Thursday, May 25, 2017

A friend in disguise

Our disappointment, our emptiness, our loneliness, our grief, our fear — each is a friend in disguise, with infinite patience and confidence in our ability to understand ourselves and be free. Pain isn’t failure, it’s a perfect remedy. And, like the true friend it is, it always arrives at the right time, when it’s most surely needed. The wealth and beauty of life is never hidden. It is we who are in hiding. But hide as we will, our pain knows where we are. Drugs, alcohol, work, and all of the other time-honored forms of distraction might bring temporary relief. They might even kill us. Or we might kill ourselves. Quickly or slowly, it amounts to the same. But to delve into our pain — to embrace it, to love it, to sit with it and ask it what it’s trying to reveal — is an act of courage, grace, and humanity. It is an act far more powerful than the things we run from and rail against. To put it another way, how can we expect our lives to flower if we aren’t willing to accept everything love has to offer? How can we live to our potential and be a positive force in this world if we aren’t willing to examine, each according to our own lights and experiences, that which makes us uncomfortable or miserable? And so I ask, shall we run to our graves, or go singing? Shall we pronounce judgment on what we think are the shortcomings of others, or rejoice that they too are tormented by these divine messengers and angels?

Canvas 907

Canvas 907

May 25, 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Three days

Ninety-five, eighty-nine, and sixty-five degrees, along with windswept clouds of yellow pine pollen. When I reached the corner stop sign, a large hairy shirtless man rolled by in his rundown pickup, as casually as if he were crossing the street to get his mail. Three days. What is the name of that tall spiky flower that looks like a hollyhock but has different leaves? I never carry a mobile phone. I don’t have one. I have shovels, rakes, and hoes, and a little claw-shaped cultivator for when a flowerbed wants its back scratched. A pile of sticks. Some cucumber cages. Clippers. Sweet peas. Several worn out brooms. Old jeans. Church bells. The noon whistle. And by have I mean in the lightest possible way. A ghost-having. A floral cloud-spray. A kind of graveside sparrow-singing tree-breathing seed-sprouting now-where-were-we, love? kind of way. All for the nonce, here but once, forever and never kind of way. A work that is play kind of way. And suddenly, your hand is held.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

One thing we can learn from flowers

One thing we can learn from flowers
is how to meet one another
with an open, welcoming face . . .

Imagine young parents pushing strollers
filled with flowers . . .

Through gardens of children
blooming in the last May showers . . .

And an earth rejoicing in the human race . . .

Friday, May 19, 2017

Be kind to a child

One hardly needs the “weather people” to tell him there’s a patch of warm, dry weather ahead. The sudden eruption of anthills tells the story. The sidewalk cracks are loaded with them, and their groundbreaking trails run off into the neighboring flowerbeds, as the cry goes up to get back to work after the long layoff brought on by over fifty-five inches of rain. Hard hats, jack hammers, ant railroads, “Tie up the boats,” I hear them cry, “we’re going ashore!” Naturally, I step over them. “Thanks, Bill. How are things up the street?” “Well,” I answer, “the neighbor was awfully hard on her son this morning as he was getting ready to peddle off to school. I felt terrible about it. The morning is so beautiful, you know, especially in this early hour. Her voice sounded like a sad trumpet, and the boy, who is about fourteen, was obviously embarrassed for her and ashamed when I happened by. I tried to make myself invisible. It worked for her, but not for him. The scent-laden hush of the atmosphere was lost to her. But let’s hope it’s temporary. And you? How’s the family?” “Hard to keep track of.” And so on. Now. Where were we? Oh, yes. Tomorrow is my birthday. We’ll be away forever or for a few hours, the computer will be off, the spirits will have full run of the house, and I will be even more out of touch than usual. In the meantime, think good thoughts, or, better yet, don’t think at all. Sing. Dig a hole. Be kind to a child. And remember, that child is yourself.

Canvas 905

Canvas 905

May 19, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

In bloom

Iris, my love, if you’re willing to pretend,
the powder on your skin will be the way that I begin
the afterlife! Oh, foolish boy, if the fragrance
that I am persuades you to this end,
I bid you stay, and for today,
I will be your wife!

P.S. I find each color arrives with a different scent: one, of an almost soft-edible rubber; another, of a dear old piano teacher; a third is something innocently erotic, as if naked angels were attending one’s bath. What need have souls for clothes, and newborn babes for sighs? Ask the iris. Ask her with your nose. That is where the sweet-sky grows, and where her color goes at night. As for this silly poem, forgive a boy who’s not that bright!

My crooked mile

This world I see, feel, taste, touch, imagine, dream — is my consciousness. And so my early-morning walk, with its chimney smoke, irises, and crows, is my own private mirror. A quick glance, and I see what I think I see. But a deeper gaze reveals eternity, and thus the futility of all thoughts mercenary, by which to the loser goes the spoils. To hate someone is to hate myself. When I choose who and what I love, my choice is inevitably a selfish, petty one. I can divide, oh yes. But who is conquered?

