—to make a literary connection—(and) to see if he—actually (has) a knowledge (of?) socialist critique. Told Abbott I was fed up with poets calling them(selves) socialists and then living in (separate) studio apartments paying $300 a month for rent and utilities and shopping for groceries at Cala (Supermarket). If poets can’t make socialism fly in microcosm, then they should forget about revolutionizing and reorganizing society…” I wondered why artists in San Francisco couldn’t co-operate similarly to fix up an abandoned building so they would have more time to make, print, show or perform their art. My German-American, third-generation Ohioan, bricklayer grandfather’s, three-room house was built by other German-Americans in one weekend. All my grandfather had had to do was dig the brick house’s foundation ahead of time, pay for the wood, glass and nails for the structure and show up the next time someone else needed a house built. (Of course this was in a time before indoor plumbing, electricity and telephones but still in one weekend, my grandfather had a roof over his head for himself and his new family with the assistance of his ethnic community). I wondered why couldn’t gay people in San Francisco cooperate to build a better housing for themselves to ensure the future of their nascent community?

As a result of this family history, I wondered why the gay super-tenants or landlords who had arrived in the “Summer of Love” and had bought houses then now (in the early 1980s) worth ten times as much or lived in rent-controlled apartments (at a third or a quarter of the current market rate), instead of helping the new, gay arrivals, exploited them. They did this by charging current market rates for rooms to newcomers instead of sharing their low rent-controlled rents or mortgages. As a result they made a handy profit as super-tenants or landlords. They pocketed the extra money they charged over what the actual rent or mortgage was so they could continue “to do their own thing” rather than reinvest it in the community as my grandfather’s German-American neighbours had done. Furthermore, why was the majority of gay “community” only organized around capital and consumption—Castro, Haight and South of Market bars, stores, restaurants and sex and not around lasting community building institutions and cultural transmission? New gay immigrants even had to pay for access to a central register gay-friendly, shared apartment listings at a business called Community Rentals.

I felt good talking to Abbott—he did more for me to learn to accept my gayness than the people at the Mt. Zion Clinic. And Abbott agreed that therapists are for people who don’t have friends to tell their problems to. I also talked to him about writing an article for Processed World called “Fear (and loathing) in Fagland”—describing my frustration as a slightly-educated, gay, temporary officer worker trying to find a permanent job downtown. I continued to seek Abbott out for support and advice with my poetry even when I moved to Berkeley in August 1981 to attend university. In September 1981 I did the layout of the October 1981 Flash with Richard Silverberg at my Channing Way apartment. Despite my initial enthusiasm for meeting the people at the Flash and doing the layout, in my Christmas 1981 entry I lament that “it’s been three of four years since I’d left Salt Lake and, with the exception of Abbott, my literary compatriots have either been very poor or non-existent.”

My next entry about Abbott was on 16 April 1982. I mention that I had come over from Berkeley “….to see Steve Abbott on Wednesday in the hope of having him look over my poetry and provide some imp.(ortant) comments, but no such luck. He was so tired from 8 ½ hours at his temp. market research job that he barely had enough energy to cook dinner. I told him I would mail him a Xerox of everything the next day so he could look it over.”

By September 1982 I had moved back to the City first sharing a flat briefly at 19 Sharon Street just off of 15th and Market and then moving to a larger, sunnier shared flat at 783A Guerrero and 20th in the Mission in November. I was still in contact with Abbott, interviewing him for my B.A. honours thesis on shamanism in gay poetry (including his own) that I would complete in March 1983. (The thesis analyzed the poetry of Robert Duncan and its effect on that of Aaron Shurin’s and Abbott’s). I saw Abbott once or twice a month during this period as I collected material, sometimes at his suggestion, for my research. Abbott gave me a copy of his third book, Transmuting Gold. Consistent with my theme of gay poetry having a shamanistic, transformative effect, Abbott signed this book: “Dear Bryan, Wrecked Hearts transmute gold. Thanks for being so patient when I was late to see you this afternoon. Love, Steve Abbott, 10 Oct 82.”

My journal entry of 23 December 1982 mentions my continued research for my thesis and social contacts with Steve:

“Steve Abbott and Steve Benson, two of the poets I’m doing (research on for) my honours thesis, both called me after a period of two weeks of silence or rather non-response. Abbott called yesterday and said he had a surprise for me….He’d met a blond masseur, 27 (years old) who was counseling him about what he should do with his boyfriend, Joe—and that Alysia had bought him a jogging suit before going off to her grandparents in Illinois for Christmas….(we) ended up going to Café Flore and listening to the music, talking about poetry and politics for four hours.”

Abbott talked a lot about Steve Benson’s poetry and how they had influenced each other. Abbott said Benson influenced him with the odd spacings between lines and the internal rhymes between lines. He demonstrated this with the opening lines of Benson’s “Echo.” Abbott also said that in his poems “Rapture” and “Dark Star” the internal rhymes fold words into each other. Abbott and Benson were doing a lot of correspondence at this time. Abbott said he discovered the influence of (Frank) O’Hara in his work through his study of Benson’s poetry, who had been reading O’Hara.

