Kate Foley – Love is Not the Only Truth We Know

Love is Not the Only Truth We Know (From her poem “Heavy Water”)
An Interview with Kate Foley
by Bryan R. Monte

On 27 April 2012, Amsterdam poet, Kate Foley, was interviewed in her Oud Zuid flat about her body of work. Foley is the author of four full poetry collections: Soft Engineering (Onlywomen Press, 1994), A Year Without Apricots (Blackwater Press, 1999), Laughter from the Hive, (Shoestring Press, 2004) and The Silver Rembrandt, (Shoestring, 2008), and two pamphlets, Night and Other Animals (Green Lantern Press 2002) and A Fox Assisted Cure, (Shoestring, 2012). Foley leads workshops in the Netherlands and the UK, she is a Versal magazine editor, and she was a David Reid Translation Prize poetry judge. Her first poetry collection was short-listed for the Aldeburgh Festival best first collection prize. Her next collection, One Window North, is due out from Shoestring Press in December 2012.

Bryan Monte: You had a very interesting childhood, didn’t you? You were raised by adoptive parents in London and some of your earliest memories, according to your poems, are of air raid shelters, isn’t that true?

Kate Foley: Oh, yes, air raid shelters definitely figured quite large because the Second World War started soon after I was born and we spent an awful lot of nights sleeping in them.

BM: So, you spent your early childhood in London during the Blitz?

KF: Yes, I did.

BM: I believe you’ve got one poem in Night and Other Animals, where you went down the street to play next to the “inside out” house, which was actually a bombsite. So that was part of your childhood?

KF: Yes, bombsites were our playgrounds and they were covered with a wonderful rash of purple from Rosebay Willow herb—its folk name is Fireweed. We used to roam all over the bombsites. And they were very dangerous and nobody cared, you know. They didn’t in those days.

BM: That’s very interesting as a child to have those sorts of early memories. You’ve also had a very colourful career with many different occupations. You were a nurse, a midwife, an archaeological conservator and also an administrator. Did I miss any other occupations or callings?

KF: Well, yes. I was a teacher also. I helped develop a conservation course, of which I was the head, at Lincoln College of Art. I was an administrator, but that job was as head of English Heritage’s Ancient Monuments Laboratory. I had a team of 60 scientists working in my department on all aspects of archaeological science and conservation. So, the main thrust of the job was both servicing archaeological excavations and building technology for ancient buildings, and doing research in that field. My scientists did a lot of research and it was very exciting.

BM: Well, that’s a very interesting pedigree for a poet. And your first book, Soft Engineering, was published when you were 56. Was there any reason that you waited so long to publish? Are you shy, do you consider yourself a late bloomer, or did you have other things to do?

KF: Well, very evidently I had other things to do. But I’ve written poetry since I was 11. I was at convent school and I had a very large, leonine, frightening English teacher called Miss Brennan. She had an absolute mane of hair and she got us to write a poem. And she read mine and said (in an Irish accent): “Do you realize, that’s poetry?” So after that, yes, I wrote sporadically but persistently. I wrote all the way through my nursing and my midwifery careers. But I never took myself seriously. I never thought I could be published, which was rather a mistake because the first poems I sent anywhere were to Socialist Commentary and Sean Day Lewis wrote very enthusiastically about these poems and published them. But I didn’t follow it up. Because I left school early—I was short of my sixteenth birthday—and I was in hospital almost immediately with TB—and because I didn’t go to university until I was in my early 30s, I’ve always felt that the education that I acquired has been piecemeal, pragmatic and certainly not “literary.”

BM: So in other words, you’re not, as I mentioned, the typical type of poet who read English at university, teaches there and produces a few books of poetry in between classes and corrections or on sabbatical.

KF: No.

BM: You just mentioned that you started writing poetry when Miss Brennan asked you to write a poem, but why did you continue on your own? What was your motivation to keep going all those years before you published your first book?

KF: Because I loved poetry. I loved reading it. I learnt screeds of it by heart at school. I can probably still recite the whole of “Ode to a Nightingale.” I was in love with words and also with what they could do, what they could express.

BM: Who were the people you aspired to be as a writer when you read their work? For example, who were you reading?

KF: Gerald Manley Hopkins who was a great influence on me when I was young, and Eliot, of course. We all read Eliot, even those of us who didn’t do much at school. And of course, before that there were the Romantics and the Georgians, though I think I’ve always been interested in what a modern idiom can do in poetry, and Hopkins was the first liberating influence. You could see there; you could do what you liked with words and you didn’t have to be grandiose or romantic.

BM: Well, that’s one thing I would say about your writing. It tends to be organic. It’s not formalist. It doesn’t generally fit within a standard poetic form like a sonnet or a ballad.

KF: No.

BM: You have a very keen sense of what to zoom in on. It’s almost photographic and cinematic. You zoom in on specific images and then cut quickly to others—definitely in the 20th century imagistic tradition. I think that in one of your other interviews you mentioned that you read a lot of H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) at one time.

KF: Yes, but not at that time, though. Much later. Lots of modern, English and in particular, American poets later. I am very keen on Adrienne Rich. And what she writes about poetry is fantastic. She writes better and more passionately about the meaning of poetry, the use of poetry, the bread of poetry in one’s life than anyone else I can think of.

BM: So in other words, in your poems we’re not going to find a lot of rhyme schemes unless they come up on their own.

KF: I started by writing rhyming poetry. Not everything I wrote by any means was rhymed. Much of it was a precursor of what I write now. I think there’s a kind of continuity. My mother, who was working in a Christmas card factory, could never understand why I wouldn’t write rhymes for cards—and cash—because I used to write rhymes for her on demand for colleagues’ or workmates’ birthdays. I used to write scurrilous rhymes when I was a student nurse about ward sisters, matrons, etc.

BM: Well, that’s very interesting that you mention your mother because your parents, nursing and illness, delivering babies, and young, new and mature love—are themes that run from your first book, Soft Engineering, to your last—A Fox Assisted Cure. For example, let’s start with the title poem, “Soft Engineering” where you start with the image of the sea licking the coastline and a mother cat licking her new-born kittens and use this to describe something very human at the same time: “Ceaselessly licking the coast/the sea is engaged in soft engineering./She tongues up heaped trickling spits/ of shingle, as a mother cat/ pridefully peaks up the wet fur of kittens.”

KF:…and soft engineering is a branch of engineering designed to sculpt the shoreline to avoid floods…

BM: You do write poems with different types of themes, but you also clearly write as a lesbian. You talked earlier about writing political poems. From what I’ve read of your body of work so far, I haven’t really encountered anything that is political in the sense that someone is holding up a big sign and you’re telling people what to think and what to do.

KF: Oh, I hope not! I devoutly hope not! Because I think that if your politics aren’t integral and ingrained, you turn people off. I would turn myself off if I wrote like that. One of my more recent poems, “A Short History in the Chapter of Stone,” is inspired by a woman under sentence of death by stoning for alleged adultery. I do write from my own life, but I also write from others’ lives as well.

BM: Well let’s start with your own life first. There’s a couple poems in your second collection, A Year Without Apricots, (Blackwater Press, 1999), where you write about a woman delivering a still-born child, “The French for Midwife,” and then at the end the babe is still-born and you talk about the grief the parents share related to that and how they express it differently. “Blue Glass Empty Pram” I think is another poem along those lines.

