The Birth of Venus

Noni Howard

Introduction

Almost exactly a year ago I proposed to Noni Howard that Coracle Press publish a chapbook of her work. I selected the poems she submitted and gave them the collection a title, The Birth of Venus, all of which Noni approved. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the chapbook remained unpublished until now and now it’s too late for Noni to enjoy this publication.

Noni Howard died on October 28, 2012. Noni’s long time companion, Lucy Rodriquez, informs us that Noni had been to church that morning, she returned home and had a nap from which she never woke. It is the death that all of us want.

It is almost an understatement to say that “Noni was unforgettable”—as Lucy Rodriguez said just the other day—Noni was beyond unforgettable, she was a presence and life force that few people could forget. Carolyn Zonailo was a good friend of Noni’s, they knew each other from when both were in their 20s and she has many stories about Noni, whether in Vancouver or San Francisco. Noni was, truly, unforgettable!

When Noni visited us several times in the 1990s she was always bigger than life. The first time she had a sprained ankle, causing her to have to crawl across the floor; however, this didn’t stop her from visiting clubs in the Gay Village every evening. She was bald due to an illness, that’s why she wore a beret. She smoked cigarettes in a long cigarette holder. She wore a black leather coat that reached the floor. She drank wine from a large plastic soda container, and she would talk about her life as a poet, her adoptive parents, her hometown of Sherbrooke, Quebec, her early life in Montreal, and her present life at Half Moon Bay in California. She knew all sorts of people, including a nun that she used to visit.

When Noni was young she had an affair with Irving Layton, one of the great loves of her life, and when Noni visited us in 1997 we all went to Layton’s home on Monkland Avenue and had our pictures taken with Layton before Noni sat and talked with him, alone, for the next hour. She was also friends with Irving’s daughter Naomi who lived in California. This is just a tiny glimpse into Noni’s life; I doubt anyone will try to write her biography, it would be too complex. Noni’s biography would have to have been written by Noni, and now this is impossible. But we do have her poems that will give some idea of her talent as a poet and her bigger-than-life personality.

We have lost many poets and friends, and family members, over the last two or three years. Really, too many have been lost and this leaves one with a great sadness. And now we have lost Noni. Here, then, is part of Noni’s legacy, some of her poems published posthumously.

Stephen Morrissey

Montreal • 9 November 2012

The Birth Of Venus

a naked venus is running on the beach
through the curl
of the lips of the ocean
the spray fine wet wild prancing
galloping four legs in horse spirit
pawing the liquid sand
spray from nostrils
arms flailing.

a vision of youthful ecstasy
beyond the crashing surf
of the shoreline
now far out in the undertow.

i watch with incredible sadness
and delight
the moment held for me in
a suspension
that could break the heart.

i see her feet flare up in the foam;/
the pure joy of it
has given her the power
to live forever
until she vanishes into the mists

beyond the aching crush
of the waves
over my dream.

Summer Cottage

For Lonnie Hull DuPont

We are escaping
if only for this moment
out into the night air of stars
and heavy breathing.

We three
pile into the car and drive
through the one lane night
under the canopy
searchlights
illuminating the thickening forest
radiating the iridescence of the moon
overhead
in the quickening dark water.

the summer people are gone; the lawn
chairs sit rusting on the verandahs
and screen doors are left unlatched,
a scurry of mice and bats
between the walls.

With flashlights, towels and beer
we walk the dirt road towards
the farthest cabin on the lake
its pier a silver light
a beckoning torch between the woosh
and sigh of the shoreline.
We are all in love,
some of us with each other.

The silence deafens us with its hum
of sheer activity.
as we pass           pockets of silence
then behind our backs
they start up: crickets, frogs, loons
the mating call of ducks.

II

The porch swing screams with protest.
Naked and dripping
We entwine in a jumble against the
chill.

I want to touch you
through this thoughtless confusion
reach out to you.
It would be so easy
it would be forgiven.

I am
close to you, slipping sliding
so close I want to fall down inside you
and make you speak.

Driving the long tongue of night back
your arm touches mine
in the cold car
and I feel the softness of your skin
as if
for the first time.

9/6/96

We Leaned Over The Gunwale

We leaned over the gunwale
and took pictures like silly tourists.
It was because we were silly tourists
that we took the pictures. The bay
has been home for years
yet this is the first time
that I’ve seen it from this angle.

Maybe not this angle exactly
but in a sailboat
curving with its masts.
Soon we will see the underside
of Golden Gate bridge and on
to Tiburon or Angel Island.
A destination is planned.

Not like my life which appears
to have no particular direction
one moment passing into the next
like giddy sailors
out on a fling.

Awash with memory
the damp on my face
that is the ocean
the sea, the fine spray
whatever you want to call it

I trace the fine lines of your skin
in my wet eyes
your laughing delight      at hitting a wave
with your hand
held out.

How many more years of this moment
can I take
before
it becomes
pure joy.

Aug 1, 1998/ for L.R.

THE SAND BOY

For Irving and Aviva Layton

he’s as happy as a sand boy
she said referring to his absence of mind,
his bliss
in the all unknowing,
the moment

saved for him by the women
who take him down for breakfast
and decide what to wear for him
that day or not.

he’s playing in his element
he’s doing what he wants    she said.

