— During the readings, as a kind of game, I kept a list of the dirty words I heard:

"Fuck ... fuck ... shit ... clit ... fart ... bitch ... cunt hairs ... sperm ... shit ... shitty ... asshole ... fuck ... bitch ... cock ... cock ... cock ... cock ... cock ... fuck ... whore ... whores ... dog shit ... fuck ... shit ... son of a bitch ... dick ... asshole ... shit hole ... cunt ... cock ... shitting ... pissing ... asshole ... shits ... shit..."

I wondered about the impact of this language now, when gangster rap is considered old hat and the morning's headlines speak blithely about blue dresses with unusual stains and soggy Kleenexes found in presidential wastepaper baskets. Popular culture has, depending on your point of view, either ascended or descended to the level of Acker's literary devices.

She may have hoped her words would ruffle feathers, but in the spare, cool Spruce Street Forum, they sounded sad. The mouthy, vibrant woman who wrote them was gone. Freilicher, who had known her longest among those present, was the most heartfelt speaker. He talked about meeting her at Brandeis, where he was awed by her prettiness, her elegant private-school education that taught her Latin and Greek.

"She was," he remembered, "this amazing, dynamic presence. Androgynous. She dated all the hippest guys in her class. People watched her. They tried to imitate her. Once when she tried to slash her wrists, two other girls in her dorm tried slashing their wrists. The dorm mother, who later left Brandeis and joined the Weather Underground, went to Kathy and said, 'Look, you've gotta stop this, otherwise every girl in this dorm is gonna have slashed wrists.' "

He remembered when she lived in San Diego down on Front Street with Bob Acker and made all her own clothes and baked bread and hitchhiked to class at UCSD. He also remembered that "she absolutely could not stand the pretentious atmosphere of academia."

When the speeches and readings were over, Viegener showed a video that Acker had done for Australian television. In it, Acker recited, actually performed, a piece she had written -- a dialog between the poets Rimbaud and Verlaine. Acker assumed Rimbaud's voice and, addressing the camera, spoke in rich, elaborate metaphor of what he, Rimbaud, felt for Verlaine. The piece was very much unlike her other work. It wasn't rife with dirty words or violence or fear. Acker spoke fluidly, intently. Her beautiful face, her large eyes filled the television screen. She paused.

"But I," she said, with great tenderness and sweetness, bringing her hand to her heart, "love Verlaine."

Viegener said her last words before her death were a command -- "Up! Up! Up!" -- telling him to raise her hospital bed.

Freilicher said that the last book she asked him to bring her at the cancer clinic was Kabbalah, a well-known study of Jewish mysticism written by Gershom Scholem, the brilliant Jewish historian who was born and raised in Berlin.


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