Jerilyn Friedmann Burgess – Life Lessons

Life Lessons
by Jerilyn Friedmann Burgess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerilyn Friedmann Burgess, The Present, photograph, 2017

Pat Seman – Rushnyk

by Pat Seman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A last hug.

“Come back soon. Don’t forget us!

As if I ever could. AQ

Maryah Converse – Friends with Goats

Friends with Goats
by Maryah Converse

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

I always winced and looked away.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darya Danesh – A Letter to Round One

A Letter to Round One
by Darya Danesh

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

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

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

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

Round One.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But things were still. not. normal.

Each day more awful than the last.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You were the first, Cytarabine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I continued the letter by writing that:

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

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

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

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

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

Five men at Café Flore, San Francisco, April 1984. Left to right: Phil Willkie, Jim Holmes, unidentified man, Steve Abbott and Harold Norse. Photo © 1984 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

Five men at Café Flore, San Francisco, April 1984. Left to right: Phil Willkie, Jim Holmes, unidentified man, Steve Abbott and Harold Norse. Photo copyright © 1984 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bryan R. Monte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Bryan R. Monte

Thea Droog – Makassar van Het MS De Tegelberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Z. Shore – The Media: Then and Now

The Media: Then and Now
by Joan Z. Shore

I was lucky enough to be working in the media—radio and television—during the glory days, right up to the end.

Personally, I place the end shortly before the year 2000, just before the Internet took over our lives.

For nearly a decade, I was the Paris correspondent for CBS News, lurching from press conference to press conference, from calamity to calamity, along with my colleagues from ABC, NBC, and later, CNN. We were just a handful among 3,000 accredited foreign journalists in Paris—writing, recording, filming, editing whatever we thought would be important, or interesting, to our unseen audience “back home.”

In America, as in in most countries, foreign news does not take priority over local events. So while radio needed endless material for the hourly reports, television was only interested in foreign news when something really big happened: a presidential election, a terrorist attack, an airline accident. We didn’t have to wish for those: inevitably, they happened.

One of the more delightful events that absolutely had to be covered was the inaugural flight of the Concorde: Paris to New York in three and a half hours! To cover this momentous occasion, CBS sent over their venerable newsman, Walter Cronkite. He spent a couple of days in Paris before the flight. It was the first time we’d met, and we quickly established a friendship. One afternoon, we were sitting at an outdoor café on the Champs-Elysées, and at least half a dozen American tourists spotted him and came over to say hello.

“You see?” laughed Walter. “They recognized you!”


When the day came for the Concorde flight, I accompanied him to the airport, and we joked about sneaking me on board. No way.

We met again when he visited Paris with Betsy, his beloved wife, and we had dinner together at a simple restaurant in my neighborhood. The French clientele didn’t pay much attention, but the owner recognized him and asked him to sign the guest book. Graciously, he did.

We met again in Nairobi. I had just been on safari, and he was doing a story on tribal medicine and witch doctors, part of a series.  He seemed fairly impressed by what he had learned. “There may be something to it,” he said. Walter never dismissed a new idea, a new concept, a new viewpoint.

We met again in Vienna, after his retirement from CBS. He was reporting for CNN on the gala New Year’s celebration and the New Year’s Day concert, as he did for many years. He looked splendid in his tuxedo, but expressed regret that he had retired from the CBS news desk “too soon.” Clearly, those cultural jaunts were fun, but too tame for this maestro.

Whenever I was in New York, we tried to get together. I remember a lovely lunch at the Russian Tea Room, where he had his special table. And a drink one afternoon at his favorite East Side bar, when he arrived limping due to a leg injury. There would be no tennis and sailing that summer.

And once, he called me and simply said, “Hello, Joan,” and I absent-mindedly said, “Who’s this?”

“Oh, my God!,” he said. “She doesn’t recognize my voice!”

“Walter!” I exclaimed, thoroughly embarrassed.  “I must be deaf!”

Walter’s voice was distinctive and rich, as were most media voices in those days. Today, the networks concentrate on appearance, not voice: the perfectly combed hair, the deftly powdered face. But even this may be a vanishing illusion, as network news shrinks in relation to the Internet.

