Karen Lethlean – Family Flights

Karen Lethlean
Family Flights

A text message is my first hint. Natasha, my daughter is employed at the Northern Territory airport, she knows people, who know these things first.

                     NT are closing borders 4 p.m. Tuesday 24th March.
                     Any interstate arrivals will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

         Confirmed by a similar message from the administrator who organizes my casual shifts at a nearby school. Plus, media announcements. Chief concern is the virus will affect isolated indigenous communities with limited health workers or facilities.
         My flight, Sydney to Darwin was booked for Saturday 28th. Not a top-end tropical holiday, not an outback adventure, but rather an attempt to assist. Be a helpful grandma, while her husband is on a military deployment overseas. General tasks associated with caring for 15month old. She’s been a solo working parent for over a month and I wanted to be closer. There ensued a flurry of face book activity to see if anyone could define what such self-isolation would entail.

                     …separate room. Separate bathroom.
                     …meals left outside, passed under the door. No outside activity. No visitors.
                     …in same house, but you’ll probably need to be in different areas.

         All doable except for a little boy, my grandson, not able to understand why Nana can’t come out and cuddle him. I imagine his insistent bashing on doors. Plus based on my whole reason for travel, I would not be of any assistance. Rather filling these requirements created a hindrance.
         Our next contact included phone calls. Airline already changed my journey arrangements twice. Progressively earlier in the day, I’d been scheduled to fly more than a thousand kilometres further south, to Melbourne, then take another flight to Darwin. I understand these changes. With very few passengers, logical to pool travellers through two other major cities and combine numbers, make up a plane full. Plus, ever earlier flights allow sufficient time for transition of luggage.
         We can’t see any alternative so Natasha and I talked about cancelling the flight.
          ‘I don’t want you to put yourself in any unnecessary risk.’ She said.
          ‘Yes, I was worried about progressing through another airport. Increasing my risk of coming into contact with the virus.’
          ‘Then what if you did get sick, I couldn’t stand thinking you’d passed it on.’
          ‘Not sure what I can do.’
          ‘Maybe, better not to come, mum.’
         I hear emotion in her voice. No adult child wants to cry for their mummy’s comfort. Neither of us can sleep. I want to be there, know she needs me. But don’t want to be responsible for anyone getting sick. While everyone else sleeps we message over face book, thus avoiding text message alerts. I promise to contact the airline and see what can be done to change my travel date.
         Initial enquiries using airline webpages prove frustrating. Possible to get an altered departure date, but their system won’t let me do so unless I vary both legs of my journey. Any return dates show simply not available. Can’t be right. I am, of course offered an opportunity to call. But…Due to closure of a Philippines call centre, unless you are travelling within the next 48 hours, do not call. Leaving me wondering why not staff a local call centre, especially right now! Border closure does put me within the 48-hour window, so after discussions with my husband, I try. We are up early so I make a call, before 6am, get in a queue. Waiting. Ironically one piece of background music includes lyrics about not being able to get home. I imagine this light blinking somewhere, staff not rostered until at least after 8am. Operational hours of this call centre are not announced. No one sees, no one knows, I so desperately want to help my child. When my call is answered, and the clerk realizes my travel date is several days away, her initial reaction is to cut me off short. She is dismissive, abrupt and annoyed with my non-compliance to the 48-hour rule. I tried to explain I need to travel to assist my daughter. Not helping. I tell her about borders closing. She is still yet to switch on any empathy. Finally, things start to drop into place when I explained I must travel tomorrow or at the very latest, Tuesday. This latter option risks a delayed flight and arriving outside the, I want to say, curfew. I pay extra, much less if I take Tuesday’s option. But now I don’t want to risk any further delays. Added bonus, a direct flight. She also allocates me seat 7A. Never been that close to a plane’s pointy end.
         I am on the way. Amid other travellers racing back before border closure. (Later I hear a similar tale of a self-employed man who went south to visit his sick father. Only to drive the return 3,000 plus kilometres, a day later, in order to cross soon to be closed borders) On my plane only aisle and window seats are occupied, ensuring social distancing compliance. With so few passengers, extra snacks were served.
         I can cuddle the baby on arrival. I can be there for my daughter.
         Any tourist opportunities have long fallen by the wayside. Even popular night spots like Mitchell Street with its bars and backpacker accommodation are eerily silent. Only bottle shops remain open. Unless blessed with a window to passing trade and therefore an opportunity to offer take-away food, restaurants remain closed, tables and chairs stacked away, or wrapped in an acreage of calico fabric like popular Casuarina Shopping Mall. I’ve seen similar in Sydney. And know drastic action is being taken.
         With minimal air traffic and closure of terminal businesses, Natasha’s job looks more precarious with each passing day. Adding an extra dimension to her worries. At least I am present during an angst-ridden staff meeting day. She hardly slept at all. Stress is written in those eyes. How will she manage? I tried to negotiate with my bank, hopeful to assist financially, to tide her over until this global madness settles down. It appears they want to punish me for potential generosity rather than assist. Faced with this barrier, I cannot be helpful by drawing on my funds.
         She returns with news that new executive management decided to, ‘take a little from a lot of staff, in order to keep functioning.’ Many have agreed to fewer days, working from home, and taking pay cuts so that when normality returns experienced staff will remain. Great, at least one burden is lightened.
         No good news, though, with her husband’s deployment. Faced with travel restrictions, any replacements cannot be assigned. Only gossip circulates about a potential repatriation. Hovering from, forced to remain, to be back only a few weeks after the initial deployment date, a compulsory fourteen-day self-isolation to be added. The most extreme option is a non-conclusive: he will return some time following depletion of virus concerns. I make a Book of Face post, following a women’s support group’s offer to assist where members might need…

                     Can you arrange for an Air Force plane to be sent and collect my son in law?

         My airline, shortly afterwards announces cancellation of many domestic flights. I hold a totally useless return ticket. They knew well before! Never mind, I am stuck, but can help. Hold my grandson, show him birds outside, chase Max cat around inside, listen to a little boy’s ever-increasing language skills, and just be with family. Deal with, or redirect attention away from some of my daughter’s worries.     AQ

Darya Danesh – A Day in Isolation

Darya Danesh
A Day in Isolation

The outside world is shut down, and while his morning commute is non-existent, my husband, Fedde, still sets the alarm. He’s always awake by 5 a.m. anyway, so I wonder why we use an alarm at all. It’s late spring, and I can hear the birds chirping and chimps at the zoo down the street screaming for breakfast. They’ve been at it since sunrise.
      We wake up to Radio538. The morning show with Frank Dane. Listening to morning radio feels the same, but somehow different. It’s like waking up after a night out in uni, everyone speaking a little slower, trying to make sense of the night before. There is so much to talk about and somehow nothing at all.
      While the traffic report is non-existent, the news of the morning comes in the form of shortages at the grocery store: pasta, rice, toilet paper. I imagine in a few years we’ll joke about ‘The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020’, not because it’s the most important thing to remember, but maybe because it’s the only thing we’ll have been able to process.

Time to get out of bed. For my husband, anyway. I only know what time it is because I hear Frank say: ‘It’s 6:45 and we’re picking a song to fit the news. Who’s got one on toilet paper?’ Just like every other morning, Fedde springs out of bed and prepares for the day. I linger in bed just a bit longer.
      The light goes on in the bathroom, the automatic fan coming on a few seconds later. I hear some shuffling and the water goes on. I pray that he’s put down the toilet cover. Our bathroom is so small that the shower is fit snug into the corner. There’s no room for a door or a shower curtain so the tiny square meter of sea-glass coloured tiles remains open and the toilet, placed just a few inches away, gets soaking wet. I’m not in the mood to slip off the toilet seat. Again.

I turn over, sleepy, and cuddle with our tuxedo cat, Bonky. He loves a morning cuddle. He lies on his side and waits for me to put my arm across his chest and belly so he can wrap his legs around it. I scratch his little chin and he purrs with delight.
      Just as I’m getting comfortable, the purring putting me back to sleep, Fedde is back in the bedroom, indulging in a particular morning routine that drives me mad. As he gets dressed, he likes to take a moment to look out onto the street. It’s always now, almost to the second, that the shining sun’s rays bounce off the windows of the building across the street and beam straight into my tired eyes.
      ‘Ugh, love, the sun,’ I groan.
      He apologises and closes the curtain, but never quite far enough. There’s still a sliver of bare window right where the sun is shining through. Annoyed my attention has shifted, Bonky gets up with a jump. I groan again, and sit up.

I haven’t left the house in two weeks now, and I’m both annoyed and happy to have this sense of normalcy. I slip out from under my blanket and hang my legs over the side of the mattress. I bend down to grab my pyjama bottoms from the night before which are on the floor next to my feet. Left foot in, right foot in, hold the waistband, pull up as I hoist myself up off the bed. Like a zombie, I walk towards the kitchen.
      Bonky’s attention is back on me as he snakes through my legs. ‘Yes, honey, I’m coming, I know you’re hungry,’ I exclaim in the sweet, high-pitched voice I always put on when talking to him. I grab the can of dry food, take off the lid, and pour it into his bowl.
      The pot, pan, and dishes from last night’s dinner are piled on the counter next to the sink and I try to ignore them as I fill the water tank of our coffee machine. Fedde is rustling around in the living room as I scoop our Douwe Egberts signature Aroma Rood coffee grinds into the coffee filter. One scoop. Two. ‘Do you want three or four?’ I lose count as he yells for three, empty the grinds from the filter back into their green canister and start my count again.

The coffee machine has done its job for the morning and I’ve poured our morning java—strong and black, just how we drink it every day. Before meeting Fedde, I always put cream and sugar in my coffee. ‘XL triple-triple,’ I’d yell through to the Tim Hortons drive-thru employee. Now that I think of it, coffee in North America just isn’t really coffee, is it? I love a strong cup now, but do I enjoy it because of the taste, or is it just easier to take it black, especially since my bowels can’t handle milk or creamer as well as they used to?
      Recently, Fedde has spent breakfast moaning about another day of not being in the office with his colleagues, dreading the monotony of never-ending Zoom calls where he can’t actually get anything done. When asked what my day looks like, my answer is the same as most days, ‘I didn’t sleep well so I’ll probably take a short nap, then I need to do a bit of work to get my hours in, maybe go for a walk.’ I’m scared to go outside. I haven’t been for months now. What if, as I go for my walk around the block, I walk by someone who has Covid and in the seconds before we cross paths, they cough into the air without covering their face, and I in turn walk into the cloud left behind their mouth—a Covid cloud, as I affectionately call it—and then I catch it and die. It’s not like I have much of an immune system since the treatment for my leukaemia. I don’t mention this to Fedde though, as he kisses me goodbye, grabs his coffee-filled travel mug and heads upstairs to our attic-turned-home-office for his workday.

I crawl back into bed and check my phone for the first time this morning. Almost a hundred messages from my Court of Rants and Moans group chat—in other words, my group of girlfriends who happen to also be writers. We live on different continents, so WhatsApp is always busy. While I slept, the girls were having their nightly writing session. It’s nice to have them to chat about writing in real time. My regular critique group only e-mails now. The girls are nighttime writers though. I only function in daylight hours.
      I do my morning news check, too, to see if there is any more information about the terrifying virus taking over the world. In Italy, there’s a total lockdown! Videos have been popping up of neighbours sitting on balconies playing instruments—violins, guitars, pots, pans—anything to join in. You can see whole streets bustling with joy and music despite the strange, deadly times we’re living through.
      As I scroll through the news, I also click through to an article talking about how deadly this new virus can be for people with pre-existing conditions. My heart sinks. Here I am, asthmatic, immune-compromised, with weak lungs, trying to survive in a world that’s being overtaken by an acute respiratory disease.
      Before I fall into a panic, I toss my phone to Fedde’s side of the bed, coax Bonky to come in for a cuddle, and try to fall back to sleep.

I wake up from what feels like a fever dream. I knew it wasn’t real even while I was in it—my hair was long, flowing down to my lower back—and yet, as I wake up sweating and confused, I reach for my head, just in case. I always seem to see other me’s in my dreams. Moments from memories locked away, wishes for the future—never the normal me I see staring back in the mirror during waking hours.
      A little disappointed, I climb out of bed and change into day clothes. Well, clean hoodie and sweatpants, at least. What’s the point in anything more when I’ve nowhere to be? Groggy and annoyed that I’ve woken as bald as I’ve been these last five years since treatment, I drag my feet towards the living room to fold the never-ending pile of laundry waiting for me in a basket beside the couch.
      Gilmore Girls keeps my mind from running to its deepest corners, waiting for me to slip into them. This is the sixth time that I’ve started this series from the beginning. There’s something about Stars Hollow and the Gilmore girls that makes me feel safe.
      From the laundry pile, I pick up a dress I bought three years ago on one of those shopping trips in the city we used to take to quell my sadness. It was a few buildings down from the American Book Center—my favourite bookstore and the home of the Amsterdam Quarterly events, where I met my critique group. Esprit, the store was called. As I looked at scarves and handbags, Fedde moseyed off and picked out this flowing, teal dress with purple and orange paisley for me to try on. I had lost so much weight from a year’s worth of treatment and not being able to keep my meals down. Even though I’ve gained weight from the steroids and multitude of medication, the dress has grown with me. There’s a flicker of gratitude as I pull it right side out. Short-lived as, in the movement, my wedding and engagement rings fall off.
      ‘Ugh, not again!’
      I feel through the dress to see where the rings have gone until I hear them fall onto the ground. I think about how my weight has changed in recent years. First I was so thin you could feel my ribs, then so bloated my belly was streaked with purple striae that I felt ripping my skin. The steroid-related weight gain refused to budge, so we had to get my rings expanded, paying over €100 for the extra gold that had to be added. Once I came off the steroids, my weight went back to somewhere in between those two extremes. Now my rings have loosened… Again. I try not to think what might have happened if they fell off as I pulled my wallet out of my handbag to pay for a coffee at the café around the corner.

