Sunday, May 31, 2020

I can’t breathe


The world has come undone.
I can’t breathe. None of us can breathe.
Is there no end to this madness?

Friday, May 29, 2020

IN MEMORIAM


End of May, we’re still in isolation,
our windows on the world
have grown exponentially smaller,
and we dream of vast distances
where we can freely travel
to another place, another time.

The stock pond sports wooden ducks
carrying American flags for Memorial Day
and we can’t begin to comprehend,
let alone, mourn the hundred thousand fallen.

Poppies


Every time I pass the driveway of 906 Chileno Valley Rd., I admire the wild poppies that guard the gate. I think of the unnamed man who mows the weeds each spring and leaves the poppies undisturbed. And year after year they reward him with fallen pieces of the sun to greet us all. I keep thinking I want to write him a poem and leave it in his mailbox, but no words come.
.

RECYCLED coronavirus haiku


RECYCLED

Turkey vulture collects
sins of the dead, resurrects them 
in guano time.

Coronavirus 
lays siege, our homes, battlefields 
are strewn with the dead. 

We seek refuge 
in houses, too small to shelter 
us from the world.

Our world shrinks 
exponentially as we shelter in place, 
this plague no one can see. 

We count the dead 
indiscriminately not 
wanting to know the score.

The tally is 
always the same, us zero, 
the grim reaper won.

Turkey vultures 
Line up on fence posts waiting
for their next meal.

5/29/20

The house on Gravenstein


The old farmhouse on Gravenstein highway settles deeper into the earth. And here we are, in the midst of a housing shortage. I would dearly love to rescue it from oblivion. Salvage its bones. Lately vandals have come to release the windows from their prison. Shards of glass, forgotten beaches, the porch sags, the roof follows suit, the shingles are learning to fly. I remember once, a long time ago the father who spray-painted on the side of the house, I love you kids! Love, Dad. His visible anguish haunted me. And I can’t help but think of the woman who left so abruptly, perhaps in the middle of the night from that failed marriage, with her children in tow. What atrocity was the final straw? His visible anguish there for the commuters to see, haunted me for years. And the father, his heart broken over the loss of his children, reflected here in the house falling to rack and ruin, slowly through the ages. And I think of those children, most likely now with children of their own, did they carry the grief into the next generation, raising children who could never forgive their father, or themselves? The house becomes a metaphor for a failed marriage from so long ago. Windows, broken eyes that can’t see, the heart of the house exposed to the elements. When you let go. Soon the rains will come and seek the lowest common denominator—the floor and the basement—turning that house back into slurry and loam, a harvest of time. How easy it is to forget that marriage needs tending just like the garden, and the house.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

ODES TO THINGS, 2 poems, ODE TO A PENCIL, ODE TO MY WATER FLASK(Hammer)


ODE TO A PENCIL

Pencil, you are a ray of golden sun 
blazing in a field of unripe corn.
You are the wheat bending in the breeze
waiting for an artist to come along,
say, van Gogh, with his bundle of tools, 
to waken from his siesta 
beneath the haywain
and immortalize it in a painting
before he lends an ear 
to his old friend, Gauguin.
Pencil, you are a place 
where blackbirds and crows 
patrol the hedgerows like shadows,
and you whisper secret words 
to the ears of corn 
patiently listening in the field.
Your eraser, pink as a newborn dawn,
does not diminish your mighty voice.
I love the piney scent trapped 
within your Ticonderoga 
cedar heartwood—
it speaks of pungent forests 
on steep mountain slopes, 
where a conjunction of rivers 
stitches its way to the sea.
if I were to squander your stories, 
you might lie fallow, 
not plowing the empty fields 
in the siege of my mind,
losing me on graphite trailheads,
or leading me deeper into the wilderness.
Pencil, you are a fortress of thought.
And your stories, immortal as time,
are merely hibernating, 
waiting for another day, 
perhaps a day that never comes,
or for a night that never ends.


