Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Someone stole my Honda again

Someone stole my red Honda Civic hatchback again. Neil parked it on the street, sans club, and forgot about it. I thought it was in the garage where it usually is. Since I had just returned from Alexander Valley, all my teaching art supplies and light table were in the car too.

May 29: So far, no good... But Facebook helpfully posted my memory from two year ago, where I got my car back.... Got me all excited for nothing when I read the date.

Does anyone have an older car they could sell, lease, or rent to me? I prefer stickshift & clutch.Yep, probably the same thief as last time. I think it's a girl tweaker. She's broken into the car before.

June 10: Good news: I got it back. Bad news, it needs a starter, and possibly more. More bad news, my insurance company wrote it off as a total loss.... what to do now?  So, Insurance will only pay me $450 for my car after deductible. Then I have to jump through many, many hoops (and pay salvage title fees) if I buy back my car from the insurance company. It will costs about $350 for a new starter, plus mirrors from the junkyard, $100+.Think I'll just keep the car. Do it myself. I think I will kiss the insurance portion goodbye. and not make a claim.

Bad news: I had to pay for towing fee, and storage. Neil never once even apologized, nor stepped up to the plate to pay for the towing fee, though it was his fault it got stolen to begin with.

This is not the first time either. He left my little red Honda SI, Lil Rix, on the street and it got stolen twice, the last time it never came back. No club. Because he lost the club key and had to hacksaw it off the steering wheel. Asking him to replace the club fell on deaf ears.

To replace the jimmied starter is over $350. Luckily I can still drive it, I just can't turn it off into locked position. Neil's latest mistake will cost me $700. Not a peep. Not one fucking peep. Even a casual "sorry" would've sufficed.

Odd news: the thief was a white guy living in the flats on 66th, near International Blvd. He left his car keys (about 30 of them), a Phillip's toothbrush (sans brush, to jiggle the starter lock and start the car), and a bench warrant for his arrest in San Jose. Not. Very. Smart. Oh, and a shiv. I turned it all over to the Oakland Police. They looked into it, but it was inconclusive. Chain of evidence.

Not only did he take most of my art supplies, including 36 4x6" portrait mirrors I use to teach self-portraits to kids, (no way to replace them), he took most of my car clothes, some cool pillows I had gotten for Peggy Maddock as a thank you present for letting me stay at her house while teaching, a sleeping bag (but not the mate), all my toiletries and make-up, my EpiPen, tools, chargers, etc. And a bag full of toiletry kits I had made up for homeless women. And my front window screen! Grrrr. Doubly fucked, I am.

The thief missed the wine stashed under the passenger seat... Think I need a drink.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Teaching poetry at Alexander Valley School

2.5 classes' worth of kid poetry journals read; 1.5 more to go. I'm flagging. Time for a Kahlúa smoothie. Then onto typing up final poems for all four classes, getting ready for the poetry book. Yep.

I have to change locale and/or jobs every 45 minutes or so, replete with treats, or I become a narcaleptic reader. The cookie didn't do it. My boat done cinq. Or maybe it's a raft, and that's the problem.

Well... deep subject....that went well, not only am I off the clock, I'm off the rez too. Note to self: maybe less Kahlúa next time. The instant coffee and cocoa powder was a great addition, it cut the sweetness. 

Will I be able to love my pillow tonight truly madly deeply? A nap is in order. Alexander Valley is, well, chardonnay valley. Every once and a while I get paid in wine.

One more class to go...then onto typing. Uh, saving the best for last. Will read them tomorrow AM. Done! A long day's worth of typing kid poems for their annual  anthology. Corrected proofs are pasted onto the back of their journals. 

They have one more chance to get another typed poem for the book tomorrow. I aim for three poems per child...Friday, art and book assembly. Monday Open House! I took a productivity powder this afternoon...quagmire of molasses...

The kids at Alexander Valley School are such great writers, and so fun to be around, it's all play. I've been teaching poetry there each spring for decades. In fact, one of my former AVS students, Lucy Carroll will be reading with Dana Gioia at The Shed May 19. So proud!

"Healdsburg High School sophomore Lucy Carroll will share the spotlight with internationally known literary figure Dana Gioia at Shed on Thursday, May 19 starting at 7 p.m. Gioia, California Poet Laureate and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, will talk about the transformative power of literature, and read from his works, including his new “99 Poems New and Selected.”
He will also introduce Lucy Carroll and Melissa Lozano, the winner of the county-wide Poetry Out Loud competition."  —Healdsburg Tribune

Monday, May 23, 2016


Caernarfon Castle,
built by the enemy,
a sign of oppression,
as we spoke glowingly
in the oppressor's tongue.


