Paul read his poetry naked.

He was a crowd favorite at urban poetry readings, especially at the former punk club QE2 on Central Avenue, where he screamed his edgy and ironic “White Boy” poems — often completely naked. Occasionally, he wore a baseball catcher’s mask to go with full-frontal nudity.

Such is how my once friend and colleague, Paul Weinman, is described in a tribute posted in the Albany Times Union today. He just died from the complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 75 years old. The newspaper piece celebrates Paul’s delightfully skewed lifestyle and creative pursuits and is an entertaining read even if you never knew him.

I met Paul when I began working at the New York State Museum in 1980. He already was a fixture and a legend in that institution, often annoying the staid administrators with his controversial off-site antics, while, at the same time, becoming a beloved and entertaining teacher in the Museum’s educational program. Parents and kids alike flocked to his workshops based on the Museum’s exhibits, and inner city neighborhood kids would show up in the Museum after school hours just to hang out with Paul and be entertained by his adventurous historical tales and re-enactments of life in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. He treated all kids with respect and affirmation; he dealt with adults with honest response to the way in which they dealt with him; he responded to the hypocrisies of every power structure with naively gutsy irreverence.

My professional path crossed with Paul’s because we were both poets in an institution that shared a building with the New York Sate Library and Archives and that often held literature-related events. Together, Paul and I organized and hosted the Museum’s annual “Banned Book Week” public readings. We held ekphrastic poetry events in conjunction with Museum art exhibits. We worked well together as colleagues supporting the educational mission of the New York State Museum.

Outside of our jobs, as part of the Albany poetry community, we came to know each other as writers, although our styles — in both content in presentation — had very little in common. As a challenge to my more conservative bent, one day Paul suggested that we do a collaborative poetry chapbook that explored male-female sexual tensions. I would write a poem and then he would write a poem in response. We would go back and forth like that until we had enough for a chapbook. Paul would print out and staple copies of the chapbook and then distribute it, for free, around the area, as he did with all of his poetry projects.

The whole idea was way out of my comfort zone, but Paul was pretty much an icon in the local poetry scene, and I was intrigued by both him and the challenge.

eating.jpg
This is what the cover and back page our chapbook looked like. “Fruits of the Harvest Press” is just the name Paul gave to his own personal printing and distribution system. There’s no date on the publication, but it probably was in the late 1980s.

It took me a while to figure out how to approach the subject of sexuality, but I found a way to do it my way: through food metaphors. Hence the title: “Eating Disorders and Other Mastications.” My first effort was inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey neck.

something about turkey necks,
gizzards nestled in palm of hand,
stroked with oil,
moist heated
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
nibbling, gnawing–
lip-licking
fine night dining,
giving
thanks

And we went on from there, as I branched out from the food metaphors into other expressions of female sensuality and Paul responded with blatant come-ons such as this, which became one of his famous “White Boy” series:

IN QUIVERS OF INAD-
EQUACY, WHITEBOY TRIES
BUCKUP UP HIS IMAGE
AS HE STRUTS FOR ELAINE
A.   autographing pens
      strapped to hips
B.   rakish hat
      festooned with
      panty hose
C.   boots tooled
      with female in-
      initials, cellular
      calling codes
WHITE BOY TRIPS…
POLEVAULTS ON THAT
POINT HE’S TRYING 2
GET ACROSS: ARRESTED
4 SEXUAL HARASSMENT

My relationship with Paul never moved beyond friendship, although as a willing participant in Dionysian revelry, he might have taken it in that direction. But as attracted as I often was to “bad boys,” Paul was way out of my league in that arena. Plus I got to know Paul’s wife at the time, Judith Braun , a talented visual artist who really didn’t come into her own until she divorced Paul. I liked Judith, enjoyed the bohemian parties they threw, was energized by the creative energies with which they always were surrounded. Paul caused me to stretch the boundaries of my writing and my perceptions of what is acceptable to me in both words and life.

Paul loved the lore of the Adirondacks, and he spent the last five years of his Alzheimer-ridden life making miniature chairs out of tree branches. As the newspaper tribute reports: He built miniature chairs in the Adirondack twig furniture style and left them anonymously around town with a note: “I’m an orphan chair. Please take me home and put a stuffed animal or plant on me.”

I don’t know his latest wife, but I’m going to try to contact her to see if I can get one of those chairs to hold a plant in my garden and hold his memory in my heart.

Old Poems

My son-in-law found the box of my poetry that I packed up to move here five years ago. I have enough for a book. They are mostly very dark. I would call the book “Dark Matters.”

