Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bio Notes for Brian Kervin

For all you North Bay folks, Neil O"Neill and Maureen Hurley will be on the air live reading poetry (and music) on The Learnin' Kirven Show April 6th, from 4-6 pm at KWMR West Marin Community Radio  at 90.5 FM Point Reyes Station, and 89.9 FM Bolinas (live stream). Maureen will be reading poems of place, growing up in West Marin, highlights of our upcoming CPITS' 50-year anniversary, West Marin kids to read their poems. Neil will talk about coming to Marin in the 1970s, Ross Valley Players, his 30-year gig with Bread & Roses, and play some music.

I began to write Brian some bio notes and it got out of hand. Bloggy material, it is.

BIO—what most people don't know about me:

I grew up in Forest Knolls,  my grandfather came to SF in 1904 from Ireland, and used to camp along Papermill Creek during the summer. Bought our house from an old railroad man (there were spikes everywhere, and the foundation was made of railroad ties) on Barranca Road in 1910. I was raised in that house in the country by my grannie, from Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland. Back then, it was on a dirt fire road. Not county maintained. So we were pretty much our only neighbors at the end of the canyon.

Dr Whitte was ny doctor. Yep. The doctor poet. Only I didn't know that at the time. And it took me a log time to slide into poetry. I didn't begin writing until I was in my late 20s.

Doc Fisher was my vet, he bought my ponies, they were out at Bear Valley for decades. Wonder if they're still alive? They live a long time.

I got my horse from Bear Valley Stables. I used to ride her in the PT Reyes Parade. Whoopptido!

My cousin Katie Collins Gallagher (who drives the little school bus) is my 2nd cousin—they own the old Bob Borillo Ranch in Pt Reyes.

My cousin Sinead Dinsmore lives in Nicasio—that white house on the square. I couch surf there a lot. Her grandfather Dave Dinsmore bought it in the 1940s

I used to work at the Rancho Nicasio as a salad girl when I was 16 with my aunt (Dinsmore) with Dorothy Dolcini & Glen Kirch. LaFrankie in there somewhere. I joined the union, lost my job. Welcome to America.

My other aunt's husband was heir to The Shadows, and other Nicasio properties owned by his adopted father Dr. Ritter, who founded Ross Hospital, Mountain Home Sanitorium, etc. Doc Ritter died when my uncle was in the Army, and his legal guardian Roy (as in Roy's Woods, absconded with it all. Tragic. My uncle never got over it.

My mom, an actress and costume designer at the Gate Playhouse in Sausalito would pawn me off to famous babysitters, Dick & Tommy Smothers, Sterling Hayden. I even remember the Kingston Trio playing in Tommy's houseboat. I loved Tommy. Didn't like Dick. My mom worked for Juanita Musson, the famous restau-ran-teer, of Juanita's Galley. Juanita had a monkey and a rooster in her house on Bridgeway. And a fawn too.

My mom got around, sometimes she'd bring her friends home for tea and Irish soda bread at my grannie's: Bobby Darin (Big Sur connection), Bobby Kaufman, Gene Ruggles, Lew Welch. He & my grannie got on like a house afire.

Lloyd Bridges (grew up in Petaluma) was like an uncle. We all went to Sacto. for a production of Guys and Dolls at the Music Circus. Jeff Bridges was a great palymate in the shallow end of the pool but Beau was a mean teenager. I remember watching Lloyd rehearse as Sky Masterson.

When I was a teenager, I worked for Alice Kent as a housecleaner and manager of Western Star Press for her dead brother John Cooke's New Tarot for the Aquarian Age. John Cooke knew Alestair Crowley, Order of the Golden Dawn, etc. New age, before it was New Age.

I met Bolinas poet Ebbe Boregaard fixing the steps outside my basement office window at Alice & Roger Kent's house. He told me stories about sailing ships and Vikings. I thought he was a god. I still wasn't a poet. I was an artist.

Went to Lagunitas School—the SGV Art Center building, then Drake High (emphasis on high), hitched home with all the rock musicians: Jerry Garcia, Jesse Colin Young, Van Morrison, Carlos Santana, Jefferson SS, Big Brother, etc. Janis Joplin lived on our road, I remember her practicing at Barbano's Camp, and she drove a Porsche. She NEVER picked us up hitchhiking. Even got picked up by Ken Kesey on Further. The First Further.

Went to College of Marin and studied ceramics with Pete Sutton and David Best (Burning Man temple builder and weird cars). Hung out with them at the Unknown Museum in MV. Also hung out in the Theater Dept—followed Robin Williams around like a puppy. Went to SFSU for a year, but someone got murdered in the library, so I dropped out. Went to SSU, w/ degrees in Painting and drawing. Still housecleaning all the while.

Had a stint working for a horse trainer after my horse died. Went to work in Europe at 19, lost my horse job.

