Saturday, June 30, 2012

Danny Boy

The one Irish ballad our family traditionally sings at every wedding and funeral, is Danny BoyThe song is guaranteed to pull on the heartstrings and choke us up if the whiskey doesn't work. 

Last time we dusted off Danny Boy and all sang it as a family was at my aunt Canice's wake, at the Druid's Hall in Nicasio. We gave her a real send-off with a piper, an impromptu ceili band with Father Sullivan, the parish priest on the penny whistle, Cormac Gannon on the uillean pipes, and bodhran, and mine own laddie, Neil O'Neill on the guitar—it was a fine June wake. 

But is the song itself authentically Irish? Or merely American stage Irish—like the nostalgic wave that produced When Irish Eyes are Smiling, composed by Ernest Ball, a popular American song composer (with Chauncey Olcott), for a romanticised musical tribute about Ernie Ball's vaudeville life in The Isle O' Dreams, in 1912, and made into a film in 1944; or How are Things in Glocomora (a fictitious village) from the 1947 Broadway musical, Finnian's Rainbow?

With tongue in cheek I offer you that Irish schmaltzer, Daniel O'Donnell:

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

Danny Boy

So, Ian Paisley, the Pope and Daniel O’Donnell are shipwrecked on a desert island with a single palm tree in the middle. Paisley looks up to the sky and shakes his fist in anger, "Lord, why have you forsaken me? You have abandoned me to be tormented for the rest of my days, what have I done to deserve this?" Meanwhile, Daniel and the Pope just sit chatting under the tree. Paisley paces round and round, occasionally stopping to shake his fist at the sky  and stubs his toe on something buried in the sand: a Colt 45 with two bullets. He picks up the gun, puts in the bullets and looks up again at the sky, "Oh my dear Lord, you have not forsaken me. How could I have ever doubted you?" He walks up to the palm tree, points the gun and shoots Daniel O’Donnell—twice.
The American connection: It turns out, that the melody used in Danny Boy is indeed from an old Irish air that was supposedly "lost," and then "rediscovered" by London barrister and lyricist Frederic Weatherly's sister-in-law (apparently he had several) in the goldmines of Colorado (what was she doing in the mines, one could ask?). 

Why did Londonderry Air (AKA "Air from County Derry" or "Derry Air" depending on the origin of your Irish roots), have to travel from Northern Ireland to the Wild and Wooly West of the New World, circulate through the goldmining camps of the 1840s and boomerang back again to the streets of London, England, in order to be united with new English words written by a London barrister and lyricist in 1910, is a bit of a mystery. Circuitous, even. 

That berobed, bewigged and bewitched barrister, Frederic Weatherly who dabbled in song on the side, borrowed the unnamed ancient Irish tune, updated with his new song lyrics to chanteuse Elsie Griffin, circa 1913, who made it one of the most popular songs in the new century. (The first record was pressed in 1915). So we tend to think of him as the author and composer of Danny Boy. But he didn't compose the melody of the song, just the lyrics. 

The story goes that the original air was collected by Miss Jane Ross (1811-1879), from a blind fiddler, Jimmy McCurry, on market day in Limavady, Northern Ireland in 1851. 