U. A. Fanthorpe commented on your eye for detail in her comments on A Year Without Apricots. She said: It shares the same qualities as Soft Engineering but runs deeper, darker, stronger. A light and exact way with words. A whole basket full of unexpected perspectives. (Foley) writes with Hughes type of visual accuracy. So you zoom in. You have one poem, “The Only Ghost,” where you write: “Breath finds you out/ when you hide/Hung in its swung moment of poise/ like the tide,/it waits /till you plunge.// You can’t fool breath,/ it searches out/your flaccid veins/ forcing them wide, like mussels in the pan.” That’s the attention to detail that she’s talking about.

Now the title poem of this collection, “A Year Without Apricots,” was that about someone with AIDS? Was it an elegy? You talk about apricots that fall from a tree before they’d had a chance to ripen in contrast to the wonderful fruit the tree produced the year before.

KF: Not everybody in that poem had AIDS. One indeed died of breast cancer. But yes, it was the years of AIDS and the AIDS deaths. And we lost two, my then partner and I, lost two people, very close friends, from it. I guess we were lucky and only lost two.

BM: So you were involved a bit in the AIDS crisis also. I lived in San Francisco at ground zero in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and lost an ex-partner and about a dozen other friends and acquaintances. I’m still trying to write about these people all these years later. They’re long gone, but they’re still with me at the same time.

KF: That conversation goes on, the conversation with people who have died and the resolution that can come in a conversation after death. And of course I don’t mean that literally, but I think I’ve got a few poems, a clutch of poems, about the difficult relationship with my adoptive mother and I think that through writing those poems, a resolution begins to appear.

BM: Yes, that is an interesting observation because I can see you working through things in your pamphlet, Night and Other Animals (Green Lantern Press, 2002). The first long poem, “The Don’t Touch Garden,” is about your adoptive childhood, right?

KF: Yes.

BM: And the second one, “Night and Other Animals,” is about the break-up of your relationship?

KF: Yes.

BM: So these are two very powerful series on how you went through two transitions. So how did writing “The Don’t Touch Garden” help you related to being adopted and how did “Night and Other Animals” help you relate and work through the material of divorcing?

KF: Writing a poem is an organic process of sometimes constellating images round memories. “The Don’t Touch Garden” more or less built itself. But I felt as well as being a poem about me and from my perspective it was also very much from the perspective of my parents. They didn’t have the emotional equipment or the resources to deal with this small stranger that they acquired. And you will find, in that poem, “The Don’t Touch Garden,” a lot about my mother’s dilemma of having lost seven babies and my father’s inarticulate, but basically loving nature. Although I respect poets who are loosely called “confessional,” I don’t want myself to write deliberately confessional poetry. I want to write about the more accidental aspects of the process of becoming who I am. Does that make any sense?

BM: Yes, it does, and you’ve not only done it in “Night and Other Animals,” but also in the “The Silver Rembrandt” when you go through your ontology, the history of how you became the person that you are.

KF: Except that it’s not me. Seriously, “The Silver Rembrandt,” although it draws on my own experience, and every poet draws on their own experience, she, Lily, was a fictional character. She is not me.

BM: That is an important difference. But the chapbook, Night and Other Animals, that is (auto)biographical?

KF: Yes. Both those poems are biographical. And I think the purgative effect of “Night and Other Animals” is because it is a lyric poem. It’s not about blame; it’s about loss and about accommodation to loss. It’s about parting and I guess that’s how I made sense of the fact that I left my partner of 33 years and came to Holland to live with Tonnie.

BM: Did you know Tonnie at the time you came to live in the Netherlands?

KF: Oh, yes, of course. I came after I knew Tonnie. We met in Washington DC in 1993.

BM: So you came to Amsterdam in 1997?

KF: Yes.

BM: And there’s a little bit of your biography in “The Silver Rembrandt,” because you moved here and the main character, Lily, moves here and has her bag stolen at the main train station.

KF: None of what happened to Lily happened to me. The only thing that I share with Lily—apart from Amsterdam—is that she, in her way, was dedicated to her art although she was a failed painter.

BM: I don’t think you’re anywhere near failure.

[Laughter].

KF: And also she had a failed relationship as many people do and so did I. No, I haven’t stood on a soapbox, painted silver outside the Rijksmuseum. I only wish I had the courage.

BM: Well, you seemed to know Amsterdam, or at least the art in Amsterdam fairly well before you even got here because that is intertwined in your own work. Did that come as a result of working for English Heritage?

KF: No. English Heritage and archaeological conservation obviously fed my work, but I was an archaeological conservator and I handled ancient objects, bits of crud and lumps of rust, and x-rayed them and that sort of thing. But I did have painting conservators working for me and I know quite a bit about the science behind painting conservation. And, of course, I met Tonnie—who at that point was teaching science to painting conservators at Maastricht—at an international conference.

BM: Well, you write a lot about painting. You mentioned angels and Rembrandt in your earlier poems. Isn’t it strange that you came to live within walking distance of the Rijksmuseum and all those wonderful Rembrandts? [Laughter]

KF: Yeah.

BM: Did you think in the back of your mind that someday I’m going to end up in Amsterdam?

KF: No. I didn’t—ever. Amsterdam is the absolute last place I ever thought I’d live. I don’t think I gave Holland a second thought.

BM: I do want to talk to you about what influence living abroad and living in Amsterdam has had on your writing. We did mention those times where Rembrandt comes up. But now that you’re here, how has living in Amsterdam changed your work?

KF: Well obviously, at a very basic level, there is a whole suite of different images. But I think it’s more that, yeah, it’s also about language. I mean my Dutch is not yet good. I don’t know whether it ever will be. Sometimes it seems to be going achteruit (translation: getting worse). But, grappling with living in a different culture and using a different language and becoming intimate with people with a different mother tongue is wonderfully expanding and your horizons stretch to accommodate. You realize that there is a world that is your world, but it’s seen through different eyes. And it helps you to somehow recognize that people carry their own worlds formed by their own culture and history.

BM: I like what you do in the poem, “Shokat Dancing.” “She’s humming, the heart/of a brown flower./Pixels blaze erratically/ off, on, pick up the DNA/of music, scribbled in the air.” You talk about this woman, who has some years and some experience, but she still does this beautiful dance and she’s a part of it, arthritic and enthralling at the same time. And you write about how she dances and you’re taken up in that. That’s one of many things I like about Laughter from the Hive. You have mature, domestic love where you talk about moving in together. You have portraits of older women, your lover, yourself, and street people.

KF: Adrienne Rich says something about “naming.” In fact, I have one poem in A Year Without Apricots for Adrienne Rich, called “The great blue heron.” It was inspired by her talking about a heron and writing about it and realizing it just isn’t about an artifact or a thing that you write about. It has it’s own existence, it’s own mysterious self. A part of your task as a poet is naming in that sense. In other words bringing to the page and to the reader the quiddity of people, animals and events. I don’t think I’ve got anything as pretentious as a poetic creed. If I did however, I think that would be it. It’s about the task of faithfully naming.

BM: I think you do a very good job about being specific with your poetry, focusing in on things. Are there any other poems that you’ve written about Amsterdam that you feel are very evocative?

KF: “Elm Trees Amsterdam” or “A Gift of Rivers”—that’s a bird’s-eye-view of coming in by plane to Schiphol. And I have poems about the dogs of Amsterdam, “Where are my bones?” The Dutch and their dogs—they’re dog maniacs, aren’t they? You go to the Vondelpark and there are all these dogs absolutely laying down the law to their owners who are going about scooping up the balls and throwing them to them.

[Laughter].

BM: They have their owners well trained. I’ve noticed that too. It’s kind of a role reversal compared to what I’m accustomed to.

KF: I think it’s the liberality of Amsterdam that has done quite a lot of unlocking for me, just being in a culture where people don’t wear bicycle helmets and put their lights on, although it drives me mad when they do that.

BM: OK. On to “The Silver Rembrandt,” which we have established, is not autobiographical.

KF: It’s really not. Except in the sense that, like most poets, I mine my own experience for images. Lily actually goes from the East Midlands, which I suppose is an autobiographical element because I worked for about 15 years in Lincolnshire. Nevertheless, I say, and nobody ever believes this, but it is absolutely true, that this is not an autobiographical poem. It sort of makes me a bit sad that nobody will believe that I’m capable of creating a work of fiction. Well, I am!

BM: It’s lovely. It’s a long, sustained poem with 21 different parts and then you’ve got some of Rembrandt’s paintings that are interwoven with the text of the poem. So tell me, why did you pick certain paintings to use as illustrations? Mention two or three paintings that you remember and why you used them.

KF: OK. I used them in a way as a technique as a spacer and a change of tone between chapters if you like of Lily’s life. But they became a kind of meditative pause. Very quickly, looking at the first one, “Old Woman Reading,” you can image a child at primary school seeing that postcard and correlating it with her old grandmother. So that was the resonance with Lily’s life. But I realized when I was writing these poems that I was actually very much getting what it was Rembrandt was trying to do in the paintings. The small bit about technique. If I hadn’t had my own career in archaeological science, I wouldn’t have known about oolites and coccolites and burnt bone and rust and all of those things and the way they contribute to pigments. I’m very interested in process both in poetry and art. So yes, that came from a part of my life, but it is also at a point in the poem where it is relevant to Lily’s life. The painting about Titus, Rembrandt’s son, whom he lost, is at that point where Lily has lost a child. I hope that these poems, which have very utilitarian roles as spacers, resonate with the life in the paintings because that is what the painter and the poet try to do, to create resonances between his or her work and the reader or viewer.

BM: Well that brings us to an interesting concept also. I always like to ask writers how they write. How do things come to you? How do you record them?

[KF indicates her 3X5-inch pocket notebook]

BM: What do you write in this little book?

KF: I write a word. I write a phrase. I very rarely write a whole poem. And then I work in a layout pad, (10X14 inches) by hand.

BM: So once again, art comes into your writing. So it’s not lined; it’s just blank sheets of paper.

KF: Yes. I’m very fussy about what gets onto a page. I love the look of writing, or I used to when I had better handwriting than I have now. And I draw continuously too. Writing is a very visual thing for me. So it starts somewhere in here [points to her intestines]….

BM: ….In your gut….

KF: …or it may be something that I thought or I felt, but it’s most likely to be an image.

BM: So you start with the feeling or an image. How do you go from a few words to the completed poem? What happens in between?

KF: I work out of my [small] notebook and into my big pad and I juggle and I write things that chime with what I began writing. That’s it mostly. But sometimes I will sit down at a computer and I will just follow a thread and I will write the poem line-by-line and it’s more of a deliberative process then. And it’s got a kind of internal logic. If you’re going to ask me which poems came out of which process, don’t, because I can’t remember.

BM: Are your poems more related to accretion or subtraction or both?

KF: Well, they accrete first, but they quite rapidly then go into diminution. I’m a slasher and burner. I’m not, I think, on the whole, in love with what I write to the extent that I can’t throw it away.

BM: Give me an example of a poem that you’ve revised extensively.

KF: Well, yes, A Fox Assisted Cure.

BM: So, how many drafts did you go through with Fox?

KF: Twenty, maybe.

BM: So that was your most recent chapbook, released just a month or so ago. Could you comment on this long poem? It has almost 21 different parts, where basically you have a disabled young girl, about eight to ten years old, and she’s got some sort of malady. Do you know what the diagnosis is?

KF: Yes, I do because I did actually consult a doctor about this. Initially she had a virus, you know, one of these rogue viruses that takes a toll and gives you the equivalent of ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy). And, as a result of that, her thyroid began to malfunction. So that by the time the poem begins, she is immensely fat, virtually speechless and imprisoned in her chair. As you know, Fox was a type of designer accessory picked up by this ersatz healer that her mother had gone to in desperation.

BM: He’s an unconventional, holistic type.

KF: Sort of—with an eye to the cash register. It’s a poem about finding a kind of liberation and about risk, I think. And it’s a poem that a lot of people would say should have never been written because one thing you can’t do these days, because the Cliché Police will have you, is write about foxes and children because it’s been done. But I thought: ‘Stuff it.’

BM: Now that’s your most recent published work. What are you working on as your next book or project?

KF: Yes, I have another book due from Shoestring this year.

BM: What are some of the poems about? Can you divulge any of that information yet?

KF: Well, it isn’t a question of “divulge,” it’s a question of life, death, the meaning of the universe….

KF and BM: ….and the number 42!

[Laughter]

KF: ….as Deep Thought once said. It’s a mixture as always. There are a few more overtly political/ecological poems. There are poems about aging because I am knocking on a bit, so it’s a state that interests me. There are poems about death because the older you get, the closer it gets—should you be so lucky. And I hesitate to say that there are poems that are “spiritual” because I think that’s very suspect—especially for me as an atheist—and I only speak for myself but there are poems about the possibility of growing a “soul.” Not that I believe anything persists of it, but I think it’s an essential task—for anybody—especially for poets.

BM: That’s very interesting. We’ll be looking forward to this book. Thank you very much for your time.

KF: Thank you.

Iclal Akcay – La Piscine à la Amsterdam

La Piscine à la Amsterdam
by Iclal Akcay

Watching a film in the open air in Amsterdam, especially on Java Island, is not an easy task. Despite the news about outrageous 40-degree weather in some Mediterranean countries, these wind-country residents only taste the “Southern climes” via a movie by Jacques Deray. I spent an extra ten minutes looking for a Cashmere sweater in my summer wardrobe before running to the open venue, located across from the artistically sober Lloyd Hotel, so I was late and missed the first part of the movie. The setting is fantastic. This art lovers’ hotel’s little square, which normally serves as a pier to its customers arriving by boat, is filled with wooden benches and framed by a magical white screen. Drinks offered from the hotel’s mobile bar contribute to the intimacy.

I’m there with two friends. It took us three phone calls to find each other in the dark. As soon as we sit down, we take the liberty of making comments about everything during the entire film. This apparently upsets the guy sitting in front of us, causing him to move to the other end of the row in a silent protest, leaving me a bit embarrassed and feeling aloof. Whatever! We’re in sunny Côte d’Azur now.

Deray’s people, oblivious to the rest of the world beyond their problem-free setting, seem to be extremely content with their superficial lives of fun, fun, fun. As the story goes, Marianne (Romy Schneider) and Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) face an unexpected distraction at their love-nest villa in fashionable Saint-Tropez by the couple’s friend and Marianne’s ex-lover Harry (Maurice Roney) and his beautiful adolescent daughter, Penelope (Jane Birkin), who come to visit them.

During those lazy summer days, Marianne (an older-looking Romy Schneider) walks around confidently with a stiff hairdo, overly chic dresses and thick make-up. Determined to improve the atmosphere, a rather flamboyant Harry brings back a herd of “party people” each time he hits town in his convertible sports car. As Marianne flirts shamelessly and erotically with Harry at these parties, a more distant Jean-Paul uncomfortably becomes attracted to his friend’s daughter in front of an oblivious crowd.

Clearly led by their baser instincts, the main characters’ daily lives are disrupted by the murder of Harry by Jean-Paul in a wild attack at night during an argument when his friend insults him. The death scene is interesting and oddly resembles the murder scene in Visconti’s Stranger, adapted from Camus’ giant literary piece, which could be presented as perfect material for studying murder as part of human psychology. Both scenes are far more intelligent than their contemporaries in their study of “the moment of murder,” and they depict the background of a murderer’s act. In Deray’s La Piscine, a drunk Jean-Paul perhaps does not intend to kill his even more drunk friend, Harry. He rather tries to push him away with a piece of wood, wanting to silence his disturbing voice, just to get rid of him.

The unraveling drama results in transforming Marianne from an older, rejected woman, whose significance had been diminished by the emergence of the adolescent Penelope, into a woman of determination through the unfortunate event. Armed with the knowledge that could destroy her lover—that he is a murderer—she becomes strangely empowered by the surprising unfolding of events. She does not miss the opportunity to save Jean-Paul simply by lying to the detective. Through this act, she is spiritually and emotionally reborn, as this mission gives her all she needs: a fulfilling existence! She now is a caring mother. Although not wanting to be with her lover any longer, when her powerful detachment relights the fire in Jean-Paul, her real transformation takes place back in his arms; she becomes a magnet, a love goddess.

My friends don’t both agree with my conclusion about the affair. Being a scientist, Sofia intuitively grabs the essence of the hollowness in the movie. She has spent the last three years in chemistry labs of two different countries suffering intensively from being far away from her ex-boyfriend, Nick, who stayed at his parents’ home in a lazy village in southern Britain, spending his time writing application letters to different research centres around Europe. Our other friend, also coincidentally named Nick, rises to suggest going inside the hotel to get warm drinks. Sofia agrees and I follow them. In a minute, we’ve forgotten about the movie and collectively investigate the possibility of a reunion between Sofia and Nick while finding comfort in complaining about the lousy weather. It’s everybody’s favourite subject here. The kind of summer we long for, a Mediterranean one that is, never arrives in our city. And if it ever does, we all agree that it happens when we all are on holiday in a distant, warm country.

Alice Kocourek – When in Rome ….

When in Rome….
by Alice Kocourek

An annoying buzz wakes me. I can’t make out where it’s coming from. Or is it inside my head? My mouth and throat feel like I’ve just blow-dried them, making it very hard to swallow the tart taste tripping over my tongue. Too much white wine last night. I pull the covers over my head. The buzzing remains. Or was it the Limoncello? Definitely too much Limoncello. The bitter tang lingering in my mouth is proof that I’ve had one too many of that poisonous lemon liquor. Make that two too many.

It had been a fun night out though, with the Italian Hewlett Packard crew. Silvia, one of the permanent British staff members, insisted I come out with her and our fellow Italian colleagues. “It’s about time,” she told me in her squeaky voice. “Three weeks you’ve been in Rome and you still haven’t been out? It’s a positive disgrace. You have to come out with us.” And so, feeling somewhat pressured, I reluctantly went out. We ate, we drank, we danced. Lots. Somewhere in the middle of it all I began having a good time. I relaxed and thought to myself, when in Rome….

It was almost dawn when I rolled out of the taxi and stumbled into my hotel. The city was still sound asleep.

What time is it now? I turn over onto my side and feel my stomach churn. It feels like the gluey Limoncello has also made it to my eyes and has pasted them shut.

Buzz, buzz, buzz …. There it is again. Or has it been there all the time? I don’t know but I suddenly realize what it is, that annoying drone. It’s my phone! I’d put it on silent last night when we went out. A hoarse “Hello?” is all I manage and I’m sure I sound like a man.

“Alice? Is that you?” a voice blasts through the other side. “Al, I’ve been trying to reach you for ages!”

“Huh, Nick … stop shouting at me love, I’ve got a stinking headache.”

“I’m not shouting. Are you ill? It’s ten o’clock already.”

“Ten? Really? Feels more like six … still.” By now I have finally managed to sit up and half open my eyes. My dark hotel room seems to be swaying from left to right. At least the little I can make out of it. The heavy curtains are closed and only a very pushy ray of sun seems to have made it into my room.

“Have you been out?” Nick’s loud voice continues. “You know I’ve been waiting for your morning call, my coffee has gone cold.”

“Sorry,” I groan into the phone, “Yeah, Silvia took me out for a few drinks. What you doing? Sitting outside?”

“Been out for a few drinks, eh? You know you sound like shit.”

“Thanks.”

“Anyway, it’s a beautiful day here. Been sitting out on the balcony with the cats.” His voice has gone softer now, or perhaps I’m more awake.

The cats. The balcony. Nick. I rub my temple. “Wish I were there with you. This hotel room stinks.” I’m sitting up straight now and looking around my small and shady room. The bed takes up most of the space, leaving only some room for a writing table pushed against the wall and a single chair. My clothes dropped on top look like a collapsed corpse. The art-deco wallpaper flowers look wilted. “I wish I were home. I miss our morning coffees out on the balcony. I miss the cats. I don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Well, it’s you who insisted on going to Rome for six weeks. I told you, you’d miss us.”

“Nick, not now. I don’t feel good.”

“You shouldn’t have drunk so much. Why did you have to go out in the first place, you don’t like going out?”

“Oh c’mon, not now …. We’ll talk later OK? I feel claustrophobic. I need to get out.”

“OK, go and have breakfast and call me when you’re feeling better.” There’s a long silence. “Love you.”

“I know.” A hysterical mosquito buzzing in front of me disrupts another long silence. I manage a strained “Love you too,” before I start wafting the insect off with my phone. “Don’t you dare touch me, creepy creature.”

After this sudden anti-bug outburst, my head hurts even more. I need some fresh air, some food and some sleep; I feel cold. Wretched air-con.

A gentle spring sun greets me as I walk out of the hotel onto the Piazza Bartolomeo Gastaldi. The pink cherry blossoms sway against the blue sky and the song of a thrush fills the air. It’s only about 20 metres walk to Antonio’s Alimentari, but when I walk through the colourful beads of the flycatcher hung above the door, I feel warmed-up and a sudden appetite takes over.

Antonio welcomes me with his usual bright smile and enthusiastic gestures; “Buongiorno signora Alice.”