In the bottom of the box is a journal where I wrote poems about some of the lovers that moved through my life back in those disco dancing days. I take the journal to bed and read their names, remember their faces, how they danced. I remember them all except one. Brad. My poem remembers him even though I no longer do. Why is he the one I can’t remember?

I think of who I was back then. It was when I discovered Lilith in an article by Lilly Rivlin’s in the first issue of Ms Magazine. That was in 1972. That’s when it all started.

Mag #236

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Go here to see what others have written, prompted by this image.

moths

I wrote this poem a while ago, but the metaphor is the same: “moths to a flame”.

Tin Men and Fallen Angles

I am drawn to the dramas
of Tin Men and Fallen Angels,
the loose threads of their dreams
tangling too easily
with the thickets of my own.

Their gestures hint
at faded grace.
Their eyes belie
the freedom of their stride.
Their touches fire the sun,
birthing shadows
fierce as flame.

I fly into those shadows
like a bat
out for blood.

what a difference a Sharpie makes

Version 1

Version 1

Sharpie verion

Sharpie version

This is a piece of fabric I bought, thinking it would be fun to build a piece of wearable art around it. But then I noticed and hated the typical male-fantasy portrayal of warrior women — all boobs and butts and much too much skin. So I got out my Sharpies and made some editorial adjustments to their costumes.

Note the change in the message of the images, just by adding a little ink. It’s such an easy adjustment for comic illustrators to make, and it shifts the message from “sex” to “power.” The pose of the warrior on the bottom is still a problem, but at least, covered, she’s not inviting and easy entrance.

Unfortunately, most comic illustrators are male, and they keep doing what they’ve always been doing — objectifying female heroes and warriors, making them sex objects first and foremost. There are plenty of rants being written decrying that “tradition” and asking for a new paradigm, a new standard, for how female warriors are portrayed. With the new Wonder Woman movie in production, the issue of how to portray and costume a female hero is front and center.

Here’s just another example from the illustration in the piece of fabric I bought. I took these photos after I cut out the squares I want to use, but you can tell where I made the Sharpie changes. In case you can’t, check out the “before.” (I didn’t have a piece of the “before” of the other image.)

After and Before

After and Before

It just burns my (well-covered) 74 year-old butt that we are still fighting this battle to portray women, even fantasy women, with an emphasis on their abilities and power rather than their sexuality.

Mag #231

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Go here to read what others have written.

wild women

Wild Women

Wild Women wear
tight jeans, western boots,
dance in bars
’til bras melt to skin
and wolves howl the hillsides.
Wild Women step hard
enough to warp the wood,
set the blues on fire —
all the better to
eye the eyes,
rope one or not,
sing full-moon songs
until dawn.

Mag #227

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt

Go here to read the pieces about the image that others have written.

tintype 1850s

tintype 1850s

Legacy

He was the one (she whispers,
her gaze time-shifting from the photo
caressed by fingers trembling
with fearless age and old desires).

I saw him by the shrine at the crossroads,
where he sprawled beneath the ancient willow
offering newly weaned kittens
to passersby by, like me,

strolling home from morning mass,
smelling of incense and warnings
against the lure of strangers offering
mysteries beyond our simple path.

His dark eyes burned, even through
the dark glasses he wore, turning my skin
liquid, my hands yearning for the silk
of his shirt, the brocade of his waistcoat,

his lips hinting of arrogance and sweet
submission. Instead, I took a kitten,
smelling of some other incense,
redolent of mythic midnight fires.

That was not the last of him in my life.
We were each other’s secret, and we shared
each other as we shared the cat, who loved
us both in her dark feline freedom.

I wrote this poem about him back then,
before he left to seek another destiny,
following the call of his blood
and the hypnotic drift of the Danube.

River Man

There are others I have wanted,
but you flow like the river
through my out-stretched hands.
I would not catch you if I could.
Instead, I ride the edges of your tide
and let the strength of your windswell
wash the stones from my hair.

A Day of Memories

aweddingSix years ago today, my friend and once-husband died of lung cancer. This is the only existing photo of the day we eloped in 1962.

We were kind of a fire and ice mixture. Made some fascinating patterns and two great kids, but we were destined to destroy each other if we didn’t separate.

Our son published some of his writings, which are available on Kindle. In the early days, we were very competitive with each other regarding our writing/achievements. Back then, I kind of viewed us as an “F. Scott and Zelda” situation.

