Thursday, December 22, 2011


The Rexroths owned a summer cabin a few ravines over from us. After school, I used to ride my red mare by his place near Dead Man's Curve on the way to the Inkwell. I remember the wooden sign, a fence plank with Rexroth painted in big black letters, rotting into the hillside. Tanoak and redwood duff. His wife used to sit in the same pew as my grandmother at St. Cecelia's Church in Lagunitas. The morning sun lit them as if from within. Sometimes my grandfather would run into him hiking up Devil's Gulch. They talked of salmon runs and politics. He religiously clipped Rexroth's newspaper columns with curved nail scissors. I remember reading the yelllowed columns as a child. No idea of him as the poet. Or me either.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Landscapes, wet pastels (art) 2011

Landscapes, wet pastels, Bret Harte School, after-school arts program in Hunter's Point. The classes were squirrely so I rarely had tome to finish the pieces, and once they've dried, that's pretty much it. You can't go back. You can see where I had paper issues too.
Still life (art) 2007

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shoe de Gras Mouse Wars

Two mice down, and how many more ?? more to go. I think I need a puddytat. The glue traps work best. But then, you have to dispatch the critters to the great mouse beyond. The old fashioned wooden ones are best—all I managed to trap so far, was my index finger.

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I would love to hear the WHACK of a wooden trap right about now. I hear another mouse rustling. So far, no good. And Mom Mouse is on the loose too. You think she's noticed she's lost three of her pups? Snap! Snap! 4, 5...pups down ? How many more to go. Where's Mama?

There's probably one more pup plus mama to go. The midnight mouse was instantly dispatched to the great beyond.
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However, I forgot I'd also set a rat trap—they've been scampering over it for weeks. A whole lotta good it did. As I retrieved the mouse trap with its tiny cargo, the rat trap went off with a thunderous bang. I screamed, having nearly stuck my hand in the rat trap. It would have broken a finger or two.

Last mouselet was caught fair & square at 4:30 AM, but it also screamed. Then I couldn't go back to sleep. Still quite queasy but I also feel like the cat with her trophy mice. Each time I am reminded how we are both mammals. The little hunched shoulders, the delicate beauty of their forearms and paws.... Anthropomorphizing does not assuage memory.

Now, moles are good guys, unlike gophers. They eat bugs. I've had a few as pets. The cats had a hard time killing them off.

My resolve is steeled. My girders are loined. I went all soft on them in the past. Never again. But I do admire their beauty. Clearly, I'm not afraid of mice. It's the dispatching that makes me queasy. And, live release is just plain old stupid.

Neil's useless when it comes to mouse dispatch and disposal. He squeals like a girl. Backs off and leaves me to it. WHAP!

My flip flop did the coup de gras. If I catch it, I gotta kill it. No needless suffering. Very Zen. Whap. Ugh. I got Ma Mouse the other night, fair & square. XXed out eyes and all. Ah, quiet. No more scampering of little mouse feet. Shoe de gras!

A mama mouse has at least 6 babies.  Apparently the optimum average litter size is 10–12 pups. I think I'm closing in on it. Mama is in my sights.

What I now know: glue traps are only good once. Rat traps don't even snap on mice, but will viciously leap into the air when your hand trespasses in their airspace. Mice avoid the last place of mousiedeath‚ setting traps in the same spot is futile. You have to think like a mouse. Mouse mind meld. Baseboards are like runways. The obvious mouse chute spot never yields results. 
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<3 3="" all="" and="" any="" as="" asian="" at="" attract="" besides="" bird-mad="" cakes="" can.="" chocolate.="" clean="" d="" dark="" does="" drawer="" dry="" field="" go="" godiva="" goods="" hand.="" house="" i="" is="" letting="" list="" mice.="" mice="" my="" native="" nbsp="" neighbor="" ninja="" no.="" not="" on="" ouse="" out="" overfeeds="" p="" problem.="" re="" rice="" rodents.i="" rolls.="" s="" sandals="" seeds="" shortlist.="" so="" solve="" special="" that="" the="" them="" they="" tinfoil="" trap="" unlike="" war="" way="" whap="" whatever="" wiped="">Mouse poison is green mousecandy—they eat so little at a time that their metabolism counteracts the poison, and they become immune rather quickly—sort of like a scene from Arsenic and Old Lace. Rodent poison only works on rats. Or does it?  You have to maintain a kamakazi mindset. Any softening of the heart will derail your mission. Sleep will be fleeting. You will listen for that snap! snap! of traps even in dreams. Dances With Wolves mouse scenes will pervade your dreams.

In desperation you will begin to tear apart junk drawers and cabinets you haven't delved into for years. You will pull out all your saved paper bags, and all the plastic ones too. The special birthday and holiday bags you were saving for a rainy day, but can't find them when you need them, all trashed. In the farthest reaches of the cabinet that was once an icebox cooler, a box of forgotten china, props from a play. Ah, red willow teacups converted into mouse condos. 
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<3 3="" all="" and="" any="" as="" asian="" at="" attract="" besides="" bird-mad="" cakes="" can.="" chocolate.="" clean="" d="" dark="" does="" drawer="" dry="" field="" go="" godiva="" goods="" hand.="" house="" i="" is="" letting="" list="" mice.="" mice="" my="" native="" nbsp="" neighbor="" ninja="" no.="" not="" on="" ouse="" out="" overfeeds="" p="" problem.="" re="" rice="" rodents.i="" rolls.="" s="" sandals="" seeds="" shortlist.="" so="" solve="" special="" that="" the="" them="" they="" tinfoil="" trap="" unlike="" war="" way="" whap="" whatever="" wiped="">One mouse will make a run for it, right between your knees. You will shriek, leap up into the air like a startled cat, then, look for the mouse, only to find you've killed it by kneeling on it, barelegged, in bent supplication. Your kitchen resembles a war zone. But hey, pup number 6 is dead by bent knee. A carnal prayer for the dead mice becomes a mantra. 

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Irish Travellers are not Gypsies

This was a letter to a Gypsy Vanner horse website that was so over the top with erroneous information on Irish travelers—I came undone and wrote this missive to them. They never replied.