In Paris now, there are fewer than 1,000 accredited foreign journalists. The big three American networks closed their Paris bureaus 20 years ago believing that more important things were happening elsewhere in the world, and that maintaining a fully staffed bureau anywhere was simply too expensive. So there are no more cameramen, soundmen, editors, bureau chiefs. There is, instead, a whole generation of free-lance writers and bloggers. Sometimes their reports get picked up by an Internet site; rarely will they be paid. (Arianna Huffington perfected this “fame but no fortune” principle, promising her contributors “exposure” in lieu of monetary compensation.)  So we have an army of self-appointed journalists who lack training, experience and pay; who probably have a camera in their pocket; and who can, at a moment’s notice, tell the world that there’s been an accident on Main Street or a deadly fire in a garbage dump.

Let us not blame the messenger entirely; the nature of our communications today is fast and shallow. In-depth reporting is rare, and audiences are impatient. The 30-second soundbite has been reduced to 20 seconds, and the seasoned correspondent who spent years in a foreign office—lunching with a senator, interviewing a local businessman—exists no longer.

And we are the poorer for it.

Bryan R. Monte – Our Vaudeville – A memoir of James Broughton

Our Vaudeville
A memoir of James Broughton
by Bryan R. Monte

Unlike the other writers I’ve mention in this memoir series, I do not remember the first time I met James Broughton. I do however, remember two of the last times I saw him. One was captured in a photo by Rink, the well-known LGBT photographer at the OutWrite! writers’ conference in March 1990 in San Francisco in the 4 April 1990 edition of Outweek. James and I are in a closeup profile, with the caption: “Dangling Part(iciple)—Poet Bryan Monte is embraced by poet/filmmaker James Broughton.” The second recorded on a receipt from a Different Light Bookstore dated 11 November 1991 for a copy of Broughton’s Androgyne Journal and a notice of his reading the same evening.

Compared to five other writers, with whom I corresponded during that period, my missives to James were the most frequent and voluminous. Between 25 September 1985 and 2 November 1992, James sent me 18 letters or cards and sometimes books, whilst I (according to the Kent State University Special Collections where James’ later correspondence is kept), sent James ten communications in the form of postcards, letters and a review of his tapes series, True and False Unicorn and other poems, Songs from a Long Undressing, Graffiti from the Johns of Heaven and Ecstacies.

I don’t know if I’d met James when I lived in San Francisco the first time between 1980-84. I had certainly heard about him through Steve Abbott who told me about a boat cruise with a select group out on the Bay to celebrate James’ and his partner, Joel Singer’s union. I’d certainly read James’ poetry while working at the Small Press Traffic and Walt Whitman bookshops September 1983 to June 1984, both of which stocked his books of unabashedly gay, Whitmanesque, naked, cosmic, hippie poetry.

As far as I can determine, the first piece of our correspondence was a plain white postcard he sent dated 24 Sept 1985. I was then in the second year of my Masters degree in creative writing at Brown’s Graduate Writing Program. On this card, James wrote that he was surprised that I had moved to Providence and that he got my new address from a copy of No Apologies #4 which he found at Small Press Traffic Bookshop in San Francisco. He was happy to see that I was still publishing “gaily,” and wanted to know what I was “interested in printing.”

James went on further to ask if I had an address for John Landry so he could contact him. (James had contributed a poem, as I had, to Landry’s Collision magazine/anthology). James signed his name with a extended bar on top of the “J” and stamp with his name and address and, just to the left, another stamp of a petal-flamed sun looking towards his Mill Valley address. It felt like a ray of California sunshine in the midst of a cold, rainy Rhode Island autumn.

At the bottom of the card, James asked: “Do you have a copy of Ecstacies?” Either in San Francisco or after I arrived in Providence in August 1984 to attend Brown’s Graduate Writing workshop, James had given or sent me a signed copy of that book. In my letter of 20 November I told James I had “a beautiful, autographed” copy. I also told him I was swamped with work (writing poetry and putting together my MA thesis, working at the John Carter Brown library cataloguing rare German books and preparing my paper on the “homosexual” discourse in Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz for the MLA convention in Chicago that December.