Caernarfon is considered to be the sublime pinnacle, the crown jewel of subjugation, and oppression of the Welsh people by Edward 1, king of England and conqueror of Wales.
Guto’r Glyn (d. c.1493), one of the most prominent of the medieval Welsh poets, considered Caernarfon castle to be one of ‘[c]aerau Edwart Gwncwerwr’ (‘the forts of Edward the Conqueror’). And later, the antiquary Thomas Pennant (d. 1798) described Caernarfon castle bluntly as ‘the most magnificent badge of our subjection’. The magnificent castles of Edward I were therefore symbols of oppression to some, and one can well imagine that creating this feeling of intimidation was one of the primary reasons for building them in the first place. 
Forgotten Ruins? The castles of the Welsh Princes

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Farewell To Spring Photo

Clarkia, Farewell to spring, One of my favorite flowers. Our lower hillside in Forest Knolls was covered with them. Farther up the hill in the canyon, Chinese houses/pagodas.  

These beauties were blooming on Loma Alta ridge, near Big Rock, Marin. There were also scads of globe gilia, Itherial's spears, and brodiaea nearby, aka blue dicks... If I had included the blue dicks in the photo, added a little rock and roll music, it would've been the Dick Clarkia 5. OK, the Dave Clarkia 5. Ya gotta roll with the punches.

I love "crawling" inside a flower like that with a camera. See that ant?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Dawn, Mt. St. Helena, Photo

Dawn, Mt. St. Helena, Soda Rock Lane. Maureen Carden asks: Okay, how did you get the extremely bright sunset and the shadowed but clearly visible landscape in the foreground, together in the same shot?

I aim camera at the sky to set the imager to get the most color saturation for the photo (point lens to sky, hold shutter partially down to lock lighting setting, then drop camera lower to reframe photo, and click. 

I'm a minimalist. I try and do as little as possible to my photos, other than hit the auto contrast button. Then in Picasa, I lightened the mid ranges a bit, and used the sky filter to keep sky value. It's like a windowshade pulled down on the top of the photo, it helps restore the color.

I also use several settings, distance, sunset, night, until I find the one I like. Truth be known, I mostly use distance straight up, no sunset filter, as I don't like the color range. I also ruin all my cameras with sunspots....

Sunday, May 15, 2016


I once believed the world was flat.
I thought that if I went beyond the barbed-wire fence
where the milk box nested by the side of the road,
that I might fall through an invisible wall,
a well into a parallel world where it was dark,
but similar to this one. A reverse image.
But I also knew there was no way back up
no latter, no rope—nothing. I'd be stranded.
How would my grandmother find me?
The sun rose towards its zenith and azimuth,
until it cooked the milk, I wouldn't fetch it,
I couldn't—not even for my grandmother.
It was a seemingly simple request,
how could she know it fraught with demons?
So the glass quarts sat in the milk box
until they curdled and separated
into parallel floating worlds
of curds and clouds.


Notes on Haiku, Tanka, and Rengu

As I pasted some haiku notes below a poem I wrote in March, it got out of hand, and I realized what I wrote should have its own blog page. After all, this is cyberspace. There's plenty of it.

This morning I was explaining to a Facebook friend, a Facebook memory I had posted from May 14, 2010
Seen on a Richmond overpass: Free Leonard. 
Made me sad. How long has Leonard been in prison?
Which led to a lively discussion on Leonard. I posted a note on how I wrote my Free Leonard Peltier haiku, back in March, and she asked if she could share the poems. Which led to momentary panic. OMG, they're not very good, I need to rewrite them, or at least write something about the process... I must deflect, deflect. The gift of the gob at work.

This was the poem that kicked off my counting jag: a neighbor sat in his car smoking as I pulled out the driveway. I'd finished that thought, realized there were more poems coming and that I needed to write them down. No way I was going to remember that many haiku all at once. It was a traffic jam of haiku stacking up. Then I saw one Leonard sign on an overpass, and another wedged in a tree.

I was stuck in a colossal traffic jam at the Richmond Bridge, so I kept calm and carried on, but I was betrayed by my fingers madly counting syllables on the steering wheel to pass the time. And then I saw the third Leonard Peltier sign.

