Carol, !PRESENTE! A Report on the Event, by David Joseph

July 13, 2009


Carol Tarlen,   1943-2004

Carol Tarlen, 1943-2004




The Labor Fest program highlighting Carol’s work came off as quite a success Friday July 10, 2009 at Modern Times book store in San Francisco. Readers included Jeff Goldthorpe, myself, Louise Nayer, Sarah Menefee, Leslie Simon, Nellie Wong, Marcus Duskin, Christy Rodgers, Phyllis Holliday, and Erica Horn, and who am I leaving out? I read “Erasing Borders” from the screen of my laptop from the file of the manuscript of “Fire: Collected Poems,” as well as my Foreword to the book. Alicia was unable to be there, because she was ill, and Derek was unable to be there, because he was in the middle of a video shoot.

“Carol, presente,” as Christy said, feeling her presence at the event. I thought she could have been with us, but would have had one ear listening to the Giants game at the San Francisco ball park where Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no-hitter, the first in 33 years for the Giants at home, a nearly perfect game except for only one error, with a score of 8 to 0. Sanchez joined a club as the 17th member of the Giants in their 126-year history going back to the 19th century to pitch a no hitter.

Let’s see. What are some of Carol’s books? one book of poetry, or several volumes, depending on how you cut it and slice it. She wrote three books of fiction, “Charity’s No Substitute for Love,” “Letter from an English Prison,” and the next one I’ll be starting on soon tentatively titled “The Terrorists.” She also wrote a children’s book called “Pizza Pete, Jewel Thief Kate, and the Underground City.” Leslie saw me afterward, and she’s still holding out the possibility of a 50-page book or more of poetry published at City College of San Francisco. Jeff will be using the list serve and the blog to promote the possibilities for publication for Carol’s work.


About the Author:  Carol Tarlen had her poetry and prose published in literary journals (Ikon, Exquisite Corpse, The Berkley Poetry Review, Sing Heavenly Muse, Hurricane Alice, Poetry USA) and in three anthologies:  Calling Home: Writings of Working Class Women (Rutgers University Press);Liberating Memory (Rutgers University Press); and For A Living (University of Illinois Press).  In 1994, she was the first place winner in the San Francisco Bay Guardian Poetry Contest.  She was active for many years in labor, peace, and homeless advocacy groups.  Ms Tarlen died in 2004.


While Watching The Clock At Work, I Contemplate The End of Entropy, by Carol Tarlen

July 6, 2009

And what will the rapture look like?
Will files dissolve into dust devils
and swirl off my desk
leaving piles of ashes beside the phone?
Will invoices melt in the xerox?
Will I have time to fax the kidney of a bat
to an organ bank
and demand an immediate finder’s fee?
Yes! And my computer will refuse to backspace;
I will scatter my typos like bones,
while my immediate supervisor and the CEO
nip at my heels like a pack of half-dead dogs.
I will eat the appointment calendar for lunch,
and, in a bulemic fury,
toss it down the office toilet,
dreams of corporate mergers
swimming with sewer rats.
Oh orgasmic ecstacy!
Oh joyous rain falling on my aching skin!
I am making a personal phone call to Gabriel,
deleting the memories of a thousand machines,
ripping the chains from my ankles,
kicking off my properly attired one-inch heels,
my bare feet dangling delicately
above my bulletin board
as I gloriously rise to paradise
and join the angels liberation front!

Marxism and Margaritas, by Marcus Duskin

July 6, 2009

I get to the rally late.  The procession of signs and crosses down Mission Street has ended, and the crowd dutifully gathers around the public address system for the obligatory speeches.  Today we are listening to “testimonials” by the victims of US government policy during the Reagan years in Central America. 

The atmosphere is somber, even though most of us are glad old Bonzo is gone.  We’d spent a good part of the week making Reagan jokes and rehashing some of his most famous quotes like “You’ve seen one redwood you’ve seen them all” or “Facts are stupid things.”  A friend held a party to celebrate the passing of the Great Communicator and the jokes about Bonzo and Ronnie and Nancy and their sordid lives continued.  I brought my guitar and sang Malvina Reynold’s song “Boraxo”, conjuring up images of Reagan the actor, Reagan the cowboy, Reagan the butcher of People’s Park. 