I told him I was missing California. I wrote: “I hope the sun is warm, the air tingles with a mentholated fog, and that you sit reading this letter in a eucalyptus grove.” I also enclosed a birthday present—a signed copy of No Apologies #5. I wrote that I hadn’t been able to locate John Landry, but an acquaintance at Brown, Natalie Robitaille, said she thought he was working up at the Plymouth Plantation exhibit at the national park. I asked James further if he was inquiring about the Collision anthology that Landry was editing in which I had some poems also.

In addition, I mentioned that I’d been a T. A. that summer for a film course up at a boarding school in Massachusetts and that their textbook mentioned James and his “several experimental films.” I told James: “I’ll have to re-read your poems now with a different eye to see how you manipulate your images from scene to scene.” I also told him I had to sign off because it was past 11 PM and I had a grant writing workshop to attend the next morning to try to get an NEA grant to help fund my magazine, No Apologies.

In a letter dated 12 December in response James said he had received the copy of No Apologies #5, which I had sent him and that he had “…enjoyed reading everything in it…” because it was “lively” and had a “fresh tone.” He also wrote that he “very much…would like to “send (me) …some material in January.” He continued: “I thought you knew had I been making films off and on most of life.” He sent a bio with a separate sheet of his films that were available through a distributor. He reported further that “Joel and I are doing fine…he is mostly making collages and I am working on my memoirs before I forget everything.” He ended the letter with “All my best wishes and tender regards,” wishing me a “Happy Christmas.”

In his next letter dated 17 Feb 1986, James apologized for being slow to respond to “your good letter.” (I don’t know if James is still referring to my letter of 20 November, or whether I wrote him another letter in between that date and his writing. His papers at KSU do not include a second letter from me). James had decided to submit some stories for consideration in the next issue of No Apologies. (That would have been issue #6. However, due to my financial situation as a working, sole-supporting graduate student, I wasn’t able to publish another issue of No Apologies). He sent “Two Tales for Fairies” and wrote “you can arrange them any way you wish.”

In the next stanza he mentioned he had “notes of all kinds for a chapter about the experience of my filmmaking.” Then he asked if I “would be interested…on how I made I made my first films in San Francisco in the late ’40s and ’50s?” Futhermore he wondered if my readers would know who “Maya Deren, Willard Maas and Parker Tyler” were because he had a piece “out at a cinema type magazine,” which if rejected, he would send to me.

I responded to James in a letter dated March 4, 1986 in which I thanked James for his submissions and accepted his poems, “Senior Scorpio’s Foxtrot” and “Off to the Lifelong Races,” and his film memoir, “Mother’s Day Goes Off to New York,” (which was currently under consideration by another magazine), for No Apologies #6.

I continued by asking James how his stay in Hawai’i had been. I mentioned I had been a newspaper intern there on Maui a few summers before. I also said that I liked his film memoir because of its metaphors which described a screening location for one of his films as having “the intimacy of a car barn in Siberia,” and in another place where he compared his film to “chamber music.” I told him: “Anyone who loves film should be interested in this piece.” I ended my letter by thanking him:

“for your invitation to keep in touch. It makes me feel good to know that people in the Bay Area miss me. I wish I could have been at your birthday party. It sounds like it was lots of fun. When I return to San Francisco, you’ll be the first person I’ll visit. Take care of yourself – and of Joel. Get back to me as soon as you can if the Mother’s Day piece is out of the running.

Around Christmas 1986 I sent James a card indicating I had a job teaching writing at a high school in semi-rural Massachusetts and that would be discontinuing publication of No Apologies. James responded with an undated card (probably from January 1987) the text of which read: “If it’s the last dance, dance backwards.” probably meaning to review what I’d done and look back on it with pride. In any rate, I felt supported and affirmed by James even though I wasn’t able to publish his pieces in my magazine. Inside he wrote: “Sad that we may lose No Apologies.” He hoped that things would improve for me and that I could start over again. He also asked if I would return his manuscripts.

