Friday, March 15, 2013

The Muse of a Younger Self

How Do I Get Back to You?

The Faust Woman Poems are about to come out. I have held the advance copy in my hands and mused about the wistful tug from my younger self that was one of many inspirations for this collection. She wants to be heard. Or maybe it’s that my aging body and soul need her voice, her “river glitter,” her “marijuana music” and “Kama Sutra dances” to sweeten and deepen my sense of my own life and that of my generation. Here is a poem I wrote for her:

In Memory’s Pan

You are river glitter
You with the long wavy hair
You with the questions

Once you saw molecules flow
    in a tree branch
Sat on a river rock
    in that old blue skirt

(Someone outside you was watching)

Now salmon have trouble leaping
Oak trees send their dead
I have woven marijuana music
  Kama Sutra dances
All the colors of fire
  into a shawl to wrap us both

  My pretty one
  O my fleeting one

How do I get back to you?
                     The Faust Woman Poems

Just as the final details for the book were being completed I got to see her again, or one much like her. She showed up in an Antonioni movie I’d never seen before—Zabriskie Point.

A Story We Know Well

Dan and I have been watching Antonioni movies in anticipation of a trip to Italy. Antonioni enchants us, captivates us with his slow reflective weird stories—how he enters the interior of his characters worlds, especially that of women, how their worlds unravel and mysteries never get solved, how landscapes become characters—trees breathe and sigh—uncanny commentary from another realm. We’ve followed him to England (Blow Up). We’ve followed him to the America of our youth (Zabriskie Point)

Suddenly we’re in a story we know well—we have our own versions of it. It’s the meeting about the student strike. There’s the angry rhetoric, the divisive righteousness of the left. There’s Kathleen Cleaver with her glorious Afro, her piercing blue eyes and her fierce tongue. There’s Mark, the young outlaw, full of the rage of the day, but his own man. He thumbs his nose at the movement while agreeing with their protest: “I’m not afraid to die,” he says, “just not of boredom” and walks out. I’ve known him in many versions. And there’s Daria, the long legged lovely, the hippie girl full of light who works for The Man. She’s on a road trip to escape L.A. and the bland blather of the developers; she wants to meditate. Like most Antonioni heroines she’s in for an adventure she does not expect. So were we all, back in that day. This Daria is Daria Halprin in her non-movie life—daughter of Anna Halprin—the well-known and beloved dancer and leader in the expressive arts movement.

A Split America

Antonioni gives us an image of a splintered America. We drive with our outlaw friend Mark in his old red truck through the industrial landscape of L.A., plastered with bill boards: Bethlehem Steel. Broom Bevis Industrial, Ladewig Water Meters, Danola Ham & Bacon, Pacific Metals, Hiller Machinery, Conway Crates. We pass junkyards, train yards, big trucks in heavy traffic, until suddenly we are transported to a promenade of graceful palms lining a boulevard on the way to the university. 

The strike is on. The cops have gathered. The students have taken over the administration building. A student is about to be shot. A cop is about to be shot—perhaps by our outlaw friend Mark—who is now a marked man. We are with him on the bus. We’re with him in the poor neighborhood he wanders, before he finds his way to the airport and steals a small plane—the pink Lilly 7—and rises above the billboards, the freeways, the corporate towers to the wild blue where the rich cavort in the sky. We are with him as he heads over the landscape of the desert—the ancient world that was L.A. before it was developed. We’ve traveled with our marked friend through and over America the industrial, America the corporate, America the driven, the impoverished, the police state, the killer of its children, America the crusher of the spirit of the times, into America the wild, the uncanny, the erotic Goddess of the Desert. And this is where things get really wild. 

The Goddess of the Desert

For Daria, who pulls at my heartstrings—I know her so well in myself though her story is a different one than mine—is traveling that very Goddess Desert in her old Buick coupe. Soon—how American—there is a mating dance between these two machines—the pink small plane in the air and the gray car on the ground. Our outlaw demands her attention—flies low over her again and again, scares her, outrages her, throws her a red T shirt peace offering. Soon he’s on the ground with her and they are looking out over the breathtaking landscape of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley where ancient lake beds have been tilted and pushed upward by millions of years of wind and water. The land has peaks and valleys, is furrowed and folded, rounded and angular, sensuous and so erotic. Soon Mark and Daria are rolling around together, rocking and coiling, uncoiling and kissing, entwining and doing a dance of desire.

This is where Antonioni catches the collective moment. For suddenly there are dancers all over the desert, lovers in rapturous entanglement—couples, trios quartets, enjoying the feel of each other’s sweet flesh, doing the tender dance of desire. What’s new is that, unlike the erotically vacant women of his other movies, these women are fully engaged—lusty and hot. It is 1970. I remember it well. In that moment the Goddess of Desire—who had been asleep in us women for millennia—forbidden and taboo—woke up. She filled us with sexual joy, passion and creativity and got us into all kinds of trouble. That’s the story The Faust Woman Poems tells forty some years after Antonioni created his version, which by the way, got panned. But I love Zabriskie Point and the Goddess of Desire in the American desert. Here’s my version of that moment of awakening:

A Brief History of Mothers and Daughters

We were the daughters of girdled mothers, Jello mold mothers, mothers

in the uses of Lipton’s Dried Onion Soup, mothers who dusted
every other morning, taught their daughters how
to iron a man’s long-sleeved shirt: first the collar
then the shoulder yoke, poking the hot metal nose
between white buttons. We were the hungry daughters
of mothers long severed
from the moon in their thighs, long severed
from what had called them
when they were seventeen. We promised ourselves
never to be our mothers.

We were the daughters of Moon Tide, of Life Lust, of what insisted
on coming through us. We smoked it. We drank it. We ingested its Magic
Mushrooms. We saw molecules dance in a leaf, in a stone. We were daughters
of First People, of rivers, of trees. We belonged
to each other. We belonged to the earth. Mystery
called us by name.

We leapt out of marriages, invoked Forbidden Goddesses—the ones the

railed about—you know who I mean: The Whore
of Babylon, the Golden Serpent, the Temple Dancer. It was She
who moved in our bodies, She who tasted the fruit, She
who was exiled from the Garden. She
whom our mothers never dared
to imagine, sat alone, chanting sultry verses
by the Red Sea…

Everything was possible.
We could leap over the moon
We could chant
                                    make love like warm rain
                                              make love like wild surf

It was Our Period
                       The Faust Woman Poems

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