Hold It All

Category: Book of Mev

Milosz’s ABC’s

Milosz’s ABC’s
Translated from the Polish by Madeline G. Levine

Listening  last night to Natalie Long talking about Poland and mentioning Czeslaw Milosz  reminded  me of reading his ABC’s back in 2001.  Around  that time I had been reading the Cuban Reinaldo Arenas and the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano.  I was searching for a “form” to put together my scattered and varied materials pertaining to life with Mev Puleo.  All three of them provided encouragement to synthesize a form of collage/mosaic for the  telling of that story.

Turning back  now to those ABC’s, here are the alphabetical entries that fill his 313-page book.




Adam and Eve




After All




Alik Protasewicz




“What splendor!  What poverty!  What humanity! What inhumanity!  What mutual goodwill!  What individual isolation!  What loyalty to the ideal! What hypocrisy!  What a triumph of conscience!  What perversity!  The America of contradictions can, not must, reveal itself to immigrants who have made it here.  Those who have not made it will see only its brutality.” 25

American Poetry—

“Of American poets, I will always have the greatest affinity with Walt Whitman.”

American Visa


Angelic Sexuality Read the rest of this entry »

This Is What She Said So Often

 “Marko, I just want to be a good person.”
Mev Puleo


Mev Puleo, Redwood Apartment, Oakland, CA; 1995

Facing The Facts/4

Reminiscence from Sister Marian Cowan, Mev’s spiritual director

It was with deep pain that I recall the two calls in which Mev informed me of her brain tumor and subsequently asked me to be present with her in California for the surgery.  I was humbled once again to be one of the few persons Mev really wanted to bring out to be with her.  I am so grateful to have been included.  We celebrated Mass, we prayed, we waited, we walked and we waited some more.  Not until Mev had come through the surgery and we saw her sitting up and talking were we able to leave her and return to our own cities again.  

During the time that Mev and Mark continued to live in Berkeley, we chatted a little more often, and I was always filled with sadness afterward. Then they moved to Saint Louis.  This gave me greater opportunity to see Mev and visit with her.  I traveled a lot during that time, and I was also assisting another friend as she moved through cancer, so I was not able to see Mev as often as I desired. Mev’s disease continued to take its toll on her body, so that each time I saw her, I was shocked at the progress of physical debilitation.  Yet her spirit was radiant, as always.  This does not mean she did not feel all the emotions proper to her condition.  She did. And Mark and others helped her to express them.  For most of November and December, I was at last able to take a regular time to sit with Mev and assist in her care.  This was a privilege for me.

My other friend became very ill while she was in Arkansas, and she died on November 10. I gave myself a week to deal with this reality before again trying to be with Mev. I became so frustrated when each time I went to the house I was met with the note [sign on the front door] asking folks to come back later.  I felt a great urgency to see Mev and to spend some quality time with her.  Mark responded to the notes I left, telling me to come on in the next time, which I did.  This was the day that is impressed in my memory for all time. Read the rest of this entry »

Five More Chapters of Forthcoming Manuscript, Dear Love of Comrades

Alive beyond Alive
by Loyola Walter

My friend Loyola works at Mount Saint Joseph (she’s chair of the Art Department) and knew Pete Mosher. We reminisced last night and today before Pete’s funeral. Cab picked me up at Lo’s this morning and we went to Saint Clare’s Church on Cedar Avenue. Lo sent the following to me this afternoon as Cab, Jane, Allison Lind, and I were returning to Saint Louis.

I meet Cab
(when she comes to get Markie for the funeral)
and suddenly I become aware
of all the forms that Pete is taking.
There she is, a new person to me, in her dark blue dress coat and shoes,
thin delicate face with large eyes and a small serious smile “glad to meet you”
and in the muddy cold street, air silver with rain and the melting of snow
I see him, smiling,
All the forms he is now taking
All the beautiful, one-of-a-kind forms.
Alive beyond alive.


Read the rest of this entry »


Joe Brainard, I Remember

I read Joe Brainard’s classic in 2002 as I was finishing up a draft of what was published as The Book of Mev in 2005. In many writing classes I’ve facilitated since 2012, I encourage people to read and enjoy Brainard’s book, and generate some of their own recollections.

A few days ago, I thought of I Remember as I know several friends who are deeply grieving the loss of a family member. At the memorial gathering, people were doing their own oral “I Remember.” The various appointed and spontaneous speakers were awkward, riveting, candid, eloquent, stammering, goofy, hilarious. So many anguished, happy tears were generated in that space.

The loss of a young person triggers all sorts of overpowering, contradictory, messy emotions. It occurred to me that, even once a day, before, during, or after a wave of being overwhelmed, a bereft person could perform the action of writing one sentence of an “I remember” about the beloved spouse, son, brother, friend. It could take as little as 15 seconds.

In Part Three of The Book of Mev, I invoked Keats’s “negative capability” in light of the desire to remember and to forget. This is related to the book’s epigraph, “Hold it all”—grief and gratitude, laceration and exaltation, blues and bliss. Jews say about the deceased, “May his memory be a blessing.” A writing ritual of accumulating simple “I remember” particulars could be a modest way of continuing the blessing from that memorial gathering.

Festival of Kissing, Festival of Touching

Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces

Marginalia and Notes, February 2001

I read this book because, like Arenas’s The Color of Summer, it exemplifies a style and structure that I wish to adapt for my second book: short, compressed, packed chapters, thematically linked over the course of the book by numbers, with ample illustrations, mixing autobiography, journalism, “theology,” history, lyricism.

Addition to Jack Kerouac, shorter, the better. Consider, fracturing further currently long chapters.

A part of me died with him. A part of him lives with me. [What for a dedication page?]

