Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The best by far

A human brain, cradled lovingly in a scientist’s gloved hands;
and, in the adjacent image, the brain blossoming as so many stars;
then, further on, a child laughs for the light that we are —

Oh, these are the best family photos, love, by far.

Canvas 849

Canvas 849

February 28, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

As everything that teaches us

Now, I hope you will understand when I say I write to you near death, and that the death I refer to, while perhaps not imminent, is our own. For at any moment, you and I can go out like a light, as the saying is, and as calmly and casually as a child pulls petals from a rose. And I hope you will understand when I say I am not saddened by this truth. Because this prospect of death, it seems to me, is our key to beauty. That all things end is part of what makes their unique individual presence so precious. We see it in clouds, in trees, on hillsides, and are content that this is so. But when death claims someone near, we are bereft and lonely when we suddenly realize we took the departed for granted. And therein is our lesson. And because it is a lesson, it too is beautiful, as everything that teaches us is. And everything does, once we see it, once we give this simple truth free reign. And now I will begin again. And that, there is no need to explain.

If I had goals

If I had goals, maybe I would accomplish something. But goals and accomplishment seem such a distraction, with days this full and so much living to do. Well, you ask, what is it, then, that you really do? And I say, I don’t know exactly. But a great part of it is loving you. The rest is flight of some kind. I see birds on the wing, and I am among them. I see a waterfall, and I fall too. A man’s worn out body is lowered into the grave, and I descend through the very same space. Does that seem strange? Once, I was a bright yellow balloon being bounced between two laughing children, when the wind caught me and carried me off. High up above, I could see them pointing and watching, until they became so small they faded from view. And I thought, and I guess always will, that all is well, and without me is within me too.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Forever and a day

There is water standing in the fields on either side of Highway 99. The ground simply can’t hold any more. The shallow black-bottomed lake beds where onions are grown during the summer, are now winter water-resorts for birds, including gulls that ride in on the high winds, making their sixty-mile journey from the grand Pacific in an hour. Their white bodies are bright in the sun, their wings a fine line in blue consciousness. And we are here among them, poised, love, to disappear.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A worthwhile experiment

Yesterday, I wrote briefly about how negative thoughts undermine our mental and physical health. This is something I learned through my own experience, and which I observe in others on a daily basis — to the point that I’ve never seen a person who is caught up in negativity, who is also happy and free. But certainly I don’t know everything. Maybe you can honestly look at yourself and see negativity having a positive effect in your life — improving your outlook, your digestion, your general health, and your ability to see love and joy and good wherever it may spontaneously arise. I’m not saying you can’t or don’t see and experience these things. I’m asking whether or not you think negativity is a help or a hindrance. I know the intellect says, “We must defeat evil at all costs.” But I also know that love says, “Let us first see the evil within us, and make ourselves the best and strongest vessel in these restless waters.” Or something like that. Love whispers strange, beautiful, poetic things, certainly more so, and ever more simply and profoundly, than I am now. But let’s leave that judgment aside. Let’s ask again, whether you honestly think, and have honestly observed, that you are mentally and physically healthier than you would be if you set your negativity aside. Have you, who likely have respect for modern scientific method, even tried? Because it’s a worthwhile experiment. “But we need solutions and answers, and we need them now!” you cry. “There’s no time for this philosophical meandering of yours!” No time? After all these centuries of destructive history, this ongoing battle of strong puppets versus weak puppets over flags and honor and wealth? No time? You who are scientific, don’t you see that this particular phase of the experiment has run its course, and that it’s worthwhile to look somewhere else? If you believe in revolution and the possibility of a healthier, happier, more just world, isn’t it logical to embody that revolution first in yourself?

Canvas 848

Canvas 848

February 25, 2017

Friday, February 24, 2017

The other hand clapping

Heaven forgive me, after years away from them, I’ve been looking at some of my old books — I mean those I’ve written — and finding them good. Novel, poems, stories, journal entries. Somehow, I had grown accustomed to the idea that they’re nothing special, that they’re marred by flaws, and while the latter, especially, is true, I find in most cases the flaws are endearing, so naïve and innocent they are, even as they stand as irrefutable evidence of immaturity and faulty thinking. But as I look at them now, I’m glad they’re part of the record, so to speak — I say so to speak, because few have read them, and possibly even fewer ever will, but that’s a small matter, if not the smallest of all. I’m happy. I lived them. I know what went into them, and how, despite various self-induced difficulties, they came about. At the same time, I’ve let them go. Like my children, they’re alive in the world. What else?