At noon on the dot, like every day since he’s been forced to work from home, Fedde comes down for lunch. I’ve warmed up some vegetarian schnitzels filled with satay sauce and have slipped it between a couple of slices of bread with lettuce, mayo, and sambal. Next to it, I’ve smeared some butter onto another slice of bread and loaded it with old cheese, Fedde’s favourite. It’s become one of the core routines of our new normal to sit on the couch for lunch, eat, and watch an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
      I’m having a bit of a hard time watching a police sitcom these days. I’ve been putting my energy into listening to activists and learning about how Black, Indigenous, and other ethnic minorities in Western society are disproportionately disenfranchised not only through the crisis that this virus has unleashed upon us, but also in the everyday, pervasive ways that systematic racism exists in our society. This came, in part, from the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, but also through my recent need to get in touch with my own roots as a woman of colour myself. I’ve been thinking a lot about the micro-aggressions I’ve faced in everyday life. Things I shrugged off as ignorance. But isn’t that part of the problem? I try to keep my thoughts to myself, not wanting to start a conversation about race with Fedde right now. There’s just too much to talk about and while he’s happy to discuss issues of race with me normally, I don’t want to overwhelm him with such a big conversation when he’s already going stir crazy from his tiny home office amongst boxes of Christmas decorations and furniture that doesn’t quite fit in our living room.

As soon as the episode is finished, Fedde drags himself back to his ‘office’ and into a meeting. I grab my laptop and sit at the dining table to try and find the motivation to work. An e-mail has come through titled ‘Changes being made due to Covid.’ I try to speed read the Dutch text to get to the point. There. In bold. A sentence that translates to: “Your expected work time will be cut from two days down to one.”
      I am fuming.
      I was looking forward to having something to hold my attention through these long weeks of being at home and, to be frank, I need the money. We have car payments and are saving to buy a house. Sure, Fedde brings in the majority of our income, but the little I do bring in allows me to help with our bills, groceries, and health insurance. It seems out of left field since just yesterday we were planning a bunch of new small projects at work. Two weeks on, I’ll get a Skype call from my only direct colleague letting me know that she’s found a new job. Great! Not only am I stuck here, but I’m stuck here alone.
      I decide I’m too angry to work, so I take my laptop back into the bedroom, cuddle up under the duvet, and turn Gilmore Girls back on.

After a couple of episodes, my Netflix has started glitching, so I’ve moved on to YouTube.
      A pastime I enjoy equally as much as reading itself is watching videos of people talking about what they’ve been reading. What I’ve noticed in my own reading habits, and in those of these booktubers, is that we’re all reading nearly double what we were reading before we were stuck at home. I was so proud of my four books read last month. Then I started to watch these videos of people reading closer to twenty. My jaw dropped, and I felt a small pang of shame. Why am I not spending more time to read even more than the ‘more’ I’m already reading? What I don’t know now is that in a few months, once I’ve discovered the joy of audiobooks, I’ll finish eight books in a month!
      I finally close my laptop and pick up my current book club read.

As I walk into the living room, Fedde comes storming in. He’s mad, and swearing under his breath. He’s just received news from the homeowner’s association about using our storage space as an office. Apparently, using the attic for any reason other than storage, as is written in the bylaws, can be subject to legal action. He closes the living room door to ensure that our voices don’t travel into the hallway as he rehashes the conversation he’s just had.
      ‘Do these people really think I want to be working in the attic? Do they think I’d be doing this if I had any other choice?’
      Right then and there we decide to rearrange the living room so that he can put his home office into the corner beside our antique china cabinet. We were planning on moving anyway, but this really is the cherry on top. We decide it’s time to call a realtor. Tomorrow. First thing.
      First Fedde was wound up, but now he’s tired too from bringing his office downstairs. I’ve made the executive decision to get a takeaway for dinner tonight. We’re trying to support our local restaurants, so we order a pizza from the Italian place down the street. While we wait for it to arrive, we put on the Dutch/Belgian crime drama that’s gotten a lot of attention lately. Undercover. It’s about a couple of detectives who go undercover in a trailer park trying to get an in with the local drug lord.
      When the pizza arrives, we pop it in the oven for 10 minutes at 150° Celsius, the temperature and time suggested by a virologist in an article I read about the possible transfer of Covid through food. It turns out the risk is super low, but my anxiety tells me I have to do everything and anything to make that risk nearly impossible. I’m just not ready to die yet, especially not from this monstrous virus.

We put our dishes away and head to bed, more lethargic now than we’ve been all day since the pizza caused us both to have bellyaches. We remind each other that this won’t last forever, and that we just have to continue on as best as we can. Hou vol, as the government and various adverts keep reminding us.
      As usual, Fedde falls asleep within seconds of saying goodnight. I lie awake for at least another hour, every thought I’ve ever had racing across my mind. The last thing I remember before I fall asleep is wondering which version of myself I’ll meet in my dreams tonight. AQ

Irene Hoge Smith – The Good Poetic Mother

Irene Hoge Smith
The Good Poetic Mother

Washington, D.C.

January 30, 1963

Frances Dean Smith
Somewhere in California

RE: Clarification of your intentions

Dear Mrs Smith Mama,

I am writing to ascertain your plans regarding your position here in Washington, where my three sisters and I have been posted, in our father’s establishment, since the end of last year. Your unannounced departure, which gave us no opportunity for an exit interview, has resulted in some confusion about your future availability. While your appointment remains open (no immediate prospect of a replacement being in view), it would be helpful to know when we might expect to see you again. If ever.


Irene (Daughter #2)
Washington, D.C.

March 1, 1963

Frances Dean Smith c/o Ida Mae Dean
Garden Grove, CA

RE: Proposed Disability Accommodations

Dear Mrs Smith Mama,

While awaiting your reply to my previous letter, I have been giving some thought to the question of whether or not your assignment here has ever been one you were in fact wholly able to fulfil. While your abilities and commitment regarding the practice of poetry are exceptional, those having to do with household management and the care of children are, it must be acknowledged, less developed. At the same time, it is obviously unfair that you should be subject to job discrimination on the basis of those specific disabilities. I propose, therefore, that we consider the possibility of reasonable workplace accommodations that might make it possible for you to resume your career here. It seems probable that such adjustments might be made without posing any (further) undue hardship on the rest of the staff.

As you may recall, I am fourteen and Daughter #1 is sixteen—we can of course continue to take care of ourselves. We are currently providing most if not all of what the little girls (eight and five) need. Furthermore, although our father remains for the most part an off-site manager, he has retained a part-time housekeeper, which might obviate the need for you to perform any organizing or cleaning duties. (And, of course, a one-bedroom apartment is much easier to look after than the four-bedroom house we left behind in Ann Arbor.)

Please consider this proposal, and let me know if you think we might come to an arrangement that would facilitate your return.


Irene (Daughter #2)

P.S. I note that you have a new situation, on what I assume is a temporary basis, in your own mother’s establishment. While I must confess some doubt as to whether this association will prove a better fit than it has been in the past, I do send my best regards to Grandma Dean.
Washington, D.C.

May 25, 1963

Frances Dean Smith
Los Angeles, CA

RE: Retraction of accommodations offer

Dear Mrs Smith,

It has now been almost five months since your departure and the removal of myself and my three sisters from our former home in Ann Arbor to our father’s D.C. apartment. As perhaps you have been informed, Daughter #1 has, like you, left her position here without notice. Although she is not quite seventeen, she did not provide a forwarding address and is not expected to return. Thus, our establishment consists at this point of the little ones (Daughters #3 and #4), myself, and our father. Since he sleeps at his girlfriend’s place when he is not away on business, there is adequate room for our limited operations.

However, in light of the departure of Daughter #1, the accommodations mentioned in my previous letter are no longer feasible. I myself have taken over the functions of both your job and hers; the little ones are more self-sufficient every day and have stopped asking about you.

Thank you for sending copies of your poems and the one by your friend Mr Bukowski. Your Los Angeles life sounds very interesting, and I recognize, of course, that two poets really cannot be expected to take on parenting obligations while devoting their lives to Art.


Daughter #2 Irene
Washington, D.C.

November 15, 1963

Jon Webb, Editor, LOUJON Press
New Orleans, La.

RE: Book review and marketing plan

Dear Mr Webb,

Thank you very much for forwarding the signed copy of Charles Bukowski’s recent book, It Catches My Heart in Its Hands, which you tell me in your cover letter is ‘already a collector’s item’ which I should ‘take good care of.’ I note your offer that that if anyone I know would like a copy ‘they may have 30% off.’

Regarding the personalized inscription, ‘To Irene Smith: Of the Good Poetic Mother’, can you tell me if the Great Poet’s handwritten note makes the book more valuable, or less? Just asking.

As it happens, Mr Bukowski and I have never met, and, for that matter, I have not seen the Good Poetic Mother in almost a year. I have read some of these poems, looking (of course) for some mention of my actual mother, but after seeing what the poet has to say about other women, have set the book aside, at least for now. I am sure this collection is much admired by those who know more than I about these things, but at fifteen I am afraid I lack sufficient literary discrimination to assess its merits. Further, as one left behind in favour of a Life in Letters, I cannot claim the necessary impartiality to respond to the work fully or fairly.

I am afraid that I will be unable to assist in marketing this collection, notwithstanding the generous discount you offer.


Irene Hoge Smith (Not-Poetic Daughter)

Cc: Frances Dean Smith (Good Poetic Mother)
Washington, D.C.

December 10, 1964

Frances Dean Smith Bukowski
Los Angeles, CA

RE: Revised Expectations

Dear Mrs Bukowski,

I note that the poems you sent me recently are signed ‘f.d.b.’ and, since you and the Great Poet now have a daughter together, I assume this is the name you use now, despite not actually being married. (I do understand that poets don’t follow the same rules as other people.)

It seems that the assumptions I expressed in my earlier letters about your reasons for leaving your former post were incorrect. I had believed that being a poet was incompatible with being a mother, but the information now at hand would seem to disprove that hypothesis.

While I am somewhat confused, I do hope everything works out well for all of you.

Goodbye and good luck,

Irene Hoge Smith
Washington, DC

December 15, 1969

Frances Dean Smith c/o Ida Mae Dean
Garden Grove, CA

RE: Your offer

Dear Mrs Smith,

I have received your letter of November 15, but am not sure that you read my letters to you on February 4 and September 19 of this year, bringing you up to date on my life here. I had assumed that, despite having resigned from your post as Mother of Four several years ago, you would nonetheless be pleased to know that I am supporting myself, going to college at night, and am engaged to be married. I must conclude from your silence on these points that they are not matters of interest to you.

I am afraid that I do not find it feasible to abandon my responsibilities here in order to accept the assignment you offer in California, despite the intriguing description of the ‘borrowed trailer not far from the beach’, which you and my little half-sister expect to occupy soon.

I was sorry to hear that you and Mr Bukowski are no longer together. I note that your current address is once again care of your mother, and assume that your plan to move in with Daughter #1 and her two small children did not work out, either. Like her, I must decline your offer of the position of Resident Adult-in-Charge.


Irene Hoge Smith
Washington, DC

July 30, 1996

Frances Dean Smith a.k.a. FrancEyE
Los Angeles, CA

RE: Book review and author profile

Dear Mama/FrancEyE,

Thank you for sending a copy of your collection, Snaggletooth in Ocean Park. I enjoyed our phone conversation the other day and have been thinking since about the fact that you have been a poet for your entire life (except, as you mentioned, ‘that long dry spell when I was married to your father’). I realize that it has been unfair of me to judge you based only on the rather few years when you were trying to be my mother. With two children of my own, and having outgrown the need for a mother myself, I can recognize your significant accomplishments outside the narrow sphere of motherhood and I am even coming to appreciate your poems.

Your new writing name, which you explain alludes to the writer’s “eye,” is most intriguing. I recall various names you’ve used over the years, starting with Frances Dean Smith. What seem to be the first works you published after leaving the East Coast are written under the name ‘S. S. Veri.’ It took me quite a while to discover (or remember?) that the name refers to a Latin motto Simplex Sigilum Veri, meaning ‘simplicity is the seal of truth,’ and now that I think about it, I’ve always liked that pen name best. Some poems you sent me during the years when you and The Great Poet lived together were signed ‘f.d.b.’ (which I understood indicated Frances Dean Bukowski, along with, perhaps, some ambivalence about using a man’s name once again.) ‘FrancEyE,’ finally, is yours alone. Is it pronounced Fran’s Eye, or France-Eye? And is that what you wish to be called, going forward?