Think of all the words I can include, with examples, in my Lexicon chapters.

Depending on layout and format, consider using little photos (of Mev, even) .

Tell my story; no, tell your story.

Do some chapters, like his The Function of the Reader, on “Reading.”

NB: keep the chapters short. 23

Chapter: Voice. And, Voiceless. Check synonyms. Read the rest of this entry »

We’ll Always Have Berkeley

Letter/3 (Dissidents/4)
The Book of Mev

In August 1995 as Mev and I were getting settled in our new home in St. Louis, we learned that Steve Kelly had been arrested for a Plowshares action in California on the anniversaries of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Steve and his friend Susan Crane went to the Lockheed-Martin Corporation in Sunnyvale, California and, inspired by the biblical call to “beat swords into plowshares,” used a hammer to beat on missiles; they also poured blood on them. They and their partners on the East Coast issued a statement, which read, in part, as follows: “The period of August 6 through 9 marks the 50th anniversary of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. . . Since August 1945 the entire world, led by the U.S. has been held hostage by nuclearism and the exponential rise of military violence. This violence permeates every level of society … Disarmament is the necessary first step to Christ’s Jubilee. We refuse to see violence as inevitable, injustice as the order of the day, and death dealing as the only way of life. Join us in this declaration for disarmament to announce the jubilee for the poor, relief for the children, and peace for us all.”

August 25, 1995
The day of your sentencing

Dear Steve,
What? No book? Are you meshugah? No way — Mev and I have already pledged that we will edit your letters and postcards, and have contacted Robert Ellsberg at Orbis for a deluxe edition. Mev’s going through her negatives of you for the appropriate cover shot.

I miss you, Steve. So you were preparing us for the big civil disobedience action by driving us over to Lockheed in San Jose — I shoulda known better with a resister like you/that I would love every action that you do/and I do, and I do, hey hey hey. Read the rest of this entry »

“I Belong to Chomsky”

The following is the chapter, “Peril,” from The Book of Mev.


Spring 1994 was blooming in the Bay Area. We participated in a Good Friday  demonstration at the Lawrence Livermore nuclear laboratory with Steve Kelly and our Pax Christi friends.  The following week, we welcomed Noam Chomsky to our campus.  On several occasions, we had both heard Chomsky fill the huge lecture hall on MIT’s campus when Mev and I lived in Cambridge in 1990-1991.

Chomsky had a slew of engagements. He was kind to include the GTU in his overbooked schedule, which has been overbooked for the last decade and   a half, as  he is constantly on the road, all over the world, giving talks.  That’s what he does best: explicate the nature of U.S. foreign policy in a way that ordinary people can understand. This has long earned him scorn and dismissal by those with the proper PhD political science credentials.  When  I interviewed him in Cambridge, he said to me, “When I enter the Harvard faculty club, you can feel the chill from  those professors.”  And even though he personally had no use for organized religion, he still had strong appreciation of the Catholic militants in Latin America whom he had met and stayed with throughout Nicaragua on a speaking tour there in the mid-1980s.  His anarchist convictions were interwoven with his personal practices:  Even though he was known world-wide as a linguist and philosopher of first rank and a radical political activist, he was eminently down-to-earth. He talked in as many monosyllables as possible because he believed that political commentators so regularly tried to make their specialty arcane and above the heads of folks.  Chomsky was different.  So, although I was delighted that he responded to my late letter of invitation, I wasn’t so surprised.  He’s a mensch, I told Mev.  Or, as my friend Angela, a Reform rabbi,  exclaimed, “He’s my rebbe!”

Read the rest of this entry »

Her Vivacity Gladdened Life

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Knopf: Everyman’s Library,  1992 

I’ve acknowledged previously the importance of Reinaldo Arenas and Eduardo Galeano  during the late 1990s into 2000 as I was trying to figure out how to write what became The Book of Mev.  Also, during that period I read with relish James Boswell’s Life of Johnson.  That biography proved a fecund  encounter, as  some of my marginalia became a “To Do” for my project…

  1. Include a letter to make the point [get another voice in there]
  1. Include some of her more creative pieces [journal or no]
  1. Force, vivacity, and perspicuity [vigor]
  1. Long footnotes of clarification at the bottom of the page
  1. Spend six hours writing, one after the other, all the topics and fragments in my Mev log

Read the rest of this entry »

That Glow, That Yes!

Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft
30 September 2000

It’s clear to me today, anyway, that my Holy Contour of Life book will be a structure like Natalie’s: short, compressed, easy to read and reread, straightforward. I can continue to play with this. Because having “finished” the new version (how many versions have I had???) in which I fractured chronology, now it seems too disjointed and contrived, so I want to break it up further, maybe chronologically, but just keep it to two pages max.

Commentaries, yes, but creatively done, maybe with lists, found shit, short portions of letters (like mine to Peter Pfersick), journals, and articles. Weave them together. Like on riches and poverty: Set it up, find one quotation from GG interview, then one from Sobrino interview, then add a further comment, then use the photos.

Here in Thunder and Lightning, Natalie is still giving her Zen advice on writing as a spiritual practice … Writing Down the Bones, III (After Wild Mind being Bones II). She’s found what works for her, she’s just giving good advice coming out of her own vulnerable, wise experiences as a writer, a meditator, a slow walker, a Jew, a neurotic. “What if Natalie Goldberg were one of us? Just a shmo like one of us?”

And I read this, quelle surprise, only for insight on how to keep going with Book of Mev, Holy Contour of Life, My Fucking Memoir, whatever it’s to be entitled. And this book moves beyond writing practice to structure, craft, finishing a project. So what I note below may be useful in this process:
Read the rest of this entry »