When we most need them

We all know of ignorant, arrogant, obnoxious, destructive people. But it’s imperative we don’t pollute ourselves with negative thoughts about them — that we say, rather, “This is the very reason we love you.” For not only are they in dire need of love, they are, like fairy tale monsters, our well-timed teachers in disguise. And if we are incapable of such love, the incapacity, temporary though it may be, lies not just in them, but in ourselves. In other words, monsters appear in our individual and collective lives when we most need them, and can most benefit from what they’re unwittingly and helplessly trying to reveal. In my own experience, I’ve yet to meet a monster who, when attacked, did not try desperately to defend itself. And so I have to ask if love is not the truest, gentlest, easiest, most effective resistance of all — the resistance which lifts, embraces, holds, comforts, and consoles the monster, as well as the monster in ourselves. A crazy, radical thought, I know. But no more so than the thoughtless, habitual fear that keeps our anger flying.

Said the curious old man

You come upon them in the forest,
these playful lines of verse, as if a choice were offered,
whose kind face, and which bright heaven first?
and love to say you know not,
for better and for worse,

when all of it is heaven, and none of it a curse,
when all is where you’re standing,

when love’s arrow finds
your heart.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Your bird on her limb in the rain

Remember, when you describe something, you are really describing yourself. So be vivid. Describe well. The more clearly I see your bird on her limb in the rain, the more I will rejoice in your glorious spring.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Spring postcard

Fog in the treetops, mist here below,
lamplight, streetlight, thoughts like snow,
melting — yes, melting — as you go.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorne

(click to enlarge)

Really, they’re red. I fiddled with them a little.
These are part of the fifteen-volume Standard Library Edition
published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company in 1882.

Mysterious ways

To the angry and ignorant, even love is a conspiracy.
And if indeed it is so, I say, let us all perish by it!

In the forest heard

Dear one, is it not a narrow view of solitude,
that here among us, you think yourself alone?

Canvas 847

Canvas 847

February 21, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday thoughts

Rather than preaching to the choir, my friend, listen to their singing instead. Or, as Thoreau once said, There’s a cricket in my head — perhaps even under the bed.

Canvas 844

Canvas 844

February 19, 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dark passage (letter from another time)

Dear Ones, I must tell you, last night I dreamed they

(I could not distinguish their features, only their tragic countenances)

gathered up everyone who isn’t white,
bringing them all together like cattle,

and somehow they forgot me.

I said, Don’t you see how dark I am, and how strange?

And as can happen in dreams, I made myself darker,
and I spoke a hundred customs and languages at once.

(I may have been a flower, but who can be sure?)

They (I still could not see who they were)

laughed. And smiled.

And I pounded at their gates. Was I to be condemned to their heaven?

No, I cried — not if I am awake!

Sky notes

You have one idea of beauty, beauty another of you,

and I the color and meaning of blue . . .

the ideas, and colors, and meanings are true

in and beyond our evenings and absence and through,

just as these fragments dance to be whole . . .

as love does . . . and we will . . .

Friday, February 17, 2017

A little less certainty

My philosophy? a little less certainty —
yes, like a kiss that might never be, so sweet to savor,
you see, once in the way and the sway of it,
the light and the day and the play of it.

Even alone, had you and I known
the notes of this song all along,

I would look back with a little less certainty,
and a lot more love.

There is an old saying,

For she so made the world, that she gave
her most uncertain one, not for life everlasting,
or for many, or few, or some,

But for the wonder of everyone.

I find the stone

I find the stone is not cold, it is warm,
it is moist, she is bold,

And her voice is a thrill.

I find the stone is soft, not hard, it is flight,
it is song, it is word,

And I rejoice in the world.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

By song of her voice

Yesterday is a dream. Today is a song. There is no when. There is no long. Only all elation:

By song of her voice created she them
in womb to rejoice in field and fen,

And blessed are those who call
to us then, and sing from their limb!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Late valentine

A mouthful of coffee grounds, half a bubble off plumb,
peace for the old, care for the young.

And you, my love, not calling me dumb,
with kisses like wishes thought lost and now won.

Canvas 843

Canvas 843

February 15, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Brown, with a touch of gray

What a crazy-beautiful life this is. Back on September 25, 2009, I shared this photograph, along with the following words, in a little collection I was putting together at the time, called, “Penny Thoughts and Photographs.” Well, when I was dusting and cleaning my grandmother’s sewing machine this morning, a little door popped open that I didn’t know was there. What I found behind it will be obvious, if you will kindly read on. One other thing. My mother passed away in 2013, exactly four years from the date that this was written:

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.