ODE TO MY WATER FLASK

You are the magenta sequence
of the last shuddering throes 
of the fiery sunset, 
you are the turquoise of the sea,
and inside you are round as a thought,
and dark as night, perhaps 
even the full moon sleeps inside you.
You are a brisk mountain stream
for you hold cool, clear water, 
more precious than life itself. 
Ancient artesian wells 
and underground rivers 
were your immortal ancestors.
Sweet stalagmites in dark caves 
pointed to the secret depths 
of darkness and serpentine 
passageways leading to the sea
where clouds on the horizon 
are laden with the promise 
of distant rain, perhaps
pondering the mystery
of a squall far out to sea.

5/27/20
Class poems for Hammer Montessori ES

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Electronic Teaching Journal


Its really been a challenge teaching electronically. I work as an artist in residence at several schools. At least at Malcolm X ES, in Berkeley, we had met several times in person for our poetry workshops before that dread Friday the 13th when the world as we know it irrevocably changed forever, and it took BUSD a couple of weeks to iron the kinks out with Zoom and Google Meets. By then, some kids had dropped off the radar, and it’s been an effort to get them to join, or come back —even sporadically. But I was also able to go much deeper with the students who needed more help and encouragement. So it’s not all bad.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

BLUE LOOM


BLUE LOOM

The sky dreams of robin’s eggs
and the dragonfly has to make a decision 
whether or not to trust the pond, or the sky.
He threads the mirror of the sky
And weaves it with its namesake, the pond
stitching all that blueness together
into a tapestry of light.

5/20/20

Friday, May 15, 2020

Trolling Facebook memories for writing fragments


I love exploring Facebook memories. I find bits of writing and dross that never quite made it to my blog. I often troll through the kruft, and find bits of salvageable writing buried in the comments. It like finding hidden Easter eggs in your software. It’s embedded there, just because. Random acts of delight. I had thought, that since I had been through a year’s cycle of Facebook memory posts a few times over, I had found all the gems. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In this case, a fleeting moment from 2018 still brings back the magic of finding two fallen bluebirds in the grass. Penelope de Montagne had unexpectedly died, and we were all reeling from the shock, I was teaching an overfull schedule against impossible deadlines. Burning the candle at both ends. No wonder the poem never made it to my blog. Maybe this time I will write that poem. But I need to tele-teach in a few moments. Some thing remain the same. Some thing are unimaginable. Who could ever have imagined we’d all be sequestered like this two years later? Sometimes I remember random dream fragments, like this morning, when I looked at the desk. Moving sewing supplies, scraps of paper, spoon and knife. Random, meaningless acts in and of themselves. Nothing tangible to write about. A fleeting moment. I realized that had already dreamed of this moment in time. I e already been here, done that.  But lately I have not wanted to remember my dreams, always so dark, no way out. Pointless. Sequestered. And yet, here we are.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A note to Andrei Codrescu on the launch of his Plague Diaries



Well Andrei, it’s good to see you’re alive. After all these years. Last time I heard from you was in a blanket cc email asking  me whether or not I was dead or alive. Afraid of the outcome, like Schrodinger’s cat, I didn’t know whether to answer it, or to not answer it. Rest assured, I didn’t take it personally. After all it was addressed—or was it undressed—to practically everybody else in Sonoma County. Is you in or is you out?

Yes, I’m delighted to say we’re all still alive and kicking. Gail King and Pat Nolan are on Facebook. Well, Gail is. You know how Pat. Jeffrey Miller is still dead. Hunce Voelcker, too. I wonder if his Brooklyn Bridge castle still stands in the deepwoods of Monte Rio?

I finally got around to scanning my old slides if it. All this free time. If you want to see them, give a shout. It’s fairly quiet in this neck of the woods. No one is out and about, it’s like a rollback in time to the 1960s sans logging trucks. The Summer of Love hasn’t yet happened. We’re all honing our backwoods skills. Victory gardens and foraging. Everybody’s baking bread. We’re all getting fat. And we howl nightly with the neighbors. Lately the coyotes have taken to joining us.

Glad to see you’re here. As you know, there is no there there. On some level, via group memory, we never quite let go of you and your stories. And you’ve no idea who is am, I was one of the young poets taking sprout in poetry’s garden. You are still part of the strange  Ur text of our lives. And we’re delighted that you are in fine fettle  too. You’re looking good. What a long strange trip it’s been. Carry on.
Bliss Buys Cochran saw my note and wrote: I'm also glad you're still around, Andrei. You probably don't even remember me, but maybe you remember the Sonoma County Stump, where Mo and I both worked. I believe you submitted some articles (a column?), it's been 50 years so forgive me if my memory's vague. I look forward to your Plague Diary and I hope you'll be safe in the epicenter. Tried to friend you, but FB says you already have too many friends—5,000!...never knew they could put a limit on your friends. Wonder if THEY'RE all still around.
I told Bliss that I posted her note to AndreI Codrescu. If you go to his author page you can like it and then leave a message there directly if you would like.
Andrei wrote back: Wow! What a blast from the past. Not quite sure who’s who but I’ve been in touch with Pat. I love his Lufe of Crine, his novels and blog. I’m back in New York after 50 years or do... living in Brooklyn. It’s like I left 10 mins ago — a huge demonstration just went past toward the Brooklyn Bridge, probably about to meet thousands in the other side in the old rad Lower East Side.
I have occasional bouts of nostalgia about Monte Rio but too busy to indulge it. I post 3x/a week a video Plague Journal at codrescu.com/my-news. If you want to see it on FB it’s at the Andrei Codrescu Here page. I wonder what Jeff would have thought about the internet, but he’d have recognized all this, it’s just crazy continued. I like your memoir and yes, I’d love to see those pics. Maybe send by We Share or Mail Drop?
Stay sane compadres, love,
Andrei
I said, Andrei,  Bliss Buys and Joe Leary ran the Sonoma County Stump, I was photographer and poetry editor, probably how I met Pat. But then I began to cut my poetic teeth by organizing readings at the Cotati Cabaret, and Sonoma State, circa 1979.I think you were long gone by then. But the stories of you survived. You were the poet in absentía at our gatherings. I remember when the Jeffrey Miller’s posthumous book came out, we read his poems from inside a redwood tree. Drinking may have been involved. But Marianne Ware was always championing your stories. You could hardly forget Marianne, Jewish mama as wide as she was tall, and a generous soul to go with it. If we ever get out of this alive, I will start scanning those photos very soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Electronic Teaching Journal, nothing new, hands recipe

Electronic Teaching Journal 5/12

Today I taught my newly reinvented hands poetry recipe that I developed from one of John Oliver Simon‘s lessons from Poetry Inside Out, but it was too simplistic, so I complicated the lesson up a bit, and offered more open-ended starter line options etc.

Then, when I was going through my teaching notes, I gleaned some of my old teaching files while looking for more support material. I happened upon an old teaching folder filled with drawings of hands, and exercises I developed from a workshop that Veronica Cunningham taught a long time ago, with California Poets in the Schools.

I had used that lesson and developed an art unit as well for Young Audiences. So, in a sense, the evolving lesson is part of the JOS teaching legacy because John was also there in Bishop, and that was my first time being with him on an extended basis after we broke up, so we were going through a lot.

But by revisiting the hands recipe, I had Inadvertently come full circle, and also paid homage to the beginning and the end. Call it the Alpha and the Omega if you will. The idea, that no matter how original we think we might be, there is always something that came before our latest brilliant idea. We are always holding onto, and beholden to the past. We all walk in one another’s shadows.

And that poetry recipe that I did on the backside of Sierra Nevada range in Bishop so long ago with Veronica Cunningham, developed into a full-blown art lesson that included symbolism and the origins of writing as well as picturegrams. I discovered that some of the poem recipes I was using from John Oliver Simon‘s Poetry Inside Out anthology have come full circle. Here I was, thinking I was developing a new lesson that was based upon an old lesson. But it was really the old, and the new colliding.

But what I really want to talk about is that prepping lessons for the process of electronic teaching has gotten me to go back into all these old files that, in some cases, haven’t been touched in two decades.

It’s a trip down memory lane to see my old self and the future self all at once. We are living in a post coronavirus world, nothing will ever be the same. So now is a good a time as any to let go of the old, so that the new ideas may come in.

