Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Morning Haiku

Lifeless thread in the laundry basket becomes a spider in my hand.

(first publication)

“Monday Morning Haiku” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

8.31.2009 #2
8.31.2009 #1

Old Testament Footnote

On our annual trek yesterday to the Swan Island Dahlia Festival, we passed a church with the following message of hope displayed on its marquee:

          “Even Moses was a basket case.”

Recently Linked: Another round of thanks to Tammy Ho Lai-ming, first for linking to Recently Banned Literature from the links section of her blog, and, second, for linking to and quoting from my short review of Sitting Pretty Magazine in this entry. Sitting Pretty went through an editorial change of hands a few weeks ago, and Tammy’s desk was just featured yesterday. Also, I forgot to mention yesterday that a link to Tammy’s blog can be found in the “Reading Room.”

In the Forum: all about the Triok.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Three Poems from the Oregon Coast

Cape Perpetua

Looking down on birds with outstretched wings,

I realize

only be

                                                              in flight.

Visiting the Ancient Spruce

Yes, my friend. I understand.
We can talk some other time.

Whale Bone

Whale bone
is not what you
think it is.

It’s what you
remember later,
at the ocean’s

From Songs and Letters, originally published August 7, 2007.

In the Forum: death, leaves, and new poetic forms.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dream Reel

A wordless progression
of images and photographs

pick up a leaf
reveal a face
hidden beneath

see the sky
a stream

a fern
a cloud

reach inside

to find

my hand again

Added yesterday to the Annandale Dream Gazette. My thanks, as always, to Lynn Behrendt.

Recently Linked: A friendly welcome to Tammy Ho Lai-ming, who has signed on as a follower of this blog. Tammy is a Hong Kong poet and editor currently residing in London. You can visit her website here and her blog here. She is also the founding co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.

In the Forum: Kate Duvall’s seventeen-syllable “Funeral Scene.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dramatis Personae: Barbaric Yawp, July 2009

Barbaric Yawp
July 2009, Volume 13, Number 3
BoneWorld Publishing
Russell, New York
John and Nancy Berbrich, Editors

Dramatis Personae: Lacey Bard, Scott Blackwell, Adam Burnett, CEE, Chris Chapin, Patrick Dutcher, Kate Duvall, Gary Every, Kelly Daisy Ida Frost, Stephen Galiani, Jacob Gray, Gayle Elen Harvey, Ann Howells, Nancy Keating, Michael Kriesel, Hanoong Lee, Jack Phillips Lowe, Gene McCormick, Caitlin McLaughlin, William Michaelian, Normal, Chip O’Brien, Donna Pucciani, Andy Roberts, Dick Reynolds, Bob Sharkey, Debra A. Suba, Anna Sykora, Neal Zirn.

In his “Book Beat” column, John Berbrich reviews Bits and Pieces, a chapbook of light horror poems by Greg Schwartz; Small Acts of Rebellion, a chapbook of short poems by David Rogers; a reprint of Michael Kriesel’s The Light of Fields in a 51-page pocketbook edition (2 x 2¾); and two poetry chapbooks, Poems Poorly Written and Fancy that of London, by Leah Angstman.

Cover Design: Nancy Berbrich (click to enlarge).

For my review of the April 2008 issue of Barbaric Yawp, go here.

In the Forum: Slide Yawp Johnny.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I know little about Eliza, except that she was my mother’s mother’s mother, and that her husband, Henry, who was born in 1835 and much older, died after a fall from a horse. This picture of her was taken when she was sixteen, around 1880 or a little before. My guess is that it was done somewhere in the East, before she and Henry settled in California’s gold country. After Henry’s death, she remarried and had more children, one of whom, my mother used to fondly recall, bought her ice cream on his visits when she was a little girl. Eliza died in Sonora and is buried there.

[click to enlarge]

Recently Linked: My thanks to Ken Flett for signing on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. Ken is showing off some amazing work on his blog, Shaping Stones. A link can also be found in the “Reading Room.” My thanks also to Aleksandra, who posted an entry introducing Ken, as well as sidebar links to my main website and Useless Information page. (I always get those two mixed up!)

