Saturday, October 13, 2007


(Self portrait by Liza Cowan, copyright hers 2007)

This night one year ago, I wrote my first e-mail to Liza Cowan.

I knew of her for at 30+ years, and her influence on my life had been intense. As one of the founding voices of Lesbian-feminism, her courage and clarity had helped bring me to similar attributes. And, I'd written her decades earlier, when she and Penny House were co-editing DYKE: A Quarterly. I was living in a Lesbian land collective that subscribed to DYKE, and we'd noticed their publishing name was Tomato Publications. We'd had discussions about why that name -- it certainly wasn't from the sexist term for women, because Liza was one of the language pioneers helped us unravel gender role conditioning.

Eventually, I sat down and wrote her (circa 1978), posing the question: "Why Tomato Publications?" She wrote me a postcard back that began "Why not?" A familiar humor, now. Then she explained they'd read a national study which said that men's favorite vegetable was cucumbers, while women's was tomatoes.

Somehow our physical paths never crossed in all that time, although they could have more than once. She remained an influence across a distance. I often wondered what she was doing now.

In June of 2006, I began writing what Liza has called the Great American Lesbian Novel. Since the main character was based on me, I gave her the same connection to Liza that I had, and you can't write a novel about politically-active and culturally-revolutionary 70's dykes without mentioning Liza Cowan more than once. Some time during that summer, I found out that Alison Bechdel was having an art show at a gallery in her town of Burlington, and when I investigated it, I discovered the gallery was owned by none other than Liza. Now I knew what she was doing. I found the Pine Street Art Works website and munched my way through it, then went on to Liza's personal website and discovered her art.

Which blew me out of the water.

In August, partly as an antidote to extreme isolation and personal difficulty, I did something I never had before: I posted a comment to a blog. It was in response to attacks on Lesbian cultural institutions and to some really shitty thinking about children, both of which I found impossible to ignore. I was attacked, then defended, then found a small but growing online voice. In the course of that thread, Liza posted -- not about the main topic, about something else, but it was clearly her. Kinda cool.

I've been a leader since I was a teenager, and an artist (writer) for longer than that. I really despise the American cult of celebrity, how people fawn on those who have fame and a certain kind of ability. I find it self-disempowering and just plain icky, especially if I'm on the receiving end. If you want a relationship with me, ask for it, and accept my no if that's what you hear. If you want to fantasize about me, I don't give my consent. And if you don't have a personal relationship with me, trust me, you don't know me through my poetry, my other writing, or my activism. You know only those aspects of me.

I have demons and damage. I also pretty much like myself just fine, but the reasons I like myself are not necessarily what you'll see from my public persona. So I don't indulge in being star-struck, and I don't let others aim it at me. It's really easy to discourage, if you're honest and not passive-aggressive out it. And, of course, if you don't secretly crave it.

So I was reluctant to write Liza what I wanted to write her, which was basically, how the hell are you? How's it been for you the last couple of decades, as we've seen our movement revised, reviled, lied about in every possible way, and still they can't shut us up or kill us off? Mostly, I wanted to know if she was happy, what she was thinking about, and how she was expressing herself. It mattered to me.

I also wanted to tell her how much her work had meant to me and my life, because I think every artist and leader deserves to hear that in a non-adulatory way. But I had to make sure I wasn't coming from a place where there were any strings attached. Just a "thanks" was appropriate, I felt.

(Photograph by Liza Cowan, copyright hers)

So, it took me until October 13th. I had gone back to her website often, to look at the art again -- great art is something I never quite get enough of. And finally I wrote down what the art sparked in me, read it over, decided it was "clean", and posted it to her website.

Only it wouldn't go through. I tried three times and I kept getting rejected. I remember laughing out loud, thinking, "Well, either this is a sign or you're just not geek enough to figure out what's wrong." I let it go and went back to work.

A couple of hours later, though, I remembered there was another e-mail address listed somewhere on the website -- I'd noticed it because she'd used her real name, something few people did with their e-mail addresses any more. I went back, found it, and fired off my thanks. I returned to work.

Fifteen minutes later, she answered.

She knew who I was, had noticed and appreciated my comments on the thread, and we began talking. It's been a year of serious conversation. A completely cyber life, but I consider her a friend, a sister (in the 70's sense), and one of my most crucial supporters of my writing. She has a major gift for fostering the art of others, as well as her own -- as long as you work with her as an equal, she's not charmed by either self-abasement or self-absorption. She's hilarious. She can express herself as well as I can -- and, not to be immodest, that's the highest compliment I can pay somebody. She's an extraordinary mother; we bond a lot around mothering. She's generous and self-maintaining. She knows how to have reciprocal relationships where that's appropriate. She's loyal and she honors confidences. Her intellect includes Jewish irreverence, deep pragmatism, pop culture, academic, anti-academic and Buddhist ways of thinking. She's happy being a woman, and she defines that her own way. She's an extraordinary ally around class -- I trust her as much as I trust most working-class people, because she's worked her ass off to sort through the shit we get about class in this culture.

(Self-portrait by Liza, after a day of painting, showing necklace made for her by her oldest daughter Willa)

In other words, she's just fine, and better than ever.

So, thanks for the year, Liza. Hope there's many more to come. I've written two novels and started this blog, all with your support. I was online with you when I got the call about my father's death, and you were a rock to me throughout that. You are unsentimental about the hardships of my childhood -- you're very clear that I've done a great job getting past it, AND I'd be better off if I hadn't had to waste so much time on healing. (I think so, too.) You've opened up to me slowly, honestly, and intelligently. I think you're swell. I'm so glad I had the good sense to write you, and just as glad you had the good sense to write me back.

You go, girl. Eat your tomatoes and never let them shut you up. I promise to do the same. Love, Mags


Friday, October 12, 2007


When I awaken to start my day, after I fire up the rockets on my PC and hit warp DSL, the first thing I do, of course, is visit Emailandia. Then spam dump. Then, most of the time, I hop on over to Orcinus or Group News Blog.

Partly this is because the two blogs I write for have a notification feature so if someone has posted a comment, I've been informed by email. And if I want to answer, I need to think about it a bit.

But mostly it's because what's a-hoppening at Orcinus or GNB is going to engage multiple layers of my brain, not just the political gecko but also my wobbly g*d interface, my funnybone, my "whoa I hadn't thought about that" child wonder, and my human gang loyalty. All at once. Their snark doesn't make you laugh meanly, and they have kickin' graphics.

I like waking up to my Lieutenant Ellen Ripley persona. Ripley rides my perimeter.

"I thought you were dead?" "Yeah, I get that a lot."

See, here's the scoop about me:

I don't take the pain meds prescribed to me. I don't smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs. I drink caffeine once a day, if that, and chocolate maybe once a week.

I don't use terminology that others have told me is oppressive. When someone confides in me the ways in which they hate themselves, I am not persuaded that they are right in their self-doubt. I listen to children, always.

I have forgiven the people who failed me and tortured me as a child. I have forgiven myself for allowing them to fail and torture me.

I sleep eight to ten hours a night, when possible. I mute commercials. I buy halogen bulbs and brown eggs. I let myself cry.