First boyfriend dragged me to readings at COM, Alan Watts, Ram Dass, Alan Ginsberg, Gary Snyder—at Olney Hall. Gary was reading from Manzanita, and about my ridges, my land and I said: I can do that. And so I did. I had no idea what a wild ride it would be. I called up David Bromige at SSU, and found my passion for poetry, producing poetry events all over Sonoma County—for SSU and the Russian River Writers' Guild.  Book 'em Dano, and so I did. Those poets were my real teachers. And we booked them all from far and wide: Courso, Kinnell, Kaufman, Bly, etc.

Lee Perron and Michael Dow brought me into CPITS, and I found my life's work. I continued to work as an artist as well. 7 CAC AIR grants in Santa Rosa. Worked for Sonoma CO Stump, The Paper (now Bohemian) as a photographer and began to write stories. Bootstrap all the way. Poetry came easy. Essays were hard. I found out I was dyslexic after a car accident with Will Staple in 1981—which went a long way in explaining why I did so poorly in school (excelled in art), so that's been an important transition.

I also worked with Herman Berlandt—as a photograper, poet, editor. I spent a lot of time on the Bolinas Mesa. We founded Mother Earth Journal after my big stint in the USSR in 1989 as a art & poetry pack mule. We did about 10 issues, then another horrific car accident in Marshall in 1997 nearly killed Neil & me. I temporarily moved to Oakland to take care of Neil. Commuted for ages from Forestville. I still keep my west County roots. Country girl in an urban world.

Monday, March 31, 2014

It's time for April Poem a Day!

It's time for April Poem a Day! Are you at the ready? 

April is National Poetry Month. The goal is to write a poem a day—30 Days, 30 Poems. That'll put a poem in your pocket, and keep the doctor away. Or the taxman.

Cruel April
in rolled trousers,
is dressed in death and taxes
it's National Poem Writing Month.
Let the madness begin.

I'm going to repost many prompts here in one place as it makes for too much confusion to post them daily (and I get lazy.) Besides, I don't think anyone actually uses my collective writing prompts. And when I do use them (I've a 50/50 average), then, I can't find my own work embedded within the posts.

Writers' Digest Robert Lee Brewer's 2014 April PAD Challenge: FAQs (and Tips). You can post your poems on his PAD webpage. There's a chapbook contest at the end.

Write a beginning poem. Today is the beginning of this challenge. It’s also the beginning of April. But there are so many other beginnings: Beginning of a relationship, beginning of school, beginning of the rest of your life, and so on. Pick a beginning to write about.
Write an ending poem. Often, though not always, beginnings come as the result of an ending. Sometimes endings are cause for disappointment, heartbreak, or numbness. Other times, endings are celebrated. Capture an ending today.

write a voyage poem. In my case, we’ll be driving along the Gulf of Mexico, but a voyage can happen in a variety of ways–even on foot, or psychologically. Heck, the process of writing a poem is a sort of voyage all its own
write a discovery poem. The narrator could discover an object, a person, an animal, a dishonorable deed, or any number of things. Poets can focus on the discovery, examine the aftermath, or even just mention it in passing.

Take the phrase “Since (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Possible titles include: “Since the Last Time I Smoked,” “Since You Said Please,” and “Since When.”

write a message poem. Messages can be delivered in a variety of ways: postcard, e-mail, text message, letter in a bottle, smoke signals, secret codes, jumbotron proposals, etc. Also, messages themselves can be simple, complicated, nice, mean, happy, sad, and so on. Get at it! write a self-portrait poem. Pretty straightforward, right? That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of room for creativity. Just look at artists and their self-portraits; there’s a lot of differences in the self-portraits of Kahlo, Schiele, Dali, Van Gogh, and others–and not just because the artists look different themselves.

Write a violent poem. Could be person on person violence, person on animal, animal on animal, nature on person/animal/nature, and so on (insects, erosion, cosmos, etc.).\

Write a peaceful poem. I suppose this might be the opposite of a violent poem. But perhaps not.
write a shelter poem. Shelter might be a structure like a house, apartment, or hotel. Shelter could be a tent or cardboard box. Shelter could be an umbrella, overpass, cave, or car. Shelter could be a state of mind, part of a money laundering scheme, or any number of interpretations.

write a future poem. The future might mean robots and computer chips. The future might mean apocalyptic catastrophes. The future might mean peace and understanding. The future might mean 1,000 years into the future; it might mean tomorrow (or next month). I forecast several poems in the near future to be shared below.

make a statement the title of your poem and either respond to or expand upon the title. Some example titles might include: “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy;” “Guns Don’t Kill People, I Do;” “This Is Your Brain on Drugs;” “Smile for the Camera,” and “Be Kind Rewind.” Of course, there’s an incredible number of possible titles; pick one and start poeming!

write a city poem. The poem can take place in a city, can remember the city (in a general sense), be an ode to a specific city, or well, you should know the drill by now. City poem: Write it!

