Thursday, January 31, 2019

I have a Blogger stalker

Dear cerebellum, get a life
Quit stalking me.
If you don’t like my blog,
don’t read it.
So simple!
Move along now.
Nothiing to see here.



Like the returning salmon, I only feel at ease
when I return to my natal watershed.
The moment I cross the rise over the Tomales Bay watershed.
I let go of my tight breath, and sigh. I know I am home.
The farmlands rise up to greet me like old friends.
Without judgement, without frame, 
the convolutions of road, space and time 
take me back to a place when anything was possible—
even love.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Black morph hawk (photos)

I disturbed a hawk who was eyeing the La Franchi freerange chickens in the field across from the Nicasio Reservoir. Somehow I don’t think the Alsatian guard dogs will be able to keep this fellow at bay. What kind of hawk, it’s like a Mexican hawk, brown all over. Cooper’s hawk comes to mind. Not a red tail. Darker. Not striped, so not a red shouldered hawk, more like a red tail hawk, but melanistic. There are several dark hawks along Nicasio reservoir. I have many photos of them. He was upset with me because I was too close to him—and his  coveted chickens....he turned around on his post to give me a baleful stare. If looks could kill. I was shooting from inside the car but clearly that didn’t fool him. He stood his ground. Geoff Davis said, Yearling redtail—only ONE stripe on tail feathers, immature and hungry and been wet. I thought maybe his fishing expedition failed, and he was trying his luck in greener pastures.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Fort Worden Centrum summer writing conference, 1979

Fort Worden Centrum Writers Conference, 1979—with thanks to Jim Heynen

Jim Heynen posted a Facebook photo of the Fort Worden Centrum summer writing conference, from 1979. It was before my time there but the stories from that conference were still circulating in 1980 when Sharon Doubiago, Leonard Cirino, Susan Abbott, Tobey Kaplan and I crashed the Writers Conference in 1980.

The photo evoked such memories. I wrote to Jim: Ah, Sam Hamill with his curly red mop (I have a photo of him from the 1980 conference), and Bob Hass as a longhair. Migod, Levertov, and Kumin. Robert Bly was born old? We were all reading Thomas McGrath’s Imaginary Letters during those years. A hero of mine. What a handsome man. Can’t believe Bly was a belligerent asshole to Tom (hahaha). Shocked! Simply shocked, I am. We heard about that embroglio when we attended in 1980. And something about the baseball story with Levertov.... I don’t remember any of the details.

Tree Swenson and Kathleene K West. I miss her. Ever the chameleon—she said she reinvented herself every ten years. She was kind to me, got me on the Montana Poets in the schools roster. We reconnected on Facebook right before her death....I had no idea she was in such anguish. She sold me her old cellphone for $15 but never cashed the check—its name was Gravity. I deleted her pictures of New Mexico, thanked her for the phone, then I heard the news.
Jim Heynen replied: Mo, I guess Bly was actually quite good in his workshops, but he tormented McGrath during McGrath's reading by yelling from the audience, "Read the Tomasito poems!  Read the Tomasito poems!"  McGrath finally addressed him firmly with, "Patience, Robert.  Patience."
At a social event, Bly insulted Levertov by telling her she was being too hard on people in her workshops.  She started weeping and came to me, exclaiming "What a horrible man!"  But Levertov had no tear ducts to shed the tears she was feeling--so her eyelids just bulged and got red.  Another tidbit: Bob Hass was reluctant to come and teach a workshop because, he said, "I don't know how to do it."  Then he did a great job.  One exercise was having participants do an exact imitation of a poem they liked--the same number of syllables per line, and accented and unaccented syllables exactly as the original.

I told Jim, thanks for the backstory. I was standing with Tess Gallagher and Ray Carver, as they, and others were recounting the stories, which became interwoven with ours...a mythos of sorts.

I only remember vague fragments of the infamous Levertov story of baseball players, drunken writers conference parties and the dropping of the f-bomb. And something about Kumin too that made the gossip train too. The stories that survived.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Where am I?

Someone posted a quote from The Prisoner.
I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!
I am painfully reminded of all the cool places in Wales to visit, my ex partner’s sister dragged us to the fake village where The Prisoner was filmed. I was fit to be tied and asked W H Y with many question marks. We were there for six hours—it was truly a life sentence. The unanswerable questions arise. Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself. 

Be seeing you, Number Six.

Monday, January 21, 2019

iPad dictation fail

A case of iPad dictation fail!

