San Francisco & Diane di Prima: Feb 26-27, 2019

Feb 26, 2019

As we pulled out of the La Quinta Inn heading to Paso Robles, we passed a small pen with life size metal replicas of two giraffes looking so inquisitively at the highway that it was hard to believe they weren’t real.  101 North continued through rolling green with hills and hills of grapevines in dormant winter stage.  This is wine country. Soon after we arrived La Quinta had wine tastings yesterday at round marble tables in an elegant section of their lobby.  While we drove along we talked a bit about short stories and Barbara told me the plots of several of the stories she assigns to the students in her classes.  Hawthorne, Carver, Neale Hurston, Melville, Faulkner, it makes me want to take her class.  In Salinas we saw a sign on an art center or music studio that said Roaring Mice.  We think we can find Chai and Latte here as Salinas is home to Hartnell College and those are the brews of student life. As we got closer to our air b&b in Berkeley the traffic began to magnify.  Soon we were bumper-to-bumper, stopping and starting, and the rains began to pour.  Cars and trucks turning in other lanes sprayed us with water.  Barbara navigated while I drove.  At last we arrived and unpacked as quickly as possible in the rain.  Our new temporary quarters were roomy and we found a home baked lemon pound cake in the fridge with a sweet note from the owners. A little wet and cold, it was tea time.

I called my mom. My brother, who had been with her for a week, was going home to Santa Rosa in the morning and her caretaker had returned.  He lives not too far from where we will be staying for our reading in Sebastopol and they both voiced concern as major flooding was going on in that area with all the rains.  Some places and a town had already been evacuated. I emailed our hosts, Pat and Gail Nolan, to see if they were threatened by the rising Russian River.  We hoped they hadn’t been evacuated.

Our quarters were probably a former storefront and right on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.  Lots of traffic, which was amplified by the rains, made roaring swishes in the night.  The hot water was heated by a flash water heater, that went on loudly when we used hot water.  But all the noises were friendly and we liked this place.  (MO)


We arrived at our rental in Berkeley, a two bedroom small duplex that is perfect.  A refrigerator, stove, and a big dining room table where Maureen and I set up with our computers to write.  So far on this trip, between driving, blogging, reading at events, and going to the laundromat,  I have read, responded to and critiqued over 75 poems or short-short fictions by on-line students. Sort of moody lately. Missing being home.  Every so often Maureen and I look over at each other and say:  I can’t believe it.  We actually did this.  Here we are already near the end of our trip. (BH)


Pat Nolan reported from the flood zone along the Russian River:  Hi Maureen. We are doing fine and not among the evacuees. And we still have power! We will be high and dry through it all.  The river is expected to crest at 46.1 feet (that .1 makes a difference).  If you saw the sat pic of the storm, it’s like a fire hose aimed directly at Sonoma County.  Anyway, tomorrow’s precipitation will determine if the predicted crest holds.  At 46 feet I might get a little water (inches) in my studio downstairs.  Unlike floods back east this one will be gone by Friday morning.  The roads should be passable by then as well.  I will update you tomorrow once I have a better idea on how all this’ll shake out.  (MO)

Feb 27, 2019

This morning I called Diane diPrima to make sure she was still up for a visit.  She had a cold and wanted to make sure that we were not worried about catching it.  I reassured her that we were ok.  When I asked if she wanted anything, she said, no, she wanted many things but it wasn’t feasible at this time.  We put the address of the Jewish Home for the Aged into our GPS and set out for San Francisco over the Bay Bridge.   About 13 miles and it took an hour, most of the time spent in a traffic jam on I80 waiting to go over the bridge. (BH)


Photos by MO

I had not seen Diane since October 2010 when I introduced her at the Living theater and when she was also reading at CUNY and at The Bowery Poetry Club.  See a photo I took of her at the Bowery with David Henderson.  And another fuzzy photo Dumisani Kambi-Shamba took of Diane and me at the Living Theater.   Ten years later Diane is no longer on oxygen, but she is suffering from a number of problems, most recently trouble with her knee.  Aging is difficult, I think, already feeling it in my own skeleton. (“All i can say about old age is Oy!” Norma Cole writes in a recent email.) Even so, Diane is very light in spirit, still working on her projects and meeting with students.  Sheppard comes every evening for several hours and they work together; they have been together for over 40 years. Diane has a new book coming soon from City Lights, writing never before published from the 60s, Spring and Autumn Annals: A Celebration of the Seasons for Freddie. (BH)

Photos by BH

We drove to San Francisco to visit Diane Di Prima at the Jewish Home for the Aged on Silver Avenue.  Luckily we left early as traffic was backed up getting across the Bay Bridge. Still sprinkling rain but sun peaking in and out occasionally. (MO)

It was an honor and privilege to spend some time with Diane. Her room had stacks of books, orchids on the windowsil, and prayer flags over a shrine to her Tibetan Buddhist teacher.  Facing her bed a bulletin board had cut out pics, photos, and a cover shot of her upcoming title, Spring & Autumn Annals from City Lights.  The image is a snapshot of her hanging clothes on a New York City rooftop around 1963.  I have a long time attachment to clothes hanging on a line.  There is something so human and beautiful in clothes-pinned laundry drying in the open sun and air.  Clean many colored fabrics, a wash fluttering and blowing in the breeze.  Diane’s writing, raising children, making revolutionary change, getting things done, a leader of women, are all there in that cover shot.  As she said when we were leaving to continue our poets on the road readings, “Onward, onward to the sun!”  Her remarkable spirit was everywhere in the room as we talked. (MO)

Photos by BH

Back in Berkeley we got a second flood report from Pat: Hi Maureen, spent most of the morning clearing out my studio accompanied with exclamations of “That’s where I put that!” and “why did I keep that?”  Anyway watching the creek back up into our back yard slowly (a kind of water torture) but surely.  With two more feet to go, the carpet in my studio will get wet but that’s about all….So we visit with the neighbors in their rain gear and waders and talk of floods from years past.

Outside our on-the-street door, cars were still swishing through rainy streets.

Then a further update from Pat:  Some sporadic showers overnight but sunshine tomorrow.  River expected to crest at 45.5 around 11PM.  Unfortunately the carpet did get wet, but as I predicted about 3 inches.  We’ll rip that out in the weeks to come.  I like the idea of tile so maybe we’ll go with that.  The neighborhood is flooded in but the road out will be passable by mid day.  Right around the time you’re talking to Steve’s class. (MO)

Photo by MO

Wouldn’t it be great if aged care facilities could offer learning from the ancient ayurvedic herbalists?  Diane has many friends and her own knowledge of herbs and she is lucky for that.  In South India, many Indians take an oil bath once a week to keep flexible (applying oil to every part of the body).  There is also an herbal oil that helps with pain (and joint lubrication), mahanarayana; I order a small bottle from Banyan and send it to Diane.  Maybe it will help with her knee.  And I promise myself to start this routine again, every week when I am back in Brooklyn. (BH)

Below is the poem that Diane gave me once for a collection of prose poems I was using for my grad courses, and her process note.  Soon this poem will be included in a book Spuyten Duyvil is publishing, Prompt Book: Experiments for Writing Poetry and Fiction.  (BH)

Wisteria Light
by Diane diPrima

In the early days of eternity when none of us was naked as yet, and a good thing too, I opted to plaster the back stairs. Not that the stairs wanted to be plastered, but I was certain that was the only way the billiard table would fit. Workmen dropped hammers here & there. You were vacuuming, by god, though the plaster wasn’t dry, as if you were going to get an A for neatness. There were two slots in this greeting card, a kind of microchip it was, with Franz Kline wiring, not that we thought then that black & white would be a problem even for the moon. Our returning to the same haven as uncertain as coming out each time in a different one. No one distinguished between the blessed & the unblessed, no immortals had immigrated here for some time. I wanted to order wisteria, something to mitigate the light in those canyons. When you wisely pointed out it wouldn’t grow there, I thought to murder you with the pail with which you were mopping the windows. I clearly saw brick walls, the red mellowing to yellow, or brown shingle shadowed with the ancient vines. I wanted none of those we had invited, whoever they were. Or the flat light they loved. I saw that clearly. Return to the present was an unhappy business, saturated as it was with murdered swallows. I Vesperi Siciliani slid into one slot, and I was afraid Pagliacci would find the other. And there we would be, like the king who drives his chariot around & around in that tiny courtyard, circles of paving stones without even a pear tree. Stuck as a crow on a telephone pole, once you’ve seen it, the pole is never again empty, there’s always a crow, black in your mind’s eye in front of the white sky before sunrise.