When I masturbate, I don't fantasize about anyone I've ever known, even someone I haven't known personally. (Because I don't have their consent.)

I resist being pissed at g*d. I write my whole truth, but my ethic insists I try to inject balance and hope into it.

Somewhere early on, I decided to stay present, to move through this life awake and alert, and mostly I've stuck to that decision. Yeah, there were those episodes of leaving my body when he was lying on top of me, when I was 9, 10, 11. And a few tries at getting stinking drunk as a teenager. But those flights never became habit.

More than one person who believes in past lives have told me I am an "old soul" and that this is my last time driving down the block, this existence. First of all, I don't know how they can tell such things -- is there an expiration date stamped on my aura somewhere? And second, it's sad to contemplate. I like being alive and in a body. Yes, the ways we are oppressing each other is horrendous. Yeah, pain sucks. But being able to draw breath, to notice light and shadow, to feel air on the hairs of my arms, to speak a sentence out loud, to have a child climb confidently into your lap, to make pan gravy and then it over fresh biscuits -- heavenly. I want every second of it I can get.

As Terry Galloway once said, "It's a good life, if you can stand it."

My long-ago mothers left the trees and caves, exposing their small, fleshy bodies to savannah risk, building houses of clay and straw, planting grain, inventing grammar and nouns in unending torrents, and I feel like I owe it to them to keep on truckin', evolutionarily-wise.

So anything that bring out Ripley in me is a drug I allow myself. Those two blogs are Ripley friendly.

You can perhaps imagine, then, what it felt like to discover two posts referencing my recent post here about "My Knees, Part Three" and "Crip Ward Tango" -- amazing, eloquent posts, quoting me at length and going on from there to make dazzling connections. By Jesse Wendel and Sara Robinson (who writes for both those blogs).

Like Jesus, I wept.

What can I say? KTHX doesn't really cut it. I could sing something I bet Sara's heard often, "Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know", wo-wo-wo. But then what would I sing to Jesse -- "I wish I was Jessie's girl..."? Alas, I'm an unreconstructed bulldagger. And I don't believe in the divinity of Jesus.

Still, sloppy smooches to you both. Let's keep cross-fertilizing, shall we?

And ya'll, go read the posts there, give 'em some sugar. While you're there, be sure to read the Are You Saved? post and follow the link back to Sara's article at Orcinus about the good news for modern (hu)man. I was going to write about it, but she beat me to it and, as usual, did an awe-inspiring job.

See ya at the sockhop. Bring yr flamethrower.



(Image from a card at the marvelous Anne Taintor)

Hiya, beauties. I'm working on another post, but in the meantime, here's a nifty little bit of online fun: Test whether your brain is Right Brain or Left Brain. I turned out to be Left Brain:

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies

And after the fold is a sequence of thematically related autobiographical poems, including my favorite I've ever written (the last). Enjoy this autumn day.


After the bypass, Mama would not wake up
I got there at three in the morning
all the way from San Francisco
The waiting room at ICU was full of men
Brothers, cousins, uncle, and Daddy
He jumped up, said Oh thank God and
grabbed my hand. Not waiting for a hug
he pulled me into a half-lit chamber
with four beds set at compass points
Nurses with whispers tried to stop him
He used his high school half-back skills
to get me to the goal: Mama, grey and
too cool to the touch
He stood behind me, to keep the nurses
off my flank, but reached around to
lay his palm on her cheek and say
She's here now, honey, wake up
then told me to talk to her
I wanted to run. They raise us for this kind of
courage, born a woman means
facing the horror of intimacy and being
the one who makes it bearable
I said her name, then mine, and
her eyelids fluttered. When she was
able to focus on me, I was sorry I had
disturbed her rest, she looked so
exhausted. She repeated my name and
at that a phalanx of nurses finally
cut us away, jubilant at her return
sure they were just what she needed

© Maggie Jochild, 11 May 2006, 8:43 p.m.


After the bypass, when Mama finally
came out of ICU and went into
a private room, every time
she moved, she winced
The veins they'd used to replumb her chest
came from unholy mining of her thighs
Her chest itself was Frankensteinian
Pried open like a mussel, then
wired back shut with stainless steel
She wanted to see. She wanted to know
what had been done to her. I helped her
sit up, folded back the sheets, looked
at her legs first. No wonder it hurts
My brothers stood up and went to the window
Talked stiffly to each other as if we were not there
She said You'll have to untie this gown
in the back
, and at that my father
walked out the door
We traced the red faultline with
my hand over her fingers, warm flesh
laced by cold metal
She sighed, and lay back down
I covered her up as she slept

© Maggie Jochild, 11 May 2006, 8:50 p.m.

(Nilmoni -- Maggie's ayah and second mother -- with Maggie's older brother Craig, mother Mary Jo, and Maggie, Kolkata, India 1956)


That day before Thanksgiving, Mama took
me to the new mall, with energy in her
I had not seen since I was twelve
We drank Orange Julius and I told her
about Annie Dillard's writing, what
it meant to me. After emptying
our cups, we strolled over to B. Dalton
Bought Teaching A Stone To Talk
On the bench outside, my arm next to hers
I read aloud the quote by Captain Oates
Then burst into tears

Six months earlier, she had
four emergency bypasses
Cracked open before I could
even get to the airport
I came down the ramp
looking for my brother's face
The face that would tell me
if she still lived
How do we walk ahead
at times like these
air frozen and white
sound gone

© Maggie Jochild, 9 February 2006, 10:00 p.m.


At the rehab center most hips and knees
on the second floor are titanium

The average age is sixty-three
TVs are loud and families rare

The techs who bully church ladies
to one more rep, one more lift

Earn a dollar and a quarter more
than all the aides at minimum wage

Who wipe old asses, answer bells
but not too fast because the calls

Come faster than the aides can move
The pain pills are doled out in pairs

Q.i.d. which means per meal and then
one last to bring on sleep

Mornings come early and mornings mean
the first Vicodin of the day

Breakfast is chipper as a result
except for the handful of folks

Here after bypass or CVAs --
They are scared and ration words

The woman dying of lung CA
can't keep a roommate because

She coughs all night, thick and wet
They close her door but we can still

Hear her down the corridor
The third floor is all TBI

With rooms gone mute except for
multilingual gossip of aides

In afternoons, if we work hard
we get to have pool therapy

A heated cobalt chlorine sea
with one attendant each to hold

Our arms and listen, or pretend
as they coax our sagging flesh

around the ropes. At dinnertime
if there is going to be someone

Who'll come to see us, it is then
We eat together, watch the door

Tell of all we'll do now that we
can get out of the house again

Then we start the aluminum creak
of walkers down the hall alone

© Maggie Jochild, 21 June 2005, Summer Solstice, 6:25 a.m.

(Zarabanda by Alexander Calder)


I am sitting in a wheelchair
underneath a twelve-foot mobile
Moving like the breath inside me
Every dancer on her own, but
also turning with the whole

Sunlight from the clerestory
jostles in and shifts the spin
Warms my foot like lover's hands
Changes color of the metal
floating in the struct above me

We begin in pitch deep closure
but swim up toward the bright
and air as fast as we can teeter
into creatures of the surface
Love is something we can flash

With just a glance, with just a turn
I will rotate to the light
as long as I can turn at all
And in these rooms With any luck
Perhaps I'll find you as we whirl

© Maggie Jochild, 14 June 2004, 5:56 p.m.


