"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in poetry (6)


Carolyn Kizer: December 10, 1924 - October 9, 2014


She was my poetry mentor, great friend and goddess.

We now live in what was once her Paris apartment, full of many of her poetry books and some of the novels she loved. I am too full of emotion to do her justice yet. 

But here is one anecdote that says everything about her: an admirer wrote her a letter, but did not have her current address, so simply wrote on the envelope: The White Goddess, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The letter was delivered to Carolyn.

Richard and I ran a poetry series with three other poets (Jeanette Clough, Jim Natal and Jan Wesley) in the late 1990s at the Rose Café in Venice. Just as we launched it, Richard and I met Carolyn at the Petaluma Poetry Walk with Jackson Wheeler. She and I fell instantly in love with each other. She was one of our first readers in the Rose series, which helped to make it a success.

Carolyn was one of the first feminist poets in America. Long before I met her, I relished her sharp, witty, clear poems, recognized in them something very close to my own taste. I loved the deep subject matter, the light tone and style of her mind and her poems.

She went to Sarah Lawrence College, which I attended for a year, studied mythology with Joseph Campbell, who was one of the writers whose books saved my life in my twenties. Most of her poems are mythological or erotic or celebrating friendship. She once told me she considered friendship more important than marriage. I said, marriage for me is more important, the romance in marriage. But there was romance in our friendship, too.

She was an editing maniac, generous, but outrageous. When Richard’s first book of poems, What the Heart Weighs, was published, he gave her a copy over dinner in Venice. When he stepped away from the table, she immediately began editing the poems (in ink in the book!). I worried about his response, but when we left her, he said, I’d be incensed if it were anyone else, but not Carolyn. The edits were minor tweaks, but all good.

When I sent my manuscript of poems, The Minotaur Dance, to her, asking for a blurb, she edited every one of them and every one was improved. And the blurb was a delight.

When she stayed with us in Playa del Rey, our cat Marley visited her in the guest bedroom. She made a huge impression on him. Not only was she as appreciative of his handsome white and gold-furred self as we, but even better she took him to bed for the night, a treat he never got from us who value our sleep. 

I cherish the books we have from writers we know. But the one with the inscription that I treasure most is Carolyn’s note to me in Cool, Calm and Collected: Poems 1960-2000

     “for beloved Kaaren,

     the best friend of my eighth decade—

     what a joy you are to me!


written in her distinctive handwriting that is as easy to read as print. (No rococo flourishes there—she was direct and clear and unpretentious in all things.)

Speaking of unpretentious, I accompanied her to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books one year. She spoke on several panels; we went to various events as audience. I remember one panel discussing poetry, in which we sat in the front row. One of the poets on the panel was a woman we both knew, a fine poet, but a rather abstruse thinker. The woman was expressing some modern, convoluted, deconstructive babble that Carolyn just couldn’t stand. We listened, growing bored, until Carolyn had had enough and shouted at the woman from the audience. I was mortified, though I agreed with her.

Carolyn was born under a Sagittarius Sun and Gemini Moon. People born at exactly the Full Moon are often visionaries. (You don’t have to take it from me; I was thrilled to read this notion long after I’d intuited it, in William Butler Yeats’ A Vision.) Those born at the Full Moon tend to be what Willy called antithetical, aristocratic, visionary, artistic, passionate not sentimental, valuing the aesthetic over the useful, solitary vision over service to mankind, humor over melodrama. That’s Carolyn.


After we were married, Richard and I used to visit Paris and stay in Carolyn and John Woodbridge’s apartment in the Latin Quarter. (He, an architect, would have preferred the sixth arrondissement, but she wanted to live in the arrondissement where Dante had once studied and taught.) Occasionally over the years, we’d overlap visits with John and Carolyn, and go stay somewhere else. John often cooked dinner, which we ate around their round black dining table. He took us to the best open air market nearby, and introduced us to the only shop we’ve ever heard of that offers excellent frozen food, Picard.

We’d talk for hours about poetry, novels, Paris architecture, people, cats, and tell stories, endless stories.

When Richard and I tired of weeping with joy every time we arrived in Paris and weeping with sadness every time we left, and decided to find a way to live in Paris, we began looking for an apartment. At the time we were staying at Carolyn and John’s apartment, so called them to let them know what we were doing after the first day of looking. John called the next day and said, It’s getting hard for Carolyn to travel. Would you consider buying our apartment?