And in another instant
on Hydra or Lesbos or Crete
i see him
lying naked in the sun
on the rocks overhanging the Aegean

the greek fishermans’ cap
overshadowing his eyes
as he watches the little boats
pull out from the harbour
the angles of his body
golden in the light.

Beyond the blue sky and forgotten sea
he is the sand boy
building castles
with the crushed earth of poems

finite as ash or diamonds
it makes no difference.

Soon they will all be
washed clean
at the water’s edge.

3/14-1997

There’s A HUMMINGBIRD

“THERE’S A HUMMINGBIRD OUT IN THE FRONT ROOM

AND I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT! GETUP!” and the door slams.
i’ve had three hours of sleep
and I don’t know what she means,
should I dress for battle
or an enlightenment?
whatever it is I am alone with it
and I am naked.

fifteen years ago an impulse buy
on the SKUNK TRAIN
out of FORT BRAGG netted me
a circular stained glass
image of a humming bird in flight
and a three dimensional glass image
of the bird itself.

it broke, I fixed it, hung it over the
dining room table and forgot about it
waiting until this time
for it to be a perching sanctuary
for this flittering archangel.

high in the timbers he floated
the answer to an unmasked question,
the god of Omens.

all day he battered himself
across the walls
nearly shattering his green coat
colours of acid and surprise
his ruby throat
the butterfly net
running on the energy of the sun.

i caught up to him
in the sky lights
and took him outside
where we both sat
looking at each other
beyond the fractions of seconds or hours
he pulled me into him
steady gaze
until our hearts slowed and slowed;
he turned from me and sailed
far out of sight
gone visioning him a part of me.

then before a heartbeat
he was perched on my closed hands again
looking into my changed eyes
he blessed me
and vanished into my dream.

2/08-13/08

The Telephone Call

in Playa del Carmen while
my friends were walking on the streets of
Cosumel, i stayed back in the dusty town
to make a call home.

at the little shack i waited in line
to be connected. Hundred of car batteries
were jerry rigged by cables as confusing
as DNA, their bright colors shinning in
the little sun, the two connecting
corridors filled to its’ ceilings, a maze
of someone’s thought in darkness.
Mexicans will do anything, i thought,
to make dinero,
the line lengthened under the cloudless
dim sky. in this heat it was a miracle
that their temples existed.

behind me mothers and babies stood silently,
suddenly screams and I saw a mother
whipping a child barely four years old.
she smacked him dead hard in the face
and whipped him with a little rope with balls
of lead on the frayed ends. He sobbed
violently as she tortured his small frame
so that the blood erupted from his mouth.

Spitting and crying now he has fallen to his knees
his head he covered with his arms.
how the bliss ran out of him into the sand,
shamed and terrified he offered up his only
dreams of childhood broken and lost.
The long lines of shuffling people
hardly noticed and pushed placidly forward.

my mouth dropped open, the sweat running
into it and i wanted so hard to rush
up and stop it cold, i didn’t.

the mother stopped and calmly put the whip
back into her bag, its ends dripping blood,
a grim silence stopped her screams and now
she comforted the bloody boy; the sounds
out of her lips like the cooing of birds,
a love song, a mother’s song.

the boy held onto her legs and cried his
little heart out, his blood running down her legs,
she picks him up and cradles him laughing,
cooing and stroking.

besides war,
this was the most hideous thing i had ever seen.

it was time for me to step up to the
tall box and pick up receiver.
i had forgotten why i wanted to call,
when i heard the voice on the other end
asking, to what do i owe this pleasure,
i said I didn’t know but that the sun
had come out then paid the outrageous
sum of thirty five dollars anyway.

when my friends asked me what
i had bought in Mexico
i told them a telephone call.

3/15/08

Biography: Dr. Noni Howard is a poet and writer, professor, publisher and therapist. Her company; New World Press was founded in Vancouver B.C. in 1974. Recipient of numerous grants, awards and degrees, she has been a producer for many of the world’s largest and special interest groups poetry festivals. Her books in print include “The Politics of Separation, “Almost Like Dancing”, “The Politics of Love”, selected poems; a book of Short Stories are forthcoming. Now living in California, Dr. Howard spent 21 years of her life in Quebec and was the editor for “The Mitre”, Canada’s oldest university literary publication and is an alumnus of Bishops University  where she received her first degree. The Noni Howard Prize for Creative Writing was created in her honor.

In May 2004, Dr, Howard was awarded by Frontier University, a doctorate in Social and Cultural Anthropology. In June of the same year Dr. Howard received a BA in Etudes Quebecoise from the same university. In March of 2005, she was named Principal of Frontier University and her first dirty as Principal was to boost enrollment.

April 12th, 2009, Dr. Howard was baptised into the philosophy of the Tao in the Pacific Ocean which enabled her to be a minister in the Pescadero Community Church, Pescadero, CA. Her sermons in this assembly include: “The Poetics of Inspiration and Spirituality” (Nov. 08) and “The Poetics of Saint John of the Cross.”

Note: This statement was written by Noni Howard on June 28, 2009.