I’m pretty sure yesterday, December 16th, was the birthday of the late Michael Rossman, of Free Speech Movement fame and the All Of Us Or None political poster collection (which now lives at the Oakland Museum of California).
It’s been over ten and a half years since Michael died, and I miss him and his friendship. He was fascinating, infuriating, kind, abrupt, inquisitive, eccentric, deeply political, an avid reader and writer, scary smart, a devotee of entheogens and dogs–in all ways, a true original.
Here’s Michael singing “Tom o Bedlam” with the Rude Mechanicals on Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits.
And here’s Michael talking at the Oak Tree Sit on the UCB campus in 2007, when we were all trying to save the oak grove from destruction.
We shared a tantric gazing practice that was so deep and committed that I began to refer to it as “extreme gazing.” We developed a profound and rather replicable familiarity with “subtle body sensations” or what Michael called “the gossamer realm.” In his bout with the leukemia that finally killed him, I believe these experiences helped to give him a bit of comfort. He was devoted to his family and friends and knew he would be leaving many dear ones behind, so his direct experiences of something beyond the physical body, subtle yet tangible…that might well give a dying man some hope.
I refer to Michael as a “trickster” because he was capable of mild mischief and smart ass remarks and seemed to experience, as I sometimes do, sensations of “unholy glee.” One of my favorite memories is the impromptu Bollywood style dance that we erupted into at a really dismal tantra “trance dance,” while Michael loudly declaimed a spontaneous poetic denunciation of the boring event. It was like dancing with Cyrano de Bergerac (a fictional character famous for composing a poem as he founght a duel).
Or there was the time he jumped off a double-hulled canoe in Hawai’i, stark naked, and swam to a nearby cliff and scrambled up it while the rest of us on the boat waited in astonishment. Was he ever going to come back? What had met him at the top of the cliff? We had no way of knowing what would happen next. Fortunately, he soon scrambled back down it and swam back to the boat. The captain, a Hawaiian man not happy with tourist shenanigans, was most relieved.
There was also the time he blithely asked my fourteen-year-old, “and what’s your experience with pyschedelics?” and then realized, ooops, the mom (me) was right there. Nervous laughter all ’round…
Michael’s complexity hooked me early on. And though he was in some ways a sly and dishonest lover, he became, among other things, a very reliable muse. I have written more about him than I have any other man in my life. Probably, if he were still alive, he’d cringe at that, but he was also quite capable of writing just as frankly and intimately about the women he’d known (though he never, to my knowledge, wrote about me. I escaped that fate. He had other fish to fry, and fry ’em he did.)
Perhaps my most stunning UPG moment during our gazing sessions was the realization that he was my first sexual partner ever in my first earthly body, during an early pre-human incarnation. (But I was not his first.) Such a thought had never crossed my mind before, but it slammed me good when it did.
Here is where my writing about Michael can be found:
Three Square Blocks of Berkeley–An interiew about his early Berkeley days.
Off Road Tantra (previously published in Carnal Nation, November 4, 2009).
Eros in Action (previously published in Carnal Nation, April 14, 2010).
These two poems, written about Michael, might give you an idea of some of my struggles in the relationship. The only time he directly expressed love for me was when he scribbled “but how could you not have known?” in the margins of a student study I’d done on Asperger’s Syndrome and sexuality. He was reading my draft and shredding my numbers (he was a gifted mathematician) while getting a blood and platelets transfusion. And though he hurt me quite deeply near the end, with a completely unnecessary deception, he was still a better friend than I would have imagined and I still miss him much more than I’d like to admit.
Fire-walk Stage Left
You are, my dear, at times more coy,
Than any burlesque queen,
Who struts the stage fan-dancing,
Now you see it, now you don’t.
And I’m a front row, stage-door Jennie.
With flowers at every exit
I’m fervent in applause.
Hoping for a smile (oh see me too!)
Hide and seeking
Which way’d he go?
I also know the sequined strut,
The spangled life:
The more I show, the less you see.
Hiding it all by hanging it out in plain sight, yes?
My eyes have said
Too much that made it to the lips,
But I can slip behind the curtain too,
Backstage my question is perhaps
The same as yours:
Who is brave enough
To brave all this, and love me?
(Now you hear me, now you don’t.)
So what’s it gonna be? Your props or mine?
Or do we toss ‘em all together, bonfire style,
And fire-walk to stage left,
A Poem About Paid Expertise
Hey you got those Qualified Professionals
For your sinks and pipes and CPU —
A Qualified Professional,
To fix the stuff,
That ails me too?
(It’s not the therapists who’ll do the trick.
They ain’t knowing what makes me tick!)
What I want is a Qualified Professional
For busted gut and leaky eyes.
What I want is a Qualified Professional
The kine detectin’ all kine lies.
Perhaps I need the Qualified Professional
With voodoun magic and a bag of bones.
Or maybe just a Qualified Professional
Who’ll cleanse my aura with chants and tones.
(It’s not the therapists who’ll do the trick,
They just can’t fix my kind of sick.)
If I could hire a Qualified Professional
To soothe my hurts with warm clean hands,
Perhaps I could find a Qualified Professional
To paint my grief in colored sands.
If one had Band-Aids for my heart,
As well as string and glue,
Perhaps I’d find the Qualified Professional,
To get me over you.
Rest in peace, Michael. I’m glad you’ve missed these last two years of extended misrule, but I’m sorry you’re not here to comment on them!