Would we! It was exactly what we were looking for. We determined the highest we would go, they came to a selling price below which they wouldn’t go, and, voila!, it was the exact same price down to the euro. Now, all we had to do was sell our house in L. A. at the bottom of the worst housing market in memory. We went ahead with applying for a French mortgage, and it was more complicated for Americans to buy an apartment in Paris than all the other financial transactions combined in our lives. But after a year, it was done.

We never were able to host John and Carolyn here, as she did stop traveling such distances, and the early signs of her dementia became evident when we last visited her in Sonoma, before we moved here permanently in January 2011. In spite of the obstacles to communication at the end, we never stopped loving the two of them.

I will be sifting through memories for a while to remember all I can about Carolyn and our friendship. I’m rereading her magnificent Cool, Calm and Collected: Poems 1960-2000. One brilliant poem after another. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her book, Yin, but she might have won it for any one of her books. There is no one else like her, this frank, eloquent, elegant, beautiful, generous, sharp, funny goddess. A great poet, great friend, great soul. Irreplaceable.



        (Carolyn Kizer: December 19, 1924-October 9, 2014)

Moon, bright eye

in a cloud-shrouded face.

Great blue heron, I see you

sailing away.





It's Just a Kiss Away



I decided to swing by Shakespeare and Company at the beginning of my walk. I'd quickly pay for the book of poems I'd ordered from the U.S., Anna Journey's, Vulgar Remedies. But there was a crowd in front of the bookstore. The sign said Halloween Celebration of Dracula. Book Purchases after the Event. 

Ah, rats! It was already too crowded inside to enter. But here was Ben at the door, asking me if I wanted to get in. And Alex asking if I'd come by to pick up my order. Mutual appreciation: how we all love it. Alex went in and rang up the book and brought it outside to me.

I'd now heard a bit of Jacques Sirgent, of Paris' Musée des Vampires, speaking over the loudspeaker about Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. Compelling, but I needed a walk more. Maybe I'd stop by on the way home.



Halloween was in the air beyond the bookstore, too. At Place St.-Michel, two young men with guitars were playing Sympathy for the Devil. Above the fountain, Saint Michel was vanquishing the devil, with two seated dragons to either side. I remembered reading that "dracul" in Romanian means "the dragon" (drac "dragon" and ul "the") and that later the word meant "the devil."

On rue St. André-des-Arts, I passed a Greek restaurant open to the street. A man stood in his stall next to a giant hanging slab of meat, his face so red and immobile, he looked like a figure in a wax museum.

I walked for an hour, and circled back around to join the crowd in front of Shakespeare and Company. Alex and Ben sat in chairs in front of the shop, their backs to the door. Jacques Sirgent's voice was spinning strange tales.

Sirgent asked if anyone knew why Bram Stoker set the tale in London. Apparently no one did. Because, he said, it was the wickedest city in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century; London had the highest rate of women murdering their babies.



And why was that? Young women who came from the country to work as maids and nannies in the houses of the rich were raped by their employers. Because unmarried pregnancies were considered so shameful at the time, the women would give birth and flush the babies down the toilet. The women who were caught were arrested. But since it was in neither the perpetrator's nor the victim's interests that the information be published, the women were sentenced to prison for three years, and released after one year. That's crime times three: Woman raped, child murdered, woman imprisoned. Victim times three.

I looked up at the gold-framed portrait of Shakespeare above the window. A red leaf had landed on the bottom of the frame. A spider web fanned down from the roof to the top of the frame. Of course I noticed it--we'd been dusting all our bookshelves earlier that day.

Why were vampires invisible in mirrors? asked Monsieur Sirgent, and answered his own question with a question: could it be because the vampire represents the darkness inside all of us? Our own inner Dracula? And, he continued, there was a connection to the troubadour love tradition. At one time in Europe, all love relationships were sealed with the blood of the couple.