The next piece of correspondence is my letter to James dated February 9, 1987. I told him I was able to locate his Mother’s Day manuscript in my correspondence binder, but not “the MSS of the two poems I accepted.” My happiness at receiving James’ card was also continued in the next paragraph when I told James I would visiting him the following week during one of the high school vacations. It was the first time I’d returned to San Francisco since I’d left in July 1984. (I’d also go through three blizzards in Massachusetts that winter before it was over). I told James that while in SF, I would be staying at Ed Mycue’s and Richard Steger’s apartment near City Hall and to give me a call. I added a handwritten P. S. and the bottom of my typed letter that read: “I’d really like to see you.”

During that holiday, I visited with Ed and Richard and with Steve Abbott and Thom Gunn. (In between I also looked for jobs in San Francisco through contacts in the the Brown Alumni Association. I was warmly received by a prominent SF hotel, a newspaper and a publication relations company. Each of these company’s reps. told me I would get a job if I returned that summer. I had a memorable dinner with James and Joel and Steve Abbott and Dennis Green at the couple’s 21st and Church Street hilltop apartment overlooking the lights of San Francisco. Joel cooked a lovely Italian meal, which I mentioned in my review.

Broughton poured wine and reminisced about his years in Paris and the Beat scene in San Francisco. Present was also Joel Singer, Broughton’s partner and artistic collaborator, who created the cover photomontages for Broughton’s new poetry tapes. Singer cooked an exquisite dinner of cheese gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce, osso bucco alla Milanese, and orange slices mascerated in Grand Marnier.

The same evening, James gave me his new, audiocassette collection which including recordings from his True and False Unicorn and other poems, Songs from a Long Undressing, Graffiti from the Johns of Heaven and Ecstacies to review. Either that evening or when I returned to Massachusetts, I gave or sent James a copy of Neurotika, my MA poetry thesis at Brown, which is included in Broughton’s KSU papers. At the top of the Neurotika MS is a handwritten note: “2.20.87 To James Broughton and Joel Singer, Thank you for your gifts of laughter and joy. Good luck and good health to you both! Bryan.”

The pleasant memory I have of visiting James and Joel at their SF apartment is reinforced by James’ postcard of his face in close up by Rink, dated and postmarked 28 February 1987. James wrote that he “enjoyed” my poetry and my visit and he hoped my “listening (to his tapes) had been productive.”

I responded with a postcard dated 3.8.87. “Dear James, I just finished my second draft of my review of your tapes. I will do the final draft tomorrow and Tuesday…Steve (Abbott) should have my copy by the end of the week.” I also continued on a personal note writing that: “I hope I can see you again this summer. Depending on the job possibilities, I may move back to SF. The West Coast isn’t Lotus Land, it’s the Promised Land! If I hadn’t gone to Brown for my MA in creative writing, I probably would have never left. I hope I can continue to teach writing (in SF).”

On 1 April 1987, I sent a copy of the review to Rudy Kikel at Bay Windows in Boston, who had just typeset Steve Abbott’s chapbook, The Lives of the Poets. I also informed him that Steve had sent copies to the San Francisco Sentinel and Poetry Flash.

In my review I wrote that: “Broughton is to be applauded for his return of poetry to its rightful medium—oral transmission. I remarked to friend once that reading poetry on the page is like trying to understand a song’s melody by reading the lyrics sheet.” I continued my review by praising Broughton’s tapes for their versatility and musicality. I mentioned his “The Water Circle,” which was set to a Corelli gigue.

I played this selection for my high school freshman, who were not the least bit reluctant to join in with Broughton the second time around. I used this poem as a springboard for their own poems about the natural elements and the seasons of the year. Another poem I played was “Mama is Gone.” It’s soft consonants and vowels echo a child’s lament….Broughton’s other “Songs for Anxious Children,” such as “Papa is a Pig” and Mrs. Mother Has a Nose,”…are strictly for adults due to their subtlety and subject matter.