Washington, D.C.

January 8, 2004

Los Angeles, CA

RE: Congratulations, appreciation, offer of feedback

Dear FrancEyE,

I am writing to congratulate you on the publication of your latest collection of poetry, Amber Spider, and to thank you for sending me a signed copy. I am excited to hear of your plans for a memoir, and flattered to be asked to read a draft. I will be especially happy to offer my perspective on the sections of your book that have to do with the fourteen years during which you and I were together.

I look forward to receiving your manuscript.

Warm regards,

Washington, D.C.

August 31, 2005

Los Angeles, CA

RE: Review of Grandma Stories

Dear FrancEyE,

Thank you for sharing the galleys of your soon-to-be-released memoir, Grandma Stories. I find much to appreciate in this lovely collection of prose poems, recounting your life from infancy up to the point when you reinvented yourself in Los Angeles in 1963, met the Great Poet, and had his child. I note that the book is dedicated to “Grandson #4,” and although you have ten other grandchildren (my children being Grandson #2 and Granddaughter #7), I have grown very fond of my half-sister and her sweet son, and am perfectly okay with that choice.

However, I also note that nowhere in the memoir do you make any reference to the decade and a half during which you were married to my father and were my mother. I am not in your book, and am forced to say that I am not really okay with that.

I regret that I will not be able to attend the book launch party. The trip to Los Angeles is more than I can undertake at this time (three thousand miles, as I’m sure you recognize, is the least of the difficulty). In that light I feel that I must request to be released from my commitments as your beta reader.

Best regards,

Daughter #2 (formerly The Loyal One)
Washington, D.C.

November 23, 2007

FrancEyE, c/o Daughter #5
Albany CA

RE: Interview Request

Dear FrancEyE,

I am sorry to hear that your health is not good, but pleased that you are able to stay for a while with Daughter #5. I look forward to seeing you next month, when daughter #3 and I will be in California for our half-sister’s wedding. I hope that we might find a time to talk with you while visiting California. We still have lots of questions about our earlier life, and about you, and hope that you will feel up to an interview.

I would like to apologize for my earlier misunderstanding about the gaps in your memoir. Having had some experiences of my own about which I cannot bear to write, I comprehend your situation more clearly.

Warm regards,

Washington, D.C.

May 31, 2009

Northgate Care Center, San Rafael, CA

Dear Mama,

It was good to be able to visit with you last month, and to provide some assistance to Daughter #5 as she manages your current placement. She is taking very good care of you, and I was relieved to find your current circumstances relatively comfortable. It was a delight to receive a copy of your latest collection of poetry, Call. Having (against all odds) taken up writing myself, I am in awe of the body of work you have accumulated during a lifetime dedicated to this arduous calling. You have much to be proud of.

I cannot thank you enough for agreeing to the interview a little over a year ago, and for providing so much useful data about our shared history. While you were not able to incorporate that material in your own memoir, I believe I may now be able to take that project forward myself.



P.S. I just noticed that you are living in San Rafael, in fact not far from the little hospital where you were born eighty-seven years ago. Perhaps there is a poem in that.

* * *



FrancEyE dies at 87; prolific Santa Monica poet


Frances Dean Smith, a Santa Monica poet known as FrancEyE who was inspired by Charles Bukowski, lived with him and had a child with him in the 1960s, has died. She was 87.
      Smith, who had been living in a nursing home in San Rafael, Calif., died June 2 at Marin General Hospital in nearby Greenbrae of complications from a broken hip. . .
      A singular character affectionately called the Bearded Witch of Ocean Park—or, as Bukowski fondly referred to her in one poem, Old Snaggle-Tooth—Smith had lived in the Ocean Park neighbourhood of Santa Monica for decades. Her work under the pen name FrancEyE was published in poetry journals and gathered in the collections Snaggletooth in Ocean Park (Sacred Beverage Press, 1996), Amber Spider (Pearl, 2004), Grandma Stories (Conflux Press, 2008) and Call (Rose of Sharon Press, 2008). . . Although Smith had been writing poetry in fits and starts nearly all her life, she arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1960s determined to reinvent herself, leaving behind the man she had divorced and the four daughters they had produced during an unhappy marriage. . .
      Frances Elizabeth Dean was born March 19, 1922, in San Rafael. Her father died when she was a child, and his family took his widow and two daughters into their home in Lexington, Mass. She became interested in poetry and as a teenager had poems published in Scholastic magazine and the influential Saturday Review of Literature. She attended Smith College for two years but left at the onset of World War II to join the Women’s Army Corps, based in the Washington, D.C., area. . .
      A celebration of her life will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Church in Ocean Park, 235 Hill St., Santa Monica. Instead of flowers, her family suggests donations to the Church in Ocean Park or a charity.       AQ

bart plantenga – The Man Who Came Home

bart plantenga
The Man Who Came Home

Christina Plantenga, Foppe Wijbren Plantenga, Sand dunes near Schoorl, NL, circa 1952,
photo © 2020 by bart plantenga. All rights reserved.

My father, Foppe Wijbren’s smudged-pencil, small-scribble wartime notepads contain certain details: number of Allied bombings, food purchased, ration reductions, books read, a girl’s address, things to do upon returning to Amsterdam. But nothing about his repatriation, nothing about the humid glow of my mom’s face, her eager burning eyes.

So, I began to research his last days in Berlin and imagine his eventual hike back to Amsterdam, a distance of 635 km. At a modest rate of 4 km per hour for 10 hours a day, he could have been back in Amsterdam in a little over two weeks, so why did he return only two months later? Did he find it difficult to say goodbye to his Berlin girlfriend?

Winter 1944-45: Berlin
Remember Silly Putty? That silicon polymer blob that could be torn, stretched, bounced, and—most importantly—lift ink images from a newspaper’s comics onto its pliant surface. And by stretching it you could reanimate Blondie comics, warping them to fantastical dimensions. Silly Putty amazed my father. I only learned why shortly before his death.

That winter was so bitterly cold that 10 hours in front of an open fire was hopeless to truly thaw your bones. His ragged, missing-buttons, wool coat, bought secondhand in the Waterlooplein, was helpless against the penetrating chill gnawing away at all hope and cognizance all day long, every day. He scavenged the streets, inside the ghostly remains of bombed-out buildings, hunting for insulation, old newspapers he could wrap around his body between undershirt and sweater before putting on his coat.

But by mid-afternoon his coat had absorbed the sun’s warmth and he was sweating. In the evening, while removing his clothes by candlelight, he noticed that the newsprint had transferred to his white undershirt. He could literally read the old news on his undershirt: ‘BERLINER ZEITUNG: Lieber 2000 panzer verloren die Sowiets in achttägigen kämpfe’ [Soviets lose roughly 2,000 tanks in eight-day battle] by holding it up to a shard of spared mirror.

When I was 14, he made me go out into the cold, in my pyjamas insulated with old newspapers. I remember that it worked. I remember how important the contrast between my cold face and warm belly was to him. I remember it was so still that we listened as the snowflakes alighted onto the earth.

Spring 1945: Middle of Germany
The first of my father-hiking-home-from-Berlin dream-reveries occurred when I was a teen. They coloured in what had gone untold, working like a movie scene, reshot over and over, with slight variations—a tattered jeep cap at a rakish angle, the kindness of women, ‘borrowed’ boots of a dead soldier discovered in an aromatic, bee-buzz, June field of clovers and poppies where he may have lain staring up at the mutating cauliflower clouds drifting by, dandelion wine brewed by a junge Frau living in an abandoned house outside Lachendorf [Laughtertown].

Winter 1961-62: Hawthorne, NJ
I didn’t think it odd getting up at 6 a.m., eating a hasty breakfast with my quiet father in the morning darkness, after a night of snow with unreal drifts up over my head, like a desert on the cold planet. Drifts that me and Kenny would later carve out into igloos dangerous enough to not tell our mothers about.

So very quiet was he that you knew he was rehearsing his broken English: ‘May we shovel your driveway?’ ‘Can we ask $3?’

We set out early, beating the young boys of 11 to offer our services. All was silent—no scraping snow shovels, no gleeful kids sliding down drifts, no spinning tyres, no police whistles directing traffic—only the distant grumble of the snow plow. By afternoon we had earned $25 [$216 in 2020 terms] on eight properties, including porch steps.

He gave me several dollars on the walk home, our shovels balanced on our shoulders, him always whistling the same tune at moments of human triumph over circumstance, proud of who he was, even if just for a minute. It was only much later that a musician friend identified it as ‘Whistle While You Work.’ My father pointed out the warmth that the body at work produces, along with that tingling glow of my rosy cheeks where pain and pleasure so wondrously mingle.

Spring 1963: Paterson, NJ
We usually picked up cheap, dodgy fruit and vegetables with darks spots you could cut away, a 50-lb. bag of potatoes for $2 at the end of market day. Returning home one day at dusk, we encountered a ferocious, legendary, pissing-down rainstorm that shall never be forgotten. Our grey, Rambler-Nash station wagon [1953] had a small engine that required building up momentum by jamming the accelerator to the floor—through the floor if possible—to climb that steep hill. Gunning it uphill, however, revealed a design flaw: as the car accelerated, the wipers would slow down; if you gave too much gas, the wipers would freeze altogether.

Young parents, anxious to shield their children from an unpleasant world, try to avoid these predicaments. My mother liked blaming intermediary forces—underhanded reality, a fate she’d never applied for, but mainly my father for buying an eight-year-old car with over 100,000 miles on it—and the seller, the weatherman, the roads, my father, the airline for depositing her in a hostile New Jersey, the war, my father’s employer, my father…yelling in Dutch, English, and other, unidentified languages. My father behind the wheel, silent, focused—forehead producing beads of sweat rolling down over the tip of his nose, face pressed to the windshield to allow him to see better through the murky rain—like the captain of a submarine, guiding us home just in time to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Summer 1963: Sandy Hook, NJ
My father mostly sat in the shade offered by the beach umbrella, but he turned salmon pink like a good Frisian anyway. My mother, on the other hand, tanned very dark, claiming it was her gypsy blood. Probably not true because her family tree leads to early-18th-century Norway and not to where the Roma are from.

Although Sandy Hook [from the old Dutch Sant Hoek] is a 6-mile swath of crowded beach, my parents always let me roam the hot sand, observing other families, on my way to body surfing with lifeguards on duty, perched high in their tall white chairs. Waves met the shore at an angle, which meant in an hour I had been washed far down the shoreline by currents and undertow. There I lay gasping in the wet sand, not fully comprehending that I had been spit up just short of my last breath. I’d been spared and could suddenly view the world through strange new eyes.

When I stood up, I noticed the gentle saline breeze, the sweet suntan lotion aroma, the gleeful screams and transistor radios muffled as in a dream. I saw a million unfamiliar striped blankets, people in straw hats and snorkels, colourful coolers, air mattresses, and bright beach toys turning into Mondrian abstractions. I wandered and wandered for what seemed like an eternity.

A lifeguard eventually approached to lead me by the hand to the lifeguard stand. He handed me up to his partner who lifted me up on his shoulders, and blew his whistle while turning me—the eyes of everyone in the world suddenly fixed on me. Eventually I saw my father walking through hot sand in leather sandals to retrieve me. His gait was calm; his skin glowing pink. He didn’t yell, even managed a smile, a slight laugh perhaps acknowledging the absurdly thin line between losing me and finding me, between oblivion and the here and now. His laugh wiped away anxiety and fear as we trudged to the ice cream stand, where he bought me a creamsicle, standing there patiently in a patch of shade watching me enjoy it down to the stick. Although I never told him I almost drowned that day, he confessed in a few select words that he had almost drowned in the North Sea as a young teen.

Summer 1968: Blue Mountain Lake, NY
Blue skies, floating on a dinghy, watching a stick float by, dreaming with the sun at its highest, back when summers lasted forever. But, by nightfall, the winds had grown gusty, dramatically flipping and fluttering the tent flaps, sweeping plates and cups off the picnic table. A stormy night in the Adirondacks that my mother would mention for the rest of her life, with crackling bolts of lightning verily splitting the tall pines. Picture me counting ‘one one-thousand’—a lightning strike under a mile away. My mother anxiously preparing our passage from tent to Red Rambler station wagon [details of which years later became a William Carlos Williams-inspired poem]—because we’d learned from Popular Science that a car, grounded by rubber tyres, was the safest place during a thunderstorm.

The Red Rambler

so much disappeared

that red rambler

glass hissing with

beside the white cups
knocked over

Picture us scurrying in pyjamas, mother huddling over us with a blanket, quickly closing the car door, peering out the window to see the shadow puppet of my father in the tent aglow with gaslight, raising his dramatic fist, laughing defiantly at the sky, the lightning, death. My mother yelling at my father to get in the car until her false teeth slip and clatter in the side window reflection. Listen now to her weep over the tinny hiss of downpour, the muddy gurgle of the path turned to river.