I know what a sleeping bear dreams
when her breath goes down to twice a minute
and the world itself abandons her

No use to shamble to her view and
wish that winter skip this year
She's in for it Covers her face

and lies back down. The only sun
is in her ribs, a buried star
She dreams not of a thaw to come

Instead she glides on berried slopes
where last October all the sweet
and tang of summer came to point

and dropletted each huckled branch
or August's shallows full of sockeye
She eats the brains and roe, then wades

to swipe another to the shore
Sitka clearing strewn with deadfall
and under brittle logs a teem of grubs

The crunchy tubers of last May
She dreams of every bite that fed her
to this point and sleeked her flanks

While ice and hunger pin her down
she fills her mouth with memory
Hope will sometimes gutter out

But memory is a magic jar
that never empties to bare glass
until it is her turn again to wake

© Maggie Jochild, 18 June 2005, 5:08 a.m., published 2006 in Natural Bridge


Thursday, October 11, 2007


(Ripley and Newt from "Aliens")
Just a couple of interesting things to share today, scouts.

What American Accent Do You Have? Take the quiz and let us know. Mine was:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The South

That's a Southern accent you've got there. You may love it, you may hate it, you may swear you don't have it, but whatever the case, we can hear it.

The Inland North
The Northeast
The Midland
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

And for the record, I DO love it.

I woke up today with a piece about Ginny and Myra being Grammas in my head, part of Book Two (even though I'm not finished with Book One). I gave in to the inevitable and wrote it down, feeling that old familiar serotonin rush. But later I realized some of the impetus may have come from reading this article in Broadsheet at yesterday, about the value of grandmothers. They reference a New York Times article Evolution's Secret Weapon: Grandma and say:
"Today many women feel marginalized once they reach menopause. But research suggests that far from being a burden to societies, grandmothers have played an important role in the evolution of human longevity. Studies of modern hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, Venezuela and Eastern Paraguay — societies that offer insights into how humans evolved — consistently show that Grandma is doing much of the work.
Researchers have even measured the muscle strength of men and women in these communities and weighed the baskets and bundles carted around by them. Often, the scientists find, women in their 60s are as strong as women in their 20s. 'It’s the women over 40 who are carrying the heavy loads,' said Dr. Kristen Hawkes, anthropologist at the University of Utah."

I was reminded of the great, not-at-all-kidding essay by Ursula K. LeGuin about how governments should be turned over to old women, if we want to survive as a species, and her quote from one of the Earthsea books, “Old women are different from everyone else. They tell the truth.”

Congratulations on your impending grandmotherhood, Shadocat. Molly Alice chose well which family to enter.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007


(Maggie performing "You Know You Want Me" in rehearsal for Actual Lives show at Southwestern University; photo from American Statesman, 2004)

When I left the rehab unit for the first time, riding in the car sent me into hysterics after a block or two. The visual input of passing scenery was more than my brain could handle. My friend driving had to pull over until I could stop my shuddering. I rode the rest of the way with my eyes closed. That settled the answer of when I'd be able to drive: Not anytime soon.

A friend went out and bought me a phone that flashed lights as well as rang, so if I was in the same room, I'd know when a call was coming in. She helped me program the memory, to autodial numbers for me. I began slowly telling people what I'd been through. Too many people insisted on telling me that I sounded just the same as always, as if that was reassuring. But the point was, I'd looked the same, sounded the same, yet inside my head, severe damage had occurred. I'd always lived by my wits, my intellect, my extraordinary memory. This was much, much worse than losing the ability to walk. This was my ultimate nightmare.

And not a single person I knew who had seen me had noticed what was going on. It punched every isolation and abandonment button I'd ever had.

I didn't qualify for in-home help, so I was getting by with the assistance of friends (a single visit a day) and pushing myself to do as much as I could. I was scheduled for at-home physical therapy and a visiting nurse twice a week to begin the following week. The second day I was out of rehab, I went back to my surgeon's office for a follow-up visit. He wasn't much interested in hearing about the difficulties I'd had. He kept saying they were "routine side effects" and the point was, the knee replacement was a success.

It was time to take out the staples over the massive incision on my left leg. They'd held through all the vigorous physical therapy, despite being stretched very tight, and now they were starting to itch and get red around them. Pulling them out didn't hurt at all. I then walked with my walker to the x-ray room, managed to get up on the table and get a set of films made, and walked back to the exam room.

When I sat down again on the exam table, I noticed a small hole in one part of the incision, above the knee. I told my friend to get the doctor, immediately. It was a deep hole, I could tell. The surgeon and Patrick came back in, and as I sat there, I watched my incision re-open to a length of five inches and a depth of two inches. I could see almost to my bone, deep inside my thigh..

I was numb. I couldn't believe this was happening. The surgeon called it wound dehiscence and said it was common in people who keloided with scars. Then he left the room. Patrick stayed with me and explained a little more. He said they couldn't close the incision again because of the risk of infection. It would have to "heal by secondary intention", which meant from the inside out. It would take months.

I suddenly remembered all the reading I'd done about Captain John Oates, a member of the ill-fated Scott Antarctic Expedition. Oates had been injured by long bullet wound during the Boer War, and this was in the days before antibiotics. The standard treatment for flesh-opening wounds in those days was to keep the patient still and clean, and let the wound heal by second intention. It had affected his military career, which is part of why he ended up volunteering for polar exploration.

However, one of the signs of advanced scurvy is the body's failure to create or replace collagen in skin tissues. Collage requires vitamin C for manufacture by the body. And all scars are almost pure collagen. Thus, in end-stage scurvy, every scar you've ever sustained re-opens as if the wound had never healed.

This is what occurred to Oates on the trek back from the South Pole, as the men were hauling overloaded sledges whose design was deliberately not like Inuit design -- because Scott believed there was something "lofty" in Englishmen refusing to listen to native technology and somehow pushing their way through obstacles with brute obstinacy. According to Scott, when they were stopped by a blizzard and it became clear once the weather improved, Oates would not be able to continue marching, Oates sacrificed himself by leaving the tent during the blizzard so that the others could go on without him. His body was never found.

There is some doubt as to the veracity of this story.
(Captain Oates going into the blizzard to die, colored print of painting by J.C. Dollman, 1913)

Yep, I actually thought of all this as I sat there looking down into the innards of my thigh.

Patrick put a light bandage over my opening and told me not to dress it further. He said I would now have to go to Wound Care, which is a speciality dealing with post-surgery problems. Unfortunately, I couldn't get in until the next day. He told me to stay as still as possible, not get the wound wet, and go to Wound Care, they'd explain the rest.

The friend who had taken me to the doctor visit had spent most of the visit at the window, looking outside, once my leg had opened back up. She couldn't handle what was happening to me. She took me home and left.

Another friend, a nurse, agreed to take me to Wound Care the following day, back at the same hospital where I'd had my surgery. I had a wheelchair by now, and this made getting into the building possible.

