Friday, May 07, 2010

An Imagined Life

Maureen Hurley

—Maureen Hurley, Oakland

(after Jack Gilbert's Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina)

There was no hot water at my grandmother's
country home in the wilds of West Marin
though it was the only home we ever had.
After my grandfather died, we had only each other.
The neighbors were absentee city folk.
We were alone in our bee-loud glade on the hill.
Come Saturday night bath time, she'd fill
the big oval copper pan from the indoor tap,
gravity fed from the artesian spring he'd hand-dug,
and she'd lift and slide the coalscut onto the hob,
its charred wooden handles curled like the fists
of an anxious child awaiting punishment or delight.
I'd run my hand along the green enameled ankles
and ornate curved legs of the kerosene stove
as I lay half under the glass gallon jug that gurgled
and spluttered, glugged and belched like a cozy beast.
I loved watching twin blue flames lick and rasp
the copper, combusting into fiery dragon's blood.
I anticipated the momentary slide into warmth
where she'd scrub a week's worth of grit
and hard play from my skin, never imagining
that her loneliness would bathe my psyche
until I emerged from the baptism of bath to live
her dream of an imagined life worth living.


Thanks, Maureen! Maureen Hurley was raised in the wilds of west Marin and grew into her poetic self on Sonoma County backroads. A freak car accident landed her in the urban jungle, where she lives today near Lake Merritt in Oakland. She teaches Bay Area kids poetry and art with California Poets in the Schools and Young Audiences. She was awarded many artist-in-residency teaching grants from the CAC, NEA, and regional foundations. In March she read at Sacramento Poetry Center for CA Poets in the Schools' 45th anthology, What the World Hears; she's given readings in CA, MT, MA, FL, the Bahamas, the USSR and the Netherlands. Her poems (and photos) have appeared in many journals including Transfer, 14 Hills, Life of Crime, Poet News, Poetry Now, Louisville Review, Sing Heavenly Muse, California State Poetry Quarterly, Electrum, Tight, and Green Fuse. Maureen holds a MA/MFA in Creative Writing (poetry and playwriting) from San Francisco State University and a BA in Art Studio from Sonoma State University. Read more about her at

Rattlesnake Press is proud to present Richard Hansen hosting as Maureen Hurley and Crawdad Nelson read this coming Weds., May 12, at 7:30pm at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento.

This weekend in NorCal poetry:

•••Fri. (5/7), 2-4:30pm: Calaveras Station Literary Journal Release Party presented by California State University, Sacramento at CSUS University Union, Foothill Ste., 3rd floor. Please join us as we celebrate the writers included in this twelfth edition. Food and beverages will be provided. Journals will be available for purchase at $10 and readers will be glad to sign copies. Info:

•••Friday (5/7), 6pm: SAYS SLAM FINALS will be held at the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts in Davis with HBO Def Poet ISE LYFE. Register at; $15 per person or $5 youth/students. (Also check out workshops which will be held during that day.)

•••Friday (5/7), 8pm and Sunday (5/9), 2pm: A Russian Affair: The final production of this year’s Sacramento Opera is “A Russian Affair”, two operas (Eugene Onegin and Queen of Spades) by Tchaikovsky, based on the poetry of Aleksandr Pushkin. Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento. Tickets range from $18-$130 and may be purchased at 916-808-5181 or (For more about Pushkin, click on his pic on the b-board at the right.)

•••Sat. (5/8), 12-4pm: Crocker Art Museum’s 125th Anniversary Event will include poetry readings, storytelling, flower arranging, cake decorating, an exhibition of 19th century black paper dolls, and performances by trick roper James Barrera, banjo-ologist Gordy Ohliger and Folklorico Latino de Woodland in The Ballroom at 216 O St., Sacramento—all for the low, low admission price of $1.25! Guests may also record birthday wishes and memories of the Crocker for a video project. Arrive early; there will be a big crowd! This is one of the last events before the museum closes for four months in order to move artwork into their new wing. It will re-open with another party Oct. 10. Info:

Scheduled readings:
12:30-1pm: Victoria Dalkey hosts & reads
1:25pm: Cake cutting (and singing of “Happy Birthday”)
1:30-2pm: Lawrence Dinkins hosts
2:30-3pm: Cynthia Linville hosts as Chris Olander, Catherine Fraga and James Lee Jobe read
3:30-4pm: Cynthia Linville hosts as Dennis Schmitz and Viola Weinberg read

•••Sat. (5/8), 1pm: Celebrate the spring issue of the quarterly Song of the San Joaquin at the McHenry Museum in Modesto, 402 I St., Modesto, 209-577-5235 ( This is a free event and, of course, is open to the public. Info: Cleo at

•••Sat. (5/8), 2pm: Citrus Heights Area Poets will hold a poetry open mic event in the Barnes & Noble Bookstore on Sunrise Blvd. near Greenback in Citrus Heights. Free!