My grandmother (b,1893)  knew the Tinkers well, in Western Ireland. They used to fix my great-grandmother's pots. They travelled through Bantry each year, and camped on our land. They were superb horse people. My family raised horses too—I grew up horse crazy and could ride just about any equine (and an occasional bovine) like the wind. But that was another era.

I hate how people conflate Irish and Scottish TInkers or Travellers with Romany Gypsies. They are not even remotely the same peoples. Never any gypsies in Ireland. Ever. Scottish Tinkers are related to Irish Tinkers. They both speak Shelta or siúlta (aka Gammon or Cant)—a Gaelic, or goidelic language. They were called the lucht siúil  or the walking people. Hence Shelta, as walk/ siúil is pronounced school. Think of it as an Irish Cockney slang with reversed words and backwards talk—to fool the locals.

That's how pig-Latin, and even Boontling evolved in Anderson Valley, CA. To hide the news via slang. My best friend's father spoke it. It even has Irish words in it. But I digress...  The Shelta word "bloke" evolved from the Irish word buachaill, or boy.

Celtic is one of the most ancient language families in the Indo-European tree. Older than Latinate languages. Gaelic is older than Brythonic Celtic. The Celtic Pretani is the origin of the word for Britain.

Romany Gypsies are from Romania by way of India/Egypt. Different genetics. Different DNA, language, customs. The Gypsies of Spain speak Ladino, a form of Latin. As is Romanian. (There's also a Sephardic Jewish connection with Ladino.) Think Latin or Djudeo Espanyol. That also introduces the Middle East as a genetic pool. Few genetic markers are shared with the Irish (whether Tinkler or gaija) and the Middle East.

The term Ladino comes from "latino" and possible "ladrón" (thief) and usually refers to mestizo peoples. I worked with a Sephardic Jew from Peru by way of Spain—what he spoke really is similar to Spanish. Now, I love the Gypsy Kings—but I would never conflate them with the Celtic Irish Tinkers.

Just because the Celtic Travellers are nomadic, use caravans and have fabulous horses, it doesn't make them ethnically related to Gypsies. The problem is that this kind of nonsense has been repeated often enough as of late that most people believe that the Travellers are Gypsies. The notion probably arose during the Romantic period when Gypsies were considered exotic, therefore more interesting (and valuable) than the native peoples who suffered greatly under colonial rule.

There are real Romany Gypsies in Britain, but they're not ethnically related to the Irish Tinkers. The Travelers in England also steer clear of the Gypsies. They're not particularly fond of each other. There's a great stigma of marrying outside the clan.

Sadly, so much of history has been lost, as they're a nomadic peoples, and not much stock was placed on preserving history—that's an occupation for the landed, or settled folks who live in houses. Alas, now some Travellers think they're related to Gypsies!

I have studied with distinguished Celtic scholars of our era at UC Berkeley and elsewhere. My area of study is Medieval Ireland. So I've also studied folklore, medieval literature (translated Irish and Welsh epics) and linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, etc.

Irish Tinkers, or Travellers, who predate the Gypsies—if you can believe the medieval Irish epics—did make it to Scotland, England, and America—during the Great Famine. The Riches with Eddie Izzard was a TV show about the American Travellers.

I suggest that you add:

"Founded November 24, 1996, the GVHS is the world’s first registry to recognize a breed of horse developed by the   ( ADD TRAVELLERS AND )    Gypsies of Great Britain/Ireland and the only such registry founded on an in depth study of British/Irish (   TRAVELLERS AND  ) Gypsies and their horses."

Adding the ethnically correct term will do wonders to reverse centuries of continual colonial aprartheid waged against the Irish Travellers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I once had a hummingbird divebomb me, making a huge cross with a J hook in the sky. He came right up to my face three times. I put my finger out and he landed on it...for a second. I was wearing red. And he was Colibri, or Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. I once found a nest made of spiderwebs and moss suspended over Paloverde Creek in Big Sur. Three tiny eggs. The hummingbird stood her ground. When I was child, my aunt found a tiny hummer the size of a grasshopper and it was my job that Easter week to feed it—every 2 hours. Don't recall if he made it. Probably not. But he was voracious. We kept him under a lamp. A small flame to keep him warm, this little warrior of the sun.



In the time that God took to make the world
I have not accomplished much of anything.
This thing called poetry does not heed beck & call
but then, the police are beating our poets with batons
to teach them a thing or two about punctuation.
The poetry prompts, dry as sawdust in the imagination
but then, we are feeding our children wood pulp
calling it food, when it's fodder not fit for swine.
Reminds me of our actor-governor-president
proclaiming catsup in school lunches to be a vegetable.
Soon Congress will be proclaiming pepper spray
a vegetable too. Cops indiscriminately hosing
students and octogenarians alike with their MDR
of OC, or oleoresin capsicum.
That's 2 million Scoville Heat Units.
I can't eat hot food. Fried habañeros send me
into respiratory distress. Breathing is not an option.
Pepper spray, banned for use in war, or in prisons,
is OK to use on civilians. Especially students.
The 'choppers hovering overhead remind me
that I live in Oakghanistan. Occupied territories.
The scent of mace in the morning makes me nauseous.
PreOccupied. PostOccupied. Where will it all end?
My grandmother said that One day, mark my words,
They would go too far. It was always capital They.
No names. Maybe she was channeling the Anti-Christ.
She was citing Tammany Hall, events of another era.
She said that the people would rise up. Never too late.
The bankers, the oligarchy. Wall Street itself.
I feel like I'm stuck in a 21st century ebook
reliving the French Revolution where
the cobra of time is flashing back on itself.
Is it because we've discovered a neutrino
faster than the speed of light,
that we've somehow upset the balance
of space itself, setting time on its ear?
It's come to this. We are rising up
with our pikes upon our shoulders
stuffing our soles with straw and cardboard
insulation against the coming winter.
Saying sabot, sabot, sabotage.
It didn't end well for the peasants.
Let them eat straw.