Canvas 841

Canvas 841

February 13, 2017

Sunday, February 12, 2017

You don’t reason with a crocodile

Have you noticed that criticizing others is bad for your health? With each instance of criticism, a small dose of poison is injected into your system. The stronger the habit, the more drugged and paralyzed you become. The same thing happens when you criticize yourself. I’m fat, I’m stupid, I’m a failure, my nose is too big, I’m afraid of speaking in public — there’s no end to it. I should do this, but instead I always do that. And so does he, and so do they, look at them, who do they think they are, ruining everything for the rest of us. Us, them, I’m right and everybody’s wrong, and this poison charges through the system, day and night, turning itself into nightmares and aches and pains and poor digestion, then the next thing you know it’s off to the doctor if you can afford one, so he or she can prescribe more poison. Or you simply lash out and make everyone around you miserable. What do you mean, you don’t agree with me? You must be blind if you can’t see how obviously right I am! Anyway, it’s something to think about. But don’t think too long, because that too is bad for your health. The less thinking the better. You don’t reason with a crocodile. You say hello, then quickly step aside and move on.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

And what does the day sing?

Please don’t take this medium for granted. It can disappear in an instant. Don’t waste a moment in anger or pose. Let yourself blossom. Be as intimate as the hug of a child, and as welcoming as the eyes of a faithful old hound. “Dear, we have company!” “Good! I’ll put on the kettle!” For in all truth, we are our own angels and guests, and this world is our hearth and our home. Imagine it gone. Imagine yourself alone on the road, turned away with suspicion at every door. You look different. Your language is new. The familiar is strange, and so are you. And then you remember: I too, once had the chance to say, “How do you do?” Corny, isn’t it? Oh, yes — right into our graves, corny and moldy and blue. And what does the day sing? It sings, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

Did you see that?

Your heart is open, how can you help it,
even when you think it’s closed up and hidden away
safe inside, it’s open, yes, open, open, open,
its face turned to the sky,

And so when she touches you with rain
on her lips and tears in her eyes
and says,

Did you see that?

You reply, Yes, love,
yes, and there’s no turning back!

Friday, February 10, 2017


In whatever age and time we live, monsters exist not that we may point at them and call them names, but that we can find them in that hidden part of us, which is best explained by what we most fear to face: our own end, away from the vivid light of day. And so I say, monsters are first and foremost to be loved, for the adversity they bring that tempers and teaches us; for the ills and sores they reveal; and for the new life they bring to our own awareness, perseverance, and decency. A monster scorned, is a greater monster born. A monster loved, and understood, is a sky reflected in a clear pond, and that pond is our own fine mirror. And then, when our end does come, we can part in joy, knowing that our work was truly done.

Ever and always tend

Ever and always, tend the flowers.

They may be hours.

They may be poems.

They may be children.

They may be dreams.

They may be anything the weary traveler needs.

Ever and always, tend, especially when it seems no one sees.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

If it’s a heart you’re looking for

If it’s a heart you’re looking for, the child cried, take mine.
I’ll grow another, and a better, and a bigger.
Then the child died.

And the child’s words came true:
I saw the sky that night. I saw the stars.
I saw the clouds. I saw the moon.

If it’s a heart you’re looking for, I cried, take mine!
I’ll grow another, and a better, and a bigger!
And then I died and became a child’s sky of blue.

This, too, is true:
That another, and a better, and a bigger heart,
Is here, inside of you.

La Triste Figura

La Triste Figura

February 9, 2017

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

prayer flag in the wind

to wear your body lightly

as a prayer flag in the wind

you must choose the brightest colors

and make the wind

your friend

Canvas 840

Canvas 840

February 8, 2017

Canvas 839

Canvas 839

February 8, 2017

In our care

Knowledge is wonderful when we understand its fleeting, fluid nature, and that we are the fortunate custodians of that which comes to us — for knowledge is held in trust, and is meant to be passed on. But when it is possessed merely to shore up our identities, it is inevitably misunderstood and abused, like pets which seek our love and receive narrow-minded cruelty instead. You know the look. Just imagine that inside your head.

The almost-dark

I love sitting in the almost-dark of what I almost know, thinking less than feeling where I might or might not go when next I stand, if indeed I’m granted that — to the kitchen for more coffee, or perhaps one more spin through an eternity of stars. But really there’s no difference, is there, if I can imagine that, and you can smile kindly, and gently pat my back — you, so almost-near, and almost-far, and as light as light is almost-dark.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


I am here, in this part of the world. You are there, in that part of the world. And this world is here, in this part of the solar system, in this part of the galaxy, in this part of the cosmos. And this part of the cosmos is here, in our bones, in our breaths, and in our minds.

Now, what shall we do with this knowledge?

Go out, take in the air, and sweep our sidewalks, of course.

And if you don’t have a sidewalk, or your sidewalk is obscured by hunger, poverty, and war, I will sweep mine all the more, with you in my heart.

Borders? Flags? Decrees? I will sweep them into oblivion, and clear the space for children to play.

Yes, I will live my life that way.

