Friday, June 22, 2018

Hello, my love

As crazy as it seems, I have a new website. It’s simple, it’s streamlined, and it’s now the home of my writing and blogging activities. As of this morning, the new blog contains three entries. While I’ll still be making refinements, and perhaps adding a page or two to accommodate special content, the site is ready for you to visit, with the caveat that while I learn the new platform, there will likely be a few inconsistencies.

While my focus will be on the new website, Recently Banned Literature will be kept live. I will respond to comments on old posts, should any arrive. Nothing, really, is ending. I’m just continuing elsewhere. And, as suggested in my first new post, I think the two places are bound to overlap — this being an archival edifice, that being a traveler’s nigh empty hut.

And so this is where things stand. I’ll close this post with my thanks, and a poem:

One Last Thing

One last thing
before I say hello:
here is a flower.

It cried out at first,
but on you it no
longer seems alone.

Hello, my love. Hello.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Out like a light

Last night at nine-thirty the birds were still singing.
By four-thirty this morning they were at it again.
Who was last? Who was first? Do they know?
Does it change from one night to the next?
Does it mean anything to them?
Or do they simply go out like lights?
And rise in the morning to relieve the stars?

And what of the man who is miserable and important, who is miserable because of his importance, and important in his mind because of his misery, which he wears like armor and is afraid to remove? Does he not also go out like a light? And make way for a sweet child to rush in?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Wild Flowers Imagine the Rain

While on
his journey,
a young man asks
how he should live.

A wise man replies,
live life the dream
not as dreamer,
but the dreamed.

Then he dies,
and from
the mountain
his spirit departs.

Comes the wind,
the rain, the snow,
the granite’s
ancient lust for stars.

Sings yearning
like an arrow
on its pathway
to the heart.

Upon the slope,
sunlight’s riddle
of sweetly
marrowed bones.

A field ripens
down below,
abundant grain
for empty palms.

Songs and Letters, February 6, 2006

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Crow Bah

It’s so sunny and warm out this morning, even the crows are photosynthesizing. And it seems almost as if I’m not looking at them directly, but at their shimmering reflections in celestial waters.

My grandfather had a word for expressions like this. It was Bah.


Listening to the digestive processes at five in the morning,
and to the birds singing, and to the sound of traffic.

Are they one sound, or many?

Crows. Robins.

The flickers have been pulling up the drying moss
from the seams in the sidewalks and along the curbs by the street
to get at the ants.

Broken lines this morning.

Because everything is poetry?

But of course everything isn’t, the experts will say.
Or they will say, while stroking their imaginary beards,

Only in a sense.

This means they are wise,
and that, in all likelihood, I am not,
which is true, but not because
they say so.

With so many of us talking at once,
I wonder how there can be silence at all.
Or is silence the sum total of sound,
An infinite roar, a vessel rimmed with stars?

How quiet we are in the ground.

As if one needs an entire lifetime to learn the art,
when love is in, and out, and all around.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


To be an old poet is to be young.

Youth is old poetry.


Gray clouds on a locomotive’s back,
A cry at every crossing.

A penny on the track.

The price for what cannot be.

Warm, the scent of bare skin in summer.

Ripe peaches, whispering to each other on the table.

And that is how the first kiss came to be.

Old poetry.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Canvas 1,217 — Chorus

Canvas 1,217

June 11, 2018

On warm summer nights
the little ones climb the walls —
they think they are frogs.

Then August comes
and the ditch runs wide.

Full of bugs,
frogs hop
across the lawn.

That old bearded one
looks like my grandfather,
but he jumps like
my son —

into the shadows,
where someone is singing.

Songs and Letters, May 4, 2008,
from a batch of Sunday poems

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Canvas 1,216 — In the Vernacular

Canvas 1,216

June 10, 2018

Talk about a crazy religion —
they greet each other with flowers,
not words. Why, they’re children,
that’s what they are.

In the Vernacular”
Songs and Letters, June 29, 2008,
from a batch of Sunday poems

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Canvas 1,215

Canvas 1,215

June 9, 2018

Why not a waterfall

My main website, though still standing, is suffering the ravages of time. The platform it’s built upon is vulnerable and outdated. And anyway, it isn’t a main website anymore. This is, and really has been for years. The other is a dusty brochure. And I no longer seem able to muster the requisite interest to design another. To do that, there would need to be a purpose. Otherwise, the result is what it is already: sheer vanity.

Look at me, Ma, I’m a writer. Ma? Did you hear me? I said — Yes, I heard you, Son. Just let me take these cookies out of the oven and then we’ll talk about it.

Good old Ma.