Only I didn’t jump into a fountain and wind up in a loony bin. I jumped out into the life I was destined to have.

We eventually were able to become good friends, and I was with him on his last day.

I often think about how much he would be enjoying the paths that our two kids have taken and the way his grandson is blossoming.

Who is Jake Trussell and why…..

Why do I have him listed with Kerouac and Kafka in a poem that I wrote when I was twenty years old?

jake TrussellEven the information about him in the last available copy of his chapbook that I just bought for $10 doesn’t tell me anything about how I might have come to know anything about him more than a half-century ago.

Apparently, he wrote back in the late 30s and 40s, and this chapbook is his only collection. The inside cover says

Only a limited edition of 1000 is being printed, and none of them will ever be available except as a personal gift from the writer.

The copy I bought is inscribed to “Doc Chandler: who appreciates cheesecake and football predictions — all the good things in life. Jack Trussell, 10-15-57.”

I was a freshman in college in 1957. Might I have heard him read his poetry on campus? Did one of my fellow pseudo-beatniks tell me about him? Did I share a beer with him one night in the tiny bar on Central Avenue in Albany where we gathered around a table in front of a bizarre mural of Buddha, Shiva, and various other inspirational myths? I don’t know why his name would appear in my poem.I don’t remember. Have no idea. “Doc Chandler” certainly doesn’t ring a bell.

About the poems in this collectin Jake says “To me, poetry was always a personal thing, written for the pure joy of writing and for no other consideration whatsoever. These poems were written at very odd moments ….and on the strangest assortments of materials (napkins, the backs of old football programs, and scraps of typing paper crammed into a beat up portable late at night on a kitchen table).”

I guess that sounds pretty much like what we were all doing back then.

Most of his poems have end line rhymes, which I rarely like. I might never know why his name found its way into one of my very early efforts. Maybe I had read this one of his; I know I would have liked this one, which he wrote in 1938:

trussell exit

when I was 20

I am looking through my pages of poetry, some written when I was in grade school, but I’ll spare you those. I wrote this when I had just turned twenty and was home from college during a part of the summer. It’s not great poetry, but it’s a great thought, I think.

on the boatbwhen I am old
I will not care for
rock ‘n roll
slopping
and jazz
bongos drums
beat poetry and
Kafka
Kerouac
Jake Trussell and
lifeguards with
sea-burnished hair
and convertibles.
but now I am young
and I know that all of these
will one day be
the cushions
on the couch of memories
on which I will repose
when I am old.

The Slop was a dance from the fifties. I had to google Jake Trussell and I still don’t remember why he was important to me back then. But I still like rock ‘n roll. And convertibles. And I’m still known to ogle lifeguards.

Mag #211

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Mag #211

Feast in the House of Simon, 1610, El Greco

Feast in the House of Simon, 1610, El Greco

It was the custom of Simon the Zealot to invite his friends to feast at his home after the sacrificial piety of every Sabbath. Of course, that meant “men only,” for we women were not allowed to participate in those raucous discussions of politics and providence. As a female in his household, my task was to keep the wine flowing as freely as did the details of their dialogues. Just by being present in that room, I learned much about the workings of men and government – the subtleties of reasoning and ruling, ideas that never insert themselves into the conversations of women. The men rarely noticed my presence; my purpose was to serve and be silent, and I used my role to my advantage.

And so it went, until the day that Simon invited to the table the man who caused a welcome disturbance at his wedding by magically changing barrels of water into barrels of wine. While I was attending to other wedding guests when this supposed miracle took place, I cannot assert that this actually happened. However, I did taste the “miraculous” wine and have to say that I found it quite fragrant.

Now, the day that Jesus joined Simon the Zealot’s table, everything changed. While the debates still agonized over the world’s politics and providence, they became less heated and more thoughtful, as the graceful gestures and soft responses of the man, Jesus, orchestrated a calmer tone. I marveled at the way he could hold the attention of every man there without even raising his voice. And there was something about his eyes, radiating a warmth and acceptance that penetrated to even the most doubtful heart.

It was not long after that Simon the Zealot left his wife and family to follow the man, Jesus – followed him out into the world of politics and provenance, joined others who did the same, all aroused by the man’s gentle promise of a world suffused with peace and harmony, fairness and compassion.

They say that there were some women who followed him, as well, for he welcomed all who welcomed him. I never left the house of Simon the Zealot, although sometimes I would dream of solemn eyes that brushed my soul and hands that graced the rest with a merciful yearning.