One day Jane Ross heard Jimmy playing a beautiful melody outside the Burns & Laird Shipping Office, which she had never heard before. She came over to Jimmy and asked him to play the tune over and over again until she had taken down every note. Jane thanked him and gave him a coin for his moving rendition of the tune. When she departed Jimmy rubbed it against his lips, as was his method of determining the denomination of coins, and discovered it was a florin instead of the customary penny. He set off in pursuit of Jane and when he caught up with her he told her that she had made a mistake. Jane refused to take it back and asked him to keep it as a token of her appreciation of his music. —Ulster Ancestry
She recorded the notes and sent it to musicologist and antiquarian, George Petrie, who publisied it in 1855, in the The Ancient Music of Ireland, an imprint of the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland.
World-famous song Danny Boy is taken from a melody composed by O’Cahan bard Rory Dall O’Cahan. The original version concerns the passing of the Chief Cooey-na-Gall whose death brought an end to a long line of O’Cahan chiefs in Northern Ireland. —Wiki
Dall means blind in Irish (and Gall means foreigner). We've not one, but two blind musicians shoehorned  in on the tale: the composer, a harper, from the Middle Ages, and an itinerant street musician, Jimmy McCurry, a fiddler from the Edwardian era.
For the following beautiful air I have to express my very grateful acknowledgement to Miss J Ross of Newtown Limavady in the County of Londonderry - a lady who has made a large collection of the popular unpublished melodies of that county, which she has very kindly placed at my disposal, and which has added very considerably to the stock of tunes which I had previously acquired from that still very Irish county. I say still very Irish; for though it has been planted for more than two centuries by English and Scottish settlers, the old Irish race still forms the great majority of its peasant inhabitants; and there are few, if any, counties in which, with less foreign admixture, the ancient melodies of the country have been so extensively preserved. The name of the tune unfortunately was not ascertained by Miss Ross, who sent it to me with the simple remark that it was "very old", in the correctness of which statement I have no hesitation in expressing my perfect concurrence. —Ulster Ancestry

One hundred years ago, Freddy Wetherby first sang Danny Boy on the radio (it wasn't successful), and published a version in 1913.

In the 1890s, Irish scholar, Osborn Ó hAimheirgin, who taught at Trinity College, wrote lyrics to the tune.

      Maidin i mBéarra

      Is é mo chaoi gan mise maidin aerach,
      Amuigh i mBéarra i m' sheasamh ar an dtrá,
      Is guth na n-éan 'o m' tharraing thar na sléibhte cois na farraige,
      Go Céim an Aitinn mar a mbíonn mo ghrá.
      Is obann aoibhinn aiteasach do léimfinn,
      Do rífinn saor ó ana-bhroid an tláis,
      Do thabharfainn droim le scamallaibh an tsaoil seo,
      Dá bhfaighinn mo léirdhóthain d'amharc ar mo chaoimhshearc bán.

      Is é mo dhíth bheith ceangailte go faonlag,
      Is neart mo chléibh dá thachtadh anseo sa tsráid,
      An fhad tá réim na habhann agus gaoth glan na farraige
      Ag glaoch is ar gairm ar an gcroí seo i m' lár.
      Is milis briomhar leathanbhog an t-aer ann,
      Is gile ón ngréin go fairsing ar an mbán,
      Is ochón, a ríbhean bhanúil na gcraobhfholt,
      Gan sinne araon i measc an aitinn mar do bhímis tráth!

      Source: Abair Amhrán, Comhaltas Uladh, Béil Feirste, 1969 —The Danny Boy Trivia Collection

For further reading:

The Danny Boy Trivia Collection—a lot of it's spurious information (it is a collection), but well worth a look. See Fred Weatherley's own description of how he came to write Danny Boy. Though it's possible that Weatherly wrote at least 3000 songs in his lifetime (that's the equivalent of a song a week), one suspects that not all the tunes were his original melodies or compositions. Or maybe the litigation business was slow.) Lyr Req: Danny Boy in Gaelic

Danny Boy?

The words to O'Cathain Lament may be as follows: Unfortunately no clear evidence supports this.

A chief far famed for liberal affluence,
For wise discretion and conducting sense,
Whom sages honour and learned commend,
The minstrels' patron, and the clergy's friend.

In his sad bower and damsel bands are pale,
And weep their chieftain and unwearied wail,
With lamentation oft renewed they mourn,
And know no joy, but hope for his return.

When Croghan's fate in battles fearful scale,
Hung trembling yet and their fair dames looked pale,
His arm rolled back the battle from afar,
Chief of valiant - Ulster's leading star.