Canvas 904

Canvas 904

May 18, 2017

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Canvas 902

Canvas 902

May 16, 2017

Irises and dreams

The tomato plants are growing like weeds in the rain. This morning I walked in a dense, heavy mist. The robins were out. Some starlings. A towhee. Silence emanated from coy-hidden crows. Crow silence. Black-ink silence. The atmosphere, it seemed, was deep into the process of paper-making. A calligrapher’s dream. A mark here, a mark there, and thus a new language is born, and is off to test its new wings. Redwoods make fine brushes, don’t you think? And irises? And dreams?

Canvas 901

Canvas 901

May 16, 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017


I have no grand purpose or plan. If I wake up in the morning, I give thanks that I can still see and feel and ache and eat and walk and work and imagine I am here — here, without needing to know what or where this is, or if any of it, including myself, really exists at all — here as a butterfly is here, created by the need of color and pollen and breeze and dream — here as a god, here as a child, here as a lost soul and here as one found, here as the mist, here as a signpost, here as a deep musical well, here as a gravestone and epitaph, here as a boy, a girl, and their clumsy first kiss, here as the next breath and here as the last . . . and isn’t it a lovely, wonderful thing, the miracle of my blessèd ignorance and helpless imagination in this grand meeting place, this urge to communicate, to whisper whatever comes to mind into the nearest and most kindly attentive ear? And who is it, really, that answers? You? Or have I imagined you as well? Are you but my own selfish echo? And when I answer you — what then? How beautiful it is not to know! How fortunate it is! However you care to define love, whatever it means to you, whatever you sense or dream or know about this divine moment of our meeting, I want you to know I am grateful for it in every fiber and cell. And if you are not grateful, I am grateful on your behalf. I am grateful even if you don’t really care, and I have been but a moment’s distraction. I don’t mind that at all. Does a butterfly worry about such things? A star? A snail? Why should I?

Canvas 900

Canvas 900

May 15, 2017

Canvas 899

Canvas 899

May 15, 2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A gift is a gift

The youngest of three sons, I moved away from home under entirely normal, peaceful circumstances when I was eighteen. Many years later, when my mother was on her downhill slide, she said that for quite some time, she couldn’t go into my room without crying. I was home every weekend, but I never knew. On one hand, it’s possible that something that had happened once or twice became momentarily exaggerated in her mind. On the other, blinded by my own ego and good health, it’s possible I was dense enough not to see it. Even then, we had already been friends for years, going back to my earliest memories of us being together. These memories are woven through “The Painting of You,” and many have been recorded elsewhere. Now that I think about it, there are hints, even, in “A Listening Thing.” At any rate, the friendship continued even after she wasn’t always sure who I was, when she thought I was my father, for instance, or thought I was her sister, or simply a steadily reliable abstract visitor and caretaker she called “Bill.” Who’s to know? A gift is a gift, and such we were to both.

Like the Sunday-one-day

And you, her son, like the Sunday-one-day you were born,
the valley dressed in May as one for the planting of sweet William,
now ragged more than some, yet madly, gladly, still in bloom.

Canvas 898

Canvas 898

May 14, 2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017

I love the thought

I love the thought that she might say, “You can come home any day, and help me get the clothes up on the line.” And oh, that valley sun, not five paces from her door, as if her home or clothes were needed anymore. And I love the thought that I might say, “We still have your thimbles and your cookie jar, and plant sweet alyssum by the walk.”

The interview

Asked what he thought was the greatest tragedy he had witnessed during his long life, the old man answered, “That tragedy was myself, every time I saw something as being ordinary.” Then he laughed. And his laughter was his childhood, taking flight in my mirror.

Canvas 897

Canvas 897

May 13, 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

P.S. Life is strange

As one who readily and willingly acknowledges his limitations, I offer the following observations with love and good intentions: It seems to me that the current political turmoil, which is angering, upsetting, and frightening millions of people, is the best thing that could be happening. All one has to do in order to be thankful for it, is to see to what degree the sorry side of our nature is being revealed. The assault on the environment and disregard of our common humanity in favor of profit in the short term, reminds us of the need to find and dig out the roots of the same arrogance and ignorance in ourselves. And it must be there, or this ugliness would not manifest itself on such a large scale. Evil men in power are the brazen puppets of our hidden desires, who dance on the stage for an hour, until the stage becomes a scaffold. And then we cheer when they are hung, and this satisfies us, and in that satisfaction, the deadly cycle is renewed. I’ve said many times before, in many ways, that the monster in us is not to be hated, and not even vanquished, but recognized and understood. When it is understood, when light is allowed to shine on that part of us, we see that what we were scared of in the dark, is only a helpless bully in the light. No longer enabled by our fear, the bully becomes a human being subject to the same eternal needs and laws. Now, that said, the present troubles are also showing the vast amount of good we possess — good that we had forgotten, and that perhaps we were even unaware of. It is like a beautiful fairy tale, in which are awakened countless brave, loving heroes of our better nature — heroes who march peacefully side by side; heroes who have learned once again to look directly into the eyes of the people they meet and speak kindly to them; heroes who, in their natural capacity, whatever it may be, work and contribute to the common good; heroes who know love is the single most powerful force in the world. To me, this last is what we have all not quite learned yet from history, and this is why our tragic past is always present. What we are seeing isn’t new. But the opportunity is. And the best opportunity is always the one before us, because we are here now, and might be gone in the very next moment. This life is a beautiful riddle each person must address himself. And the fact that millions can’t, or won’t, or are presently unable, does not make them bad. It means they are frightened. It means they aren’t ready. And yet their need remains the same. And that need is for love. And so the question for the individual remains: Will you withhold that love? Because if you do, you withhold it from yourself.