“Eliza” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: Yawp Bone Willie.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Chaos Management, Ltd.

Thank you, Aleksandra, for your very kind words.

Note: The idea for Chaos Management, Ltd., popped into my head during a pleasant exchange with Leks in the comment section of my most recent Parlor and Workspace entry.

8.26.2009 #2
8.26.2009 #1

Haiku for August

Can it be, the oldest part of me
is smoke from things

I cannot

(first publication)

“Haiku for August” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: clunks for cashers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Parlor and Workspace, 3

It’s amazing how much family history there is on this corner of my desk. I gave the shaving mug with the face on it to my father when I was a kid. He never used it, because his round Colgate soap wouldn’t fit in the bottom. The letter opener was a gift from the Fuller Brush man. The briar pipe belonged to my father’s brother, who died in World War II. I’ve puffed on that pipe. The glass ashtray was Dad’s, and saw heavy use back in his Pall Mall days, which ended in the mid-Sixties and gave way to his cigar days. In his honor, I’ve flicked a few cigar ashes into it myself. The Allen wrenches were also my uncle’s. I used them to take apart a bunk bed when we moved. He was an ace mechanic. We still have his tool chest. The wrist watch is Dad’s old Hamilton. He’d usually wear it when he ventured into town. I just wound it. It still runs, even the tiny second hand.

[click to enlarge]

“Parlor and Workspace, 3” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: traveling by thumb.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Morning Has Broken

In the corner of a yard I didn’t recognize, my father was raking leaves by a wooden fence. The leaves were old and rotten and piled deep. There was a small tree trunk nearby that I thought should be removed. I told my son it would be easy to dig out. But when we walked around it, the other side was massive. I said, “What happened? This tree looks like it’s 300 years old.” Two words, then, died on my lips: “petrified” and “sycamore.” My father, meanwhile, had found another area under some bushes that needed raking. I could tell by his movements that he was angry about something. He quickly finished the area and went to the front yard. We followed him. The sun was up in the backyard, but in the front it was still mostly dark. My father disappeared behind some bushes near the foundation. Again, he started raking. A neat row of leaves appeared on the lawn. Then, silence. My father was gone.

Added yesterday to the Annandale Dream Gazette.

Recently Linked: My thanks to Anna Van Z for linking to and quoting from my review of Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe. Anna, who lists her occupation as “Human Monkey Wrench,” is author of the North Carolina-based blog, The Mills River Progressive.

In the Forum: all downhill from here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Unperturbed by mismatched colors,
when I’m done this place above the stove
will be perfect for some kind
of colorful, crazy

And so goes
the story of my life —

I hide one thing, only to reveal another.

(first publication)

“Painting” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: Way out West.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Cursing at the kitchen window, I am shamed to grace by a rose.

(first publication)

“Personal” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: Yawp Trek.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Parlor and Workspace, 2

When I was a kid, the red rocking chair was unpainted. My mother’s father used to listen to the fights and “Amos and Andy” in that chair. To the right is my mother’s bookcase. The painting above it, a favorite of my father’s, has been around all my life. Across the front entrance, the other bookcase is mine. The big picture above it is of my grandmother’s cousin, William Saroyan, taken in 1935. The big picture to the left of that is of my father’s father when he was twelve, and is the subject of an earlier entry, Papa, 1908. The leather chair used to be in the living room. It’s where my mother sat and tried to remember things.

[click to enlarge]

“Parlor and Workspace, 2” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: porcupine herds in upstate New York.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Parlor and Workspace, 1

Don’t let the clock fool you. It stopped running. The picture was taken about an hour later. That’s my eldest brother with the sunglasses, circa 1966. He seems prepared for the sunny day ahead, circa 2009.

This is one corner of my work area. I’m in another corner, a few feet to the right, sitting at my mother’s desk. Behind me is what I like to call the parlor, a picture of which I will share by and by — a picture of more pictures and books, and also some furniture, which includes my grandmother’s old White sewing machine.