I concluded that: “These tapes will surely establish James Broughton as one of the greatest (and one of the most underrated contemporary (American) poets….they will provide many hours of good listening.”

I don’t remember hearing back from Kikel about the review. Steve Abbott was also unable to place it at the Sentinel and Poetry Flash. James got back to me about a month later with an Uffizi Galleries postcard of Cranach’s Adam saying that he had read and liked my review of his tapes and wanted to know if I knew where else it could be published. He suggested The James White Review or The Advocate. He also invited me to dinner another time.

A little more than a month later, James sent me a typewritten note dated 8 June 87 with the epigraph “Garlic cures every infirmity/ except death where there is no hope.” Inside he wrote that he hoped I’d had “success in placing” the review because he thought it was “valuable and essential reading.” And he added an invitation saying that if there was a “festschrift for my birthday next year,” it or “another piece by you,” would certainly be welcome.

On 10 June 1987, I sent James a postcard of View from the Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown, Massachusetts. I thanked James “for your card of 4/28” and confirmed “I did enjoy writing the review of your tapes” and that “I’ve sent the review to Phil Wilkie at The James White Review.” I also said that I hoped “Joel’s show” had gone “well.” I also confirmed I would “like to come back for dinner” that I’d be out on the West Coast again “on the 20th of July for about a month.”

The next communication I received from James was on the back of a Pitti Galleries postcard of St. Sebastian by Giovanni Antonio Bozzi detto ill Vercelli. James wrote that he was “delighted” to see my review of his tapes in the JWR. “Praise and thanks.” He also wished me well.

By January 1988 I was living in Silicon Valley and working for an insurance company in San Jose. In order to learn the trade practiced by poet Wallace Stevens and composer Charles Ives, I was required to spend one evening a week in insurance classes for the next year and a half and to study at home for at least two hours every night in order to pass the three, four-hour written exams (included calculations which could only be done by hand) for my general insurance certificate. As a result of all this work and living an hour’s drive from San Francisco, I had to drop out of the literary life up North. I received an invitation from James for the premier of his new film, Scattered Remains, made in collaboration with Joel, at the Castro Theater on 26 March 1988, but I doubt that I attended. On the back of the invitation, James wrote his “Good wishes.” Later that year, in October, James kept his promise of inviting me to his schriftfest when he sent me an invitation to read at his 75th and Joel’s 40th birthday celebration at the San Francisco Art Institute on November 10, 1988. For that evening, I wrote and read the poem below:

Birthday blessings for James Broughton and Joel Singer
by Bryan R. Monte

A white house on the side of a hill
high above San Francisco’s lights
holds the home of two lovers and friends
we gather here to honor tonight.

A house of Beauty, a house of Mirth
where Love’s books are reinvented
cook, write, film, fuck, sleep
two lovers by Zeus’ cup demented.

A man and a youth they once began
almost thirteen years to this night
the young pupil and the wise teacher interchangeable
twin novitiates of androgyne delight.

For three days they stayed in bed
two lusty monks on spiritual retreat
and fed Love’s thirst through sweat and tears
sweet nectars of their bodies’ meat.

They taught their hands to sing Hermes’ hymns
to fashion a world for lovers’ delights
and wrought in film, photo, word and deed
the lives we celebrate tonight.

May we be eternally as silly as they:
forever as blessed
forever as blissed
forever as full of life.

On the copy in the KSU archives, I wrote at the top: “by Bryan R. Monte 11/10/88” and a personal note: “Happy Birthday! James & Joel. I hope you enjoy your new home up North.” The audience howled with laughter and applauded my poem, which was good. Just a few minutes before, though, I had mounted the stage with knees knocking so badly I didn’t know if I would be able to stand up and deliver my poem properly to the audience of nearly 300. It was good training. I was able to keep my nerves under control and it gave me extra confidence for my Walt Whitman Bookshop reading a fortnight later.