It got me thinking of Leonard in prison counting the days, 40 years of endless days. That's 14,600 days he's been in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Please, Obama, do the right thing: please pardon Leonard, who was a scapegoat to appease the FBI's wrath. And so the poems tumbled out, written fast and furiously, my fingers thrumming in time.  FREE LEONARD HAIKU 

But I want to explore the form—if only as a reminder to myself to try a new poetic art form. I feel guilty about my writing, and certainly for what passes as haiku. I keep thinking I really should learn to write tanka, instead of my loosely linked 5-stanza linked poems in quasi-haiku format. You know, real writing.

I must admit I do feel a bit like like Rain Man madly counting away when I compose them, but once I start counting syllables, I can't seem to stop. The poemettes come nearly intact, and unbidden, especially when I'm driving. So it's some sort of a rhythmic mind game. Maybe haiku is the poet's sudoku.  As Rainman said: Fart. Definitely, fart.

Monte Rio poet Pat Nolan was always trying to get me to join in on his renga games. Pat was the grand poobah and illustrious founder of The Miner School of Haikai Poets. A renga is a linked pass-around chain poem. I participated a few times, but I always got off kilter, endlessly stuck in that 5-7-5 format. I couldn't seem to play nicely with the other poets. Always missing deadlines.

Also, in those days, you had to type the pass-around poem on a manual typewriter (onion skin paper), then snail mail it onto the next poet. The poem traveled to Oakland, Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Pacific Grove, Montreal, Monte Rio. And if you missed the 24-hour deadline, you held up all the other poets. They got pissy. Sadly, it was a a missed opportunity. They carried on without me. I probably have several starving half-finished group poems buried in my old papers.

I lacked confidence, and it stymied me, freezing my words, mid-mind. I became mute. I'm trying to remember who was in the renga group: Keith Abbott, Michael Sowl, Maureen Owen—and maybe also Steve LaVioie, David Gitin, Phil Coturri, come to mind....  It was an avalanche of poems arriving daily in the mail, I got confused. One poem line bled into the next arriving poem, and I was all in a muddle.

Then, there's Renku, a bawdy form of linked verse.....maybe it was a really a renku group... We were a bawdy bunch of poets singing euphonies, and all. But I stubbornly stuck to my linked haiku, counting 5-7-5.

Bawdy poets send
renga verse tersely written—
golden onion skins

Sauteeing their words
sizzling in olive oil—
wilted syllables 

For the next poet
to puzzle over their lines—
waiting for the end

Of the line, last word
pulsing for a rebuttal—
a full glottal stop. 

Lick that final stamp
and put the poem to bed—
incestuous words.


Some standard definitions:
"Traditional haiku consist of 17 on (also known as morae though often loosely translated as "syllables"), in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 on respectively. A kigo (seasonal reference), usually drawn from a saijiki, an extensive but defined list of such words.  The essence of haiku is "cutting" (kiru). This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji ("cutting word") between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colors the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related. A kireji fills a role somewhat analogous to a caesura. In English, since kireji have no direct equivalent, poets sometimes use punctuation such as a dash or ellipsis...." —Wiki
Got it. OK. Three phrases, like brush strokes, one line should contain a seasonal reference, and the Aha! the cutting word—a pivotal juxtaposition where the poem turns on itself.  That's were I often flail. Haiku not about counting syllables. Besides, Japanese packs a lot more information into its ideagrams than we can possibly do with our sound-based Latin alphabet.

But I still can't stop counting. And I rarely remember to add the kireji, or in my case, the use of the long em line—. Besides, it's so easy to cheat at haiku with those pesky articles and particles. We're so attached to making sense in English, it's a leap of faith to leave out those conjunctions.


Old mossy pond
Frog jump!
Water sound.

(I'm trying to remember how this translation came about, was I working with Bob Hass at the time? Anyway, it was group boardwork, distilling something down to its primal essence. It's the translation I prefer.)

What: Invoke a hoku (a stand alone line) 
use one or more of the senses—often a memory from the past,  
Where: a sense of place—use images from nature
When: include a kogu, a seasonal reference (or a signal word)

No "I" should inhabit the poem. Think epigrams, three snapshots or telegrams reduced down to a bare minimum of words. "Little drops of poetic essence," as Sir George Sansom called them. Then there's the hidden dualism: the idea of near and far, foreground/background, then and now, past and present, sound and silence, temporalness and infinity.  

Two Haiku for Poetry Month
—MH 4/21/2009

Counting syllables
is silly; Japanese count
words, not syllables.
Anglo Saxon words
paint a much broader canvas
than Latinate ones.    

words too cumbersome to count
English albatross.