My iamb having number.
I was in about an hour.

About the only useful thing I can say is at least it wasn’t in imbic pentameter.

Thursday, January 17, 2019



Last night’s storm pounded
like a desperate drunk at the door,
and left potholes the size of Shetland ponies.
The Laguna leapt its banks,
and kayaks decorate the new shoreline,
a vast inland sea, a river road
drowning the oaks,
leaving cattle stranded on new islands.
I saw ravens bathing in temporary lakes
in the horse pastures.
Trees and garbage bins bowed
to the untamed gods of wind and rain
while the earth shakes its mantle
like a wet dog at the fire.
They say last night Mary Oliver died.
Today is the anniversary of my former love,
John Oliver Simon’s death. Goodnight sweet prince,
The magic realm of a year and a day
is greeted by bales of hay sprouting green crewcuts,
and fields of young mustard is nodding
their golden mantles to the returning sun.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Learning woes, continued, no math whiz, I

I was, and still am a disaster in math, unless money is owed, or if I need to frame some art, then I’m sharp as a tack. My math teacher, Archie Williams was one of a handful of positive teachers I had at Drake High School. Did I learn foundations of algebra? No. 

But I held his Olympic medal in my hand and learned about Hitler and racism in America. I loved and adored Archie. I hated how disrespectful the class was. Joey Doyle’s spitwads and Rodney Warnerhoff’s rubber band missiles and lame paper airplanes. A sign of the times. 

I remember Archie, who was also a former Tuskegee pilot, picking up one of those failed paper airplanes scribbled with bad math homework from the floor and turning it into a teaching moment. He refolded the plane, gave it a bent nose, and talked about aerodynamics— lift, force, and thrust. Then let loose the plane that sailed like a hungry gull in the late afternoon classroom. 

Was he also delving into geometry? Probably. Like I said, we got much much more than foundations of algebra with Archie. I wrote about Archie many times. I can’t say the same for my other high school teachers.

“My ab-fab foundations of algebra teacher, the late, great Archie Williams was a real Olympic champion. Archie won the 400-meter race. I got to hold his Olympic gold medal. I sucked at math, but Archie was the kindest, gentlest mentor I ever had. Not his fault that math didn't take. Oh, but the stories he told us, of winning the Olympics, of running with Jesse Owens, and meeting Hitler. At 13, we hardly knew who Hitler was, but we held that same gold medal that Hitler bequeathed to Archie. Archie was a a man who broke world records, and race barriers.” Olympic Pride, American Prejudice 

During the 1990s, I had to take the CBEST test and, as expected, I passed the literature aspect with flying colors. I utterly failed the math portion, but I expected that, no surprise there. So, I began my retro homework in earnest with third grade math workbooks, as that’s where I fell off the learning wagon, the year I learned to read. A year of either, or—not both. I clearly did not operate on the proscribed learning timeline. I was madly marching off to my own drummer. I was gifted at art, something that was of no value within our culture. Education had failed me. Writing would come much later.

Determined to pass the CBEST, I had notions of becoming a certified teacher in those days, I worked my way through those old math workbooks. My head hurt in new places, and I literally cried my way up to the sixth grade level. Then, because I was stuck, I found a woman tutor on Craigslist, who was getting her MA in math and needed a guineapig for her dissertation. She was fascinated by my quirkiness, as I was pretty unschooled, as it were.

She had me approach geometry and algebra problems—unschooled as I was—to see how I would approach them—and she discovered that I was bored with lower math, plus I had a form of math dyslexia as well. Though I didn’t get the answers right, I was approaching the concept of higher math correctly. In fact, she was fascinated by how I was resolving the questions, I was innovative, and quirky, at best. I passed that CBEST test second time around. Not with flying colors. But solid.

Passing the CBEST was a big deal, healing an old wound, as I was a whack job math student. Who knew I had dyslexia in math as well? I’ve been known to add and subtract sums in the same column without even catching the error of my ways. 

Ironic, as the math gene runs in the family—my mother‘s cousin, who grew up in Austin Nevada, was a bona fide math whiz. She disappeared after high school. Government job. We never knew would happen to her until much later. She sent us a postcard from places like Alamogordo, White Sands, Chicago. Decades later, after she had died, we found out she was a mathematician working on the Manhattan Project.

Revised from a Facebook post, from the comments for the same one on learning to read, 1/21.