Molly Fisk's poetry challenge (with Lisa Cihlar) requires a secret handshake to join their Nicenet group. If you're on Facebook, check out and Like Molly Fisk - Writer, Teacher, Speaker. She often posts prompts there on her page, too. PS: Please LIKE her page, she needs 474 more followers to break 2000.
April first prompt: If it hadn’t been for the bones.
Prompt for April 2. Here I am holding ___________
Prompt for April 3. Removed from the troubles of everyday life

NaPoWriMo: National Poem Writing Month is a project where poets write a poem a day during April. NaPoWriMo, founded in 2003, is modeled after NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. See the Wikipedia entry for NaPoWriMo! Apparently, they're champing at the bit over at NaPoWriMo. Early bird worm poem:
The prompt for all you early birds is an ekphrastic poem – a poem inspired by or about a work of art. There’s no rules on the form for an ekphrastic poem, so you could write a sonnet or a haiku or free verse. Some well-known ekphrastic poems include Rilke’s Archaic Torso of Apollo and Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn.
Today, I’d like you to go to Reb Livingston’s Bibliomancy Oracle. Clear your mind, push the button, and then write a poem based on the quotation that the oracle provides. 
write a poem based on a non-Greco-Roman myth. You could write a poem inspired by Norse mythology, or perhaps by one of these creatures from Japanese legend
write a charm – a simple rhyming poem, in the style of a recipe-slash-nursery rhyme. It could be a charm against warts, or against traffic tickets. It could be a charm to bring love, or to bring free pizzas from your local radio station.

See 30-Day Poetry Challenge on Facebook too. You can post your poems there as well. More info here on 30DPC.
Day 1: When One Door Closes: Open a door to the outside world. Step outside and write about it.
Day 2: Making Connections - Incorporate a phrase you encounter digitally (e.g. in an email, a text message, via blog, etc.) into a poem about a topic of your choice.
Day 3: Open to Interpretation - What does the word "shadow" mean to you? Write a poem about it.

Check out too!

If you want to browse old writing prompts, check out my post from last year's April  POEM A DAY links and especially my November Poem a Day prompts post. There's a slew of great prompts there. NaNoWriMo or Poem a Day?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Figby & Pishkin

Someone dumped a calico cat and her three young ginger kittens in the field below our house—at the end of a country road. Someone else's idea of letting the cat go back to the wild to fend for herself. Someone from town stupid enough to justify that rationalization.

The young cat was was literally starving, she didn't know how to hunt, and was unable to care for her babies. Barely more than a kitten herself, we'd watch her flop down on the dry winter grass, as she tried to nurse them, but no milk came. She was shadow thin. I tried to reel her in with food but no luck. Her trust in humans was nil. We to leave leave food out for her, but the bluejays would beat her off the kibble, and she was too skittish to eat if we came near. Raccoons kept a tight night patrol.

Something had to be done, nature was running its inexorable course, but I could no longer bear to watch them starve. So I snuck up on them behind a stump and managed to grab one kitten as the rest scattered to the four winds. I had one chance, and one chance was all I got. I snagged one bedraggled orange kitten and brought him into the house, but not the other. 

Figby tamed up easily and he grew into a huge cat in an amazingly short period of time. He lost his pale baby fluff and his sleek adult coat grew in a bright orange with fierce tiger stripes. I realized that the kittens were much older than they looked—which was about 6 weeks. They were more like three or four months old. Because the wild brother didn't get much food, he stayed stunted, and never lost his baby fur.

It was odd to see the twin brothers together, one the size of an adult cat, the other, a dwarfed kitten. Mutt & Jeff. One pale blond, the other a real redhead. They were a perfect example of how nutrition played a large role in the development of young animals.

When my grannie came to America and saw all the sickly children, she said,  They're not feeding the children, in this richest country in the world—she said, horrified. Her ancestors had survived the Potato Famine. So, starvation was always a back-burner story in our family.

I tried everything to lure the wild kitten in. I was winging it. Nothing worked. Then Mamacat and the third kitten died and the little guy was by himself. About as big as a minute. All alone. He'd mew piteously and Figby would amble down the hill to visit him in the lower field, but even his brother couldn't convince him to approach humans. Figby had crossed over to the realm of humans. We were his tribe now. But his brother would have nothing to do with us. 

I tried to lure the remaining wild kitten toward the house on a food ticket. Then he was so lonely, he approached Figby and me, so I sat cross-legged in the dirt, and he tentatively drank from a saucer of milk. Unused to drinking, he did a few faceplants into the saucer, blowing milk bubbles out his nose. He shivered and drank cold milk until his tiny belly was a tight balloon. His pale fur was matted and skimpy and crawling with fleas. Poor fellow didn't even have a decent fur coat.

I tried to tame him. I'd sit for hours behind that saucer of milk, until he got used to my presence. I lured him into the house. It was now or never. He took off and hid under the couch. I bribed him with milk. He'd have none of it. Ham finally did the trick. So I began trying to pet him...he latched onto my hand and nearly bit through it. I left my hand there in his jaws, and he finally let go, he looked at me uncertainly, then he licked my hand. Went back to his food and shivered. I knew I'd won the battle. (Yes, it got infected.) I scratched his chin and he purred—perhaps for the first time ever.