Saturday, November 19, 2011


Clerk to kid: How old are you?
Kid: I'm this many: I'm 5. (He holds up 5 fingers,
double-checks to see if they're all up).
Then asks: How old are you?
Clerk—I'm 65. (Kid looks at his fingers.)
Kid: Wow, you're really old! My mom is 47!
Clerk: Hey, you're not supposed to tell
anyone your mom's age!
The mother hides her face in her hands.
Everyone in line laughs.

Sunday, November 13, 2011



Without an excess of time
for art, for poetry, for leisure
or that thing called "having a life,"
I prepare for work in the corporate world
by lining my eyes with indigo and kohl,
assuaging the tired bags with eyescream
made from the rarest coffee extracts
& expensive organic emollients—
really just chi-chi variants of Preparation Haich
(shhh! Lord Barrymore's "morning after" secret).

When I fill out my pale eyebrows with powder
the model Brook Shields is invoked
so that the customers will like me 
as they buy an excess of food
pre arranged, pre packaged, pre pre.
And yes, the blank space is invoked
like the fatal flaw in a Navajo rug.
No hyphen need apply
because that would suggest connection
and subject-noun agreement
when there is no ambiguity
when it come to the 1%.
The grand prix price fix is shrink-wrapped
into mortgages and loans, how mort
death is invoked. A 99% accurate gauge.

I have few islands of time
in excess of five-minute increments
in order to write, before launching
my smiling self onto the public realm
so that they will buy buy buy for/from The Man.
No matter that I work for a good company
we are still all drones to/for The Man,
to staged commerce, to the treadmill of buying.
My teeth aren't quite white enough,
I'm considered a tad too old for this job.
Should I dye my hair and drink less coffee?
I desperately need a new bra and knickers.
And Freecycle just won't do. Not enough uplift.
But I've managed to hold off for years
because I am shocked by what people buy.
Not basic necessities or staples,
but a plethora of pre-packaged luxury items—
thinking that this is their just due
for having earned The Good Life.

But they are merely eating their way
deeper into debt.
My register beeps in demonic supplication 
& I am part of the system
I refused to join for ages.
I joined—not on my own volition—
but because I am afraid of the future,
of medical bills, of paltry retirement stipends,
of the erasure of what was once good,
the loss of the idea of security,
or chicken every Sunday, the family
sitting down to break bread together.
Instead, we are the lost pieces 
of a jigsaw puzzle called America
waiting for our exit line,
pursued by the bear of hunger
and want and need.


Saturday, November 12, 2011


     Hotspur: I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
     Nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him,
     To keep his anger still in motion.”
                                 —Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I.

When I was a child in the late 1950s, 
I remember vast murmurations of starlings
wheeling overhead heralded winter's bent claw.
From afar, they were like bevies of Victorian ladies 
rushing in taffeta gowns, accented by the thievery
of weak floorboards. Add the cicada's drone,
the breathy tide and warbling streams.

When a dark curtain of starlings drew nigh 
their flight was a cacophony of screech & din,
each bird following the bird in front
like wild winter geese all in a vee—
only with no one bird in the lead. 
With synchronized precision they'd weave 
and bank like shoals of skybound herring, 
or pond cells pulsing in a petri dish. 

At dusk, gyrating flocks of starlings
would blanket the trees down by the creek.
With many false starts, they'd alight
and take flight in tight aerial formations
like apparitions of dervishing angels
before bedding down for the night to roost. 
It's about group mind, pecking order
and safety in numbers. Who's gonna land
(or be eaten) first? Not me. Not me. 
Not meeeeeee. And so on.
Darkfall usually settled the squabble.

A murmuration of starlings. Wikipedia Commons.
One mad March morning in 1890, 
Eugene Schieffelin, an eccentric Bronx pharmacist 
feloniously in love with Shakespeare's works, 
let loose in Central Park some 60 starlings.
Schieffelin, a seventh son, avid Shakespeare buff, 
and chairman of the American Acclimatization Society,
introduced 600 species of the Avon Bard's birds
to the New World. Most of his lunatic schemes
never bore fruit, but 16 of his Adam & Evil couples
survived harsh winter. Schieffelin introduced a plague
of feathered locusts upon the continent. 
Not only starlings but also house sparrows.

But poetic justice is also served: an artist is teaching 
loquacious starlings, aka poor-man's-myna bird,
to utter the name of their liberator, Schieffelin, 
so their learned behavior will spread across the land—
like Nazi infiltrators trying to say Scheveningen.

Adult starling Sternus vulgaris. Wikipedia commons.
I remember one starling plummeted from the sky
and landed with an abrupt thump at my feet. 
I was transfixed by all that dead beauty 
still warm, but silent as the grave in my hand.
Its feathers—an aurora of indigo, teal and twilight 
spangled with iridescent shooting stars. 

I didn't want to bury that bird. It was far too lovely. 
But I knew that death belonged to the ground, 
not to the sky, or buried in my treasure box.

I'll posthumously name that dead starling 
Hotspur for his bloodred feet 
or Schieffelin for his gift of gab. 
Perhaps Post-Mortimer would be 
a more appropriate moniker.

S. v. faroensis on the Faroe Islands. Wikipedia Commons.

See more images:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jeff Buckley's “Hallelujah”

When my mom died, she was carrying Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" audio cassette in her purse. I played Cohen's “Hallelujah” until the tape warped. Only song that got me through her death. 
Many people think Tim Buckley's son, Jeff Buckley wrote “Hallelujah”—but it is Leonard Cohen's song. Buckley drowned during a spontaneous evening swim—fully clothed—in the Wolf River Harbor, a slackwater channel of the mighty Mississippi River, caught in the wake of a passing boat, 1997. Buckley went down, boots and all, singing the chorus of "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin.

Chart success also came posthumously to Jeff Buckley, with "Hallelujah" he attained his first #1 on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs in March 2008. But wasn't around to enjoy the accolades.