Oh, these are good. Chocolate chip. Oatmeal. Spirit food.

Why not a waterfall where a website once stood? Why not peace and quiet? Why not an enchanted wood? Why not a child, smiling at man?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Imaginary Conversations

Imaginary Conversations

by Walter Savage Landor

with bibliographical and explanatory notes
by Charles C. Crump

In Six Volumes

London: J.M. Dent & Co.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

The sinews and the bones

Imagine the luxury of sitting down and having nothing at all to write. And then the birds begin to sing. And words or no words, as raindrop is to ocean, you realize you are at least a small part of what is being written. Calm here, a tempest there, sails tattered and crew gone mad, Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink, and you think, how wonderful it all is, this living, dying, and carrying on.

’T is a spirit journey. ’T is sinew and bone.

this old language
will stretch
until it snaps,
leaving me
with two live ends
and a bright sting
upon my hands.

Even now
the strands
are taut
and thin,
the blue nerves
of words exposed.

and meaning
are the same,
so whisper
the sinews
to the bones.

The body sick, the body hurt, the body bent, the body in need of a cane, the body warm, the body cold, the body wise above all in all it has known and felt. And so the spirit goes. ’T is truly a dance to love, in which first is last and last is first, and mother is daughter, and father is son. And now I hear a dove.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Real Time

Every now and then, I wonder if I am already dead, and if what I am thinking at the moment is my brain’s last attempt to communicate and understand before it finally expires. I might be stretched out on the ground, or in my bed, murdered, the victim of an accident or a heart attack, bleeding on the pavement, surrounded by strangers, loved ones, or friends — or as yet unnoticed and alone, the unfortunate task of the first person who finds me.

It’s funny, in a way: Here I am, dead, and yet think I am alive, and that I am writing about wondering if I am dead — just after, or perhaps even during, the event of my death.

One day after school when I was in the fourth grade, my mother was waiting in our dingy-brown 1961 Chevrolet Impala in front of the building to take me to my piano lesson. As luck would have it, I was running on the sidewalk, then I slipped, fell, and momentarily lost consciousness just a few feet from the car. While I was out, my mind kept working. I saw myself climb into the car next to my mother, then I saw her pull away and start down the road, and then I saw us driving through the country to the white two-story house where my piano teacher lived.

When I opened my eyes, I was completely surprised to find myself still at school, and to learn that something that had happened had not happened.

Well. Apparently I am still alive, for I have been sitting here for some time. Or have I? Years ago, in a matter of just a few seconds, my brain created an entire trip down a country road. It is also known that long, complicated dreams can take place within mere moments of so-called “real time.”

Maybe this is a dream. Or, maybe you are the one who is dreaming. It might even be that we are dreaming together, that we are living inside each other’s dreams, and that those dreams are being lived inside an even larger dream — one that is infinite in its complexity and cosmic unimportance.

Yes, yes. I know. I could go on like this all day. Or, maybe I already have. . . .

Songs and Letters
April 6, 2006

Canvas 1,213

Canvas 1,213

June 5, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

peach poem

crooked ladder, crooked tree, crooked arm,

crooked sun, crooked peach, looking down,

crooked sweet, crooked juice, crooked tongue,

crooked lips, crooked kiss, crooked smile,

crooked sheets, crooked sleep, crooked love.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Lemon Sun, Pomegranate Blood

I think I might move our rusty, moss-covered old cultivator from behind the house to the east end, and put it near the thriving young grapevine I planted last year, and let the growth pile up on it and climb the two handles. The cultivator is meant to be pulled by a horse. It’s from my great-grandparents’ farm, at the corner of Avenue 404 and Road 74. Imagine that. Now, of course, the house is gone, the barn is gone, the tank house, the lemon tree, the pomegranate, the olive — everything is gone — the neighbors who knew them, their children, and so on. And I am gone. Gone to Oregon.

Lemon Sun, Pomegranate Blood

The little unpainted house where my great-grandparents lived has been gone for many years, along with their lilac and lemon tree, their olive tree and barn, and their brave and lonely footprints in the dust. It is gone, yet last night I saw it in a dream, a silent beacon in the dark standing at the northwest corner of Road 74 and Avenue 404, with yellow light spilling from its windows on the ground.

I stopped the car and went inside. The house was much bigger than before. There were many rooms, with strange high ceilings, and in each room there was a bed. In each bed there was an old man or old woman near death, softly moaning. One man, lying on his side with his eyes shut against the world, said, “I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired. . . .” Poor soul. Lonely soul.

No one else was about. No warm and smiling aunt, no patient grandmother with weathered hands, no sunburned grandfather with rough gray whiskers on his face. Only this harbor of despair, with its battered boats gently rocking, rocking, rocking,

and I a stranger
in this place,
passing from
door to door.

The real house contained old letters and a piano, a heavy oak dining table, kitchen implements, and straw hats. The entire floor was bowed, and a large branch from an umbrella tree held the roof in place like a giant’s thumb. There were dry weeds in the yard, a pomegranate tree, and a lilac thriving against all odds. A tiny, sun-bleached garage. A tank house with a circular harrow on the ground floor, and an outside staircase to the second floor where my father’s uncle lived. A faithful barn, in which all else could have been safely stored for the Second Coming,

a farmer’s cathedral
without a gate.

I left the place, ashamed that I was late.

This morning, the sun is a ripe lemon high up in my family tree, and my fingers are stained with the pomegranate’s blood. The miles I traveled in my sleep are etched upon the wood of this old house,

like the lines
in our foreheads,
or our crooked
vineyard rows.

Songs and Letters
June 20, 2005

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Walk on water

A robin chirps, scolds, exclaims in one way, loudly, urgently, but sings from a treetop in another, sweetly, yet with remarkable projection, and you think there must be two kinds of birds making these sounds, not one.

The little boy next door explains and describes things in a tongue not always easy to understand, yet you feel and are caught up in his happiness. And then later that same day, when you hear him crying from the other side of the fence that separates his backyard from yours, you wonder if that can also be him.

A woman, all business and perfume one day, then tender and vulnerable the next, in soft clothing which, for the life of you, seems as if it has already begun to melt.

A man up early, with a fishing pole, walking down a hillside to the edge of a lake before the heat of the day is on, father and son all at once, teacher and disciple, each in pursuit of his own thoughts; is this the same man who returned years ago from the war with nightmares and dysentery?

An obstacle appears in your path, its strength and size grows and recedes in direct proportion to the resistance you give it. No resistance, no obstacle. No you, no path. Yet joy remains, and love. You are everywhere and everything.

Friday, June 1, 2018

A fine pine makes nine

Thus far this spring, nine cones have fallen from the young volunteer pine in the front yard. I have them lined up as a decoration on the step. The grandkids count them each time they visit. Next year’s crop is already forming. It looks like there will be more. Beneath the pine, there is a lacy red Japanese maple that I planted for my mother about twenty years ago. It has become a big beautiful mound. Under the maple is moss. Under the moss, the ground. Under the ground, more ground — so much more that eventually, down is up, and flat is round.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Canvas 1,212

Canvas 1,212

May 31, 2018

And here is a child

I love, too, those thoughts that almost rise, almost begin, then vanish, content to seek no substance or body, and whose one purpose seems to be to leave no trace.

This morning the sky is the gray Pacific. And here is a child at a blackboard. What will he leave, and what erase?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Still and again

A towhee is nesting in the creeping jenny behind the house.
I wonder what she thinks of the moonlight this early dawn hour.
The thirtieth day of May. Thirty-seven degrees. The silent firs.

When I say think, I mean feel. When I say feel, I do.
The heart is a tongue. She comes to the well. Looks down.
Is stilled by the shepherd’s song.

How long have you been down there? she wants to know.
And the shepherd replies, As long as your thirst.
Then, said she, we are part of a fairy tale?

Of course! But now he’s standing by her side.
And there’s a trembling of wings.
This is our work.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Boxes and burlap

I wonder what the new owners did with the ancient, petrified chicken coop we left behind when we moved from the farm to Oregon. I’m not quite sure now why we got it in the first place. Probably because it was offered by an Armenian old-timer who lived a few miles away near the next town. I remember he put it on his rusted old truck and hauled it to our place. Then we got it off somehow and skidded it to its resting place on the southeast corner of the third-of-an-acre space carved out of the surrounding vineyard and orchard for our house and barn and garden. It was beautiful: dry, unpainted, the color of old houses and barns scattered around the countryside, from an early era of survival and shelter and nothing much else, boxes and burlap and horse-drawn cultivators light enough to pick up and move around yourself.

Our barn, by contrast, was red.

Anyway, with a single strike of a match, the old coop would have gone up in flames. Or it could have been chopped up for kindling. Or it might still be sitting there. After all, what’s thirty-one years when you’re petrified?

Look at me, Ma, I’m petrified.

The old-timer died at the age of about ninety-six, as I recall. But he probably regrets it because it makes him feel lazy.