With jewelled wealth and gay magnificence,
Whose bounteous tables heaped with princely hand,
Diffused a grateful odour o'er the land,
There met the brave, there came the poorest distrest,
And there the minstrel was an honoured guest.
O'Kane the brave, the generous to dispose,
Wealth to his friends - destruction to his foes,
Sword, fire and plunder followed where he trod,
And peace and mercy vanished at his nod.

The present day Lyrics to Danny Boy were written by an English lawyer, Frederic Edward Weatherly, in 1910. His version was unsuccessful, until his sister-in-law (in the United States), sent him the melody to the Air from County LondonDerry. The melody matched nicely with his words and became an instant success, especially in the United States. —
Brian O'Cathain

 This blogpost was hoodwinked and expanded from a longer blog I wrote called Old Tunes, New Licks.

Monday, June 25, 2012

RIP Lonesome George

I met poor old Lonesome George, the Galapagos tortoise, in the late 1980s. He was nearly the size of a VW Bug frame and he hissed like a hydraulic car lift if you got into his personal space.

KQED Science June 24, 2012 RIP Lonesome George.
"The giant tortoise Lonesome George, whose failed efforts to produce offspring made him a symbol of disappearing species, was found dead on Sunday, officials at the Galapagos National Park announced.Lonesome George was believed to be the last living member of the Pinta island subspecies and had become an ambassador of sorts for the islands off Ecuador's coast whose unique flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin's ideas on evolution."
Lonesome George, the last of his species, only lived to be 100—not very old in tortoise years. He hissed like hydraulic brakes on a semi truck. He had a tortoise-sized rock in his enclosure, and would eagerly mount it from time to time, then he'd get a despondent look in his rheumy eye, and forlornly slide off. Couldn't even get his rocks off. It was tough love being the last of his species.

Marsha Calhoun said: I met him three years ago - they still had hopes that he and his girlfriend might succeed (it took him 14 years to decide to approach her). But I don't think the species is extinct - just his island branch. The Galapagans are doing a lot to keep the species itself alive - they are impressive creatures (the tortoises, that is).

Maureen Hurley Alas, with the passing of Lonesome George, it marks the extinction of a species, not merely an island branch sub-species; he was a separate Pinta Island species—they're genetically different.
However, one formerly extinct species, Chelonoidis elephantopus, from Floreana Island was found—sailors had abandoned them on Isabela Island in the 1800s. "Darwin discovered that the islands... were home to their own, distinct, tortoise species. Each differed slightly from those on nearby islands... DNA research finds at least 84 animals who were the direct offspring of a different species from Floreana Island long believed gone Giant Galapagos tortoise species may not be extinct —USA Today

Thursday, June 21, 2012


I began blogging in August of 2008, laid up with a bum knee. At first I posted a lot of old writing, tinkering with it in the new medium to make it shiny.

Then I began to write actual blogs. I'm fast approaching my 500th blog mark, with 41.5 k readers following my work (since Blogger began to keep track in July 2009). That's not exactly a Huff Post following but it's way more readers than I'd ever have in the traditional poetry books and journals I've previously been published in.

This is technically blog number 499 but then I tend to cram more than one blog in per blogspot. For example, I published several day's (7) worth of poems under one February heading for Poetry Inside Out as I wanted to keep them all together. And I have several unpublished blogs that I've yet to release into the wild.

My morning routine: scan Facebook posts, click on interesting articles (Medievalist is a fave), saving them to read later. Then I scan Twitter for interesting science & tech links, until I have a backlog of reading material saved up. I read them in a haphazard fashion, which usually leads to looking up some term or other, which leads to a trip down Wiki Lane, or a dictionary cruise and POOF! there goes the morning. But oh, the things I learn. 

And sometimes, as I comment on links, I'm lucky enough to glean enough fodder for a blogger or two. If I'm lucky. Otherwise, I try and revise my old blogs to keep my writing genes kicking in the deep end of the pool.