Over the last three weeks I’ve come to like the way of the Romans, it’s not just what they say, beautifully lyrical to a cold Northern European as I am, but the way in which they say it, with their whole body and soul. Each mundane sentence sounds like an exquisite opera, each gesture an elegant dance.

Buongiorno Antonio. How are you today?” Although I still feel lightheaded, I twirl around the fruit stand. “You’ve got some beautiful peaches again today,” I sing to him in English. We struck a deal two weeks ago. I would teach Antonio some English and he would return the favour in Italian. A win-win situation, as far as I’m concerned.

I pick one pink peach and walk over to the glass covered food display and choose two slices of pizza, one with extra sun-dried tomatoes and the other with mozzarella. As a little extra, to spoil myself, I also decide to take a slice of apricot cake.

Antonio carefully wraps them all in paper and hands them over. “Godere della bella giornata di sole, enjoy the sun, signora Alice.”

“Oh, I will, Antonio. I’m going to relax somewhere in the shade in the Villa Borghese, a domani. Ciao!”

Back out on the street, armed with all the delights, I continue my walk to the Villa Borghese, my favourite public park. It’s only about a ten-minute walk from my hotel and even when going into the city centre, I walk through the park and down the Spanish Steps, leading into the heart of Rome. Right now I want to avoid the crowds. All I want is to loosen myself of this morning’s sickly feeling and unwind on the soft moss, away from everyone.

Walking further down the Via Luigi Luciani, it strikes me how green Rome really is. It has majestic plane trees alongside the stately boulevards, charming cherry and apple blossoms in the smaller streets and the many umbrella pine trees looking as ancient and mysterious as the Roman ruins resting in their shade. On the balconies people are growing yuccas, olive trees, prickly cactuses and of course grannies geraniums in terracotta pots and colourful plastic containers in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Scooters zoom past as I carefully cross the wide Via Ulisse Aldrovandi. A guy shouts out at me: “Ciao, bella!” and disappears off hooting a taxi for being too slow.

Bella, bella,” I say it out loud and, feeling like a princess, I enter the Villa Borghese.

A gravel path leads me through a lush garden, landscaped in a classical 18th-century style where green slopes are set around a large artificial lake. It’s still quiet and only a few people are walking through the park, some hand-in-hand, a solitary jogger runs past and I see a few elderly people sitting on the iron benches reading.

On the grass in the shade, I spread out my blanket and sit down. I have a bit of a giggle looking at the beige blanket. It’s just so fantastically tacky: the city’s twin founders, Romulus and Remus, are embroidered on it while suckling their wolf mother. It’s so cheesy I just simply had to buy it.

Now that I’ve finally made myself comfortable, I have a bite to eat and try to nap. I close my eyes and I hear the soft zooming of a nearby insect, ducks scatter up from the lake, a pigeon coos; in the distant I can hear the monotonous buzz of the city. It doesn’t take long for me to doze off.

It’s not just an ant tickling my bare arm, but something I can’t quite put my finger on that wakes me. It’s almost as if I can feel someone’s breath, hear someone exhaling. Close to me. Too close.

I open my eyes. For the second time today I feel like everything around me is moving from left to right. Staring up to the sky, the leaves of the trees are actually swaying in the soft breeze. It’s not just my imagination. I press myself up and rest on my elbows. Instead of seeing the lake, I’m looking straight at a man. Sitting. Next to me. I look straight into his eyes.

In one fast move, I sit up and pull my feet towards me. My head hurts from moving too quickly and for a moment I’m too stunned to do anything. The man just sits there and smiles at me. He’s young. Has slender long arms and legs. Wearing jeans, white shirt, unbuttoned, and sandals. He’s got a slim face, large square glasses and pointy, pursed lips. He looks like a giant mosquito.

What the hell is he doing sitting so close to me? And how long has he been sitting there? I’m in no mood for a confrontation. With a big huff I get up and, with great force, I pull the blanket from the ground and walk away.

A little further I find a new spot. Lay out my blanket and lie down. Sure enough, I hear his heavy breathing again. I can’t believe it as I open my eyes. Once more the mosquito man is sitting next to me. Even closer now. I’ve had enough. I grab my sandal and start fastening the strap around my left foot. The man moves forward and, as if in slow motion, I watch him bend over and reach for my right foot. He grabs hold of it and with his pursed lips starts kissing it. Starts kissing my dirty bare foot!

From deep within me I unleash the Northern girl I am. “Oi, you wanker!” I shout at him and with my newly acquired Roman passion, start hitting him with my sandal. “Get the fuck off me, you creep!”

Scusi, scusi, sorree…” The man jumps up and starts running off.

Scusi?” I yell after him. My whole body and soul I pour into my words and gestures. “Fucking scuzi? You dirty bastard!” Around me people stop and start pointing at me. ‘Yeah, now suddenly you notice me?’ I can’t believe this. Ants are crawling over my blanket and I notice that they have crawled into my paper bag with my apricot tart. “Here you dirty bastard, this is what you get from me.” I crush the paper bag under my feet. The beige blanket has a big patch of crushed cake on it. Romulus and Remus are covered in apricot jam and black from the soil from my feet.

I’m sweating and my hands are sticky. I want to go home. Back to the hotel. The sunlight is hurting my eyes. My head. Briskly I walk down the gravel path. My feet are all black from kicking up dirt and sand.

At the busy and dangerous crossing of Via Ulisse Aldrovandi, I have to stop to wait for the green light. As I’m waiting, a sign stuck to the traffic light catches my eye. In bold red letters it says: ATTENZIONE, FERMARE LA ZANZARE TIGRE. STOP THE TIGER MOSQUITO. It shows a little drawing depicting potted plants with water saucers underneath that are crossed through with big red X’s.

I look up at the balconies, at all the pots and plants. If you all would listen for once, you wouldn’t have a tiger mosquito problem. People have died from their bites. From dengue fever for heaven’s sakes.

Scooters and taxis and old Fiats with their disgusting fumes steer past me, their noise loud and irritating. A guy on a Vespa shouts to a girl on the other side of the road, hardly able to take his eyes off of her and her short skirt. Tooooooot! He almost crashes into a taxi in front of him. The taxi driver starts yelling and the traffic comes to a chaotic halt. I shake my head as I cross the road. If only people in this country would keep their eyes off all that’s pretty and focus on what’s important. Official announcements. The road. National safety. Look deeper. Fix the damned holes in the road. I almost sprain my ankle as I step into one. Bah, no wonder this country is politically unstable.

As soon as I walk through the sliding doors at the hotel, the cool, air-conditioned air soothes me. I feel like I can breathe again. The cold marble floors are immaculately clean, the gentleman at the reception acknowledges me with a friendly nod. I’m home.

Back in my room, I fall onto my bed. My soft, comfortable bed. Since I’ve been gone, the cleaning lady has been and my whole room is neat and tidy. The sun is shyly coming through the partly drawn blinds. The art-deco wallpaper flowers seem to blossom in the soft light.

A warm bath, lathering soap smelling of lavender, cleans my dirty feet and washes away the mosquito man’s invisible stains. My clothes and the tacky Romulus and Remus blanket are in the trusted hands of the hotel’s dry-cleaning service, ready for use again in just a few days. I pick up my phone from my bag and notice that Nick has sent me a text: Sorry about this morning. I just miss you. Love you baby and enjoy being in Rome. Maybe ring Silvia for some company. XN

I hold the phone close to me and whisper a soft “I love you too.” I know Nick means well, but Silvia can wait till Monday. I might even go out with her again next weekend, but for now, I’ll just turn my phone off entirely. I really don’t want to be disrupted again.

Clean and content, I roll back into the bed and close my eyes. Can I hear anything? No, all is quiet. No zooming insects, no buzzing phones. Simply silence. I pull the covers tighter and reach over for the room service menu. I’m going to order myself a nice meal. Spaghetti carbonara and a bottle of Chianti. After all, when in Rome….

Joan Z. Shore – Hungry Women, Fat Men

Hungry Woman, Fat Men
by Joan Z. Shore

Nature simply doesn’t get it right, and neither does society, and neither do many of us who are caught in this crunch:

The golden years stretching ahead of us, sustainable health and income, grown-up independent children … and an empty bed.

The partner may have been lost through illness and death, or after a bitter, banal divorce. But the result is the same—a single person striving to re-build a life that has crumbled.

While divorce affects two people, it is usually the man who manages to find someone fast and start again. Or someone quickly finds him. Women, we know, take longer to do this, if ever they do. Perhaps, instinctively, they are just more cautious and discriminating.

In the case of widowhood, it is more often the woman who is left widowed, and who is faced with a dwindling pool of available males. So women scour the Internet, join singles clubs, and may even take up golf in desperation. A single man has only to sit for a while at Starbucks before he is joined by an enterprising young female.

It isn’t fair, and it challenges everything we were taught during the Women’s Movement. Self-acceptance, self-confidence, honesty, tolerance were the ways we could connect with ourselves and with other women and with men. But men never learned these things; there was never a Men’s Movement. (Okay, a few men tried—they went into the woods or practised crying). And as women underwent consciousness-raising and group therapy and psychoanalysis, men just sat at Starbucks.

Many women today have given up the feminist ideal and are reverting to the old female ploys: they go on diets, they have surgery, they get cosmetic makeovers, they buy new wardrobes. Women’s magazines and the advertising world reinforce this: a Prada handbag, a new face cream, some liposuction. Maybe some classes at the local gym to whittle her waist and firm up her thighs. The man is still sitting at Starbucks, and orders another double latte.

In the animal world, the males do the preening. And in the old days—I mean a century or so ago—human males also preened. They wore waistcoats and spats; they waxed their mustaches. They set forth to conquer the fair lady. Courtship was in the male domain; it was the male prerogative. Today, it is the woman who goes a-courting. How did this happen?

We may say it is Women’s Lib in extremis, or Women’s Lib gone sour. Women have picked up the gauntlet of independence and men have walked away. If women suddenly stopped taking the initiatives, I doubt anyone would go on a date. Our men have become lazy, negligent and fat. And badly spoiled.

Short of another sexual revolution (and that might not be such a bad idea), I suggest the following: to every skinny, hungry, Botoxed female out there—cease and desist! Drag out your old clothes. Skip your daily workouts and your weekly manicures. Dare to go out in daylight without mascara and gloss. Eat a huge lunch and order a rich dessert. Then, waddle over to the nearest Starbucks and order a double latte.

The love of your life, plump and passive, may be sitting right next to you.

Ciz Dino – 48 fps

48 fps
by Ciz Dino

My waist dissolves
into a thread of lust
when my spine arches back
over your hands.
I laugh because I discover
the voodoo you see in me
rubbed deep
in the folds beneath your eyes.
In the curves of your arms
I laugh because it is too late
because our words can’t keep up
and my waist is in your dreams
and my voice is in your hands.

48 fps

La cintura se me deshace
en un hilo de lujuria
cuando arqueo hacia atrás la columna
a la altura de tus manos.
Me río ahora al descubrir
el vudú que ves en mí,
esa imagen untada a fondo
en las ojeras de tu mirada.
En las curvas de tus brazos
me río porque ya es demasiado tarde,
porque nuestras palabras no dan abasto,
y mi cintura ha ido a parar a tus sueños,
y mi voz a tus manos.

Ciz Dino – Chocolate

Chocolate
by Ciz Dino

Chocolate is doomsday melting black over your virgin tongue.
Chocolate is the abyss, the futile flight.
Chocolate is that steady growl
                                from behind your bedstead.
Chocolate is what I do to you while you sleep.
Chocolate is the incubus that sits on your chest.
Chocolate is panic
                  nocturnal
                          toxic like jazz.
Chocolate is the hands of children melting dead on your pinstriped lap.
Chocolate is the cracking of bones
                                    beneath the weight of dreams.
Chocolate is slavery and addiction and abuse.
Chocolate is the sound of your pulse when it isn’t there.
Chocolate is exactly what you don’t understand about me.
Chocolate is the taste of your revenge,
                                      and the aftertaste of mine.

Iain Matheson – Her friend finds cheese in his pocket

Her friend finds cheese in his pocket
by Iain Matheson

They are at a poetry fair;
during a sestina about
hieroglyphs his left hand locates
in his overcoat a piece of
smoked brie (unusual enough
in itself), wrapped up in plastic
and partially eaten. Her friend
cannot say, even in whispers,
where the cheese came from, nor how new
it is. They agree the best course
is to let their ears soak up all
the poems as well as they can,
and attend to the cheese later.

Bryan R. Monte – Intimations of Frank O’Hara

Intimations of Frank O’Hara
by Bryan R. Monte

                                               San Francisco, October 1982

Walking into Cafe Flore on a Friday night
You stare at me looking so much like Frank O’Hara
That I gasp and run to the bar for a drink
But I come back and you’re still there by the window
And I sit down to admire your short, black hair
High forehead and skin white as bread dough
As you talk about Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Christabel
And the Harvey Milk Club’s political endorsements for this fall.

You’re so beautiful that when you brush away a moth
Men walking by on the street think you’re waving at them
And they wave back
And you tell me you paint in a Japanese style
And ask if I write and what I think of Modern poetry
And I say the problem with Modern poetry is that
It has no feet or hands or eyes
But sits at home like an old, blind hermit
Surrounded by souvenir pillows
Hoarding its syllables.

And your friend Dan joins us
Arguing as a Neoplatonist for the supremacy of ideas
Especially with regards to the Iranian Revolution
And we both turn him off because we know
One’s self worth is directly proportional to one’s paycheck
And you tell me you work as a waiter in North Beach
And make adult toys for a Folsom Street store
And Dan breaks into our conversation saying
Students at Berkeley don’t talk they only argue
And for that we turn on him
Show him the defects in his argument
And make him walk home alone.
You walk me to my doorstep:
Can I use your phone?
I put my arm around you and ask you to stay the night.

Wet or dry, warm or cold
Lying in the milky light that floats
Three stories down the airshaft to my window
And granulates your skin in a vaporous glow,
Rain tapping all night against the sill.
I compliment you on your long legs
And you answer that my proportions are much better
And I warn you that a man is not equal to the sum of his proportions.
My hands curl the hairs on your legs
And I feel the bed fill with heat
And I remember you need only half as many blankets
When you sleep with someone
Even in the coldest parts of San Francisco.

