Sunday, April 30, 2017

Blue jeans and

In the waking part of my dream, I’m on my knees in old blue jeans, planting flowers. In the sleeping part, I crumble sweet-aromatic soil in my hand, and, like a wise old chocolatier of a man, hold it up to the nose of my friend, and say to him then, “This, tells us everything.”

Saturday, April 29, 2017

No one and everyone in particular

He’ll get a little bigger if you click on him.

Here’s an old friend, who is no one and everyone in particular, drawn with an ordinary school pencil I suppose around 2009 or 2010, or maybe a little earlier. I have no idea where the original is. Maybe I’ll find him in a stack somewhere, dozing in a closet. He’ll open his eyes and say, “You’ve changed. Oh, yes, decidedly.”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Great gray granite

Well, I just can’t help it. I love being so old that no one knows how young I am — except for you, of course — you’ve known all along, since long before either of us was born. I was a rock — a great gray granite slab. Do you remember? And you, you were an oak. We grew up together! Oh, yes, my friend, those were the days! And by those, I mean these. And by were, I mean are. And by days, I mean the eternity sparkling, dancing, flashing in your eyes, infinitely told. And that is only the beginning. Who knows what your next smile will bring?

Canvas 886

Canvas 886

April 27, 2017

Sunday’s Child

To be my mother’s lilac,
and for her to somehow know it

like its scent, a thought that
cannot last for long

From Poems, Slightly Used, May 4, 2009

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

In passing

I was thinking about my daily walks, how they are short in physical distance, yet limitless, and how they are brief in duration, yet timeless until my return. When I am out, in other words, I am out forever. And when I am away, the scenery I pass through is here, and, in the same breath, everywhere. But what about the rest of the day? Well, it is much the same. An appointment at a certain time is simply that. I acknowledge the need and make sure I get there, but there is no urgency in the matter. If I’m helping by preparing a meal, I start the work soon enough that the food will be ready when it should be ready. But the work itself is beyond all that. I am not anxious for it to be done. I chop garlic and peel onions and potatoes not for an hour, but forever. And while I am so engaged, I am absorbed to the point that I scarcely exist, even as I am careful not to slice my finger. Now, granted, it’s a little difficult, or clumsy, to express such things. What I am suggesting, perhaps, is that in life there is something we might call a soul’s pace or spirit’s pace, and the more we are aware of it the better we understand that happiness isn’t a matter of effort, it’s a matter of being present. And we can’t be present if we are caught up in the constant judgment and evaluation of ourselves, of others, and our surroundings, all measured against our notions of what “should be.” In any given moment, there is simply no better place to be than exactly where we are, just as there is no better work than the present task, done with love. It is the very peace we yearn for, and so much more, without the chains we forged, and proudly wore.

Canvas 885

Canvas 885

April 26, 2017

Canvas 884

Canvas 884

April 26, 2017

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dreamy gray and blue

After yesterday’s downpour, I suppose it’s only natural I would dream about water — first in the form of a creek, then a river, and finally an ocean. But the ocean was narrow, the width of a river. I could see people on the opposite shore, which was where I had been earlier, and where I needed to return. A man driving a strange rusted vehicle plowed into the water, and of course he didn’t sink, even though he should have. I was about to begin my swim when I realized the tide had suddenly gone out, and so I simply walked across, and there was my father, rather unimpressed by it all. What did he say? I don’t remember. Despite the narrow ocean, despite the low tide that had erased it, despite the nearly twenty-two years that have passed since his death, he said something very ordinary. It was good to see him. The creek had surged. I’d been walking upstream on its rocky bottom when the eternal floodgates had opened. This forced me to scramble up the steep bank with the help of roots and branches. At the top there was a gap in the growth, which I recognized as the place I’d first come in. But soon there was so much water that the high ground was also inundated, and I waded to even higher ground. Then I reached a little gate, or rather a place where a gate used to be. This too was familiar, and was framed by brambles and tall grass. A few feet further, and there was the narrow ocean. None of this seemed or felt particularly threatening. It was just the way it was. I wasn’t afraid. And now I remember something that happened yesterday evening while I was taking a short walk. I was just about to turn around at the halfway point, lost not in thought, but in the dreamy gray sky above the wetland behind the opposite row of houses, when a little tiny dog approximately thirty-seven years of age started barking almost at my feet. This made me jump, which startled us both, and I said to the dog, “Oh! You startled me!” and received exactly the same reply in return. Poor thing. Without intending to, it had obviously gotten out of its fenced area and didn’t quite know what to do. But the barking alerted its people and so all was well. I turned around and pulled on my hood, because it had started raining again. And now here I am, drinking coffee, listening to the birds, and watching daylight arrive through the clouds. Gray, gray, gray. What a lovely thing to say. As lovely as blue, blue, blue, tulip girls and daffodils, lilacs and the way I feel when you look my way, love.