Every year, he raised a patch of Jerusalem artichokes. He called them sun-chokes. It was a thriving market. Whenever he finished a jar of dill pickles, he’d cut up a few chokes and stuff the pieces into the spices and juice and turn them into pickles. They were great.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Dusty lemon boy

Shortly after the war, my father and his father planted fruit trees along the ditch bank. It was the family orchard. There were two kinds of fig trees, two kinds of peaches, an apricot, a plum, a pomegranate, and a persimmon. The trees thrived. At the west end of our house we also had walnut trees that gave us mountains of nuts, while shading the west end of the house. Orange trees and a grapefruit tree too. And of course we had grapes, nectarines, and other varieties of peaches, plums, and apricots as they ripened in season on the farm itself. Add to this the big garden behind the house. And a little dust-vision of a boy handing wooden clothespins to his mother as she hung sheets on the line. Now, who were they, I wonder? Not that there’s really an answer, or that one is needed. They were, I suspect, just someone who had been granted the fruits of labor and play, a twist of lemon, memory and joy.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Cloud kisses

A cloud so low, it hides the top rung of your ladder.

Only the soles of your bare feet can be seen from the ground.

You take up the ladder behind you. You are gone.

And the cloud kisses the ground.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Simply no one

As dry as the weather has been the last few weeks, and as welcome as a late-spring rain would be, we are still enjoying a cool, cloudy, coastal atmosphere. The garden loves it and is off to a good start. And while there always seems to be an odd corner in need of a pot, a seed, or a flower, all of our regular plantings are in. I do plan to move the irises this year, and will get to that in a few weeks if I live that long and am still able. In my mind, the work is already done. But that, as they say, is another story.

The other day, I found myself not thinking. I don’t know what made me notice it, or how long it was. This happens every now and again. It seems there is, for the nonce, simply no one, and no need for there to be.

An archaeology of dreams. A digging through the detritus of metal parts and leaves, an uncovering of the bones of an after-age. The entire world is a grave. And yet it is new on your knees. This is the revolution: the bark of a tree. You are the mother and father of all, and whenever one is taken in the name of convenience or by thoughtlessness or whim, you weep. And then you care all the more for the ones that remain. And are astonished at what appears in the very same place. Your arms extended grow leaves.

Peace. Strength is your surrender. Surrender is your strength.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Another Word

I wrote and posted this poem May 22, 2011. I found it accidentally just a couple of minutes ago, when I was looking for something else. And now I’ve forgotten what that something else is.


You look for love, when love is all there is.

You can be numb to love, but you can’t exist outside it.

You say, “What about hate? Hate is not love.”

But love wants you well. Hate is love’s bitter pill.

You don’t know, or perhaps you’ve only forgotten:

Life is another word for love. It means “I will.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Swing low

The clerk at the hardware store has been there for years, and is well past retirement age, closer to eighty than seventy, slight and white of hair, and one of the friendliest, most helpful people you’ll meet — the quintessential old-time small town greeter and finder of whatever you need. He knows where it is, what it is, and what it is for, and will take you there to be sure it is exactly what you want. And if it isn’t, he shows you the next best thing, which is even better. And you leave the store feeling good. You are six years old, or ten, and you’re walking beside your father, after listening to the clerk and him having the very same conversation you will be having fifty or sixty years from now. Then it fades, and by that it remains, dolcissimo, the sweetest of sounds.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


I was born Sunday, May 20, at two-thirty in the afternoon. And I was born again this morning well before dawn, a little after three, which is earlier even than my regular habit. And one of the very first things that came to mind was the image of an old Muscat vineyard, a composite of all of the old Muscat vineyards I have known and seen from the road. I am in one now. I am a vine myself. Shaggy bark. A lizard on one arm, a sparrow on another, a horned toad where my truth meets the ground. And by Muscat standards, I am still quite young. By human standards, too. And who knows? Tomorrow I might be a redwood. Or a stone. And you?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Light on the road to Devon

There is light on the road to Devon.

This, love, is our work.

North is west. East is south.

A blossom falls to earth.

There is light on the road to Devon.

And light is the word for birth.

Light, on the road to Devon.

Sweet shadows. Dark.

Note: By way of an explanation, this poem, like any and every other thing, is an answer of a sort. Devon could be Heaven. North could be south. East, west. Dark, mirth. But love is always love. Of this you can be sure.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A porch so large, a field so small

The irises are in bloom — the powdered faces, the simple and small, the elegant ladies, the bearded old men, the fragile royal court, the hearty proud masses, the fable, the conquest, the blue haiku.

Bird-track calligraphers. Scent-wise hounds. Time to put away your grandmother’s quilt.

A porch so large it could be a field. A field so small it could be you, and the distance it reveals. For you contain multitudes, and are born to wander in this strange truth.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Long time passing

Said the man, I am storyteller, story, and listener all in one.

As am I, a voice replied. It was his own, and it was not his own.