My writing had been invigorated by workshops at Berkeley with Thom Gunn in winter/spring 1982 and with Naomi Shihab Nye in autumn 1982. Finally back in the City that autumn, I couldn’t wait to attend and participate in poetry readings just down the street and around the corner from where I lived. I asked Abbott if there were any good reading series or workshops in the City I could get involved in and he suggested Bob Glück’s gay men’s writers’ weekly evening workshop. It met in the back of the Small Press Traffic Bookstore on 24th Street in Noe Valley. I started to attend it in the winter of 1982/3. It was here that I first met Lewis Ellingham, Gerald Fabian, Kevin Killian, Richard Linker, Edward Mycue, Wallace Parr, Paul Shimasaki, David Steinberg and Alexander C. Totz. I attended this workshop regularly, inspired by the heady mix of both traditional and slightly experimental gay poetry, fiction and essays. The workshop also gave honest, close readings of my work, the participants neither mystified nor revolted by my poetry as others sometimes had been and would be in academic settings.

In March 1983 I submitted my completed B.A. thesis entitled: The Gay Poet as Shaman: the Poetry of Robert Duncan, Aaron Shurin and Steve Abbott to the UC Berkeley English department. (During my conferences with my two thesis advisors, it was decided to leave out the material about Steve Benson’s poetry because it didn’t seem to have as much connection with the poetry of Duncan and Shurin). That enormous weight finally lifted from my shoulders, I decided to spend more time exploring San Francisco’s live readings.

Initially, I attended readings sponsored by local, literary magazines to hear what else was being published around town. Five Figures Review sponsored one at a café at 17th and Valencia. Channel Magazine also held a benefit reading for its publication at Newspace, a storefront gallery and dance studio. This was directly across the street from New College and next door to the Valencia Rose, the gay and lesbian cabaret. One Friday evening in April 1983, I arrived there for a Channel reading straight from work and very hungry. It was here that I had my first and only completely unexpected brush with San Francisco’s drug culture.

Since there were brownies on sale at the reading and I hadn’t had dinner, I ate first one and then another. Halfway through the reading I began to feel a bit sick to my stomach, then warm, light-headed and finally dizzy as the room seem to rock from side to side if as it were a boat. After the interval, someone found me outside talking to a parking meter and took me back into the gallery for the second half of the reading. After the reading, Killian walked me home to make sure I made it there OK. When I went to bed, my boyfriend, Harry Britt lay down next to me because I kept remarking for hours about the fireworks on the white ceiling. I was so high from the brownies I didn’t come down until the following Wednesday. I found out later that the usual “dose” for that evening was just half a brownie.

My 2 May 1983 journal entry mentions that Abbott said: “the Channel readings are infamous for their hash brownies.” Sue Carlson, Channel’s editor apologized to me the next time I saw her and lamented: “No one will remember a word said that evening, but they will never forget those brownies.” That unexpectedly moving experience aside, I continued to attend readings at least twice a week and the gay men’s group weekly. On 25 April I also participated in a gay men’s group reading which included most of the group members listed above at Modern Times Bookstore at Valencia and 21st. Abbott gave a reading in the same series two days later at Small Press Traffic.

Less than two months later, Killian organized a graduation party for me at his flat near 24th and Guerrero. From the photos my mother took, I can see it was a good mixture of the academic, political and literary people I’d met my first three years in San Francisco. Present were Boone and Glück along with Intersection for the Arts reading series co-ordinator Robert Bedoya, L.R. from Thom Gunn’s workshop, whose poems I published in No Apologies first issue, and Paul Melbostad from the Harvey Milk Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club.

Bryan Monte’s Graduation Party, Killian flat, San Francisco, June 1983. L. to r. Robert Bedoya, Bryan Monte, Bob Gluck, Kevin Killian and Steve Abbott. Photographer: Mary M. Monte. Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Bryan Monte’s Graduation Party, Killian flat, San Francisco, June 1983.
L. to r. Robert Bedoya, Bryan Monte, Bob Gluck, Kevin Killian and Steve Abbott.
Photographer: Mary M. Monte. Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

 

That summer, I remarked to Glück’s writing group that even though much good work was being produced there, few seemed to be able to get their work published regularly. I suggested that I publish the men’s work in my own magazine, No Apologies. I decided on this title because it was what my flatmate, San Francisco County Supervisor Harry Britt, had said to the press when they asked him to apologize for the destruction a gay mob had done at San Francisco City Hall. (A rioting crowd had broken off iron grillwork and smashed windows with it and also set half a dozen police cruisers alight in protest at the light sentence given to White for murdering Harvey Milk, the first elected, openly-gay politician in America, and Mayor George Moscone. The police retaliated a few hours later by smashing windows and heads at the Elephant Walk, the most popular gay bar in the Castro at the corner of Castro and 18th Streets. Afterwards Britt said: “We will make no apologies for our rage until straight America apologises for the history of homophobia that enrages us.” In my journal from 3 August 1983, I asked Abbott if I could use his “The Personal as Political” poem because I felt it “furthered the shamanistic function of gay poetry.” My journal entry the next day confirms that Abbott agreed to this and that he also “gave me two articles about Spicer/Duncan I could publish and suggested I might review Soup magazine in No Apologies.”