If the sun were rolling down the street
Like a noisy trolley burnishing its tracks
Maybe I’d sleep in and we’d spend the day together
But it’s a rainy Saturday morning
And I’ve got to go to work as a security guard
At a senior citizen’s high-rise in Oakland
So I get up and make us some omelettes
My hands amazing me with their 6 AM dexterity
Cutting the cheese and onions into neat squares
Folding the parsley in with the eggs
And you ask me why I want to be a poet
And I point to the window and answer:
          I want to read the Braille of the rain
          That dances in puddles on the patio
          I want to hear the song of the streamlets
          That knock like veins on a skylight window.

Edward Mycue – Time is a Worn Thread

Time is a Worn Thread
by Edward Mycue

“poetry” is an odd and restricting term.

marianne moore (“i too detest it … but find in it … a place for the
genuine.”)

william carlos williams (“men die every day for want of what is found
there ….”)

avoid and don’t censor with the corset of “poetry.” just write.

grow into technique, your own vocabulary.

fight.

bang out your stuff.

operate simply.

(pulse).

get a move on.

time is a worn thread.

Ronald Linder – Chapter IX from The Other Man

Chapter IX from The Other Man
(A novel written in the 1970s)
by Ronald Linder

Smiling in sleep, Jeff held Donald folded in his arms, pressing his softly breathing, young body everywhere…as Geraldine woke in Atherton Sunday morning to anticipate her husband’s coming home…and Daphne, already up an hour, rearranged the furniture again in her giant doll house, not knowing where to put the father-doll and finally sticking him in the basement. Geraldine allowed herself one minute as she was waking to worry that Jeff’s relationship with Ralph might have gone too strong. He’d never stayed away this long, and though she liked Ralph because he was funny and smart and brought so much life into a house that had become so dull since her father had died, she wondered if Jeff’s old problem had returned. It was five years since the blackmail letters. But lately he’d seem to need Ralph at least once or twice a week “because a man needs a man to talk to.” She knew those things were never cured, but Jeff had had so much to do since her father had died, so many responsibilities and a whole new future. He shouldn’t need any of those schoolboy attachments.

Daphne moved here furniture around angrily because her dad had already missed her birthday. “He’d better come home today!” Another year and she’d have that horse he promised her, but even twelve was an important age and Jeff had promised her a big surprise for now … but why did he stay in the City so long? When she had her horse, she dreamt she and her friends would take lessons and be champion riders in shows and open a stable together someday to raise horses and teach riding and have rodeos where she’d win the big prizes and mom and dad and she would move out of this big, spooky house and live on a ranch and she’d never get married because you can’t trust men to be home when they’re supposed to be—

“Daphne—where are you!” Geraldine called. “Hurry and come to breakfast … I want you to help me set the table for lunch so we’ll be done before your father comes home!”

Jeff suddenly jerked awake, cramped and stiff, on the floor next to Donald. His right arm felt numb and his lips dry and tingling from kissing all of Donald’s body. He pulled his arm from under the smoothly curved back and pushed up heavily from the floor, feeling dirty because he was covered in dust and dried sweat. Lazily, Donald opened his eyes, turned to contemplate Jeff, and smiled slowly and tenderly.

“That was fun,” he whispered. “I love you. We’re perfect together. Why don’t you think of moving in with me?”

Jeff stared shocked. “Don’t be ridiculous!”

“Why? What’s wrong? Didn’t you have fun?”

“Of course I did, but that doesn’t mean I’m moving in. I have other commitments.”

Donald rolled over on his stomach and Jeff glanced uncomfortably, but appreciatively, at the young man’s perfectly proportioned body—like a Greek, no, an Egyptian god. Soft like a woman, but the hips were too thin and muscular and there weren’t any breasts and the buttocks were flat and tight—but in his own way, Donald was something to lick and kiss and eat. Jeff felt he could start all over again, but he had to get home this morning.

“What kind of commitments?” Donald asked.

Jeff was sorry he’d said that, but the guy ought to know how things stood right from the start. He felt frightened at the way he’d let go completely during the night, not even counting how many times he’d come. How had he forgotten Ralph so completely—and forgotten how angry he’d been? It was a hell of a lot of fun and he knew if he didn’t stop now, he’d want to see Donald every time he came to the City. How could he handle two lovers, besides Geraldine and his mother and the family business? “I’m married and I have a daughter,” he said. “I guess I just had too much to drink last night.”

Donald’s head swerved up like a cobra’s, and a hurt, puzzled frown stamped his face. “You’re kidding!”

“No, I’m very serious. It was a lot of fun—but just for one night. I won’t be able to see you again.”

Donald pushed up from the floor, and without a word or looking back, walked to the bathroom. Soon Jeff heard water running and a flush and sat for a minute trying to clear his head. He knew he hadn’t drunk too much compared to what he and Ralph usually consumed, but he felt light-headed and drained. He looked down at his long, reddish legs and saw scratch marks—he’d have to tell Geraldine he’d got them in the garden. Donald had been like six people. He shivered just thinking of that young, blond body everywhere at once, making him charge and discharge through the night. Jeff didn’t think of himself as more than 20, even if he was 40, but he knew he couldn’t stand Donald every night. He’d been afraid and embarrassed to go to a bar or restaurant with Ralph—it would be a dozen times worse with someone as young and as girlish as Donald. And he knew they couldn’t just stay home and make love—that hadn’t worked even with Ralph, who acted sometimes as if he was ashamed to be seen with another man.

Jeff looked around the room. In daylight it was like a pastel mock-up of a room. The furniture was low-grade Los Angeles and he felt suddenly dirty and cheap, as if Geraldine might not take him back. He’d never felt that way when he’d left Ralph’s apartment. The two of them made one man who knew the answers to everything. Jeff didn’t even know Donald’s last name—but despite all the fear and guilt, he was terribly attracted to the young organist. Was he trying to fight the inkling of loneliness he felt even now for Ralph? Would it hit like a storm wave when he sat with Geraldine and Maddie and Paul talking about business—and when he lay in bed with Geraldine, trying to arouse himself when he knew she just wasn’t sexy anymore?

“You’re a son-of-a-bitch,” Donald said slowly, returning carry white briefs, his nipples especially red against the downy, yellow hair on his chest.

‘Probably from being bitten all night,’ Jeff thought. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“You should have told me before. I’ve never been to bed with a married man.”

“What difference does it make?”

“Plenty. It’s just not fair to have a guy open up the way I did when it’s just for one night.”

“Why? You had fun, didn’t you?”

Donald bent down graciously to pick up his clothes. “Sure I did, but I’d like to meet a man I can love for more than one night. I was attracted to you right away. You’re not like the average gay man. I was sure you were the one for me.” His eyes opened to a wide innocence and his lips pursed, as if he were waiting for a kiss.

Jeff felt annoyed and trapped, as if by an over-dramatic young woman. All the things he hated about gay men came to mind—the unmanly excess emotions and impulsiveness, the dramatic beckoning gestures. “I said I’m sorry. I didn’t know you would take it so seriously. Don’t you go out much?”

Donald glanced angrily. “No. I don’t!”