There is a field of flowers there now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Peppers and letters

At the hardware store, one of the local chapters of the FFA is selling vegetable plants to raise money. This morning we bought two beautiful jalapeño plants in four-inch pots. Our garden is already planted. There was really no room for more plants, so I planted them in a small space where there is almost room. It’s the same thing I do with books, and why I had no problem at all finding a place to put these new arrivals:

The heart of creation

Ants, hills. Bees, hives. Termites, mounds. Birds, nests. Beavers, dams. Humans, cities. The list goes on and on. Is one more perfect or more beautiful than another? I think not. Neither do I think humans are flawed. Humans are what they are, just as whales are what they are, and trees and rocks and stars. If nature is not flawed entirely, then it is perfect in its glory and variety just as it is, is it not? And if we decide or choose to believe otherwise, and to later abandon those decisions and beliefs, that is all part of what makes us human. Things change. We change. That is the heart of creation — to make and be remade. Someday we might even dispense with worldwide theft, poverty, and war. The thought exists. The dream. In the meantime, we have love. We have art.

Bentley and Bobo

A cool, calm, cloudy morning. The record high temperature for yesterday’s date was ninety-five degrees, in 2006. A real cucumber-cooker. The record low was thirty-three, in 1932. Perfect for milk bottles on the front step.

My father could tell you without hesitation how many weeks old the kittens or puppies were. I always forgot. Six weeks could have been six years.

Once, back around 1970, we had two cats that liked to watch us prune in the vineyard. They would perch on top of the redwood grape stakes like silent gray owls.

A couple of years later, my brother and I found a small stray untrimmed poodle. We brought it to the house and fed it for a few days until its health and confidence were restored. Then a man who lived on the same road a mile east of us took it home to live with his family. My brother called the dog Bentley. I don’t remember the man’s name.

I do remember the birthdays and telephone numbers of many of my childhood friends and schoolmates. One friend had a dusty old boxer named Bobo, a word that has meant, still means, or has come to mean a lot of things in a lot of different languages.

The moment after a man takes his last breath, there is a forever of divine notice. Will there be another? Will there be a shudder, a sigh, one last word?

I am like an old plow. I know the way. I am willing to go. No need to pull. Easy to turn at the end of the row. Gleaming now, polished by the soil.

Monday, May 14, 2018


Having finished the Virginia Woolf biography, as noted earlier today, it would probably have made sense to dive into The Mrs. Dalloway Reader. Instead, I started the first volume of four of Hours in a Library, a collection of essays about books and writers by Leslie Stephen, Virginia Woolf’s father. That also makes sense. The first essay is called “De Foe’s Novels.” So far, so good.

None of this, of course, is as important as what happened after lunch. I was starting out on a short walk when I met the neighbors next door, who were only too pleased to introduce me to their sleeping twelve-day-old daughter, Stella, who is six pounds two ounces of perfection. Her tiny fingers and bare toes — I nearly wept when I saw them, so beautiful they are. And her face — if she were a doll, she would inspire little girls and little boys to play house the world over. Her brother, too, was thrilled — couldn’t resist tickling those toes. “She sleeps all the time,” he wanted me to know. And of course I did know, and do.

Lytton and Virginia

It’s always interesting to notice how the body adjusts to changes in the weather, and the influence the seasons in general have on one’s thoughts and outlook. Daily exposure is the key. The rest is attention. Viewed from indoors, walking or working in the rain, cold, heat, and wind, might not seem the most enjoyable or convenient activities. But to the one who chooses to be out in it, it is a joy of endurance, sight, and sound, and a way to keep in touch with the natural pace of the world.

I finished reading two more books, both of which I’ve mentioned in passing before: Books and Characters, French & English, by Lytton Strachey, published in 1922; and Virginia Woolf, by Hermione Lee, published in 1997. I found Strachey’s criticism entertaining and fascinating. And Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf is an amazing accomplishment. If you’re interested at all in Virginia Woolf, you owe it to yourself, and to her, to read this engaging narrative of her life, her heights, her depths, her struggles, her work, and her times. Because, by and large, hearsay is a form of murder.

What else? In its early stages, the garden is thriving, adjusting as I adjust to the warming atmosphere. It was eighty-nine degrees yesterday. And I could hear the tomato plants say, Ah, isn’t this grand? Now we’re getting somewhere. Oh, and by the way, thanks for the water, friend.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Thanks for everything

Whatever the trouble, whatever the challenge, whatever the grief, whatever the loss, whatever the seeming impossibility, I have found there is still one thing I can do, and that is, give thanks. And the blessing is, little by little, gratitude becomes a habit, an outlook, an abiding presence, a friend, and a guide. There is an old saying, but I have forgotten it. I give thanks for that too.