Killian volunteered to do the typesetting for the magazine on his word processor at work. He, in turn, introduced me to graphic designer and writer Dodie Bellamy, (who would later become his partner) and she introduced me to her colleague Mike Belt, who donated his time to create a one-colour magazine cover for No Apologies to save expenses. His design used thin, parallel alternating, light and dark horizontal lines that were mesmerizing. In addition, I could use the cover as a template for future issues by just changing the base colour and the white box with the issue’s theme and the authors’ names.

Abbott’s piece “The Political as Personal: A Poem for Men,” was the first poem in No Apologies’ first issue. It described the development of his awareness of his sexual orientation from childhood, waiting for his father to come home from WWII. Abbott described in his poem that when his father did return, he was “straight-back, distant/cold & fierce as a drill sergeant’s whistle.” Abbott also described that how, early in grade school, he had “learned to swagger like a man.” Abbott also discussed some of the aesthetic limitations of gay culture and sexual liberation and wondered: “Why do we still not demonstrate the strength of our unity/ our sisters share/ except through the State controlled commodification of Death?” The poem’s coda then asks “who has organized our isolation…our states of desire…our emotional education and why?” It concludes with: “Let our songs ring out & overwhelm the perpetuators of division,/oppression & death.”

Abbott, Bellamy and Boone, writers’ group members Mycue, Shimasaki and myself, fellow UC workshop member L.R. and California Poet in the Schools Tobey Kaplan all contributed poetry, stories or essays to the magazine’s first issue. Headlining the issue was Lew Ellingham’s interview with Robin Blaser, “Opposition in the Life and Work of Jack Spicer.”

The first issue was published in November 1983. I held a reception for Robin Blaser and the magazine’s writers, including Abbott, at my apartment the same month. Other guests present according to my journal for 10 November included Joanne Kyger, Aaron Shurin, Robert Bedoya, Duncan MacNaughton and Jack Winkler from Stanford.

Robin Blaser Reception, Monte/Britt flat, San Francisco, November 1983. L.-r.: Kevin Killian, unknown man, Bryan Monte, Lewis Ellingham, Roberto Bedoya & Steve Abbott. Photographer Unknown. Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Robin Blaser Reception, Monte/Britt flat, San Francisco, November 1983.
L.-r.: Kevin Killian, unknown man, Bryan Monte, Lewis Ellingham, Roberto Bedoya & Steve Abbott.
Photographer Unknown. Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

 

A benefit reading for No Apologies was also held at Intersection on 6 December 1983. Abbott read that evening along with the others mentioned above plus Glück and Killian. It was a full house and the reading lasted for at least two hours. Afterwards, some of the writers posed for me in the gallery.

Steve Abbott at No Apologies #1 Reading, Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, December 1983. Photographer: Bryan R. Monte Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Steve Abbott at No Apologies #1 Reading, Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, December 1983. Photographer: Bryan R. Monte Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

In April 1984, I won a scholarship to Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program. I continued attending the gay men’s workshop and finished the second issue of No Apologies. In May, a benefit reading for issue #2 was held at Newspace. Harold Norse was the headliner and Abbott also read that evening.

Abbott’s participation in No Apologies continued through issue #3. For #2, he contributed an interview with Judy Grahn (conducted with Dodie Bellamy) and a short piece for a literary symposium about Vittorio De Sica’s “Statione Termini” organized by Kevin Killian. For issue #3, in autumn 1984, he contributed an excerpt from his novel in progress Holy Terror: Three Nights in Paris.

I received at least three letters from Abbott within months of moving to Providence to attend Brown. His first letter is undated and written in Abbott’s hand on the back of a poster for a Benefit Reading for Julian Beck scheduled for 5 October at the SF Art Institute with Dianne DiPrima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure and Harold Norse as readers. Abbott opens his letter saying he’s: “heard gossip you have a new boyfriend already. Wish I did (hee, hee).” He also wrote that: “Last No Apologies was teriffic,” and that he assumed someone had sent me John Carr’s write up of the magazine (they hadn’t according to my files). He says my problem now is “to do a bigger run…at least 500” because all of the magazine’s are “sold out,” which he wished were the case with Soup.

Abbott asked further about my studies and if I’d met “Susan Sontag yet or gay writers from Boston, NYC.” Then he mentioned David Levitt’s Christopher Street magazine debut, with his headshot on the cover. “They might as well have superimposed a target over his face—so many writers will be jealous” Abbott wrote. At the end of the letter, he mentions the Beck benefit he organized and that the next issue of Soup “should be out by January.”

The next letter, another undated missive I received in late October/early November on lined, three-hole composition paper, looks as if it were torn from a tablet. Abbott wrote that it was “Good to hear from you.” (I was so poor and such a poor typist that I did not keep carbon copies of the correspondence nor make copies of what I sent, so I could only guess at what I had written to them by their responses. Unfortunately, I do not see any of my correspondence listed online in the Steve Abbott Papers in San Francisco Library’s Hormel Collection). Abbott wrote he was sitting in Café Flore with his 13-year-old daughter, Alysia who was “driving him crazy,” because she kept suggesting he read things about personalities, such as “Johnny Rotten, from a rock & roll magazine.” He mentions a female reader’s angry response to a Flash article by or about Jack Micheline that she considered pornographic.

