Julia Vinograd died at age 75 on December 4, 2018. (Coincidentally, my mother entered the world 101 years ago on the same date.) Vinograd was recognized in 1985, when she won a Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award for The Book of Jerusalem, which is how she first came to my attention (I have a copy of the book on my poetry shelf). She was called “the bubble lady” in Berkeley, as as she was known for blowing soap bubbles on the street—something she learned diffused tension and calmed people during the turbulent period of the late 1960s.
I found it interesting in Tom Dalzell‘s obituary of her to note that other poets she cited as influences on her work also influence my own. Her poetry influenced my own, and she slipped into a couple of my own pieces—epigraphs to a poem and an anachronistic cameo in a work of flash fiction. The event in the flash occurred in San Francisco in 1967, but according to her obituary, she first started using the bubbles in 1969—but she was in Berkeley in 1967, so why not take some poetic license?
I wish I had had the chance to meet her in person, but I am grateful to have her poetry. I offer both my poem and flash fiction here, to honor her memory with her presence in them.
Go forward, dear poet and Bubble Lady. New adventures await. May your bubbles bring peace wherever your soul now travels.
(A selection of Julia Vinograd’s current books is available from Zeitgeist Press.)
In the beginning…
Jerusalem is weeping, all temples shake in that sudden storm… —Julia Vinograd I As our minds turned to words the bowl you spun and placed on the mantle shattered— light spilled everywhere chaos turned on order (but I forget how it went, now)— pains? and doubts? loud! voices shouted across empty rooms (borders) we still strain to fill with remnant shards— (something like that) Shadow gave shape and definition to every thing it touched naming the light in harsh accents as it played along the edge of white-gold rings We sought a new urn where we could place our ashes— (I intone)— and desired sparks to ignite old passions Grey-grit drudge of laundry room kitchen sink garbage pail lawn clippings scraped paint condensed into doubt shouts inertia two sparkling flames and shades of memory that slips like drips of water from a leaky faucet evaporate down the drain through the grease- and hair- clogged trap on their way to the sewer. Now we piece a pot together as though it could be whole and wear baggy clothes in place of revery. II This dazzling street corner, then, is where it all begins; you and I walk down different sidewalks, along right-angles toward sunrise and sunset, north pole and south. Some fly buzzes around my ear, you slap a mosquito because we no longer believe in purple candles with proud intensity, and have stopped discussing with any sincerity the form of oak trees, or tomorrow. We just pay the bills today, and to our credit keep interest in something or other. In this case, we grind grain and wear millstones and pretend we have some deep injury or insult which overshadows simple flight To jobs and play and children and marriage and society to greed and avarice and lust and melancholy we dedicate our lives in earnest transition from spark to ash— (I swear) I live this death with you. but we all know that these words lie to the starving child in war-torn Jerusalem each child’s tear holds a bit of the shattered pot and remembers the light we have extinguished in our haste to turn away Jerusalem is weeping, listen with your blood. —Julia Vinograd
In the Beginning originally appeared in Drash Pit, January 2013.
Time slows as light escapes and shadowed night falls over her face. Waves glitter moonlit sonatas in soporific rhythms of heart beat, lost sleep, then run deep in memory. Wet sand shines. The malt whiskey-mellow mood soaks into wind whispering patterns of hush, hush, hush. The bearded woman wishes for her nomadic life, no one’s wife wishes as fervently. Neutralized like lost neutrinos whose loose cable sped them beyond light, she floats in her beach bar chair, feet digging dry, warm sand. Dinner din rises, falls, rises, falls from inside and outside, all around her the social groupings of ritual meeting, eating, drinking, mating. This world whirls faster through space than she can comprehend. Physics unravels the surrounding universes. Night fall, an illusion. It rises up in the shadow of the earth around them. Out beyond shadow or illusion, light remains. Moon reflects evidence, an occasional passing satellite agrees, the spots of planets, if she could recall which and where, concur. Time measures itself in movement through space while flying particles imagine themselves still. Like her smooth-faced lover who so engaged dance that he seemed still, the world flowing around him impossibly in motion. He did move. Into her life. Into her house. And, now, out of it. Gone. Like the hitchhiker long ago, and the man with the long ponytail before him. Like 1967, the Summer of Love finished and gone. She stood on a street in the Haight one day, watching people. Then she went to Golden Gate Park for the funeral. Men, or probably boys from her current perspective, waved top hats, wore odd clothes from other eras, bright clothes tie-dyed last week. Women, or likely girls like her, showed scads of skin, tie-dye coverings, with vintage wear mixed and matched, furs even. Everyone strung out with beads. Dress-up days. Long flowing hair. Afros. The coffin hand-painted, a sign on the side: Summer of Love. Behind it, the corpse of Hippie. The Diggers dug it down to the grounded burial plot, tried to bury it next to money. Hippie had died, they said. Killed by the media. Overexposed and misrepresented. Time covered the funeral, photo-spread opportunity. Maybe the counter culture period began here, or perhaps freaks freighted feverish transition into then. Escapades of escaped expression extended from happenings into mediated madness; Hollywood and Madison Avenue caught the wave and surfed into the scene with conspicuous desire for consumption. She watched the mock funeral laugh at itself and joined in; Julia Vinograd blew bubbles in the procession. Someone said Ginsberg had come, but not that she saw. A boy on stilts walked in the funeral, from the funeral into her life. She circled him on the street, he bent down, handed her a joint. Smoke and mirrors present, multimedia wonderment, diamond dream reflection, ghost stories and revelations. Rainbows refracted from his prism glasses. Nothing near but naked skin and slippery sweat. They swam at Muir Beach. They meandered or stumbled through fairytale-fogged redwoods. One day, he drifted into the riptide and floated down to LA. She climbed a tree and joined a commune. Rumors reached out to her, reveling in revelations that he followed the Dead around the world, stilt walking the crowds and selling on the side. Beach bar community buzzes, bees making honey. She follows the flower trail out of the whiskey haze and picks her path home. The gully crossed, she winds her way under the wind, tight into the pattern now, checkerboard laid bare, check and mate. Matter never quite coalesced from the rambling energy randomly dominating her. She makes her way into the place, a sort of shelter sorting her out near the beach but away from everything, equidistant from the sun. Shaking dinner from the kitchen, she eats what she wants and no more. Perhaps that is the pattern, she reflects. Then she swims into sleep on the sofa.
@2018 Michael Dickel