Runty Pishkin never grew up to be as big as Figby—who, pardon the pun, really was a ham—and he remained skittish to the end. However, with regular meals, his adult coat came in glossy and orange. He too was a handsome cat, but he never grew up to be as big as his brother. Too little nurturing, too late. My grannie said he was a little piscín, a little kitten. That's how he got his name. From the Irish.

Pishkin never grew up. He never tamed up. It really was too late, he was a wild animal. Nature vs. nurture. We fed them inside the house but the kitchen door had to be left open. Pishkin never learned table manners. He'd growl and yodel as he ate, afraid the food would be taken from him—no matter how much we fed him. He'd hiss and lash out if you approached his dish. Figby was a perfect gentleman, he's sit tall and gaze benignly at his bother, he'd wait until Pishkin had his fill, then he'd eat.

            *               *               *

During my early childhood, I was never allowed to have cats in the house, only outside cats. There was Mamakitty, the founder cat, also a calico stray. But her line eventually died out (with a little help from the pound). We started out with one cat. At one point we had 13, cats; a week later it was a clouder of 26 cats. Dinnertime, they'd come running in thundering herds for table scraps. I'd sing: Here kitty-kitties, here kit-kits, here, kittywits, kittywits, kittywits....

My grannie said That was it, enough was enough. The cats have to go. (During the 1950s, there were no spaying options. Not like now. Ranchers shot or drowned excess cats. Billy Joe Bianchi's father, Big Joe, drown a litter in a gunnysack. I was distracted by the ducklings circling the pool. But I knew what had happened. The pound seemed more humane an option.)

I was allowed to keep two toms: Blackie and Winky, brothers from Mamakitty's first and second litters, were my constant companions. I dressed them in doll clothes, and dragged them everywhere.

The cats put up with my childish ministrations for years, never clawing or biting—though they were, by right, feral cats. Except the time I put a collar and leash on Blackie and dragged him down the road. The Rautio's dog came bounding up, gentle Blackie having no place else  to go, ran up to the crown of my head—raking my face and eyelids and spitting for all he was worth. I had scars for years.

I tossed the cats in the creek at the beginning of summer for their yearly bath. It was a tough love—they were stinky cats. They hated water, but they loved being clean afterwards—and they managed to keep up their personal hygiene for several months. Then, being boys, they'd get slovenly.

Blackie was a gorgeous black-tipped longhair, with a smoky undercoat. He worked hard at keeping all that long fur clean. Winky was a tabby striped shorthair, also with a cloudy undercoat. (They must've had the same father.) Blackie was also a bit of a lavender poofter, he had a thing going with the other male cats. Must've been his green eyes that drove them wild. He'd also steal kittens and tried to nurse them.

Not like the Stone's ugly rogue cat Grayboy, from down the road, who ate all of Mamakitty's kittens one night, and left the heads in the crib for me to find. I reached into the nest expecting to find warm kittens. I screamed and screamed when I pulled out a little orange head the size of a tennisball. Mamakitty grieved and grieved.

But sans litter, meant Grayboy's progeny would soon be on its way. I hated Grayboy, I never wanted one cat more dead than him. One time I managed to catch him by the tail, and dropkick him, but like Bill the Cat, he always came back.

Blackie was fearless and stood his turf. A raccoon got Blackie by the scruff of the neck and tore his throat open one time too many, he eventually ran off and died of an abscess. Another cat—probably that psycho-cat Grayboy as he seemed to relish killing our cats—snagged Winky's eye, pulling it from its socket during a brawl. Winky came back to visit, an apparition from a horror story, as if to say goodbye, and then ran off to die. I had nightmares for months.

Then we had no cats for a long while. Until someone dumped that second mamacat and her kittens in our lower field. Another calico. It was divine providence.

            *               *               *

In one fell swoop, Figby broke all the house rules. He moved in and slept on my grandmothers couch—she had a shaggy orange car throw that he thought was his. She was partial to redheads and ginger cats. FIgby was a lovefest. He knew we'd saved him. And that was that. He never had accidents—he waited patiently at the door to be let out. We were his humans who needed bathing and bathroom supervision.

I don't remember how Figby got his name, perhaps from sampling my grandmother's figs. He was a strange cat—he'd try anything we ate—but the name fit him. Figby was also a copycat. Anything my grannie ate—he sampled it too. He loved sharing her tea. OK, so there was milk in it.

But when he sampled her old fashioneds and Irish whiskey, she'd half-heartedly swat him with a newspaper and he'd just sit there staring at her, purring and critching his toes, gazing at her with big yellow eyes. I can understand a cat eating avocados—and bananas are an odd choice—but booze?

Figby was more dog than cat and every morning he'd stroll in the garden behind my grannie, his tail like a mast, cricked over at the tip, never leaving her side. Pishkin slinked along behind, like a scared shadow, muttering all the while. Hanging laundry and composting also needed Figby's close supervision and approval.

Pishkin was the feral cat, and Figby ruled the house. Each morning the brothers would snuggle like bookends and sunbathe on the kitchen window ledge. Sometimes Pishkin would let me scratch under his chin, he wanted petting too, he'd purr, but he was always too skittish for a full petjob, or, come into the house. 

