Saturday, April 9, 2011


(Jan Clausen photo by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey, ©2008)

Jan Clausen came out with a literary splash, and then “went back in” with a painfully public reverb. She is one of us I think about when I argue that to claim sexual orientation MUST be genetically deternined is not only inaccurate but disrespectful to all the smart, loving people who alter their sexual identity more than once in their lives. It’s not linear and it’s not determined by hormones. Human beings are more fluid than that, and have invented culture to reflect that fluidity.

In 1976, Clausen (along with Elly Bulkin, Irena Klepfisz, and Rima Shore) founded the important Conditions, “a magazine of women’s writing with an emphasis on writing by lesbians.” She remained co-editor until 1980. To my mind, however, the most significant work by Clausen remains A Movement of Poets (1981) in which she outline how feminism, especially lesbian-feminism, was a social movement led by and rooted in poetry. This long essay is worth re-reading regularly and is available online thanks to the Lesbian Poetry Archive.

Below is the title poem from her groundbreaking first volume “After Touch”:


after late evenings
filled with women

after talk
or touch

after a song by janis joplin
and a woman's body in my arms
quite by accident, swaying
and slowly stepping in a dance
like those dances of high school
back at the dawn of sex

after kissing my friends
a safe goodbye at the door

after the long ride
underground/under mind
and the transfer, the platform
desolate and calm
with waiting men
lounging in seats
or closing their eyes, free,
free to doze
or accost me as they please

and the cab ride or terror
five blocks home from the station

after hot showers, hot chocolate
and books

i lie down in bed
beside the dark shape of a man
thinking of women

not wanting masturbation
that old ploy
my clitoris fooled,
rubbed, drugged, bribed
into submission
when it's my whole body
woman-hungering, aches

i remember now a childhood story
of a man of the last century
who drove a team of horses
forty miles through a blizzard
to bring back wheat
for his starving midwestern town

and how, when he lived,
when he at last lay down
in his own safe bed
his fingers, itching and burning,
his tingling feet
kept him awake all night

and he was glad. the pain
meant they would thaw, meant
he would dance, chop wood,
hold wagon reins again

i am a lesbian

© Jan Clausen, from "After Touch", Out & Out Books, 1975


Friday, April 8, 2011


Mary Mackey first swam into my ken during 1980 when one of her prose comedic books was read aloud on KPFA during the Morning Reading, a show I was addicted to as I ran my delivery route all over San Fran. I discovered she also wrote kick-ass poetry; in fact, she writes just about every genre. Here are two of my favorites from an early volume:


how did you get through your childhood?

I rode the subways
for hours
not going anywhere
not watching the people
not looking out the window
just riding


I hid in closets
and opened my eyes
I could make the dark
turn colors
blue, red, violet
I hid behind the coats
they looked like the skins
of giants
I hid behind the couch
and put my hand
between my legs
I hid under the bed
and blew at balls of dust

how did you get through?

I climbed a sugar maple
up top
where the limbs were rotten
I hung onto the bark
like a locust shell

how did you survive?

by not being found

who were you?

they never told me.

how did you get through?

I haven't yet.

© Mary Mackey


Sometimes in my dreams
I still see
my Kentucky grandmother
thin, strong, and hungry
holding her egg money
out to me
buy land, Mary
buy land
buy land while it lasts
they stopped making it

© Mary Mackey, both poems from "Split Ends" by Mama's Press, Oakland CA, 1974


Thursday, April 7, 2011


(Ana Castillo portrait by Margaret Randall)

I confess, I first checked out Ana Castillo’s poetry because I’d heard gossip that she had an affair with Cherrie Moraga. I still don’t know if the rumor is true, and I don’t care. My Father Was A Toltec blew me away, poem after poem. Here’s one that demonstrates her ability to use only a few sentences to paint a complete family biography and to make your blood boil.

c. 1968

Because she worked all week
away from home, gone from 5 to 5,
Saturdays she did the laundry,
pulling the wringer machine
to the kitchen sink, and hung
the clothes out on the line.
At night, we took it down and ironed.
Mine were his handkerchiefs and
boxer shorts. She did his work
pants (never worn on the street)
and shirts, pressed the collars
and cuffs, just so –
as he bathed,
donned the tailor-made silk suit
bought on her credit, had her
adjust the tie.

