Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Five Years Ago Today

I never did get back to my pile of Harper’s. There is already an accumulation of drawings and letters on top, along with a folder containing notes on the Armenian translations of some of my stories, and even a package of colored pencils. I had meant to read the short story in each issue, but the stories I did read made it difficult to continue. Now I no longer care — which means I should probably take the magazines to the library and leave them in the free magazine area for someone who does care, or who thinks he cares, or who once cared and is thinking about caring again, fearing that if he doesn’t he might be unable to care when his caring is needed the most — though in my humble opinion Harper’s isn’t worth such a crisis of conscience, or even a trip to the library. I say this at the risk of sounding ignorant, because everyone knows Harper’s is a highly intellectual magazine full of progressive ideas and wry commentary. No wonder they lost me. I have enough trouble putting on my socks. What do socks have to do with the subject? Nothing at all. Is Harper’s interested in my socks? No. Of course not. What I need is a magazine that caters to people who have trouble putting on their socks. A magazine that cares about me. A magazine for the common man, attempting common things and failing miserably. A magazine for people who are confused to begin with, and who then go on to lose their train of thought. Anyway. Where was I?

From One Hand Clapping, a daily journal in two volumes.

In the Forum: roll out the barrel.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Called Zhamakirk (Book of Hours) in Armenian, this volume was printed in 1955 at the Armenian Monastery of St. James in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. In 1984, I spent a week there playing ping-pong with the seminarians, drinking from their immense kettle of sugary tea flavored with fresh mint leaves, and wandering the city, hoping not to be shot by soldiers keeping watch on the walls. The sense of hostility inside those walls was tangible — as was the sense of tragedy, comedy, boredom, and salesmanship. There was a deacon who owned a great many books. Once, when he was digging weeds out of his courtyard with a spoon, he invited me to his room for coffee. After brushing the ants from his table, we sat down and admired some of his collection. A few of the books were in English. One was so old that the English was impossible to understand. This, of course, is the story of every language, and part of what makes language the appealing mystery that it is — what we hear echoing through the ruins of each and every word; what we have said so many times before, and are sure to say again.

[click to enlarge]

“Breviary” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Late September Before Dawn

The Big Dipper, standing on end . . .
where the bottom star is nearest the ground,
I find it in a giant’s palm — lucky for me he’s sleeping.
I tickle his wrist . . . he loosens his grasp,
and I’m off with a constellation
of my own.

(first publication)

Note: Technically, I guess, The Big Dipper isn’t a constellation. Somehow, though, I couldn’t bring myself to write

and I’m off with an asterism
of my own

Recently Linked: My thanks to Sandy for signing on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. Among other things, Sandy maintains two blogs: Her Vintage Store, and Artists, Gypsys and Kings.

“Late September Before Dawn” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: the possibility that life is a cosmic joke.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Crawl Space

The scent of mold so appealing and intense,
I wonder if I’ve been dead before.

(first publication)

“Crawl Space” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: a bouncer spurned.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


A foolish assumption, that trees don’t dream.
No, and they don’t look like old men, either,
when the streetlights shine through them just so.

Lacy maple, big round sleepless eyes. An uncle’s
mustache low upon the ground. Blink twice,
now he’s gone. Night has rearranged the world.

(first publication)

“Restless” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Friday, September 25, 2009

White Rotary Sewing Machine

I can’t find my grandmother’s hair. A thick braid of it was in her old sewing machine. About ten years ago, my mother took it out of one of the long, narrow drawers and showed it to me. I haven’t seen it since, but she mentioned it a number of times, and we talked about it being there. Mom never let on that she had moved or discarded it — not that she would have remembered doing so. Although there are precious few places left to look, my hope is that I’ll find it tucked away somewhere in the house. I was going to take a picture of it. For now, this one will have to do. The machine still works — at least it did when I saw the hair. We opened it, as I have just done, and Mom had it humming in no time. Lost in thought, she rocked gently, her foot pumping the treadle as if she were playing the organ. The pictures on the wall were taken in the Twenties. Above the spool of thread to the right, Mom is the littlest girl sitting on the ground, looking slightly to one side. Her parents are standing behind her, to the right. The place: Kingsburg, California, where she was born.