“It’s all right, it’s all right
When you’re righteous it’s all right
Though you have you hands in blood up to the elbows
You can always wash them clean with Boraxo. “

I wanted to come to this rally and sing Boraxo too and a couple of parodies my partner Christy had written, but Christy tells me it’s the wrong occasion, this is a mock funeral for Reagan’s victims.  So I just show up, standing at the edge of the crowd, watching the rally and the people watching the rally.  I see a few familiar faces in the crowd, listening to the speeches and holding up signs and crosses.  A friend asks me to hold up his sign for a minute – it’s painted red and blue on a white background and says “Reagan the Great Communicator” with “Communicator” crossed out and the word “Liar” written over it.  I try to hold up the sign but I get frustrated with the wind blowing it around and return it.  The speeches, as usual, do not interest me.  Feigning tiredness, I sit down on a little concrete bench near the entrance to the BART station. 

I remember being asked if I considered myself an activist.  Or perhaps someone called me an activist, identifying me with my affinity for left wing politics?  No, I don’t consider myself an activist (we used to say “cadre” in the Party).  Sure, I’ve been showing up again in recent years, singing and playing the old protest songs when someone’s invited me to.  Otherwise I haven’t cared much.  In the years since I gave up on being “cadre” I haven’t found anything to replace the all-encompassing movement that was PLP, the Progressive Labor Party, the Party of the working class, the Party of the future of humanity. 

My life as a revolutionary communist ended 22 years ago when I failed to show up at the club meeting.  That day I deliberately arrived late and, instead of ringing the bell, I put a note through the mail slot saying I can’t do it anymore.  I’m too unhappy, I’m too conflicted.  I’m supposed to be a good communist but I’m in a bad relationship and I smoke dope and I sneak into porno movies and I didn’t sell any Challenges again this week and I’m tired of you all asking me why not.  So I officially quit that day, then hung around for three more years as a “fellow traveler” because I still believed, hanging out on the edge like I’m hanging out now.  I put together an agit-prop theatre group with another comrade who seemed on the edge too, but we were told our theatre was a “weakness” because we forgot to put a big red flag in at the end of our play and tell our audience that the only solution was communist revolution, like they do at the end of the articles in Challenge.  No, we didn’t forget, comrades, we were trying to be creative, and the Peking Opera ending didn’t cut it for us anymore. 

So I left for good.  Now here I am 22 years later and, well what do you know, I’m still sitting over on the edge.  I distract myself, watching the bums and the moms with kids and the dope dealers.  Then up strolls Carol Tarlen, who I haven’t seen in a few years.  I figured she was still around, though I had put her in the “drifting away” category.  I had heard that she and her partner David had joined a cadre organization, the “League of Revolutionaries for a New America”, formerly the “Communist Labor Party”.  Jack Hirschman, San Francisco’s poet laureate, is a leading member of the group in San Francisco, and it seems that he’s recruited quite a number of fellow poets.  I surmised that Carol had given in to her inherent cynicism by joining this formation and removing herself from more mundane causes, like the unionizing campaigns that were happening at UCSF a couple years ago when we both worked there.  I had met here at a union rally in front of the hospital and was looking for a fellow left winger to help me make sense of the reform trade union movement that I was (yeah that’s right) peripherally involved in at work.  But at the rally Carol told me it was all a waste of time.  It wasn’t what I wanted to hear and since that time I lost touch with her. 

But there she was, looking just a tad older, and as ascerbic as ever.  Sitting herself next to me, she began with a complaint that she had waited for a half hour for a bus that never came, there had been some sort of accident on Mission Street.  Then she looked around at the gathering.  Spotting a couple signs which had the endorsement “International Answer” she said conversationally “They’re anti-Semitic, don’t you know?”  That was the first surprise; I tried to get my mind around this statement and what it might mean exactly.  Well, I surmised, perhaps Carol has made a dramatic change to the right, she’s become an ardent Zionist, or maybe it has something to do with some sectarian position of the League of Revolutionaries?  On further clarification, it turned out she objected to IA’s exclusion of Israeli flags at their marches, even those held by peace marchers.  “They aren’t broad enough” she stated.  Then, after a perfunctory discussion about Trotskyist influences in the mass movement, I attempted to change the subject.

So, I said, are you still working with the League of Revolutionaries? “Oh, sure, I still am” she replied, “but it’s a terrible name for a group and I’m trying to get them to change it.  It’s so pretentious, don’t you think?”

Now here was something really different and quite out of my experience.  I imagined having been at that club meeting and saying “Yes, I am a committed Marxist-Leninist and I support the Party 100%, but don’t you think our name should be a little less pretentious?”  No, something like that never would have happened, and if it did I would have been criticized for being a bourgeois individualist and secretly the comrades would have all thought that I was insane.  Did the League of Revolutionaries tolerate this sort of opinionating from its members?  I doubted it.  It was more likely that they were like any other sectarian organization, only they couldn’t change Carol.