Was he a testament to the resilience of the human spirit? I don’t know. Years later I remember my mother regularly retreating to our basement during thunderstorms. She’d remain there for hours in a panicked paralysis, gazing out the muddy basement window, until the storm had safely passed. Maybe the thunderstorms triggered traumatic memories of gunfire and bombs falling in Legmeerplein, Amsterdam, 1944.

Autumn 1987: Lancaster, PA Where is that photo of my father holding giant, harvested cukes in his outstretched hands? Or the one he didn’t know I took of him raking leaves, stooped over, blotting out memories, finding respite in the inconsequential, in garden work, in a swig from a clandestine bottle, the scent of fallen leaves decaying in the shade. This after having told me one too many war stories, stories he’d dare to return to only a dozen years later. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – The End of the Beginning

Bryan R. Monte
The End of the Beginning

             in memoriam Kevin Killian, 1952-2019

Most of Amsterdam Quarterly’s readers are probably unaware that AQ is not my first foray into literary publishing. That would be No Apologies, a magazine of gay writing, which I published from 1983 to 1985. No Apologies or NA was the result of my contact with a group of gay writers in San Francisco from the winter of 1982 to the summer of 1984. They met weekly at Small Press Traffic Bookstore (SPT) on 24th St. in Noe Valley. SPT was housed in a railroad style flat: all rooms to the right of a central hallway, the bookstore in the front parlour and bedroom, the toilet, kitchen, and living room, where the group met, in the back.
      It was here that I first met Kevin Killian, who immediately stood out from the others. Instead of the usual, short, Castro-clone, haircut and moustache, Killian wore a curly mullet, similar to Brian May’s, and was clean shaven. In addition, he always had a cloth bag with him. It held several newspapers and/or magazines, usually about television and film stars, and two books. The first was usually a Hollywood star’s biography and the second, a volume of literary criticism. Killian was as conversant in French semioticians Derrida’s, Foucault’s, and Lacan’s literary theories as he was in the lives of celebrities such as Joan Collins, Lynda Evans, Debra Winger and especially Michael Jackson, who appeared frequently in Killian’s poetry, fiction, and essays. Furthermore, Killian was also no wallflower: a gifted conversationalist—charming, deft, and diplomatic with criticism—he was an active participant with helpful feedback. He was one of the few people who attended religiously as I did. And his output was prolific: he brought in something new almost every week.
      After workshop the group would sometimes go out for a drink and a bite to eat. It wasn’t long before Killian invited me to his large, ground-floor flat in a green, four-story, Queen Anne Victorian frame house between 23rd and 24th on Guerrero (just the other side of the hill from where I lived). He shared this flat with a sister and her friend. I stopped by frequently, and I remember spending the night there once on the couch reading Killian’s copy of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy. Killian’s first appearance in my journal is on 4 May 1983 after I unknowingly got high at a Channel Magazine reading on those infamous mushroom-laden brownies, (I had come straight from work, was very hungry, and didn’t know what was in them), at Newspace on Valencia Street. At the interval, Killian found me outside addressing a parking meter. When the reading ended, he delivered me safely to my partner Harry Britt, at our 20th and Guerrero St. flat.
      At the gay writers’ workshop, I frequently heard many good stories and poems about gays. I wondered aloud why none of these pieces had been published. I was told by the writers in this group that their style and/or content was too radical for mainstream publishers at that time—a time in which you could put all the gay & lesbian books published by mainstream presses on one shelf and still have room left for many more.
      I also noticed that Killian had typed up most of his pieces on continuous, green-and-white striped, computer paper, the kind used at the beginning of the personal computer revolution. I began to ask Killian questions about his computer’s and printer’s formatting and typesetting capabilities. Could they produce pages with right and left justified text columns? What was the highest quality they could print? Could they print in italic and bold? Killian confirmed they could. In addition, he told me about the printer’s NLQ (near letter quality) function. This took a bit longer to print, but it smoothed out the normally rougher-edged, rastered letters produced in the draft and normal modes.
      With this information, I suggested to the group that we could use this technology to create our own literary journal, something like the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney film trope of ‘put(ting) on a show in our backyard’. Initially, this idea didn’t receive much support from the group. Nevertheless, I continued to consult with Killian.
      By mid-May 1983, I had gotten to know Killian so well he hosted my UC Berkeley graduation party that June at his flat. My mother was in town for the occasion, and she took photos of the party guests including Paul Melbostad, a friend from the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club, and Steve Abbott, Roberto Bedoya, Bruce Boone, and Bob Gluck, from the gay writers’ workshop.

Mary M. Monte, Bryan Monte’s Graduation Party, Killian flat, photograph, June 1983.
(L. to r. Robert Bedoya, Bryan Monte, Bob Gluck, Kevin Killian, Steve Abbott, and unknown man).

      Sometime thereafter, Killian introduced me to his future partner, Dodie Bellamy. She did paste up and art direction downtown for company publications and annual reports. Bellamy showed me how to use a waxer, blocks of typeset text, a lightbox, and an Exacto knife to paste up pages. Bellamy also put me in touch with a colleague, Mike Belt, who had heard of my gay literary magazine project and wished to contribute something. He created a low-cost, mesmerizing, minimalist cover composed of alternating, thin, white and dark straight lines. This easily recognizable cover could be reused to save money just by changing the darker colour and the headlines plate for each issue.
      A page, half the size of a legal page, was chosen to save money. Four pages could be photocopied, instead of offset, on one, double-sided sheet. Collating the pages at home could also save more money. The biggest, unavoidable production cost, however, was the printing of the covers and the binding of the covers to the pages, which had to be sent out. The cover and binding costs were about $600 per issue, and copying the pages cost $400 for a total of $1,000 to produce one issue of 250 copies of approximately 60 to 90 pages.
      According to my journal, by July interest in my proposed gay magazine among the workshop members was increasing. I wrote in my journal on 3 August my very idealistic reasons for publishing the magazine were ‘to show gay people how to cope with oppression’ and ‘to teach them how to recognize and it and how to deal with it.’ I also kept my college guard job after graduation at the weekends to save money to pay for the magazine.
      By 18 August, I’d given the magazine a name, No Apologies, a phrase used by Britt in a speech after the White Night Riots when Dan White, who had assassinated Mayor George Moscone and the first gay City and County Supervisor, Harvey Milk, was convicted only of manslaughter and not murder. In response, a predominantly gay mob smashed some city hall windows and burned several police cars parked out front. Britt was asked to apologize for the damage. However, in his famous quote he said: ‘We will make no apologies for our rage until straight America apologizes for the history of oppression that enrages us.’
      By September, I had assembled enough material for a first issue. In addition, Killian and I were scheduled to read together at Modern Times funky, leftist Mission District bookshop on Valencia. I made two reading posters from old magazine photo backgrounds that Killian had purchased at a thrift shop. I added newspaper headlines, No Apologies’s name, and our reading details.

Bryan R. Monte, Monte/Killian Modern Times Reading Poster #1, collage, 1984.

Bryan R. Monte, Monte/Killian Modern Times Bookstore Reading Poster #2, collage, 1984.

      We read on Monday, 12 September 1983 at Modern Times. I noted in my journal the weather was unusually warm that evening, so I bought cups, ‘a jug of white wine and a large bottle of 7-UP’ for refreshments. I read first to a very attentive audience of approximately 25. After the break, Killian began his reading with a porn excerpt, something I’d noted Abbott and Gluck had also been doing at their readings lately. The issue of how sexually-explicit gay writing should be was a perennial issue. Some people preferred the level of disclosure in most mainstream, straight publications, but others preferred including all the details.
      During September, Killian delivered the final pages. To finance the magazine, I worked seven days a week, keeping my weekend security job I’d gotten whilst I studied at Berkeley and worked temp jobs during the week. In October, I photocopied NA’s pages at Krishna Copy in Berkeley because they had the cheapest rates. Then, I brought two large, legal paper boxes of ‘printed’ pages back to my flat via Bart. Here, the sets of pages were collated during a party.
      Then I took the collated pages to West Coast Printing in Oakland, which printed the covers. Next, 150 sets of pages were bound to their covers. (I optimistically had 300 covers printed, planning to reprint more copies at a later date, and have them bound once some money from sales came in). I brought these bound copies back to San Francisco by cab since they were too heavy for me to carry alone.

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.

      On 10 November, I hosted a reception for Robin Blaser, No Apologies’ first issue’s headliner, at my flat after his reading at New College. My guests, in addition to Blaser, included Bedoya and Joanne Kyger, who arrived early to help me set up. Also present were Abbott, Angela and Tofa Beauregard, Sam Blaser, Boone, Don Ebbe, Ellingham, Gerald Fabian, Gluck, James Justin, Tobey Kaplan, Duncan McNaughton, Ed Mycue, Aaron Shurin, Sky (Mike Belt’s partner), Tom (Bedoya’s friend from Bolinas), and Jack Winkler.
      The No Apologies #1 launch party and reading took place in December at the Intersection for the Arts in North Beach. Readers included L.R., a fellow student from Thom Gunn’s Berkeley writing class, Abbott, Boone, Ellingham, Gluck, Tobey Kaplan, Killian, Paul Shimasaki and myself among others. Jim Hart, the reading series organizer, was astounded at the turnout and NA’s popularity. He said it was the first time a literary magazine had sold out at an Intersection reading.

Bryan R. Monte No Apologies #1 audience reception, Intersection of the Arts, San Francisco, December 1983, photograph. (Ellen (last name unknown), far left, Steve Abbott and Sam D’Allesandro at back, Aaron Shurin, arms crossed).

      I was happy to be part of this hive of activity during the holiday season, which always got me down. Britt had left for Texas to be with his family. Luckily, due to an extended absence by Denise Kastan, I got extra shifts at SPT from November through December, which kept me busy. I also temped downtown to finance NA #2.
      After this, I was switched with Paul Shimasaki, who had clerked at Charles Gilman’s Walt Whitman Bookstore on Market at 15th Street. The Whitman was much busier than SPT, so I wasn’t able to get much magazine work done, though this is what Gilman had promised. However, I did meet more gay authors and editors. My journal notes that Donald Allen took me to lunch on 11 January. He said he liked the poems in No Apologies and two days later he brought John Button’s essay on Jack Spicer over to my Guerrero Street flat for publication in the No Apologies #2 due out in May. This I would add to Killian’s Stazione Termini symposium and Abbott’s and Bellamy’s Judy Grahn interview to form the core of that issue.
      In the meantime, two things happened which turned my life upside-down. First, on 28 March I received an acceptance letter with a fellowship to Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program. I rang Killian to come over and read the letter to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. I asked him: ‘What should I do?’ He said: ‘I’ll help you pack.’ The second was my appearance in The Advocate on 1 May, in Dick Habany’s article ‘New Writing and Erotica’ about the ‘Tensions of the Two Traditions’ in gay writing—literary and erotic/pornographic. Many people, including Killian, were happy I had won an Ivy League university writing fellowship and been mentioned in the gay press. Others in the writers’ group, however, were a little less supportive. According to my journal, one key member remarked to our circle that he didn’t understand ‘why anyone would give me $7,000 to study writing.’

Bryan R. Monte, No Apologies #2 reading poster, collage, 1984

      NA #2 appeared on 11 May 1984. The publication party and reading was held that evening at Newspace, an art and theatre space across from New College and next door to The Valencia Rose, one of the first post-Stonewall, gay and lesbian comedy clubs in San Francisco. However, the reading was very tense and troubled from the very beginning. First, when I arrived to set up the chairs, I found a dance troupe with drums dancing in the space. Even though I told them they were occupying the space in my time slot, they kept dancing. The only way I got them to stop was to start putting out chairs in rows, taking up more of the space. (Killian said he’d also arrived early to help set up, but had seen the dancers and assumed he’s got the night wrong, so he’d gone for drink).

      The next source of tension was that Norse had demanded a microphone in order to read and that no one be permitted to enter or leave whilst he read. I got the microphone set up and working, but just as Norse started to read, a homeless man started rattling the door handle. I went outside and tried to reason with him and several times turned him away before he circled back and walked up to the door again. Fortunately, I was able to keep him from entering Newspace whilst Norse read, but unfortunately, I didn’t hear a single word of what Norse said.

Bryan R. Monte, No Apologies #2 audience members, (l. to r. Steve Abbott, John Norton, Sam D’Allesandro and Lewis Ellingham, photograph, May 1984

      Moreover, NA #2’s print run, completed just that afternoon, had not yet arrived from West Coast Printing. In the emergency, Kaplan had volunteered to collect the magazines and to bring them over the Bay in her pickup truck. She arrived one reader before the interval. When I started to open up the box, however, a sudden flurry of hands descended like pigeons swooping down upon an accidental birdseed spill. I quickly resealed the box, put it under a table, and waited until the interval for the sale and distribution of the copies. We had soft drinks, beer, and wine to drink, and home-made treats such as cakes and brownies (but none with magic mushrooms or marihuana), and pretzels. Someone even brought a few pizzas.
      Lastly, it was difficult MCing my first reading with seven readers, keeping track of the time, and trying to get everything packed, cleaned, and locked up so I wouldn’t lose my deposit. Afterwards we gathered at the Mirage, at 22nd and Guerrero, to celebrate.