Abbott listed pieces and projects he had just completed: an interview of Ginsberg for the “Advocate and Poetry Flash,” the Beck Benefit and one for Harold Norse on Nov. 28th and one “probably for Soup.” He wrote he was “still getting on” with his boyfriend Joe, he hadn’t smoked for a week and that he was going to a movie with some men from Berkeley. In this letter’s second last paragraph, Abbott questioned my choice of Felice Picano as the interviewee for No Apologies #5. (Editor’s note: I went ahead with the Picano interview). Abbott ended his letter saying that both of us had accomplished a lot in the last year and that we should “pat ourselves on the back.”

The third letter from this period is dated 15 Nov 84. It mentions in just four short paragraphs, 19 artists and writers, a list that would have given even Hopper stiff competition. The typewritten letter begins with a handwritten note at the top: “Still off cigarettes!” The first paragraph says this letter is an “addendum to (the previous) letter.” Abbott says he’s busy responding to a “pissed off” letter from (1.) Bob Peters, but doesn’t mention why Peters is angry.

The second paragraph is a list of his recent contacts with writers and the news they brought him, demonstrating Abbott’s Hopper persona at its best and the importance and speed of gossip in his New Narrative group. Abbott wrote: (2.) “Neeli Cherkovski wrote him he’d had a nice visit with me. Although this is not included in my journal, Cherkovski must have recently visited Brown to read and I had the chance to speak with him afterwards as I did with Michael Palmer and Allen Ginsberg when they visited campus and read. Abbott said he heard (3.) Michael Mullen (a friend from my UC Berkeley English B.A. programme) who was returning from Paris because of money. Steve also wrote he’d seen films with (4.) Kevin (Killian) and (5.) “Bruce (Boone). He continued that Bruce and (6.) Bob (Gluck) dined with (7.) James McLaughlin,” and that McLaughlin had also had (8.) (Christopher) Isherwood, (9.), (Don) Bachardy and (10.) (Robert) Duncan to his place for dinner and that Bob’s book had found a publisher. Abbott reported he still hadn’t found a publisher yet for his novel, Holy Terror, but he did say that (11.)“Randy,…(who’s) rooming with an ex- of Sam D’Allessandro’s, was working on illustrating the book.” He also mentioned that the Gay Men’s Press of London “wants Malcontent.”

The third paragraph consists mostly of news about Abbott’s relationship with his boyfriend Joe, including a recent spat they’d had because Abbott had “razored” one of Joe’s bike tires after Joe had stood him up for a date. Abbott ends the paragraph the news that Finnella’s could close and would probably be replaced by a “shopping mall.” He wrote that “…if that happens, Joe wants to travel…—maybe even to Europe for a year.”

His fourth paragraph revealed the reach of Abbott’s writer’s circle and the speed at which news in it, even from afar, travelled. When I had phoned (12.) Dennis Cooper to request an interview a month or two earlier, Boone had been visiting at Cooper’s flat and the news passed quickly on to Abbott. Abbott asked in his letter if I’d done the interview yet. He mentioned that he’d recently seen (13.) Tim Miller, (14.) Judy Grahn and (15.) Paula Gunn Allen and his interview with (16.) Allen Ginsberg didn’t make it into the Flash because co-editor (17.) Joyce Jenkins put (18.) Bobbie Louise Hawkins’s interview in instead. Hawkins, however, telephoned Abbott a few days later and said she would submit Abbott’s name as a possible judge for some writers grants. So he concluded: “…every cloud must have some kind of lining (ha, ha).”

He ended his letter with a “hi” from Alysia and a description and drawing of her Halloween outfit which included a white prom dress, pearl earrings & necklace. (19.) “Robert (Pruzan) across the hall took pictures & she looked like a movie star.” Abbott’s drawing is directly below this text with an annotation “like a big water lily” next to the billowing body of Alysia’s gown.

Unfortunately after such a detailed, newsy missive, the next letter I have retained from Abbott is one dated 9 Jan 87, more than two years later, six months after I had graduated from Brown with my Masters in English and creative writing.

One of the reasons for this long break in his correspondence might have been my break with Killian in the winter/spring of 1985 over the miscommunication of pieces accepted for No Apologies #4. At any rate, it was two and a half years later before Abbott wrote me again. This time Abbott wrote he’d got my address from Roberto (Bedoya) and he’d “hear(d) yr teaching.” Abbott then wrote that during the past two years he’d taught at UCSF, would start teaching a gay writers workshop on Jan. 19th and was interviewing for a job at Mother Jones.

Abbott continued in the next paragraph to update me on his personal life. Two years previously he’d “stopped drinking or doing drugs” since he “broke up with Joe.” He’d tried to quit smoking but resumed after a year. At present, he didn’t have a partner, “just friendships.”
Abbott indicated that he was getting his “new book, The Lives of the Poets” through the presses. Rudy Kikel was sending him the final proofs. Abbott was also writing more for the Sentinel “(art criticism and his own column),” and that he’d recently met a “bright 22 yr old I like a lot.”