I was talking about the teaching process with one of my teachers, Colleen Flores, about how difficult it was to teach via Zoom. Here we are all huddled around a tiny screen looking at each other, we’re insect-sized facsimiles of ourselves. I realized how much I rely upon my body, the dancing that I do in front of the classroom does not translate across the mediums. I am limited to my face being in the spotlight.

To teach with only your face as the only throughline, and knowing how self-conscious I am about all the strange and funny faces I make, I realized anew that teaching is more akin to acting, and stand-up comedy than ever. Because all that we are, we are merely talking heads.

I have to plan in advance so that students can see my hands. Forget about the rest of my body—it doesn’t exist. I only exist from the neck up. And God knows I’m trying to hide my neck it’s a frightening sight to see it on the Internet like that. And on it goes.

5/12

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Bioluminescence


I remember once, after pasteup and layout was done at The Paper (Bohemian), after we put it to bed (all nighters were common), we traipsed out to Goat Rock under a full moon, and  the bioluminescence of the red tide dinoflagellates turned the waves azure, so we began to write our names and ephemeral poems in the sand. They glowed for a moment, then disappeared into the night.

Because Southern California is experiencing unprecedented bioluminescence, The byproduct of red tide—and no one is there to witness it, I have become obsessed with it. These memory fragments go nowhere but they juice me, and so I write—even so.

Friday, May 8, 2020

San Geronimo Valley Community Center Spring Art Exhibit, 2020

Spring flowers, Hick's Valley, West Marin. (Photo)
ARTIST STATEMENT

I had been ogling a deluxe Stabilo pencil set for over a year, it arrived all the way from England in a beautiful cherrywood box, just when the coronavirus struck. Some Friday the 13th. My mind was alternately elastic, or a black hole—expanding and contracting—leaving me lost on alien shores of doubt and regret. I couldn’t make art. I couldn’t think. I had the attention span of a newt. The only thing that saved me was driving theback roads to my job. Car botanizing on the back-backroads of home. All this beauty and I couldn’t even leave my car. So beautiful, it almost hurts. I went the long way home whenever possible, sometimes taking hours to get home. This tree, and rock became my anchor. My salvation. I watched the greenery meld into a rainbow fest of flowers. First on the scene were the colors of the sun—buttercups and creamcups, meadowfoam and popcorn flowers, followed by the blazoning poppies, fiery dock, and the magenta flame of mallow, and owl’s clover, the sacred indigo breath of sky lupine, and the majestic finale of purple ookow, and Ithuriel’s spears—secret yarrow in the distance. Meanwhile, the mountain witnessed the passage of the season. In this way I began to find my out of the horror of what is, and what will be for a long time to come. This meadow, my salvation.Tomorrow, the hills will be a little less green, a fleeting moment in time. I am reminded of Robert Duncan’s poem:

“Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow.”

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

When I was a young and uninformed poet, Robert Duncan always included me in readings, encouraged me to keep on writing. —Maureen Hurley


First ever electronic art show while under quarantine. 


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Three Alexander Valley School freewrites


CORONA ACROSTIX

Come to the window
Open the heart of the day
Return to the beginning
   where anything was possible
Or begin a new dream where we reinvent the future
Nothing can stop us now,
   only our imaginations where we become
A window into the past, and the future.


FREEWRITE WHAT MIRANDA SAID:

Writing about the unsaid, the unspoken, needing to name it, but afraid to invoke its name. Call it a crown, it was the beginning and the end of the world as we knew it, our crowning achievement, sawdust in our mouths, as we hunker down and wait for a new day, a new language. We hide in Prospero‘s Cave, and can only imagine a brave new world that awaits us. What shall we pack for our journey into the abyss?

THE DESTINY OF WATER

Once I was the clear vision of the spring,
then I became the rivulet building speed,
gathering momentum until the mud filled my mouth,
in my angry dance to the sea where turbulent waters
obscured my path, I raged in my angry dance,
until I could no longer see where I was going,
or grasp what obscure future awaited me.
No bright shining path, no Andean glacier to greet me,
only the scales of strange fish in foreign seas.
I think of Neruda and his beloved Isla Negra,
the place where he felt most at home,
where even in his exile, he always returned to,
again and again, especially in dreams.