[click to enlarge]

“White Rotary Sewing Machine” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: “In dreams we are true poets.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Struggling with a new, untamed mirror.
Not as I look, he explained. As I am.

(first publication)

Recently Linked: My thanks to Elisabeth Hanscombe for signing on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. A writer and psychologist in Victoria, Australia, Elisabeth writes the blog Sixth in Line.

“Cracked” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: dreambooks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oak Dining Table

When my father was little, he would crawl under this table and listen to the relatives talk and tell their stories. It was in his grandparents’ house then, a little unpainted place that wasn’t much more than a petrified shack, and which would have fit in one corner of the barn. Just a few days ago, our grandson did the same thing for the very first time.

The barn was a cathedral. The house was a narrow affair with a bowed floor. Both are gone now. When my great-grandparents moved to San Francisco in the mid-Fifties, they left the table and a piano behind without so much as locking the door. The house went untouched for half a dozen years, until my brother and a friend whose father was growing watermelons on the property let themselves in one day for a look around. After that, we’d poke around inside now and then, and marvel at some of the other items they’d left behind — things like electric bills in the amount of a dollar or less, old letters, pictures on the wall, straw hats, bed springs, and peach-pitting implements with smooth wooden handles.

There was an old circular harrow on the tank house floor. An outdoor staircase led up to the second level where my grandfather’s quiet, reclusive brother slept beneath the groaning weight of the family’s water supply. There was an olive tree between the tank house and the tiny garage. In the garage was my great-grandfather’s Model T. Ben didn’t have a driver’s license, and drove slowly enough that it was unnecessary to stop at stop signs — he just coasted through and made nice round turns. Occasionally he’d be stopped by a policeman, whose main goal was to say hello and ask Ben how he was doing.

The table sat in the equipment shed behind our house for many years, until my mother cleaned it up and refinished it, and Dad moved it into the house. We also have some of the old pictures. The piano was eventually fetched by an aunt and hauled to San Francisco.

The old light fixtures in this picture came from my grandfather’s cousin’s house in Fresno, as did the icebox lurking there in the gloom. The picture was taken at about eight-thirty in the morning. The chair in the foreground on the right is original. The high chair on the left, also refinished by my mother, is the one my wife and I used for all four of our kids.

[click to enlarge]

Note: Writing Smoke, Cigar #2.

“Oak Dining Table” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: surviving the next upgrade.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Twilight on Fig Street

Another dream I can’t remember, except emerging at the end from a rusty, circular car wash, seeing the name “Fig” on a very tall street sign and a row of fig trees yellowing alongside a rutted four-lane road. I also heard the word twilight — unless I just thought of that now.

Recently Linked: Yesterday, a few hours after joining Recently Banned Literature, Ma-Li Kleidon wrote to tell me she had added my novel, A Listening Thing, to the Gaia Community bookshelf. While I was there, I also discovered Ma-Li’s blog, where she expresses her love for reading, writing, language, and more. Thanks, Ma-Li.

Stage III: “It helps to forget. It helps to remember.”

In the Forum: imagining imagined imaginations.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dream Note

The details of my dreams have been slipping away of late, and I’ve purposely not tried to chase them into words. In them I’ve met old friends and relatives, some among the living, some among the dead. It’s good to see them again. But I don’t remember what they did. I don’t remember what they said.

Recently Linked: Yesterday I discovered the anonymous postings of a poetry lover who has launched a new blog called Salamander, which the editor describes as “a place for poets to connect with other poets, read one another’s poems, and share the joy of creating with words.” The first day’s offering includes poems by Nazia Mallick, Vassilis Zambaras, Luis Lázaro Tijerina, and me, with links to our websites graciously provided. Take a look. And for future reference, I’ve added a link to Salamander in the “Reading Room.”

