Saturday, December 25, 2010


(Bill and I in the front room of our house, 1965; I am in pajamas and robe, sick with asthma as usual, but have put on a dress-up sombrero; Bill and I are holding our chihuahua between us)

In July of 1964 my family moved to a small South Texas town where my father's boss had rented one of the few houses available on the white side of town. There was another house, a brick one built in the 50's, that he rented for his own family.

The house allocated to us had been built at a time before electricity was commonplace in structures. Each room had central fixtures originally meant to burn gas for light. They had been retrofitted, clumsily, to hold electric light bulbs, and as well an outlet had been run to one wall of each room stapled to the outside of the original drywall. The floors were ancient bare wood, the windows rattled in their casings with weights long since fallen away inside, and the pipes thundered when a tap was turned. There was a fireplace in each of the rooms which opened off the wraparound front porch, but the chimneys were not usable and instead gas heaters were jammed into the hearths. The interior walls had never been painted, there were no keys to any of the doors, and a single clawfoot tub had separate taps for hot and cold, the hot water having been added after the house was built.

Care which had not been expended on the interior had instead been lavished on the yard, which was vast and bounded on both sides by lots wild with vegetation of that region. The yard had a small orchard of red plum trees, a grape arbor, a palm tree, magnolias, two salt cedars, a long hedge of oleanders in two colors, a riot of poinsettia beside one chimney, a bearing orange tree, and an enormous fertile vegetable garden. The giant oak at one edge was overgrown with morning glories, and there were so many large climbing trees I could hide in branches for hours on end. There was a chicken coop, an old barn with a horse stall, several prickly pears, a saw palmetto, and thick stretches of St. Augustine in the front yard, wildflowers in the lots, and even a lightning-struck tree whose trunk housed a bee colony.

Despite being given a corner of the dining room as my space, I still felt like we at last had a real house, with high ceilings, original wood trim, and that glorious yard. Compared to the tiny renthouses or 10x50 trailer we had lived in for years, I felt like we had landed in a place where I could take pride. A decent house.

That summer I turned nine. Before the end of the year, I would write my first poem -- sitting in the top of one of those trees in the back lot -- and discover what being a lesbian meant, realizing that must be what I was. When my father's work once again left the area, my mother would decide to keep us in that town, allow my older brother to finish high school in one place, trying to push my father into seeking different employment which paid a living wage for a family. She grew steadily more hopeless and ill in that house, as did I, and my older brother ramped up his emotional and physical torture of me to eventual sexual assault.

Still, I loved that house, the structure itself, the old and solid feel of it, the decades of nurture evident in the yard. We stayed there four years, an eternity in my family, and only left when I betrayed my mother by siding with my father when he came home with yet another demand that we move, this time to Brazil. I betrayed her because I realized I would die at the hands of my older brother if I did not find a way to get away from him, and another continent while he was in college -- avoiding being drafted -- seemed enough distance to save my own life.

During that first year, however, I rode with Daddy as he went to talk with his boss, receiving the news that his job was being relocated again. I was in the front seat of the car, watching Daddy's jaw work as this boss spoke to my father with condescending apology, adding "At least now y'all can get out of that dump you're in."

That's all I remember, that line. On the drive home, my father silently daring me to say a word so he could take out his anger on me, I risked remarking "He called our house a dump."

"It's a shithole" my father said viciously. I shut up.

There were a couple of girls who tried to be my friend while I lived there, and I accepted their advances cautiously. One of them, Lisa Dillard, called me her best friend. But I never once let her inside my house, and that affected our closeness. At least, my sense of shame did.

Years later, I listened to my Great-Aunt Lee talked about growing up in the rural community where my mother's line spent five generations, she said "We were all poor, but we didn't know it. We knew we didn't have money, but not that we were poor. I didn't find out until I went to college on a scholarship, and that's when I learned shame. I've always been grateful I didn't learn it earlier."

I knew exactly what she meant. Shame is something others teach you, and it's much easier to resist when you are older at its first lesson.



(Judy Grahn, January 1988, Oakland CA, photo by Robert Giard)

Every Saturday evening I post a Judy Grahn poem. Much of her best work is already up here (check Labels to the right for her name) but there is still a wealth more to share. If she'd been a straight white man, they'd have declared her poet laureate a long time ago -- but then she wouldn't be writing the stunning language that she does.

(An excerpt from the most important poem in my life, A Woman Is Talking To Death, on this my 55th Christmas Eve)

Death and disfiguration

One Christmas eve my lovers and I
we left the bar, driving home slow
there was a woman lying in the snow
by the side of the road. she was wearing
a bathrobe and no shoes, where were
her shoes? she had turned the snow
pink, under her feet. she was an Asian
woman, didn't speak much English, but
she said a taxi driver beat her up
and raped her, throwing her out of his
what on earth was she doing there
on a street she helped to pay for
but doesn't own?
doesn't she know to stay home?

I am a pervert, therefore I've learned
to keep my hands to myself in public
but I was so drunk that night,
I actually did something loving
I took her in my arms, this woman,
until she could breathe right, and
my friends who are perverts too
they touched her too
we all touched her
"You're going to be all right"
we lied. She started to cry
"I'm 55 years old" she said
and that said everything.