Wound Care is often performed by nurses, PTs and other non-doctors who do it as overtime, to earn extra pay. To my shock, when I got into the exam area, I saw that the woman seeing me that day was the physical therapist who had tried to work with me shortly after my surgery, when I had mutely refused to cooperate. She had yelled at me then, telling me if I didn't work to get better, I'd be a cripple all my life, and she had added it was clear I was accustomed to being lazy -- referring to my weight. I had not been able to say a word in reply, and no one was with me to intervene on my behalf.

So, when we saw each other, recognition mingled with profound dismay on both our faces. But I am nothing if not brave. I said "I want to tell you, I'm sorry I couldn't do PT that day and that I couldn't explain why." I told her what had been going on. My friend, the nurse, listened and jumped in to add that I was the hardest worker she'd ever seen, it was definitely out of character for me to be hard-assed or ungrateful.

To her credit, the PT believed me instantly, apologized for going off on me, and, awkwardly at first, we began the training.

The point of Wound Care is to keep you from having to be in a medical facility while wounds heal. Which means the training is to enable you to stay at home and do the work of nursing yourself. Well, usually it's done by a caregiver (like a family member) at home with you. Since I didn't have anyone like that, it was going to be me.

Her tone of voice and manner was completely different from what it had been before. She was kind and respectful as she helped me get through my horror and revulsion. I had to use long Q-tips to reach all the way inside my wound, every nook and cranny, and clean it with saline thoroughly, exerting some pressure. No alcohol or betadine -- the health of my wound would depend on how well I could clean it with saline. I learned there are no nerve endings below the epidermis, thus, no pain or even strong sensation. I learned what the various kinds of flesh and muscle I was seeing were, and how to recognize signs of beginning infection, including the sniff test. I was put on oral antibiotics, given a box of cleaning supplies, told to never get it wet or cover it with more than a light bandage, and I was done. On my own from here on out, except for weekly checks by the visiting nurse who would only inspect, not do the work for me.

But telling my story to that PT, and hearing her understanding and respect, had been my first act of redemption post-surgery.

Two days later, Bea told me she was starting work as an intern for a week-long program directed by Terry Galloway for disabled people to write dramatic pieces and perform them at the end of the week, page to stage in one week. It was called Actual Lives. Bea offered to drive me there and back each night.

(Terry Galloway; photo by Kenny Braun for the Austin Chronicle)

I knew of Terry Galloway, adored her plays and thought (then and now) that she is a genius. I wasn't sure I qualified as disabled (ironic, I know) but I agreed to go. It turned out to be the saving of me, although that first night was unbelievably hard, emotionally and physically. I wound up peeing on myself in my wheelchair because I still had lousy bladder control (only recently off a catheter), though no one but Bea knew. My homework was to write a few lines, at most a paragraph, for the next night that Terry would help us edit and turn into a performance piece.

When I got home and managed to change my pants by myself, I went with my walker to my computer and turned it on. The first time since surgery. I couldn't write long-hand, not legibly, anyway -- I still couldn't sign my name, a friend was signing my checks for me to pay bills. I remember sitting at that blank screen on the page for two hours, trying to force my brain into creating sentences, then struggling to remember how things were spelled. I finally managed three lines, I think. I printed it out and went to bed, exhausted.

My initial contribution to Actual Lives, that first performance, was negligible. A few people picked up on me and we bonded, and Terry definitely zeroed in on me. So I kept going. Over the next four years, it was my chief source of writing encouragement and disabled activism outlet. Terry mentored me thoroughly, and I went on from there to be mentored by Sharon Bridgforth with her Finding Voice program. By that time, I was a daily writer, producing work that I felt was up to my potential and steadily honing my craft.

(Actual Lives ensemble at H Street Theater, VSA International Arts Festival, Washington, DC, June 2004)

Back to September of 2000, however. I had to take extra, unpaid time off work because I wasn't able to return to my job for several reasons. Five weeks post surgery, however, I drove myself in cautiously and pushed into my place of work in my wheelchair. It was then I was informed by a new boss that I was being let go. They had found some other excuse to terminate me, something that dodged the disability claim, and I was too stunned to fight it. They assured me I could get unemployment right away.

I went home and wondered how on earth I'd find another job. My ability to learn had been hammered. It was, in fact, a year before I got another job, despite non-stop effort on my part to heal my brain and body, and become employable again. During that time, I ran through unemployment and my small 401-K.

In the 18 months following surgery, here's what happened in my life, in more or less chronological order (cue the country and western song music):
Lost my job
Had PT slowed down because of the open wound
My little brother Bill died suddenly and badly at age 42
My two favorite aunts, the only family members I'd considered family aside from Bill, died suddenly
Three of my cats died suddenly and badly, including my Cats of Cats Alice
One of my oldest and closest friends died suddenly
At least half a dozen of my regular friends stopping calling or making dates with me
Bea ended our relationship, saying I had too many emotional expectations of her

(Alice Booboo the Manx, Cat of Cats, 1997)

And -- my surgeon claimed I owed an extra bill of $3000 because Patrick had assisted at my surgery and he wasn't covered by my insurance. I said I hadn't consented to paying an out-of-pocket assistant, demanding they turn up a signed consent form from me. When, after weeks of harassing phone calls, someone in his records office, a lesbian from the sound of her voice, confidentially informed me that was no such consent in the records, I told them they had to either put up or shut up. In response, he terminated my care at his office.

I've tried to get my medical records from that hospital twice, but they can't seem to locate them.

Going on during this time, also, was a second medical issue, that of my polycystic ovarian syndome, a profound hormonal disorder that had left me with uterine polyps and dysplasia that had once been labeled cancer, though that path report was overread as non-cancerous by someone from Johns Hopkins. I was having uterine biopsies every six months. When yet another biopsy turned up some dysplasia, I was referred to a surgical oncologist who told me I had to have a hysterectomy.

After examining me, she said it would have to be an abdominal hysterectomy, not a vaginal approach. I told her about my wound dehiscence issue, and she paled a little. She said the chance for infection would be over 50%, then, meaning infection of my abdominal cavity, and that I would have to lie flat for perhaps six months in order to let the incision heal by secondary intention. I said that was out of the question -- I'd never walk again if I stopped moving at all, and I had no job, no health insurance, no disability coverage. She said surgery was the only option and left the room.

So I took my care to Nancy Crossthwaite who does alternative energy work. I began having regular monthly periods (lack of periods is why the dysplasia occurs) for the first time in years, and I became determined to wait out the surgery until I reached menopause. After menopause, the risk of uterine cancer would dramatically decrease. I seem to be in menopause now. I'm still living with my fingers crossed.

I began developing arthritis in all my joints, and went to a rheumatologist. As part of his work-up, I was referred to a podiatrist for my increasing foot and ankle pain, and to a neurologist for a tremor in my hands that was beginning to affect my handwriting (an ability which had returned, eventually).

The podiatrist took a series of x-rays, came back in the room, put them up on the lightbox and put a poster of normal feet next to it. Then she came to stand beside me, her arm over my shoulder. I knew this routine.