Photographer unknown, No Apologies #2 reception, Mirage Bar, San Francisco, photograph, May 1984. L. to r. Dodie Bellamy, Steve Abbott, Sam D’Allesandro, Bryan R. Monte, unknown woman, and Tobey Kaplan.

      Unfortunately, a fight broke out that night at the bar, and in the scrum, I didn’t realize until the next morning that I was missing No Apologies’ receipt book. Thank goodness Doug Murphy went dumpster diving for me in front of New College to retrieve the book, which had a big, red, tomato stain on it. I wondered why anyone would discard it.
      Since I anticipated being very busy finding a flat and attending classes in a town and at a university I’d never visited, I asked Killian if he would finish No Apologies #3 as its guest editor. I gave Killian some seed money directly after from the second issue’s reading to begin production and also six poems and two very short stories I had already accepted before news of my fellowship. From August to October, we corresponded almost fortnightly and telephoned monthly. Killian wrote about the weather, readings he’d attended, books and magazines he’d read, and the men he was dating. He also complained he had no one to accompany him thrift shopping. During this time, we exchanged and commented on manuscripts.
      Unfortunately, logistic as well as communication mistakes and strains soon appeared. On 8 September Killian wrote he’d held a benefit party for NA #3, in San Francisco, joking that this time, however, that there were ‘no conga dancers to break up’. However, it was a month to five weeks before I received any copies. During this time, Phil Willkie, editor of The James White Review, wrote me twice that he that was still waiting for copies he had requested from Killian. In addition, I had a 12 October reading in Providence. On 15 October Killian wrote that he hoped I’d received the copies in time. I can’t remember if I did, but I do remember the stress. Eventually, 47 copies arrived via book post, two of which were damaged.
      Unfortunately, 45 copies, less than one fifth of the print run, weren’t enough to satisfy No Apologies standing orders with the East Coast gay bookstores, libraries, and subscribers. In an undated letter from mid-October, Killian apologized for having sent ‘so few copies’ even though he wrote later that he still ‘had $400 towards the next issue’. I immediately wondered why he hadn’t printed any extra covers as I had done with the NA#1 to meet any unexpected demand for #3. (Printing twice as many covers and holding half in reserve would have cost not twice but 20% more due to economies of scale). Killian could have used the $400 to photocopy more pages and bind these to the extra covers. Moreover, I was disappointed to discover that Killian had segregated the work I had accepted before I’d asked him to guest edit in a separate section at the back of NA #3 with bold cap headers across facing pages —SPECIAL SECTION— — EDITED BY BRYAN MONTE—. Lastly, Killian disagreed with my suggestion of a moratorium on pieces about the Spicer/Blaser/Duncan circle.
      The reason for the final break came in December 1984 as I walked Dennis Cooper down College Hill after a reading I had organized for Brown’s Gay and Lesbian Union, which had also featured Olga Broumas. As we descended the steep hill on Waterman Street, past the large, white, wooden First Baptist Church in America, (which Cooper was amazed to discover dated from 1775), I asked him to send some work for the next issue to accompany his interview. There was an awkward silence as we walked a few steps further. Then Cooper said he’d already sent Killian work.
      On New Year’s Eve, Killian or I telephoned and I told him how upset I was about the late delivery of too few copies of #3, the miscommunication about the work he had accepted and my displeasure at his placing the work I had chosen for #3 in a separate section at the back of the issue. Shortly after our conversation, I wrote Killian that we should go our separate ways. I sent him a list of work he could publish in his own magazine from the typeset pages he’d sent. I would retain the No Apologies name, the distinctive striped cover and logo, and the pieces I had accepted, including Norse’s second instalment of his ‘The Honeymoon’ memoir. Later, Killian did create a magazine called Mirage, named after his favourite San Francisco bar.
      I typeset and edited issues #4 and #5 on Brown University’s VM/370 mainframe, and had the magazines printed in Providence. These issues featured interviews with Cooper and Picano respectively. Issue #4 included poetry by Broumas and Donald Vining’s WWII New York City memoir. Issue #5 included a short story, ‘Telesex’, by Stan Leventhal, which featured full-body condoms and Michael Jackson as US president.
      Interest in No Apologies increased nationally and internationally. A Different Light Bookstore’s standing order went from 10 for issue #1 to 50 by issue #5. NA was ordered by bookstores and universities in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. My writing also gained national prominence again when my essay, “Living with A Lover or How to Stay Together without Killing Each Other’, was published in the 1986 Doubleday/Dolphin anthology Gay Life. Unfortunately, due to my graduation, the loss of my university mainframe access, my student and car debts, and my first job as a New England high school writing instructor to begin to rebuild my finances, I was unable to continue NA’s publication. This scuttled plans for a sixth issue that would have included poetry by James Broughton.
      When I returned to San Francisco in July 1987, I found it surprisingly difficult to re-establish myself. In three years, the rents had more than doubled and there were double pages of obituaries in the gay newspapers due to the AIDS epidemic. The job market, which had seemed healthy when I had visited in February, had dried up. So, as when I graduated from Berkeley, I dove back into the temp pool. Fortunately, one of my former bosses fished me out, offering an insurance job with health benefits. Around this time, I attended a reading, where Killian was seated in front of me. Just before the reading began, he turned around and asked if I was still angry with him. I didn’t respond, the only answer I felt I could give with everyone listening.
      Ironically, my return to San Francisco with a graduate degree in writing meant the end of No Apologies. With every paycheque going towards paying the bills, I had no money left to resume publication. Moreover, I was required to attend after-work insurance classes for two years and take three, four-hour, weekend, written exams to become certified to keep my job. Thus, I had no time, money, or energy to spare on a magazine. During 1987, I visited Abbott and Gunn in the Haight, but I didn’t become re-involved in their writing circles. Instead, I worked on my own projects. The first was Neurotika: a tale of the AIDS epidemic, with vignettes from my life and the lives of those I had known who had died. My text was accompanied by a beach audio tape loop, a wave breaking for each name. I performed this at the Whitman Bookshop in November 1988.
      The second was as a reporter, interviewer, and announcer for Lavender News on the weekly, gay Fruit Punch radio program on KPFA-FM in 1989/90. This way I spent what little time I had keeping the gay community informed of legislation, protests, new AIDS drugs, readings, films, openings, and events. Occasionally, Killian and I saw each other at gay events, such as The James White Review’s annual reading or the 1990 OutWrite Conference, but we didn’t converse.
      When Abbott died in 1992, Killian selected my Berkeley honours essay: ‘Robert Duncan, Aaron Shurin, Steve Abbott and the Gay Poetic Tradition’ from Abbott’s papers for the San Francisco Library Archives.

James Poole, Amsterdam Quarterly 2013 Yearbook Readers, Smack Dab, San Francisco, photograph, January 2014. L. to r.: are Rink Photo, Bryan R. Monte, Adam Cornford, Andrea Rubin, Ed Mycue, Tobey Kaplan, Marvin Hiemstra, and Don Brennan.

      My last contact with Killian was on 14 January 2014 at the AQ 2013 Yearbook reading in San Francisco at Smack Dab on 18th Street and Castro. Readers at this event included two former No Apologies writers, Mycue and Kaplan, who I had also published in AQ. Killian attended with Ellingham. I took their photo together and Ellingham took mine with Killian. I signed their yearbooks with something like ‘Good to see you again’ and ‘Enjoy’. Unfortunately, it was the last time I saw Killian.       AQ

James Penha – First to Last

James Penha
First to Last

I recently replied to a tweet from someone I follow but otherwise don’t know except that we like each other’s politics. I had no idea he was a teacher until I read: ‘First day of school tomorrow. 3rd year teaching. I’m still nervous.’
      Oh, do I know what he means! I had forty-five first days over the course of my career. I was anxious on every one … and during the 1600 restless Sunday nights before Monday mornings … and on many other days among the 72,000 for which I prepared lessons so meticulously that I could belt them out like a Sinatra doing ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ at Carnegie with syncopation, improvisation, and a particular spin rolled out for each and all of the students in front of me.
      ‘It means,’ I tweeted back, ‘we care.’
      But caring for the education and emotions and expectations of young people is exhausting—like parenting in some ways, but not in others. Although students regularly left the nest of my classroom, new hatchlings, their mouths and (I always hoped) minds open, appeared every new academic year. Despite the exhaustion and the anxiety, I loved the process because I learned as well—more from my mistakes than from my successes—to become a wiser and increasingly effective teacher with every brood.
      And my students, each successive year more junior than I, kept me young long after my youth was gone.
      By the time I reached my sixtieth birthday, I experienced neither ennui nor burnout, but an aching, physical weariness disabusing me of the dream that I would one day drop dead in the middle of a lively discussion of ‘Do Not Go Gentle.’ I had to admit that I was growing too old and too tired to teach until I died. Nonetheless, I struggled to continue, postponing retirement for another seven years.
      But my last day did finally come. The department party and the paeans by administrators at the final faculty meeting had taken place. On my last day, I discussed semester exam results in classes and delivered report cards to members of my homeroom. Their goodbyes and godspeeds were sincere, but they only knew me for a year or so and had a summer vacation to get to. I soon found myself alone in my—no, not my any longer—the classroom. The cleaners arrived with brooms and mops and emptied the last of my refuse from the trashcan to a big black plastic bag. I made my way out the door, down the stairs, on the path through the quadrangle to the street, and I felt a perturbation more disquieting than any anxiety I had ever known on a first day of school.     AQ

Darya Danesh – Chapter 1

Darya Danesh
Chapter 1

Tuesday, 1 September 2015, 15.30

All I can remember is that Fedde and I were laughing.
          He had proposed in July, just a month shy of our first anniversary. We’d been officially living together for less than three weeks and I was happier than I had ever imagined I could be. We were always laughing about something or other.
I wish I could remember why we were laughing then, but the knock on the door and the events that followed drown out that part of my memory. It had already been a long day since being admitted to the hospital with a high fever, but seeing those four White Coats walk into my private room promised that it was going to be even longer still.
          ‘We have the results from your test,’ began Dr Schwartz, who came and sat closest to Fedde and I. Dr Schwartz was my kidney doctor. He’d been treating me for lupus nephritis—an autoimmune disease that attacks the kidneys—for five months prior to this and had sent me for a bone marrow aspiration earlier that morning. If there was anything I was grateful for at that moment, it was that I could find solace in having a familiar face in the room.
           I was attached to an IV drip and was receiving antibiotics for an infection that got me in here in the first place. We were already confused about being put in a fancy, private room in the oncology ward—‘What is oncology anyway?’ I had asked Fedde when we arrived—so when Dr Schwartz followed his announcement with ‘the results are bad,’ I didn’t quite understand. The possibility of a “bad” result hadn’t once come up…
           The doctor sitting next to him, an older bald man who I came to know as Dr Tower, the head of haematology (the department that looks after blood diseases), took over the conversation. ‘First of all, I’m sorry it took us so long to make our way up here, but I had to check 500 sections of your samples’ slides before having a definitive diagnosis.’
           There was tension in his voice, tension I couldn’t quite place. I could feel the eight eyes of the White Coats on me while Dr Tower continued.
            ‘I examined the slides from your bone marrow aspiration this morning and we can see leukaemic cells.’
           My brain tried to comprehend the word as he continued: ‘These kinds of cells are aggressive and fast growing. Though the percentage in your marrow is only about 12 percent, it is likely that within weeks it will grow to an official diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.’
           Acute? What now?