Now, where were we?

These days, casual, random meetings with people who could be strangers feel more like reunions. There is a sense of warmth and familiarity, mingled with curiosity about the thoughts and happenings that have brought them here, that have changed their expression and colored their hair. And often the feeling goes both ways. We’ve met before, haven’t we? I just can’t quite remember where. It goes unspoken. We have a natural interest in each other. But there is more. We care.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

As the world turns

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. He was born in 1896. He bowed out in 1990, a little shy of ninety-four. This morning I woke up with a dream. My father and my brother were putting strange new metallic siding on an old house. Now I don’t see them anywhere around. I guess I’ll have to finish the job myself.

Friday, May 11, 2018

It’s all too beautiful

I’m not particularly fond of One Hand Clapping. I’ve even told people not to buy it or read it — advice hardly necessary, since only three or four people — and I mean that quite literally — ever have. And yet it’s full of good writing, and the writing is sincere, sometimes quite moving, even poetic. So then, what is the problem? In a nutshell, my own ignorance. I don’t mean to say I’m not ignorant now, far from it; but, back then, I was even more so. I was ignorant of myself, and therefore ignorant in my view of the world around me. The writing, too, as good and poignantly mediocre as some of it is, also reveals a certain amount of pose; it’s poisoned, in fact, by my need at that time to appear right and somehow all-knowing, which are nothing but symptoms of blindness, fear, and insecurity. (Funny — for symptoms I almost wrote synonyms.) To put it another way, I wish I hadn’t written about politics. Yes, many of my observations in that realm were true then, and true now. But many others are limited by name-calling and a species of conspiratorial buy-in, if I may put it that way. Nowadays, I won’t even utter, let alone write, the names of those who think they are in power. I don’t live with my head in the sand either. I just happen to think there are better ways to live my life than pointing fingers and squawking about others’ shortcomings. I’m not here to solve the problems of the world. I’m not here to be right. I’m here to learn, and to see, and to root out, and to let fall away, the causes of those problems as they exist in myself.

As the old Sixties song goes, “It’s all too beautiful.” Too beautiful for anything else.

That being the case, in addition to the entry I posted yesterday, here is one I still like:

Our neighbor, dressed for work, came outside this morning and picked a small bunch of roses from the bushes that line the narrow sidewalk in front of his house. When he was done, he paused to study the plants, then held the roses briefly to his nose and went into his garage. A couple of minutes later, he backed his van into the driveway, closed the garage door by pressing a button in his van, and drove away. Now the house will remain empty for hours, the front blinds closed, the clocks ticking, the faucets dripping, the dust mites rummaging around in the upholstery, the pictures staring blankly from the wall, crucified and forlorn, the refrigerator humming periodically and blowing its warmth on the kitchen floor, sighing through great wads of lint while breakfast stains harden on the counters and the telephone goes unanswered in an unheard symphony of stagnation and stale air. All the while, outside, the surviving roses will whisper secrets and add their scent to the fresh spring air.

May 11, 2004 — One Hand Clapping,
a daily journal in two volumes,
March 17, 2003 — March 15, 2005

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Canvas 1,207

Canvas 1,207

May 10, 2018

Fossil poetry

I’m tempted to say writing is what keeps me sane, but I think we’d better reserve judgment on that. The opposite could easily be true. Writing might be what keeps me insane. Or, my insanity might be what keeps me writing. Then again, it might be my sanity that keeps me writing — though it should also be noted that writing is an insane act — at least according to several sane people I’ve known — who were, in fact, miserable, because their sanity prevented them from seeing how insane they were, and from enjoying the fact. . . . Yesterday after running an errand downtown on Ferry Street, I walked up High Street to State Street, crossed State, continued past the old Grand Theater, which seems to have been re-designated as a church, turned left on Court Street, crossed the alley, and entered a used-book store called The Book Bin. After searching for about one minute, I found the Mother’s Day gift I was looking for: a hardbound copy of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha. Then, on the shelf behind me, I found a copy of the second series of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays. The essays were originally published in 1844. The copy I found was published in 1892 in Philadelphia, by Henry Altemus. I bought both books, then, so as not to retrace my steps entirely, headed up the alley back toward Ferry Street. In the alley I passed a young man and young woman sitting with their backs against the brick wall of the book store. They were deep in conversation. Last night I read the first essay, “The Poet,” from which I quote: . . . For, though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, an obtained currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. . . . And there you have it — one more reason to go on writing, and to go on being insane. Or, to quote from an as-yet-unwritten poem: He loved her, only to find he had driven her sane. / And wept, for in so doing, had made of her a stranger.