The sunlight also begs a question: why am I drinking tea on a hot summer morning, with an afternoon high predicted of 103? Because I like the word chamomile? Yes. Partly.

[click to enlarge]

Recently Linked: My thanks to Joe Hutchison for linking to my interview in Cosmopsis Quarterly and to my main website. My thanks also to Dan Fiasco for signing on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. You can visit Dan’s new absurdist group therapy blog, An Endless Fiasco, here.

“Parlor and Workspace, 1” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: the halcyon days of yore.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Valley Days

When I was thirteen, I spent a summer night in our backyard with three of my school pals, Eddie, Danny, and Craig. We pitched a rugged canvas tent — I don’t remember who it belonged to, but it was nothing like the practical lightweight, synthetic tents you see nowadays. It weighed a ton and smelled like a barn. Light and air were admitted only through the opened flap at the entrance. With the flap closed, suffocation was just a matter of time.

Directly behind the backyard was the garden, with its rows of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. The area was framed by three orange trees, a grapefruit tree, and the clothesline. At dusk, quail roosted in the citrus trees. In the dark, you could hear the garden breathe. Beyond lay the vineyard, the grapes yellowing and sugaring toward autumn.

We had been talking about our upcoming adventure for days. We’d all been camping in the mountains before, but, rumors of Woodstock aside, life was slow enough for us small town and farm kids that anything a bit out of the ordinary was something to be excited about. We prowled the yard well after dark, surprising toads with a flashlight, tapping and peeking in the windows, and laughing our heads off. Finally, my father “suggested” we get some sleep.

We crawled into the tent, found our spots, and closed the flap. Then we opened it. Then we closed it again.

“I don’t want a possum coming in here.”

“What about the dog?”

“She’s all right.”

“Better open it, then.”

At first the tent seemed so black that I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed, so I closed them with my fingers to be sure — a bit too tightly, because a strange orange pattern appeared on the insides of my eyelids. When I opened them, the pattern was still there. When it faded, I closed them again.

“I’m seeing things.”

“Shut up.”

Little by little, the tent filled with the sound of slow, regular breathing. Then there were other sounds: real and imagined footsteps, the rustling of birds, irrigation water running, a tractor in the distance as one of the neighbors sulfured his vineyard, his sulfur machine moaning like a lost spirit.

I can still remember how I felt that night — as if the night itself were a dream. And I remember waking to the sunshine sleep of day, to the sight of my friends’ strangely calm faces and their tousled hair.

“Valley Days” is my newest Notebook entry. Old Notes are archived here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Yesterday for lunch, I peeled, sliced,
and salted one of the lemon cucumbers
my wife and I bought recently
at a nearby fruit stand.

What followed was a pleasantly upsetting
emotional experience that tasted
exactly like fall.

Recently Linked: Shortly before our move, I exchanged books with Austrian artist and writer, Rudhi. Earlier today, he posted an entry about mine in a community book blog called Der Bücher-Blog. He said some very nice things that I will try my best to live up to.

In the Forum: Russellstock.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Here and There

If I am here and you are there
(across the room or around the world)
where do our minds meet?

And if you are now and I am then, when?

I repeat: have you seen
my teddy bear?

(I thought I’d throw that in.)

And if the meeting is imagined,
all the better.

Or if it’s one cell harmonizing
with another in a larger brain we share,
that would hardly be unfair,

granted the illusion that we can,
and must, begin again.

(first publication)

Recently Linked: My thanks to Chrees for reading and commenting on my novel, A Listening Thing. I’ve been enjoying his interesting, informative blog, A Common Reader, for a long time now. What a pleasant surprise to find my book had earned a post of its own!

“Here and There” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

A snippet from the aforementioned review and a link to A Common Reader added to the novel’s title page.

In the Forum: Michael Kriesel’s “American Haiku.”