“How do I look?”
“Bien,” went on ironing.
That’s why he married her, a Mexican
woman, like his mother, not like
they were in Chicago, not like
the ones he was going out to meet.

© Ana Castillo, from “My Father Was A Toltec”, W.W. Norton & Co., 1995


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Olga Broumas’s work is tangled in my memory with my first heady months in San Francisco – the community of women, of possibility, of power and connections and endless beauty. She is one of our defining poets. Every time I read this poem, I find another new level in it, and I always weep.


First night.
with pleasure as I came.
Into your arms, salt
crusting the aureoles.
Our white breasts. Tears
and tears. You
I don't know
if I'm hurting or loving
you. I
didn't either.
We went on
trusting. Your will to care
for me intense
as a laser. Slowly
my body's cellblocks
beneath its beam.

i have to write of these things. We were grown
women, well
traveled in our time.

Did anyone
ever encourage you, you ask
me, casual
in afternoon light. You blaze
fierce with protective anger as I shake
my head, puzzled, remembering, no
no. You blaze

a beauty you won't claim. To name
yourself beautiful makes you as vulnerable
as feeling
pleasure and claiming it
makes me. I call you lovely. Over

and over, cradling
your ugly memories as they burst
their banks, tears and tears, I call
you lovely. Your face
will come to trust that judgment, to bask
in its own clarity like sun. Grown women. Turning

heliotropes to our own, to our lovers' eyes.

Laughter. New in my lungs still, awkward
on my face. Fingernails
growing back
over decades of scar and habit, bottles
of bitter quinine rubbed into them, and chewed
on just the same. We are not the same. Two
women, laughing
in the streets, loose-limbed
with other women. Such things are dangerous.

millions have burned for less.

How to describe
what we didn't know
exists: a mutant organ, its function to feel
intensely, to heal by immersion, a fluid
element, crucial
as amnion, sweet milk
in the suckling months.

The words we need are extinct.

Or if not extinct
badly damaged: the proud Columbia
her bound up feet on her dammed
up bed. Helpless with excrement. Daily

by accident, against
what has become our will through years
of deprivation, we spawn the fluid
that cradles us, grown
as we are, and at a loss
for words. Against all currents, upstream
we spawn
in each other's blood.

sleepwalking in caves. Pink shells. Sturdy
diggers. Archeologists of the right
the speechless zones
of the brain.

Awake, we lie
if we try to use them, to salvage some part
of the loamy dig. It's like
forgiving each other, you said
borrowing from your childhood priest.
Sister, to wipe clean

with a musty cloth
what is clean already
is not forgiveness, the clumsy housework
of a bachelor god. We both know, well
in our prime, which is cleaner: the cave-
dwelling womb, or the colonized

the tongue.

© Olga Broumas, from "Beginning With O", from Yale University Press, 1977


Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Several years ago, I took a “Finding Voice” training by Sharon Bridgforth. That, in combination with mentoring by Terry Galloway in Actual Lives, is what turned me from a writer to a Writer and did, indeed, help me find my voice. Sharon had done this work for herself decades earlier. Her writing for performance is a national treasure. You should never miss a chance to see her work or learn from her. Below is one piece speaking to my life:


they say i do not deserve a child
say people like me should not
mother devilish influence
they say

my own mother say i'm gonn
die and burn in hell
burn in hell for what i'm doing

i say to her my own mother
since you ain't never been to my house/don't
know nothing bout my friends/ain't
had the pleasure of my lover's sunday
conversations what is it
you know bout
what i'm doing
thats so bad you would curse me/your
own child

she says it's a crime and a sin
punishable by god and man
to be homo sex ual

i say
then punish me

they say i do not deserve
a baby but i have one
and she is the most
perfect joy poopie diapers
and late night cries she
belches in my face/dribbles
on my clothes is always
on my hip/and i love her with
all my heart
i watch her as she sleeps/kiss
her when she wakes and/i knowing
a miracle when i see one would gladly
give my life for hers if God should
demand that exchange.