I lose interest completely in the demo and focus my attention on talking with Carol.  We talk about Reagan and Bush, Jr. and the upcoming election. “Such terrible men, I’ll vote for Kerry only because I have to, but John Edwards has a nice smile and Koosh (Dennis Kucinich) has a smidgen of vision, don’t you think?”  Then more about the League.  I hear another astounding comment “Many of our new members are religious”.  A Marxist-Leninist group accepting avowed Christians?  Now I really don’t know what to think. 

Christy comes up and says hello.  Carol mentions she wants to retire to Puerto Allegre, drink some margaritas, and toast the passing of Ronnie.  Off we go together.  The conversation continues along the same vein at the restaurant.  I get the sense that Carol is in recruitment mode, but her style is so unorthodox that I can’t tell when she’s spouting the Party line and when she’s talking about her own ideas.  She invites us to a League event, a party at Jack’s house.  “You’ll bring your guitar, of course” she says.  “Jack just loves to sing, don’t you know?”  She goes on chatting about the Christians “I’m an atheist but I get along with them just fine, they’re people just like me.”  She talks about a long-winded debate at the League’s convention on whether or not to use the word “hate” in a resolution.  I remember those debates in PL.  Most have to do with art and culture.  The Party leadership was uncomfortable with these debates and discouraged them, unless that is the “Party line”, the orthodoxy, was reenforced. 

The League, however, seems to be on a different track.  “People want new things brought in” says Carol.  “They want to listen to what you bring in.”  Perhaps, I think, that’s why the San Francisco chapter is comprised mostly of poets (and some pretty good ones I might add).  I’m amazed by the direction this whole discussion has taken, perhaps stimulated further by the pitcher of tequila mix in front of us.  I can’t say I’ve had much of a positive impression of the League up to now.  I’ve bought their paper a couple of times from Jack and nothing interested me much except for a good article about speculation in economics and Jack’s poetry.  The group even seemed to have some cult-like tendencies, with a somewhat mysterious charismatic leader named Nelson Peery, and their paper is full of articles written mostly by women in their 30s and 40s.  To me it’s a bit reminiscent of Sendero Luminoso without the Maoist rhetoric.  How is it that these San Francisco poets I know are into something like this?  Maybe the San Francisco chapter is different?  Christy and I did attend a League event a couple of years ago –a strange combination of political speechmaking (Matt Gonzalez, the newly elected Green on the Board of Supervisors, was the main attraction) and poetry reading.  Nothing anyone said that night related much to what anyone else said, and the whole thing went on way too long.  Well, maybe if you put a group of poets in charge of a cadre organization this is what you get.  Or perhaps the League of Revolutionaries for a New America really is like this, strictly orthodox in some respects but wildly creative in others, and tolerant of anyone and anything that wants to align with it?  Well, one thing is for certain: it would be hard for any party to maintain their orthodoxy if someone like Carol Tarlen was a member. 

Christy and I say our goodbyes to Carol with a promise to come to the event at Jack’s.  When I get home I feel moved to put the events of the day on paper.  Carol has got me thinking about my own history and where I am today, and I keep having flashbacks into my own past.  I go all the way back before my college days when I joined, before I even knew what “political” was, back to age 11, 5th Grade.  I am wandering on the playground of my school in the middle of the day, alone.  Why? Because I passed a “directions” test my teacher gave the class, and only me and no one else read all the directions and so saw through the trick.  Is this my fate, to be out on the edge looking in, as I was on that day and this day as well?  Or maybe this chance meeting with Carol has got me thinking that something else is possible, that it’s OK to be different but to also belong, to be part of the collective but not to forget that only an individual possesses a soul and, as the Bard said so poetically, “To thine own self be true.”

Carol Tarlen (1943-2004) by Jack Hirschman

July 4, 2009

Not only that, at 60, you were still too young to die,
Not only that, though a stunner in your twenties,
you walked hunched from years slaving over
as a secretary, bespectacled, no longer “comely,”
as another poet put it, maternal, even a bit dowdy-
looking, with a half-jaunty, half-slow step along
the sidewalk after work to meet Aggie at O’Reilly’s
for your favorite martini, a couple of sisters in the
sunlight that always seemed to find that stretch of Green Street.


Not that you weren’t a wild spender on techno-things
–a new computer and printer every year or so, one
having to step over wires at meetings in your little
studio pad on Grant Avenue,


But that you, Carol Tarlen,
who came from
and ferociously
adhered to
working class consciousness,
measuring everything
said and done
in relation to the slaving
and exploited masses
in their dream of liberation;


You who, living ironically
marginalized among
North Beach’s Beat
bohemians, anarchoids,
narcolepts and sundry
sundered egoes of
the great god Schiz,
wrote some of the most
centrally engaged,
embodied and revolutionary
poems of this generation,

and whose trust “in the
mystery of future”
is why there is no
death of you:  this isn’t a eulogy
but a celebration of another
great nourisher —chorosho!—
of the Internationale.