I was devastated when Figby died of distemper a couple of years later. (Pre shots days.) Pishkin was inconsolable in his grief, Figby was all he had to anchor him to our world, and so he became wilder and wilder, and each visit more infrequent than the last. The law of nature, wild in tooth and claw, had won out in the end.

Pishkin lived to be a venerable age, always circling our house, always keeping tabs on us, always looking for Figby. He'd look at us as if to say: What have you done with my brother? Then he'd slink off into the pale grass muttering to himself.

Friday, March 28, 2014


Flotsam & jetsam
on the kitchen floor again

(Sorry, I couldn't resist that last line—cheap bank shot. A 6th grader actually used it as his own poem in one of Neil's poetry classes and he—new to the wiles of young plagiarists—fell for it.

Haikus are easy,
But sometimes they don't make sense.
Refrigerator. —Rolf Nelson

Between you, me and the fence, I don't think Rolf actually wrote it. But he got first dibs credit for it when he slapped it on a teeshirt design for

Ahem. Tap, tap. Take 2. Where were we?

Flotsam & jetsam
on the kitchen floor again
midnight snack shoreline

Messy kitchen floor:
I sing "Neil has eaten" to
Morning Has Broken

Dental floss—really?
kitchen floor's toothy practice
Late snack cavities

Tooth floss on the floor
Too far to toss, lazy? Or
trashbin lid glued shut?

Dental floss—thin worms
turning trash into soil
Crumbs seeding the floor

Secret late night snacks
a buffet of detritus
rings the kitchen floor

Ants ring last night's crumbs
like cowboys and indians
Snack patrol posse

I herd evidence
to the jaws of the dustpan
devouring crumbs

Broom song sweeps across
a kitchen floor crumb buffet
Dustpan mouth awaits

Late night snacku full
of empty calorie words
thickens the waistline

Counting syllables
playing a piano scale
left-handed solo

I don't like to count
words, but here I am counting
haiku insanity

(yeah, yeah, last line is six syllables.

Haiku are made of
Five syllables then seven
Then end with five more. —Anon

At least Anon's more honest than some.)

Numeric madness
a haiku insanity
unleashed on the page

Kitchen floor round up
riding shotgun with broom locked
& loaded again

A good thing the broom
isn't loaded or there'd be
a feast of carnage

A Rainman moment
counting last night's crumbs like rocks
no frogpond in sight

A good thing the thief
can't hear carnal kitchen thoughts
scribbled on the floor

Crumb calligraphy
commemorates late night snack
for literate ants

Ant literacy
written on counters and floors
erased by a broom

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Amazon Reviews

A little known factoid, I sometimes write Amazon Book Reviews. It was a confluence of Amazon probing me to write reviews of purchaes, an overload of bad (free) ebooks on my Kindle, and the rest is, shall we say—history.

OK, so now you know I have a Kindle, and a pipeline for free ebooks from the eReader Cafe—and I've been an involuntary invalid. I've been known to read as many as four books in a day... Sometimes escape fiction is the ticket. However, I just can't believe there's so much bad escape fiction out there. In self defense, I'm doing something about it review, by review.

So far, I've 30 reviews under my belt. My reviews rarely get read, but when I strike a negative chord—the loyal fans of authors with dreadful books vote en masse. On one particularly atrocious novel—from a woman who teaches creative writing in San Francisco, no less—the negative votes outweigh positive tallies 21 to one. Ouch! Must be her students voting.  Rule of thumb: the more atrocious the book, the more negative fan votes I garner. Fans reward bad writing.

I'm not one to write a fluffy review, I try to be fair. I also try to be entertaining, hopefully not at the cost of the author—but sometimes I wonder if most ebook authors have ever heard of spellcheck.

At present I am writing under the handle of MoH, awaiting to see if there's any kind of backlash—so far, so good. I may upgrade my Amazon user name to MoHurley. But the problem is that makes me traceable on Google—as that's also my Twitter handle. And I'm not sure if I want unwarranted attention. Amazon's a big place.

If yuou so feel inclined, mosey on over to my Amazon Reviews, and if you like them, click on the Yes button. (You do need to have an Amazon account in order to participate, however...)

I still haven't gotten the generic title thing down. They're pretty sucky. I'm open to suggestions. I also have trouble titling poems as well. Most of those generic titles will change when and if I get inspired.

When I write a review, I often push the publish button (there's no save draft button) to save my first draft before Amazon crashes, or stalls and wipes out my unsaved review. It's happened. I generally lose interest and won't rewrite a review if Amazon crashes.

Then, when I do go back and revise a piece (and I revise early and often), it's often an Amazon-inspired nightmare as it sometimes takes 10 or more tries to save the updated version/title. I never could get my final version and title of Worse things Happen at Sea to load.