Turns out, it wasn't just my tibia with deformities. My feet were unbelievably wrong. Plus, my ankle joints had absorbed as much punishment from the crooked tibia as my knees had. The left ankle was not as bad as the right, likely because for four years I'd now had a straight leg on that side. There was no surgical option for these issues. Not walking would be a good idea, she said.

I told her that Bill had worn braces on his feet as a baby and described them. She recognized them as an attempt to correct the same problems as I had with my feet. She was raised in Croatia, and knew about older forms of medical treatment. She looked me in the eye and said "But they didn't notice your feet, huh? Because you were the girl."

I could only nod.

She asked if she could bring in other doctors and trainees at the clinic to look at my x-rays, and I said okay. I listened to their amazed responses; no one had ever seen anything like it.

I got to choose the neurologist I was referred to, and I selected a woman whose dictation I had transcribed, Dr. Reading. I liked the tone of her voice when she talked about her patients -- kind and respectful. It turned out to be the best medical consult of my life.

She went through everything, not just the tremor (which she diagnosed as benign and not likely to progress, not needing treatment). It was a long, increasingly intimate conversation we had. She tested my memory and every aspect of my neurological function. She told me that she'd once had as part of her test of a patient's general knowledge in the mental status exam a question which said "We were attacked on 9/11 by terrorists whose leaders resided in a particular country, and we then attacked that country in response. What country was that?" She said at leat 50% of patients answered Iraq instead of Afghanistan. She called it a mass delusion.

After that, I felt like I could trust her with the story of how my brain had been affected. I'd stopped talking about it, because my friends tended to not believe I had a residue -- my memory had been phenomenal before the surgery, and it was still excellent. Though not what it had once been, and I definitely was getting the message from people that I shouldn't have feelings of loss about that, seeing how high-functioning I was.

But Dr. Reading got it. She encouraged me to keep taking it to therapy, because the loss was real and, at this point, four years later, likely permanent. She also said she was certain, from the clear and intricate description I was able to give her, that I had had an episode of anoxia during surgery, a loss of oxygen to the brain. Not enough to kill me or cause serious brain damage, but enough to hammer me good and affect my kidneys. She said she was sure it was this residue I had struggled with, more than the morphine, although she agreed the morphine had played a role as well. She said in the future, if I had surgery, to tell the anesthesiologist I had had anoxia and they would be diligent in trying to keep it from occurring again.

I cannot express what a difference this made.

So, here I am now, seven years post surgery. My right knee is starting to fail, with an old familiar pain beginning. My left knee internal hardware slips sometimes, I can feel it. My thumbs, shoulders, and neck joints ache frequently. My left foot swells when I don't stand enough, but walking is now impossible without something to lean on. I'm on daily Celebrex, which makes a profound difference in inflammation and stiffness but carries a serious cardiac risk. I am more isolated than ever, in terms of seeing other people or getting physical help. I work at home via telecommuting, the last possible job I could get and it's not paying me enough to actually get by -- but the benefits are excellent. I don't take pain pills, unless I have an ovarian cyst rupture, which seem to have stopped occurring with menopause. I have nursing home insurance that will pay $3000 a month for three years, when and if I reach that point. It's enough for a decent place, though likely not a private room. Which means my writing will come to an end, because I need a great deal of solitude to write.

What is going well, exponentially so, is my writing. And my happiness with myself, no small thing. And a few old and new friends who manage to stay close, really close, via phone and e-mail.

My final performance was Actual Lives included a finale for the entire troupe that I wrote, using the music and structure of the Jailhouse Tango scene from the movie Chicago. This piece, "Crip Ward Tango", became the break-out hit of that entire international disabled gathering in D.C., and was referenced in the closing remarks as a stellar example of what disabled art could do. I heard strangers at the conference walking around singing it the next day. The first verse/character is me, based on my life. The next three were based on getting to hear the real stories of three of my colleagues in Actual Lives: Adam Griebel, Terri Stellar, and Terri Lynn Hudson. I dedicate it to them here. Tango on.
(Actual Lives finale performance at H Street Theater, International VSA Arts Festival, June 2004. L to R: Gene Rodgers, Adam Griebel, Danny Saenz, Frankie Ramont, Mike Burns, Maggie Jochild, Laura Griebel, Cindy Massey, Terri Stellar, Rand Metcalfe, and Jeff Marsh)


(Main performers in D.C. were Maggie Jochild, Adam Griebel, Terri Stellar, Jeff Marsh; live musical accompaniment was to tune of "He Had It Coming" in Cell Block Tango scene of Chicago. Maggie in regular chair with walker; Adam fully mobile but clearly brain-injured; Terri in power chair; Jeff in manual chair)

Announcer: And now, ladies and gentleman, the merry misfits of the Travis County Cripples Hospital are proud to present their rendition of the Crip Ward Tango.

[begins slowly, words spoken emphatically with rhythm-based pauses in between]

Maggie: Wazzup?

Adam: Frankenstein

Terri: Past life

Jeff: Amnio

Maggie: Wazzup?

Adam: Frankenstein

Terri: Past life

Jeff: Amnio

[All making head motions to tango musical interlude in background]

Maggie: [spoken slowly with glee and relish]

You know how people always ask you
"How are you? How's it going? Wazzup?"
Sometimes it's just automatic
but most people do care to some extent
They keep track of your milestones
And the unspoken expectation
is that if you are sick
or hurting
or -- god forbid -- disabled
You are going to get better, SOON
They turn off if you aren't better yet
They make suggestions for treatment
Something SOMEbody can do
so the next time they see you
your answer will be
"I'm doing better"
But what if that's never gonna be true?
Are any of you ready to hear THAT reply?

All: [singing chorus, repeated twice]

I won't get better
I won't get better
This is the best I'll ever be
And when I’m older
Yeah when I'm older
Things may be even worse for me

Adam: [spoken, upbeat and humorous]

People assume if you can't talk
Then you can't think
Or if you can't remember things fast
You must be STOOO- PID
They raise their voices
They talk to you like you are three years old
And if you get frustrated
For god's sake don't show it
'Cause nothing scares people more
Than a dummy on a rampage
Can you say "Frankenstein"?

All: [singing chorus, repeated twice]

I'm not retarded
I'm not retarded
Though that's an okay way to be
Why don't you listen
Shut up and listen
And find out what is the truth for me?


Faith healers
Now THERE's a freak show
We crips are supposed to be close to God
or at least to remind others of how
God moves in mysterious ways
And the New Agers, they think
If you can just identify and clear out
the blockages from childhood issues
Or maybe it's a past life thing
The cancer will disintegrate
Your vision will return
They know somebody in Sausalito
who regrew a crooked spine!