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer Sundays

Early this morning, while working on my Author’s Press Series, I realized it had been a long time since I’ve shared anything from One Hand Clapping, my “daily journal in two volumes.” Here is my entry for this day in 2004:

The absence of departed family members is acutely felt on summer Sunday evenings, when food is on the table and talk is at its loudest, and outside the dusky shadows begin to fall. They are gone, gone, gone, and we are here, here, here. As our plates fill with the blood of fresh tomatoes, onions, and watermelons, laughter is both a sacred calling and a lunatic’s lament. We have a wonderful time, for anything less would be a disgrace. We are grateful for our memories, but we are also angry, because we share a feeling of outrage that springs from a history of family trials — massacres, emigration, poverty, fathers plucked from life early in their prime, long hours of physically exhausting work, children sent out to earn a living in the street, and success, a kind of trial all its own. We have won and we have lost, and in our losing we have gained, and in our winning we have been humbled. We are a gambling family, quite accustomed to betting it all. The stakes are high, the senses alert. Quite often, we do not know whether we have won or lost. But we feel like winners, even when we know we have lost. Summer Sunday evenings are like standing before a painting of our childhood, in which bolts of lightning pierce the canvas. They are a lonely shepherd watching his sheep from a high rock. The sound of his flute echoes the unspoken silence that informs and guides our conversation.

In the Forum: so much for the blueberries.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Madman

Begging glass, selling little bottles
of sunlight — this old village
would not be the same without him.

The poplar is straight; twisted grows
the neighbor’s olive;
outside, the madman howls and howls.

Or is it the wind? The door slams;
I burn my hands,
then put the bottle back again.

(first publication)

Recently Linked: My thanks to Brian Salchert for linking to “Sunrise,” a recent entry in Penny Thoughts and Photographs. Also, a friendly welcome to Ashok Lav, who has just signed on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature.

“The Madman” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: an underground brick igloo.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Holy Willie

Here Holy Willie’s sair worn clay
Taks up its last abode;
His saul has taen some other way—
I fear, the left-hand road.

Robert Burns

I took this picture lying flat on my back under the fig tree in our backyard. The idea is a substitute for one I had a couple of days ago — namely, to visit an old cemetery in the area and photograph the sky looking up from a grave through a mossed-covered oak. Drained of most of their color, these leaves look almost like hands.

[click to enlarge]

“Holy Willie” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


A streaking pair of doves
fans the street lamp

gray on gray
after rain.

(first publication)

“Gone” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: books, candles, and a cellar full of beans.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Zuv’s Lincoln

This is a detail from a pencil drawing by my grandfather’s sister, Zvart. I know little about Zuv, as the family called her, and have no memory of seeing her. She left our hometown a year or so before I was born. After that she married, I believe, met with some difficulties, and fell out of touch. While I was growing up, the relatives spoke of her fondly and never failed to mention her artistic talent. Her portrait of Lincoln, which now hangs near the window in a spare bedroom down the hall, is the only work of hers we have. When I went in with my son’s camera, the president was gazing out the window. He heard me, sighed, and then slowly looked my way.

[click to enlarge]

“Zuv’s Lincoln” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: a poet’s keystroke on a timeless, default-formatted document.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


What it boils down to, I guess, is that I want to take pictures that are poems. This poem is a city on a hill, just before the people in it have begun to stir.

[click to enlarge]

Recently Linked: My thanks to Chelsea Rebekah for signing on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. Chelsea is the author of A Mind Awake, a blog about “books, food, and a mouse-less owl’s thoughts.”

“Sunrise” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fairy Tale

And then one day he imagined he was real, and that was the best gift of all.

(first publication)

“Fairy Tale” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: living in an old poem.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Recurring Dream

I don’t know why, but every few weeks or months, I dream that I’ve either forgotten to prune the vines and trees on our old family farm, or that it’s late in the season and I’ve fallen far behind. It happened again last night. First I thought I’d better prune the vines by the road so the place wouldn’t look like it had been abandoned. Then I remembered the apricots, and the next thing I knew, I was near the top of a ladder putting the finishing touches on a tree with a pair of long-handled shears. When I climbed back down, it was summer and I was in a park, trying to figure out how to prune the various trees and shrubs growing alongside a quiet residential street. Someone I couldn’t see said, “Maybe you should ask the doctor.” And I said, “What would the doctor know about pruning shrubs?” Then there arose the scent of dampness and mold, and I said, “Soon I will find the graves.”