Which WILL be the human race.

“Which is always beginning.”

Small Deaths, by Carol Tarlen

July 4, 2009

I tear my hair like the

mad queen of hearts. “What? you

used a whole cube of butter

to fry one egg?” Leah’s eyes drop;

I refuse to see the lashes cast

shadow on her cheeks, too busy

thinking, I must wipe dust

from under the coffee table, and

I’m tired, my gaze sagging on the

electric wires splintering

the pale blue sky. Her voice

trembles, “I’ll go to the store,

Mommy, and buy it with my allowance.”

Another small death, this time caused

by the misappropriation of fifth

cents worth of cholesterol.


Last night my obscene “friend”

called to awake me with silence.

The telephone company will charge

eleven dollars for a new number.

Friday the boss will sign my

paycheck at three minutes past

five. The bank opens at ten a.m.

Monday morning. This weekend

marks our conversion to

vegetarianism, Sunday dinners

of brown rice, inexpensive

walks on the beach to quiet

our taste for blood.

And this evening, when the bus

winds up and down city hills,

pushing me closer to my 5/6ths

psychiatric hour, when I will discuss

the hostility inherent

in my passive aggressive

overdue bill, I will be grateful

for a seat by the window;

I will be grateful for the sun’s

heat on my cheek, it’s light

slipping through the yellow

and red strands of hair that

I stretch around my fingers

so that I may sing

there are rainbows in me yet.

I am pulling the cord, steeping

onto littered sidewalks, furtively

searching for two-way mirrors,

hidden microphones as I slouch

on the therapeutic chair, pleading:



Guilty of screaming at my child

Guilty of stealing the office stamps

Conspiracy to cheat Landlords of Cleaning Deposits

Writing Rhetorical Poems with no Metaphorical Content

Refusing to tend my garden, instead

Proclaiming the aesthetic purity of weeds

Guilty of even the inability to fantasize rape

The nonownership of a vibrator

Yes I am guilty of

Refraining from reading the NYSE Daily Quotations

Choosing instead to watch fog seep through the heavy

branches of cypress trees, dark green foiaage weted

darker green. Yes! Yes!

guilty of the desire to raise my fist to Montgomery Street’s

Skyscraped glare, shouting “Next year in Madrid!”

and most of all

Guilty of keeping my mouth shut

Crossing my legs in public

Ignoring the wind’s cry as it sweeps grease

from tankers mounting the ocean’s dying waves.


The doctor wipes his glasses on his

imported Italian shirt and suggest

redefining options,

acceptance of limitations,

a course in assertiveness training.

I shrink back on the cushions

and cop a please. “Nolo contendere.”


I am thrusting the key in the

hole, turning its toothy blade.

Leah is linking her hands

around my belly. I flop

rag dolled on the couch as

she removes my shoes, her

fleshly padded fingers de-

manding, “Play with me.”

It’s no game, kid, this living,

no accident that profit

is mined from dirty phone calls.

OK, pumpkin, do I bury you

with the wasted butter

or do we buy guns? You’re

right. It’s too early

to go to bed. Even fifth

graders know the earth is not

a pyramid, but a porous,

shimmering egg dropped

monthly from between our legs,

giving and taking the pounding

of our feet and we dance

round and round, sweat

circling our throats, our faces

lifting to the moon dripping

juicy on our tongues flagging

cars that screech past

the window, yes, our wet, red,

throbbing anarchist tongues.

Carol and Derek

Carol and Derek

Letter To Carol, by Diana Rossi

July 4, 2009

June 27th, 2004


Dear Carol,


Tears came for you.


We were driving on Highway 4, going to the Antioch Water Park — a family outing for friendly Aya’s 7th birthday.  We drove past the Concord Naval Weapons Station Exit and then, after 2 weeks of justifying our estrangement, the tears came.  The tears came for you, Carol.  A flood of memory.  All those demonstrations together!  And words came too, like talking points to my aging 49 year-old memory bank — CISPES, Nicaragua, Brian Wilson, Carrie, JoAnne, The Contras, Civil Disobedience or Not, Billy Nessen, those red bandannas, and stolen railway spikes.


The hot Clayton hills, hot like your anger.


Carol, the flame of your anger could be useful at times.  It made you into a doer, an artist.  It was often intelligently on target.  But those other times, Carol.  You know what they are.  I am laying those to rest — with compassion, for you, for me, and for you and me.  May your energy, all that it is, burn into the hope of your beautiful  children, your beautiful Derek, your beautiful Kate. Oh, and how could I forget, your beautiful, angry words.