I invited James and Joel to my reading at the Whitman on a Friday towards the end of November. In response to my birthday poem and my invitation, James sent a postcard dated 17 November 1988 with a painting of “Shelly composing Prometheus Unbound in the Baths of Caracalla,” from a posthumous portrait in oils by John Severn from the Keats-Shelly Memorial House, Rome. He said he “loved” my “tribute,” asked for a copy and thanked me for taking part in his birthday celebration at the Art Institute, which he referred to as “our little vaudeville.” He also said he couldn’t make it to my reading because he had another appointment.

At the reading, I premiered some of the poems I’d written at Brown, including the long poem, Neurotika, about sexual longing, the AIDS crisis, and the probihitions against LGBT rights around the world with aural backing from Brian Eno’s Ambience. On November 28, I sent James and Joel a card with my best wishes. I told them I had had a good time at the Institute reading and his birthday party and I that enjoyed his films—especially Window Mobile, Shaman’s Psalm and the nude interview series, which I’d never seen before. I also told him that my reading “was quite a hit…there were about 25 to 30 people in the audience and my Neurotika piece caused quite a stir.” I also mentioned that: “I realize by now that you may be in Port Townsend. I hope your mail is being forwarded and that you receive this copy of the birthday poem, (and the picture of Joel I took last year at your house at the dinner party with my friend Dennis (Green) and Steve Abbott). Good luck up North and Happy Holidays.”

In response to my letter I received a card with two men on a bicycle, one doing a handstand on the handle bars, with the caption in the upper left “Please Stay in Touch with James & Joel” and their new address and postbox in Port Townsend in the lower left. On the reverse, James thanked me for my “delicious” poem and said he would put it “prominently” in in his “archive.” He also told me about his travel plans after Christmas which included stays in SF in April and June.

During 1989, James and I don’t seem to have corresponded. In September of that year I moved up from Silicon Valley back to San Francisco and into an apartment in the Mission at Valencia and 19th with a view of the apartment I shared with Harry Britt at 20th and Guerrero from April 1983 to July 1984. Here I wrote my weekly news stories and scripts and prepared questions for my bi-weekly interviews on KPFA’s weekly Wednesday night Lavender News on the Fruit Punch radio hour. From this base (and my day job as a computer technician in SF’s Financial District), I trawled the Castro for the LGBT news alone or with photojournalist Rink. I covered demonstrations, AIDS memorials, protests, school board meetings, baseball games, art exhibtions, etc.—anything of interest to the queer community. Every other week I interviewed gay writers, politicians or commentators such as Stan Leventhal or John S. James.

At this time that I also began attending poetry and prose readings in the Mission, the Castro and Berkeley. I started my own weekly writers workshop with regulars such as Donna Kreisle Louden, Edward Mycue, Ronald Linder, Richard Linker and Andrea Rubin. It was Ed in fact, who, according to my 11 November 1989 journal enry, told me about a reception for James on Green Street and said that my invitation had probably been sent to my old address in Silicon Valley.

My journal entry for that evening reveals clearly the happiness and beauty that surrounded James and Joel’s lives and their willingness to share that with me.

James greeted me wearing his ubiquitous pin-purple square oriental pill box hat, a light blue scarf tied around his neck and a darker, blue cordurouy shirt. He put out his arms immediately (to embrace me) . . . The first thing he said was: “It’s a been a year since I’ve seen you; a year exactly.” He was right. He told me I looked good. I told him him he was (as) full of life as ever and as always, happy. He told me he worked at being blissful every day

Joel asked me if I’d like to go to dinner later and I said yes. We ended up with about six people in our party: Hal Hershey, a Berkeley book designer, John Carr, critic for the BAR, Michael Hathaway who hosted the party for James that afternoon and, of course, James, Joel and myself…(at) a Japanese restaurant on Fillmore and Union. We sat upstairs around a low table and I was on James’s right hand. Joel described some Native American ornamentation he’d painted onto the side of their new house. (I also heard that Joel is working on a series of watercolours…He says they’re in the style of photomontages). I asked James the secret of his longevity, but he just smiled.