•••Sunday (5/9), 1-4pm: An opening reception to meet-and-greet Artists Pete Eckert and Joe Finkleman will be held at the Davis Cemetery, 820 Pole Line Rd., Davis (, whose works will be displayed there through the month of May. The show may also be viewed during the office’s hours of 9am-3pm, Monday through Friday.

•••Monday (5/10), 7:30pm: Sacramento Poetry Center presents !X. The Sacramento City College Ethnic Theatre Workshop (now in its fifth year), with the direction of Professor Angela-Dee Alforque, integrates various forms of art (drama, music, dance, poetry, visual art) with race, ethnic and gender studies. This year, !X will present “Mis-Education Liberation.”

The goals of the Race & Ethnicity in Performance class and of the Ethnic Theatre Workshop are to develop artistic expressions of diverse experiences, encourage community development through participation in the arts and promote educational equity at Sacramento City College. !X has performed for the SCC Cultural Awareness Center &Student Center, Butch ‘N Nellie's Café, Sacramento Poetry Center, Luna’s Café, Ha-RISE-enz, Sacramento City Hall, California Dept. of Social Services, the California Dept. of Education, California Community College Chancellor’s Office, Mahogany Poetry Series, and the Crocker Art Museum. !X ensemble members include Mark “Kno Mo” Carnero, Maszaba Carter, John Castro, Amsalé Darden (Castro), Jocelyn Day, Debby Dixon, Chelsie Eugene, Victor Francis, Alicia “Lecia B” Garcia, Devon Alexandria Hazell, Akim Hurd, Jaquel Jackson, Jeremy Lim, Jacqeline Martinez, Diana Muhoro, Saidah Pires, Akash Saini, Elicia Sanchez, Essence Sellers, Tiffani “Lady Flawsy” Smith, Teddy, Denise Thompson, Ike Torres & Jose Torres II.


—Maureen Hurley

Yesterday we watched dustdevils
whipping up from the alkali flats
and deserts of Badwater and Armagosso Valley
dissipate like a maya veil toward the east,
over the mountains of Las Vegas.

The dust turned the deep cerulean sky
into a pale shadow of its former self.
We gritted silica dust between our teeth,
tasted ancient salt on our lips
and though our eyes blurred and burned,
the sunset was a spectacular flash of fire.

The next day, the poet William Pitt Root
wrote from a neighboring state
how the dust blew in from the west
dimming even the sun.

I thought of Dorthea Lang's photos
and the Saharan dust cloud visible from space.
The sharqui and the shumali sandstorms of Iraq.
The lack of rain and snowmelt. The names of wind.

In this way, I realized how everything,
even distance and time
is right on our back doorstep.


—Maureen Hurley

Summer afternoons, he'd step out
of the darkroom for a quick breath.
As he leaned against the doorjam,
he'd shove the bifocals up his forehead,
cup his hands, light a cigarette.

As he bent his head to the flame,
small twin suns reflected
on that Half Dome of his pate.

He gazed into the distance,
towards Tenaya and Cloud's Rest,
drew the smoke in deep,
his depth of field unfocused
with lens open wide.

Then he finished his smoke
flicked it into the bin and stepped back
into the shuttered darkness
to face Tenaya in the negative light.

For a moment water rippled in the pool
of memory, then closed in over that day
and sank to the depths like a stone.


—Maureen Hurley

Yesterday I told my students a story
about Gustavo's crazy cockatiel,
how Kirk the musicman tried to teach it
the opening to Beethoven's Fifth
& how it couldn't get that last chord right,
no matter how much they both practiced,
how the note always fell flat, but the bird
would say entonces, or coño, and include
all the tape recorder clicks & whirrs.

Every time I went: DA-DA DAA Dum,
the class bird catcalled and wolf whistled,
dirty danced on his perch, bopped his head,
puffed out his orange cheek patches,
and crested like a Mohican. I was
explaining how some words fall flat,
the poet's job to seek the music of words,
was a matter of practice, like doing scales.
Unfortunately, the bird got so worked up
he catcalled the entire poetry hour.

I was hoping he'd just take the Fifth
(or maybe down a fifth) and shut up
before I threatened to squeeze
his sorry yellow ass into a tequila sunrise.


Today's LittleNip:

As a housewife, I feel that if they kids are still alive when my husband gets home from work, then, hey, I've done my job.




Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento