by Stan Brakhage
The memories of Michael McClure which come most easily to mind have to do with natural postures which are probably those most necessary to his SPEECH, as we all do very specifically come to know his WRIT most absolutely to be. Jo Ann and Janey are often remembered as very often, and acually always, the necessities of this consideration.
When I was living in S.F. (1962) and one day sick, Michael walked downhill to the Mission District to visit me. Health came to his mind; and he spoke at length about conditioning he received at his job in Vic Tanney's Gym; but then bitterness ran ahead of his thought and led him to: "Here I am, in my thirties and internationally famous and I spent all day yesterday on hands and knees scrubbing shower stalls with brillo pads!" Then he told me of a dream he'd had the night before: "There was a thick fog; and we were in a small clearing - the middle, the very eye, of this fog. I knew there was money all round us, blowing thru the fog; but I couldn't even SEE any of it!" When he left, Jane (Brakhage) gave him a large salmon flower from the table bouquet; and I could see him from my front box-window bed walking down the slum street with this flower held directly before his face, his movements so graceful that the flower barely bobbed upon its long green stem as he walked along drawn to full height, stately (walking on the balls of his feet) and oblivious to all else, as if that flower were guide thru Hell.
I remember him thus first sight, almost a decade earlier in 1954, when he showed himself at Robert Duncan's poetry class in S.F. State, carrying a rolled sheaf of poems before him. One of those he read that night still haunts me with its image of ship masts hung from the sky.
Michael was raised in Wichita, Kansas - about 60 miles from Windfield where I grew into the earliest years remembered. Wichita was the "big city" I visited as a child, where I first saw movies in company with my uncle Herbert Dubberstein, used car salesman. I have strong feelings, and an aversion, for the town - as it then was: a "main street" of brick buildings with a cross street or two, its residential district huddled close against the surrounding flats of farmland... perhaps only one "palatial" movie-house for relief of tedium. Michael and I may have passed each other, finger or lollipop in my mouth, him maybe holding some cone aloft and saving/ savoring it. He tells me he was, as I certainly was, "a fat boy." Past age 8 I never saw Wichita again as a child. My parents divorced; and my mother moved to Denver. Michael went thru Wichita High with Bruce Conner and Bob Brana- man. All of us were to sit in a room in S.F. many years later discussing the mystery of this 100-square-mile's Kansas mid-30s hatch of such as us, and some few youngers: Ken Irby and Ronald Johnston and... And Wichita knows nothing of us. There are never any film rentals from Kansas; and several years ago I passed thru Wichita, checked bookstores and college libraries, even lectured on poetry only to find that they'd not yet quite heard of Stein, Pound, Joyce.
One night in the early 1960s I asked Michael if I could come up the hill to visit. He hesitated but then said it was okay but that he and Jo Ann were reading and didn't want to be interrupted, so that if I would like to simply join them... Jo Ann was ironing; and Michael was sitting in his overstuffed chair reading Milton's "Paradise Lost" aloud to her. When the ironing was done, we moved to the kitchen (always the room for talking) and, with no more mention of Milton, exchanged stories of our daily events - that which is mistakenly called "small talk." When Jo Ann then read her newest translation of Nerval, it was in that context... as had been Milton. I often heard them both say they could not tolerate "art-talk," the "art crowd" etc... all that which would intrude probity upon the simple complexity of experience.
The Brakhage family spent a mid-60s New Year's Eve at the McClures.' Michael greeted us from his arm chair draped with a snake, a large black boa-type which was tentatively winding itself about his neck. "He's beginning to like me," said Michael. Janey showed me her enormous black rabbit, which had stomped its babies to death three days previous. The household supported a variety of life (and death) as an adventurous - accomodation... no simple pet in consideration. Michael's scientist friend Sterling offered them many exotic creatures, most of whom were accepted - black boa the latest, a Xmas gift. When Janey and the three Brakhage kids were put to bed, Jo Ann, Michael, and Jane all went out briefly to celebrate midnight with Morton Subotnick & family. I was left to babysit. Swish swishing sounds from the back bedroom drew my attention. I'd been told the snake was harmless, but... Eight sets of pink toes along the edge of the bed, the boa's head passing back and forth in contemplation: I hurled the book at it, sent it coiling off to a far comer. When Michael returned he assured me there was no harm, the snake was just curious. He always tended to this trust, assuring me of Hell's Angels harmlessness similarly later - most of his paranoia reserved for only those creatures who appeared harmless... politicians, businessmen and the like. Anyway, the next night he was sitting alone with Jo Ann and suddenly said: "This snake is really beginning to like me: he's kissing my hand." Before she could reply ("kiss of death" running thru her mind) the snake had swallowed Michael halfway to the wrist; and he was whirling his arm slapping the full length of snake against the walls. I'd awakened New Year's morn with a cockroach in my ear, and had spent most of the day in the Mission District hospital having it removed. We talked on the phone late that night, after his return from the hospital for snake-bite treatment. I said, "Well Michael, if you'd written a play in which these events occurred to your two major characters, WHAT would you have happen to them next to balance the act?" He replied: "I'd give them an apotheosis and a diamond mine."
Late one night, saying goodbye, Michael took firm affectionate hold of my arm, and I his. I realized how seldom he'd permitted me, or anyone, to touch him. Under smooth skin his arm was as if composed of molten metal. . . like "a solid, moving thru an inferno" - as he had written.
Copyright © 1975 by Margins for the author, to whom it devolves.
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