I can hear you saying now—so why don't you write a review offline? Don't be so sensible. There's something about the pressure of writing live, and knowing that it might crash before I've saved a draft that spurs me on. Apparently I need whip & spurs coupled with the ephemeral threat of textual oblivion—in order to write, so S&M!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Largely Unsupervised Childhood

I had a largely unsupervised childhood, and instead of bikes, for wheels, we had donkeys, then we had ponies, and later, when we were teenagers, we graduated to horses. When we were young, we weren't allowed take the donkeys across the highway, but that didn't curtail us—we found many backroads and firetrails to travel far and wide.

We found novel ways around the restrictions placed by my best friend Stephanie Stone's parents—who otherwise left us all alone. We played until dark, no one was ever watching us, or asking where we were going—as we rarely knew where we were going until we got there and back again. Oh but the adventures we had.

We used creek culverts as byways to cross the highway. That meant we had to leave the donks tied up as they couldn't fit into them. The one at Arroyo Road/Creek was spidery. Luckily they were daddylonglegs.

We'd take the fire lane past Dougie Jarret's places to Bellefuelle's (woodlady) and tie them up, then break the rules—crossing over at Tamal Road. We interpreted in shades of gray. We slant-rhymed parental negotiations with childish logic. Steph's parents said we couldn't take the donkeys across the highway—not ourselves.

Or we'd dink down to Yerian's Garage as it was technically on the same side of the road, so we weren't technically crossing the road. It was probably more dangerous than crossing the road as there was no shoulder. The lure? We could get a huge RC Cola for 15 cents—we'd hunt for coke bottles along the road (3 cents each), until we had enough to buy one.

By the time we were mounted on horseback, the world was our oyster—or it was about as far as we could ride there and back by nightfall. Only real rule: we couldn't bring the horses home wet. Even riding into nightfall wasn't a huge deterrent. However, missing dinner was.

Full moons, we'd ride up Mt. Barnabe—magical. Surreal. A few times we bit off more than we could chew. That buggy ride to Mt. Tam became epic trying to get home when the gates were locked on the Pine Ridge fireroad above the San Geronimo Ridge. We could lift the buggy over the fence, but searching for a portogee gate under a full moon, to squeeze Christian's horse, Brandy through, was a challenge. 

We played with fire too. Frozen orange juice can rockets powered with firecrackers, matchhead torpedoes. Roasting raw oatmeal, or corn-chips in a coffee can. We liked that burnt taste. We knew better than to light a fire in the barn—we were careful. We knew the consequences.

Not so, for my little brother whose match experiment resulted in a grassfire backside the house. Luckily my grannie was able to put it out before it raced up the hill—and there was enough water in the tank. He was very careful afterwards. 

Fort-making was another important unsupervised activity where we learned to repurpose found objects and recycle wood. Elaborate treeforts, hobo camps—we were always creating structures.

Christian Burkhart's treefort was like a real house with windows—and a telescope trained on the Stone's bedroom window. Hay forts were the best. They didn't require smuggling tools and stealing nails. We were engineers and doctors (um, think I'll leave that one unexplored), rocket pilots and architects.

We built the scaffolding of our playtime to the sky and back. For that freedom, I am ever grateful. For it sustains me even now. There was a wild freedom, limitless imagination, and daydreaming were our closest companions. 

I feel sorry for the kids of today who have every playtime minute structured. It creates a paucity of imagination.

This piece was inspired by The Atlantic feature article, The Overprotected Kid

Friday, March 14, 2014


Π Haiku   5.7.5

Repeat. This number
is irrational—perfect
infinite numbers.

Perfect circumference
is highly overrated.
Pi is randomness.

Squaring the circle:
Never within this lifetime.
Transcending the spheres.

Mathematic constant?
Transcendental squared circle
never repeating.

What's irrational?
Pi: infinite by design
circle ratio.

No common fraction
Π rolls to its own rhythm
never to repeat.

Decimal pattern
never ends, never repeats
itself—like others.

Randomness? Prove it.
Impossible transcendence
too, is rational.

Transcendence of Pi
impossible to challenge
or solve with numbers.

To square the circle
space / time: a continuum
an aglow rhythm.

Compas or straightedge:
what would Archimides do
to square the circle?

Wheels of the bus go
round and round and round
never to be squared.

Infinite series
10 trillion digits later
still no end in sight.

Irrational no.
No integers need apply,
nor common fractions.

No number repeats.
What is Pi's musical score?
Random color notes.

statistical randomness
Pi r square, are round.

A vulgar fraction?
Only infinite nested
fractions dressed to the T.

Giza pyramid
squared circles, did they eat Pi
cornerstone cubits?

King Solomon's pool
was 10x30 cubits
sacred reflection.

Did Pi birth control
use algorithm methods
or polygonal?

Or did Pi use the
approximation method
fertile math sequence.

Give a polygon
infinite corners, will it
ever absolve Pi?

Even infinite
sums can't find enlightenment
in Pi's equation.

Π KU  3.1.4

This number


Who called you
common fraction?


sweet circumference.