All: [singing chorus]

Mind over matter
Mind over matter
Your only problem's in your head
Have you tried Jesus
Think of his suffering
Stop being hopeless, get out of bed

[said rapidly by each character, following tango beat]

Wazzup, Frankenstein, Past life, Amnio
Wazzup, Frankenstein, Past life, Amnio
Wazzup, Frankenstein, Past life, Amnio

All: [singing chorus]

Mind over matter
Mind over matter
Your only problem's in your head
Have you tried Jesus
Think of his suffering
Stop being hopeless, get out of bed


But the biggest tragedy of all, the worst
thing that can happen to a family
is when a child is born crippled
Was it bad genes? Was it bad choices?
Is it a lesson sent from God?
Why oh why would God let this happen
to an innocent child?
What kind of life can he expect to have?
No wife, no children, that's for sure
Some of their friends will whisper
"If they'd had amniocentesis, maybe
they could have stopped the pregnancy in time"
What do you say to things like that?

All: [singing chorus]

I am not dead yet
I am not dead yet
My only obstacles are YOU
I have a body
I have a sex life
It's time to alter your point of view

I am not dead yet
I am not dead yet
My only obstacles are YOU
I have a body
I have a sex life
It's time to alter your point of view


What if I never heal?


If you can't talk, you can't think


Have you tried Jesus?


What kind of life?

All: [singing chorus' last line] It's time to alter your point of view

Copyright 2004 by Maggie Jochild.



(Spider Woman Rock at Canyon de Chelly, Dine Nation in Arizona)
Once a year, at least, I read in its entirety what may be my favorite poem of all time, and certainly one of the most important in the past century: "A Woman Is Talking To Death", by Judy Grahn. I've had the extraordinary opportunity to hear her read this aloud, more than once. Her work helped launch a revolution. I read it again tonight, and it's time to share it with you.

(Judy Grahn, circa 1972; copyright by Lynda Koolish)

What Wikipedia has to say about her is brief and almost ridiculous in how little it explains her influence: "Judy Rae Grahn (born July 28, 1940, in Chicago) is an American poet. She has written many lesbian/feminist works. Grahn was a member of the Gay Women's Liberation Group, the first lesbian feminist collective on the west coast, founded around 1969. The collective established A Woman's Place, a bookstore, and The Women's Press Collective, an all-woman publisher. The Women's Press Collective (WPC) began in Oakland in 1969, with a barrel mimeograph machine, and ultimately was closed in 1978 due to the vandalization of the press and equipment. Diana Press was an offshoot of the WPC. WPC titles included A Woman is Talking to Death, Lesbians Speak Out, and Edward the Dyke. Grahn is the co-director of the Women's Spirituality MA program and Program Director of the MFA in Creative Inquiry at the New College of California. She also initiated and edits the online academic journal Metaformia."

Her collections of poetry and other books include:
Edward the Dyke and Other Poems (1971)
A Woman is Talking to Death (1974)
She Who (1977)
The Queen of Wands (1982)
The Work of a Common Woman: Collected Poetry (1964-1977) (1984)
The Queen of Swords (1990)
Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds (1990, on the history of lesbian and gay culture) (Stonewall Book Award, 1985)
Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World (1994)
Highest Apple: Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition (1985).
Mundane's World (1988).

A few good articles about her include:
An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
The Modern American Poetry website on her
A biography of her at Women's Lives

About "A Woman Is Talking To Death", Grahn has said, in various interviews, "Pat Parker had modeled the form for her long poem Womenslaughter after my own Marathon: A Woman is Talking to Death. So I told her that A Woman is Talking To Death was made the way it is because I was already so familiar wit her own long autobiographic story-poem: Goat Child [included in Movement in Black]. What a Round Robin life is." "This poem is as factual as I could possibly make it." And, she is reported to have been so frightened by the power of her writing that she stopped writing poetry for a while after producing this poem.

It can be found online here and there. But just for you, my lovelies, I'm copying it in here. It was in my head the very first time I drove over the Bay Bridge, and psychological links to it occur in almost everything I write.

A Woman is Talking to Death

Testimony in trials that never got heard

my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me
my lovers muscles are rope ladders under my hands

we were driving home slow
my lover and I, across the long Bay Bridge,
one February midnight, when midway
over in the far left lane, I saw a strange scene:

one small young man standing by the rail,
and in the lane itself, parked straight across
as if it could stop anything, a large young
man upon a stalled motorcycle, perfectly
relaxed as if he'd stopped at a hamburger stand;
he was wearing a peacoat and levis, and
he had his head back, roaring, you
could almost hear the laugh, it
was so real.

"Look at that fool," I said, "in the
middle of the bridge like that," a very
womanly remark.

Then we heard the meaning of the noise
of metal on a concrete bridge at 50
miles an hour, and the far left lane
filled up with a big car that had a
motorcycle jammed on its front bumper, like
the whole thing would explode, the friction
sparks shot up bright orange for many feet
into the air, and the racket still sets
my teeth on edge.

When the car stopped we stopped parallel
and Wendy headed for the callbox while I
ducked across those 6 lanes like a mouse
in the bowling alley. "Are you hurt?" I said,
the middle-aged driver had the greyest black face,
"I couldn't stop, I couldn't stop, what happened?"

Then I remembered. "Somebody," I said, "was on
the motorcycle." I ran back,
one block? two blocks? the space for walking
on the bridge is maybe 18 inches, whoever
engineered this arrogance. In the dark
stiff wind it seemed I would
be pushed over the rail, would fall down
screaming onto the hard surface of
the bay, but I did not, I found the tall young man
who thought he owned the bridge, now lying on
his stomach, head cradled in his broken arm.

He had glasses on, but somewhere he had lost
most of his levis, where were they?
and his shoes. Two short cuts on his buttocks,
that was the only mark except his thin white
seminal tubes were all strung out behind; no
child left in him; and he looked asleep.

I plucked wildly at his wrist, then put it
down; there were two long haired women
holding back the traffic just behind me
with their bare hands, the machines came
down like mad bulls, I was scared, much
more than usual, I felt easily squished
like the earthworms crawling on a busy
sidewalk after the rain; I wanted to
leave. And met the driver, walking back.

"The guy is dead." I gripped his hand,
the wind was going to blow us off the bridge.

"Oh my God," he said, "haven't I had enough
trouble in my life?" He raised his head,
and for a second was enraged and yelling,
at the top of the bridge—"I was just driving
home!" His head fell down. "My God, and
now I've killed somebody."

I looked down at my own peacoat and levis,
then over at the dead man's friend, who
was bawling and blubbering, what they would
call hysteria in a woman. "It isn't possible"
he wailed, but it was possible, it was
indeed, accomplished and unfeeling, snoring
in its peacoat, and without its levis on.
He died laughing; that's a fact.

I had a woman waiting for me,
in her car and in the middle of the bridge,
I'm frightened, I said.
I'm afraid, he said, stay with me,
please don't go, stay with me, be
my witness—"No," I said, "I'll be your
witness—later," and I took his name
and number, "but I can't stay with you,
I'm too frightened of the bridge, besides
I have a woman waiting
and no license—
and no tail lights—"
So I left—
as I have left so many of my lovers.

we drove home
shaking, Wendy's face greyer
than any white person's I have ever seen.
maybe he beat his wife, maybe he once
drove taxi, and raped a lover
of mine—how to know these things?
we do each other in, that's a fact.

who will be my witness?
death wastes our time with drunkenness
and depression
death, who keeps us from our
he had a woman waiting for him,
I found out when I called the number
days later

"Where is he" she said, "he's disappeared."
"He'll be all right" I said, "we could
have hit the guy as easy as anybody, it
wasn't anybody's fault, they'll know that,"
women so often say dumb things like that,
they teach us to be sweet and reassuring,
and say ignorant things, because we don't invent
the crime, the punishment, the bridges
that same week I looked into the mirror
and nobody was there to testify;
how clear, an unemployed queer woman
makes no witness at all,
nobody was there for
those two questions: what does
she do, and who is she married to?