(P.S. Life is strange. Just as I wrote, “And that need is for love,” there came a heavy cloudburst. The gutters are overflowing. The water in the street is bubbling and flowing like a river.)

Petal falls, leaf grows

I know you are about to smile.

And what can that mean, but joy for the world?

Petal falls, leaf grows. Am I not a child?

Are you not the very light that shines

Upon the word?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Soon again soon

There is moss on the hard ground between the east end of the house and the iris bed. There is moss between the irises themselves. And there is moss in the remaining narrow stretch between the irises and the neighbor’s house. There are some weeds, too. The neighbor sprayed the weeds on his side, and so now they are dead white tufts. I don’t use spray. When the ground is dry enough, I simply scrape the weeds away with a hoe. And in the process I sweat out my own poisons. The result: a weed-free iris garden, a less-sullied environment, and better health. This is my approach. And the moss dries out in the sun and fades away, and I dry out in the sun and I fade away, and the sun is the same sun that yields at night what it brings to the day. There is my childhood in there somewhere, and the neighbor kids down the road, out running between the vineyard rows, hiding behind woodpiles, throwing clods, all in a kind of endless summer — a horned toad, jack rabbit, pheasant-in-flight, buzzard-on-a-fence-post world of delight — and soon again soon, the irises will bloom. And everything is right, once you see it.

Canvas 894

Canvas 894

May 8, 2017

Sunday, May 7, 2017

George used to

George used to cut my hair. This was, as they say, years ago, much earlier in the dream. I woke up this morning at four thinking of him, remembering those warm summer mornings waiting outside the shop before it opened, that I might be his first haircut of the day. Quiet, he was. Quiet he remains. And quiet I shall be, in memory of farm mornings and previous lives. And if I were a tailor, I would hide all the seams. And you would be the thread, love.

Canvas 893

Canvas 893

May 7, 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017

A heavy mist

A heavy mist, and all the world’s a prayer.
Wet, the leaves, wet, the wings that bring us here.

A heavy mist, and all the world’s a prayer.
Wet, the things we used to fear.

A heavy mist, and all the world’s a prayer.
Wet, the love, wet, the joy, wet, the tear.

Canvas 891

Canvas 891

May 5, 2017

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Spring and all

There. We’ve planted the dahlias, two kinds of tomatoes, five kinds of peppers, two kinds of eggplant, zucchini, impatiens, and geraniums. The cucumbers — not yet, as well as a few other barrels and pots, which we will get to by and by. The strawberries are blooming. The irises will be soon. The jade plants are out of the warm garage and back on the front step. The hostas have all emerged from their muddy hiding places, as if their sole purpose is to laugh at the slugs.... As you might have guessed, there has been a change in the weather. Yesterday the thermometer raced up to eighty-four degrees, bypassing the sixties and seventies, and today it is eighty-one. But just within the last few minutes, there have been several rumbles of thunder, as cool air is returning — the cloud formations are beautiful — and tomorrow we expect to be in the fifties again. This is typical spring weather here. Until summer settles in, twenty- and thirty-degree fluctuations are not unusual. Let’s see, now. What else? Oh, yes. Now — is no time to be afraid of love. For we have tried everything else.

Canvas 890

Canvas 890

May 4, 2017

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

At random, if it ever is

There were eight sleeping bags at the east side of the J.C. Penney building early this morning, each inhabited by a sleeping homeless person. And there were others beside other buildings, where sidewalk meets wall, there in the quiet downtown dawn. Light by light, I motored on, through the haze and on to the errands I had, and still have, to run.... The other day, my wife and I were remembering the smell of the freshly mowed grass of the school grounds where we grew up in the San Joaquin Valley.... the same intoxicating scent we both noticed at the cemetery when we were there for my mother’s funeral in 2013.... and I mowed our lawns again yesterday: they were a foot tall. The old push mower came through again. I did the work a section at a time — a section being 640 acres — then raked each section, then mowed it a second time, and in some cases a third and a fourth. I was soaked to the skin. I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in. I’d just finished when the mailman brought the big box containing a set of books by Sidney Lanier.... he said he’d mowed his yard too, and found a boat. I think I heard him correctly. Or maybe he said goat....