She was that rare human being whose identity transcended all the categories that defined her — poet, teacher, novelist, feminist, human-rights activist for prisoners and migrant farmworkers. Janine Pommy Vega died on Dec. 23. She was 68. Here’s her obit in today’s NYT. And here she is, reading “Habeus Corpus Blues,” at a poetry festival in 2005.
The last time I saw her was on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, at a reading to celebrate a book of poems by migrant farmworkers, Estamos Aquí, which she had translated.
One of her last messages to me, dated 6/19/2007, arrived not long after that.
Hey Jan: I’m back from migrant camps where numbers are intensely decimated due to feds swooping down and trying to fill empty prisons with “illegal aliens.” Alien my ass. Whose fingers pick every shred of food on the collective American table? It ain’t a Martian. I spoke to Bill Bathurst the other night, he sends you hello and best wishes to the “still surviving.” I guess that’s us. Love Janine
Janine and I had met in the ’60s, in San Francisco. Although we’d been out of touch for many years, when we saw each other again I was thrilled to know that she still thought of me as a friend … possibly even as a former lover. One of the first things she asked was, “Did we ever sleep together?” I told her I wished we had, but that we had spent the night together only once, at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Big Sur, in separate bedrolls. “We’ll do it next time,” I said. She grinned at me and laughed. It was — despite the ravages of time, which were especially unkind to her — the same wide, beautiful, happy grin that I remembered from years before and shall not forget.