Rufus Wainwrignt knew Jeff Buckley, and recorded his version after Jeff. I don't like Rufus' whiny tone (in Shrek). I prefer Leonard's gravelly first release (I'm Your Man), and there are several Jeff Buckley versions of “Hallelujah” on YouTube.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


When I was a child during the late 1950s, on winter evenings, murmurations of starlings would congregate overhead. Fom the distance, it sounded like a bevy of Victorian ladies in taffeta gowns madly rushing up and down a narrow hall, or spinning angels in a tight corner, punctuated by the squeaking of weak floorboards or the mutterings of mice. And the tingling of tiny tinny bells. Add the rushing tide. Myriad summer crickets. A small stream speaking over the rocks.

At dusk, the starlings would pulse and weave in an incredible aerial dance formation before settling down for the night to roost in the trees. It's about pecking order and safety in numbers. Who's on first? Or who's gonna land first. Not me. Not me. Not meeeeeee. And so on. Darkfall usually settled the squabble.

When a curtain of starlings got close you could really hear their wings—like a quail bursting from the bush, but longer and louder, pulsing with each twist and turn. An incredible din. Each bird following the bird directly in front of him—like winter geese in a vee. Only with no one bird in the lead. Weave and pulse like shoals of skybound herring, or pond cells contracting in a petri dish. A dance orgy in flight.
A murmuration of starlings. Wikipedia Commons.

However beautiful they are, passerine starlings, like pigeons and house sparrows, are not native to the Americas. European pests, invasive species of the highest arcana.

One mad March afternoon in 1890, an eccentric Bronx pharmacist, Eugene Schieffelin who was feloniously in love with Shakespeare's works, let loose in Central Park some 60 starlings, then 60 more the following year—of which 16 pairs survived harsh winter.

But Schieffelin, who was not only an eccentric seventh son, but an avid Shakespeare buff, and chairman of the American Acclimatization Society. A deadly combination. He wanted to introduce all 600 of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works, to the Americas. All of them.

Instead, Schieffelin introduced a bio-hazardous plague of feathered locusts upon the entire North American continent. Not only starlings but also house sparrows. Luckily, most of his lunatic schemes never came to fruition.

Ironically, starlings are only mentioned once in Shakespeare's works. So ultimately, we have Hotspur, or The Bard of Avon—who compared sparrows to angels that could awaken dreamers from their feathery beds—to blame for Eugene Schieffelin's madcap folly.

Hotspur: Nay, I will; that's flat:
He said he would not ransom Mortimer;
Forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer;
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I'll holla 'Mortimer!'
I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.” 
                 —Shakespeare, Hotspur: Act i, Scene iii. Henry IV, Part I.

By the time Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the seminal book that launched the environmental movement, was published in 1962, many species of birds had died off in dramatic numbers, and some to the brink of extinction—including condors, pelicans, and bluebirds. It tool a decade before cumulative pesticides such as DDT were banned in the US.

But it seems Shakespeare's starlings weren't dying fast enough for some. The birds got a little extra goulish help from the government and Ralston as the feathered rats were ravaging agricultural crops and gobbling up thousands of dollars of feed (per day) at livestock pens—the pests were fast becoming a nuisance of starlings. Euphonic avicide poisons like Avitrol and Starlicide were developed.

But starlings proved the more resilient. From those original surviving 16 Adam & Evil pairs, 120 years later, they are now some 200 million strong in the United States alone—causing $125 billion in damage every year. That's not including the aeronautical aviation damage. Airplane engines and vast flocks of starling and blackbirds don't mix well. No-fly the friendly skies.

Like ravens and crows, gregarious starlings have a startling ability to mimic human speech—especially names. Sci-Fi-Dada artist Brian Collier is teaching wild starlings to say the name of their liberator, Schieffelin—like Nazi infiltrators trying to say Scheveningen—in the hopes that the learned behavior will spread throughout the Americas. Shades of sinister ornithology!

Starlings warble, chatter and whistle with the best of songbirds. Like parrots and magpies, these omnivorous polyglots (aka poor man's myna-bird) have impressive vocal chops. They can also mimic at least 20 different species of bird songs—including keening hawks, scolding jays and barking crows, as well as impressive renditions of metallic noises, cell phones, car alarms, yappity-yapdogs and wolf-whistles.

A few of these wandering minstrel birds made it to California in 1942, and by the 1950s, they had aggressively displaced the woodpeckers, flickers and bluebirds. Soon, there were vast colonies of starlings darkening the skies—only Hitchcock's The Birds hadn't yet been made. It was a battle of the birds versus farmers and ranchers in epic proportions.

But back to those murmurations of starlings. Enter me, as a child.

I remember one starling dropped out of the sky and landed with an abrupt thump at my feet. Dead, but beautiful vermin. An aurora of turquoise, peacock blue, indigo and purple night painted into its feathers spangled with iridescent and bronzed stars. I stared transfixed at all that dead beauty still warm in my hand.

I didn't want to bury that bird. It was far too beautiful. But I knew that death belonged to the ground, not to the sky, or buried in my treasure box.

Adult starling Sternus vulgaris. Wikipedia commons.
Think I'll posthumously christen that dead starling of my childhood Hotspur for his red feet or maybe I should call him Schieffelin for the gift of gab. Or perhaps Post-Mortimer would have been a more appropriate moniker.

Sunday, November 6, 2011



What won't wait is getting a life
the things you once held so dear
the house, the job security,
the wife and kids, living in the suburbs.
You are perusing the usual mirror
and one day it finally tells you the truth
and you find you've run out of time.
But you've grown accustomed 
to looking at yourself backwards 
in the mirror for so long, 
that the right reflection seems wrong,
no matter what the angle of discontent. 
Their voices at night through the window,
invade your dreams until you are left
with nothing but the seeds of sleep 
waiting to sprout in the grave 
repast of your choosing.


Friday, November 4, 2011



A friend sends a photo from Jerome, Arizona.
John's wearing cowboy boots, a black Stetson,
sheepskin vest, jeans, silver buckle—
as if he stepped out of the last century.
The only thing missing are rowelled spurs
and the odor of horse shit and alkali dust.
The story abides. Jerome, a mining town
rescued from oblivion by tourists and art.
Time itself stands still like a dull dude horse
for those foolhardy enough to brave the journey.

Last and only time we passed through Jerome
was at break-neck speed, Neil had a gig in Prescott
on the other side of Mingus Mountain. No Charlie.
Someone in Sedona said, It's not far at all… 
Famous last words. We whipped the van 
up the blood-red Mogollón Rim through sage,
twisted pinyon and stately Ponderosa pines.
We slithered around hairpin turns like wet noodles.
The Cleopatra Hill, stained with streaks of turquoise
and rust from open pit copper mines—a blur.
A drive by sighting. Couldn't even stop to visit.
I howled from the back seat like a sick dog.

My friend smiles for the unseen camera.
By the verdigris lintel of the old Connor Hotel
the bell held its tongue on the hangman's scaffold. 
Jerome, dubbed the wickedest town in the West
Worse than Body. IWW miners' strikes & deportation.
But the Labor bosses won. A real Company town.
Miners clung to dreams as underground pyrite fires 
raged in the mines for decades until it played out.
Their doorways reached out like empty arms.
The copper no longer "shines like Arizona gold."
Now, a broody buttermilk sky promises snow.

Beyond the blaze of Sedona's Red Rock sandstone,
the serene snowcapped San Francisco Peaks dream,
home of the kachina cloud ancestors. Indigenous
dreams of the Yavapai, the People of the Sun,
long forgotten, but some say they still hear 
the "Gaah-kaka" spirits singing at night
from the deep mines of Mingus Mountain.

Dr. John, whose ancestors fled the Ukraine,
finds tenure from Las Vegas to the Saudi Desert
where he adheres to the old ways of the Adab.
He dons a thobe & bisht vest, salwar for jeans,
a taqiyah cap, a shmaugh roped to his head
with an agal—camel hobble—for his Stetson band.
Al Qassim, a land of sand dunes & white saxaul trees.
How he left for a kingdom of camels & date palms
is a Bedouin mystery. All you need are three things:
a tent, a camel, and four wives. He doesn't have one.
A linguist, he wrestles an oasis of tongues
into something resembling time present.
But the retro cowboy way also suits him.
He leans too far forward on his toes—
in his $2.99 Goodwill crocodile boots,
after months in desert sandals, 
he is unused to the high stirrup heel.
All propped up and ready for the getaway.

When I was a kid, I was horse crazy.
I spent hours in the basement reading
the collection of musty dimestore books.
Zane Grey's novels: Riders of the Purple Sage
stolen herds, wild horses, star-crossed lovers,
stilted language, rustlers, and masked heroines.
All that remained of the story was the intrigue,
black Arabian stallions outracing the wind,
the lovers' escape into a verdant pocket canyon.
A cleft of blue sky. How they toppled Balancing Rock,
forever closing the only way in and out of Paradise.
The moral tenor of Mormon polygamy—over my head.
The real West was an uncharted region between towns
where anything is possible. The placenames survive:
Jerome, Cottonwood and Verde Valley. Zane's cabin
perched on the far Rim near Tonto Creek.

I've owned two pairs of cowboy boots.
The first pair were for horse shows.
I was a kid, but they were too big,
lead weights pulled me down into darkness.
A fire sale. Thank God, I never grew into them.
The 2nd pair were a flight of nostalgia.
A garage sale in Santa Fe,
down by the old Delgado Bridge
where the Rosenburgs were arrested.
Those traitorous boots wore the skin off my ankles
no matter what I did. They were inlaid
with indigo and russet leather,
with fancy stitching in floral motifs.
A shackle of hobbled beauty
with no escape, no flaw in the design.
Leaving me to ride off into the sunset.


Thursday, November 3, 2011



Unfortunately the idea of writing a "sort of" poem
conveys the idea of being half-assed.
In other words, not really investing in the process
of either/or. Ambiguity comes to mind.
And here I am, sort of skimming the surface,
where I can be as ambiguous as I want
no decisions need to be made
just keep the cursor moving
having forsaken pen and paper for the phosphor screen.
But I am already fragmented enough
in this century of mosaic tumult.
No time for chums, our dreams are inhabited
by night crawlers, not crickets.
No sultry evenings on the verandah
as penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
or perhaps William Faulkner.
No sitting by the pool with Hemingway's 6-toed cats
or The Idea of Order at Key West.
What was that poem about anyway?
It's Sunday morning, everywhere, all at once.
Maybe the chickens crossing the road
had something to do with it.
What the mind wants. The forensics of detail.
The quay at the end of the mind
is an indelible blue ocean
whispering in the nascent spiral of your ear.
Sort of.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaPoWriMo poem prompts 2011 (not used)

4/2 Write an epigraph poem

Words form the thread on which we string our experiences.

—Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

RLB: use an epigraph to kickstart your poem. That is, use a quotation. You can use a favorite of your own, or if you’re having trouble thinking of one, I’ve provided a few below. To format an epigraph poem, a poet places the quotation between the title and the body of the poem, while also giving credit to the source of the quotation.

Example quotations:

“Our homes are on our backs and don’t forget it,” -Molly Peacock

“Always forgive your enemies–nothing annoys them so much.” -Oscar Wilde

“Every noble work is at first impossible.” -Thomas Carlyle

“Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.” -Jim Carrey“

A friend doesn’t go on a diet because you are fat.” -Erma Bombeck

Molly Fisk: and when we returned after a month...

11/5 write an addict poem.
There are lots of possible addictions out there–some of them serious and some of them not so much. For instance, there are times when I think I’m addicted to work and pop (“pop” is what we call soda or cola in Ohio, where I was raised). Anyway, I realize today’s prompt might stir up some skeletons for some folks. For instance, I doubt I would’ve ever written my poem today without this prompt to prompt me.

11/7 Love poem/anti love poem prompt

RLB two options:
Write a love poem.
Write an anti-love poem.

MF Write a poem for a pigeon (flying rat or squirrel clichés not allowed!!)

Or use these starter lines:
my favorite restaurant is now a ...

11/10 paranormal poem

Write a paranormal poem. In case you’re unsure, click here for a thorough definition of the term “paranormal.”
Write a normal poem. I’m not sure what a normal poem is, but if you do (and you want to write one), go for it!

