In Memoriam: Adelle Foley

Jack Foley

Adelle and Jack Foley

Adelle Joan Foley (August 15, 1940−June 27, 2016) was a poet, a social, neighborhood and arts activist, and, for the past twenty years, a member of the administration of AC Transit, and, for almost fifty-five years, my
wife. She was, in addition, a devoted and lovingmother to our son, Sean Foley, and a deep friend to our daughter-in-law, Kerry.

Adelle and I were married on December 21, 1961 (the longest night of the year), and our marriage was a long and happy one. Adelle was, with me, a familiar figure in the local poetry scene; we performed duets of my unique choral pieces and Adelle’s haiku. Beat poet Michael McClure wrote, “Adelle Foley’s haikus show us humanity. Their vitality and imagination shine from her compassion; from seeing things as they truly are.” I wrote: “Your presence next to me as we read poetry together . . . your voice rising to mine.” Adelle and I can be seen in many clips on YouTube.

Adelle was born in New York City to a dentist father and a mother who was both a housewife and a social activist, believing in liberal causes and active in The New York Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund, an organization that provides free summer vacations in the country to New York City children from low-income families. Adelle continued her mother’s activism in Oakland as a member of many local organizations, assisting in neighborhood clean ups, neighborhood watch programs, and in revitalizing the Melrose Branch of the Oakland Library in East Oakland. “Could they ever guess / that we’d be celebrating / in 2016?” she wrote for the Melrose Branch’s centennial. For these activities she was designated a “Local Hero.” She was also a founding member of PEN Oakland and a member of the Board of the long-standing poetry organization, Poetry Flash.

Adelle graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Goucher College in 1961 and earned an MA in Economics from Cornell University in 1962. In 1963, she and I crossed the country in our 1956 Oldsmobile to Northern California, where we have lived since, settling for the first year in Berkeley and then in Oakland. I entered the University of California, Berkeley, as a graduate student in English literature, and Adelle found employment at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She left the Fed in the early 1990s to work for the City of San Francisco and then, after a period of uncertainty, transitioned to AC Transit, first as a temp employee in 1993 and then full time in 1995. She enjoyed her work there, spending her final years with the company as Retirement Administrator.

In 1989, she began to write poetry. Her chosen form was haiku, which she wrote in the traditional 5-7-5 syllables. One of her most memorable, “Learning to Shave: Father Teaching Son,” concerned our son, Sean, born in 1974: “A nick on the jaw / The razor’s edge of manhood / Along the bloodline.” Her book, Along the Bloodline, appeared in 2003. In it she declared, “It’s not that I write / Because of what I see. I / See because I write.” A second book, Fennel in the Rain—a collaboration with me—appeared in 2007. The 2007 anthology, For New Orleans, featured Adelle’s contribution on its cover, and her long-running column in “The MacArthur Metro” always concluded with a haiku.

Adelle Foley is remembered for her great intelligence, her quick wit, her sudden lyricism, her social conscience, and her flashing smile. She wrote in a “selfie” haiku: “An infectious smile / Tapping out daily Haiku / Pretty good figure.”

In 1960 she sang to me an ancient French song, “A la Claire Fontaine.” The refrain of the song is “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime / Jamais je ne t’oublierai” (“I have loved you for a long time / I will never forget you”). Over the years we often sang the song together. In 2016 I sang the song to her as she lay dying in the hospital: “I have loved you for a long time / I will never forget you.”

I know she is dead, but I also know that as long as I am alive, she will be alive. And if my work lives, she will live in it. And I know that her own work will be intertwined with mine. I am putting together another book of her haiku; it is tentatively titled, Early the Next Day. There are many beautiful poems that have not yet seen the light. I had hoped to edit the book with her, but that wasn’t possible. She writes in “Peaceful Walk,”

The water lapping
Against the stone barrier
The sun on my face

I wrote, “How can there be sunlight, and you not in it.”

Jack Foley has published thirteen books of poetry, five books of criticism, and a chronoencyclopedia, Visions & Affiliations: California Poetry 1940−2005. In 2010, Foley was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Berkeley Poetry Festival. His radio show, Cover to Cover, airs every Wednesday on KPFA-FM in California. With his late wife Adelle, he performed his work frequently in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Photo: Adelle and Jack Foley (Photo by Mary-Marcia Casoly)