Squared circle
spheric thought.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Kirk Whipple, Marilyn Morales, with special guests Bob Afifi & Maureen Hurley perform Elemental Portraits at Sebastopol Center for the Arts

We had a blast performing Elemental Portraits: Nocturnes for Two Pianos at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. 
Kirk Whipple & Marilyn Morales Duo Pianists & Compsoers in Concert
Kirk Whipple Marilyn Morales, Duo Pianists Composers (Press Democrat)

Facebook Events

We also performed at the Glaser Cente rin Santa Rosa, but there were no programs, just a poster. I wasn't listed on it. It was also poorly advertised (other than on Facebook), so we had a small turnout. But it was there, where I got my groove back—after being so long away from those poems.
Hangtime: Whipple & Morales, Duo Pianists & Composers in Concert
Facebook: Whipple & Morales, Duo Pianists & Composers in Concert

In the mid 1990s, Kirk and I did a collaboration where I wrote poetry while he composed musical portraits of Sonoma County musicians. As he composed, I freewrote to the music, then I interviewed him (also his dream journal), then I interviewed the people the portraits were composed for. I put it all together.

The last time we performed Elemental Portraits was in in Onset, Ma., in 2008: 
Cranberry Coast Concerts Sun Chronicle. ArtsBoston

More on Cranberry Coast Concerts at MySpace
More on the poems at the Unconservatory website:
Elemental Portraits: Nocturnes for Two Pianos (the poetry)

Blast from the Past: Here's a link to our debut performance way back in 1997. I was in a car accident on June 18th of that year, so I never had my debut. A punctured lung precluded my participation at the events onJune 28 and 29.  We did perform a preview at the Friedman Center on Mother's Day.  It was hotter than Hades. And it was a luncheon. Nothing like the clatter of silverware during a performance. 
More on the process in 2010 with composer Allaudin Mathieu of Cold Mountain Music, on Literrata: Out of the Blue

And a version of the piece here at: Red Room

Saturday, March 1, 2014

How the Welsh language was really invented

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Dedwydd—or how the Welsh language was really invented: whiskered kittens on keyboards wearing white woolen mittens.

These are a few of my favorite things. And now I don't feel so bad...but you might if you ever wish someone a Dydd Gwyl Dewi Dedwydd, or visit Wales and have to pronounce some of the downright eyeteeth challenging placenames. Why yes, I have been to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, now that you mention it, but why do you ask? 

Llanfair PG for short—is not the byproduct of a cat walking on keyboards, but it is a real village on the isle of Anglesey in Wales. One of the longest place names in the world, it was an 1860s gimmick for the longest railway station name in Britain prize—only no one can pronounce it. The railway sign is so long we could barely fit it all in the photo frame.

Barbarella's secret password is pronounced Llan-vire-pooll-guin-gill-go-ger-u-chwurn-drob-ooll-llantus-ilio-gogo-goch, which means [St.] Mary's Church (Llanfair) [in] the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) [and] the church of [St.] Tysilio (llantysilio) with a red cave ([a]g ogo goch). Got that? Good.

I double-dare you to Google these phrases I've compiled for your next Welsh lesson: 
Wnewch chi ysgrifennu hynna, os gwelwch yn dda? 
Helpa fi! Helpwch fi! 
Galw'r heddlu! 
Dw i ddim yn deall 
Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod. (Omniglot).

Aside from the pesky eels in the hovercraft (a linguist's inside joke), a friend of mine said Welsh looks like it is suffering from a severe case of irritable vowel syndrome. But it's really just a case of bad orthography. OK, so there are a lot of ds in a row too.

You know that Dydd Gwyl Dewi Dedwydd is a Welsh national holiday, today, right?

Eight of those letter combos (digraphs) are really one-letter sounds written in the English alphabet with two Latin letters: 
ch—èch, dd—èdd, ff—èff, ng— ll—èll, ph—ffi/yff, rh—rhi, th—èth. 
Speaking of those irritable vowels: the usual complement: a, e, i, o, u—but, hold on—w and y are also vowels. 

The Welsh—Cymraeg (aka Cambrian, Cambric, Cymric)—alphabet has 28 letters 
(but no j, k, q, v, x, or z), and it is related to Cornish, Breton(Brezhoneg); Cumbric, and Pictish—are both extinct. Probably because nobody could spell them either.

Welsh is a P-Celtic language. Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx are Q-Celtic—as were almost all the Atlantic Celtic languages of Iberia—which is different than Gaulish.

TRANSLATE: I live in Wales
Welsh - Dw i'n byw yng Nghymru 
Cornish - Trigys ov yn Kembra 
Breton - E Kembre emaon o chom 
Irish - Tá mé i mo chónaí sa Bhreatain Bheag 
Scottish Gaelic - Tha mi a' fuireach anns a' Chuimrigh 
Manx - Ta mee cummal 'sy Vretyn (Omniglot).

Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod
Leun gant sili eo ma dourruzer
Tá m'árthach foluaineach lán d'eascanna.
Leun a sylli yw ow skath bargesi
Ta my haagh crowal lane dy astan.
Ma hoovercraft's full o eyls
Ma hoovercraft's breemin' ower wi eyls

Welsh emerged from Common Brittonic, or another down in the 'eels Brittonic dialect, ca. 6th c.AD. The Britons were all pushed to the west of what is now England/Scotland, and eventually the Brittonic-speaking west, was divided near modern-day Manchester/Liverpool, and the boundaries of modern Wales were founded.

