Monday, March 21, 2005

The Dead Redux—Or Re-Membering ronnie burk

"The reading goes on a long time. I'm remembering Ronnie, again, the way I am always remembering Ronnie. Remembering him waiting to read at the Floricanto in 'Burque ('76?), holding his hand & willing my strength into his body that is so much like a mirror of my own. Remembering Ronnie reading real poetry. Remembering Ronnie Burk singing Billie into the icy night to calm him down after being locked out on the balcony all night in his underwear by the FFCL (Founding Fathers of Chicano Literature) for being joto. Remembering Ronnie, the only person I ever sang in front of, singing every Billie Holliday song we knew, which was in the fifties, just to calm him down, just to pass her strength. Just for the word. To be.", March 15, 2005

Worst reading I ever gave, besides one of the first (74?) with Jose Montoya & Lalo, and Tony, formerly known to me as Thee José Antonio Burciaga, was a few years back at the Taos Poetry Circus. Yowza. Don't buy that tape. Too bad Glennis Redmond Sherer had to share in that. Bad night. Bad year. Bad life. Bad drive there in the car with a love who was with a love who wasn't there. Nothing but me & the dead & Dougie ("You singing land...") all the way there, bagpipes & didgeridoos & bad vibes unaired all the way to D.H. Lawrence's grave mount, which we didn't stop at. No time to rest before the reading. No time to shower, eat, which I can't do before a reading anyway. I was prepared to honor the dead, beginning with the poem to Ed (that strange, all-night talkfest, the talking we never did in real life) and ending with "Coffee" with its list of the dead droning through the mass—the list I lifted from the action email after hearing Tony Burciaga's voice, clear as day: "LOOORRRN-NAH DEEEEE!" long, drawn out in his BEST TEXAN accent, and I did, and knew. He was there. Right there at the desk. How clearly I could see his smiling cara in my mind's heart, Tony, dressed in his poet-priest outfit like he had the day we recorded the Seis Poetas video chanting "ruega por nosotros...". And I cried. I cut & pasted & read & cried because I knew then I could finish the poem, that Tony would help me finish the poem. And he did. And, who could I ever tell this to?

I wanted to honor the dead. I wanted this blog to have none of me & all of the Dead (Jerry Garcia notwithstanding). I wanted it to begin at the beginning, so to speak, with the Beuys poem, a real love sonnet, 1st & only. 1st real flesh crush (Lord George as Childe Harold notwithstanding) when I read about the Crazy Coyote locked up with All the News That's Fit to Print in a NY gallery, some homage to the extinguished Red Man, some art that wasn't protest for the end of the Viet Nam War, some breaking silence: Beuys wrapped up in news like a drunk Indian in the Tenderloin, some coyote pissing on the artifact. I got it. Besides, he was cute. And gave free classes. And he knew how to honor the dead, understood/understands how love leaves a trace more traceable than our beliefs and their trampas sin salidas (allusion to Luis Valdez, no relation to Juan). First thought, best thought, I was taught to say. I blame JR for talking me out of reading Coffee ("Too heavy") & reading from one the new books, PLAY, but it's not true. I blame me. For what I didn't say. What I wouldn't say. For not trusting the Dead enough to stay in the moment of life. For thinking. For not being *there* — there was something i was supposed to do and I didn't do it. As Peter Coyote put it, I "blew it." Amen.

It strikes me, the week I begin this blog, how few scholars cite revenge as being a major motivator of the Muse. ¿Qué no?

ronnie burk poem from his first chapbook, En el jardín de nopales, published by Mango Publications in '79:

i'm the barnacle
on your conch shell

i scream, i hate you.
c 1979 MANGO

The last word. How much of his last work was the work of the barnacle on our perfect, mythological concha, slow for its relevance to take. How much of his last work, his Act Up! work was ronnie at his best, was ronnie AppelSemilla. How much of a barnacle he and his loves were to FFCL and the crits who came out of the would-work to stuff the remains after checking to see that we were anatomically correct with our papers de México & our stinkin' badges of merit in the academium. He didn't fit the pose. Didn't fit the fur. Didn't fit the glass eyes of his last name. Didn't fit in the Fit-In suburbia of mediocrity. He was proof of the truth, least of all, the truth that Mexicans could be gay too, the greater truth, that those FFCL were gay, too. Or, some kind of stop-off at ye ole taco shop, and they breathe sighs of relief in their graves & in their beds & beads that this host-tess is not into outing. re-membering ronnie, all the huevos estrellados in his too-short life. Por vida. No masculate to de-mask. ronnie was real. ronnie was a real poet. How I knew it then, must have been, I figured, Who but a poet could sing every song Billie ever recorded all the way through? A good poet.