Speaking of new blogs, I would also like to thank Mrs. Silvie Martin, who teaches at the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park, California, for linking to my website and blog from her newly launched Word for Word, which will focus on the “world and words of college prep English” at her school.

I would also like to extend a friendly welcome to Ma-Li Kleidon and
D Bennetts for signing on as followers of Recently Banned Literature.

In the Forum: When push comes to shove; or, distracted by thousands of chickens.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


You know you’ve cracked when you’re looking at a wall map and you try scrolling through the provinces with your mouse.... Ah! — there’s Småland, down low, birthplace of my great-grandfather, partly hidden by my printer.

9.20.2009 #2
9.20.2009 #1

Morning Side

To the kitchen, then,
for my second cup

the coffeemaker gasping
gently in the dark

the crickets
I heard

on last
night’s walk

the unnamed
rhythm of the stars.

(first publication)

“Morning Side” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


After a lifetime of flight,
the star and the man stopped
and looked at each other,
then sped on.

(first publication)

Elsewhere: trading images.

“Gravity” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: distracted by a ladder.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Outside, I’m a ghost. Inside,
I’m no less real — until I spend
an hour looking at my hands.

(first publication)

Recently Linked: My thanks to Ellie Great, for signing on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. Ellie is a traveler, writer, and director based in New Zealand. You can visit her blog here.

“Fog” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: hypnotizing the chickens.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Morning News

Neighbors chatting ... they leave for work, but their voices remain.

(first publication)

Recently Linked: My thanks to Paul L. Martin for linking to my main website and blog from his newly launched journal of student writing, Saroyan’s Ghost.

“Morning News” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: milking the ostriches.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Like his mother, light is the first word our grandson is able to say, except that when she was a little girl, she said it much sooner and in Armenian: looys — or, if you prefer a different transliteration, luys. That was back in 1980, around the time I made a point of learning the Armenian alphabet and how to read in that ancient, poetic language — an endeavor that paid off immensely and still influences, by strange and unpredictable degrees, the way I write today.

Although I understand a fair bit, I don’t really speak Armenian, and have dreamed in it only a handful of times, at least two or three of which unfolded while I was awake, my tongue freed by the glow of new friendship and the influence of Armenian cognac.

Our grandson, who is twenty-two months old today, does quite a bit of talking, unimpaired as he is by meaning and other futile linguistic concerns. Some of it is emphatic, but the blossoming speech of his I like best arises in the form of explanation, and in pointing out things he has noticed. A recent, poignant example happened just the other day, when he suddenly became arrested by a small photograph of my father and his brother taken when they were about three and five. Both are smiling. Dad has a big mop of wavy hair, and Haig, who was killed in what is mistakenly called the Second World War, seems lit by mirth from within. The picture is beneath this framed representation of the Armenian alphabet, on a little table near our front door where it’s easy for him to see. I was sitting nearby. He looked at it, then looked at me, and began speaking softly yet urgently, just as if the boys had told him something — a secret, perhaps, a wise intonation of the invisible world they now inhabit, something they might already have tried to pass along to me and which I, in my profound deafness, was unable to hear.

I said yes, and the moment passed, as all moments do. He was satisfied, then showed me his balloon.

[click to enlarge]

Note: Writing Smoke, Cigar #1.

Recently Linked: My thanks to Ron Silliman for including a link to A Get Well Card for Brian Salchert in the extensive selection of poetry-related links he posted this morning.

“Light” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: a wholly holy trinity.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leonardo’s Notebook

The sky this dawn
is a sketch from
Leonardo’s notebook

sinewed clouds, restless, outstretched wings.

