Monday, September 28, 2015


At the back wing of the old hospital,
the mountain stands sentinel.
Eve of the full moon eclipse,
king tide flooding the marshes
in a relentless hurry towards surcease.
Then the exodus. Systole, diastole.
Sine wave patterns.
What becomes important
are the little things,
both ordinary and plain.
We assign order and dominance
over statistics, meaningless
in and of themselves,
but crunch those numbers,
and the answer is a thin blue line
between life, or death.

Corte Madera

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spelunking for Gold

Silly squirrel hid several acorns in the gaudy green water goblet I wedged atop the wooden fence as a drought relief aid for small creatures. Cats, bees, wasps, even butterflies sip from it—and an occasional 'possum or rat leaves a calling card.

The red east coast squirrel, may not be native, but he's my most loyal customer. He has nowhere else to go to find water. Because of the drought, people's birdbaths and fountains are dry, leaky faucets are a thing of the past. We've all cinched down our belts during this fourth year of drought.

What's a squirrel to do? The lake is too far away, and with several busy roads to cross, long-distance travel never bodes well for for squirrels and other small creatures. If the water glass gets low, he peers into the kitchen window, and impatiently flicks his tail, as if to say, Hey, you. I'm tawkin' to you. I'm outta water, here! 

Squirrel is on his third iteration of water bowl. The crystal glass cast beautiful reflected prisms—not that he ever noticed—came crashing down. As did the pint beer glass. See, he stores his acorns in the water dish, but they always sink to the bottom. He thinks water is a solid.

I had to anchor this goblet well with boards and long nails, because every morning the squirrel rubs and stokes his chin along it as if it were Alladin's lamp, saying: Mine. All mine. Squirrel doesn't want to share. 

Last night, Squirrel had a change of heart, fearing for the safety of his buried treasures, he retrieved them all, save for one green acorn, which had already split, and was beginning to sprout. Acorns don't float. I bet he nearly half-drowned in the process of spelunking for his hidden gold. There's no water in the goblet. I bet at least his head is squeaky clean.

At Laguna Beach, after rain

The flooded beach is a mirror of pale blue sky, and reflected clouds, except where I stand, there is no overglaze of water, so the sand is the color of rust.

Grammar Police

Someone posts an article on my Facebook page: Is it rude to correct people's grammar, and I replied:
You betcha, but that ain't gonna stop me...however, ya picks yer battles.

FWIW, said author has it all wrong, it's not about being an academically fixated Nazi Grammar Jerk Who Need a Hobby. It's more like being OCD. It's genuinely painful to see written mistakes. And I'm dyslexic, so, when there are typos, my eyes get all tangled up in the syntax, and I can't comprehend the sentence. Really.

OMG, she's equating it all with wanting to be all loved and cuddly? Barf. Beware, Coddle Police at work. And then she has the audacity to say that the grammar police shouldn't have a leg to stand on, because "Grammar is a notoriously fickle and changing field." What are we, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?

Yeah, well, no matter how much language evolves, your equals you're; and it's equals its; and there, they're their are all one and the same. No. Not. Never. Nohow. It's good to know the grammar rules, first, in order to break them.

And then she lets us off with a slap on the wrist, and a warning. Grammar Police beware? What's with that? Caveat emptor? Pah! I say, a pox on her house. Methinks she protests too much.

Is it rude to correct people's grammar?

Thursday, September 24, 2015



So, the doorbell at the Pavlov Institute
in Leningrad, said (and I kid you not): 
"Please don't ring" In Russian and English.
it was snowing, my hands were frozen, 
otherwise I would've taken a photo. 
It was sort of a Khrushchev's shoe 
banging on the table kind of moment.
I was carrying gold medals from Fort Ross
special delivery. What was I to do?
It was snowing harder yet, so I stamped 
my feet like a pony and rang the bell.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Droughtful Musings

An East Bay gardener who writes a blog, Annie's Annual and Perennials, posted a blog saying that home gardeners are not a water use problem. Annie then urges us to go ahead and water that home garden—for the birds, butterflies and bees' sake. It's a mere drop in the bucket.

Though I agree with Annie that agribusiness and fracking are using the lionshare of California water, not to mention Nestlé, I disagree with her fuzzy logic and rhetoric, holding the plight of bees hostage to her particular train of thought.

OK, so maybe I'm a tad cranky, it was boiling hot yesterday, and the house never cooled off last night. It was so hot even the neighborhood cats and squirrels were running around buck-ass-nekkid.

My main complaint is Annie's myopic point of view. She writes: "If every domestic household in California stopped using water completely it would barely make a difference at all."

 And then she states that "residential water use is a mere 5%-8% of total water use in California." Um, Annie, it's 10%. Her solution? Keep on watering those gardens. It don't matter, nohow in the long run. How very East Bay of her. It wants what it wants.

Yes, but of that 8- to 10% (not 5% as she stated) of California's residential water use, a whopping "...53 percent of total average household water use — or more than 190 gallons per household per day"—is used for landscaping, gardening, etc.

Let's do the math. That's 14,000,000 households in California x 190 gallons a day x 365 days = 971,000,000,000 gallons per year, or 2,979,885.66 acre feet. (One acre-foot = 325,900 gallons). Does that seem like nothing to you? Now I really suck at math, but Lake Chabot has a storage capacity of about 504 acre feet of water.

That other 47 percent of residential water use is indoors. "Indoor use accounted for more than 170 gallons per household per day..." That's the toilet, laundry, showers, the faucet...and leaks! (source—KQED) Repeat above figures—nearly 3,000,000 acre feet x 2 = that's about 6,000,000 acre feet for residential use. 

After reading Annie's blog, I wanted to scream: So, lose the friggin' lawn already! Use your gray water. Get this: Annie showers at public pool so all that lovely shower water goes down the drain. Hmmm. 

I want to tell her: Shower at home. Use that shower water to water the plants. And yes, do turn off the water while lathering up. Quit shampooing your hair daily. Wear your clothes several times before washing them. Be frugal with your dishes

(About washing your hair: "By the 1960s and ’70s, however, women were being encouraged to wash their hair seven times a week, which not coincidentally was also when today’s synthetic shampoos and conditioners came of age." It's all part and parcel of a move to get consumers to, well, consume. Just say no.) Frugal water practices may be a mere drop in the proverbial bucket, but it's still water saved. 

The oft quoted: "agriculture industry, consumes 80 percent of the water used in the state" isn't accurate, but it's trotted out every time someone wants to point fingers at farmers and defer blame: the "Not my problem" mentality at work. So Annie trotted it out without examining it. Stats are dependent upon several factors and cannot be trotted out without reference points. Otherwise, you really are comparing apples and orages.

Agriculture uses more water than cities, but not necessarily 80 percent more because state officials also include environmental uses for that water, too. Agricultural use is more like 50%, depending upon the wetness of the year. And almonds or apricots are not the main water guzzlers. Alfalfa, used to feed the cows, is. So, dairy/beef is our biggest agricultural water user.

What percentage of California’s water is used by agriculture?
  • 80% based on the developed water supply 
  • 52%: based on the total water supply of a dry year 
  • 29% based on the total water supply of a wet year   
—Blaine Hanson Department of Land, Air and Water Resources University of California, Davis
Regardless, I want to tell Annie that it's not an Us vs Them (agribusiness, fracking) vs (consumers, gardeners) equation.

We all eat food, we drive cars, All of us here, in California, almost 40,000,000 of us—we ARE the problem. Deferring blame to the farmer is not the answer. Yes, we need to kick Nestle's buttnuts, and ban fracking, and quit driving cars, but I'm rather fond of eating. Not willing to give it up. The farmer is the man.

So, I'll save every drop of water I can. Because I can. 

See, I grew up on spring water, and when the my grandfather's well (a seep cave) went dry during the 70s, we learned to make every drop of water we could eke out of the spring, count. And we recycled all grey water, because it mattered. 

We took a Saturday night shared bath once a week, the tub had maybe 5 inches of water in it. The equivalent of a five-minute shower. My grannie got first wash, I got second wash, and my poor brother was at the tail end of the line. 

That thrice-used bath water was then used to flush the toilet. And yes, we strictly adhered to the mellow-yellow rule. And no TP in the toilet either. It went into a paper bag and was burned in the fireplace.

My grannie had an old school wringer-washer (it used one 15-gallon fill-up of water to wash 3-5 loads of clothes. We heated water on the stove) and the rinse water in the bathtub (15-30 gallons) also watered the garden. That's 30-45 gallons total. We also wore our clothes until they really were dirty. Modern washers use about 60-80 gallons per load x 5 loads. Do the math. At least modern washers don't try & wring your arm off. Don't even ask how I know. 

Unfortunately our collective habit of showering daily, wearing clothes only once, then laundering them, is a modern phenomenon that contributes to a huge amount of wasted household water. 

When consumer goods corporations began to up their advertising game antics and successfully push cleaning products during the 1970s, there was a dramatic upsurge in bathing and washing habits. We became part and parcel of the disposable and thoughtlessly wasteful consumer culture. 

Our personal grooming habits reflect this rampant consumerism which lead to slovenly and wasteful water practices. Then there's Nestlé's pushing the 8 glasses of bottled water a day on us (and we don't even need 8 glasses of water a day, it's a myth.)

So Annie, though I agree with you on most points, I'd suggest that saving water at home really does matter. Think of it as a concerted war relief effort, like saving rubber bands, string and tinfoil. (How many of you still save string?)

And yes, I do water my drought tolerant garden with shower water. And no, I don't shower daily, and yes, I do wear my clothes multiple times before washing them. (I'm much more careful about my clothing and it doesn't wear out, or fade as fast). 

An added bonus of watering the garden with gray and black water (the kitchen sink water is considered black water—we wash by hand), is the unexpected surprise of finding long-lost flatware in the flowerbeds. I'm waiting for my teaspoons to sprout and am looking forward to harvesting my forks too. I'm not sure what the knives will bring. But I have hope. 

Meanwhile, the garden, despite the lack of water—as I do not use fresh water on it— thrives, and the hummingbirds and cabbage moths stop by daily. You can have your cake and eat it too. In this case, you can conserve water, and have a garden too without saying that saving water doesn't matter.

Uh-oh, I'm running low on spoons. Time to go and raid the garden.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Yeah, I'm pretty weepy today, I'm crying over a photo of a dead horse lying by the side of the road, seemingly untouched by fire, as if asleep. You half-expect him to rise up and gallop off. But his hooves will never pound the earth again. I'm sobbing for that poor black cat, so burnt, it's as if he turned to stone, like an Egyptian cat god. Yet he purred when the vet petted what was left of his singed coat. He was a symbol of hope, someone said. I'm crying for the fireman who brought the cat in, and for all the other unseen animals who perished in the fires.

I'm sobbing for the trees, the pines and manzanita, and for 75,000 acres. And the birds. I'm crying for the hay laden caravans coming down from the north to Middletown. I'm weeping for Michelle, who lost everything, except her life. All her poetry. All her belongings. Gone. Now times that by 20,000 people who've lost everything.

I'm crying for the loss of Harbin Hot Springs, and for Hoberg's, where my family used to play. I'm weeping for the communities all torn apart, and for the newer ones pulling together. I'm sobbing for my cousin, the fireman, a hero awaiting more skin grafts in a sterile hospital bed. I'm crying for his poor burnt hands, and his face, will he ever play the bagpipes again? All these useless tears, not enough to put out the fire, not even in my own heart. And yet, I hear the strains of Amazing Grace skirling in the distant corners of the mind.

Cal Fire officials said the 75,781-acre Valley Fire in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties is the third-worst wildfire in state history in terms of the number of damaged structures. The 118-square-mile Valley Fire that started Sept. 12 in southern Lake County damaged 1,780 structures as of Monday afternoon, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Yeah, I'm sitting in a writing workshop in Santa Barbara, 
having written myself into a tight corner, no right words,
nowhere left to go, and of course, the weight of the iconic date.
All I can think of is how far we've come, how we've regressed, 
repeating the names of lost cities: Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra. 
That boy in the surf, what we've lost. Irreparable.
stations of the mind, no longer functional.
The aftermath of refugees in the Budapest train station.
To arrive, to leave again with nowhere to go.
Shoes, toys, blankets. Entire lives left behind.
I cannot fathom the loss, crusades, Isis, this anniversary.
We are more haunted by images of small children.
The small boy rocked in the cradle of the surf
Incunabula. The sea comforted them.
They returned to the amniotic brine, breathed it in.
Tiny starfish hands fluttering in that last dance in the surf
Summer closing in on autumn with a vengeance
The winter yet to come, nowhere left to go.

With only a passport of the mind.

Found in a Pages document 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A MAN’S SOUL Mango grandmothers, papayas y nopales

A man’s soul is worth different weights  
depending upon his remembered homeland
The disappeared are always against forgetting
The salsa of the volcano in remembered countries
Is both the flower and the trigger points of politics, 
the blind road of the revolution
Is that which separates us, cleaving us
in the name of religion, politics and gender
We are undressing the day minute by minute
But the relentless sea churns and devours the cliffs
And we are left with nothing but tenuous handholds
Saving everything for the warriors of the sun

Singing at the edge of the tides.

Found in a Pages doc dated 9/15/15

Sunday, September 13, 2015

CPITS Symposium Colors of the Future poems with Marsha de la O, etc.

(Raw notes from Marsha de la O's writing intensive)
Mango grandmothers, papaya and nopales.

Having written myself into a tight corner,
no right words surface, nowhere left to go, 
but the page, and of course,
 the weight of the iconic date haunts me.
I am unwilling to write of it, give it energy.
All I can think of is how far we've come,
and how much we've regressed.
I'm repeating the names of lost cities:
Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra.
That nameless boy in the surf, what we've lost. 
Irreparable stations of the mind, no longer functional.
Burned into the retina, also,
the aftermath of refugees in the Budapest train station.
To arrive in a strange place, and to leave again 
with nowhere to go. Like the Albanians of Bari.
Photographs of shoes, toys, blankets. 
Entire lives left behind.
I cannot fathom the loss, the crusades, Isis, 
this sullen anniversary.
We are haunted by images of small children.
That small boy rocked in the cradle of the surf.
Incunabula. The sea comforted them.
They returned to the amniotic brine, breathed it in.
Tiny starfish hands fluttering 
in that final dance of the surf,
summer closing in on autumn with a vengeance.
And the winter yet to come, nowhere left to go
with only a passport for the wind.

Oh the praties they grow small
Over here, over here.
My grandmother used to sing this dirge to me.
Every night we ate potatoes
with their jackets on.
We ate them boiled, baked, mashed,
in potato salad, and in soup.
Their blind eyes were pale ghosts
still wandering this earth
searching for food.
An Gorta Mor, the Great Hunger
still haunts us 150 years later.
Residual, cellular memory.

When I crossed the Andes
I ate bitter black potatoes.
When the potatoes turned black,
my ancestors survived the famine,
without giving up their religion,
without turning turncoat, which was
the British alternative. For food, give it up.
It only made my ancestors more stubborn.
They ate cattle feed, mangles, turnips,
they ate grass, their mouths stained green.

I am allergic to solincea, tomatoes,
eggplant, and raw potato juice.
Phototrophic stains turn dark on my skin
A picture developing, perhaps ghosts, or tears.
She roasted potatoes with their jackets on.
The eyes of the peat glowed like dragons.

first draft

Oh the praties they go small

Blind eyes, pale ghosts, an Gort Mor

The great hunger

When I crossed the Andes, 
I ate bitter black potatoes
When the potatoes failed
My ancestors ate grass
They survived

But I am allergic to tomatoes, potato juice
Photo tropic stains turn dark in the sun

She roasted potatoes with their jackets on
The eyes of the peat glowed like dragons


My grandmother was late and missed the boat
Out of Cork Harbour. It sank. 
The next boat 
was between munition runs,
so she made it to Ellis Island with her brother.
The Lusitania, the Titanic—names passed down.
Journeys undertaken. Almost never begun.
Her brother Joe had five pounds in his pocket,
it was enough to put Jenny on a train to Battle Mountain,
but not enough to get him to Home Ranch
where Uncle Paddy waited 

for the rest of his family to arrive.
Joe got a job on a tramp steamer
and worked his way to Galveston 

by way of New Orleans, he earned
enough to catch a train to Nevada 

and he left the high seas
to herd cattle and buck hay
in the dry desert heat 

of the Reese River Valley.
A long way from Bantry Bay.


She pulled at the thread on the seam of her skirt
So much effort went into making that gabardine suit.
The painstaking hand stitches,
and knotting the threads so they wouldn't unravel.
It was different sewing the suit for herself
instead of for the customers at the shop.

She flicked imaginary lint from her skirt,
brushed smooth her lap. New beginnings.
There was never any question of staying.
She would miss the glass mirror of the harbor
but not the stench of fish. Catch of the day.
She didn't care if she ever ate another fish again,
Friday, or no.
She'd do without, that's what she'd do.
She fretted the edges of her lace collar,
the nuns drumming in the catechism 

of thread and homily,
all was God's work. All 

was God's work.

The cart was late. The horse snorted, 

and impatiently pawed the cobblestones.
She boarded with a cardboard suitcase 
filled with all her earthly possessions
destined for the New World.
The horse's breath hung on the chilly morning air
as they trotted towards Cork City.
She could hear the lonesome call of the ship's horn
as it pulled out from the harbor. Reprieve.
She wasn't yet ready to say goodbye.

scribbled while Marsha de la O was reading many poems from Latin America. Unfortunately Marsha didn't really give us time to write, she was reading too many poems, perhaps assuming we didn't have the background, and all I wanted to do was write, and so, when I saw the writing on the wall, or, rather, the lack of it, I began to randomly write, in order to keep my sanity. Words become a skeleton to wrest into meaning, not necessarily having anything to do with the original poems. So, they are collage poems, where I wrestle meaning into the randomness of juxtaposed words.

César Vallejo talked of hope 

and the shuffling feet of despair
as if they were blossoms of bright light.

In a Trujillo prison, he dreamed of words,
like stone islands, interrupting the current.
He longed for a new language scoured clean of artifice
with words, sharp enough to feed the hungry man.
The inarticulate night, a evil cup of darkness.
No matter how many times he turned, 
the four witewashed walls entombed him.
In his cell, he dreamed of trees, 
they would lead the way to the moon.

Neruda, have you forgotten us?
All that is fire will be repeated.

Nothing will be extinguished.
No, not lost. Forgotten. Little by little.

A slow moon dallies on a red branch
like a lobe of shining fruit, cradled 
in the arms of another homeland.
Ah, love, nothing is extinguished, 
or forgotten. These words.

I can't write of all the sadness.
My voice tried to find the source of the wind
but it was lost in the darkness.
On this earth we are all born without a name.
If you are the darkness, I am the rising sun. 

if I am the sun, you are the spaces 
between the stars. Then I am the void.
Without you.

I would like to ask Claribel Alegría,

when she invoked the rain, 
did its drumming pierce her temples, 
did the river speak to her in thin reedy voices, 
dank with eddies and fetid mud?
Did it polish river stones into comet?
Did it feed those lost volcanic flowers,
the children, the names of flowers, 
buried in ash, foliage and stone,
 did she dream of lost horizons
teaming with birds? Sentinel herons.
Chacmool's hard-on, another offering
to Tlaloc's thirst that is never slaked,
The Lord of the third sun will always feed
on the dying pulse of her remembered country,
for Tlaloc never sleeps.

And what of Ernesto Cardinal?
Those tropical lights and moonlit lagoons 

of the zero hour on palaces 
Another beach, another time.

Was it Octavio Paz who said no one listens to the rain?
You must listen to the water that is true.

If I am the darkness, you are the rising Sun

What of Lorca , and the kingdom of Harlem
Repeat the airs lost curves. Baila conmigo.

Like Pessoa, my gaze is clear as a sunflower.
What is seen when the window is left open
to a life we seldom use?
It has little color, the sky is an impoverished
river of blue feathers.

Once I found a red stone in the middle of the road
as divine as love, as heart's blood 

blossoming in the alkali dust.

Say a word now that can't be invented.
What now, José? 

You, without a name, who mocks the others?

My heart bleeds for Carlos,
oranges under a full moon.

Our children are the colors of the future.
Mangoes in a grandmothers backyard
Say these words: olive, avocado,
canyon, arroyo, barrio, camino.
Words we know, but are indifferent to:
papaya, piraña, pachuco, prostitute, 

pecadillo, politico, peon, 
renegade, vigilante, desperado.
Those small sins that come to haunt us in our sleep.


I dream with a suitcase
of words: guayaberas
the color of snowflakes.

Parsley goes to the devil seven, 
no, nine times.
I walk on stone, on sand
Every last step is always in front of me.
Ah, to walk on the sky
or on a sacred parcel of earth
hidden beneath the pavement.


Define the notes of a foreign land
I remembers the scent anchored in dreams
Guyana tenements. Trumpets
caressed the overtones of summer
other planets of time ran like oiled clocks.
Concrete sky, and streets made of sand.
I found small pieces of earth at the bottom of a cup
The basement of letters and tapestries made of love. 
We have deceived language in a foreign land.
'T'was mercy brought me to my pagan land 
to negotiate my identity, on sea and sand.
Compositions of lynchings 
and who was named after a ship?
Whose teeth mastered the spoken word?
Gazing at the night sky, and writing of the stars
Wy aren't we genuflecting to the sun?
You too will come and go.

'T'was the colonies that brought me here
from my first winter to pay, to owe you your life
Racing to port the tradewinds whispering
freeing the harbor's dark trade.

Systems of the sky
Write, always write, 

always keep paper at your bed
Then the prodigal darkness won't devour your psyche.
Sitting rooms of generals come and go
like a drowned tree in winter.



To go to Lvov, which train, which station?

The metro, the tracks, a green thread of copper
Which station, which metro, the train.
 a green thread along the copper tracks
 and the stench of coal

The sweet tea of the babushka 

the glass cups in their picket fence 
metal prisons
The amber eyes of tea
the murmur of stones.
He sucked tea through sugar cubes
hissing like a snake.
The forked tongues of bells peeling from the church
The Antichrist is inside the houses 

Writing overflowed into the lake of regret
Carpati. Woven rugs 

boundless fields of summer
Shearing the length of memory
Voluptuous dresses 

cathedrals of tears
 just pack it all in a satchel
and pass it on.

To go to Lvov
so many train stations 

where fate has whisked me off
or left me stranded
The aftermath of Syrian refugees in Budapest 

abandoned shoes, toys, blankets – 
entire lives left behind, discarded, 
leaving literally with only the shirts on their backs
I cannot fathom this tragedy, this grief.

We are haunted by images of small children 
rocked in the cradle of the surf
Incunabula. This scene comforted them, 

they return to the amniotic brine 
tiny starfish hands fluttering that last dance,
summer closing in on autumn.
They will not see the winter
Leaving Aleppo, leaving Damascus

a tide of refugees, like ants 
pouring out of the country being bombed 
back into parched earth 
leaving Palmyra in ash, smoke, and dust 
on this anniversary of 911
I am heartsick of this world, 

no place to get off, no train station left,
I want to bury my head in the sand, 

emigrate to another planet, maybe Mars. 
No history to destroy there, yet.


I am trying hard not to hate, 

but I hate hate hate
I hate the loss of Palmyra, 

the bullshit of false idols
How are stone pillars that have stood 

2000 years in the desert sands, idolatrous?
No god no false gods no idols, just architecture
Blow it all up, and then what?
To what purpose? 

But this is not the stuff of poetry, 
it is raw anger. They want us to hate them 
it makes it easier 
the objectification of lines 
traded for an ideal 
justifies their actions.

And what the Syrian boy 

lying on that last sure before his life has begun, 
have they no heart no soul at all?

Yes, I hate

Knowing that hatred is part of the problem. 

They want me to hate them 
I cannot get beyond it. 
This unseen enemy we have come 
retribution upon retribution? 
Are we paying for the sins of the Crusaders 
leaving Damascus so long ago 
the city of roses where no rose grows, 
only the rows of hatred, the rows of death 
the rows of bloodshed 
I throw red roses into the sea 
on the other side of the world 
for that Syrian boy. I do not understand 
I can make no poetry from it 
because it is not art 
we are all too close to it 
to render into art.


A man's soul is worth different weights
depending upon his remembered homeland.
The disappeared are always against forgetting.
The salsa of the volcano in remembered countries
Is both the flower and the trigger points of politics,
The blind road of the revolution
Is that which separates us, cleaving us
in the name of religion, politics and gender.
We are undressing the day, minute by minute.
But the relentless sea churns and devours the cliffs
and we are left with nothing but tenuous handholds,
saving everything for the warriors of the sun
Singing at the edge of the tides.


Michael McLaughlin's class
first draft

In the republic of poetry
the day undresses, hour by hour
in extremis, mountains to ocean
counting the stones, shells
singing at the edge of the tide

Spirals, plant mind
saving everything
for the warrior in the sun

A man's soul is worth different weights
depending upon his homeland
The disappeared are against forgetting
The salsa of the volcano in remembered countries
Or the trigger points of politics
That which separates us
in the name of religion and politics
and gender

We are undressing the day
minute by minute
As we observe the minutiae
But the relentless tide
churns and devours he cliffs
We are left with tenuous handholds
saving everything for the warriors of the sun


transliteration with John Oliver Simon

Last of the bird singers
Dedicated to the men of the selva

The Pleiades, messengers of the day
Nights fall down to their knees with yearning
The golden ego of the morning butterfly

After Wang Wei
transliteration with John Oliver Simon

In the bamboo pavilion

I sit alone in a bamboo glade
And pluck the lute string
That sings alone

In a bamboo glade
I sit plucking at lute strings
Only the wind sings

Deep in the forest
Where no people go
A skinny bright moon dances
With secret shadows

A house made of trees
Blossoms on the bridge
Young shoots in the field beyond

A horse in a barn
A woman in the house
So many warriors asleep
In distant mountains

Waterfalls, forests
A place of beauty, a tree
Gateway to the soul

Sun and moon, a gate
A tree of ships and wooden keels
Sails on moonlit skies

Warrior fields blossom
I remember how water
Plashed between rocks and foam

Storm, Buenaventura

I awoke to the unfamiliar sound of rain, in the poet's house. Around noon, the sky cleared, the sea calmed, and into the drink I dove. Small waves, seductive. Ah, Buenaventura, so aptly named. The water was so warm, I haven't bodysurfed since I was a kid. The Channel Islands arose, dreamlike in the mist. Clouds reflected on the shore. Sea and sky are one thing.

On my bucket list: to go to the Channel Islands.

I spent a fabulous weekend at La Casa de Maria with my poet tribe: California Poets in the Schools. So many of us are getting long in tooth and claw. I never imagined this. These are my people, this tribe of poets. But there are new poets joining our tribe, in its 51st year.

Seeing that I'm a Sagge and not a Gemini, there was no way I could attend both the CPITS symposium in Santa Barbara, and also be in San Anselmo at the same time for my 45th high school reunion. I couldn't pull it off, not even with a Gemini rising. I hope that we're all still alive in five years hence. And that we can still remember the past.

I chose time present over the nostalgia of the past. My Piscean moon made me all weepy and left me with an unreasonable longing for the sea. And for the past. Crocodile tears, easily shed.

At the poet's house, coyotes gathered beneath our window and howled, the pups didn't quite have their howling skills down. We joined in with the parents teaching them how to howl properly. I was struck with the revelation that this is what we do with kids in the classroom, we help them to get their howl on. We give them voice.

As I was bodysurfing, I remembered a childhood event, at Venice Beach, when I was counting waves. And a poem I wrote, 13th Wave. Where I nearly drowned. This poem saved my life. I am drowning now in memories of the past, forging words in time present, to be read later during someone else's visit to time past. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Enroute to the CPITS Symposium

Buttermilk skies over Santa Barbara, another hot one. It was 108 degrees in Salinas and hot enough to fry eggs in to Camp Roberts yesterday. Two traffic jams. One roadside fire, and a car caught fire on Highway 101 just past Camp Roberts. Hot. 84 in Atascadero. And then 98 in Santa Barbara. Nothing like a 25 degree drop in temperature all at once. Yoyo temperatures. Coyotes are too hot to howl properly. All that fur. Hope it'll be cooler today for our California Poets in the Schools symposium which promises to be hot in a good way.

So many skeletons of recent fires all the way down hwy 101. At least ten. Luckily they were all extinguished. Pale ash ghosts.

It rained in Ventura, Santa Barbara and near Salinas...I wasn’t expecting that. Hard to believe that I woke to the sound of rain in Ventura, Petrichor! Then I swam in the ocean.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Bathing the Cats

In deep summer it became an annual tradition to toss the cats into the creek. I don't know when it started. Or whose idea it was to toss them in the creek. Sure, they'd get upset when I chucked them into the pool below our house. They'd grumble and yodel all the way down to the creek, they knew what was coming, but they never clawed me. After I tossed them in, they'd dog-paddle to the nearest shore and then streak back up to the house shaking their paws in disgust. But then they'd flop down for an earnest wash, as if the creek bath wasn't enough. When they were all clean and fluffy, they were proud of their coats. They'd purp and preen and purr. I was forgiven until next summer. They were durty barnyard tomcats. Not like indoor cats. They were slovenly and stank like old dust and stale morning breath. They kicked up their bathing habits a notch for a few months, but by the time summer rolled around again, they slid back into their slovenly ways. But I loved every one of them fiercely. I dressed them in dolly clothes. And I named them all.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Party Line

I can't abide the telephone and will do almost anything to avoid talking on it. Especially answering it.

I'm not sure when this dislike of phones crystalized. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up in the phone generation. No long teenage schmoozes on princess phones in our house. No extension lines snaking in the bedroom. Just the standard black rotary phone on its rickety stand straddling the liminal boundary between the dining room and the living room.

When my grannie (who was old school, as in Victorian) finally got a telephone, it was solely for emergencies. So when we were allowed to use the phone, we were taught to get off the line as quickly as possible as it was a party line.

The entire end of our road was dependent upon that one line. Mrs. Decker who trained guide dogs.  Her shepherd was named Lorna and barked incessantly. Old Man Latindorf, who spoke German.  He never used his phone. It was for emergencies only. The Vinciliones and Ratios. You could recognize everybody's voices. And their breathing too when they snuck on the line to have a listen. There was another disembodied voice on the line, a woman, I never figured out who it was.

When someone did call, which was pretty rare, you had to listen to the ring pattern to figure out who the call was for, two close rings was for us. Receiving a phone call was terribly exciting. We'd stampede to the phone. And wait for the ring pattern. The anticipation, guessing who it was on the other end. The news to come.

When answering machines were invented, my phone stress levels dropped. Screening calls became the norm. I tended to hyperventilate while on the phone, but wearing a paper bag over my head became problematic. So I just quit answering the phone long before it became fashionable to screen calls.

I prefer to talk to people either in person, or in writing. My cellphone's only used for emergencies & texting (if I'm running late, or stuck in traffic, etc.) But that old jingle jangle still has that same knee-jerk reaction. Pavlovian response, at best.


The poem's lovely conversational tones sucked me in
and those tight visual descriptions had me flopping
on the proverbial floor for a nice tummy rub.
And maybe I was peckish for some proverbial kibble.
A thousand-year-old lake bed got me to Googling.
I lost an hour there, eons-old? (last Ice Age)
it was part of the Pleistocene Lake Lahontan—
once the largest lake in N. America (900 ft.deep),
Wow. And Lake Tahoe drained into it. Imagine.
I fingered and fondled words I never knew existed:
endorheic lake, pluvial, ephemeral lake, salar, sabkha.
And I learned the difference between playas and hardpans.
Wikipedia is the new OED. I've lost hours hunting words.
OK, now I've gone completely ADD and around the bend:
Did you know Black Rock Desert has fairy shrimp?
Yeah, and on the playa, Anostraca are swimming
among the mammoth bones in the Quinn River sink.
I think your poem's spawned a poem in me....
Talk about a dry period. A desert. This breath ending.
And what about poem #241, inquiring minds need to know.