I am the woman who stopped on the bridge
and this is the man who was there
our lovers teeth are white geese flying
above us, but we ourselves are
easily squished.

keep the women small and weak
and off the street, and off the
bridges, that's the way, brother
one day I will leave you there,
as I have left you there before,
working for death.

we found out later
what we left him to.
Six big policemen answered the call,
all white, and no child in them.
they put the driver up against his car
and beat the hell out of him.
What did you kill that poor kid for?
you muther****ing nigger.
that's a fact.

Death only uses violence
when there is any kind of resistance,
the rest of the time a slow
weardown will do.

They took him to 4 different hospitals
til they got a drunk test report to fit their
case, and held him five days in jail
without a phone call.
how many lovers have we left.

there are as many contradictions to the game,
as there are players.
a woman is talking to death,
though talk is cheap, and life takes a long time
to make
right. He got a cheap cheesy lawyer
who had him cop a plea, 15 to 20
instead of life.
Did I say life?

the arrogant young man who thought he
owned the bridge, and fell asleep on it
he died laughing: that's a fact.
the driver sits out his time
off the street somewhere,
does he have the most vacant of
eyes, will he die laughing?

They don't have to lynch the women anymore

death sits on my doorstep
cleaning his revolver
death cripples my feet and sends me out
to wait for the bus alone,
then comes by driving a taxi.

the woman on our block with 6 young children
has the most vacant of eyes
death sits in her bedroom, loading
his revolver

they don't have to lynch the women
very often anymore, although
they used to—the lord and his men
went through the villages at night, beating &
killing every woman caught
the European witch trials took away
the independent people; two different villages
—after the trials were through that year—
had left in them, each—
one living woman:

What were those other women up to? had they
run over someone? stopped on the wrong bridge?
did they have teeth like
any kind of geese, or children
in them?

This woman is a lesbian be careful

In the military hospital where I worked
as a nurse's aide, the walls of the halls
were lined with howling women
waiting to deliver
or to have some parts removed.
One of the big private rooms contained
the general's wife, who needed
a wart taken off her nose.
we were instructed to give her special attention
not because of her wart or her nose
but because of her husband, the general.

as many women as men die, and that's a fact.

At work there was one friendly patient, already
claimed, a young woman burnt apart with X-ray,
she had long white tubes instead of openings;
rectum, bladder, vagina—I combed her hair, it
was my job, but she took care of me as if
nobody's touch could spoil her.

ho ho death, ho death
have you seen the twinkle in the dead woman's eye?

when you are a nurse's aide
someone suddenly notices you
and yells about the patient's bed,
and tears the sheets apart so you
can do it over, and over
while the patient waits
doubled over in her pain
for you to make the bed again
and no one ever looks at you,
only at what you do not do
Here, general, hold this soldier's bed pan
for a moment, hold it for a year—
then we'll promote you to making his bed.
we believe you wouldn't make such messes
if you had to clean up after them.

that's a fantasy.
this woman is a lesbian, be careful.

When I was arrested and being thrown out
of the military, the order went out: dont anybody
speak to this woman, and for those three
long months, almost nobody did; the dayroom, when
I entered it, fell silent till I had gone; they
were afraid, they knew the wind would blow
them over the rail, the cops would come,
the water would run into their lungs.
Everything I touched
was spoiled. They were my lovers, those
women, but nobody had taught us to swim.
I drowned, I took 3 or 4 others down
when I signed the confession of what we
had done together.

No one will ever speak to me again.

I read this somewhere; I wasn't there:
in WW II the US army had invented some floating
amphibian tanks, and took them over to
the coast of Europe to unload them,
the landing ships all drawn up in a fleet,
and everybody watching. Each tank had a
crew of 6 and there were 25 tanks.
The first went down the landing planks
and sank, the second, the third, the
fourth, the fifth, the sixth went down
and sank. They weren't supposed
to sink, the engineers had
made a mistake. The crew looked around
wildly for the order to quit,
but none came, and in the sight of
thousands of men, each 6 crewmen
saluted his officers, battened down
his hatch in turn and drove into the
sea, and drowned, until all 25 tanks
were gone. did they have vacant
eyes, die laughing, or what? what
did they talk about, those men,
as the water came in?

was the general their lover?

A Mock Interrogation

Have you ever held hands with a woman?

Yes, many times—women about to deliver, women about to
have breasts removed, wombs removed, miscarriages, women
having epileptic fits, having asthma, cancer, women having
breast bone marrow sucked out of them by nervous or
indifferent interns, women with heart condition, who were
vomiting, overdosed, depressed, drunk, lonely to the point
of extinction: women who had been run over, beaten up,
deserted, starved. women who had been bitten by rats; and
women who were happy, who were celebrating, who were
dancing with me in large circles or alone, women who were
climbing mountains or up and down walls, or trucks or roofs
and needed a boost up, or I did; women who simply wanted
to hold my hand because they liked me, some women who
wanted to hold my hand because they liked me better than

These were many women?

Yes. many.

What about kissing? Have you kissed any women?

I have kissed many women.

When was the first woman you kissed with serious feeling?

The first woman I ever kissed was Josie, who I had loved at
such a distance for months. Josie was not only beautiful,
she was tough and handsome too. Josie had black hair and
white teeth and strong brown muscles. Then she dropped
out of school unexplained. When she came back she came
back for one day only, to finish the term, and there was a
child in her. She was all shame, pain, and defiance. Her eyes
were dark as the water under a bridge and no one would
talk to her, they laughed and threw things at her. In the
afternoon I walked across the front of the class and look-
ed deep into Josie's eyes and I picked up her chin with my
hand, because I loved her, because nothing like her trouble
would ever happen to me, because I hated it that she was
pregnant and unhappy, and an outcast. We were thirteen.

You didn't kiss her?

How does it feel to be thirteen and having a baby?

You didn't actually kiss her?

Not in fact.

You have kissed other women?

Yes, many, some of the finest women I know, I have kissed.
women who were lonely, women I didn't know and didn't
want to, but kissed because that was a way to say yes we are
still alive and loveable, though separate, women who recog-
nized a loneliness in me, women who were hurt, I confess to
kissing the top of a 55 year old woman's head in the snow in
boston, who was hurt more deeply than I have ever been
hurt, and I wanted her as a very few people have wanted
me—I wanted her and me to own and control and run the
city we lived in, to staff the hospital I knew would mistreat
her, to drive the transportation system that had betrayed
her, to patrol the streets controlling the men who would
murder or disfigure or disrupt us, not accidentally with machines, but
on purpose, because we are not allowed out
on the street alone—

Have you ever committed any indecent acts with women?