Monday, April 24, 2017


I’ve been mentally, wordlessly adrift the past few days, enjoying the crazy spring weather, as well as everything else. We had a violent cloudburst about an hour ago, and it turned the backyard into a lake. There is still water standing everywhere, front and back, down the street, across the street, in the air, and even up in the trees. Not adrift, therefore, in any despairing sense, but indeed most agreeably so — profoundly, spiritually so — adrift like a child who has just learned to tie his shoes, as I did one Thursday afternoon when I was five. I was out in the yard. I had been trying to learn at school, on the shoe-tying boot in our kindergarten class at Lincoln School. But to tie that shoe, you had to face it, which was the opposite of tying one’s own. It didn’t make sense to me. To this day I have trouble with that concept. I need to be behind the shoe, not in front of it. Anyway, I was outside playing, when I happened to notice my shoe was untied. Without thinking, I bent down and tied it, and didn’t realize what I had done until after I had done it. When I did, I shouted for joy and ran into the house to tell everyone I’d finally succeeded. And I’ve been tying my own shoes ever since. Adrift in that sense — in the sense that I feel quite certain I have told this story before, to someone, to you, to others, in this and in other times, every few seconds needing to glance down at my shoe, just to be sure — of what? If I knew that, I wouldn’t be adrift. I would be almost sixty-one, sitting at my mother’s old desk, writing this note. And we both know that can’t be, especially because it is. And if that makes sense, let it go, as I do every time those twin pests, logic and sanity, come to call.

Canvas 883

Canvas 883

April 24, 2017

Canvas 882

Canvas 882

April 24, 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

It’s all clear to me now

What I need on one of my bookshelves is a slender, rejoicing figure no more than three inches tall, bronze in color, perhaps, although another cast or shading might do as well, with feet planted in such a way as to suggest a high mountain scene, ecstasy, an approaching thunderstorm, magic, motion, male at a glance, female in dance, a butterfly’s pose, a winter wind’s pause, a cool face in the mirror of a pond. And all of this because I moved some books around.

April postcard

One way to explain the liquid sunshine drenching the street in a crystalline shower of near cloudless rain, is that life is so helplessly and joyfully abundant, she weeps. And of course there are other ways, but all send their love, just the same.

So light so early

So light so early . . .

earth thoughts, cloud shadows, treetops . . .

and in the east, beyond the mountains,

deep in the high desert,

the sun not quite done with her bath . . .

Yes, it is like that this morning,

said the window

to the man.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Just enough to wash away

Last night’s rain was a brief round of applause — a tenth of an inch, just enough to wash away the rainbow chalk mark games the neighbor kids made. And so when they come home from school today, they’ll have a fresh blank canvas to write on. Much like the sky this morning, already filled with the script of joyous birds.

Canvas 875

Canvas 875

April 17, 2017

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Between rains

Things dried out nicely yesterday, enough that I could sweep the fir needles from the walk, and for the neighbor kids to chalk their driveway with colorful games and designs. When I was coming back from across the street with the mail, I could see their dog sitting happily and looking on, his nose testing each scent in the air, smiling, content, completely satisfied to be a part of it all. The whole world was his bone.

Early on, it froze — well, not quite. It was thirty-four degrees. But the rooftops were white, and just as the sun was coming up a light fog formed. Out for a walk, I was able to look directly into the old star’s face. We exchanged gazes for a time, the way friends do who haven’t seen each other for a while, and who know and love the long way around.

The atmosphere in the afternoon was an explosion of pollen, light, and color — doors open, windows open, heart open, mind open.

And then came evening, and soon all was silent, even though all was silent before — silent in the traffic’s roar, the dog’s bark, the child’s shout, the slammed door, the church bell, and the good-bye horn. Such joy there is between rains, knowing there will be more, and even more joy, when it returns.

Friday, April 14, 2017

all ye who enter

when the last light goes out to meet the velvet dark

and you bleed on humid wood

yield to hands whose work is love

and praise though blind the everlasting good

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Baker’s dozen

In the afternoon, a couple of days ago,

Just as it was starting to rain,

I planted some flower seeds. As a finishing touch,

I made some thumbprints in the dough.

When the bread is finished baking,

The sprouts will emerge through scented seams,

And quickly hide this poem.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

this year the tulips

this year the tulips are cut and colored in such a way

they seem to have fallen out of stained glass windows

along with the artist that placed them there

whose tired eyes are closed

and whose breath

is rain-wet


Monday, April 10, 2017

We meet again

Yesterday we were at the grocery store when a woman about our age came up to me and said she loved my beard, and then started patting and stroking it lightly, with a gleam in her eye that indicated certain social barriers didn’t exist in her mind. I waited patiently and spoke kindly while her embarrassed young granddaughter tugged at her gently and tried to guide her away. It was a lovely, beautiful moment. I would have stood there forever if needed, but the girl made sure that wasn’t necessary. Later, elsewhere in the store, we were ignored by all sorts of “normal” people. That, too, was beautiful, in the way that the hard shells of walnuts are beautiful, etched like thumbprints in their infinitely peculiar, familiar design. “Children in the garden,” I thought, “flowers plucked one by one, each in its time.”