Abbott continued with news about Alysia, who was 16. She had worked at vegetable and clothing shops over the holidays, dated a 24-year old French cook and won a ACT Young People’s Theater scholarship the previous summer.

In the last full paragraph, Abbott indicates that although he’d been thinking of me from time to time, he had forgot to get my address from Phil Wilkie when he taught at James White Review last summer, and that he “missed the inspiration of my energy.” He ended the letter with “Best to you for this new year.”

In one of the rare instances in which I saved my correspondence with Abbott, on 17 January 1987 I sent Abbott a letter with a Sylvia cartoon at the top. I thanked him for his letter and commended him for “kicking the habit.” I congratulated Abbott on his new book and asked if Rudy Kikel was editing it for Alyson Publications. (The book, in fact, was published by Boone’s and Gluck’s Black Star series). I told Abbott I enjoyed his column and the article he’d sent about dreams and I commented: “if we quit dreaming, we’re dead.”

I then wrote I was teaching writing to high school students in exurban Massachusetts—“units on essay(s), autobiography, poetry, short story, and computer-based journalism.” I reported I’d been writing every day since October. I also described the crazy weather that winter—a foot of snow overnight—and my two-bedroom apartment in the little town where I taught. I told him I’d like to hear more about his teaching experience at the JWR writers’ retreat and that Phil Wilkie had invited me to read that weekend in NYC, but I couldn’t spare the time because I had a stack of 52 essays to grade. I told him to “Take Care” and I sent my best to Alysia.

The following month I saw Abbott in San Francisco when I flew there to visit and look for a job so I could return to the City that summer. He was at a dinner hosted by James Broughton and Joel Singer at their Noe Valley home. I made an appointment to meet Abbott later that week at Café Flore, but he didn’t show up. He called me the following day at Edward Mycue’s and Richard Steger’s flat, where I was staying, to tell me he’d fallen asleep and forgot about the appointment.

As I mentioned in my previous memoir of James Broughton, I wrote a review of Broughton’s poetry tapes, but had trouble placing it. Bay Windows and the Sentinel both rejected it. My review was eventually published by the James White Review.

The next month, in an envelope postmarked 23 March 1987, I received Abbott’s The Lives of the Poets with its reproduction of Samuel Johnson’s book’s title page of the same name, but with Johnson’s name crossed out in red and “Steve Abbott” written beneath it. Abbott sent the book with a personal inscription for me and a two-paragraph, typewritten letter in which he praised my review of Broughton’s poetry, which he had passed on to Eric Hellman (Sentinel) and Joyce Jenkins (Poetry Flash). Abbott added that “James will be pleased…it’s the best review of his work I’ve seen.” Abbott continued with the news that he’d resigned as the Sentinel’s books editor.

In the next paragraph he mentioned Lives. He also indicated that there was also a TV piece and an interview with Sam Steward inside, but both of these, however, I have unfortunately misplaced or lost. He wrote further that the visit with Steward was “depressing” but that my visit the previous month (with you) “was very pleasant.” Abbott’s title page inscription of Lives reads: “To Bryan Monte: In memory of so many shared things. (Now you’re in this book). Steve Abbott 3/27/87.” Abbott probably wrote the parenthetical comment because when we’d talked in February, I had asked him who, from our circle, was in Lives, but he wouldn’t tell me. I read the book and discovered that Abbott had mentioned himself and many of the writers we knew in San Francisco, such as Bellamy, Boone, D’Allesandro, Glück, Killian and Norse, but he had left me out even though I had published all of them.

Strangely enough, when I returned to San Francisco in July 1987, Abbott was one of the first writers I ran into, albeit coincidentally. We met by chance in Haight-Ashbury after my meeting with Thom Gunn. A passer-by took the photo of us below.

Bryan Monte and Steve Abbott. San Francisco, July 1987. Photographer unknown. Copyright 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Bryan Monte and Steve Abbott. San Francisco, July 1987. Photographer unknown. Copyright 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

This is one of the last recorded contacts I had with Abbott. Once I moved back to San Francisco in July 1987, our communication was mostly face-to-face at readings or via telephone calls as it had been when I had lived in San Francisco before. I have a few journal entries of meeting Abbott in the late 80s, usually at Café Flore or other readings such as one for the James White Review in 1988. One journal entry for 11 September 1987 mentions that I saw him at Flore and that he was very apologetic about the Broughton review not appearing in the Sentinel. Alysia was there also. I wrote: “She’s 16 and beginning to look very beautiful.”

One of the best, undocumented memories of I have of Abbott is when he took me to what I think was John Norton’s Pacific Heights flat for Christmas. Here there was a free, buffet dinner for people who had nowhere to go, which someone had christened “Christmas Anonymous.” On a large table in the dining room was a carved turkey, a carved ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, salad, corn, pumpkin pie, Jell-O—all the traditional Christmas fare, for anyone who was there. It was here that I saw Norse and other members of SF’s LGBT literary scene who had spent the holidays alone because they weren’t welcome at home and/or didn’t have any other place to go. I remember eating my Christmas dinner sitting on a sofa looking at the downtown skyline and talking with Abbott and Norse. It was one of the most poignant and happiest parties I attended with these two men.