Jeff detected a note of hysteria in the young man’s voice. Donald was young enough to be his son … and Jeff felt grateful he had never had any boys. What if he had had a son who was gay? Jeff’s heart knocked in his chest, frantically urging him to leave. ‘Ralph,’ he cried inside, ‘See what you’re doing to me? I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you! I won’t let you leave. You can’t. I can’t handle this kind of life outside the Baths!’ It had been easy for a while before Jeff had met Ralph. When he had come to the City and had fun with a different one every week at the Baths and never saw or heard from any of them again—until that package came for Geraldine. And those letters. Someone must have opened his locker and looked in his wallet. But his whole way of looking at people changed because of Ralph. Before, he thought of queers—the ones who lived that life all the time—as freaks. He’d never known any for more than a few hours. And they never talked much. But now he saw there wasn’t much difference between them and him. How he could even feel sorry for them—not want to hurt their feelings. Goddamn! He suddenly realized he might be queerer than he thought. He didn’t like to dwell on it—and never let Ralph talk about it. They just loved each other in a way that couldn’t be explained. Only Ralph with only Jeff—that was all he knew. Maybe after Ralph spent a few days with that woman doctor, he’d realize there was no one else for him but his redheaded lover.

Jeff felt Donald’s small hand running through his hair and he looked up to see the young man’s shy, hesitant smile. “How about some breakfast? I’m not mad at you. I was just disappointed. Do you have time for a nap together—after?”

Jeff bent over to fumble in the pile of his clothes and stubbed a finger against his watch. After glancing at it, he yelled. “Jesus, it’s almost eight!” He saw his three women standing side-by-side, waiting, grim. His stomach fell, just as when he’d been late for finals.

“I don’t believe you can be married,” Donald said sadly. “How can you be married? How can you go to bed with a woman if you like men?”

“I don’t know. It just happens that way. I guess I just have an excess of sexual urges.”

Donald lowered his head to kiss Jeff’s lips, but the older man pinched the younger’s nearest nipple. He screeched and slapped Jeff’s leg, and the redhead laughed and sat cross-legged on the floor to sort out his clothes, wishing he had time to go back to see Ralph now that his anger was gone and ask him again if he really meant he wouldn’t see him anymore—but he had to drive home, or Geraldine would feel hurt in that silent way of hers and Daphne would pout and for some reasons he didn’t know and couldn’t catalogue, he needed them differently than he needed Ralph. Even Maddie was important. He didn’t want her to get angry. She might mess up the new family business and tie up his money or break one of her arms or legs and keep him busy running a million errands.

It was crazy and mysterious. In the City, on the loose, he could make choices. But as a socially acceptable husband, father and son he was stuck doing what others told him to do. Even his art had to be forced, because he was supposed to make money from his paintings.

Jeff hated all these grumbling thoughts. He should be happy! He was going home! He hummed a short stretch of a marching song from his Boy Scout days, but it sounded sour.

“What are you humming? Something that I know?” Donald asked.

“I doubt it.”

Donald lay sideways on the rug, his head poised on the back of one hand, staring hungrily at Jeff. “Are you sure you can’t stay a while longer?”

“No. I have to get home to my family!”

Donald ran his tongue over his lower lip, as if he wanted to say something nasty, but held back.

Jeff had the impression that the young man’s angelic face was just a mask in the front of a sneering, porcelain figurine.

“How do you like living in Atherton?” Donald asked, sitting up.

“How do you know I live there?” Jeff demanded.

“While you rocked in Morpheus’ arms, I had to go to the bathroom and peeked in your wallet. I’m so tired of seeing beautiful people only for one night. I just can’t stand all the uncertainty and surprises. You live at 5 – 3 – 1 Rosemary Drive, Atherton. That’s a perfect major chord … 5 – 3 – 1.”

Jeff scowled as his finished separating his clothes, but inside he felt suddenly very frightened. He stood to pull on his pants. His neck and back felt tight and sore. “What plans do you have for my address?” he asked.

“None now … but I do want to see you again …. I love you! I never loved anyone so much the first time. You do things to me … even just watching you dress.”

Jeff pulled on his shirt, cursing himself for having succumbed to the blond, cherubic devil. No wonder the old painters always made cherubs mischievous! The Baths were so much easier. There were never any problems—except with those letters, and Ralph. If this blond, young man ever called or came to his house and talked to Geraldine, she’d know he’d never gotten over being queer—and she’d figure out in a hurry how and why Ralph was sick. Jeff sat in judgment on himself. Of course he knew Ralph was right—no one with any self-respect would stay on the short side of an arrangement like theirs forever. But what could he do? He needed and loved Ralph—and Geraldine and Daphne—and Maddie and the family money. They couldn’t all go to bed together! But it was a problem Jeff had to solve alone. He wouldn’t let Donald blow away everything!

He squatted so his face came opposite the blond man’s. “You don’t fall in love with someone in one night! I’m twenty years older than you. You must have dozens of friends and lovers!”

“I like older men.”

“There must be thousands of them in San Francisco who would be crazy about you.”

“Not who look like you,” Donald sighed noisily, unfolded from the floor and stood with his hands straight on his hips. Jeff admired the youthful lustre and smoothness of his skin that would never be recaptured after another few years. Donald plunged into the corner of his black sofa, looking like a fair-haired kitten. “Oh, don’t worry, Daddy. I won’t blackmail you. I’m not that lonely, or that poor—and there is a fellow with the Danish Ballet who’s emigrating here to live for a while with some old male nurse who is crazy about me—the dancer, not the nurse—and most of the fellows I know would give up their Baryshnikov pictures just to kiss him! But I do want to see you again…. And if I don’t in a couple or three weeks, I’ll just call or write you a little reminder.”

‘Not more than 20, and all the sophistication of an old whore!’ Jeff thought. Ralph said gay people usually begin having sex three or four years earlier than straight people. But Jeff didn’t want this young sex maniac bothering him. “Donald, I don’t want you to call or write me at home! Do you understand? My wife doesn’t know anything about all this … and don’t forget I have a daughter. Knowing about me certainly wouldn’t do her any good.”

“Just a little reminder. I’ll use code, if you want.”

“Don’t call me,” Jeff shouted. “I promise I’ll call you in two or three weeks.” He wanted to hurt this young man, but he knew if he began, they’d probably end up in bed together. He had to go home, but hated to leave this loose end dangling. What could he do now? He’d been angry many times with Ralph for sitting home night after night, alone, waiting for Tuesdays. ‘Get a friend for in-between,’ Jeff had told him. But now he saw Ralph was right. In this gay world, or probably in any world, you just can’t turn friends or bed mates on and off to fit a schedule—especially gay people, because they are so lonely and hungry for attention and love. Maybe there was no way to keep Ralph. Maybe this was the end, and he would have to choose between the straight and the gay worlds. But he didn’t want to choose!

Jeff finished dressing but couldn’t find his tie, and then remembered he’d thrown it away before he met Donald. It had been a beautiful night and he didn’t want it spoiled. “Look Donald, I have to leave. Honestly! I told you the truth.”

“Just a cup of coffee?”

“No!” Jeff had to look away from the bulge in Donald’s briefs. Donald wrote his full name, address and phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to Jeff.

“Don’t forget—in two or three weeks or I’ll remind you.”

Jeff barely nodded goodbye.