My training as a radio journalist gave me good training for my writing. From the press releases, books and reading and event announcements, I was aware of what was going on in the gay community. All this, of course, was happening whilst the AIDS crisis was decimating the LGBT community. At least once a month I announced the death of a prominent man or woman I had known personally who had died of AIDS. In addition, one quarter of my radio stories were about AIDS fundraisers and support groups. I felt useful providing this information weekly to the gay community. And it helped me hone my skills as a writer to go out and get stories, sift the facts from the gossip or outright lies, and shape it into the type of telegraphic language necessary for radio news. I soon discovered that for every minute on air, I needed to spend at least an hour preparing my script either at home or gathering information “on location.”

The next piece of correspondence I sent to James and Joel is a letter dated January 6, 1990 from my Mission District apartment. I wrote “It was a pleasure to see both of you during your recent visit to San Francisco. I enjoyed having dinner with you at the Japanese restaurant and listening to James read at the Intersection. I hope both of you had a good holiday. (Did you throw a winter solstice party?) I had a great time on Christmas and New Years. On the first holiday, I went to the Fruit Punch party, and on the second, my roommate and I hosted an open house in our apartment.” I enquired further about their welfare and asked if “Joel is still painting Native American designs on your new house?” and “How is Special Deliveries coming along?” I asked James when his book came out to send me a review copy since “I’m doing 10-20 minutes of news, reviews and interviews on Fruit Punch.” I ended the letter saying that I was thinking of travelling North to Port Townsend with Rink to visit James and Joel.

James responded about three weeks later with a This is It Syzygy Press poetry postcard dated 26 January 1990. James wrote he had just returned for the Yucatan with Joel and that he was working on the final proofs for Special Deliveries.

The next time I saw James was at the OutWrite! Writers’ Conference in San Francisco in March 1990. I covered the conference, speaking with Allen Ginsberg in addition to James.

James Broughton and the author, OutWrite! Writers’ Conference, San Francisco (March 1990). Photo by Rink © 1990. All rights reserved.

James Broughton and the author, OutWrite! Writers’ Conference,
San Francisco (March 1990). Photo by Rink © 1990. All rights reserved.

In response to the above photo in the 4 April issue of OutWeek, James sent me another postcard of a 60+ man logging crew standing on top or next to an enormous tree trunk which it is strapped to a semi-wagon saying that he liked Rink’s photo of “beauty and the old beast.” He wrote would be sending a review copy of Special Deliveries and would be in town for Gay Pride at the end of June to read. He signed the postcard: “Big Log.”

Once again there is a gap of at least a year when James and I did not correspond. During this time, I moved from my flat in the Mission to one in the Outer Sunset from which I could hear and see the Pacific Ocean’s breakers. Here I had hoped to get away from the problems of the City, especially the AIDS crisis. A receipt from A Different Light Bookstore from 11 November 1991 indicates I purchased James’ Androgyne Journal the morning of his reading, and his signature in the book along with the message “for Beloved Bryan. Rejoice in Oneness with Love. James” indicates that I must have attended, but unfortunately I have no journal entry for this day, nor any memory of James’ reading.

Unfortunately, it was also at my oceanview apartment that my new boyfriend, who I’d met in April 1991 and moved in by July, coughed through Christmas with pneumocystis. During the holidays, my new, next-door neighbour abandoned his apartment to die in the arms of his family. By February, my boyfriend was in hospital. Then one Friday evening I came home from work and found he had moved out without giving notice or leaving a forwarding address. In addition, the things he’d left behind were scattered around the flat, including a plant whose soil he’d swirled over the white livingroom carpet.

After my ex-boyfriend left, I kept the AIDS crisis at bay by teaching four times a week after work—twice a week to Russian émigrés out in the Avenues and once a week each to technical writing students at the University of California Extension and to my own writers’ workshop in my living room. Previously this moonlighting had been contractually forbidden by my daytime employer, but once the company went from 17 to 12 to seven to five offices in four massive reorganizations in two and a half years, no one cared as everyone scrambled to find new jobs before they lost their old ones and their homes or apartments.