Six big policemen answered the call
no child in them.
they seemed afraid to touch her,
then grabbed her like a corpse and heaved her
on their metal stretcher into the van,
crashing and clumsy.
She was more frightened than before.
they were cold and bored.
'don't leave me' she said.
'she'll be all right' they said.
we left, as we have left all of our lovers
as all lovers leave all lovers
much too soon to get the real loving done.

© Judy Grahn, from The Work Of A Common Woman



Here's a Christmas Day best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.


Friday, December 24, 2010


Here's a special Christmas Eve selection of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.



(Whistler's Lesbian Mother)


I saw my mother's despair
sometimes days on end
Watched her find scraps
to feed her ravenous mind
Hang clothes on the line
Knead biscuits, iron shirts
Stir jam in July kitchens with
sweat pooling around her feet
bare on the linoleum she had
washed that morning before
we all got up. I tried to keep
my own shame and panic from her
but could not because I was
cut from her flesh like biscuits
She stopped by my bed at night
when she got up to pee or
look out at clouds in the darkness
Listening for tornadoes and
planning what to do if one came,
my father gone with the only car
She would cup my sleeping cheek
with her calloused palm and promise
someday things would be okay
I have forgiven her more often than
I have ever prayed. What I want now
is for her to come wake me up
one last time and tell me she is happy
safe fed held close, she has at last
gotten a good night's sleep and
I can stop grieving for how this world
used her down to bare knuckles.

© Maggie Jochild, written 24 December 2010, 2:59 a.m.


Thursday, December 23, 2010


(Three-Trillion-Mile-Long Jet From a Wobbly Star)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.


by Sharon Olds

The doctor said to my father, "You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That's what I'm telling you now." My father
sat quite still, as he always did,
especially not moving his eyes. I had thought
he would rave if he understood he would die,
wave his arms and cry out. He sat up,
thin, and clean, in his clean gown,
like a holy man. The doctor said,
"There are things we can do which might give you time,
but we cannot cure you." My father said,
"Thank you." And he sat, motionless, alone,
with the dignity of a foreign leader.
I sat beside him. This was my father.
He had known he was mortal. I had feared they would have to
tie him down. I had not remembered
he had always held still and kept quiet to bear things,
the liquor a way to keep still. I had not
known him. My father had dignity. At the
end of his life his life began
to wake in me.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010


(Photograph © Donna Gottschalk, 1969)

Remember this?

If you were a dyke-feminist in the 70s through the early 80s, you probably had this image as a poster titled "Sisterhood Feels Good" hanging in your house. It really was ubiquitous. Mine hung over my bed for a decade, a yellow-tinted reminder of how "Feminism was the theory, lesbianism was the practice."

The photographer is Donna Gottschalk, and I write this post in part to ensure her name starts being attached to this image wherever it appears. She says she took this at a "big women's powwow in Pennsylvania 1969, very cold" but cannot recall the date or time, so we hope one of you out there can identify it for herstory. She also states the wimmin in the photo didn't want to be outed at the time, but if you are one of the two in bed here and would now like to have your name attached, this is your chance.

When I moved from the land collective in Durango to San Francisco in early spring 1978, this image was in my mind, a goal I hoped to achieve: Lying in a small urban bed pooling my warmth with another dyke. I know I was not alone in that goal. In fact, I suspect it was a prime motivator in why we went to so many meetings, rallies, and other events. There was "something about the women" running throughout every choice we made. And, yes, I achieved my goal too many times to count.

So this image unlocks not only a collective intent and theory, but also collective memory.

I invite you to share whatever it stirs for you. But as always, be kind. Honesty and kindness go well together, if you aim for a Grahn-ish plainspeak.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010


As Susan Saxe brilliantly wrote: "I see no humor in uniform."

I ask my lesbian and gay folk to celebrate the ending of DADT by NOT enlisting, and NOT putting their bodies at the service of an imperial dominance machine. We have not had an honorable war in our lifetimes, and it is not likely one will ever emerge, the way lines of power are currently established.

I know that for many working class young people, the military is one of few economic survival strategies. This is no accident. I understand the pinch. I once myself seriously considered enlisting strictly to pay for education and an expensive version of security. If you can't find an alternative, I do not judge you.

But, I ask those who have led in the movement to repeal DADT to now switch their energies to finding alternatives to military service for our young adults. I want the predominant lesbian and gay issue of our leaders to be insuring job security, affordable education, health care and decent housing for all of us, because that in fact is what we need. What will give us dignity and community. What will win us allies and respectful equals.

But it will mean looking hard at race and class, not just a single issue. It will mean focusing on the freedom and safety of women and children, including (and especially) those living in countries our military currently occupies for reasons completely divorced from democracy. It will mean we stop fetishizing uniforms and any version of masculinity, and instead push our vast national power toward serving the needs of the world, not the interests of white boys who make sure their sons never get drafted.

Because we have insisted all along that "they" recognize our essential humanity, those who wished to create special second-rate categories for us. With the shift comes our responsibility to behave in ways which our having been excluded taught us to appreciate, to behave with enlightenment and compassion.

Don't enlist, don't kill. Dismantle the threat of force used to control the globe for corporations. Be authentically queer.




Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.