I am not an orator. I am not a gifted politician. I am not a constitutional lawyer. I am a simple, almost anonymous sixty-year-old man with exactly no time on his hands.

But I’m good with a broom.

And the truth is, I rather like sweeping. You see, my broom and I are on intimate terms. As intimate as the cosmos, and the palm in which it turns.

There will always be light in the world

We were without power a good long while yesterday, and so I spent the afternoon and evening watching the light change. At dusk, I saw one last sparrow in a bush out front, in a little opening obviously made just for that moment. The dimming light hugged her like mist, and she seemed to be suspended between sleep and song — like a note at the end of a piece of music, composed late in life by a master who still feels himself young. I found some of my mother’s old candles, lit them one by one, and did some singing myself, thinking, There will always be light in the world, light enough to carry on.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The power of decency

I look at myself, my rapidly aging body, my limited range of ability, and ask, What, really, is within my power? And the answer is, Decency. At home, online, or in the grocery store, I can be polite, I can smile, I can be kind, I can be considerate, I can be sympathetic, I can offer my help without being asked. I can listen. I can remember that everyone I meet has his or her own private story and struggle, pain that is hidden, grace that is alive. And I will tell you something: When I am out and about in this world — and that when is ever and always and now — I feel as if my heart is broken and breaking for love, the beautiful in and out of it, the above and below and the through of it. My heart has a life of its own. Its doors and windows and walls have fallen away. Its roof is gone. If it is madness, then it is a madness I embrace. If it is blindness, then I am blind to my disgrace. If it is the watchman on his last round before dawn, then soon, perhaps even now, I will dream myself awake.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Canvas 838

Canvas 838

February 5, 2017


Yes, I would rather be laughed at for love, than praised for anything else you care to name. I have not lived this long, just to go back again!

Little old-fashioned roses

Little old-fashioned roses, long since without a name,
and the arbor on which they grow is the perfect way to frame
these troubled thoughts we pose, and then so wisely prune away,
not to tame, or blame, but to deeply love their gentle,
wild way with us, who in our blushing, blessèd,
thorny differences, are the very same,
we surely may proclaim
in love,


Canvas 837

Canvas 837

February 5, 2017

Saturday, February 4, 2017

All it needs

This morning I took out my Westbrook guitar. It’s about fifty years old now. My parents bought it for seventeen dollars at our local music store. I’d said I wanted to learn how to play. I took a few lessons from Mrs. Hughes, but they didn’t go very well. What I heard in my head was not what came out of the guitar, and certainly wasn’t what was printed on the page. The guitar still has its original strings. I just tuned it using the piano. It sounds terrible. Discord in Any Minor. It’s small. Now it’s leaning against one of several stacks of books in a semi-hidden place here in my library and work space. With a little light shining on it, from across the room near the front doorway, I can see its neck through the gap between two tall shelves. All it needs is hair and a hat, and someone to say, Well, will you look at that!

Canvas 836

Canvas 836

February 4, 2017

Canvas 835

Canvas 835

February 4, 2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Do you see?

Do you see that sapling tested by the wind? And its family
and forebears around her, sublime and sturdy as can be?

And now, do you see yourself, and the strength,
and the beauty, in vulnerability?

The gleaming-slick slide

The gleaming-slick slide behind the Carnegie Library in the city park by the fire station in the old hometown, is where I am now — not far from the merry-go-round, that tilted death-trap and leg-breaker, beckoning from its center of powdery ground. Sycamore-shade, old men wearing hats, sitting at tables, playing cards and dominoes. Friendly ghosts now, in this fine every-no-where of dream-hallowed ground. And in an instant — I’m down.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

To the child

So much strife, rooted in the idea of ownership — in the idea that “this land is your land, this land is my land.” But this land, this earth, this space, this universe, belongs to no one, and the waving of flags and the defending of borders shows just how little we understand ourselves and our relationship with the world and its beautiful, diverse inhabitants — fellow creatures killed for sport, elephants for ivory, men, women, and children for their color, their religion, their oil. Before a border can come into being, it must exist in your mind. You must believe it is there. You must tell yourself, over and over, or be told, that those living on the other side of this make-believe barrier are so different from you that they must stay on their side and you must stay on yours. But this is utter nonsense. Because you have not done your own investigation, you have created and accepted the difference. And this has tragic consequences, as we daily see. To me, it is a beautiful thing when a child from the neighborhood wanders into the yard, led by a cat or butterfly, and then begins looking about. There is a lesson in this, and it is the simplest one of all: to the child, everywhere is home. And now I must confess, that although I wear the body of an adult, what a child knows, I have never outgrown. And what does a child know? Love, for all. So go ahead. Spank me. Or laugh. It hasn’t worked yet. It never will.