Before the 6th c., Brittonic kingdoms extended from The River Clyde (Cumbria), to Cornwall & the Isle of Wight.

The earliest Welsh literature dates back to 600 AD. Wales' first Welsh bard was Taliesin of the 'shining/radiant brow' (or Tal-iesin, Taliessin; c. 534 – c. 599). He composed the story of Urien of Rheged, a 6th c. king—in what is now southern Scotland.

Another Welsh bard, was Aneirina Cumbric poet from Dumbarton (also modern Scotland), aka the "prince of bards, of flowing verse." Aneirin's epic Y Gododdin, records a pitched battle between the Britons and Angles at the Battle of Catraeth ca, 600 AD, in remembrance of his fallen patrons and lords of Hen Ogledd.

So, I guess we could say that the roots of written Welsh is really Scottish! Of course, there was no Scotland yet. Detail, I know. Also understanding the Brittonic language map during the post Classical era, and the early middle ages gives some linguistic credence to the next Mad March Celtic holiday on deck—that St. Patrick was actually from what is later known as Scotland.

Welsh was much easier to learn than Old Irish (also VSO and sometimes P*, but less tenses to fuss with). However, I was a mental disaster in my Medieval Welsh class at Berkeley—it was also post-9/11. I had the post-acopolytic mind of a squirrel. I did, however, manage to get through the first story of the Mabinogi, and another tale in Medieval Welsh. All I can say is, I'm glad I already knew how the stories were going to end. 

*Verb, Subject, Object, Preposition that conjugates with personal pronoun. 

Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus
Anyway, all this to say to you: Happy Dewi Sant! Or Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus! Do you have a bouquet of daffodils in hand, and a lucky leek stuck behind your left ear? Then, let the March madness begin.

White rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Note Bene: David, the patron saint of Wales and doves, whose feast/death day is March 1st (ca. 569-601 AD), would've been a contemporary of Taliesin and Aneirin.

During the height of Welsh resistance against the Normans, Saint David was recognized as the national patron saint. On his deathbed Dewi Sant was said to have uttered: "Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil."

An 8th c. poem prophesied that when all might seem lost, the Cymry would unite under the banner of David to defeat the English; "A lluman glân Dewi a ddyrchafant" (And they will raise the pure banner of Dewi)."

Dewi was son of Sandde, the Prince of Powys— the Ceredigion clan, and Non of Menevia. He founded a Celtic monastery at Glyn Rhosin (Vale of Roses) at Sir Benfro. He was buried at St David's Cathedral at Pembrokeshire; his shrine was a pilgrimage hot spot during the Middle Ages. Saint David is also associated with corpse candles, a flame, or blue fireball (bog-fire, will-o-the-wisp, ignis fatuus) that foretold death.

The Welsh wear a daffodil (symbol of spring) or the leek (secret sign) on their lapel to celebrate the feast of St. David. The words are similar in Welsh, Cenhinen (leek) and Cenhinen Pedr (daffodil, "Peter's leek").The leek was used as a symbol to distinguish Welsh troops from the pagan Saxon enemy. Friend or foe.

Cenhinen Pedr

The word Cymry dates back to the post-Classical Roman Era, meaning the peoples of "Yr Hen Ogledd", or the Men of the North. In Old Welsh combrog means "compatriot, or Welshman"; from cymryubrogi —country, or territory.

The word Wales, or Welsh, is not from within the culture. It's from the Germanic root (Walh, Walha) foreigner, which ironically was derived from the name of a fierce Gaulish tribe, the Volcae Tectosages—who gave Rome some real grief. The Volcae fought alongside Alexander the Great, and feared nothing.  

Britain 500 AD: Pink: Celtic Britons, or Welsh. Blue: Germanic tribes Angles, Saxons. Green: Gaels & Picts.

There was a lot of prehistoric travel back and forth from southern Ireland to Wales. During the 5th c., Gwynned was an Irish settlement, as was Anglesey. The word Gwynedd is an early borrowing from the Irish, related to the  Old Irish name Féni. Finn/Gwyn are cognates—fair/white.

My family name, Walsh (the Welshmen), is Breathnach in Irish. This does not mean our family were supplanted Normans, they might have come over to Bantry from Wales with Strongbow, they may have been descendants from the kingdom of Gwynned, or they may simply have been Brittonic-speakers in Ireland. 

My grannie's Irish Grammar book: Sinead Breatnac (Jane Walsh).


Saint David
Saint David's Day
Taliesin - Wikipedia
Welsh Language - Wikipedia
Welsh people - Wikipedia

My Welsh friend Mabli (Maria Teresa Agozzino) wrote a brilliant folklore paper on the Patagonian Welsh: Transplanted Traditions: An Assessment of Welsh Lore and Language in Argentina

Literrata: It's PADDY not Patty
St Patrick was a Strathclyde Briton