May 10, 2003 — One Hand Clapping,
a daily journal in two volumes,
March 17, 2003 — March 15, 2005

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The finger sketches

The finger sketches. The thumb hums along. Suddenly the thumb stops. What is wrong? The finger stretches. Is it the palm? The breath catches. The mind fetches. What is the name of that song? Where has it gone? Read well. Read on. School bell. Bright sun. Life in the afternoon. For whom the ball rolls. Home run. Run home. Take off your shoes. The dream watches. The spirit touches. The river rushes. The door latches, the eye lashes, the knee patches your mother has sewn.

You wobble down

You wobble down the road on an old squeaky bicycle with dusty rims and spokes and its chain caked with oil. It has one of those comfortable wide seats, supported by big couch springs or bed springs. Is that where the squeak is coming from? What else, besides the rider, can squeak on a bicycle? The handlebars shaped like your uncle’s old country mustache? The rusted speedometer with the broken glass that your older brother added years ago? The brakes worn to nubs that look like old erasers? Can spokes squeak? Can they speak? Can they sing? No. But they can hum. And anyway, who knows the words?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Grand View

My father and I went to the same grade school, a little place in our old farm neighborhood called Grand View, for the simple reason that the view of the snowy Sierra Nevada from there is grand. He walked to school from his birthplace on Road 66. I rode the bus from my childhood home on Avenue 408. I say birthplace because he was born in the house, whereas I was born at the hospital in town — the same hospital where three of our four children were born, where I had my appendix removed, where friends and neighbors died, and where Dad closed his eyes for the last time back in 1995. A few years ago, the hospital was torn down. I’ve seen pictures of the empty space. It was a strange feeling. My first thought was — and this would have amused my father — a good place for watermelons. Humor and sadness. What could be better than the sweet heart of a melon, broken open in the cool of the morning of what is sure to be a scorching San Joaquin Valley day? Anyway. Back in the Thirties — I don’t know exactly what year — there was a very late frost, so late that the vineyard growth was well advanced, with canes tumbling down in emerald profusion. Dad remembered walking to school and seeing the vines blackened and limp — this in a place where we planted our garden in March, to the tune of seventy, eighty, or ninety degrees. Now it’s May, and we’re 735 miles north in Oregon, with fingers crossed just setting out our gardens, using the same shovels and rakes and hoes we used on the old place. No, they don’t make them like they used to. But it’s going to be a good year. It already is. It always has been, and always will.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Canvas 1,204

Canvas 1,204

May 6, 2018


A smile is hard to resist. And really, why would we? Why do we ever? And so, upon returning yours and returning mine, why not go a step further? Why not move beyond the light in our eyes and the surrender on our lips, and let our whole bodies be smiles, every muscle, every thought, every nerve? Aye. Then we’ll have something.

Donne and done

Give or take a few centuries, my mother lived ninety-one years, two months, and twenty-one days. Alzheimer’s Disease made for a sad, confused, prolonged ending, difficult and painful for her and her family. It was also beautiful. In very personal terms, it was and remains a gift. I watched her light go out — the light of her thinking, the light of her reason, the light of her ability — and as it slowly faded from view, dipping and glimmering in the mist very much as if she were a ship lost at sea, her body responded accordingly, until at last it drifted unguided and uninformed to its final bump in the night. Maybe you have seen and experienced the same thing, or something similar. Maybe you are dealing with it now, and are exhausted and worried and wondering how much longer you can carry on. Maybe you don’t see it as beautiful, as I did, and still do. Maybe you see it as a tragedy and only a tragedy. And a tragedy it is. And yet the greatest tragedies, like the tragedies of Shakespeare, are illuminated by moments of humor. My mother and I laughed at the silliest things. Snippets of memory, the old times, the old days, even her own dear puzzlement and confusion. The colored flecks in the carpet, she thought were bugs. It was a matter of great concern. I said, “Don’t you think that if there were bugs, I would do something about it?” She replied, “Not necessarily.” And we looked at each other, and looked, and looked, until there arose the hint of a smile. The next day, the bugs were back again. Without thinking, she walked through them and over them. Tragedies. Histories. Comedies. All the world’s a stage.... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Donne. And done. Except to say, By what strange light, these gifts to me?

Saturday, May 5, 2018

In the course of a day

It’s no secret that strong abdominal muscles help support the lower back and lessen the likelihood of pain and injury to both; and that eating a healthy diet, practicing good posture, and being active are of key importance in keeping the body and mind fit. I say mind, because when one keeps to such a course, the thoughts and outlook are sure to follow and will naturally take on a positive charge, which in turn benefits the body and all of its workings. And so, yes, we are what we eat; and, in terms of our daily habits, we are what we think and what we do.