9.15.2009 #2
9.15.2009 #1

Writing Smoke

My next artistic challenge is to smoke two cigars. I was given the assignment by my wife, who needs the cigar ash to spruce up the finish on my great-grandparents’ oak dining table. The trick is this: using a bit of cooking oil, a paste is made with the ash and then rubbed onto the table as a mild abrasive, which takes up the marks and stains made by glasses, salad splashes, and noodle-drips.

What makes it an artistic challenge is, first, writing through the smoke, and, second, writing the smoke. Writing smoke calls for our best skills and interpretative powers as we render that which about us is hardest to explain: our unpredictable leaps of spirit, our sorrows, and our pain.

Smoke is memory made visible. It’s the future in sinuous shades. Writing it down before it disappears is what keeps us uncertifiably sane.

“Writing Smoke” is the newest entry in my Notebook. Past entries are archived here.

Image: Writing Smoke, September 14, 2009, #2 Pencil on Used Printer Paper (click to enlarge).

Recently Linked: A friendly welcome to Gray, aka A’keith Walters, who has signed on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. Gray writes the blog Gray’s Spot On The Wall, which you can also find linked in the “Reading Room.”

In the Forum: seeking unprofessional help.

Monday, September 14, 2009


After a long, tiring day, I spied a face in the bathroom wallpaper. It was near the shower, about a foot above the floor. Bushy eyebrows, arched, inquisitive; the blue-oily bead of an eye at least half insane, a mouth like an entrance to a cave. I had an idea: to take one square of toilet paper, press it to the wall, and trace the image. But the face didn’t show through. Very well. I returned with a piece of wax paper and a fine felt-tipped pen. To trace the image, I had to stretch out on the floor. I set to work. My hand was shaking ... the face refused to appear. I traced on. Clouds, perhaps? A doctor’s Rx? No, not even less. To salvage the image, I tried shading the brows. But black is not blue. I lifted the paper. The light fell through. I sat up, alone in the room.

(first publication)

“Destiny” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: when it comes to poetry, leave it to the prose.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Father’s Side

My Father’s Side
September 13, 2009
#2 Pencil on Index Card

9.13.2009 #2
9.13.2009 #1


Father and son,
streetlight shining
on upturned lids
of garbage


mine adds nothing.

(first publication)

Recently Linked: Another round of thanks to Jenny Enochsson, this time for linking here from her blog, Cinnamon. Thanks also to Caio Ferdandes for signing on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. His blog, Mein Welt, can be found along with Jenny’s in the “Reading Room.”

“Scavengers” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: Here Lies Lester Moore.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dear Ones

Here’s another of those happy accidents, as dear ones always are.

[click to enlarge]

“Dear Ones” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: the Grim Blogger.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pavane, Opus 50

Pavane, Opus 50
September 11, 2009

Listen (courtesy of Aleksandra at New Times Arrived)
About the music (Wikipedia)

9.11.2009 #2
9.11.2009 #1


Light stain on the bathroom floor
made by a skylight moon


(first publication)

“Almanac” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: a nightlink without hypermares.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Get Well Card for Brian Salchert

Yesterday morning, I received a note from Brian Salchert’s sister, Jean. As readers of his blogs know, Brian has been grappling with a number of serious health concerns. As if that weren’t enough, on August 15 he fell and broke his hip. After a two-week period in the hospital, Brian is now recuperating in a care facility.

As I told Jean in my reply, there are quite a few of us in the poetry community who have been concerned by her brother’s silence. Brian’s hunger for knowledge and understanding is a journey that takes him far and wide on the Web. I value his insightful comments and posts, and am especially impressed by the respectful way he presents his thoughts and ideas. His conduct is a model of grace. I feel lucky to have made his acquaintance, and, although we have never met, I’m pleased to count him as a friend.

I know I’m not alone in wishing Brian a good recovery. His pain hurts us in ways he is far too modest to admit.

Recently Linked:
My thanks to Samantha Rose and Lirio for signing on as followers of Recently Banned Literature. And thanks also to Samantha Rose for linking here from her blog, thesaurus rex. A link to her blog can also be found in the “Reading Room.”