I remember driving home on night from the UC Extension’s Menlo Park campus at 11 PM along I-280 in thick fog. I was so tired I had rolled down the window and turned the radio up so that the cool air and loud music would keep me from falling asleep behind the wheel. I also remember coming home one night at 10 PM, surprised to feel I was choking as I ate my supper hot out of the oven only to discover I still had my tie on that I’d put on for work that morning at 7 AM. The death of my neighbour, the impending death of a second ex- and the loss my job, all of this was on my mind when I corresponded with James in 1992, one year before I was forced to leave S.F. because I couldn’t find a full-time job or combine two or three jobs that would pay the bills.

The first missive is from James dated 23 January 1992 on James Broughton’s Port Townsend stationery and sent in a Holiday Inn Aeropuerto envelope. He welcomed my suggestion that Rink and I visit him and Joel up North, but he said he couldn’t host us at the moment because he had a family visiting for one month and “some brutal dental surgery” the next. He also reminded me that it was a two-day drive from San Francisco to Port Washington. He ended his letter with “I love you & send you my love & welcome too. Be sure to flourish. Joy from James.”

I must have sent James another letter talking about putting together my poetry collection because I received a postcard of a young man with a muscular torso and legs holding a mirror dated 2 March 1992. It announced a visit by James to San Francisco in “mid-May” and said he “hope(d) you are getting it (the poetry collection?) all together.”

Then about a month and a half later, I received a flyer from James in an envelope postmarked 16 April indicating his readings and screenings in May. On the 14th James had a reading at the Art Institute sponsored by the Cinematique and City Lights Books. The flyer also mentioned that besides the readings, signings and parties, two of Broughton’s films, Scattered Remains and Dreamwood would be shown. James wrote a personal note on the flyer indicating the precise dates he would be in San Francisco and a telephone number in town.

I don’t know if I saw James this time. I may have because I sent him an update of my poetry collection that I had first sent in 1988. This Neurotika, however, was twice as long as the first because it included my performance piece of the same name about the AIDS epidemic.

James responded on 2 Aug 1992. He wrote I had packed a lot into my book because he thought it was really “two different” books: the first poems and the second part the “prose paragraphs of the Neurotika section” which he felt “is almost of a book of its own…an impressive picaresque elegy.”

Broughton’s critique of the poetry (first) section was that it: “…often dropped words so the sense of the line is unclear…” He suggested I “not capitalize” (the beginning of my) lines so it would be easier to distinguish when a new sentence occurs.” He reassured me, however, that: “You have a genuine gift for nuance and impression, for phrasing and shaping.”

He also commented that he was “a hard-hearted reviser” of his own writing and that he was now on his third revision of his memoirs. He advised me: “when in doubt, cut.” Broughton’s letter ended on an encouraging note: “You have enormous potentiality….”

I responded to James’ letter on the 10th thanking him “for your suggestions, especially those concerning the (non)-capitalization of (the first word in) my lines” and for his encouraging words about the Neurotika section. I also asked if he would provide a book blurb.

On November 2, I received the following blurb from James: “Neurotika does not belie its title. On the contrary it pushes sexual neurosis to painful lengths…The neurotic fear of sex that pervades governments and communities around the world provides a concurrent theme. This is a sad, savage, sorry chronicle.”

By that time I had “finished” Neurotika, however, I had lost my job. I had to choose between staying in the City and living from my unemployment benefits and free-lance teaching (which, unfortunately, wouldn’t pay three-quarters of my expenses) and to self-publish Neurotika from my savings, or pursuing my vision of a new life in the Netherlands, which I had had since I was a graduate student.

I purchased an Apple PowerBook laptop and a journalist quality camera and applied for teaching jobs in the Netherlands. Luckily, just after my job ended in San Francisco, I got a job in the Netherlands as an Apple computer system administrator and a substitute English teacher, which is how I began my now 23-year stay.

From James I learned the ropes of writing business—both backstage and on stage. Through his correspondence and books, he taught me how to improve my visual communication as well as my word choice. He provided opportunities for me to create and present work, and, through his and Joel’s hospitality, I learned the value of good food, conversation and company. As a result of this, the time I spent with James and Joel were some of the happiest and most fulfilling I experienced as a writer in San Francisco in the 1980s and ’90s during a very dark period for the LGBT community.