Sunday, January 26, 2014

Elfin Prayer Wheel

Mary Rudge

—Tom Goff, Carmichael

Alameda, a city I rarely visit, but notable
the choice occasions: young barely fledged
orchestral trumpet, I gaze on in silence and awe:
our Alameda community orchestra’s daring
the intonation and rhythm traps and hazards
in Mozart’s late D Minor Piano Concerto,
the great Lili Kraus at the keyboard: woman
unbroken in a World War Two Japanese prison camp.
Grandmotherly in a Golda Meir sort of way
till she stirs the virtuoso song from the ivory
and ebony chips. Precise advice to the ensemble.
Decades later, Nora and I meet Alameda’s
poet laureate, Mary Rudge. Must be a ways
along in her eighties, small-boned, elfin
and tiny the clichés she’s heard of herself till
they no longer register. How do we know of her?
Yes: Mary Rudge the Nora May French scholar,
digging to unearth the suicidal blonde poet
from under that San Francisco quake debris,
Modernist anathemas against rhyme and clear
sense and innocence in verse. But Mary herself:
what was she like young, did she play a willowy
empress-voiced Titania in school productions,
was she a self-sure, bell-resonant Rosalind?
If any mistook you, Mary, for Ezra P.’s music-
and-Fascism-defending Rudge, I bet they were
instantly, gently, firmly and forever disabused…
We see Mary twice: at this convocation of poets
in Modesto, again at a picnic of poets laureate,
enough for a “taste of her quality”: active in every fiber,
environmental as Jeffers, for feminism and peace
a Rukeyser, attuned to a higher pitch of Living
and Being, dancing like our Allegra, keying her steps
to an improvised drumming, a sizzling prayer wheel
of a woman. At that first meeting, Mary mentions,
with a trace of pride, her interview with the second
Mrs. Jimmy Hopper, Jimmy a Bay Area writer, kind
to Nora May in the golden girl’s last months. And we know
the sensation Donald Sidney-Fryer felt, shaking the hand
of a man who long ago shook Ambrose Bierce’s hand,
we know greatness as do those who’ve clasped eyes
on a lock of Beethoven’s dark hair in San José…


—Medusa, with thanks to Tom Goff for this poem about Alameda Poet Laureate Mary Rudge who passed away on Sunday, Jan. 19. Katy Brown's photos of Mary were taken at an Alameda dancing poetry event on Saturday, Jan. 20, the day before she died. Some of you may remember Mary's poetry, including work that appeared in Rattlesnake Review when it was still in publication. Katy says Mary was pleased with her new book, Jack London's Neighborhood ( For more about Mary Rudge's life, see

Mary's Hand
—Photo by Katy Brown