I read a few of Anna Journey's poems later that night. Here's a bloody love poem for you from her book:

Vulgar Remedies: Tooth and Salt

After extraction, a tooth is smothered

in salt and burned to stop a wild

animal from finding it. Because if


a fox gnawed it you'd grow a grey

fang and if a bear chewed it you'd wear

its yellow snaggletooth. You've taken me


to the exhibit called Vulgar Remedies: Belief,

Knowledge and Hypersymbolic

Cognition in L.A.'s Museum


of Jurassic Technology. We'd married three

weeks earlier on a seaside cliff. If

a person doesn't burn


her childhood teeth, I read on the exhibit's

glass case, she's cursed to search for them

after death in a pail of blood. Suddenly,


I knew what I should've written

in my wedding vow: how forever feels

too vague a word, that I'll stay


beside you until we rise in the shine

of our fangs, our silver pails

filled with blood. We'll recover


all we've lost: our bodies, the blue-slate

roof of our home, each frail and traitorous,

old, unsalted bone.



Poem (c) 2013 by Anna Journey.



A Rimbaud Kind of Day


Rimbaud by Ariane Pasco/Nice Art


Sunday was a Rimbaud kind of day.

In the morning I posted an aerial image on Facebook of l’Île de la Cité and the Seine in Paris that my friend Anne Hines Reese had posted earlier. This worldwide Facebook interconnectivity is such an astonishing thing. You can participate in a salon that reaches beyond your city, beyond your country, beyond your continent, and discuss whatever subjects fascinate you, with like-minded people.

So I shared this beautiful aerial photo of Paris that morning, and was struck by how much the island looks like a boat from this angle, which made me think of Rimbaud’s poem, “Le Bateau Ivre.” We have a book of his poems in our apartment, but I didn’t have the book at hand in my studio, so went online, looked up the poem, found an English translation, and posted just one stanza below the photo.


"What a Surprise," street art by Kashink


I think a lot about time, especially the spirit of time. Sunday: the Sun’s day: Apollo’s day: a good day for entertainment and enjoyment, a good day to take a break from work. 

Richard and I set out for a long walk from our fifth arrondissement through the fourth through the eleventh to the twentieth. It was a sunny day, bright blue sky, and all along the rue de Charonne we passed newly pasted-up work by one of our favorite street artists, Kashink. Each of her double-eyed colorful heads had either a number or an image on the brow. Richard photographed each one and I wondered aloud if the numbers corresponded to street addresses. We checked, but no. A mystery. We’d have to ask Kashink.



At the corner of rue de Charonne and Boulevard de Charonne, I had a drunken boat conversation with a local clochard wearing a plush cheetah as a stole (C'ést votre petite amie? Oui! Et elle est féroce. Oui! he roared), while Richard shot his portrait, then paid him €2 for the privilege.  

Richard took me to a wonderful old brick factory building on Villa Riberolle, an alley that dead ends at Père-Lachaise cemetery, where artists had either squatted or leased space. We’d considered renting one for a studio that doubled for photography and writing, but I needed something closer to home, or I’d never have used it.


In the Name of Love #4, by Roswitha Guillemin


We walked on to a squat on rue Stendahl to catch the closing day of Walls and Rights (Richard had photographed opening night), an exhibition filled with the work of street artists in support of gender and sexual equality, and AIDS research. We talked with three members of the seven-member art collective, No Rules Corp. And to two artists, Roswitha and Christine, who were long-time friends who have been sending each other postal art for 20 years or so.


Ariane Pasco of Nice Art


Then an artist named Ariane (my favorite mythical figure) walked up to me and handed me a collage with a portrait of Rimbaud on it. A gift! Astonishing! It was black, white and gray with rosy red marks and torn on the edges and I instantly loved it. And at the same time was struck with wonder: I’ve never posted a poem or even a line by Rimbaud on Facebook before. How very odd that the only day I happened to do this, Ariane should give me her collage with the poet’s face on it. I exclaimed over this to her, and to Roswitha and Christine.

Roswitha told me that one day she went to a Serge Gainsbourg event in Paris, and that same day, an envelope with an image of Serge Gainsbourg arrived at her house from her friend Christine. They’d never discussed the French actor/singer. It was just…

What do you call this? The word synchronicity doesn’t seem to capture its magic. I’m looking for a new word to describe this phenomenon, the “aha!” moment that happens when it shows itself so clearly and deliciously. 

I asked the organizer of the show if she had some cardboard that I could place around the collage to protect it on our long walk home. Yes, she said, and brought me a roll of cardboard, which I wrapped in a clean trash bag.



But first we stopped at a restaurant at Place Gambetta. As we sat eating a Caesar salad and onion soup, I looked up at the side of the entrance. There, in big letters: Absinthe Traditionnelle Rimbaud.

Okay, let’s just call it magic.

Later at home, in a phone call with my brother, Jon, I told him the story and he described a similar experience of what he calls “the connectivity of the universe,” with his green building company and community. Then he proceeded to answer a question that Richard and I have in a way you might call lightning (an idea so brilliant I can’t talk about it until we make it happen)—lightning, yes! And magic.   

I think I’m going to name days from now on.

Sunday was Rimbaud Day.



The Drunken Boat

by Arthur Rimbaud,
translated by Rebecca Seiferle, editor, The Drunken Boat


As I descended impassible Rivers,

I felt no longer steered by bargemen;

they were captured by howling Redskins,

nailed as targets, naked, to painted stakes.


What did I care for cargo or crews,

bearers of English cotton or Flemish grain—

having left behind bargemen and racket,

the Rivers let me descend where I wished.


In the furious splashing of the waves,

I — that other winter, deafer than the minds

of children — ran! And the unanchored Peninsulas

never knew a more triumphant brouhaha.


The tempest blessed my sea awakening.

Lighter than cork, I danced the waves

scrolling out the eternal roll of the dead—

ten nights, without longing for the lantern's silly eye.


Sweeter than the flesh of tart apples to children,

the green water penetrated my pine hull

and purged me of vomit and the stain of blue wines—

my rudder and grappling hooks drifting away.


Since then, I have bathed in the Poem

of the Sea, a milky way, infused with stars,

devouring the azure greens where, flotsam-pale

and ravished, drowned and pensive men float by.


Where, suddenly staining the blues, delirious

and slow rhythms under the glowing red of day,

stronger than alcohol, vaster than our lyrics,

ferment the red bitters of love!


I know heavens pierced by lightning, the waterspouts

and undertows and currents: I know night,

Dawn rising like a nation of doves,

and I've seen, sometimes, what men only dreamed they saw!


I've seen the sun, low, a blot of mystic dread,

illuminating with far-reaching violet coagulations,

like actors in antique tragedies,

the waves rolling away in a shiver of shutters.


I've dreamed a green night to dazzling snows,

kisses slowly rising to the eyelids of the sea,

unknown saps flowing, and the yellow and blue

rising of phosphorescent songs.


For months, I've followed the swells assaulting

the reefs like hysterical herds, without ever thinking

that the luminous feet of some Mary

could muzzle the panting Deep.


I've touched, you know, incredible Floridas

where, inside flowers, the eyes of panthers mingle

with the skins of men! And rainbows bridle

glaucous flocks beneath the rim of the sea!


I've seen fermenting— enormous marshes, nets

where a whole Leviathan rots in the rushes!

Such a ruin of water in the midst of calm,

and the distant horizon worming into whirlpools!


Glaciers, silver suns, pearly tides, ember skies!

Hideous wrecks at the bottom of muddy gulfs

where giant serpents, devoured by lice,

drop with black perfume out of twisted trees!


I wanted to show children these dorados

of the blue wave, these golden, singing fish.

A froth of flowers has cradled my vagrancies,

and ineffable winds have winged me on.


Sometimes like a martyr, tired of poles and zones,

the sea has rolled me softly in her sigh

and held out to me the yellow cups of shadow flowers,

and I've remained there, like a woman, kneeling . . .


Almost an island, balancing the quarrels,

the dung, the cries of blond-eyed birds on the gunnels

of my boat, I sailed on, and through my frail lines,

drowned men, falling backwards, sank to sleep.


Now, I, a boat lost in the hair of the coves,

tossed by hurricane into the birdless air,

me, whom all the Monitors and Hansa sailing ships

could not salvage, my carcass drunk with sea;


free, rising like smoke, riding violet mists,

I who pierced the sky turning red like a wall,

who bore the exquisite jam of all good poets,

lichens of sun and snots of azure,


who, spotted with electric crescents, ran on,

a foolish plank escorted by black hippocamps,

when the Julys brought down with a single blow

the ultramarine sky with its burning funnels;


I who tremble, feeling the moan fifty leagues away

of the Behemoth rutting and the dull Maelstrom,

eternal weaver of the unmovable blue—

I grieve for Europe with its ancient breastworks!


I've seen thunderstruck archipelagos! and islands

that open delirious skies for wanderers:

Are these bottomless nights your nest of exile,

O millions of gold birds, O Force to come?


True, I've cried too much! Dawns are harrowing.

All moons are cruel and all suns, bitter:

acrid love puffs me up with drunken slowness.

Let my keel burst! Give me to the sea!


If I desire any of the waters of Europe, it's the pond

black and cold, in the odor of evening,

where a child full of sorrow gets down on his knees

to launch a paperboat as frail as a May butterfly.


Bathed in your languors, o waves, I can no longer

wash away the wake of ships bearing cotton,

nor penetrate the arrogance of pennants and flags,

nor swim past the dreadful eyes of slave ships.



Le Bateau Ivre

Comme je descendais des Fleuves impassibles,
Je ne me sentis plus guidé par les haleurs :
Des Peaux-Rouges criards les avaient pris pour cibles
Les ayant cloués nus aux poteaux de couleurs.

J'étais insoucieux de tous les équipages,
Porteur de blés flamands ou de cotons anglais.
Quand avec mes haleurs ont fini ces tapages
Les Fleuves m'ont laissé descendre où je voulais.

Dans les clapotements furieux des marées
Moi l'autre hiver plus sourd que les cerveaux d'enfants,
Je courus ! Et les Péninsules démarrées
N'ont pas subi tohu-bohus plus triomphants.

La tempête a béni mes éveils maritimes.
Plus léger qu'un bouchon j'ai dansé sur les flots
Qu'on appelle rouleurs éternels de victimes,
Dix nuits, sans regretter l'oeil niais des falots !

Plus douce qu'aux enfants la chair des pommes sures,
L'eau verte pénétra ma coque de sapin
Et des taches de vins bleus et des vomissures
Me lava, dispersant gouvernail et grappin

Et dès lors, je me suis baigné dans le Poème
De la Mer, infusé d'astres, et lactescent,
Dévorant les azurs verts ; où, flottaison blême
Et ravie, un noyé pensif parfois descend ;

Où, teignant tout à coup les bleuités, délires
Et rythmes lents sous les rutilements du jour,
Plus fortes que l'alcool, plus vastes que nos lyres,
Fermentent les rousseurs amères de l'amour !

Je sais les cieux crevant en éclairs, et les trombes
Et les ressacs et les courants : Je sais le soir,
L'aube exaltée ainsi qu'un peuple de colombes,
Et j'ai vu quelque fois ce que l'homme a cru voir !

J'ai vu le soleil bas, taché d'horreurs mystiques,
Illuminant de longs figements violets,
Pareils à des acteurs de drames très-antiques
Les flots roulant au loin leurs frissons de volets !

J'ai rêvé la nuit verte aux neiges éblouies,
Baiser montant aux yeux des mers avec lenteurs,
La circulation des sèves inouïes,
Et l'éveil jaune et bleu des phosphores chanteurs !

J'ai suivi, des mois pleins, pareille aux vacheries
Hystériques, la houle à l'assaut des récifs,
Sans songer que les pieds lumineux des Maries
Pussent forcer le mufle aux Océans poussifs !

J'ai heurté, savez-vous, d'incroyables Florides
Mêlant aux fleurs des yeux de panthères à peaux
D'hommes ! Des arcs-en-ciel tendus comme des brides
Sous l'horizon des mers, à de glauques troupeaux !

J'ai vu fermenter les marais énormes, nasses
Où pourrit dans les joncs tout un Léviathan !
Des écroulement d'eau au milieu des bonaces,
Et les lointains vers les gouffres cataractant !

Glaciers, soleils d'argent, flots nacreux, cieux de braises !
Échouages hideux au fond des golfes bruns
Où les serpents géants dévorés de punaises
Choient, des arbres tordus, avec de noirs parfums !

J'aurais voulu montrer aux enfants ces dorades
Du flot bleu, ces poissons d'or, ces poissons chantants.
- Des écumes de fleurs ont bercé mes dérades
Et d'ineffables vents m'ont ailé par instants.

Parfois, martyr lassé des pôles et des zones,
La mer dont le sanglot faisait mon roulis doux
Montait vers moi ses fleurs d'ombre aux ventouses jaunes
Et je restais, ainsi qu'une femme à genoux...

Presque île, balottant sur mes bords les querelles
Et les fientes d'oiseaux clabaudeurs aux yeux blonds
Et je voguais, lorsqu'à travers mes liens frêles
Des noyés descendaient dormir, à reculons !

Or moi, bateau perdu sous les cheveux des anses,
Jeté par l'ouragan dans l'éther sans oiseau,
Moi dont les Monitors et les voiliers des Hanses
N'auraient pas repêché la carcasse ivre d'eau ;

Libre, fumant, monté de brumes violettes,
Moi qui trouais le ciel rougeoyant comme un mur
Qui porte, confiture exquise aux bons poètes,
Des lichens de soleil et des morves d'azur,

Qui courais, taché de lunules électriques,
Planche folle, escorté des hippocampes noirs,
Quand les juillets faisaient crouler à coups de triques
Les cieux ultramarins aux ardents entonnoirs ;

Moi qui tremblais, sentant geindre à cinquante lieues
Le rut des Béhémots et les Maelstroms épais,
Fileur éternel des immobilités bleues,
Je regrette l'Europe aux anciens parapets !

J'ai vu des archipels sidéraux ! et des îles
Dont les cieux délirants sont ouverts au vogueur :
- Est-ce en ces nuits sans fond que tu dors et t'exiles,
Million d'oiseaux d'or, ô future Vigueur ? -

Mais, vrai, j'ai trop pleuré ! Les Aubes sont navrantes.
Toute lune est atroce et tout soleil amer :
L'âcre amour m'a gonflé de torpeurs enivrantes.
Ô que ma quille éclate ! Ô que j'aille à la mer !

Si je désire une eau d'Europe, c'est la flache
Noire et froide où vers le crépuscule embaumé
Un enfant accroupi plein de tristesses, lâche
Un bateau frêle comme un papillon de mai.

Je ne puis plus, baigné de vos langueurs, ô lames,
Enlever leur sillage aux porteurs de cotons,
Ni traverser l'orgueil des drapeaux et des flammes,
Ni nager sous les yeux horribles des pontons.





Our Friend Daniel, in the Lions' Den


Our good friend, the poet Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, is a frequent contributor to the Paris Play dialogues that accompany each post. I've known him since we lived in Berkeley in the late sixties, and am sorry to hear news of his health worries. At the time of this post, Daniel just entered the hospital for the first of three chemo and 35 radiation therapy sessions. The prognosis is good, and his family and friends are hopeful.

This post, which contains his recent poem, is a prayer for Daniel, a thank-you for his contributions, and request for our friends all over the world to offer up prayers to him, whatever your religion, or lack of same. Atheists, agnostics, pagans, all can play.




The lions' arena

is full of medical equipment


The roar of the lions is the

great radiation ring whirring


The crowd leaning forward with

thumbs at the ready


wears chemotherapy gowns


It’s a hot day

and a restless hum is in the air


The masks of everyone’s faces

are beginning to slip


As we enter naked and

shackled the


crowd is hushed


The outcome is anyone’s guess

and God’s to toss into the


arena’s dust we’ve

been since birth


waiting for this moment’s



There’s no signal to start

all is already closing in


A star glimmers overhead

for each of us


wanting the best


Our hearts have already

entered paradise


and come to



5/28/12 (from Down at the Deep End, in progress)


Photo (c) 2012 Malika Moore




The Magic Thread

I once walked on the beach at Playa del Rey with the poet, Jack Gilbert. He talked about the difference between poetry and prose. Poetry has an element of magic, he said.

The world is a magical place. You don’t need the Surrealists to tell you that, though we do love works of art like Andre Breton’s Nadja that dramatize this web of connections beneath the surface of reality.

This magical synchronicity seems to happen more with certain people than others. Listen to what happened when Willis and Sarah came to Paris a few months ago this summer:



For you to fully grok these coincidences, I have to first introduce you to the dramatis personae—six people, many, but not all, of whom already knew each other. They are:

Willis, poet and translator.

Sarah, Willis' wife, expert on, and author of, books on Chinese furniture, architecture and art.

John: food writer and cartoonist.

Varda: psychologist.

And Richard and I, poetic and mythical string surrealists.



Six people who have all spent varying amounts of time in Paris:

Willis first came to Paris in 1948 for a year at the Sorbonne. He knew The Father of Dada, Tristan Tzara. Willis wrote poems then, and writes poems now—some forty or so this Paris trip, during the couple of months he and Sarah spent in July and August.

Richard and I have been coming to Paris individually for years, and together since our honeymoon in 1997, and now live here.

John was in Paris for two months this summer, as he was last summer, when we introduced him to Varda, who’s lived here since the ‘90s.

(The thread goes back further, but more on that later.)

Richard and I were to meet Willis and Sarah for café at Les Deux Magots. When we arrived, there were no tables for four outside, so we settled in at two tables in the glassed-in section between the sidewalk café and the interior, with a view of the street.

We arranged the tables so that they would have the best view, which is what you do with friends. But until they arrived, we’d sit facing out, in order to spot them.



Who should we spy but John, who happened to stroll by and sit down at a table near the entrance. This spot has special resonance for us. It’s where we drew the picture in our Dream Book two years ago of our plan to move to Paris, back when it seemed a mirage.

Richard tapped John on the shoulder, and invited him to join us. John sat down with us (surprise! We’d never bumped into each other in Paris before.)

A few minutes later, Willis and Sarah arrived.

I’d last seen Willis at an Eco-poetry festival that Richard and I had produced at Ballona Wetlands, where Willis read his poems. Richard had seen him more recently in the Bay Area where they began their quest for abandoned shoes chronicled in an earlier post.

I hadn’t met his wife, Sarah, yet. She was shy and graceful, an Asian art historian in pearls.

Though in his 80s, Willis has the zest of a young boy. We introduced him and Sarah to John, who happens to live most of the time right near them in the Berkeley-Oakland hills.



We ordered drinks. John was only able to stay with us for fifteen minutes, he said; he was meeting our mutual friend, Varda, for dinner.

“Varda,” said Willis. “A girl named Varda broke my heart when I was 10 years old. I kissed her, and the next day she brought me an envelope, which I opened with excitement to find another envelope, and inside that was another one, like Russian nesting dolls, and finally in the center… nothing.” He mimicked being crushed. “So I knew my love was hopeless.”

We knew that Willis had lived in New York City as a child, which would have been more than seventy years ago.

“This Varda lived in NYC,” I said. I felt a thread pulling taut.



He mentioned her last name.

I had traveled in Vietnam with her, and had learned her maiden name. “It’s the same Varda!” I exclaimed.

All of our mouths fell open. What were the chances that John would walk by, stop at Les Deux Magots before dinner, join us and Willis and Sarah, mention within fifteen minutes the name of the friend with whom he was having dinner, and that she would be Willis’s first (though unrequited) love, whom he hadn’t seen in over 70 years? 70 years bridged in fifteen minutes.



John was flabbergasted.

But we were about to go out of town to a friend’s wedding. “Please, please wait for a few days to have the reunion—we’d love to be there!” we pleaded.

Later we learned that John was so excited to tell Varda the story that he turned it into a game of “This is Your Life” over dinner. At first she didn’t recognize Willis’s name, then suddenly the memory of a T-shirt that Billy wore broke through.

But in spite of John’s request, Varda couldn’t wait to have the reunion.



We were disappointed, since we had an overwhelming desire to see this magical thread that extended from us to Willis to John to Varda and back 70 years in time to another continent--a Paris play!--reach its dramatic fruition.

But we heard about it from John.

Later, musing on the thread connecting us all, I thought about its further reach.

I remembered the night in Paris that Richard and I arrived at our apartment, anticipating that the renovation would be complete, and discovered that all the walls had been painted gray-green, which gave us the feeling of being a couple of peas in a bowl of pea soup.

We had to move into a temporary apartment on rue du Bac, while our apartment was being re-painted. Now our plans to begin furnishing the place were so delayed, we couldn’t possibly finish it in the time we had.

We sprawled on two couches in the rue de Bac apartment, feeling depressed. (Oh, you poor things, stranded in the 6th arrondissement in Paris.)



Let’s call Connie, Richard suggested. And we did. We had never met her, but my friend, Carol, had been urging us to meet for several years.

Connie invited us to join her and several friends in one hour for a film and dinner. It was a Ronald Colman film, based on Oscar Wilde’s play, Lady Windermere’s Fan.

More synchronicity! We happened to live in the beach shack Colman once owned in Playa del Rey. That night, we met Connie, Susan, Diane and Varda all for the first time.

Connie was the cousin of a good friend from my years in Santa Fe. I’d met Carol one night at a restaurant where I was reading a book of poems by Denise Levertov. She greeted me, and I soon joined her poetry workshop.

The thread that connected Carol and me was poetry.

The thread that connected Willis and Richard was poetry.

And the thread that connected Richard and me to John and Connie and Varda and back to Willis and Sarah was the poetry of the universe.