My 19th c. childhood reading list, or learning how to read

When queried about my childhood reading list, I discovered that mine was from the 19th c., not the 1950s & 60s, the era I grew up in. ‘Splains a lot. Someone asked me, what was I, educated by nuns? Practically, with a no-nonsense Irish granny at the helm who had little interest in American bourgeois culture.

It took a while to unravel my childhood reading list pattern. I tried Wikipedia’s year-by-year entries and discovered that I’d read only a few popular books published during the 1950s and the 1960s. I went back decade by decade, from the 1940s to the turn of the last century, and still I only garnered less than a dozen books. Wow. 

Frustrated, I googled the most overlooked children’s books of the 19th c. Paydirt!  I should add that I read the long, unabridged versions. The nitty and the gritty was my childhood reading landscape. No pablum books. Unless you considered Robinson, Wilde, and Joyce to be kinder-fodder.

What a strange child I was. I hated any books that had talking animals, or anything that was properly infantilized for children. I loved fairy tales, the darker, the better. A bonus, those old fairytale books hadn’t yet been bowdlerized. I hated those upbeat false reality books with sugar-coated endings. I hated clever rhyming books, so Dr. Seuss was out. I preferred those boys adventure and sleuth series to the girly books. Hardy Boys, or the X Bar X boys over Nancy Drew or Little House on the Prairie. 

Anything to do with horses, I read it, no matter what the era. No Laura Wilder, no Bev Cleary, and no EB White. No Pooh, no thieving mice, no spelling spiders, nor even Sendak’s wild things—even though he lived in Sausalito. There was no escaping Dr. Seuss, who was trotted out by teachers everywhere. But in my horizon there were none of the usual usual childhood reading landscape popular during the 1950s and 60s. How did I not know this? 

Of course, most of my unauthorized childhood reading material came from what was on the bookshelves in the basement. My grandmother’s musty old bookshelves. Ones that survived the onslaught of eight boisterous children, and a permanent move from the San Francisco Victorian on 3rd Ave., to the old summer house in Forest Knolls.

Also, another significant source of my reading material came from thrift stores, whether from our next-door neighbor’s sister Borg, or my aunt Toddy who used to bring me books in 50-pound potato sacks. I remember one late winter afternoon, sobbing in the hedge over Lassie Come Home. It was very rare to get contemporary new books. My aunt once gave me new books at Christmas. I cherished them. One was about a flivver.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, most kids watched TV to keep themselves entertained, but I read books, as we didn’t have a TV, and reception was at best, tricky in the valley. This was before the era of cable TV. Our neighbors, the Stones, had a TV so we watched Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Sea Hunt, Rawhide, Bonanza when the reception was working. There were two to three broadcast channels, with lots of snow—depending upon the vagaries of weather—and there were few programs to watch. 

But in the Stone’s old milking barn, on a high shelf, I discovered the entire Wizard of Oz collection (1900-1920) that must have belonged to Stephanie Stone’s mother—books that would’ve been considered old when she was a child. I plowed through the dusty tomes in record time. I didn’t ask for permission to borrow them, I surreptitiously snuck them home, one by one. I was transported. A baker’s dozen wasn’t enough, I wanted more. And, no I hadn’t yet seen the movie. No TV.

I also ordered armloads of cheap paperbacks from Scholastic Book Services. They were probably out of copyright, ergo older titles, not current ones. They were cheap. Most titles cost ten cents, hardbacks were 15 cents—a dollar bought an armload of books. I did chores for the neighbors in order to buy those books. Every dime represented an hour or two’s escape from reality.  

When my monthly SBS book order came, kids jeered at me, saying no way was I reading all those books, but I read every single one before my next order came. And no, I never read Clifford the Big Red Dog. It was The Little Witch, Pipí Longstocking, Black Beauty, and stories of ghosts, lost dogs and ponies. I gave away boxes of SBS books to younger friends.

Our school library was very small, we didn’t have a local public library, so the Bookmobile was our main source of books. I remember checking out a beautiful gilt-edged 1903 first edition, with an embossed cover, of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms (but not the story), to give you an idea of how old some of those books really were. 

What makes this all so funny, is that I didn’t even learn to read until the end of third grade. I hated Dick, Jane and that stupid dog, Spot. I was bored to tears with them and their goddam dog, I think I was insulted, and stubbornly refused to learn how to read. I wanted Allingham’s The Fairies. I can still quote some of it.