Yes, many. I am guilty of allowing suicidal women to die
before my eyes or in my ears or under my hands because I
thought I could do nothing, I am guilty of leaving a prosti-
tute who held a knife to my friend's throat to keep us from
leaving, because we would not sleep with her, we thought
she was old and fat and ugly; I am guilty of not loving her
who needed me; I regret all the women I have not slept with
or comforted, who pulled themselves away from me for lack
of something I had not the courage to fight for, for us, our
life, our planet, our city, our meat and potatoes, our love.
These are indecent acts, lacking courage, lacking a certain
fire behind the eyes, which is the symbol, the raised fist, the
sharing of resources, the resistance that tells death he will
starve for lack of the fat of us, our extra. Yes I have com-
mitted acts of indecency with women and most of them were
acts of omission. I regret them bitterly.

Bless this day oh cat our house

"I was allowed to go
3 places, growing up," she said—
"3 places, no more.
there was a straight line from my house
to school, a straight line from my house
to church, a straight line from my house
to the corner store."
her parents thought something might happen to her.
but nothing ever did.

my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me
my lovers muscles are rope ladders under my hands
we are the river of life and the fat of the land
death, do you tell me I cannot touch this woman?
if we use each other up
on each other
that's a little bit less for you
a little bit less for you, ho
death, ho ho death

Bless this day oh cat our house
help me be not such a mouse
death tells the woman to stay home
and then breaks in the window.

I read this somewhere, I wasn't there:
In feudal Europe, if a woman committed adultery
her husband would sometimes tie her
down, catch a mouse and trap it
under a cup on her bare belly, until
it gnawed itself out, now are you
afraid of mice?

Dressed as I am, a young man once called
me names in Spanish

a woman who talks to death
is a dirty traitor

inside a hamburger joint and
dressed as I am, a young man once called me
names in Spanish
then he called me queer and slugged me.
first I thought the ceiling had fallen down
but there was the counterman making a ham
sandwich, and there was I spread out on his

For God's sake I said when
I could talk, this guy is beating me up
can't you call the police or something,
can't you stop him? he looked up from
working on his sandwich, which was my
sandwich, I had ordered it. He liked
the way I looked. "There's a pay phone
right across the street" he said.

I couldn't listen to the Spanish language
for weeks afterward, without feeling the
most murderous of urges, the simple
association of one thing to another,
so damned simple.

The next day I went to the police station
to become an outraged citizen
Six big policemen stood in the hall,
all white and dressed as they do
they were well pleased with my story, pleased
at what had gotten beat out of me, so
I left them laughing, went home fast
and locked my door.
For several nights I fantasized the scene
again, this time grabbing a chair
and smashing it over the bastard's head,
killing him. I called him a spic, and
killed him. My face healed, his didn't.
no child in me.

now when I remember I think:
maybe he was Josie's baby.
all the chickens come home to roost,
all of them.

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.

a mock interrogation

Why did you get into the cab with him, dressed as you are?

I wanted to go somewhere.

Did you know what the cab driver might do
if you got into the cab with him?

I just wanted to go somewhere.

How many times did you
get into the cab with him?

I don't remember.

If you don't remember, how do you know it happened to you?

Hey you death

ho and ho poor death
our lovers teeth are white geese flying above us
our lovers hands are rope ladders under our hands
even though no women yet go down to the sea in ships
except in their dreams.

only the arrogant invent a quick and meaningful end
for themselves, of their own choosing.
everyone else knows how very slow it happens
how the woman's existence bleeds out her years,
how the child shoots up at ten and is arrested and old
how the man carries a murderous shell within him
and passes it on.

we are the fat of our land, and
we all have our list of casualties
to my lovers I bequeath
the rest of my life

I want nothing left of me for you, ho death
except some fertilizer
for the next batch of us
who do not hold hands with you
who do not embrace you
who do not try to work for you
or sacrifice themselves or trust
or believe you, ho ignorant
death, how do you know
we happened to you?

wherever our meat hangs on our own bones
for our own use
your pot is so empty
death, ho death
you shall be poor

—Judy Grahn, 1974


Monday, October 8, 2007


(Bill Barnett, my little brother, circa 1982, doing his award-winning Elvis impersonation)

I'm working on the third and final installment of "My Knees". In the interim, here's three recommends and a reader's poem to chew on.

As a follow-up to my postings on class last month, I'd like to direct your attention to an excellent post at FireDogLake by Tula Connell called Kicking Ass for the Working Class. She's commenting about books on class by Michael Zweig, and she kicks off the kicking ass by saying:

"Unbelievably, in 2004 when Al Gore dismissed George W. Bush’s plan for tax cuts as a benefit for the richest 1 percent, polls showed that 19 percent of Americans believed they were in that top 1 percent, and another 21 percent thought they would be there in the next 10 years.

Even at the height of the Depression, when a similar poll was taken, most people placed themselves in an economic status much higher than they actually were in.

So what’s the meaning of this seemingly hard-core self-delusion? According to Michael Zweig, professor of economics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the persistence of the American public in identifying with the wealthy means those of us in the progressive movement should stop pitting rich against poor when communicating with the rest of the world because 'when we attack “the rich” too many people think we are attacking them and their future.'"

She goes on to quote from a recent talk by Zweig on "why class is an essential starting point for more effective politics to turn back the right-wing tide that has swept across the United States with growing power for nearly 40 years." It's a great read, in particular because it doesn't demonize the rich for being rich, and because it shows how class cuts through all other oppressions (for example, race and gender). My response was: What they said.

BitchPh.D is doing a righteous job of organizing resources to help us on the web take steps to overturn Bush's veto of SCHIP, with several posts devoted to analysis and concrete suggestions -- the best source out there, as far as I can see. Read her and do what you can. If you need inspiration, here's Jon Stewart's coverage of it at The Daily Show (via Alternet), where he "describes Bush’s villainy as rivaling that of a cartoon character after he has recently refused to tax smokers in order to give poor children health care."

(Mujeres, probably in NM or AZ, from the Retter Collection)

Terrance over at The Republic of T. currently has up a post asking for folks to list their LGBT heroes in honor of GLBT History month. He says "a lot of names came to mind for me. Some of them are people who, in some small way, gave a little bit of hope to a skinny, effeminate, non-athletic, black, gay boy growing up in Augusta, GA, during the Reagan era. Some of them are people who helped that same kid hold on to (as my mama would say) 'a portion of my right mind' through college and into adulthood. All of them are people whose lives or work gave me three clear messages: You’re not alone. Everything will be alright. Anything is possible."
I posted a few of my heroes. Why don't you give him a visit and add to the list?

And, lastly, blog reader Kat sent me a poem which she's given me permission to share with ya'll. I kept thinking of a certain frat boy invader when I read it....

The Houseguest

He brought with him anger
the thought of HER
inching into my love's brain

He brought waves of doubt
He brought old habits

Her face (by which I mean my imagining of it)
keeps over taking me
haunting me
Is my love gonna leave cuz I'm not like her?

I wasn't like this last week.
I was doing ok
he brought it all in the door with him
The vampires I've worked so hard to squash

he took off his hat
they all flew out
with their teeth
fangs after my blood


He doesn't brush his teeth.