If I had any other further correspondence or contact with Abbott, I do not remember it, nor have I yet uncovered it. The last news I remember about Abbott, however, was less pleasant than my Christmas memory. In July 1990, I was at the KPFA-FM to possibly turn in my keys after a dispute with the one of the members of a weekly LGBT radio show. This member had taken an excerpt from my exclusive interview with East German, film director Heiner Carow and actor Dirk Kummer, the stars of the LGBT Frameline Film Festival, and rebroadcast it on another station without my advance permission and payment. This led to an argument with the other members of “the collective” that couldn’t be resolved by the assistant station manager. As I waited to talk him to decide whether I should quit the show, I saw a reading poster advertising an event headlined by Abbott and Jerome Caja, of which I knew nothing even though I’d been doing the gay news and event announcements for almost a year. Once again I felt ignored by Abbott, Caja and the other writers and artists I had known, reported on, published and promoted. I realized that after nearly a decade in SF, I had found virtually no solidarity with the gay community or its writers and artists. That poster tipped the balance and I decided to quit the show and KPFA even though the station’s director had offered me a Sunday news slot. From that moment forward, I decided to devote all my energy and time, outside of my 9-to-5 insurance job, (which would end two and a half years later due to four reorganizations), to teaching ESL and technical and creative writing evenings and weekends in preparation for my emigration to the Netherlands. AQ

Thea Droog – Makassar van Het M.S. De Tegelberg

Makassar van Het M.S. De Tegelberg
door Thea Droog

Mientje hoorde hoe de grote mensen zacht zaten te praten op het platje.

Ze luisterde en herkende de zware stem van haar vader, de zachte maar duidelijke woorden die tante Laurien sprak. Ze kneep haar ogen een beetje dicht bij de korte schampere lach van oom Hoogeveen.

Ze kon nog niet slapen. Morgen moesten ze zich inschepen maar er was nog niets gepakt. Dacht nou niemand daaraan? Koffers hadden ze natuurlijk niet, maar ze hadden zelfs geen grote tassen in huis. Mien piekerde daar al dagenlang over, maar als ze er iets over vroeg aan een van de volwassenen kreeg ze geen rechtstreeks antwoord. Papa zei dan geïrriteerd: “Dat komt heus wel in orde, meisje. Ga jij nou maar spelen.” Tante Laurien aaide over haar hoofd: “Maak je maar niet druk, Mientje.” En mama leek niet veel aandacht meer voor haar te hebben sinds papa terug was gekomen uit Singapore:

“Daar zullen papa en ik wel voor zorgen, jij hoeft alleen maar te spelen.”

Spelen! Hier in Makassar moest je dus spelen, al wist je niet hoe.

In Kampili, het interneringskamp waarin ze drie jaar had geleefd, kon je beter niet spelen, de Jappen waren overal en konden ieder moment weer een bevel brullen dat je niet verstond. Je mocht niet weglopen en dus kreeg je slaag omdat je niet gehoorzaamde. Daarom had ze buiten de barak altijd net gedaan alsof ze bezig was met iets dat haar was opgedragen. Het mocht vooral niet lijken op spelen, oftewel niets doen.

Meestal was ze ergens binnen. ’s Morgens vroeg kreeg ze soms les van een non in het houten schoolgebouwtje, maar elke dag begon om 11 uur het micasplitsen: tamelijk licht werk dat door de meisjes onder de veertien moest worden gedaan. De dunne plakjes waarin de mica uiteen viel werden gebruikt voor de Japanse oorlogsindustrie. Mientje had, net als de andere kinderen, geleerd wat dat moeilijke woord betekende en allemaal werkten ze daarom zo langzaam en onhandig als maar mogelijk was.

Daarna moest ze op haar broer Jantje van drie passen tot mama klaar was met werken. Ze was mama’s vertrouweling, net als haar broer Ap: ze kon geheimen bewaren en zorgen dat de dingen in orde kwamen en dat Jantje zijn bord eten kreeg bij de uitdeling en niet opzij werd geduwd. Ook moest ze goed opletten dat het jochie geen aandacht trok en daardoor misschien de boosheid van de Jap uitlokte.

Ze lette ook nu nog behoorlijk op, nu de jap verloren had en ze uit het kamp waren. Nu ze in een echt huis in Makassar woonden en een hele kamer voor hun vieren alleen hadden. In een andere kamer woonden de Hoogeveens met twee kinderen, en tante Laurien sliep in de eetkamer. Manja en Piet Hoogeveen en Ap en Mientje hadden de tuin grondig doorgesnuffeld en de bijgebouwen onderzocht op schuilplaatsen. Wie weet waar ze die nog voor nodig hadden, want er liepen nog steeds af en toe Japanners door de stad.

Er was nog iets waardoor Mien behoorlijk moest uitkijken: er kwamen steeds meer mannen in haar huis wonen. Ze was niet gewend aan mannen. Zouden ze ook de baas spelen, net als de Jappen? Elke man vroeg aan de kinderen: “En? Ken je me nog?” Maar Mien herkende ze geen van allen. Oom Hoogeveen was als eerste uit zijn mannenkamp terug in de stad gekomen. Hij had dit huis gevonden en hen toen allemaal uit het vrouwenkamp Kampili gehaald, dus hij woonde er al voordat de vrouwen en kinderen erbij kwamen. Daarna kwam de man van tante Laurien. Toen was ineens op een middag papa verschenen (thuisgekomen, zei mama). Een lange en brede magere man met zwart haar, die wel iets bekends had maar er toch als een vreemde uitzag.

“Dat is mijn Mientje” – zo zwaar klonk zijn stem. Hij had een arm om Mientje heen gelegd. Ze begreep dat ze moest blijven staan – mama glimlachte zo gelukkig naar haar – maar ze was bevroren van angst omdat ze gevangen zat en niet zou kunnen vluchten als dat nodig was. Stel je voor dat er ineens een Jap binnenkwam! Ze kon niet eens in de houding gaan staan Ze kon niet weglopen om Jantje te beschermen, niets. Ze had van toen af aan goed afstand gehouden tot papa, zodat hij haar niet weer vast kon pakken.

Haar vader! Mien kende hem eigenlijk niet meer. In het kamp hadden ze vaak en verlangend gepraat over de tijd dat hij weer bij hun zou zijn, in hun eigen huis in Makassar. En nu was hij er. Ze woonden wel in een ander huis, waar ze samen maar een kamer hadden, maar ze waren weer bij elkaar. Mien keek soms met verwondering naar mama als die een arm om papa’s hals legde en hem een zoen gaf. Mama was heel blij dat hij er was. Ze vond het niet erg als hij haar vasthield, terwijl ze dan toch niet weg kon. Maar Miens hart klopte angstig als papa dichterbij kwam: hij wou de baas spelen, net als de Jap altijd deed – en ze wist nog helemaal niet wat voor trucjes ze kon gebruiken om zijn bevelen te ontwijken. En mama lachte alleen maar als Mien die zorgen met haar wilde bespreken.

Nu hadden de volwassenen besloten dat ze weg zouden gaan, naar Holland. Iedereen in huis had een plaats kunnen krijgen aan boord van het MS de Tegelberg, dat in Batavia op hen lag te wachten. En morgen vertrokken ze al, met een kleiner schip dat hen van Makassar naar Java zou brengen.

Ze waren met niks uit het kamp gekomen, want bij de laatste brand waren de allerlaatste eigendommen van iedereen in rook opgegaan. Mien begreep best dat de matrassen en de muskietennetten waar ze nu op en onder sliepen en die nieuw waren, pas morgenochtend opgerold konden worden.

Maar hoe zat het met de pannen die ze hadden gekocht? Met de nieuwe kleertjes van Jantje? Met de spulletjes die ze in de as hadden gevonden en die nooit zoek mochten raken: het koperen tafelbelletje waarvan de klepel met een touwtje was vastgebonden, en het zakje met de zes knikkers van klei, waarin ze ook de blokkralen in vier verschillende kleuren had gedaan? De bomscherven die Ap had meegenomen; het met dons versierde pantoffeltje dat je kon ophangen en dat mama voor haar laatste verjaardag in het kamp had gekregen van tante Laurien?

En dan was er nog de naaidoos die die lieve Australische soldaat voor haarzelf had gemaakt. Australische soldaten hadden de kampen geopend, daarom was iedereen heel vriendelijk tegen ze. In ieder huis waren ze welkom en Mientje was helemaal niet bang voor hun uniformen.

Mien lag te draaien in het warme bed. Ze hoorde tante Laurien zeggen: “We moesten maar eens gaan inpakken en dan naar bed. Morgenochtend moeten we om negen uur op de kade zijn.” Mama voegde eraan toe: “We gaan met heel wat minder terug naar Holland dan waarmee we hier aankwamen! Dat pakken van ons zal niet meer dan tien minuten kosten denk ik. Maar we gaan wel naar bed, nog een laatste nacht naar de kikkers in de slokan liggen luisteren.”

De kikkers kwaakten diep, sonoor en ritmisch. Waren er geen kikkers in Holland, dat je er hier nog maar eens goed naar moest luisteren? En hoe wilde mama alles in tien minuten inpakken?

Toch was ze gerustgesteld. Als ze, zoals gewoonlijk, om zes uur opstonden, was er misschien toch nog genoeg tijd voor het pakken. Ze ging in gedachten nog eens na wat er mee moest en waar dat nu lag of stond en voelde toen de slaap in langzame golven over haar heen komen.

Thea Droog – Makassar from The M.S. De Tegelberg

Makassar from The M.S. De Tegelberg
by Thea Droog

Mientje heard the grown-ups talking softly as they sat on the terrace.

She listened and recognized the deep voice of her father, the gentle but perfectly clear words that Aunt Laurien said. She narrowed her eyes a bit at the short, scornful laugh of Uncle Hoogeveen.