MF Or use these starter lines:
 kiss me in the back of…
I would rather have…

Remember the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in 1918 when the guns fell silent on the Western Front in Europe,

repunit palindrome the last one for this century - until 3011

Today is 11/11/11, so today’s prompt is to write a poem involving math and/or numbers (I realize the higher you go in math the more abstract it gets). Anyway, have fun poeming today, because we won’t get to all meet up here again on 11/11/11 for another 100 years.

How to live like a ____________ in ____________
(how to live like a rock star in Buenos Aries.)
Rain on Sunday.
Fortune cookie.

The problem with puzzles

11/14  write a kind poem. 
My interpretation of this prompt is that the poem should either be kind or somehow involve kindness in it–one way or the other. I suppose the poem could also involve cruelty–as long as there is some form of kindness somewhere. But if you feel the need to stretch the prompt, go for it.

I am feeling a bit peckish today.

11/15 write a deadly and dangerous poem. Or you could write just a deadly poem. Or you could write a just dangerous poem. Feel free to poem on the wild side today!

Two prompts: Nov 15 — Everything seems to break at once.

Nov 16 — Write a poem for a pigeon (flying rat or squirrel clichés not allowed!!)



To begin the eleventh month
with a poem on procrastination
some 13 days after the fact,
November's poetry roll booty call
expressed in prime numbers
and how I'm late —always running
late for a very important date
but I was distracted by a murmuration
of starlings which led to a long blog
that spanned the bridge of time itself
like a black river of birds in the sky
followed by the poem nearly lost
but somehow, amidst all these fragments
something was saved.
Perhaps the flutter of birdwings 
in an abandoned house,
that thump against the glass—
a fallen bird, or a poem 
frightened to death before its begun.
I'll get to it eventually
but for now, this will have to do.


CPITS November newsletter, Terri Glass's interview with me

CPITS Poet teacher, Maureen Hurley reading student poems at Watershed Festival, Oct 2011
I posted this elsewhere in the blog, but here's the original CPITS November newsletter link, Terri Glass's interview with me, so this is a time capsule placeholder.

Found it! Here's the original link on my blog. Says it's uneditied...well, this way, I have both versions.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Twittering on for Occupy Oakland

MC Hammer is following ME on Twitter? LOL! Occupy Oakland, Indeed.

I heard that (Fremont local) MC Hammer's been offering aid to #OccupyOakland folks. Verdad?  He's from East Oakland.

My Twitter handle is
@Mohurley but I gotta warn you I only check it quarterly.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Living Between Faultlines

(Here's an updated science blog on the Hayward Fault from KQED's Andrew Alden).

There's been news of lots of not-so-little earthquakes lately. Three mid-sized 'quakes (and a few mini shakes) on the Hayward Fault (San Andreas Fault's daughter-sister-cousin) in Berkeley—a fault that hasn't ruptured since 1868, and it has an eons-long distinguished track record of rupturing every 140 years. Not quite on the dot. But pretty close.

We're sort of overdue for another Big One on the Hayward Fault. Not that one can actually predict earthquakes. Not even the scientists. Earthquakes are notoriously wily. You'd have better luck at the Las Vegas gaming tables.

Living between two faultlines, I know lots of little earthquakes are always good. (No, not Tori Amos' album.) They're like little earthgasms. They relieve the stress of transcontinental strike-slip faults where the Pacific tectonic plate is crawling two inches a year north atop the subducting westward travelin' gung-ho! North American plate. It's a slow fender-bender love affair measured over eons of time—or in 140-year-increments, as in the Hayward Fault's case.

The latest Hayward Fault earthquakes are centered smack dab between the Greek Theater and the Cal Memorial Stadium which happens to be perched directly on top of the fault. Yep. In the GoogleEarth screenshot (below) you can see how the Hayward Fault literally strings "goal post to goal post." On the UC Berkeley campus you can trace the faultline by the displacement of city curbs and stadium walls. Piedmont, and Hayward too—if you know where to look.
 USGS GoogleEarth Virtual tour of the Hayward Fault. 

(NB: 2 more little 'quakes near Piedmont on Nov 5th—I guess it was feeling left out.—must be in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day! Piedmont-epicentered earthquakes are a regular occurrence—the Berkeley-epicentered ones are not. Check out the displacement on the firehouse steps nest time you're in Piedmont.)

A few months ago, there was a lot of activity on the Hayward Fault beneath the Oakland Zoo which drove the lions and elephants crazy. I don't know what was roaring louder, the earth or the lions (or the San Franciscans—who felt it too).

And before that, Fremont and Alum Rock (south of the Oakland Zoo) were rattling and rolling—so clearly the tectonic stress is translating north. But there's been no major movement on the Hayward Fault for 143 years, and significantly, north of Berkeley—171 years. So you can surmise we're getting a little squirrely about those 'quakes stacking up on the Hayward Fault these days. It's not a case of if, but when.

The trouble is, living between two major faultlines is that The Big One could strike from either fault—or worse—both at the same time!

We were just reminiscing where we all were when the last Big One (Loma Prieta) struck on the San Andreas Fault. The magnitude 6.9M or 7.1M 'quake (depending upon who you talk to) struck on October 17th at 5:04 PM—during rush hour and the historic Oakland A's vs the SF Giants World Series game in 1989. Bases were really loaded and down for the count.

I was in Forestville and, like the critters, I felt the 'quake coming long before it struck—I was being interviewed by Susan Schwartz for a feature article in the Press Democrat. In the middle of the interview, I was suddenly nauseous like I've never been before, and exceedingly tired with a horrible stomach ache. I put my head on the table and wanted to croak. It was as if I was suddenly dead drunk or hung over. Or both.

I, who was so thrilled to finally be interviewed for all my hard work (and awards) in the local and national poetry scene—long overdue—suddenly couldn't wait for Susan to leave. I practically pushed her out the door so I could lay down.

My bloated stomach hurt so much, I took off my jeans and flopped down on the bed. Some relief, but then I thought the cats were fighting in the basement—only I didn't have a basement. Or any cats. Then the mirror moved, the knotty pineboard wall groaned and rippled like a slinky, surely I was hallucinating. WTF? The squirrels were shaking the oak limbs so hard, it was raining acorns everywhere—including my thin roof like a drum staccato.

Then it hit me: 'Quake! Oops. Big one. I ran out into the driveway in my knickers & T-shirt and it was the longest 15 seconds of my life. It could be that in the hinterlands, the 'quake lasted a lot longer. But that 7.1M temblor was like trying to surf on a rolling barrel or stand on a bucking horse for 15 seconds. Your knees were trying to make contact with your jaw and everything else in between. The earth growled and there were myriad distant explosions—like small bombs or propane tanks blowing up.

We turned on the news and watched an image of fallen upper tier on the Bay Bridge—cars like little toys. People in them. No longer alive. Then we were cut off from all news for several hours. No TV or radio signal, no phone either. Complete isolation blackout—only the emergency broadcasting handshake noise. Only this wasn't a test. And there we were, safe in the hinterlands, imagining what it was like in the Bay Area.

We didn't yet know about the collapse of the Cypress Freeway in Oakland, or all the houses in the San Francisco Marina district on fire. Needless to say, my interview was bumped because of the earthquake. We got the news in increments.

San Andreas Fault, from the Carrizo Plain. Wikipedia Commons

I digress in all this in gory detail, because when the Hayward Fault goes, it doesn't take much imagination to surmise that it will be much, much worse than the Loma Prieta earthquake. All the East Bay freeways and hospitals, emergency rescue and water storage facilities are perilously close to, or directly atop of the faultline. Oakland Airport is built on manmade alluvium.

And we witnessed the how the Marina sand and mud shook and liquified into quicksand in San Francisco. All major Bay Area roads and freeways will be damaged and/or blocked, there will be no water to fight the fires—save Lake Merritt and the bay itself.

Image of the collapsed Cypress Viaduct.

The Loma Prieta epicenter was not even in San Francisco, it was much farther south, some 60 miles from San Francisco in the Santa Cruz mountains—northeast of Aptos. And we were another 60+ miles north of San Francisco. More than 120 miles from the epicenter, we were all resoundingly shaken. Whether the Loma Prieta 'quake was 6.9M or 7.1M—the force was stupendous.

Loma Prieta was the largest earthquake to strike the Bay Area since San Francisco's famous 1906 Great Earthquake. The epicenter for the April 18 San Francisco earthquake, estimated between a 7.9M to an 8.2M on the Richter Scale, was two miles offshore at Mussel Rock, near the Cliff House. The 1906 earthquake was felt from Oregon to LA to central Nevada. Santa Rosa (some view the Rogers Creek Fault as an extension of the Hayward Fault)—was completely flattened.

Towns close to the Loma Prieta epicenter also fared badly. The 'quake flattened downtown Santa Cruz—10 miles away. Ditto Watsonville and Hollister. Loma Prieta killed 63 people total, injured 3757 more, squashed a whole lot of cars, shook houses off their foundations and left some 12,000 either or homeless or with extensive damage to their abodes.

Oakland racked up the most deaths at 42, because of the collapse of the freeways. And we still haven't replaced the Bay Bridge 22 years later. Caltrans is still working on it. It should be ready in time for the next 'quake.

Some say the Hayward Fault will rupture in Berkeley—this is all a rather moot point—as the entire Bay Area will be the epicenter. To up the ante, the northern portion of the Hayward fault hasn't moved or ruptured since the 1700s. That makes it about 171 years overdue.
Check out KQED QUEST'S Geological Outings Around the Bay: Point Pinole and the Hayward fault by Andrew Alden. And the USGS GoogleEarth Virtual tour of the Hayward Fault is pretty cool.
GoogleEarth virtual tour of Hayward Fault. Hwy 580 & Hwy 13 north are on the faults.

Much of the East Bay infrastructure where most residents live and work is on the flatlands. Alluvium and liquefaction—not a good combination. Imagine large resonant vibration waves converging at conflicting oscillations that will damage whatever the 'quake doesn't directly shake down. The Bay Area will be like one vast tuning fork, or glockenspiel. Increasing the damage potential by a factor of ten doesn't even begin to cover it. 

Red is most susceptible to liquefaction, then orange, yellow... USGS map.
Screenshot from GoogleEarth USGS virtual tour of Hayward Fault

The East Bay is one vast sprawling metropolis that cradles major cities: Richmond, El Cerrito, Berkeley, Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, Fremont, and San Jose. Yep, Silicon Valley too—where the Hayward Fault merges with the Calaveras Fault. In fact, it may be one large sister-fault system. (Sugar skulls—calaveras—anyone? El Día de los Muertos is on the horizon of when, not if. And the Lawrence Livermore Lab is located where? Shades of Fukushima!)

The latest Hayward Fault 'quake (3.6M) woke me at 5:30 AM—it was like a horse getting up and shaking dust from its coat after a good roll in the hot sand. But there were no aftershocks. So far, so good. Cozy shaking. Nowhere near as strong as the earlier 4.0M. My Ansel Adams photo of the San Francisco Bay, sans bridges—is at a rakish angle, as are all the other frames on the wall. I get tired of straightening them.

And I haven't even mentioned those minute magnitudes of measurement we're so fond of quoting: a magnitude 5.0M earthquake is not just a little bigger than a 4.0M 'quake—it's ten times bigger! Geology teacher and blogger Garry Hayes @geotripper explains: "Recurrence intervals are very tricky, and magnitudes differ 10x amplitude of waves, but 30x the energy release." I understand the Richter Scale is a base-10 logarithmic measurement. OK. Think exponential. But the 32x energy thing? Surface waves and body wavesYiiii! Math/physics were never my strong suit. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that one.

Poetic justice that Charles Richter's Richter Scale inspiration was the language of measuring the magnitude scale used to describe the brightness of stars and celestial events themselves.

In his Geotripper blog, Garry advises: be "prepared at ALL times (extra water, food, radio, flashlight, batteries, first aid kit), especially in California and the Bay Area along the San Andreas and Hayward faults." I have EQ kits, stoves/heating coils and food in both cars too—plus a few bottles of vintage Russian River wine. Keys, cell, cash, wallet always always within reach. I even have a fashionista plan. Someone once said: "in case of an earthquake or disaster, grab all your dirty clothes—they're the ones you wear the most and will be most useful." (Knickers not included.)

I often check the 'quake map alerts on Twitter. Lately I've been watching the global 'quakes and there are many, many 'quakes that clock in at 4.0M or or so—daily. Nothing to worry about. Many tremors in Japan and Turkey. That's to be expected. Peru's been taking a bit of a shaking. Haiti's still experiencing large aftershocks as well.

Chile moved its coastline last year, growing the Andes with the big one at magnitude 8.8—the sixth largest earthquake to ever be recorded on a seismograph. Then, the released tectonic stress must also translate right up the coast. Eventually to our back door. Tremors were recorded from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Ica, Peru, 2400 km north. The epicenter was about 2 miles off the coast where the Nazca and the South American tectonic plates converge and collide and subduct—at about three inches a year.

Today: magnitude 6.9M earthquake strikes Ica in southern Peru. Right where the offshore fault comes closest to Peru. Ica, 300 miles south of Lima, is the part of Peru that juts out the most westward (like Pt. Arena in California) and it is closest to the offshore fault. Pisco (and the desert plains of Paracas as well as Nazca to the south) is no stranger to The Big Temblors: there was an 8.0 in 2007 that flattened the town.

The only reason why I seriously digress and focus on Peru's earthquakes (there are so many major cataclysms to choose from) is proximity. I've been there. And it crossed my mind that in a rather farfetched sense, they are a continuum of sister faults linked to our own infamous San Andreas Fault. I've traveled most the length of the San Andreas Fault—from Baja to Point Arena. I once snorkeled too far out off Cabo San Lucas, over the rift, and the shore dropped off so deep, that it was like looking back up into the evening sky replete with stars.

And in the skimpy midriff section of the San Andreas Fault, the Salton Sea-Laguna de Salida (I once swam there too before it dried up) Méxicali region has certainly had more than its fair share of  temblors. Last year's 7.2M Baja Easter 'quake was so significant—it shook eons of dust off the nearby mountains of La Rumorosa, Tecate, like a large dog (followed by 500+ aftershocks). No rumor, the San Andreas Fault is definitely in the commute lane in SoCal. Talk about road rage!

Any 'quake clocking in at over a magnitude of 4.0M, I take notice. I remember the Good Friday Alaska 9.2 earthquake of 1964. I was a child in West Marin and the wall up and bitchslapped me on the back of my head while I was sitting on the couch coloring. The couch then skittered across the floor like a nervous deer on pavement.

The offshore 1980 Gorda Basin 7.2M earthquake near Eureka, shook Sea View Ridge, near Cazadero, so hard, I was nearly tossed from the top bunkbed. Only the rail saved me from a fall. We could hear the surf crashing nearly 2000 feet below us. The 30-foot waves pummeling Salt Point cliffs were straight out of Hokusai. I saw the sea roil up those 30-50-foot cliffs—then spray another 30 feet over our heads on the bluffs. Nothing calm about the Pacific. 

In retrospect, it may have been the aftermath of a tsunami. And that was a 7.2M (or 7.3M)—with the epicenter far away, I might add. 

Plate boundary earthquakes are common along California's most seismically active earthquake region, because of the Mendocino Triple Junction. (which included the Pacific, Gorda, and North American Plates.)  In 1992 there was another 7.2M earthquake at Cape Mendocino, the Lost Coast, near Petrrolia. The Mendocino Triple Junction includes the Cascadia subduction zone, the San Andreas Fault, and the Mendocino Fracture Zone. And yes, a tsunami also followed that 'quake.

"Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa" 1823-29 Hokusai, Wikipedia Commons.

I was in LA after the 6.6M  Northridge 'quake in 1994—it was like a war-zone. All the overpasses flattened. The ground shook like jelly for days and nights—5.0M aftershocks both woke us and rocked us to sleep.

And I can't even begin to process the damage of the Tōhoku 9.0M earthquake and tsunami— in size, scope, damage—and the damaged Fukushima reactors. Part of me is still stunned by the news. I was hiking in The Valley of Fire looking up at the thunderclouds, admiring striations of time in geologic scale, knowing there was radiation fallout being recorded in the Las Vegas desert. The geoglyphs took on a new level of meaning. Old and new. The Easter wind whistled through the sandstone like an ocariña dirge. But I digress.

Both the diminutive Caribbean (remember Haiti?) and the Cocos plates join the Pacific plate in Central America. The Cocos plate subducts beneath the Caribbean plate creating all those lovely volcanoes from México to Costa Rica. It gets complicated with the young offshore upstart, the Nazca platesubducting and squeezing into another torrid geologic love triangle with the Pacific plate.  The ring of fire.

The Nazca plate is the co-parent of several hoptspots including the equatorial Galápagos Islands. (Galápagos triple junction). I swam in a geologic rift that is splitting Santa Crúz island in twain. The landlocked channel was once open to the Pacific ocean via underwater fissures so myriad oceanic fish schooled in the brackish water. The only other time I've seen anything like that was when I swam in a Yucatan cenote at Xelhá, far from shore. (Fresh water floats on top of salt water so the sea entrance is often a deep fissure or cave.).

I spent a winter in Ica, Perú in the 1980s. It's a strange place. It never rains in the Atacama Desert or its northern sub-region, the Sechura Desert. Strange, dry landscape. Land of few rivers. I met people who had never experienced rain in their lifetime. (See my blog on Atacama Civilizations.)

And what of the anomaly of all those "waterworn" Andean boulders strewn across the floor of a desert of no rain? Now scientists say they've been joggled by earthquakes, rubbing shoulders with each other for millions of years. Rounding down those sharp edges to rounded shoulders.

It seems our continents are rubbing shoulders along the faultlines.

Metamorphic rocks, García River, Point Arena, westernmost point in California,
where the San Andreas Fault heads out to sea. 
The García riverbed is also the bed of the San Andreas Fault.
I expected to find quartz, jasper and blueshcist but not sandstone!
I didn't find any of the usual suspects—serpentine or granite—
very little by way of volcanic rock, but lots of soft gray mudstones
that I never learned the names of.