In my words, February 11 – 17

I’ve opened my living room windows letting in refreshing air and the songs of birds rising out of La Plaza. I can recognize three distinct calls, but have no idea to whom they belong. I don’t see the birds either, just branches of trees, and walls, and the dull southern skyline. The morning was sunny, but now it’s getting cloudy and may snow or rain as the dark comes. Putting birds with their calls is something I still must do, something to still look forward to.

Birds in the tree by Akram

I went to the liver doctor this morning. While I waited—you’re going to wait for at least an hour—I read some Catullus, poem 11 to be exact which I am looking at closely and thinking about in the Latin. It’s a wonderful poem I will talk about and translate later; right now let me just say that I have found that reading Catullus is a healthy thing. Don’t laugh, it’s true. When I read Catullus I feel optimistic and healthy too, although the poet himself died young. Why was I waiting in the liver doctor’s office? To hear what a series of blood tests and a sonogram had found. After my yearly physical in December, my doctor suggested I see a specialist for a closer inspection, just to make sure. I had had Hepatitis C and went through the awful treatment of curing it in 2007. Was I still cured? I sat waiting to hear the verdict holding Catullus and, I have to admit, expecting some bad news, though actually—go figure—my liver is fine, as it turned out, practically as good as new. I’ve had two bouts of hepatitis, A and C, and of course I’ve always liked to drink, some might say like a fish, since the age of 16. In my 40s I usually drank four bourbons on the rocks every evening (often followed by a bottle of wine). I liked crunching and chewing on the ice; consequently some of my molars cracked. Teeth haven’t made it, but my liver has. Don’t think all I did in my 40s was drink; I finally got a BA in Latin and Greek at Hunter College, held down a job supervising (or trying to supervise) artists in the fashion industry, traveled in Guatemala and Mexico, and finished a novel that was published when I turned fifty. I’ve always had a lot of energy, misplaced at times, and alcohol slowed me down. I also was blessed with a liver of iron.

Don reading Rimbaud on the train

I probably got Hepatitis C shooting drugs in the early 70s. I never got that much out of heroin or cocaine, but I had to be the crazy artist living on the edge of things, deranging the senses like Rimbaud did and knocking the doors off their hinges like Whitman. Let me in! The night I believe I got the Hepatitis C (and the A as well) I was shooting cocaine with an old childhood friend and his wife. I remember as she was tightening the belt around her arm getting ready, our needle in her mouth, her baby—I don’t remember if it was a girl or a boy, though I think it was a boy—kept tugging on the belt for attention I thought, as she said, “Not now, honey. Mommy’s shooting up.” I knew right then bad karma was to come. What happened to the baby? I remember now it was a girl. Or the mother? What part did I play? My childhood friend is dead. Hepatitis C. Not long ago. We all makes mistakes and some of us learn. Paying off the karma. If I could go back, there is a lover and a cat I would want to treat better than I had.

Heart by Patricia Kelly

There are many similarities between lovers and pets. Happy Valentine’s Day. I must have done something right. Akram brought home a single rose last night; it’s opening this morning. Our fourth Valentine. I think I give Akram stability, a home, and I’ve gotten him to draw; he’s a doctor and now also an artist. He gives me strength and creativity; he believes in me or better said, he understands what I’m doing. I never have had money because if I must choose between money and time, I always opt for time. Time’s when the writer writes or walks or thinks. Sometimes I’ve lived desiring this man’s art and that woman’s scope, but from here on out, I must never complain or feel sorry for myself because I have health and love, and really even if it should all end tomorrow, I have been given the gift of enough. I am a lucky duck.

On the evening news I saw Daryl Hannah and Robert Kennedy Jr. get arrested after chaining themselves to the White House fence protesting the Keystone Pipeline. I agree with them. The age of fossil fuels is over; let’s leave it quick because it is destroying the world we live in. As I watched, I wished I had been there myself. I have been handcuffed by the cops and once hit with a billy club. It’s time again for civil disobedience. The environment, yes! I hadn’t thought of Daryl Hannah in years and remembered a mermaid, Blade Runner, a beautiful girl born with a silver soon who didn’t have to work hard to get into Hollywood; and she dated John Kennedy Jr. too. But good for you, Daryl Hannah, I thought, I wish I had been with you. More power to you. It’s amazing how much stuff is in our heads when we start to conjure it. And then forget about it.

I have a rotary cuff injury in my left arm and shoulder. It was dull for quite a while, but now has flared up. I couldn’t sleep last night, in pain no matter which I lay, and got up at 4 AM, took two Motrin and am feeling a little groggy now at 11. A dream lingers. I was in a small plane with John Kennedy Jr. He wasn’t flying it and neither was I. I’d met him once briefly years before, nice, kind, polite, and I have to say, one of the handsomest men I’ve ever met. There was a bird outside the plane looking in. The window was open. I wanted to tell the bird to watch out for the propeller, but it got caught, sliced apart, spraying a light shower of blood over me and John, his hairy legs; he was wearing summer shorts. As the blood dried up into little hard balls, I woke with thoughts of Jackie Kennedy because of the spattered blood. I never think about the Kennedys, but I’ve been looking through old papers and found something I’d forgotten that I’d written years ago after hearing two friends argue. Was Jackie brave or wasn’t she? That was the argument. It struck me then how two people could be looking at the very same thing and see it differently. Just like Democrats and Republicans. Opposites. I wrote a little poem about it.

Her first notion was to split
She’s sitting there and pow
part of her husband’s head
is sitting in her lap.
There goes the governor
down in front of her.
Everything starts to move really slow
She thinks, They’re trying to get us!
And over the hood she goes.

It was the bravest thing she ever did
going over the hood like that
to pick up parts of his head.
When they pulled her back in
She cradled him. You know as he was dying
they wouldn’t let her in and she fought
her way through to kneel and said a prayer.
That is her moment there.
Nothing can take that from her.

It is a cold cold sunny Sunday. I went to the Chinatown Y to swim (they a great pool, yes!), but first sat in the sauna, rolling the dirt off my skin as I sweated, showered, and shaved. If it hurt too much to do the crawl, I did the breast stroke instead. Then I walked to 14th Street to the pharmacy for some special toothpaste my dentist prescribed (gum loss, bone loss—why can’t it be weight loss?) that I was told was there, but it wasn’t: the wrong stuff had come. Tomorrow. Someone had tried to help, but actually screwed it up. Oh well, it wasn’t life or death and as long as I was in the neighborhood, I stopped at a Jewish deli I like. There was an older guy behind the counter, a little younger than me, who had lowered his head and was shaking it as he muttered, “I’ve got to get out of here now. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” Then he looked up at me and said, “Can I help you?” I hesitated, said, “I’d like a lox and bagel with cream cheese, onion and tomato.” As he slowly went off to make it, I wondered just what I was going to get. It actually was very good. I sat eating it, working on a sonnet I wrote long ago but it still isn’t one hundred percent; maybe eighty, and I have to work on it until it is. From here to eternity. I sat, ate, thought and looked at my work: this is about as good as it gets.

Happy Valentine’s Day again.

Would you like to hear the sexiest poem ever written about hair, La Chevelure? Baudelaire wrote it for his Haitian muse and mistress, Jeanne Duval. It is hyperbolic and erotic exciting all the senses. My translation follows, but honestly, give a listen to the French.


Your hair thick and wooly down your neck
perfumed ringlets, nonchalant excess
this evening to people my lonely table
I’ll shake it in the air like a handkerchief.

Languorous Asia and burning Africa
not here, and even there now nearly gone
still live deep in you, forest of aromas.
Though it’s music most souls sail on
mine swims in your scent, Love.

I’ll go where man and tree swoon
full of sap in the blistering heat.
Let your curls be the surge that lifts me.
You contain, sea of ebony, a dazzling dream
of sails, voyages, masts and flames

a busy resounding port where I drink
in great gulps of perfume, color and sound
ships glistening on the silk and gold
opening themselves up to a sky full of glory
shimmering in heat eternally.

Drunk I will plunge my amorous head
into the black ocean where yours is.
As your waves caress, my subtle soul will know
where to find you in them, fertile laziness
rocking me forever in perfumed leisure.

Blue hair, pavilion of extended shadows
blue sky round and immense, at the edge
of your neck where your curls begin
to twist I am drunk and on fire confused
in the scents of tar, coconut and incense.

Forever and always my hand in your hair
will sow rubies, pearls and sapphires.
You must never be deaf to my desires.
Aren’t you the oasis where I dream, the gourd
from which I drink memory’s wine?

Charles Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval