Early in the morning on this day, 18 years ago, a light dimmed.
Peter Marshall Bell 12 July 1959—14 November 1994
In the Spring of 1991, Peter wrote in his journal:
Poor little me! Can’t have sex with a man without thoughts of china patterns going through my head. Truly I could become more realistic by now. Men just don’t bond that easily.
They want a gorgeous man of independent means, I suppose.
For my own part, all I want is an attentive, modest and forthright soul.
In the Spring of 1992, Peter wrote:
Storms pass, the humidity evaporates, a breeze clears our brow. A new day, a clean slate, a willing spirit and cooperative body. On ne sait jamais ce qui vient avec le temps.
In the Autumn of 1992, in the evening of this day twenty years ago, Peter and Raymond met. I smile – to think that this would be our “china” anniversary.
For those who prefer drama: the brilliant and bittersweet AIDS play will be available at the iTunes Store beginning tomorrow (with a preview and pre-order, if you wish, today). After a review by partner Jack A Urquhart:
“We have the stars…”—places the two male leads, both recently deceased, in a kind of gay purgatory. Or is it heaven? That these ‘lost souls’ transcend their earthly burdens by engaging in ‘Queenly’ (and often hilarious) repartee—the kind of banter that is as mercilessly self-condemnatory as it is all inclusive—before achieving a compassionate and distinctly humane armistice is in keeping with Bell’s thematic quest for wholeness.
Get a direct link to this iBook version by clicking here.
Next up: the erotica. Then, with additional input from Peter’s friends, colleagues, and students—the memoir.
The revised and enlarged collection of poems can be viewed at the iTunes Store by clicking here.
This edition contains a poem, in French, by guest poet Véronique Barry. Ms Barry was a dear, nearly lifelong, friend of Peter Bell, having met him while he was in Bordeaux during his junior year at UC-Davis. Former FAIS students and colleagues will remember her teaching Peter’s classes during the school year 1994-1995.
Please note: this edition (like that of the short stories and the 1-act play, also new to the iTunes Store) is designed for the iPad, iPhone, or iPod (i.e., for the iBooks app). Enjoy!
The revised and enlarged collection of short stories can be viewed at the iTunes Store by clicking here.
A few typos have been corrected, more media added, and “La Plaie” now appears in the original French as well as in translation.
And, the brilliant and bittersweet 1-act play “We have the stars…” is published for the first time.
Please note: this edition is designed for the iPad, iPhone, or iPod (i.e., for the iBooks app).
Now that I have, more or less, mastered the process of getting a book made for iOS, soon to come are: the enlarged collection of poems and … the Erotica iBook. And finally … still aiming for “by year’s end” … the memoir.
Puerile trick get your attention? How many of Peter Bell’s friends, colleagues and students were familiar with his alter ego, Hillary Hackert? Bawdy tales will appear soon at the iTunes Store as a third iBook. (Third? Neither of the previously announced iBooks has appeared: there’s a contractual glitch, a date later this month before which much of this cannot appear.)
You might well ask – Why all these individual volumes? In part, enticement for the final collected works, the memoir. And, perhaps more importantly, there may be an audience for the poems alone, or for only the stories.
Or, the erotica, which is more play with words that P Bell so delighted in than true porn.
When any of these three small volumes appears, I will announce it here and on social media sites.
N.B.—A couple of written contributions have come in and will be part of the memoir. Please consider offering your own reflections, letters to/from Peter Bell, photographs, written or YouTube video tribute… I would be deeply honored to include them. Please help me spread the word to others who knew Peter Bell. Your submission deadline is very near…
… new “iBook” editions of the poems and stories. (The eventual collection—the complete memoir—will include a video component. To the friends, colleagues and students of Peter Bell: please consider contributing recorded comments.)
The ISBNs have been purchased. Additional weeks of hard work have culminated in two volumes that are (significantly, I think) different from the original E-pub/Amazon versions in a number of ways.
With two additional poems, in French, one Peter’s, the other by a guest author who knew Peter and has written of their final hours shared; more photographs of and sketches by Peter.
And the stories—including the original French version of La Plaie—along with the funny and bittersweet 1-act play We have the stars….
Now, to attend to the final details: more proof-reading, rethinking the cover art, assigning the ISBNs and completing the BISAC code, and …
Any suggestions or requests—and written or media contributions to the memoir—will be much appreciated.
- to Chicago, México, and Mont Saint-Michel
In conversation with Father Michael, I was able to verbalize something which I could latch onto on this path leading to death—the idea being that I am approaching reconciliation with my heavenly Father, and can finally free myself of my dilemma of not finding reconciliation with my earthly father. As I die, I can let go of the pain of death which I experienced with my sister’s suicide, with my mother’s death a year later, and more recently  my partner John Moe. Our Father in Heaven will lead me to that celestial riverbank where spirits celebrate the ultimate reconciliation. This is an image of strength for me as I approach my end.
[From Peter's journal, San Francisco, 1994]
Journée longue et dificile, mais fini gràce à dieu. Longue période de frustration accomplie. Incapable d’aider, la maladie exige que je m’y resigne, le déclin d’un ami, l’attente trop longue. La première crise passée. Mais certainement d’autres attend. Longue périodes entre le jour de découverte et le jour de son mort—un deuil impossible.
A drop in the bucket. Emotional chaos. Nothing. What I was feeling Saturday returns again today. Resenting the absence of support when I need it. Feeling abandoned with a dying man. These moments of complete despair that always seem to be spent alone. The cave, the grave. The human condition, to face oneself alone in the world. Oh god, why hast thou forsaken me?
Return to the city. Little if anything new. Back in the seedy, marginal Mission. Back to the routines of French-American. All the old formulas, pursuits of futility. Waiting for the escape to fiction.
Whereas some will celebrate their union with a marriage, a child, we will celebrate ours only with a funeral? Bitter? Perhaps. Trying hard not to be so bitter to begrudge others their marriages and births. Forgive us all our human condition.
Journal entries, summer and autumn 1988
Boyfriend hell. A Nobel prize to the person who eliminates the need for dating. I can’t figure guys out. Last night’s stud called back this morning to confirm his interest—I wonder if he’ll break down his reserve after a few weeks… What’s wrong with having sex on the first date? Instead, he wants dinner one night, a movie the next—should I speed the process by providing the lure of a dinner? Or should I go on a moratorium? I know I must go home and clean house in any case…
Why must everything be so contrived? I don’t think we should see Godfather III either… Oh who knows?
I should go home and CLEAN HOUSE.
Tomorrow I deal with the travel agent—another BLIND DATE FROM HELL:
“Please explain things I already know.”
“Whose superego is strongest?”
“I’m not really interested in sex until I’ve established a strong platonic rapport.”
(He’s too good-looking.) Any brains?
So I won’t have time for swimming today. Life is too full.
“Let’s be very careful about what we say.”
“Better yet, let’s not give a shit and give the fellow a good taste of reality.”
I must conspire with Ed for a birthday surprise for Michael…
Dating really shoves priorities up into one’s face…!
Put up your dukes
Looking for fit dad to give
tough love to boyish 31 y.o.
I’m firm 5’11 190 lb healthy
HIV+ and seeking dominant man
who likes a challenge with
prospective of a stable
[Journal entry, 9 March 1991]
Posted today at Jack Andrew Urquhart’s blog - a review of my collection of Peter’s short stories, copied here by permission:
Book Review: Peter Marshall Bell’s Nocturne; celebrating personhood and lives intertwined.
Full Disclosure: When my spouse Raymond L. Boyington undertook the editorial role in bringing his former partner’s work to print posthumously, I had not expected to play a role in promoting the finished product. I had read previously a few of the poems penned by Peter Marshall Bell, who died in 1994, but never any of his heretofore unpublished fiction. Indeed, save for a minor role in translating one of Bell’s stories from the original French to English, I thought it best to keep my distance from a project that was deeply and privately motivated. In short, I did not wish to intrude on the editor’s labor of love.
All that resolve vanished when I sat down to read Invitation to the Voyage, the Selected Poems of Peter Marshall Bell, and more recently, Nocturne, the slim volume of his nine stories. I confess this latter enterprise left me reeling with a sense of loss. That is because on every page was the evidence of a talented writer evolving toward distinction—an advancement in artistry that continued literally to within a few whispers of Bell’s untimely death from the complications of AIDS at age thirty-five. Indeed, part of the pleasure and the sadness in reading Nocturne lies in witnessing the progression of Bell’s talent (the nine stories are presented in chronological order, 1979—1990).
The author’s early tales, most notably “The End of Tribute,” “Nocturne,” and “The Enemy,” introduce Bell’s lifelong thematic obsession: the human struggle toward wholeness and personhood, a battle that for many—gay and straight alike—pits a survivor’s instinct against the forces of an externally motivated self-hatred. It is a struggle that presents formidable and particular challenges for the homosexual and latent homosexual protagonists peopling Bell’s fiction.
Interestingly, the early stories sometimes mirror the author’s own history of personal and familial strife. Witness Bell’s story “The End of Tribute,” in which Walter, the gay protagonist engaged on a Sunday afternoon tour of Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery (Bell lived in Paris, 1985-86), is inspired to consider his own losses while standing at the grave of the American rock star, Jim Morrison. Reflecting on the lyrics of Morrison’s classic Vietnam era anthem, “Riders on the Storm,” Walter muses on his rebellious sister’s untimely death (Bell’s own sister died quite young)—and the resulting familial fallout:
“Oh, sister! She had been the only one in the family who rallied to that music’s cry. She had angered her family by rejecting accepted American values like fighting in Vietnam. Now she was dead.
“I hated her,” his older brother had told him, years after … and although they’d drunk plenty of scotch before Ed let this out, Walter realized … a brother hated his sister in defense of his America. Let him have his America, Walter thought angrily. Standing before that grave, he knew his sister had been right.”
In the collection’s title story, “Nocturne,” Bell’s thematics find expression in a child’s early recognition of unacceptable difference amply cued by parental disappointment. Perhaps drawing on personal experience, the author offers almost a case study of how children may internalize and process—usually at the expense of their psychological well being—a steady diet of subtle and not-so-subtle censure. In “Nocturne,” the resulting damage is manifested (initially) in secrecy and insomnia:
“The important thing was not to be discovered. His insomnia was his secret world—the fear that kept him awake was unknown to all those around him… He especially feared the derision and admonition of his father, who would only interpret his insomnia as a sign of cowardice and weakness. “Like a little girl,” he imagined his father commenting with a sneer.”
Indeed, the impetus to avoid discovery drives several of Bell’s protagonists to self-harm—as in “The Enemy,” where two men, complete strangers from opposite sides of a war zone, meet, and manage to bridge their political and cultural chasms in a few moments of almost romantic sexual congress—before one of them self destructs.
These early stories by Bell, an untrained writer whose natural storytelling gifts appear to have been honed through years of rigorous intellectual pursuit and curiosity, showcase a writer’s steady progress toward proficiency, understanding (of the human condition) and a command of language (several languages in Bell’s case). It is an evolution that reaches its apex, in my opinion, in Bell’s final four stories. My particular favorite is the wonderfully full-bodied “We Have Always Been the Same Person”.
That the term ‘full-bodied’ should so perfectly apply to a ‘ghost story’ is one of the delightful ironies of Bell’s mature fiction. For in this tale, the author weaves a richly atmospheric sojourn reminiscent of Henry James—but without the Gordian sentence structure.
Set in the French coastal city of Dinard, Bell’s literary excursion comes complete with haunted hotel, mysterious portrait, and a helpful female spirit named Louise who favors fireside chats that sound very much like a session in psychotherapy.
“Dear Charles,” she said softly. “I am not trying to do anything here. We are simply fulfilling our destinies…
I thought this over and realized that Louise was right, and yet still responded irritably. “I’m not used to having someone around who’s able to see through me.”
Louise smiled slightly. “Perhaps it’s a level of intimacy you’re not used to.” She left the window and took the seat next to mine. “Charles, I’m really not here to vex you. If I serve any purpose for you, it is as a mirror of your own conscience.”
Like most of Bell’s fiction, “We have always been the same person” does not present a definite conclusion so much as open the door on several possibilities. In this case, I prefer to think that Charles, the story’s narrator, will—like the story’s author—eventually find safety, self-acceptance. Love.
And if I may indulge in one final moment of personal reflection, it is strange for me to consider how my life would have unfolded along a different trajectory had Peter Bell’s not been so tragically curtailed. Stranger still to consider how the lives, perhaps even the spirits, of people who usually never meet face-to-face—an author and his or her readers—become inexorably intertwined through literature. Such is the wonder and the mystery of the human quest to create and experience art. That seems to me a good enough reason to play this small role in sharing and celebrating Peter Bell’s Nocturne—in which his spirit and his artistry remain very much alive. Page after page.
From Peter’s UC-Davis junior year in Bordeaux, one of three graded and critiqued papers; the first of seven scanned pages:
The rest of this and the other academic papers will be published … soon.
Meanwhile, Nocturne, the collection of nine short stories available at Amazon, will be offered once more at a 100% discount – all day tomorrow, Sunday. Consider downloading it – (Please!) only if you will post a review, either to Amazon or to this blog.
19 November—Thursday night
Another school night done. I had the distinction of correcting THE ESSAY OF NO RETURN. In which the reader sinks and never comes out alive. My poor students. What they must put up with.
Have been correcting papers at J.D. [Just Desserts]. Just for my edification they played Joplin’s Pearl, one of the great artistic achievements left by a brief bright candle of beauty. How trite. But I get sentimental with Joplin’s Pearl, and how it takes me back to days of innocence. I had just returned from sixth-grade camp. My sister Linda was in tenth, and that date of my return was her 15th birthday. When I came home, she was wearing one of her gifts, her first long dress. It was a white blouse attached to a long, light red-print skirt (long skirts were the fashion—part of the peasant look of the fall of 1970, from whence these memories come). I remember her birthday gift, how pretty it was on her, and what a festive home it was to return to.
Soon we will leave for the Valley and American Bacchanal—how much turkey can you eat? For now reading intellectual history and listening to the occasional waltz. Siren jour on joue une valse au bal public …
Never to grow old—seniority becomes a luxury for our generation. A dignified old age—to profit from years of experience. Savoring warm nights by the fire and long summer evenings …
Oh to grow old!
[Linda committed suicide four years following the event recalled, their mother died the year following; Peter succumbed seven years after these entries.]
From Peter’s journal, 12 February 1992 [the year is given here; Peter makes it difficult for the reader—he occasionally writes entries out-of-sequence, in different journals, and without the year being noted!]
The prospect of my imminent departure is somewhat alarming… (I haven’t written in this book for ages.) Alone at home with Vera, I yet again consider the void which I am attempting to straddle with another voyage, a smile. John, I dreamed of you last night. Once again, I said I love you, with no reply but your own enigmatic smile. Is that you up there in heaven, chiding me in my dreams for being the poor mortal I am? How I carry you with me, year after year, my spiritual baggage. There must be a heaven, so you may be there. And if I try hard, I might get there too. I’m afraid it will come less naturally for me, however—my only hope is that you’ve overlooked my faults and saved the last dance for me.
Meanwhile, down here among the mortals I’m having one hell of a time. So I could resist the extravagances of this European jaunt, satisfy a craving for a modest adventure—a tour of the capitals. But here I feel the test to keep focus, to experience fully for once, take it on honestly and fearlessly.
To live through the soul, for the soul, within the gardens of truth, beauty, passion.
To discover my strength, somewhere inside me, to come home to the source of calm and happiness.
— and more babble —
Over this past weekend 75 -free- copies of Nocturne were downloaded from Amazon (60 from the US store, 15 from the UK store). I am so very pleased and thankful for this show of interest and support.
What do you think of the writing? I hope to read your remarks here or at Amazon.
As a token of my appreciation, here is a rose from our garden, photographed April 1, 2012.
Nine stories—from very short to very long—encompass the devil, a ghost, romance (straight as well as gay), humanity in time of war, meditation on death and dying … from profound tragedy to high comedy. Available free (to borrow) for Amazon Prime members and soon – for a brief promotional period – to all other readers…
In 1-2 days:
Nine stories—from very short to very long—encompass the devil, a ghost, romance (straight as well as gay), humanity in time of war, meditation on death and dying … from profound tragedy to high comedy.
Look for the title Nocturne: Nine Stories by Peter Marshall Bell
An Enduring Legacy [also posted to Amazon.com]
A brief review, by Jack A. Urquhart
In the interest of full disclosure, I begin these few observations on “Invitation to the Voyage: Selected Poems of Peter Marshall Bell,” by declaring that even though I never met Peter, he has been part of my life since 1998. That is because until his death in November, 1994, Peter was partnered to my spouse, Raymond L. Boyington, who edited this collection. For the last fourteen years, Peter has continued a part of our lives, his photograph occupying a place in the family gallery alongside children, grandchildren, former spouses, and our closest friends. His story has been told and retold at gatherings of family and friends across the years. In short, Peter is very much alive in our hearts and minds. “Invitation to the Voyage,” lovingly edited and presented by Raymond L. Boyington—with the assistance and encouragement of Peter’s surviving friends—is both a celebration of, and a memorial to Peter’s extraordinary gifts—and his ongoing vitality.
The twenty-one poems in “Invitation to the Voyage” make use of many of the conventional poetic forms—free verse, dramatic monologues, narratives, biography, romanticism, and even an occasional ballad. In fact, in a few cases, elements of several forms appear within a single poem. I mention this because Peter was not a trained poet—and neither is this reviewer. Thus, I make no attempt to critique his work in any traditional sense. Rather, in undertaking this informal “review,” I rely for guidance on no less than William Wordsworth, who famously defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…” adding that poetry “takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” I believe that Peter’s poems underpin this broad, accessible definition—often beautifully.
For example, Peter’s poem, “Valentine’s Day” (which the author indicates somewhat ironically, should be read while the audience claps hands 4/4 time with a little harmonica ditty between stanzas) explores in rhyming free verse the often self-sabotaging gamesmanship of modern-day courtship, albeit between gay men in this case.
It’s the dance of hesitation
here in the wild west,
so choose your partners, gentlemen,
and see whose ego’s best.
The question to be sought? to seek?
is many ages old,
and far too often a man’s pride
has quenched the lovelight cold.
Here Bell seems to be poking sad fun at the quest for intimacy in an all too competitive world—a world where raw ego and the fear of losing the upper hand have doomed many a potential love affair. The poem’s final stanza drives home the point:
So change your partners, gentlemen,
and mind your egos well
so if you loved your partner,
he couldn’t ever tell.
How sad, and true, and self-defeating those final lines.
Bell’s mastery of several languages is on display in the poem, “L’autre ne dït rien” (“The other says nothing”), which appears in the original French alongside an English translation. One of the more enigmatic poems in the collection, L’autre mingles free verse with the repeated refrain of a traditional ballad. Whether the poem’s ignored narrator is addressing an earthly (deceased?) lover or an indifferent God is a matter of reader choice. But there is nothing ambiguous about the narrator’s tone—which alternates between plaintive resignation and outright anger.
“I am corrupt,” he said.
The other said nothing.
“I burned all my bridges,” he said,
“there is no way out.”
The other said nothing.
“I exaggerate everything,” he admitted.
The other smiled.
“But all the same, it’s over,” he declared.
The other said nothing.
For a moment silence reigned alone, then
he said, “You remember, don’t you? No?”
The other said nothing.
“But where were you then,” he cried out
“when everything fell apart, when I
The other stared at the line of trees on the horizon
and kept his silence.
Bell wrote the collection’s final poem a mere six weeks before his death. Entitled “Silent Vigil” (by the editor; several of Bell’s poems were untitled), the poem is steeped in the traditions of romanticism. I count it the most moving and the most transcendent of the lot.
My soul will want to linger in your
It will take a place quietly near you
As you read at night or in the morning
As you rise to start another day.
Watching over you, my soul will delight
In the love we have shared on this Earth;
And even as it keeps its silent vigil
In a little corner wherever you are
My soul will thrive in my love for you.
And with this love, sustain itself for eternity.
As a writer, I like to think that the reason the poem resonates is that it leapfrogs grim reality—the cold, hard fact that none of us lasts forever (which Peter anticipates for himself in the poem’s first few lines)—to provide a glimmer of hope. That hope is nothing less than love’s enduring legacy, a message—Peter’s message, in this case—so durable, so generic (in the best sense of that word) that as long as there is language and human beings to appreciate it, will comfort and sustain as well a thousand years from now as it does today.
And if Wordsworth, who held that the poet is charged with recollecting the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, can be believed, then a part of Peter must endure as well. A part of him alive and well in a little corner somewhere—invisible, and in time, even nameless as we all shall be—wherever we human beings are. And whenever one of us recollects his message of love.
Whenever friends or family asked how Peter and I had met, that was our stock reply.
We met at summer’s end in 1992, just before classes were to begin for each of us teachers—he was returning to French American International School, I to University High School. Our first weekend was spent away from one another—at faculty retreats. He sent me a postcard, the first of a multitude in our all too brief time together.
The San Francisco LGBT Community Center now occupies the spot where we met. I walked with him the four blocks to his apartment on Fell Street. He walked with me the one more block to my apartment, also on Fell. We remained together from that first night—until his last.
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