5/6/20

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Electronic Teaching Journal

Electronic Teaching Journal

After completing three sessions with my Berkeley students, the work they are producing is astounding. I didn’t think that the work would’ve been this good had we not met in person previously. They were already on a roll. 

But teaching via zoom or Google Meets has its challenges—to say the least. At first, we divided up the class into two sections. But not everyone would attend the appropriate section, which cause some havoc. And sometimes kids didn’t get around to finishing their poems and/or sending them into us. 

We meet each Friday from 10 until 11:30, not including the one-on-one one teacher conference time we have before each class and after each class. So the one-hour class really takes us two hours just to teach. And we’re really co-teaching more than ever in this medium.

Then all my students email the poems to me in varying shapes and forms. Obviously the easiest way is when the students type up their work on their  Chromebooks. But since the students are writing in their journals too, oftentimes the parents will take a bad photo and email it to me, some of which I can’t download. 

One poem came in so large that I could only see the upper right quadrant of the poem and it was sideways, so of course I couldn’t read it, let alone download it and Gmail actually stalled during the download. I eventually found a workaround using both my iPad and my MacBook. It essentially involved accessing the thumbnail and using it versus the 10 MB photo that was sent. Google or rather Gmail stalls at anything over 10 MB. I don’t think most people realize that if they send a large file Gmail loses its mind.

For the most part, students are very focused and produce amazing results. One of the benefits of teaching electronically is that I can meet with students one-on-one as they’re writing, to suggest deeper edits, or to add more information.

I find myself telling stories in a different way in order to make the poetic concept more accessible to students. For example, if they have not included a strong comparison, it is far easier for me to go back and ask them to add a comparison electronically than it would be if we were the traditional classroom setting. I find myself also telling stories about how to get them to deepen their metaphors or comparisons. I don’t usually use the word metaphor. 

And I find that because I’m not in the classroom and I can’t use my body language, I have to cut to the chase differently, and resort to other tricks. My worldview is much smaller than it used to be. My world stage is rather smaller, so I am limited to using my face. even working my hands in is a challenge. No body language. It is exceedingly hard to only teach with a half a face and have little use of your hands. We don’t realize how important it is to demonstrate ideas using our bodies. Perhaps it’s kinesthetic learning, but the idea that we convey meaning with more than just our eyes or hands is a critical component of teaching.

Day one of my Brave New World with such wondrous creatures in it. Because I was uncertain as to how the lesson would come across the electronica teaching format, I opted to go back to something we had done the previous time we had met in class which was over a month ago. We had created an electronic version of odes. Since they were familiar with the process, it made it easier for them to go on a scavenger hunt around the house. As we shared our items, we talked about creating 6 to 7 images, or pictures with our scavenger hunt items. We had a little show and tell, a sharing process for each person to share shared their own object, and with that I sent them off to write about their objects.

5/5

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Repaying the debt

Repaying the debt. I have spent time with the people who live in Monument Valley. Like the Dinė elder, artist/ actor, Jesse Holiday. When I asked how he was in Irish, he answered in Spanish. At Red Rock Door, e juggled languages while waiting in line for water at the well pump behind the post office. Yá'át'ééh. Ahéhee.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. We all live in one another’s shadows. Ní neart go cur le chéile. There is no strength without unity. We must build together. Is cuimhin linn. We remember. Ireland remembers. A debt we can never repay, but we can pay it forward to the Navajo Nation. Míle buíochas—a thousand thanks.

When I was young, my grandmother told me—in the oral tradition—the story of how the Cherokees came to our aid during the Great Famine. The Trail of Tears. What few know, is that the Famine, An Gorta Mór, was an act of deliberate genocide created by the British Crown. Sort of like today. There was plenty of food in Ireland, just not for the Irish, so when the potato crops failed, there was nothing for the Irish to eat. But the British landed gentry feasted most sumptuously on delicacies produced in Ireland.

She said the Cherokees also sent us shipments of corn. It was decades, nearly a lifetime, before I saw any mention of this story in print, the only correction I had to add was Choctaw. Or maybe the Cherokee donations were never documented. They were both on the Trail of Tears. Some 60, 000 people displaced, yet they still managed to send relief to Ireland. We walk in one another’s shadows.