My mother said I was already singing my alphabet and reading in pre-kindergarten. I briefly attended a French nursery school, so I knew some things. I could count the stars and sing nursery rhymes in French. But when I went to Lagunitas School, kindergarten was for babies. And I said so. Lagunitas was regressive. They wouldn’t let me paint, school felt like pure punishment. All I wanted to do was play, or paint. I liked singing, the teacher sometimes banged out simple songs on piano. 

My mother was an artist so art was my first language. Even though I was the youngest one in the class, I was bored out of my gourd, and I dropped out of kindergarten. For real. It was also a long way from our house down Arroyo Road, to the highway. It was a whole mile, and I was only four-going-on-five years old, with very short legs, and an even shorter attention span.

Best thing my grandmother ever did was not forcing me to go to back to school. However, there was hell to pay in first grade. That negative karma followed me all through school. I had trouble learning. But I do remember the day I learned to read in third grade. 

Sometime in April or May, it was as if a switch had been thrown. And suddenly I could read. Breakthrough. The secret was simple, Miss Lenz left me alone in a corner with the new science-based SRA reading card series. I was off and running. I was a house afire—mad for reading. 

In two months, I read all those laminated SRA cards I could get my hands on—through to the 5th grade level. I learned about echolocation and sonar. But I couldn’t answer the quiz questions. No one knew that I had a learning disability. Then, when I was 30, I discovered I had dyslexia. Bingo. It all fell into place. 

In the past, I was routinely sent to the corner during reading time, with nothing to do. Punishment because I couldn’t keep up, or on track, during the reading aloud circle. I loved when Mrs. Bryce read aloud from The Phantom Tollbooth after lunch. But to this day, I hate to be read aloud to, unless I’m held captive in my car.

When I was in my 30s, I made up for lost time and finally did read some of those childhood classics from the 1950s-1960s, so that I could relate to what my young students were reading. I was teaching kids how to write poetry and it seems only fair that I was familiar with what they were reading in the classroom. I must admit that I loved reading about The Chronicles of Narnia, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Still haven’t read any Cleary, Norton, or Sendak. 

What were your favorite childhood books? 

Revised from a Facebook  post 1/21.

Sunday, January 6, 2019



It’s raining like mad.
atmospheric rivers
raging in the sky.

The rain pounds us down
to its level—a sea change—
salmon swimming home.

A rapid tattoo
beats a primal tympani
on roof and windows.

The old potbelly
groans like an arthritic dog—
last log on the fire.

The Epiphany
Three kings lost in the rainstorm.
A king cake of thought.


California Impressionism

Inspired by a desire to capture “impressions” of everyday life, avant-garde French artists, whose work was considered unacademic by the Salon, changed the face of art—from upholding the neoclassic ideal (think photo-realism) to focusing on the vagaries of weather and intimate life by using a bright palette, and quick, broad impressionistic brush strokes.

The French impressionist movement of 1874 was controversial because the subject matter was not Salon approved—no allegorical subject matter. It did not instruct. it was art for art’s sake, or rather, it found god in the sublime.

And instead of painting in isolated studios, they took it outside, to the fields, thanks to pioneer landscape painter, Papa Corot. Also, the invention of tube paint changed how painters painted—in plein aire.

By the turn of the century, however, Impressionism was widely embraced, with artists making pilgrimages to study with Paris’ finest painters.

The movement was embraced by California artists who also emulated 19th-century French landscapes for inspiration. Society of Six, William Keith. Maurice LeMue. Unlike east coast impressionism, California Impressionist works did not solely revolve around the vagaries of weather, or the grandeur of sublime landscapes (think Bierstadt) instead, they showcased the atmosphere and emotion of scenery—using lots of juxtaposed color swaths.

Impressionism and the California Impressionism school has certainly affected my own sense of art. We grew up with a WPA mural in the Lagunitas school office, which was later discovered to be a mural by Maurice LeMue. It became an unconscious reference when I began to photograph landscapes. So, I owe my vision, in part, to that school.

(Well, I found the article I was reading to be so clumsily written that I wound up rewriting it, so no quotes. So I guess this is now my writing. But there is art!) See the link here. From a Facebook post. Perhaps I will expand it into a full article in the future.

Saturday, January 5, 2019


I’m not liking this new year  at all.
I’ve been sneezing so hard it feels like
I’ve blasted myself backwards into yesteryear.
And all I want to do is to curl up
tighter than a tortured hedgehog
& sleep in until tomorrow,
and tomorrow and tomorrow.