And surely you’ve noticed: first gradually, then quickly, the easy course becomes the difficult one; until, if we wait long enough, it’s impossible to change direction.

A lazy body and a lazy mind are but a step away from being a sick body and a sick mind. Which will support the other? Which will take charge? The fact is, there is no which; there is no other. There is only the mess we have made.

And so while we can, and to whatever degree we are still fortunate and able, each day must be recognized and understood as an opportunity to do what’s best for ourselves, best for our friends, best for our loved ones, and best for everyone we meet.

Because we do not suffer alone. We do not rejoice alone.

Here comes there goes you know who

Here I am, at your fingertips, perfectly hidden, still in plain view. A flower in your path, a burr in your shoe. A push of a button, from many to choose. Of a certain uncertain age, on a certain uncertain page. Now, where are you? What do you feel? And must it all fade, just to be real?

Canvas 1,203

Canvas 1,203

May 5, 2018

These are my cave walls. I can see that now. Can you?

Friday, May 4, 2018

Everywhere and all

I was stretched out on my back for a rest yesterday, when I thought, Very well, then, here I am, on a bed, in a room, in a house, on a planet circling a sun, in a solar system, in a galaxy that is one of countless other galaxies, in a universe that is perhaps itself one of many, one inside the other, adjacent, parallel, or beyond, and naturally this made me a bit drowsy, but I was still awake, if not even more so, and continued, and at the same time there is a feeling that I am everywhere and all of these things at once, and that all of these things are in me, which seemed logical enough, and then I realized my eyes were closed, so I opened them, and when I did, the painted texture of the ceiling looked like an immense field of stars. The conclusion? Need there be any? Need there be one?

Canvas 1,202

Canvas 1,202

May 4, 2018

Canvas 1,201

Canvas 1,201

May 4, 2018

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Two dozen bluebells and money for cans

In the unimportant-and-not-that-interesting-except-to-me department, I paid ten dollars yesterday for a vintage two-volume first edition set of The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn, written by the author’s friend, Elizabeth Bisland. The books were published by Houghton, Mifflin in 1906. Having bought just about every old book in town, I found them not in a local bookstore, but online. Or, rather, I should say they found me, because I wasn’t looking for them. Well, I was looking for them, just not actively. In fact, I had seen that very set before, but the price at that time was much higher, so I didn’t get them. After all, how many people on God’s green earth, as they say, are looking for The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn? They should be, of course, but they’re not. And this is only one reason life is the puzzling thing it is.

In other news, while the bluebells in the neighborhood have passed their peak and are beginning to fade, the two dozen we planted last fall, being first-timers, are in full bloom. The plants are smaller than their counterparts, but they’re healthy, and so we expect a more timely, vigorous performance next year, after the bulbs have established themselves. Next year. I laugh every time I say those words.

One street over, there lives an eighty-two-year-old man I meet walking every now and then. Yesterday evening, he told me about his daily two-mile walks to Safeway and back, which I was aware of, and about how he picks up cans along the way, which I was also aware of, and about how he is eighty-two, which he’s told me a time or three. What I was not aware of, though, is that he is occasionally mistaken for a homeless person, and has been given money for coffee, or breakfast, or whatever meal corresponds with the time he is out. He accepts the money, even though, as he says, “I probably have more than they do.” Life is certainly interesting.

Having finished reading the correspondence between Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey, I’ve moved on to Strachey’s Books and Characters, French & English, published in 1922 by Harcourt, Brace and Company. The first essay, vigorous and entertaining, was about Racine. The author assumes the reader knows French. I like that. I like French. I like pretending I can read it. I like thinking someday I might even understand it. The next essay, which I hope to read today, is about Sir Thomas Browne, a writer whose complete works are very hard to find, at least at a price that I am willing to pay. And so it goes. Maybe I should start walking to Safeway.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Galaxy nights and manuscript days

The lilac, the cherry, the iris,
to name just a few — so spectacular each spring,
and then quiet in their summer anonymity,
content with their work, with their ants and beetles
and birds — and you, with your limbs and your ferns,
your notes and your books, your clay
and your hooks, your garden path figures
that contemplate dusk — so little,
so much, that you’re almost
not here, your pigments
and brushes and ink,

your galaxy nights and manuscript days,
the divine hush of your walk,
with no need of meaning
or value or rush,

now looking up, to name just a few,
to choose lines of black or be chosen by blue,

little boy now, little girl too,
your mother a mirror —

all just to say the beginning is here —

or is it here?