I'd been feeling that hand clasp for months now, some knocking on the mind, some buzzard cutting through the jazz in the bathtub. ronnie, holding my hand, passing my strength (heck, I had some to spare, "All I ever had was strength...") and ronnie, later, saying I saved his life, I kept him in his body he so wanted to leave that weekend of flower and song (the only things we humans pass) and solidarity. La Canción y Grito de Mi Liberación. I remember Joy in the same breath, same frame, a shy girl, excruciatingly so, you'd never know it. Like me. Then. "Buddy, you'd never know it/ But I'm kind of a poet/ And I gotta lotta things/ To say...".) Joy, singing (there's no other word to say this) "She Had Some Horses," maybe for the first time. Native solidarity. Life changing moments of song. It made the readings longer. And longer. Everyone taking their time. Ricardo bullying the mike but always reading last. It was about 1:30 in the morning by the time ronnie went on. He was supposed to read earlier, but kept getting bumped down the program. ("Ronnie Burk? What kind of Chicano name is that?") ronnie dressed in a white shirt with poofy, Lord Byron, sleeves reading real poetry, while the Bards of Barter banter it up at the bar. Was anyone listening? The poets were.

ronnie published poems in Caracól, Cecilio, too real not to see & hear. The others? They couldn't help but to follow suit.

i may not be Cantinflas tellin a joke with his face
or Charlie Chaplin pantomiming the death of a dictator
but i can whisper in your ear

........................................razor blades

....................................................silver daggers

.........................................& crystal beads

i can spit out a plague of lizards

.............................(army i utilize

..............................when the moon


.............................. to pull my hair out)

wait a minute officers
and let me tell you
about the things
that nest
in my pockets

and then you can load your pistols

~ronnie burk
from En el jardín de nopales
1979 MANGO

ronnie's poem doesn't obey the margins in this form
only way to express this is the empty dotted line
an unsigned (unsent) contract

And ronnie gets the last word: his poems, his collages (his best work), his incredible letters are all collected in the boxes of our deaths: I first notice him in Allen's papers at Stanford where he has his own acid-proof box & an index number. Now, in Maddox Ford, Burroughs, even Ricardo Sanchez's box. And, we don't claim him. ronnie would be pleased to read his obituary: Ronnie Burk, *surrealist poet* and activist. He's in the collections of the living, as well: DiPrima (La 'Prema) y Baraka. I would love to edit a collection of his letters. I would love for ronnie's letters to live on.

I loved ronnie. Not just because I loved his poetry. I loved the way he first brought me to In lak Ek, or, as the poet Rumi wrote it translated through the wonderful poet, Coleman Barks: "I see my beauty in you." "You are my other I."

To be. Or, not to be. It was never our question. But the answer was always thrust upon us, thrust us, we, wild injuns, that is. The ones with the wrong hair & hefty vocabularies. The fines we paid through the mouth for the right of telling the truth. A truth that was bent on being shamed out of us. The real we were denied the knowledge of, but knew, we, heroes of the New World & veterans of the war on culture—our own—in all its prismata and, subsequent, Culture Wars. ronnie, wrapped in the scofflaws of Taurus rule, could reference with the best while discussing Brecht's poetry versus his Theater of the Real & Artaud's Theater of the Absurd in relation to Teatro Campesino's El Mundo Sin Fin with its underlying Cantinflajadas and all the while expounding on the virtues of the right way to put on a pot of frijoles in order to make the best chalupas (ronnie, like most real poets, was a great cook) after he told you the entire history, virtual & etymological, of chalupas including the finer points such as at which point is a chalupa a haurache? And, he could pronounce the French and had his own mantra in Maya he used to get through the Day of the Dead. This last part I make up because it's closer to the truth than what I dis-remember about this major, influential, Chicano poet.

ronnie would know the label is ironic, as all labels are rendered, eventually, with the embossed stamp of our graves. Another thing I loved about ronnie. He spoke Irony. Celan—'All poets are Jewish"—unless they're gay, and speak Spanish or some other sintax (sic).

This blog gets blogged down in the Derridadaing stammer. I notice that Alivianate el Coco has put ronnie in The Hall of Fame. Ronnie? Dead? I remember him so often its as if he's here, and it hasn't been so many years since I was last *home* & last sleeping on his couch in some decaying Victorian flat. I don't know that he has died, but I know, too, that he was living with a "terminal illness" which I thought of, re-membering, every time our potential (I type "poetential") MFA gets discussed and I think of the term, "terminal degree" as in, what if ronnie had had a terminal degree? Would he look good in tweed?

I had been writing an entry in my head, refining it, the first prose that was to appear was to be a post, "remembering ronnie," which began, bogged down, with a remark about not misunderstanding the title, I don't think ronnie has died. But he did. The day, 2 years earlier, I am to write his entry, March 12, after the post about my mother's murder written on her birthday. March 12, Xochipilli's Feast. The orginal chalupa.

There are so many belated elegies to write...

*"Eeez not impossible.../ Eeez not impossible.../ Eeez not impossible..."

*take a slideshow interlude:
  • "The Dead"
  • or
  • "How Much is that Rainbow in the Window?"

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