I was booked to have a bone marrow puncture and aspiration at 9 o’clock earlier that morning.
           You probably have never heard these words. Neither had I until Dr Schwartz uttered them to me last Wednesday. I had originally thought it was what Hugh Laurie’s House and other television doctors call the dreaded ‘lumbar puncture’. But that was the one that had to do with spinal fluid. My test today was one where you take fluid from the hip in the lower back through a hollow needle. Not much more appealing if you ask me.
           We had arrived at the clinic fifteen minutes early, but even that was early enough to find the lights were off, the door was locked, and there was no attending nurse to be found. When the nurse, who introduced herself as Lisa, finally arrived, we were moved into the outpatient clinic and I was sat down in a big, orange reclining chair. Lisa told me to get comfortable while she signed me in and prepared to insert an IV into my arm.
           It wasn’t the first time I’d required an IV drip. Thanks to my lupus nephritis diagnosis, it had been less than three weeks since the last time I’d needed an IV line inserted. I’d had a big, painful cyst on the back of my leg that had led to a staph infection. There hadn’t been a single accessible vein in either of my arms and it took three nurses and lots of painful jabbing to finally insert the IV into my left hand. Needless to say, when Lisa started today’s search I was scared.
           To calm my nerves and assist my body in handling the bone marrow puncture, Lisa gave me a light sedative through my newly placed IV line. Dr Schwartz had promised me a painless procedure. He had said that I would likely forget it as soon as it was done and that’s what I was counting on. Likewise, Lisa promised I would drowsy and fall asleep, barely feeling a thing.
By 9.15am I was entering the adjacent procedure room.
           I was instructed to lay on my side on the examination table and look towards the wall so that my back would be facing Dr Vanderbilt, a resident haematologist, who would be doing the procedure. I did as I was asked and took a deep breath, trying to keep calm.
           Dr Vanderbilt, explained what she was doing step-by-step, the way you’d expect a 1980’s instruction video to teach a doctor how to make their patient feel comfortable. ‘I’m just getting my tools ready,’ she said softly, ‘and then I will give you a lidocaine injection, that’s the local anaesthetic we use to numb the area.’
           Much like when a dentist numbs your mouth before inserting a filling, I felt a slight burning sensation trickle across my lower back. When she touched it moments later to find the proper insertion point, I felt nothing. So far so good. What I hadn’t realised was that getting to the bone marrow—that’s the gooey middle part of your bone, by the way—meant literally screwing through my hip bone to get to the centre of it. I learned very quickly that that is something which cannot be frozen by anaesthesia. I had just finished telling both Lisa and Dr Vanderbilt that I wasn’t a screamer and that I had quite a high pain threshold, but within seconds I felt like an utter liar.
           Lisa took my hands in hers to try and keep me calm and quiet. I wasn’t aware that I could even make sounds like the ones that were leaving my mouth, nor at the volume with which they were coming out. I didn’t realise that it was actually possible to be screaming in agony, with tears streaming down the side of your temple and into your ear, without being able to do anything to stop yourself.
            ‘I’m so sorry, I’m really never like this, I swear,’ I sobbed, ‘but this hurts so bad.’
           At this point, while Dr Vanderbilt was twisting a screw into my hip bone, I was being given another dose of the sedative. I was still sweating and screaming from the pain. Between reaching the centre of my hip bone and the aspiration of three vials of bone marrow, all I can remember is searing agony and more screams.
Eight seconds later, it was over. Eight seconds in reality, but what felt like eight hours in my head.
Dr Vanderbilt apologized for causing me pain, told me I was brave, and patted my shoulder before she left the room. I knew she was trying to be kind, as opposed to treating me like a little kid in a doctor’s office after getting a flu shot, so I tried to smile and thank her. Lisa let go of my clammy hands and opened the door to let Fedde in. He took Lisa’s place beside me and squeezed my hands tightly. We were trying to have a conversation, but I could feel myself coming in and out of consciousness. The sedative was finally kicking in.
            ‘I wanted to barge in and make them stop hurting you,’ he said, ‘but I had to bite my tongue and try to read my paper. Are you okay, now?’
         That’s the last thing I remember before falling asleep.


‘I need you to know that we have double and triple checked all the slides. It’s definitely your file. There is no mistake.’ Dr Tower took a breath, giving the words a second to sink in. ‘This is a treatable disease, Darya, and we are going to do everything in our power to make you better.’
           I took a deep breath and managed to blubber through my sobs: ‘But what does that mean?’
            ‘Cancer,’ he said simply. ‘Leukaemia is a blood cancer.’
           That’s when it sunk in. This wasn’t just lupus anymore.
            I had cancer.
            I had fucking cancer.    AQ

Daniel Hudon – Between Thailand and India

Daniel Hudon
Between Thailand and India

I’m in limbo. Floating.

For all the temples, the Buddhist idols, the conversations with monks, the meditation, my first real lesson in Buddhism comes about by accident. After an hour in flight to New Delhi, the captain returns us to Bangkok due to mechanical problems. He tells us they will work on the plane overnight and we’ll fly out in the morning. I’ve left Thailand, not arrived in India and haven’t officially returned to Thailand because back at the airport I have to surrender my passport to get the hotel voucher. I exist in some meta-state, somewhere between Thailand and India, between past and future.

In the hotel room, I spend a few minutes reading the bedside book, The Teachings of the Buddha. Its simplicity is compelling. ‘Monks, a thought is like the stream of a river, without any staying power; as soon as it is produced it breaks up and disappears.’

I run a hot water bath because it’s the first time I’ve seen the combination of hot water and a tub since leaving Canada three and a half months ago. I throw in some bubble soap, watch the water foam up, and get in. The stress and excitement of long-term travel begins to settle as I soak in the tub. I scoop out handfuls of bubbles, blow and flick them. It is quiet. I listen to my breathing, my heart. The tap drips into the water. Bubbles burst with a constant fizz. Eons pass.

The warm water has opened my pores and I feel like I’m breathing through them.

I inhale and exhale like a fish, hearing nothing but air. Afterwards, I am drawn back to The Teachings of the Buddha. ‘Monks, a thought is like the stream of a river…’

I have no thoughts. I have forgotten about India and Thailand. And time. I am nowhere.

I am here. That is all.           AQ

bart plantenga – Boatspotting

bart plantenga

bart plantenga r. & l. photos, Nina Ascoly centre photo, IJ Triptych, photographs, 1996

I’m a boatspotter. I sit and eat or write or drink and stare out the window. Not an ordinary window with an ordinary view but a triptych of glass 3 meters high and 4 meters across. Outside this abandoned makeshift office facility (converted by squatters in the late ’80s into ateliers and living quarters) along the Westerdoksdijk, is a spectacular view of the Shell Research complex across the water in North Amsterdam. At night its intricate mosaic of lit cubicles and network of lights, pipes and stacks resembles the inside of my old transistor radio which served to escort me through childhood nightmares induced by Roger Corman’s drive-in renditions of Edgar Allen Poe stories.

Early mornings I beg (as if yearning can influence fate) for the sun to come out from behind the research centre and chase the damp chill from my room. I wait. I wipe condensation (evidence that my body is still warm and breathing) from my window to prepare my view for the watching that will sustain me. I wait for the window to fill up with a life I don’t have. The squadron of swans with the sinister aspect of aim sights on old rifles, crane their necks searching for floating sustenance under my floor.

There is nothing to do but wait (Ik heb een kamer. I have a room, I read in my Dutch lesson book.) in this industrial sector abandoned by industry and left to colonists of this post-colonial calm, venturesome settlers, nest hunters, and urban pioneers living in converted quarters, ensconced in surreptitious abodes. The former workshops and smithies of artisans have been converted into big windowed living interiors. A massive granary-silo (A grey Gothic imposition against the low sky) 200 meters down the coast has housed Amsterdam’s largest squatter community for years. (Mijn kamer is aan de achterkant van het gebouw. My room is in the back of the building.)

A rusty “floating” parking garage flanks the left of my studio which juts out into the fat busy river IJ, poised precariously upon its posts. I live on water, ON the water, am 25% water, 45% beer (which is 98% water) 25% urine, and 5% trace metals. Docks for cargo and pleasure ships flank my right, with the central train station in sight. The walk to the most enchanted section of Amsterdam, that horseshoe ring of canals in the heart, is about 10 minutes. I do not ask myself or anyone why it is that the more ancient districts of any city are its more humane.

The IJ (for the sake of non-Dutch speakers, somewhere between eye and aye) is a dramatic river which connects the North Sea with the harbour of Amsterdam and the old Zuider Zee, now a chain of interconnected lakes: IJ-Meer, Markermeer, and IJsselmeer. (Het IJ loopt langs mijn raam. The inlet called the IJ runs along my window. I improvise.) I live not far from where fresh water turns to salt. Brackish is the marine term for that no-mans-land where the two co-mingle. There is some understood boundary defined by laws of chemistry which keeps them mostly sequestered, keeps one from infiltrating too far into the other. This is where I do my boatspotting in this land of wet (although martinis, gin and Dutch humour tend to be dry).

What, might you ask, is boatspotting? Well, in a polite, best-light approach, it’s a form of meditation. Or a method for transferring the terrors of modern living in an alien context to a more amiable locale; or making some sense of one’s surroundings; or decorating the passage of time with lyricism. Like one might paint a dreary room, boatspotting renovates the dinginess of our less tangible interiors. Obsessive-compulsive behaviour rendered poetic. Procrastination in the guise of documentation.

(De schepen varen voorbij, en er is altijd wat te zien. I discovered that ships drift by my window all day long, and there is always something to see). Huge rusty barges loaded to the brink of sinking with mounds of sand (how can something so heavy float?) pushed by tugs; massive, elaborate tankers with personal automobiles on rooftops and potted plants and lace curtains in cabin windows — VERTROUWEN — their length limited only by the tensile strength of available materials; LASH ships, modern freighters designed to carry nearly any cargo in steel lighters or barges, each lighter 18 by 9 meters and capable of handling 500+ tons of cargo (this is what I read that I have written that I have read); elegant ancient sailboats (how do the crews know which rope does what?); windjammers — CINDERELLA — of luxurious lacquered wood; old modest motorboats gurgling along; eclipse-inducing luxury liners (its inhabitants staring with opera glasses into my humble abode and I staring back at them—what a strange way to encounter strangers, this détente of observer observing the observer); menacing cargo boats — GRAVELAND, AMBULANT, NOBODY — gloomy and unadorned; police boats skittering across the surface like water spiders; trawlers, their prows padded with thick braids of hemp; sleek pleasure boats — STARLIGHT, ROYAL PRINCESS — with well-tanned faces aimed at small instants of sunshine; fishermen in rowboats outfitted with small sputtering eggbeater motors (as I write this the regular fisherman is right outside my window, 50 meters off, standing in his old boat, casting his line).

All these vessels have names emblazoned on their bows. Romantic names, superstitious ones, exotic, mythological ones — ORION, BLOOM — hearkening to other worlds, names of lovers lost, or of mothers dearly departed? I can only speculate. And that I do as I sit at my big slab of desk doing whatever it is I do. Listening to the cheap radio that shorts out whenever it feels like it. I tap the volume knob to bring back Clifford Brown which seems to ride atop the IJ’s various currents. I notate with utter enthusiasm the names of all the ships as they pass. I interrupt the most holy — ESTRELLA — thought in my writing to notate one in my notepad. Interrupt card games, dinner and John — GRAAFSTROOM — Coltrane on the radio to shout out the name of another — ANIMA — vessel as if shouting out — BORNEO — its name will aid in unveiling its secret — SIRIUS, HIRUNDO, DIADEMA, CONDOR, MEERVAL, SATURNUS, FURY, SPECULANT, ISALA, ROPE OF SAND, ALEMARIA, TOLERANCE, KOOLE ZAANDAM, CONFIANCE, SAILOR BOY, LOMBARDIJE, MUTABEL, CALENDULA 10, ORCA CLUTE, LENTE-WIND, BRANDARIS –

Like mantras that transfer us to realms beyond our own — ANWI-Ja — the mere notation and pronunciation of these names transports me, as someone else, to somewhere more appropriate for my internal demands. Because a soul is like other internal organs—if not properly fed it will begin to feed on — SALA KAHLE — itself and eventually find its way into the marrow, devouring even that and then we collapse — SFINX, PRINSENGRACHT, AQUA VITA — like a damp shopping bag from a store that has gone out of business — ERIC-B, LUMARA, TABERNA, REMBRANDT, AFRA, CUBA, MINERVA, MONIQUE, RHEIN KONINGEN, NOISELY, EARLY BIRD, GALAXIE, TOUCQUET, JULES VERNE, PARTIZAN, KAMELEON, OREADE, ORION — The pace of these vessels, their peculiar syntax, the way they float by — RECINA COELI, FLEVO — has an effect on my own movements. I am drawn into their tempo. Lulled into the languor of their — CONTENTO — sway. I sit, watch, contemplate, inhale the head off my beer, take a deep — NEVADA — breath. The ships’ ancient progress regulating us the way a pacemaker regulates a heartbeat. The very idea of flotation — ALCHIMIST LAUSANNE — and cadence has always implied the technology of a device. In my case, bobbing along on the serendipitous rhythms created by the river of — BLUE SEA — words.

One way to neutralize the invasiveness of the passersby, the tourists with their recording devices, their passive voyeurisms, disposable cameras, and their eyes like dim specks of corrosive dust floating in air, is to wave back at them. I had never waved at passersby before in my life. But now I wave back at the tourists’ dark faceless heads in the well-lite tour boats — PRINCESS CHRISTINA, MEERKWAARDIG — some wave back. And then I just stare. Stare at their stares. What happens next?

Now I understand why prostitutes in the Red Light District get incensed when tourists try to take their picture. They are snatching an image from its glorious heart, making off with an implement that will enhance their own prurience and esteem; leaving behind nothing but the empty crumpled film box and a flatulent spectral haze along the cobbled streets.

The Dutch really are a seafaring people. They are at ease on the water. They gulp down raw herring, have robust cheeks, are drawn to the sea. Heads stern in the breeze. Fishermen under umbrellas in a downpour continue to fish on a Sunday morning. And my grandfather was a sailor….