if two people a couple/share
this type of love for one of God's
babies does the gender of the couple
really matter?

i asked my God
and She said

© Sharon Bridgforth, from "Voices In The Dark", by Geecheee'd Out Press, 1992



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


Monday, April 4, 2011


Minnie Bruce Pratt has published six books of highly-acclaimed poetry, was for five years a member of the editorial collective of Feminary: A Feminist Journal for the South, Emphasizing Lesbian Visions, and has written a great deal of important work contradicting multiple oppressions (racism, anti-Semitism, classism, woman-hating) on a solid front. I prize my signed copy of The Sound Of One Fork where she encouraged my own writing during the 1980s. Below is the title poem from that volume:


Through the window screen I can see an angle of grey roof
and the silence that spreads in the branches of the pecan tree
as the sun goes down. I am waiting for a lover. I am alone
in a solitude that vibrates like the cicada in hot midmorning,
that waits like the lobed sassafras leaf just before
Its dark green turns into red, that waits
like the honey bee in the mouth of the purple lobelia.

While I wait, I can hear the random clink of one fork
against a plate. The woman next door is eating supper
alone. She is sixty, perhaps, and for many years
she has eaten by herself the tomatoes, the corn
and okra that she grows in her backyard garden.
Her small metallic sound persists, as quiet almost
as the windless silence, persists like the steady
random click of a redbird cracking a few
more seeds before the sun gets too low.
She does not hurry, she does not linger.

Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely,
that only death keeps her company at meals.
But I know what sufficiency she may possess.
I know what can be gathered from year to year,
gathered from what is near to hand, as I do
elderberries that bend in damp thickets by the road,
gathered and preserved, jars and jars shining
in rows of claret red, made at times with help,a
a friend or a lover, but consumed long after,
long after they are gone and I sit
alone at the kitchen table.

And when I sit in the last heat of Sunday
afternoons on the porch steps in the acid breath of the boxwoods,
I also know desolation and consider death as an end.
The week is over, the night that comes will not lift.
I am exhausted from making each day.
My family and children are in other states,
the women I love in other towns. I would rather be here
than with them in the old ways, but when all that’s left
of the sunset is the red reflection underneath the clouds,
when I get up and come in to fix supper
in the darkened kitchen I am often lonely for them.

In the morning and the evening we are by ourselves,
the woman next door and I. Sometimes we are afraid
of the death in solitude and want someone
else to live our lives. Still we persist.
I open the drawer to get out the silverware.
She goes to her garden to pull weeds and pick
the crookneck squash that turns yellow with late summer.
I walk down to the pond in the morning to watch
and wait for the blue heron who comes at first light
to feed on minnows that swim through her shadow in the water.
She stays until the day grows so bright
that she cannot endure it and leaves with her hunger unsatisfied.
She bows her wings and slowly lifts into flight,
grey and slate blue against a paler sky.
I know she will come back. I see the light create
a russet curve of land on the farther bank
where the wild rice bends heavy and ripe
under the first blackbirds. I know
that she will come back. I see the light curve
in the fall and rise of her wing.

Minnie Bruce Pratt, from The Sound of One Fork by Night Heron Press, 1981


Sunday, April 3, 2011


Ellen Marie Bissert founded 13th Moon in 1973, a feminist journal which developed into a prominent literary publication, featuring such authors as Adrienne Rich, Eve Merriam, Marge Piercy, Rochelle Owens, and Audre Lorde. In 1977 she published a volume of her poetry, The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Dyke. It contained many culture-shaping poems, including the following:


romeo couldn't come
& god is a stupid ass with a limpleaking prick
that's why i need to be some poet
i never got invited to the prom
but got hot on Nothingness & did the polka with my dog
i blame my tubercular father who died before he could remember my name
my married lovers who could've loved me if i looked beautiful
& my monkey-faced analyst who needed me to be screwed
i don't give a shit if sperm freezes over
i'll die alone & dig it
loving a woman in a black leather jacket
& walking into The Duchess with my polka-dot tie & lace shirt
this is my life & now i ask everyone to dance