With Love,

Take Care,

See You on the Long Journey,



What If, by Carol Tarlen

July 4, 2009

What if my supervisor cracked my personal computer passwords and discovered they were all the names of dead revolutionary poets? What if she un-erased Jason’s e-mail to the staff and found out he called her fat-assed? Would her buttocks block the hallway as she waddled to her office to write a warning letter for his personnel file? What if on dress down Friday we didn’t come to work in jeans and T-shirts, but only wore our skin, and instead of sitting at our desks and staring at our PCs, we rolled naked on the office carpet and made love not profit?


What if Che Guevara rose from his grave in Bolivia and joined the UCSF School of Dentistry, then with his vanguard of peritoneal assistants took over the entire University and declared himself Chancellor and decided that all UC departments would remain the property of the people of the state of California and profit would be outlawed, and what if I wasn’t laid off of my easy job which allows my heart to beat uninterrupted and doesn’t give me headaches, high blood pressure, clogged arteries or diarrhea, and I wasn’t thrown into the private sector without the protection of a union contract and forced to work for a mean, snarly boss with body odor, a BMW and a walled estate in Hillsborough?


What if we got off work one Friday evening, say on April 30th, went to a movie, had a drink, then went to bed and when we awoke one minute had become an hour, every hour had turned into a day, every day a millennium, and Monday morning never came, and we walked in the San Francisco late spring sun, sat around at UN Plaza which had miraculously been cleansed of pigeon shit and there was no urine smell because there were free toilets for everyone, and Food Not Bombs brought buckets of soup and fresh at last bagels to people in the parks, and we all ate together then danced around May poles because we owned the means of production which was now totally automated and only needed a flick of the switch to run the world and May 1st never ended?

The Cocktail Hour, by Agneta Falk

July 4, 2009

                 In memory of Carol Tarlen

I can’t think of you without wanting
to reach for a glass to toast the revolution,
and then a toast to the new technology
or simply a toast to just being alive,
against all odds, as you would say.

You fighting woman
nose-diving into the latest film,
eating a hot dog on the corner
of Columbus and  Green Street,
spouting about one or another injustice.

You were America at its best,
down to the baseball roots.
The tobacco road without the nicotine.
Liking some of the fancy things
without being fancy.  Liking it simple.

Tongue on the trigger,
not missing a cue.
Sweet and sour all the way.
A basin full of rippling laughter
before & after the cocktail hour.

16 June, 2004

Sisters In The Flames by Carol Tarlen

June 8, 2009

“spectators saw again and again pitiable companionships
formed in the instant of death–girls who placed their arms
around each other as they leaped. In many cases their clothing
was flaming or their hair flaring as they fell.
from “The Triangle Fire.”
The New York World, March 26, 1911

bent over the machine
your hair a mass of red curls
like flames I said
my words extinguished
by the wailing motors
we never spoke
together we sewed
fine linen shirtwaists
for fine ladies we worked
in our coarse gowns and
muslin aprons 12 hours
in dark dank rooms
mine floors above the street
our fingers worked
the soft cloth
our coarse hands
fed the machines

I saw you once in the elevator
going down going home
our eyes laughed
when I whispered too loud
strands of red hair falling
over our cheek and neck I
touched our red rough hand
my shoulders ached
in my coat pocket
for Papa for Mama
for the rent I need
a new skirt I need
a day in the sun
i need to unlock the doors
of this factory
I’m still young
I whispered and you laughed
because of course
we all were young

of the flames
take my hand
I will hold you in the cradle
of my billowing skirt
in the ache of my shoulders
the center of my palm our sisters already dance
on the sidewalk nine
floors below the fire
is leaping through our thighs
Sister together now fly
the sky is an unlocked door
and the machines are burning

Believe In My Hands (Which Are Ending) • by Carol Tarlen

June 8, 2009

For Silvio Rodriguez of Cuba
at the end of my hands
is the face of a child
whose right eye is planted
in the center of her pale cheekbone.
At the edge of my fingers
pacing beneath a movie marquee,
is an old man in a red cap on whose
shoulder blossoms a picket sign.
The rain he stands in defines
the limits of my hands. Still,
I trust in the slick wet pavement
where my body ends,
but where my imagination
explodes into white carnations.
I believe in thick, black dirt
that sifts through my closed fist.
I believe in the child whose
deformed face is a luminous moon.
I believe in the hot sun where
a revolution was named for a poet.
I trust in the mystery of future.
which is always beginning.