I have more haiku buried in this blog. This haiku link will list the most recent 18-20 entries in a search format (I'm up to 38 linked haiku entries). It's a problem with Blogger's search format, it only displays one page, newest first. You will have to dig month by month for older work. I always use CAPS for poems, and I try to put HAIKU in title as well.

OK, more standard definitions.
"The Tanka poem is very similar to haiku but Tanka poems have more syllables and it uses simile, metaphor and personification. There are five lines in a Tanka poem. Tanks poems are written about nature, seasons, love, sadness and other strong emotions. This form of poetry dates back almost 1200 years ago."  (Check out the chart)  5-7-5-7-7   —How to write a Tanka poem
"Renga (連歌, collaborative poetry) is a genre of Japanese collaborative poetry. A renga consists of at least two ku (句 ) or stanzas. The opening stanza of the renga, called the hokku (発句 ), became the basis for the modern haiku form of poetry." —Wiki
"Renku (連句, "linked verses"), or haikai no renga is a Japanese form of popular collaborative linked verse poetry. It is a development of the older Japanese poetic tradition of ushin renga, or orthodox collaborative linked verse. At renku gatherings participating poets take turns providing alternating verses of 17 and 14 morae. Initially haikai no renga distinguished itself through vulgarity and coarseness of wit, before growing into a legitimate artistic tradition, and eventually giving birth to the haiku form of Japanese poetry."—Wiki
Then there's Haibun, a combination of prose and haiku, often autobiographical or written in the form of a travel journal. Sort of like this journey.

Friday, May 13, 2016

In class writing, Alexander Valley School

Demo acrostic/conceptual noun personification exercise board poem for the kids at Alexander Valley School. What usually happens, is that we write a phrase on the board, then they're off writing their own poems, but I've got a fragment on the board. So I freewrite them, finish them off in class, modeling the process.  We were reading Emily Dickinson's Hope is a Thing with Feathers.

Joy is a daisy
   dancing in the wind
on the horizon of hope
   it sings of
your heart and soul.


Hope is a bluejay
inside your heart
dancing to its own beat
a blue heart blushes,
it burns with love.

4th Grade class

Hope is a white bird
flying through the starry night
Hope is a swan of many colors
as quiet as fireflies in the clouds.

3rd Grade class

Joy is the birds
   singing so hard
   the lemon tree shakes
   like a dancer
on the moon, where
   coyotes serenade the stars
Yonder, in an empty field
   owls drift down like petals.

2nd Grade class

Once I was the flames of the head
I became the ice of fire
I was the river of ice
I dreamed of love in the sea
I will become the sun shining on the earth.

3rd Grade class

Once I believed the world was flat
I thought that if I went past the fence
where the milk box was
that I would fall
through an invisible wall
a well into another world
where it was dark, but similar
and there was no way back up
no latter, no rope.
Even though the sun rose,
and heated the milk
I wouldn't get it and it sat in the box
until it curdled and separated
a floating world
of curds and clouds.

4th Grade class
This is from the I used to believe...early memory exercise.
I started revising it here, so I moved it to a new page

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fiction vs facts

Overheard today at Cleveland Elementary School while I was copying student poems for a 4th grade class: Young Chinese teacher to her young mostly Chinese charges in a remedial reading group. What's the difference between fiction and other books? In unison they all shouted: it doesn't have any facts.

I was so startled, I tuned and blurted out: That's not even remotely true. There was an acute moment of silence as they all stared at me as if I was a zombie. I slunk away thinking of War and Peace.

We hadn't even gotten to the truth stage, whether or not fiction contained facts! I learned to love Russia through War and Peace, and Dr. Zhivago. That was how I learned Russian history. Not beforehand. And yes, deeper truths were embedded.

 I brought a copy of Zhivago to the USSR, and it was snatched from me, students exclaiming, in wonderment, touching it as if it were the grail, saying: I have heard of this book... Some deeper truths were had that day.

Alas, a gentle correction was not possible. I was too pissed off to be gentle. Wide mouth frog, or foot in mouth syndrome at work. What I should have said instead of undermining the teacher: There are many kinds of fiction. Fiction is not all facts but may contain many facts.  I expect the teacher won't teach that sound byte again.

How would she explain away yellow journalism, or gonzo journalism as fictionalized non-fiction. What about the social commentary of Vidal, Mailer, Wolfe and Thompson? How would she view poetry?

Ironically I tend to stick to facts when writing poetry, or what I know to be true...rarely do I bend truth or fictionalize. Not much need... but then there's imagined truth as well. But truth and facts are not the same. As Mark Adler said: …as if fiction doesn't contain some of the deepest truths. Wonder if I awoke some natural critical -thinking skills in those tiny students?

added 5/17

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Be strong, I whisper to my coffee

Be strong, I whisper to my coffee.
Be still, I whisper to my racing heart.
Let's just leave the bowels outta this, OK?

Monday, May 2, 2016

'Possum Wrangler

I'm hiding under the desk. Mouse traps don't bodda me.
Apparently I have a new job title: baby 'possum* wrangler.

I was cleaning up outside, and I must've disturbed this little nocturnal fellow, who hiked up the steps and took refuge in the bedroom. (I had wakened him from his nap.)  Of all the places in the house, he chose the bedroom. Smart feller. Neil heard something rustling and freaked out, thinking it was a mouse in the trap, or worse, a huge rat. (He saw it from behind, tail first.) Luckily he didn't do the coup de grease on the little critter.

As designated rescuer of all creatures great and small, I was automatically elected for the job of getting him out from behind the desk. Easier said than done. He squeezed behind the desk and the wall; he had wedged himself in a crevice, with mouth open wide, hissing like a cottonmouth. I knew it was all for show, but he had a lot of sharp teeth. So with ski glove in hand, I managed to roll him with my finger onto his feet. I carefully pulled him out from behind the desk, holding him (the 'possum, not Neil) by the scruff of the neck, like a kitten. He went limp as a biscuit.

I'm playing possum in the dirty laundry. Nice and stinky.

I wrapped him in a pair of Neil's knickers that were on the floor. He went into full death mode and said: "I'm dead, Jim. Really, really dead. See? Well, maybe I'm only a teeny bit dead." He didn't quite have his "I'm really dead" schtick down. He kept peeking at us. Especially after I began to pet his cheek with a gloved finger. He seemed to like it. But he wouldn't eat the foot scraps I offered.

I'm so dead, I'm so dead. I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead.

He feigned death, or fainted, a few times, but when he saw we weren't buying his act, he sat up like the baby he was. All the world may be a stage, but I told him he needed to keep his day job. He looked insulted. Then he waddled off into the undergrowth snuffling for bugs. Fleas poinging off him like a cartoon.

Yes, opossums really do play dead. They also open their mouths and drool and hiss like snakes when threatened, but they're extremely docile. When I used a towel to try & pick him up, he didn't even attempt to bite it. Weirdly, they have 13 nipples. I bet you wanted to know that.

If he hadn't been such a dirtbag, I would've tested his prehensile tail. Taken it out for a spin. But his fleas were abandoning ship, so all I could think of was to get him to move along after he recovered from his fainting spells. Their temperature is low for a mammal, 94 to 97°.  My body temperature is 97.8°, so I was a logical new host.

What, you're still here? Well maybe only a little bit dead. It comes and goes.

It's too bad they're such flea-ridden tick magnets. Luckily they also love to eat ticks, and are probably our best defense against Lyme disease. They do carry fleaborne diseases, so don't handle them if you can help it. But they never carry rabies. They just show their teeth (and they have a lot of them),  they froth at the mouth and drool alarmingly when threatened. They also have stink glands like a skunk, but Junior wasn't big enough to know how to use his. Or maybe he thought Neil's knickers were stinky enough.

Aren't I cute?

They may look ugly (when full-grown), they can't help that, but they're good critters to have in the garden. They eat bugs, slugs and snails, rats and mice, and your compost, too, if you leave it out. The stinkier, the better.

Who loves ya baby? yeah, yeah, yeah.

I never saw 'possums in growing up in West Marin during the 1950s-70s, but I did have a clumsy guest when I lived in Forestville, Sonoma County, during the 1980s-90s. They're not native to the west coast, introduced to San Jose in 1910. Why, I don't know. Someone homesick for 'possum stew? (Tastes like chicken.)

I'm just glad he was a baby, and not a full-grown football-sized 'possum. I might not have been so opossumably brave.

*We have opossums in North America, emphasis on the big O. Australia has possums, not the same critter, though both are marsupials. Drives the Aussies freakin' wild that we call our opossums "possum" too. Their possums are way cuter, BTW. And it's Dame Edna's favorite term of endearment. It's spelled 'possom, here, if you must shorten it. Just don't write it o'possum. Got that, Possums? Good.