I have an odd revising methodology: I use Blogger Stats dashboard to see who's randomly reading what particular piece, and I use that trending list as a guideline (like an everyman's blogging teleprompter) to expand and revise old pieces. Mostly, I begin by fixing old typos and then go from there, if the piece juices me.

I wonder what the readers might think—or if they even notice, a piece they were reading suddenly expanded with hyperlinks and photos? Sometimes I imagine that the reader is madly searching for the original link, as if it magically disappeared. Poof! Link gone.

I won't mentioned that the danger is, that when you begin to tinker with old posts, formatting goes to hell in a hot-lead lined handbasket, and entire blogs can disappear between the space of clicking on the Publish button and View page buttons.

Forget Blogger's reassurances that the piece is constantly being "autosaved" like some oldtime revival camp religion prayer circle. NOT!

I've had entire pieces disappear because I wanted to get them letter-perfect before I posted. That's when Blogger crashes—right as I'm pushing the Publish button. And all that makes it to the other side of the HTML page is the title and a row of social networking icons. ARGH! Some unholy blue-ribboned cursing, er, praying, ensues.

Yes, it happened again today. POOF! God's wounds. Or in modern parlance, zounds! The entire piece disappeared. Just like that without a howdido or an excuse me, ma'am. This peculiar form of crashing seems to happen when I write of the dead—as if they're interacting in cyberspace.

It's as if the dead were snagging the words from me before they magically reappear on the page you're reading now. Luckily I figured out how to back-navigate with the browser, and I usually can salvage the text, sans, last revisions and edits.

If that doesn't work then I Google the blog, and click on "cached" link. That works. Usually. Today I was lucky. The expanded blog was still in the browser buffer. But it had me shitting lead bullets.

Blogger Stats also gives me a body count by country as well as by search engines. Fascinating, really. Sometimes, I'll enter a search phrase, that someone used to find one of my pieces, and that link will take me to another and so on.

The links take me where they will. Sort of like getting lost in the OEDictionary and coming up for breath two hours, or two days later.

Sometimes they even point to another blogger using my material, sans permission. Like with my Jim Dodge interview. It irks me if they don't offer a backlink, but it's part of the danger of publishing one the internet.

Today's mad goosechase (has anyone ever really thought about what a mad goosechase might actually entail?) was a rather droll scanned article I posted about an art show I'm in every year, "Art from the Heart"... who on earth was reading that piece, why, and what search word led them to it?

Well, one thing led to another—and after some sleuthing, I found out that the search word was "Marty Stoelzel." Clearly, the "50 red head women fucking" search words didn't seem to be the right link. (I get a lot of "redhead" search words because of a blog I wrote on redhead myths that has scored 9,000 hits. Now watch, with Brave! opening tomorrow, the redhead stereotypes will kick into overdrive. My redhead piece will go through the roof.)

Marty was Chester Arnold's and my old painting teacher from College of Marin. I also found out that Marty died about 15 years ago. Too young! Probably had a heart attack—he was pretty intense.

OK, so it's old news but it was fresh news to me this morning—so naturally the process of revising the notes following my formerly dry press release took on a whole new level of meaning—sort of like stacking Chinese boxes inside one another—or Russian dolls—to find some semblance of order.

Sadly, I found almost no information on Marty, other than a photo—or examples of his surrealist paintings. Who remembers Marty? He had such a great heart. Ah, so today was about paying homage to our teachers, our ancestors. I never did get around to writing about Marty—too busy fighting technology. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012



Life with deNiall:
Hmmm, my trackpad quit working.
Sticky function keys. WTF?
How could he possibly think I'd miss
seeing the chocolate ice cream
smeared on my white keyboard?
And denying it all the while. Not me.
Maybe he should switch to va-Niall-a.


Monday, June 18, 2012


: tired of being stood up by the turkey, she often wishes she had a summer birthday like his (today). Every year he scores lots of prezzies & cake—not a slice of pumpkin pie with a hasty candle stuck in it like a barber pole!

: he doesn't understand, not really. He's s Gemini. and so he's celebrated many parties to tide him over. She's a Sagittarius. The arrow. She hasn't had enough parties to carry her through the lean years. Unfortunately nearly every year is lean as the naked turkey carcass the day after the feast. All it's ready for is the soup pot.

: everyone always forgets, or they're out of town, at the relatives. Even her mother forgot, only remembering after everyone was too full to even sing Happy Birthday, let alone, eat cake. If there was one. There wasn't. She was ten. The wounds.

: she's learned that no one ever will actually "make it up" to her. If she's lucky, she might score an obscure last-minute gift card she has no use for—purchased at some drugstore checkout line. Another guilty case of leftovers.

: maybe letting her yard revert to wilderness would offer enough camouflage to lose the turkeys. Now, if only she had a yard—living in the city. The hummingbird appreciates her postage stamp sized wilderness. It perches on the crepe myrtle and croaks at her. Its neck is a dark fire in sunlight.

: yes, let her eat cake. Let it be chocolate. Call it folly. Then she will be thankful for a Diogenes candle to light the way.

Hot Poetry in the Park a success

It was awesome reading with Chris Olander in Fremont Park for Sacramento SacPoetry Centers' Hot Poetry in the Park—wonderful audience (and birds). Thanks Eskimo Pie & SAC & (Poets & Writers) for making it so.

Eskimo Pie You guys were terrific readers! The audience, the birds, and other wildlife really enjoyed your performance!

I think we even charmed one wild-released streetperson! 

Dear Eskimo Pie—I am ever so grateful for these pix, and that I didn't break your camera!

Eskimo Pie Maureen, You are so wonderfully expressive that it was a joy to photograph you!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My morning routine (or not writing, with Kathleene West)

“Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, society are natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone.” — Jessamyn West (1902-1984)

My morning routine (when I have mornings free that is): I scan Facebook posts, then double-click on interesting articles (Medievalist is a fave, as are science links), saving them to read later. Then I scan Twitter for interesting (science & tech) links, ditto, until I have a backlog of reading material saved up.

Then I read them in a holistic fashion, which usually leads to looking up some term or other, which leads to a trip down Wiki Lane, or a dictionary cruise and POOF! there goes the morning. But oh, the things I learn. And sometimes, as I comment on links, I'm lucky enough to glean some fodder for a blog or two. If I'm lucky. None of it would be possible without you. For that I'm grateful.

Kathleene K West I didn't know you had a blog. So much to read, so little time! I just read "Vultures." Reminded me of a time my dad & I saw 2 huge vultures in rural NE as we were driving backroads. Of course no one believed us. I wonder if I should have a blog. . .

Maureen Hurley Kathleene, ever since my car accident in 1997, it's been hard for me to physically write (or mentally, for that matter), I found that the blog format—no agenda, wandering at will, or rather, guilelessly meandering has allowed me to write about things that normally would never have made it to the page...and because there's no "preciousness" associated with it. (Is it a poem?), my inner censor (so severe so as to block most writing) is curiously disabled. Maybe it's because it's more ephemeral. I consider blogging a form of not writing. Sometimes I even get a poem from it (if I'm lucky).

For example, one of my morning reads included pathetic fallacy, thanks to Sam Hamill's post.

Jane Blue Very strong. I think it's a poem.

Kathleene K West Maureen, I've been having the same trouble after a string of physical and other attacks on my health. Thanks for giving voice to what's going on with me. Hmmm. With all my weaknesses, one would think my inner censor would lose some strength. And because my headache just went away and I have that powerful rush that comes with absence of (oe kind of) pain, I will say: I usually don't find pathetic fallacies pathetic.

Maureen Hurley Kathleene, in this case, pathetic is related to pathos, or sympathetic. Think anthropomorphism. (DamnU FB autocorrect—makes it a nightmare to correct it.)

Jane, My original intent was to write a poem but I was too tired and was afraid to lose it altogether. So it's a mishmash. Maybe it'll be a poem by the time I get to the Sacramento poetry reading in the park on June 24! Still smarting from my aunt's death. (Or rather, I'm not very smart...)

Jane Blue I think it's great the way it is.

OK then, stet.

From a Facebook post added 6/17.
Kathleene later took her own life less than a month after this posting. May she be free from all pathos and strife. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


A newborn fawn crossing the road was struck by a car in Nicasio by the Druids' Hall where we had just put my late aunt to rest, and the turkey vultures wasted no time—so much for the carrion theory. This roadkill was fresh meat. They dined on its heart first.

The young deer mother, not clear on the concept of birth, let alone death, crossed and recrossed the road, puzzled, as if she'd left her handbag on a bus somewhere, but where?—to the consternation of speeding motorists.

Vultures everywhere taking flight and settling in. Huge burst of wings, as they landed on branches too small to bear their weight, they slid down and took flight, then lined up on the fence like chickens. Kicked their fleas, sharpened their beaks, looked at me quizzically.

I tried to get photos but they were too wary—no matter how still I stood, hiding behind the fence, they knew I wasn't dead yet. I found myself endlessly repeating: They ate its heart. They ate its heart first. The beginning of grief seeping in.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hot Poetry in the Park

  • Maureen Hurley & Chris Olander reading on Monday, June 18th at 7pm in Fremont Park, 15th and P streets, Sacramento, CA

  • Please join us for a reading by Chris Olander and Maureen Hurley. Free pizza. Open mic after. This is instead of the Monday nite reading at Sacramento Poetry Center.

    Chris Olander, poet, teacher and bio-educator with California Poets in the Schools (CPITS) since 1984, blends performance techniques with spoken word to create an Action Art Poetry: musical image phrasing to dramatize relative experiences--a poetry arising from oral and bardic traditions. "I am a sound poeet exploring various meanings of words, phrasings and ideas arranged in sound and rhythm patterns."

    Poet & artist, Maureen Hurley has won many grants, awards and fellowships including 8 California Arts Council grants and two KQED SPARK artist grants; she holds an MA in Creative Writing, but owes a thesis on her MFA at SFSU. As an artist in residence, she teaches Bay Area kids poetry & art through California Poets in the Schools and Young Audiences. She grew up in the wilds of West Marin and currently lives in Oakland near Lake Merritt.

    Angelic Harp by Chris Olander

    When the Angels' harp
    stings sing true
    age improves
    the instrument's tone!

    So many years laboring
    marriage familiarity's
    mundane necessities:
    quick-step dancing
    to keep it together-----

    When we embrace
    and I slip my hands down
    inside her tight-fit Levis---
    squeeze firm buttocks-
    Snap-strum her panty strings

    heaven's harmonic quickens
    her Victoria's Secret Angel fingertips pluck
    the muscles: Ahhhhhh--Ohhhhhh--
    Ouuuuuu--Yeeaaaa--pure tone.

    13TH WAVE by Maureen Hurley

    When I was a child at Venice Beach,
    floating in the calm sea beyond the surf,
    out of nowhere, rogue waves rose up
    like translucent jade knives, formed crests
    against the throat of the deep summer sky.

    Out of my depth, I swam to greet them.
    That was the drill if an Outsider appeared—
    Swim to meet the wave before it broke you.
    Dive through the crest to avoid its force.
    Swim and dive, swim and dive. Deflect the blow.

    Rise and fall, rise and fall. Far from land,
    I watched the blond shore grow ever distant.
    The waves played me—like the father I never had—
    tossing me up to the roof of the sky. In terror,
    I waited for the right wave to bring me in.

    But I grew numb, the sea sapped my strength,
    I was too far from shore for lifeguards to see.
    When would my crazy mother—sleeping it off—
    Stone-deaf to my brother's wails, realize I was gone?
    I was a child alone in a vast sea. Breathe. Breathe.

    Out of nowhere I heard my grandmother's voice:
    "Always count the waves," she said. "Find the set."
    9, 11, 12—I counted, but couldn't find the pattern.
    Then, on the horizon of a wave, the fin of a dolphin.
    A break in the set. He looked me in the eye. "Now!"

    We caught the 13th wave toward the safety of shore.
    I lay facedown in the sand, too tired to be amazed,
    or say "Bye." Who'd believe a child's tale, anyway?
    I said nothing about the waves and the sea that day.
    It was my secret—a matter of survival, at best.

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012

    Transit of Venus

    It's certainly been a month chock-full of fantastic celestial events: A supermoon on May 5th, an annular eclipse on May 20th, another supermoon and lunar eclipse on June 3rd, and the Transit of Venus on June 4th. 

    All this celestial grandeur—and solar maximums—stunning aurorae, meandering meteorites, lunar and solar eclipses galore, the Transit of Venus—the likes of which few will have ever witnessed in their lifetime—sans apocalyptic mayhem. 

    Like the Rapture, remember that? The Mayan calendar didn't predict the end of the Fifth World—either someone calculated the astronomical alignments all wrong, or something was lost in translation. The date's been moved up to December 12, 2012. We'll see about that. The last Transit of Venus was in 2004, the next one is in 2117. The Venus transits come in pairs. I don't think any of us will be around for the next Transit.

    My attempt to view Monday's super lunar eclipse was eclipsed by clouds. The supermoon looked good at 2 AM, all the coyotes in Nicasio thought so too. (Note to self: the coyotes on the ridge above Halleck Creek either need tuning, or take singing lessons. Two-note yips is not a song. Their Sonoma cousins have a full vocal range that spans octaves. I wonder if the piano doctor can fix them?) 

    My cousin Sinead and I had plans to go out to Nicasio Reservoir and take photos of the lunar eclipse over Elephant Mountain. But the sky was socked in by 4 AM and spitting pure drizz by 5 AM, but then it got nice and cozy-dark. The pitter-patter of unseasonal June rain on the roof punctuated the end of my eclipse chasing intentions. Not that there was anything to see. Snyxxx! I was out like a light. The birds shut up their dawn yapping too.

    That tiny beauty mark is not a fly on the paper, it's Venus!
    I did manage to witness yesterday's Transit of Venus. Or maybe it was the transvestite of Venus. It's really a reverse image projected on a TJ's envelope. Upside-down and backwards. Think Camera Obscura. Like the one at the Cliff House at Ocean Beach, in San Francisco. 

    I once watched an upside-down sunset unfold over the Pacific from the Camera Obscura—which merely means a darkened vaulted chamber, or room. Waves rolling in upside-down where the sky should be, was unnerving.

    I've seen the camera obscura phenomenon in the wild (so to speak). I was once stuck in the nasty dark bellows of an overcrowded accordian-hinged double bus in Leningrad and watched upside-down color images of Nevsky Prospekt whizz by on a baffle bend in the wall like an old-timy movie. I nearly shrieked when I realized what I was seeing. OMG! Pinhole camera. But who was I to tell? The Russians weren't interested.

    They say that the Bedouins were the first to notice this phenomenon, the endless Sahara replete with camels on the back walls of their tents. What did they make of it? But Leonardo da Vinci was the one who was credited with the invention of the camera obscura

    This photo is based on a similar principle. I used a silver-lined beach umbrella for my vaulted darkroom. Trying to track the sun upside down and backwards through binoculars (also upside down—or at least, backwards) without looking through the lens was challenging. I had to move opposite to what was intuitive to find the image.

    Then I had to get the angle and distance of the paper right to bring it all into focus. But every time I got everything lined up and in focus in order to take a photo, the bloody sun kept racing across the paper—it was more like chasing the mass-transit of Venus. So things aren't exactly in focus, I had too many factors to juggle, including the wind niggling the paper. Using a digital camera to record the camera obscura image was a new twist on the process.

