Sunday, May 06, 2007


My God, my God. I need to fall on my knees in gratitude. I need to pray. I need to be grateful for the rest of my life for this past week, and the love and beauty that accompanied me on every step of it, from last Sunday when C drove me to the airport and I met Evelyn and Masankho came to see Saying Kaddish, to this morning, when I drove my sister Emily and my father to the airport after an incredible evening last night at See How We Almost Fly.

I don't know how to even begin to say it. I don't know how I am even walking around upright--(although I barely am--I spent most of today in bed.) I got back from Detroit Wednesday night. Rolled out of bed Thursday a.m. and taught four classes at the high school. Made an ineffectual stab at cleaning the house on Thursday night because my family was coming but I was just too tired and jet-lagged to do it.

Taught again Friday morning--four classes of first graders, then drove directly to the Marriott and picked up Dad and Em and brought them back to my house. Which was dazzlingly clean and beautiful. My roommate Julie, to whom I had spoken three sentences at 7:30 in the morning to the effect of "Oh well, I wanted to clean for them but I just didn't have the energy, guess we'll all have to grin and bear it," had whipped through the house like a tornado. The bathroom sparkled. The kitchen gleamed. There were cut roses from the garden in glass water jars on every surface. She had even gone into my room and remade the bed and turned over the sheets and arranged the pillows so that it looked like a bed in a hotel. All that was missing was the mint on the pillow.

That evening C came over with gifts of books for Em and Dad (his idea.) We went out to the Tenderloin to see my one-act play Oasis at the Exit Theatre.

For years my sister lived in a village of 700 people. Last year she moved to a town of 2,000. We probably passed that many people on the way to the theatre, and half of them were homeless. Things are tough in the Tenderloin. It was kind of Night of the Living Dead, with claw-handed beggars and emaciated crack addicts and bundles of rags sleeping in doorways. We ate at Original Joe's an Italian place that my father found reassuring because he peeked in the window and saw a maitre d' in a tuxedo. Good solid food.

My Dad and Emily and C found their rhythm together. All three of them love books and music and have quiet, almost sly senses of humor. Dad reminisced about some of the more painful experiences he's had in forty years of attending my performances. In particular, he remembered an unfortunate woman who was perhaps off her meds who used to read her voluminous and incomprehensible poetry at a little hole-in-the-wall gallery called Stone Soup, where started my poetry-reading career at age eighteen. Here we were, thirty years later, stepping over bodies to get to the Exit Theatre on Taylor to see my weird little allegory Oasis performed.

I was amazed at what the director, Stuart Bousel, and the actors had done in only a few short weeks of rehearsal. It was fantastic! They were fantastic!! They brought out layers and nuances in the words that I hadn't even been conscious of. A few deft touches, a jar of olives, inspired costumes, sensitive interpretations and staging--I was impressed and grateful that my work had fallen into such capable hands.

My play was followed by a shorter one about Robin Hood and a mouse which gave my Dad fodder for teasing me for the next thirty years. Both he and Em were beyond exhausted, but they were troupers and held up well, yawning and blinking. I had been afraid that some of the content of Oasis would trigger them, but it didn't--either that, or they were too tired to notice.

Yesterday I took them to the Farmer's Market, where we ate Brazilian cheese bread made with yucca flour, which they loved, and then Emily and I went down to the Cinco de Mayo celebration at the foot of my street. Her eyes got huge when she saw
all the Mexican people thronging the streets, pushing strollers, enjoying barbecue and music and corn on a stick slathered with hot sauce and pina colada popsicles. She is good friends and a support to a Mexican family in her area, but she says they are isolated in a place where hardly anyone speaks their language. Here, Spanish was the lingua franca, and everywhere there were Mexican flags waving and arches made of red green and white balloons and red green and white ribbons in the little girls' hair, braided elaborately like Frida Kahlo, like little Aztec princesses.

We got back to the house hot and sweaty--I had just time for a shower before G picked us up and drove us into SF to St. Gregory's for See How We Almost Fly. Dinner with my stepmother's spiritual mentor and her husband and we met up with my stepsister and a friend. And then the show.

I almost lost it. In a church with a vaulted cathedral ceiling hung with strings of brightly colored peace cranes, with an eclectic pantheon of saints painted dancing in a circle all around the high walls--Malcolm X holding hands with Queen Elizabeth, Lady Godiva sashaying next to some gay Roman centurians, and on and on, in a divine cosmic conga line.

This is the part where words fail me. Because what Elizabeth and the other dancers have done with my words, my poems is so glorious, and moving, such a total sacrifice in the sense of the word "make sacred," such a gift, to me and to the world, that I can't think of anything worthy enough to say about it. Except that from the first note of music coming from Sekh Ma-at's throat I was blown away. Blown. Away. And it did not let up.

Power. Grace. Generosity. Passion. Love. The dancers kept giving and giving, everything they had, their bodies, their breath, their souls, and I saw my poems come alive in a series of scenes, songs, arias until I almost couldn't take it all in it was so rich.

I stole occasional glances at my Dad and Emily. No yawning, no blinking. They were rapt.

I thought my heart would burst. Elizabeth pulled me onstage for the final bow and I had to restrain myself from prostrating on the floor and kissing the dancers' feet--their precious, hardworking feet which they had selflessly worked to the muscle and tendon and bone in the service of beauty.

After that a blur of people hugging and talking and wanting to introduce everyone to my family and at the same time not wanting to overwhelm them because they were still jet-lagged. Thank God G was there to drive us all home afterwards because there is no way I could have managed it. I am still not sure how I managed to get my folks to the airport early this morning, and I got lost on the freeway coming back--a short two-exit sprint I have travelled dozens of times.

Home, Julie and I talked a kvelled a bit, then I tried to nap. It was hard to shift down, to let go, to realize that I could let go--and that I'd better if I wanted to have energy to teach again this next week. Finally I talked with C, and was able to catch up some with his life, which grounded me, and then I slid under the waters of sleep.

At the Chinese restaurant right before the show I had gotten a fortune cookie which read, "You will soon gain something you have always wanted," and I thought What? What have I wanted that I don't have now? I have my family's respect as well as their love--I always had their love, but I don't think I always had their respect. Now I do. Is that it?

I have a sweet lover in my life, a man who can cry and laugh and show emotion, a man who can feel and love and play and listen and talk. He shows up. After all the excitement and shlepping of the last week it was perfect to just make some dinner and eat on the porch with the slight breeze carressing our bare legs, the scent of jasmine and the fig tree bursting its bounds, and the noise of motorcycles and car stereos roaring up the street. The gorgeous silver earrings he gave me swing from my ears like precious talismans.

I got to put beauty out into the world, helped by people whose gifts and talents humble me.

And friends. And love. And music. And my Dad and my sister healthy and vital enough to come and share it with me.

Years ago, in Boston, in my early twenties, I saw a show that Elizabeth Swados had put together, of poems set as little theatre pieces. I still remember Sylvia Plath's The Applicant done as a waltz, and Delmore Schwartz' In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. So many years ago. In that moment, I yearned woith all my heart to do work like that, but I did not see how it could ever be possible. I didn't know how a life that included such work could be possible. And now it's here, and I am, and we are.

2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Your joy reached through the computer screen and squeezes my heart. :-) Long overdue. May its residence last for the rest of your lifetime.

Alison said...

And yours as well, Elizabeth! Thank you and Amen! I raise a virtual glass of champagne to you!

Alison