The MANTA, a sailing vessel, passed into the fog (grimy as if it has been coloured in with a discarded eyebrow pencil) just beyond the parking garage like a lodge pole pine floating into the mouth of a sawmill. Sending out fibrillating wavelets glimmering across the calm surface of the IJ.

It is night (Ik zit graag op mijn kamer. I love to sit in my room.) and I place my head on my pillow with all the care with which a priest places the host upon the tongue of a cunnilinguist. Or the way Afghani’s build their tea houses with decks spanning the gurgling creek to fulfil the same function as the Zen garden — inner peace and contemplation.


Since I wrote this in the late ’90s, everything in that area has changed dramatically. De Silo, an old grain silo converted to an art squat where people lived and worked from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, was also the HQ of pirate station Radio Patapoe. The transformation into a mix of upscale and social housing was completed in 2002. The banks of the IJ between the Silo & Central Station have become unrecognizable: from peaceful derelict land to the bustle of upscale and touristic overdevelopment. Meanwhile, desolate Noord has emerged as a booming hotspot for art, pleasure and innovative architecture. In the year and a half I lived on the IJ, I collected the names of nearly a thousand ships. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – Paper, in memory of Dawn Clements, 1958-2018

Bryan R. Monte
in memory of Dawn Clements, 1958-2018
© 2019 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

In August 2013, my partner and I were holidaying in London. Looking through a gallery guide, we saw a listing for the Saatchi Paper exhibition. We had originally planned to go to another gallery, but for some reason, probably related to time and/or distance, we decided instead to walk to the Duke of York’s HQ, just a few blocks from our hotel near Sloane Square, to see Paper.

Not expecting much from such a simple, unassuming title, some of the art didn’t disappoint. One piece was a ‘sculpture’ of brown, butcher block paper wrapped around a wooden frame with a hole torn straight through the wrapping. Others included furniture wrapped or tree trunks capped in newspaper. ‘How sublime!’ I thought sarcastically. However, in one large hall, I believe it was the first one, were panoramic drawings of modern home or flat interiors, which immediately impressed me. They reminded me of the establishing and/or travelling shots used in film, where everything is in deep focus as the camera follows the actors from one room to the next. I looked for the title of the works and also for the artist, whose work I had never seen before. One of the drawings, which started with a staircase on the right and which drew the eye upwards and to the left to reveal rooms with their exterior walls removed to show their contents, was entitled Travels With Myra Hudson, 2004, by Dawn Clements. Dawn Clements. I believe there was another room of interior drawings, one which wrapped from one wall around a corner to the next. ‘Could this be the same Dawn Clements, with whom I attended film and semiotics classes at Brown?’ I thought. The artist’s bio, with birthplace and date in another gallery, confirmed it was indeed Dawn.

Dawn and I met in Professor Michael Silverman’s Berlin Alexanderplatz film class in September 1984. She immediately caught my attention due to her unique attire. Unlike the other students standard uniform of jeans and flannel shirts that made the first week gathering on the Green look like the most recent Levis commercial, Dawn usually wore a plain blue skirt, white blouse, dark tights and flat black shoes. I also remember her straight blonde hair and big eyes, which seemed to take in everything. She usually sat quietly in the middle or back of the room during the weekly viewing and discussion of one or two episodes from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s then-recent, but now legendary, 13-part, television series. The series was named after Alfred Döblin’s novel, which we read as we watched each instalment and compared it to Fassbinder’s film in terms of narratives or discourses and their containments, suppressions and/or erasures.

Dawn and I became friends and I remember talking with her before and after class. She was especially excited (as was Professor Silverman) when I decided to republish my class paper on the gay discourse in the fourth issue of my gay magazine, No Apologies that next spring. I also delivered a paper with video excerpts from the TV series for the Modern Language Association conference in Chicago in December 1985.

During this time I didn’t know Dawn as an artist, but rather as a film enthusiast, who later became Professor Silverman’s intro to film teaching assistant. Sometimes Dawn would roll part of that day’s film before or after class and we’d gasp at the long, establishing, tracking shots or how Technicolor made the wine in the dinner glasses a deep, glowing, cranberry-juice red. Dawn wrote me in 2014 that: ‘those teachers, those films and those readings…helped shape me into a person who “reads” the world.’

We also talked about the joys and tribulations of our past, romantic relationships and both of us quoted Eartha Kitt as we joked we ‘want(ed) a man with a big, big, big, big … yacht’ (from ‘Where is My Man’ by Bruce Vilanch with Fred Zarr and Jacques Morali from the album I Love Men, 1984). She was one of my three friends at Brown, and the only one with whom I maintained contact immediately after graduation.

I drove up to see her at the University of Albany in early September 1986, her first week of classes as a grad student and my first week as a high school writing teacher in rural Massachusetts in my new, five-speed, manual-transmission Subaru, which unfortunately, I was still learning how to shift properly. Her landlady let me in with a wink, not realizing I was gay and I would be sleeping on the floor — alone.

Appropriately enough we went to see the Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School that weekend at the student union. Since I wasn’t so confident driving my new car, we drove around in Dawn’s late ’50s or early ’60s ‘boat’, which made people swerve out of her way if she floated just to the right or to the left in her lane. We had a good weekend, but then we both became immersed in our new worlds: Dawn at SUNY Albany’s Graduate Art Program and me, teaching writing. We exchanged letters a few times. I sent Dawn a Christmas (1986) card with a deer amorously locking its horns with a coat rack. Unfortunately, I was too poor, disorganized and a bad typist to make photocopies or carbon copies of what I sent her. I can only guess at what I wrote from Dawn’s response. Her letter, dated January 14, 1987, was handwritten in black biro on thin, yellow, translucent, unlined paper with one word in almost every other line partially obscured by a woolley, black cloud.

A line from Dawn Clements’ letter to Bryan Monte, 17 January 1987

In my letter I had probably described my Thanksgiving weekend with my family in Cleveland, which distressed me so much I literally dislocated my right arm in my sleep. I was seen by an casualty doctor, who put my arm back into its socket and then into a sling. Unfortunately, as a result, my mother had to ride with me back to Massachusetts to help with the stick shift. In addition, just after Christmas, I broke up with my partner of two-and-a-half years.

Dawn shared news of her family holiday get together. She reported that one of her parents had just had a health scare. For the first time, she realized her parents weren’t ‘indestructible’. To underline this thought, she copied out an eight-line passage from Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, which her parents had given her for Christmas, in which Proust recounts his first realization of his parents’ mortality.

She then mentioned one brother about to fly down to Australia for a job and another brother, who had announced he would be married four days later because he wanted his Australia-bound brother to be his best man. With an artist’s eye, Dawn then describes, in almost the same style as her later interior drawings, the ’60s-style, split-level, suburban home ‘with original furnishings’, where the ceremony took place. She mentions the ‘sunken living room’, with ‘a glassed-in fireplace … (where) ‘a … blue-flame “log” blazed.’ flanked by ‘two sofas next to each other’ and an extremely long ‘coffee table’.

Then Dawn mentions the Albany sights she’d discovered after my visit: ‘a U-haul truck suspended above a skyscraper’ and 21st US President’s Chester A. Arthur’s monumental gravesite statue. I must have also asked in my letter if she had met any interesting and unusual people. She had and wrote they were ‘kind, supportive and extremely talented’. She ended her letter asking about me and suggesting we meet ‘in Boston sometime.’

We never met in Boston. Unfortunately, I lost touch with Dawn due to a very bad winter, which ended with two blizzards in April that made roads impassable for days followed by a two-week heat wave the next month during which I lay on the floor of my attic apartment next to a fan and a pitcher filled with ice water. In addition, I had not met any friendly people in Massachusetts with whom I could share and develop my writing. By June, I had decided to return to California.

I did not come in contact again with Dawn, or her work for 26 years. During this time I moved back to San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, worked for an insurance company by day, and taught English and creative writing by night. Then I emigrated to the Netherlands, where I taught English, communication and computers at private schools and at a university, got a Masters in education, and taught English language and culture at a Dutch polytechnic. I also met my current partner. (Dawn told me later that she, at about the same time, had come across the copies of No Apologies I had given her at Brown).

When Winfred and I returned to the Netherlands, I tried to find Dawn’s e-mail or telephone number to get in touch. Unfortunately, her e-mail address wasn’t quite the same as her name. Fortunately, by late January or early February 2014, I had found her via LinkedIn. Dawn was happy to resume contact and she wrote that she thought it was ‘an honour’ that Saatchi had placed her work at the beginning of the exhibition. I wrote Dawn about my David Sedaris interview, which I would publish in my new magazine, Amsterdam Quarterly the next month. Dawn wrote back the same day about her recent exhibition at the ‘Bell Gallery at Brown alongside (work by) alumni Paul Ramirez Jonas and Kelly Tribe.’ In e-mails later that month, we got caught up on 26 years in two or three pages.

Dawn wrote about her graduation from SUNY Albany and teaching art from community colleges to Skidmore from the late ‘80s to the early ‘90s. Then came her ‘Cinderella moment’ when Flash Art wrote about her NYC Drawing Center show ‘and I was invited to show my work in the Venice Biennale in 1993.’ She wrote that her first years in NYC were hard. She ‘painted murals and dressed mannequins … drew the first pencil sketches for the Victoria’s Secret’s angels wings!!’, and made ‘backdrops and scenery’. However, even with shows and fellowships in the US, the UK, Belgium and Italy, she confessed, ‘I need to teach to pay my rent’.

She continued in this missive to comment on the ‘great sets, great clothes, great color’ in North by Northwest which I happened to be watching as I wrote her my email response. She also talked about her love of Sirk’s use of colour, excess, and camera work in Written on the Wind in which:

‘… Robert Stack … flies Lauren Bacall from New York to Miami Beach to try to impress her … opens a door to … (a) hotel suite, … walks her into the bedroom, … with a ‘closet FULL of clothes …,’ and a dresser drawer ‘filled with silk underwear. Such wild and extreme melodrama.’

Dawn and I could always connect through film and I could see how its language, especially the travelling and establishing shots where everything is equally in focus and its use of melodramatic storytelling, had greatly influenced her own drawings.

We emailed and skyped each other in the months leading up to my visit to New York later in early July 2014. Dawn collected me the afternoon of 6 July as we’d agreed and we drove to her studio, which was in a long, former warehouse on a street, which ended at the East River. Her studio was large a rectangular space, longer than it was wide. I remember there were books, canvases, drawing supplies and an upright piano. I also remember the studio had a window, which looked out onto a canal. Just as Dawn mentioned this to me, a tugboat outside suddenly blew its steam whistle, which made me jump out of my chair. There were also two long drawings tacked up on opposite walls. One was actually two pieces according to my journal: ‘a ropey charcoal studio set and on the other wall, a curly-haired movie star, who I couldn’t identify and which I forgot to ask about.’ (The next morning, Dawn informed me this ‘movie star’ was Sylvia Sidney, who was part of a new watercolour work).

We sat down and had white wine and matzo crackers as we talked about our lives, teaching, writing and art. I gave her a tote bag from the Royal Academy of Art and some postcards, which Winfred and I had purchased a few weeks before.

Dawn gave me some maple sugar candies and a copy of Fence magazine from 2010. She said ‘it was only magazine that had her work in it that she could give me.’ I filled her in on the first part of my holiday in England. This included classes at the Birmingham Quaker Centre and a few days in Cumbria to visit friends with whom we walked around and photographed each other at Castlerigg Stone Circle and had lunch on Lake Windermere.

After getting caught up in her studio, we drove around scouting places for the AQ 2014 Yearbook reading that January. We visited Pete’s Candy Store, the Perogi Gallery and a few Dumbo bookstores. (The event was held at the Anne Frank Center). Then we had a roast chicken and sausage dinner at the Vinegar Hill House restaurant. Afterwards, Dawn drove me back to my hotel near Penn Station, where miraculously, we found a parking space, so she came up to my room for a few minutes. There I asked her opinion on two different background colours for the AQ 2014 Yearbook (sand v camel) and I gave her a copy of the AQ 2013 Yearbook along with a William Morris birded wallpaper blank book so she’d start keeping a journal.

From that time, Dawn and I emailed and skyped with each other, on and off every other month or so when either of us had time in our busy schedules On 5 Oct 2014, Dawn sent me a PDF of a clear glass vase holding long, greenish flowers It was part of her ‘Chrysanthemums’, 2014, watercolour that would later be part of the installation she was drawing for her Bates College show in January 2015, when she would also start teaching at Brown. Her busy autumn schedule would include helping move her mother, ‘little visiting artists jobs … that (will) help me pay the rent,’ and graduate student critiques work ‘at the Maryland Institute College of Art.’ Dawn was so busy she even apologized that her 16 January 2015 Bates opening would prevent her from attending AQ’s 2014 Yearbook reading just two days before.