    OK, so it didn't help that the binocuars were broken—one lens fell off at a benefit concert for Mimi Fariña ages ago, so duct tape was my bestest friend—I slapped it back onto the body but the imprecision of alignment made it hard to focus. I finally resorted to ductaping the entire binoculars to a tripod as it was so hard to keep everything all lined up. Far too many variables to keep track of. I could only focus one lens at a time.

    Sor Juana Inéz de la Crúz by J. Sánchez. 17th c.. Wiki 

    I felt like a modern-day Sor Juana de la Crúz (1651-95), the scientist-poet of New Spain (Mexico's first poet) during the Age of Enlightenment, tracking celestial phenomenon with very faulty equipment. I bet she would've killed to have access to binoculars and duct tape. A digital camera would've seemed like pure magic.

    Sor Juana tried to disguise herself as a man so that she could attend university—denied an education (girls were forbidden to read), by age 15, she had read all 5,000 books in her uncle's library, and taught herself Latin, Greek, Nahual, math and science. She became a nun, rather than being forced to marry, and she crusaded for a woman's right to an education—for which she was punished and silenced. The Age of Enlightenment had no place for women.

    Neil insisted that the small black dot on my envelope really wasn't Venus, that it was merely a bit of dirt on the lens. So I kept cleaning the lens of cruft, until I realized I wasn't looking at white light on the page, I was actually looking at the silhouette of Venus. That white light was the sun itself with sunspots erupting and sinking and occasional solar flares in living color! Wow. Double wow (it was a bi-nocular event.)

    Besides, even if there was cruft on the lens, it wouldn't project with a sharp line. I've scratched camera lenses that work just fine—sometimes there's a bit of shadow, but otherwise the lens obliterates the mar. Yep, it was Venus all right.

    I love the way the binocular lens is also a prism, splitting the rainbow—red on one side, cyan on the other side. This is how Sor Juana's contemporary, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), threw off the shackles and plough of farming, and tracked and divided light which gave us Opticks (1704), the scientific treatise on refracted light and the visible spectrum. All this thought strayed from the frayed edges of eyeglasses throwing little diffracted rainbows in a darkened room.

    Newton proved that white light was made of all the colors of the rainbow. All that talk of color set the poets off, (Pope, Keats, Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth, Breton), and poetry itself changed—for the first time poetry was filled with images of color for color's sake. Call it Newtonian poetry.

    OK, so Sir Isaac, the inventor of calculus and other beefy things, became rather loony toward the end of his life, mysticism having occluded his lens. They say he has Asperger's Syndrome, but that doesn't fit the profile. Besides, the mere thought of calculus makes me rather loony.

    For me the proof in the pudding was watching pale golden sunspots erupting and sinking over and over like little eyes, and Venus, a mouth, or maybe more appropriately, a celestial beautymark on the face of the sun. Transit of Venus.

    Puts us all into another perspective.

    On Achieving Totality
    Annular Eclipse
    Partial Eclipse, 7/21/2009

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

    A Right Grand Sendoff (photo)

    Me & my baby bro, Guy at our aunt Canice's wake, Druid's Hall, Nicasio, June 1, 2012. Photos I thought I had lost when my hard drive crashed, but they were still on a memory card. What you can't hear in this photo is the music. Father O'Sullivan on the tin whistle, Cormac Gannon on the uillean pipes and Neil O"Neill on the guitar. And a young bagpiper to-ing and fro-ing us to and from the church. It was a right grand sendoff. So many family wakes and weddings at Druid's Hall. If you've never seen the ceiling of the Druid's Hall, or St. Mary's church, it's like the inside of a boat. Beautiful woodwork. We are ships sailing to distant shores. OK, so maybe we were two sheets to the wind. What of it? It's an Irish wake. Everything went swimmingly until cousin Dave lit the cherry bombs and the cops came to see what all the fuss was about.