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Creeley's Birthday Drive 

Bob Creeley's birthday parties were legendary, but nobody in their right mind would get in a car with Bob for his traditional birthday drive. Not even anybody in Bolinas, Calif., in the mid-'70s when being in your "right mind" was a matter of perspective. Which is why everyone laughed when Bob, his one good eye shining demonically, cast about for someone to drive with him from Bolinas to Stinson Beach and back, in honor of his 50-something birthday. Bob made his request about halfway through the night, at a time when at least half the celebrants were safely beyond his reach, having curled up to snore on the beach or passed out on the floors that Bobbie was going to have a hell of a time restoring the next day or week. Bobbie Louise Hawkins, then Mrs. Creeley, was like a sturdy redwood in a storm at these events. Steadfast, heroic, hospitable, right there, but no man's fool. And not all like a redwood, physically. More willowy, actually.

Time, in those days, was also quite fluid. When Bob called for a driving companion, I was somewhat awake and I thought that it would be a great opportunity and honor for me, a young poet, to accompany the master on this unique journey. I felt chosen and utterly thrilled to get private time with the man who wrote "I Know a Man," a poem in which the line "Drive, he sd" famously occurs. All right then. I climbed into the passenger seat of something I don't quite remember, except that it was old and huge and made a lot of noise, and with Bob at the wheel we hurled ourselves into the California night on the twisty black ribbon flung above the Pacific Ocean with the stars swirling all over it. Soon after launch, I knew with sudden certainty that Bob's one good eye was closed and that he was not using the brake after flooring the gas pedal. We flew at unimaginable speeds over loopy ridges and through the stars and I also knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was the death ride that, I later found out, was Bob's annual defiance of nature and fate. I also found out that the few people who had accepted this ride in the past and survived had become secretly phobic about cars and many of them quit driving. I found these things out much later, but for the moment all I saw was the flashing brilliance of foam riding the crest of waves hundreds of feet below us and the piercing coldness of stars throwing themselves at us as we threw ourselves at them. I tried to think "cosmic embrace," but it wasn't a comforting hug, no matter what my strenuously acquired California beliefs dictated.

Except for this regression to elemental fears, nothing came of my intimacy with the great man. Bob didn't utter a word until our space vehicle thudded to a merciful stop in Stinson Beach. I tumbled out weak-kneed, still holding, it appears, a flask half-full of whiskey. I handed it to him: "Well, happy birthday, Bob!" He took a huge swig, then said, "Ready to go back?" "Well, actually," I mumbled apologetically, "I think that I'll stay in Stinson tonight ... visit a friend." Creeley grinned. He knew and didn't think to blame me. I'd been willing to risk my life with him for at least half the trip and that was more than any of his enlightened friends had been willing to do. I had promise. I may have even been the poet I thought I was. At least, that's what I think he thought. On subsequent occasions, we were better friends, and it became unnecessary to go to all that trouble to prove anything. There will be many memoirs written about the poet, who passed away at the age of 78 on March 30, 2005, and I will add some of my own in time. But for now, look at my knuckles: They are white just from remembering.

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