Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fragments from My Archives, San Diego, 1992. Sophia, Gail, Rose and the Poet, Bob Flanagan

Journal Entry: Monday, June 1, written in 1992, San Diego, typed in 1999

    A sunny day in this new city--new in its self discovery it feels but old in its geography--the long swells of the Pacific at one end, the canyons, now jumped by housing, at the other. Sophia and Gail [of the Lesbian Writers Tour fame] and I had our buddy trip down here from Los Angeles. After I took leave of Lee [Hudson] at the airport--I love her more now then I have ever before--we piled into some one's car and took off. Sophia weakened by sickle cell anemia and epilepsy, Gail also a sufferer of the same illness and me, dizzy, but we laughed holding our breaths as Gail swerved from lane to lane at 80 miles an hour, the ocean dangerously sparkling. Down at Camp Pendelton we stopped to eat at Denny's--America's mass food cheap and piled on our plates--large blond and black men surrounded us, their heads shaved in the way only executioners and military barbers do, their bodies shaped for intimidation. I thought of gay men and feared for their lives. I realized it is mostly other men who are the victims of over developed masculinity until such creatures get into places of power and then we all suffer. Three sick queers--we piled back into our rental car and swerved our way into San Diego.
   We found the place I was staying, the Keating Guest House, a lesbian owned and staffed boarding house where we were instantly made uncomfortable by the over worked and tired woman in running shorts who opened the door to us. Sophia and Gale huddled in my room and then we set out for the world famous San Diego zoo. Thousands of people and panting animals, most with the sad red E imprinted on their explanatory cards--gentle creatures for the most--large black birds with warm brown eyes and stone like out-croppings on their heads--gazelles and grazing animals all sadly exiled from their homes of earth and forest and water by us. They look as if they would ask for so little and we teem by--eating too much, taking too much while these beings stand dazed in an Eucalyptus prison.
   Other memories--sleeping on the floor of Barbara Cruikshank's and Judith Halberstam's [Now Jack] apartment so happy to be away from the quaint guest house whose unhappy manager snapped, "what do you think I am, your servant," when I asked where the tea was. Her other memorable line was about the fog on the horizon, "At least it blocks out Mexico." Speaking to Judith's class at the University of San Diego after they had read my book [A Persistent Desire, newly published, or A Restricted Country] and then the slide presentation in the large auditorium to three hundred people, meeting enthusiastic Chinese students and finally, off into the scented night air, my work as a touring lesbian writer done for that night.
  The next day a visit to the Lesbian and Gay archives in a small square building, a walk on the beach and home to LA by the train, reversing the trip down in a calmer less dramatic but far less life enhancing way. Petite and kind Rose, the dominatrix lover of the poet and performance artist Bob Flanagan, picked me up and regaled me with stories of her children's shame at their mother's reputation. Sweet boyish, black haired, cow licked, choppy Bob, who had to travel every where with oxygen so he could pull air into his cystic fibrostic lungs, whom I visited in the hospital the next week, more oxygen being forced into his lungs, he trying to reassure Rose, so thin herself. "You know," he told her proudly in short gasps of breath, "I am living much longer with this disease then anyone is supposed to." Bob, the performance poet, who hung by his foreskin daring audiences to tell him what pain he should endure, who turned hospital rooms into stage sets as he literally hung himself out to dry--a sweet suffering man who offered his poetry and his body doing impossible things to his times. Last year he died, (1998), leaving me with the memory of his thin body leaning against the folding doors of the huge cavern that housed the American Booksellers Association convention that year, his head, a back banner against the beige walls, his cowlicks leaping off his skull.

2017: My queer, lesbian, feminist times gave me gifts. Books to travel the country with, shared communal undertakings, ironies galore, and then the brave ones, the different from the different ones, who let me be with them for a short time, me sometimes a little uncomfortable but trying not to show it, grateful for the discomfort. Now the years sift down their gifts and Bob and Rose stay with me, his slim book of poetry pressed so many years ago into my hands, his body, his breaths of unconquered self, living in all my years that followed.