She couldn’t fall asleep. Tomorrow they had to embark but nothing had been packed yet. Hadn’t anyone thought about that? They didn’t have suitcases of course, but they didn’t even have large bags. Mien brooded for days over this, but when she asked one of the adults, she received no direct answer. Then dad said somewhat annoyed: “That’ll be all right, girl. You go play,” Aunt Laurien stroked her head.” Don’t worry, Mientje” And mum didn’t seem to pay much attention to her since dad had come back from Singapore.

“Dad and I will take care of that, you only have to play.”

Play! Here in Makassar you had to play, even if you did not know how.

In Kampili, the concentration camp where she had lived for three years, it was better not to play. The Japs were everywhere and could, at any moment, shout an order that you didn’t understand. You could not run away, and you were struck if you disobeyed. Therefore, she had always acted outside the barracks as if she was doing something she was told to do. It couldn’t look like play or doing nothing.

Usually she was inside somewhere. Early in the morning she was sometimes taught by a nun in the wooden school building, but each day at 11 AM, the mica splitting began: fairly light work to be done by the girls under fourteen. The thin slices of mica, which fell apart, were used for the Japanese war effort. Mientje had, like the other children, learned what that difficult word meant so they all worked as slowly and as awkwardly as possible.

Then she had to watch her three-year-old brother Johnny until mum had finished work. She was mum’s confidant, like her brother Ap: they could keep secrets and ensure that things were in order and that Johnny got his plate of food at the distribution and was not pushed aside. Also, she had to be careful that the boy did not attract attention and therefore, perhaps provoke the Japs’ anger.

She still especially watched out, now the Japs had lost and they were released from the camp. Now she lived in a real house in Makassar and they had a whole room for the four of them. The Hoogeveens lived in another room with their two children and Aunt Laurien slept in the dining room. Manja and Peter Hoogeveen and Ap and Mientje had rummaged through the garden and outbuildings thoroughly for hiding places. Who knows where they might still need them, because the Japanese still walked occasionally through the city.

There was something else that Mien had to look out for: more and more men came to live at her house. She was not used to men. Would they be the boss, just like the Japs? Every man asked the children: “And? Do you still remember me? “But Mien didn’t recognize any of them. Uncle Hoogeveen was the first to come back to town from his men’s camp. He had found this house, and he had collected them from the Kampili women’s camp, so he had lived there before and the women and children had joined him. Then came Aunt Laurien’s husband. Then suddenly one afternoon, papa appeared. (Come home, mum said). A long and wide, thin man with black hair, who was somewhat familiar, but who still looked like a stranger.

“That’s my Mientje” – his voice was so loud. He placed his arm around Mientje. She understood that she had to remain standing – Mom smiled so happily towards her – but she was frozen with fear because she was trapped and could not escape if necessary. Imagine if a Jap suddenly came inside! She could not even stand up in that embrace. She could not run away to protect Johnny, nothing. After that she stayed a safe distance from dad, so he could not hold her tightly again.

Her father! Mien didn’t really know him anymore. In the camp they had often and eagerly talked about the time he would be with them again, in their own house in Makassar. And now he was there. They lived in another house, where they only had one room, but they were together again. Mien sometimes looked with wonder at mum as she put an arm around dad’s neck and kissed him. Mum was very happy that he was there. She did not mind, as he held her, that she could not get away. But Mien’s heart was anxious when dad came closer, he wanted to play the boss, like the Japanese always did—and she did not quite know what tricks she could use to evade his orders. And mum just laughed when Mien wanted to discuss her problems with her.

Now the adults had decided that they were going to leave for Holland. Everyone in the house had been able to book passage aboard the MS De Tegelberg, which awaited them in Batavia. And tomorrow they would all leave on a smaller ship that would take them from Makassar to Java.

They came out of the camp with nothing, because in the last fire the last of their belongings had gone up in smoke. Mien knew very well that the mattresses and mosquito nets, on and under which they slept, were new and could only be rolled up in the morning.

But what about the pans that they had bought and Johnny’s new clothes? The stuff they found in the ashes and that they were never supposed to lose: the brass table bell whose clapper was tied up with string, and the bag of six clay marbles, the beaded blocks she had found later in four different colors? The shrapnel which Ap had brought; the feather-decorated, little slipper that you could hang up and that mum had received for her last birthday in the camp from Aunt Laurien, and that had survived everything?

And then there was the sewing box that the sweet Australian soldier had made for her. Australian soldiers had opened the camps, so everyone was very kind to them. They were welcome in every house and Mientje was not afraid of their uniforms.

Mien turned and turned in the warm bed. She heard Aunt Laurien say, “We’d better pack up and go to bed. Tomorrow morning we have to be at the dock at nine o’clock.” Mum added: “We’re taking back a lot less to Holland then when we arrived! I think it won’t take us more than ten minutes to pack. But we’ll go to bed one last night listening to the frogs in the slokan. ”

The frogs croaked deeply, sonorously and rhythmically. Weren’t there any frogs in Holland to listen to, so that you had listen to these closely again one more time? And how was mum going to pack everything in ten minutes?

Still, she was reassured. If they got up at six o’clock, as usual, maybe there would still be enough time for packing. She went over in her mind, once again, what still needed to go with them and then felt sleep come over her in slow waves.

Translated by Bryan R. Monte