Buried under work, Dawn apologized repeatedly for not answering my e-mails for weeks or sometimes even months. However, this hard work did finally deliver some results. On 20 March 2015, she wrote she’d gotten a ‘full-time position at RISD’, happy it would give her financial and health benefits. She decided to commute up to Providence from Brooklyn to teach there. I had written Dawn about trying to get together in NY in May or June, but she said she couldn’t. She had an opening in Hudson, NY around 1 June and a possible two month residency. I wrote her back congratulating her on her RISD job and told her about my recent memoir about Thom Gunn in AQ12. In July 2015, I told her to ‘take care of herself,’ reassuring her that ‘We’ll get together when things settle down for you.’

Due to her hectic schedule, however, I didn’t hear from Dawn again until March 2016. She apologized for not corresponding for a while, but indicated she had ‘been … consumed and exhausted by her very extensive schedule….’ She sent an e-mail from a train on her way to work at the Yale where she worked as a ‘critic’ in the MFA programme. She mentioned studio visits, conversations, critiques and ‘admissions interviews.’ She admitted it was a bit much — RISD plus Yale and even Cranbook Academy near Detroit — but said she ‘enjoyed engaging in mature conversations with young artists.’ She ended her email apologizing again for her late reply and hoped I was well.

I thanked Dawn and advised her to take time every now and then to ‘pause, breathe and enjoy. Draw something on a scrap of paper as you did on that train ride in Europe that lead to your first big project. Just as then, the pieces will put themselves together later.’

Just two months later, however, Dawn’s life took an unexpected and unfortunate turn. On 29 April 2016, she wrote she had cancer. She also mentioned how ‘kind and helpful’ her mother had been caring for her in hospital. She described Bellevue as an ‘enormous factory of a hospital,’. She wrote ‘the medical show’ had ‘more colour than Amherst, Massachusetts’. Perhaps Dawn was putting a brave face on things by looking outward, because in the next paragraph she wrote ‘there’s more in store.’ In addition, she thanked me for the Morris bird blank book I’d given her in July 2014 and reported:

…. it has been helpful to write,…. I thought of … what you told me to do in this book, and now, at long last, … I will start to write….

I responded the next day with my regrets about her diagnosis. I told Dawn to ‘get plenty of rest, take your medication, don’t move around too much … (and) Keep in touch where you’re feeling up to it.’ To try to take her mind off her illness, I mentioned Winfred and I had just recently bought a miniature dachshund pup called Rex, who was ‘two hands big’ when we brought him home, and was now ‘an armload and still growing’.

On 11 June 2016, I emailed Dawn asking how she was. I also mentioned it was so unusually warm in June, that, for the first time, I’d had to run a portable air conditioning unit in my flat. She wrote back the next day saying that she was ill, had just had her first round of chemo and couldn’t write much. I was sorry to hear that she had been in hospital and hoped she would soon complete her treatments. I attached three, small photos of Rex she could view on her phone with my message.

I sent Dawn another e-mail in August, but I don’t have record of having been in touch with her again until 18 November when, according to my journal, I saw her green light on my Skype panel, for the first time in months, so I decided to call her. Dawn answered right away. I asked if she was in her Brooklyn studio, since it was already dark outside the window. She told me that she was in Rome at the American Academy on a two-month fellowship. I asked her how she was doing. She told me the cancer had returned. I couldn’t say anything except, ‘I’m sorry, I’m very sorry.’ Dawn told me she was expecting another call in the next five minutes, so we kept it short. Dawn returned my skype call on the 21st. I wrote in my journal that Dawn looked a little bit better this time. She didn’t have a hat on (so I could see she still had her beautiful, blonde hair) and the dark circles around her eyes were almost gone. We talked a little about my annual AQ yearbook print production schedule, and she told me more about her health.

I asked Dawn if she’d been enjoying her stay in Rome, including the sights and the food. I mentioned the cool, ancient, underground villas with their wall murals and she said she’d been near there and that Italian food was wonderful. I asked if she was working on anything new, but she didn’t give anything away. She said her mother was coming for Thanksgiving and that they were going to see the Vatican together. I told her to make sure that one of them was in a wheelchair, so then they wouldn’t have to wait in long lines to see things. I asked if she’d like an ARC of the AQ 2016 Yearbook, and she said yes. I sent her a copy and a box of German chocolates wrapped in Dutch Sinterklaas paper.

On 20 December Dawn wrote she found ‘a happy surprise’ in her AAR mailbox. She thought the chocolates were delicious and ate the whole box in one evening. She asked about my health and said she was starting her second round of a new drug which had sometimes given her ‘heart attack symptoms.’ when walking, so she had to ‘stop and wait and go VERY slowly.’ Despite her health, however, she said her stay had been ‘very productive.’

I responded that I was very happy the box of chocolates had helped her stay up all night and create. ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,’ (William Blake) I reminded her. I also told her about the time my legs suddenly stopped working once on the Leidseplein (and I’d neglected to wear my leg braces per my doctor’s instructions). It took me a quarter hour to slowly, walk crab-like, the last 25 metres into a Central Station-bound tram.

We skyped a few days later and I told her about my pillbox, which I drybrushed in Photoshop to illustrate my poem ‘The Rattle’ that would appear in AQ18 that spring. She directed her camera down quickly to show several opened foil medicine holders on a burlap background on a table, which she was drawing and which would later become part of ‘Three Tables in Rome’ (the table farthest to the right), watercolour, 2017.

The next time we corresponded was on 15 February. Dawn wrote that her reply would ‘be brief’ because she would be going to teach at RISD for a few days and that was worried about her ‘stamina’ and hoped her time at RISD would ‘be healing.’ She added that RISD had given her twice as many TA’s and that her health was ‘mixed, but hopeful’, since she was trying to get treatment with a new drug. She also mentioned she had joined a support group. Dawn thanked me for sending her photos of Rex in various outfits and poses: ‘GQ Rex’, wearing a new hand-knitted winter jacket; ‘après-ski Rex’ wearing the jacket on a leash in the snow; ‘GQ Rex’ reclining on a leather sofa displaying his family jewels; and ‘Cheshire Cat Rex’ with a ball, with large, white teeth painted on it, in his mouth.

On 1 April, I sent a bouquet of mixed flowers to the opening of her Tables and Pills and Things show at the Pierogi Gallery on Suffolk Street in Manhattan. She wrote me back on 3 April thanking me for the flowers with photos of them in a vase in her flat. On 23 June, I sent Dawn a postcard of Gerrit Rietveld’s, Harrenstein Bedroom, 1926, while waiting for the monthly AQ writers’ group to begin. I wrote that I’d recently attended the press showing of the Edward Krasinki retrospective at the Amsterdam Stedelijk. I wrote that the show had just been at the Tate Liverpool and ‘they could have kept it there. This guy’s signature move is to put blue electric tape on the wall at 1.6 meters’… (and sometimes through other’s artwork) ‘to break it into two planes — a sort of minimalist constructivism.’ Stealing a line from Bill Sherwood’s film Part Glances, I continued: ‘There’s more art in one square inch of your panoramic interiors than in this entire show!’

Dawn contacted me later that month. She was at Yaddo in a room with a large window that looked out onto a dense wood. She asked me if she should continue to apply to programmes, and if she should mention her illness. I advised her to keep applying, to not mention her illness, to take her drugs with her and to arrange transport to nearby hospitals for treatments, if necessary. She reported ‘no real progression of her disease’ which was good news.

In later emails we joked about and discussed what she could draw at Yaddo. I suggested a reflection of the window in front of her with a scene from Rear Window on the TV or PC, or from the window, have a view of the iconic, criminals’ lair in North by Northwest, or draw a picture of the project she working on and have its reflection and that of the room behind it in the big window with or without herself at the table.

Dawn listed three drawings she might attempt. The first in ‘black ink’ … ‘of objects on a table with the woods in the background.’ The second in colour, she’d ‘do at night.’ to take advantage of the big window’s mirror effect. She’d ‘split the image between (the) directly observed table top and the mirror image of the table top.’ The last would be in a ‘limited black palette and vermillion Sumi inks.’ with ‘surface graphics of the objects. No shadows.’

In late September, I travelled to the Communal Studies Association conference in Zoar, Ohio, where I would read a paper. Just before I left, however, I sent Dawn a Sophia Loren biography, which included photos of Loren as a young woman with friends and handwritten correspondence in Italian. On 15 October 2017, she thanked me for the book ‘chock-full of information!!!!’ and said she was ‘inspired by my energy and spirit.’ She referred to her Yaddo experience as ‘tremendously productive.’ Unfortunately, she wrote her cancer therapy ‘wasn’t working’ … and that she was ‘quite depressed, but pressing on all the same.’ She added she was ‘crazy busy now with teaching,’ but was looking forward to ‘mid-December’ when she would have a two-month holiday to work on her art. She ended her letter with ‘you inspire me’ and her love. Around the beginning of December, I posted Dawn an ARC of the AQ 2017 Yearbook.

I wrote Dawn again just after Christmas. I mentioned switching on the holidays lights to chase away the winter blues, and that I could call her whenever she wanted to talk. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear from Dawn again until 11 February 2018 when she emailed her health ‘had taken a serious turn from the worse.’ She had just begun a new drug trial and was on painkillers, so it was sometimes difficult for her to ‘do anything.’ Despite her situation, however, she expressed concern for me and hoped I was ‘feeling better than … last December.’ Six weeks later on 24 March she wrote with good news after I had telephoned and left a message. Her ‘cancer makers were down,’ and she was off ‘the pain killers.’

On 22 June, I wrote her with my US itinerary for October/November, so we could try to meet. I mentioned the Wayne Thiebaud cakes postcard I’d sent her from his European retrospective at the Museum Voorlinden in The Hague with a link to my review in AQ22. Dawn emailed a week later saying it was ‘pretty awful’ that Thiebaud and some of his paintings (there were three or four empty spaces on the walls) didn’t make it for his show’s opening. She had recently sent out a group email stating how she was doing because she didn’t have time to write everyone separately. In her next missive, she confided ‘between you and me, I am losing some hope.’ The trial drug had stopped working and then ‘the rate of growth was dramatic.’

She also wrote that she had gone to Angels in America on Broadway. ‘It may seem strange to attend … in the midst of all this bad health news, but it was great and I’m glad I went … with a very good friend, Judy.’ Dawn reported that after she left the theatre, she ‘sobbed. … glad to express … my extreme sadness.’ She then wrote that she ‘had started of book of drawings’ and wanted to do ‘at least a page per day.’ She ended her email with news that she’d been invited to MacDowell from Sept. 5 to Oct. 15, and hoped she would ‘be well enough to go.’

I told Dawn I would have a lot to share with her when I saw her in New York. I would have just visited my paternal grandmother’s father’s village in Banco, Trentino, Italy the month previously. In the meantime, I would try to post another box of inspirational chocolates to her at MacDowell.

There were a few mails in between, mostly with regard to making an appointment to meet in Manhattan. On 9 August, Dawn let me know she had received the chocolates.

On 25 October 2018, Judy brought Dawn to meet with me in an Italian café in Koreatown near Herald Square. During our meeting, Dawn told me that her doctor had begun to discuss hospice care and said he hadn’t given her longer than the end of the next month to live. From my experience with at least a two dozen people with AIDS (including two partners), I knew what to talk about at a last meeting — the weather, college, hobbies or music, a pleasant mix of the present and the past, but not the future, and certainly nothing about drugs or treatments.

I had also brought two gag gifts — faux Delfts blauw teabag and spoon caddies in the shape of a teapot and a wooden shoe respectively. These made Dawn giggle and laugh as she carefully extracted them from their protective cardboard and blue-and-white wrapping paper. I hoped it made her forget, at least for a few moments, the gravity of her situation. I showed her the earliest pre-production copy of the Amsterdam Quarterly 2018 Yearbook. She said she especially liked Peter E. Murphy’s ‘Open’ photo on the back cover, which showed a valve with the word ‘OPEN’ stamped on it, rusted shut. I told her I would send her an ARC as soon as they were ready.

I also showed Dawn my photo book of my paternal Italian-America grandmother’s family’s village, including the church font where my great-grandfather, one great-uncle and one great aunt were baptised, and the location of their flat, with its view of apple orchards and the Dolomites. When I returned from the toilet, I noticed Dawn taking photos with her phone of the pre-production copy. She said she had done that so she’d ‘have something to read later.’ Dawn also noticed a picture of Rex on my phone, sitting on a dark blue pillow and she asked for a copy, which I emailed to her that evening.

Saying goodbye to Dawn for the last time was not only emotionally, but physically draining. As I rolled to the Herald Square taxi stand with her, I suddenly discovered the last three fingers of my right hand wouldn’t work, so I had to work hard to propel myself with just my thumb and index finger on that hand. I said a last goodbye to Dawn and gave her a hug.

Whilst on the road in the US, I sent her a postcard of the 1954 Kalamazoo Gal, sitting on the hood of a blue and white Chevrolet Bel Air, with news of my readings, which I hoped would make her laugh. As promised, on 4 December, I posted the AQ 2018 Yearbook ARC with a box of chocolates. The next day, however, I received the news Dawn had passed.

There’s a saying in Dutch, Wie schrijft, blijft — S/he who writes, remains (forever). I hope that also applies to artists, and that Dawn knew what an indelible mark she had left in my heart, in the art world, and on paper. AQ