A quiet moment across from Naomi, sitting in her apartment on West 94th Street, some of her watercolors on the wall behind. She is one of the friends I make pilgrimage to when I am in New York, visits that are getting rarer and so these images that I gather by phone or camera are most precious to me; they must stand beyond distance or circumstance. Here we were talking about when her collected poems would make their appearance, too long had gone by her friends felt, but Naomi was her patient self. Now the book is out, my dear friend, so your, our wait, is over.
I have archival stories that I tell over and over because they explain my over 30 years involvement with making sure lesbians of all kinds have a collective history, have multiple and complex historical intersections with nations and beyond. I will take you back to the early 1980s, when I first met Naomi. On one of our Thursday work and visitors nights in the old home of LHA, on West 92nd Street in Manhattan, two older women came into the archives-apartment, and through the bundles of women spread around the apartment, reading, sorting, planning, I made my way to them to give them a tour as we always did for newcomers who were a little shy about being in some one's home that was also a public space. I welcomed them and we began the little journey that was our equivalent of the tour of the Library of Congress. In a few minutes we came to the Poetry collection, and here one of the woman, stopped and introduced herself as a poet. "You know there is a book I have been looking for for many years--it has my first published poems which were lesbian love poems and I never got to see them in print." I held my breath.
"Do you remember the name of the book?"
"Well, it was an anthology of women's poetry published in 1939. I think the editor's name was Toomi [and now dear friends, we are back in 2012 and like the watercolors in the background of the photograph, my memory just faded, but I knew the editor's name when I started writing this. When it returns or you help me, I will finish that sentence.]
As soon as the new visitor said the editor's name my heart leaped. Lying on its side on top of other books of poetry was the very collection Naomi had never seen, "An Anthology of American Women Poets." Given to me as a gift by Deborah Edel who had found it on a throw away table in a small New England bookshop, the large blue book, we discovered, had many lesbian poets between its covers. And so my friends, I could give back to the poet her early self, the poems she had never seen in print. I felt the whole apartment go quiet as Naomi held her first published poems in her hands, wondering how such a thing could happen in such a new undertaking as the Lesbian Herstory Archives in apartment 13A.
Oh, my dear friend, so much we shared in the ensuring years, where I had the most wonderful of opportunities, to sit with a poet who was also a friend, to listen to your love for your poets. In that small apartment on 75th street where one sheet of paper with your newest poem sat quietly waiting for your next touch on the small wooden desk while we shared lintel tea and halivah in the next room. Here now in my home in another hemisphere your book sits on our living room table so all who enter see your life. And I read to them your words while they sit beside me and hear of your journey as I did so many years ago.
From "Nostalgic Memory of New York" by Naomi Replansky
When you come back to,
Come back to the city,
Do not stand and wonder
--Will it take me back?
It will take you back.