Added yesterday to the Annandale Dream Gazette.

As the Conversation continues, twisted girls are bent by ghostly winds.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Oregon Express

To be a train on a morning like this,
hooting through wild blackberries.

(first publication)

“Oregon Express” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: a poem by Prince Inp’yong.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Front Window

Here’s a June morning
that got lost on its way to August,
the sky said,

as if it always explained
such things.

(first publication)

“Front Window” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: the world is lovely and melancholy.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Papa, 1908

This is my father’s father, from a large photo-portrait taken when he was twelve, about two years after his arrival in this country. Since to a surprising degree this picture shows the way I think, I might attempt more of these strange collages.

[click to enlarge]

“Papa, 1908” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: a poem by Francine Witte.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August Sunrise, Two Days Later

The eastern sky a rose petal; behind it, someone holds up a match.

(first publication)

“August Sunrise, Two Days Later” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Mention of Penny Thoughts and Photographs, my new foray into words and pictures, added to News and Reviews.

In the Forum: Francine Witte’s First Rain.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


After a hard day’s work, I sat down and quickly found three notes I liked. I don’t know their names. Sung with two others in a minor descending progression, I was adrift above stone ruins.

This is the first time I’ve picked up the guitar since well before we moved to my mother’s house. The other day, my son changed the tuning. I thought of changing it back, then I thought, “notes are notes.”

I stood up. Do you know, something wonderful happens when you raise your foot and are about to bring it down. I think it’s called a dance.

8.4.2009 #2
8.4.2009 #1

Penny Thoughts and Photographs

This is a detail from an untitled oil painting by a close friend of mine, Glen Ragsdale. It was done in 1973 when the artist was seventeen, about a year before he died of cancer. When he finished the painting, he framed it and sold it to my parents for forty dollars because he was short about that much money for his car insurance.

After he passed away, a showing of Glen’s work was organized and staged in the high school cafeteria. At the showing, there were dozens of paintings of all sizes — landscapes, portraits, still-lifes. Previously, Glen had sold many of them to people in town to help pay for his medical bills. A number of the later ones were painted on his side in bed, leaning on his elbow. I visited him every day, and watched them all come into being.

[click to enlarge]

Note: This is the first entry in a new section on my main website. I took the picture with my son’s three-year-old Sony Cybershot. I do not know what I’m doing.

In the Forum: broken glass and ripe tomatoes.

Monday, August 3, 2009

August Sunrise

Overripe clouds
and a train

a robin
in dry grass.

(first publication)

“August Sunrise” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: some people should never be left alone.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Author’s Press Series

Now that the dust has settled after our move and the completion of Songs and Letters, I’ve made a couple of major publication decisions. The first was simple: I’ll be starting another of my open-ended, potentially embarrassing online projects soon. The second, while simple in concept, will take a lot more work, or at least work of a different kind: I’ve decided to put together an Author’s Press Series of relatively inexpensive, uniformly designed paperbacks that explore different themes and facets of my writing. The titles that have suggested themselves thus far will likely occupy a foot or more of shelf space.

Feeling as I do about books, not having more of my writing available in print editions has bothered me for some time. I love the dynamics involved in writing for online publication, but I’m old enough and superstitious enough to wonder what will happen if someone ever “pulls the plug.” As I’ve joked online and privately with friends many times before: without the Internet, would I even exist? With this in mind, and perhaps because online publishing is so easy, having a physical record of my work seems more important than ever. It’s only partly arrogance; it’s also common sense.

For me, the project will also be a challenging and educational one, as I hope to see more clearly where my strengths and weaknesses lie, and to gain a better understanding of how my writing and thought have developed and/or eroded over the years. I can’t change what I have done, but I can certainly learn from it — just as I do from readers, who, through their observations and comments, often point me in other, more fruitful directions.

This entry added to News and Reviews.

Saturday, August 1, 2009