Thursday, January 20, 1994



Galloping off after sunsets
like the errant earth
seeking a friend to play with,
I shiver & shake.
wanting to know if its true or false
this quaking inside—
Now we are immobile like the earth.
It takes the shifting of tectonic plates
to move us out of old patterns.
Destruction before growth
becomes evident
after the fact.

1/20/94 Santa Rosa


True, in reclaiming the poetic word
we need to look no farther
than our own gaping maws.
The jaguar lost his spots in the darkness of sleep,
killer whales danced with the tuxedo of death,
and penguins, first cousins to nuns
and the stripes of the zebra,
imprisoned in the crosswalks of disorderly conduct.
Beneath my pen, small dark blossoms
begin to bloom on the blank page.



META:  4

Monday, January 17, 1994


                                    from Elemental Portraits: Nocturnes for Two Pianos,
                                    composed by Kirk Whipple

The beginning and the end of night—
from sunset to sunrise—
is a concentration of songlines to whet the palate:
jazz notes defining the quality of the forest,
a velvet refugee dressed in marimba patterns,
escaped blue notes outside the key.
Not technical études, but the theater
of neon rain in concentric ripples.

Where does night's vagary begin and end?
We seek the piano score for modern landscapes,
not a dreamy ideal of romantic music.
As if out of oscuridad, a sacred text
finds the first phrases of the moon.

The vibration of human existence resonates
in the music walking us out of ourselves,
the thighbones reminding us
of the steps taken: syllables of the air.

The melody lingers deep inside
long after the overture of the dream ends.
The nocturnal eye of the nightingale
waits for further instructions
from the coda:
                        an endless stranger
                        inside the depths of night.

Sunday, January 16, 1994



In the false warmth of mid-winter
the firebox hisses & snaps—wet bay logs singing
to the ever-present odor of woodsmoke and soot-covered walls.
Last rainstorm the roof leaked,
the ceiling lamp became a bowl of blue light
beautiful as the sky, but colder
like the jewels I found in sleep.
I want to open the front door,
last night’s dream unleashed the lions,
the door won’t close.
With her back to the stove, she sits, reading the paper,
her white hair in random waves.
We have no words for the solitude of morning
or the repetitive spoon against the coffee mug.
The sink purps, an isolated drop of water catches
the room reflected upside-down.
I am groveling on the floor—
acute angles of wall and ceiling never squared.
I think of my mother off in the city;
how I love her so much it hurts
it takes me longer to recognize
my grandmother’s love,
the endurance of woodsmoke,
and childhood to carry me
through this morning
to where the unnamed father
is also a part of the equation of loss.
It takes me 40 years to recognize
that in the layering of years,
unbidden tears need an outlet
like water seeking its own level.
Precious water lost
during the drought years can never be replaced.
Ordinary loss prepares us for what is ordinary.
What sustains us is memory, something more profound
than the weight of time to hold us down,
the repetition of days carries us
into the uncertain present.
The regret, remorse—hard edges of words
cut us to the quick like a stubbed toe,
the pain made larger than life
because of the incipient cold
holding us back this winter morning.

1/16/94   Bishop Ranch, Healdsburg
I think these were from a CPITS AC retreat not Elderhostel



I believed stories that the world was flat,
that it ended at the fence line, 
though I could see beyond it.
It is clearly an illusion, something to do with faith
and the shifting boundaries of the adult world.
She forgot yesterday’s milk
and it expanded, little paper lids perched caps
on the frozen necks of the bottles.
I only needed some sugar and to beat the cats to the cream.
The milkbox made a perfect stool to observe the known world,
the western hills ringed in fog—
milk separating the mystery from the field.
It’s true that dragons lived beyond the known world.
That the snake across the road was as big as a tree limb.
That the pale ghosts of fallen trees in the arroyo
were seen to move at dusk from the corners of the eye.
That no one believed in my ghosts who writhed at dusk;
I speculated they were bodies asleep in the leaf mold—
True or false: fiery centipedes glowed like phosphor on rotten logs,
and stung me in my sleep. That I really was an abandoned child.
Once ants really ran up my pants and I left them, screaming.
Once I thought gopher mounds were powdered chocolate,
my mother’s glass tubes of oil paints in the closet, vanilla ice cream.
I was afraid of the veins in chicken legs at Sunday dinners.
Is it true I didn’t understand the meaning of loss or beauty
and otherwise abstract notions until after the fact?
Maybe I dropped out of kindergarten because of the snake.
The chain across the road kept out the known world.
Was it true that living beyond the county-maintained road
meant we were invisible, untouchable in our poverty?
I remember the wealth of red earth and bay trees against summer sky.
Any car coming this far meant visitors, a break in routine,
A car weaving its way up the valley might be my mother.
Or another false alarm. The word “father” was a vacancy with no name.
Is it true or false that the shrapnel of memory is invisible or sharp
as the unspoken words that continue to survive us?
Or that in the darkness beneath my bed they waited
all these years to grab my ankles after all?

1/16/94  Bishop’s Ranch, Healdsburg 

I think this was from an Elderhostel class I taught there

Friday, January 14, 1994


                                    —for William Stafford, (     - 1993)
Poetry will always be a wild animal. . .
that won’t yield to ordinary learning.

I tell students to let their minds lean
forward and fill in the missing words
to reclaim the self, the poetic soul
lost in Dante’s inferno.
Descend into writing to reclaim the poetic word.
We need no longer discern
between the dreaming and the waking.
Words will unveil the self to the self.
Reality bends itself toward sleep
to emerge as the wingtips of doved hands.
If we are lazy we will never find the way—
The muse only comes to those
who are holding the pen at the ready
for small dark blossoms to bloom on the page.

1/14/94             Bodega Bay