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The maker and the made

Remember, dear one, what you create creates you.

Yes, you are the maker and the made,

In all you think, in all you say, in all you do.


fir moon, cloud moon,
birds singing in the dark,
day here, so soon,
and you,

breathless in your part

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson

These are in remarkably good condition,
with ribbon markers that appear to be unused and unmoved
since publication of the set in London
by The Navarre Society
in 1924.


(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

Canvas 873

Canvas 873

April 8, 2017

Friday, April 7, 2017

A mighty wind is

A mighty wind is thrashing the firs.

Yesterday, the crows were busy gathering wood for their nests.

When the wind dies down, they will resume.

Ignorance, hatred, and violence aren’t new in the world.

Fir cones are hitting the house.

Shall I be angry with the wind? Are the crows?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


When I was a kid, chamomile grew wild on our San Joaquin Valley farm, but I didn’t know it was chamomile, I only knew I liked the way it carpeted the ground, and how it smelled when I crushed the unopened blooms between my fingers and held them up to my nose. We were also the accidental holders of a vast wealth in purslane, a great edible ground cover that Armenians in the area called “parpar,” and that we kids called “easy weeds.” This natural crop was most abundant in the vineyard rows where the soil was heaviest. At a more mature stage, it bloomed and attracted clouds of narrow little flies. We could plow it up with the tractor, and, owing to its succulent nature, it would stay alive in the moist earth for days, weeks, even. Picture these growing in furrows with a new summer crop of tiny toads hopping among them and you have my childhood in miniature. Weeds, toads, buzzards drifting overhead, sparrows, mockingbirds, angry yellow jacket nests, dirt, dust, extreme heat, sweat, a high mountain range to the east with snow-capped peaks — complete enchantment. There was an old retired well in one spot, about an eighth of a mile behind our house. It had a heavy iron cover, and there was a little hole in the cover, just big enough for me to drop a clod in and wait for the sound of a splash somewhere below. I can hear it even now — just as I can feel myself falling through black space between daylight and the bottom of the well. And here beside me, growing cold in my cup? You guessed it. Chamomile.

Canvas 870

Canvas 870

April 4, 2017

They might be bamboo. I’m not sure.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Thank you

When my wife and I first tied the knot, or got hitched, as the saying goes, I was nineteen. That was more than forty-one years and four children ago. Now, at the end of every day, before sleep, I always tell her the same thing: I say thank you, for everything. You see, I do not believe in tomorrow, and I do not assume the next morning will find me alive. And so, if I go during the night, the last words I will have consciously, purposely spoken are words of thanks to someone whose boundless strength and faith have seen us through. Simple enough, and certainly true. But I wanted you to know. And to the writers, artists, poets, old friends, new friends, wanderers, lovers, dreamers, builders, workers, and doubters who pass this way today — thank you, too — thank you, thank you, all.

Out like a light

A clear, quiet, frosty morning, with white rooftops and hearty tulips. Out early for a walk — trees flowering all around, a porch light here and there still on — I inhaled and thought, Remember, when you take anything or anyone for granted, you take yourself for granted. At any moment, you can, and will, go out like a light. And even that is a miracle. Gratitude.

Canvas 869

Canvas 869

April 3, 2017

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The garden that is this world

The garden that is this world — the people, the creatures, the trees, the rocks, the stars — once we see that these are all ourselves in another form, and understand that there is no distance between us, we see God — here, in the lamplight, here, in the dust. Once we see that all are sacred or none, and that dream is as solid as bone, we see God — here, in uncharted space, here, in the whale’s spout. Once we see that all is intimacy, and that all is love, the painful questions fall off one by one — should we eat meat, or should we not — which way must we face when we pray — which book shall we believe — what is the meaning of war — and why, oh, why, are we here? Everything is dear. And joy outpaces the explanation, that God is a child, God is the sun, God is the rainbow, that we are God, and that all is God, and the kingdom is here. Or will we choose fear? If we do, that too is well, for it will be shaken from us when our last leaf is down — and what is more beautiful than all of us standing here, naked through winter, and spring invincibly near?

Canvas 868

Canvas 868

April 2, 2017

Saturday, April 1, 2017

All work and all play

Yesterday afternoon, with the enthusiastic help of our six-year-old grandson, I mowed the pasture in front of the house with the old push-mower my father bought way back in 1964. The thing weighs a ton. The grass was a foot deep from the rain. The buffalo scattered. The mountain goats came down from the trees. Raking madly, going after stray blades with a pair of scissors, the boy was in heaven, as I was, and as are we all. We swept the sidewalk at least half a dozen times and gazed out across the plain. Then I brought out a chair and drank tea while he trimmed the young cedar next to the lilac, ran the brush through his shredder, and spread the mulch on our garden space. Well imagined. Well done, as every tool in the garage assumed a magical new purpose. Paradise, of course. It needn’t be hard.