In the Forum: a nightmare without hyperlinks.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What You See

Early one morning, while replying to a comment on my blog, I noticed a reflection on the screen. It was me. The rest, it seems, is what you see.

[click to enlarge]

“What You See” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: Greg Schwartz’s Haiku & Horror.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I tear an apple from the bough,
as if now such sweet
vengeance is

(first publication)

Recently Linked: My thanks to Greg Schwartz for his kind mention of my poem, “Ruins,” which appeared recently in Barbaric Yawp, in this entry of his blog, Haiku & Horror. Thanks also to Anna Zenonos for linking to my main website and Robert Burns glossary from her Web Log.

“Proverb” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: the stage is the thing.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ivy, Fence, and Woodpile

I think this picture would make a great bookmark. There used to be a hazelnut tree where our fig tree is. A few pieces of the old trunk and scaffolding remain. They’re inspiring in their sculpture and decay, and are a nice reminder of the orchard that was here forty years ago, before the neighborhood went in.

[click to enlarge]

“Ivy, Fence, and Woodpile” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: a poetic drama in no acts.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Before they happen,
the sense of history in all things.

After, the sense of implausibility,
until it has all been imagined

(first publication)

Recently Linked: It’s a pleasure to welcome Jenny Enochsson, who has just signed on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. Jenny lives in Sweden and pens the bilingual poetry blog Cinnamon.

“Covenant” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: Out w/ your lymphatic Sunday mode!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Act 1

Clouds at dawn
and a street light sun
in just the right

between two

(first publication)

“Act 1” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: too much time is the enemy.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thunderbird ’65

One of my jobs while growing up on the farm was to clean up the quarter-mile stretch of roadside adjacent to our vineyard — bottles, cans, papers, pieces of broken boxes and pallets, and various other items too disgusting to describe here. During the daylight hours it was a fairly busy road. But at night, like the smaller roads that crossed it, it was used by many for slow drives with a bottle and friends of the opposite sex. The fact that it was relatively close to town also made it a handy place to ditch the evidence outside city limits, and before the police pulled you over to help alleviate their boredom on a slow summer night. Other than the sheer volume of trash, this meant that the cans and bottles weren’t always empty. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as the smell of a sunbaked, half-full can of Falstaff or Lucky Lager — unless it’s the sour smell of a bottle of Thunderbird, an exquisite wine and old-time favorite of thrifty connoisseurs. I don’t know why, but even though I knew what to expect, I just had to unscrew the lids.

In the Forum: drama on a deadline.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Street Scene

I was a few minutes early to meet my friend for coffee the other morning, so after parking the car across from the bus station on High Street, I took the bag of tomatoes and copy of Barbaric Yawp I was going to give him and ambled toward the corner at Court Street. Part way there I met a slight, frizzy-haired man in sunglasses, who, by the tilt of his head and dance-like movements, was easy to identify as one of our beloved street-crazies. We looked at each other, and just as we were about to pass, he stopped and said, “The reason I want to be a cobbler is because I want to know why the bottoms of tennis shoes wear out faster than the tops.” “Me, too,” I replied, and my answer must have thrilled him, because his enthusiastic “thank you!” turned heads at the bus station. And it must also have satisfied him, because he walked off without saying another word.

I know it satisfied me. The sound of his voice, the brick building beside us, the dusty awnings over the sidewalk, the bright eye of the blackbird looking up at me from the gutter, and the steady warmth of the sun are the kinds of sustenance I seek — song, poem, image, story, rhythm, and vibration, passing into memory as we speak.

In the Forum: what happens to people who sit around trying to think up new poetic forms.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Heavy clouds
on a locomotive’s back

a cry at every

(first publication)

“Regret” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Sunday evening
after the flower show

I dream of two
dead uncles.

[click to enlarge]

“Dahlias” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.

In the Forum: new poetic forms — the final frontier.