Friday, January 31, 2014

The cheerfulness of my garden

I love flowers, and I particularly love flowering bushes or perennials. Annuals -- come and gone -- are probably the most showy, but things that come back please me most in my own garden. I also find blue and purple flowers difficult to photograph (this reminds me of my mother, who was always trying to get a photo of her morning glories that was the right shade of blue, and whinging about the developing) so I was pleased with the way the iPhone rendered this early bloom on the germander. You can see some of the whitish stems on the new growth of the plant in this picture. The entire bush is the freshest thing in the garden right now. Breath of spring!

Li Po wrote of springtime, too. Peach blossoms!


Where the dogs bark
by roaring waters,
whose spray darkens
the petals' colours
Deep in the woods
deer at times are seen;

The valley noon:
one can hear no bell,
But wild bamboos
cut across bright clouds,
Flying cascades
hang from jasper peaks;

No one here knows
which way you have gone:
Two, now three pines
I have leant against!

From Penguin Classics Li Po and Tu Fu; poems selected and translated with an introduction and notes by Arthur Cooper. 1973. Page 105. In this book, there is also a discussion of this poem as it relates to the philosophy of teaching without words. The master will not even meet him but allow him to learn by looking about. This is compared to Wittgenstein's, "Don't think: Look!"

Visiting A Taoist On Tiatien Mountain

Amongst bubbling streams
a dog barks; peach blossom
is heavy with dew; here
and there a deer can
be seen in forest glades!
No sound of the mid-day
bell enters this fastness
where blue mist rises
from bamboo groves;
down from a high peak
hangs a waterfall;
no one knows where he has gone, so sadly I rest,
with my back leaning
against a pine.

Li Po

This is another version I found here, at the Poem Hunter.  You will see that there is a dog and there is a bell! These poems illustrate the difficulties we can have when knowing about poetry in languages which are not are own. Still, I think the effort is interesting and very rewarding.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wind stunted tree at the edge of Lake Superior

I am feeling somewhat like this tree tonight: hanging in there and getting the job done, and maybe just a little battered.

And then there was this street tree on one of the daily walks we managed this week. As a harbinger of spring, it has managed to put out blossoms right at the trunk! So I need to think about blossoming where you have been planted. It's been an odd day.

Quite a while back, Issa wrote an early spring haiku. This is the David Lanoue translation from his Haiku Guy website:

spring begins
as it has deigned to do
for a thousand ages


Well, yes. . .

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I am looking for a picture to go with Mahler's music

                    And have decided on this one with clouds from last year.

And on this poem by Robert Pinsky, though it is about a different time of day. It is in Robert Pinsky Selected Poems, FSG, 2011, pages 73-74. The poem was also published as Section 2 of the "City Elegies" in The Figured Wheel; new and collected poems, 1966-1996, Farrar Straus Giroux,1996.  You can read all of these elegies together here. They are delicious, melodic and not difficult to understand.

House Hour

Now the pale honey of a kitchen light
Burns at an upstairs window, the sash a cross.
Milky daylight moon,
Sky scored by phone lines. Houses in rows
Patient as cows.

Dormers and gables of an immigrant street
In a small city, the wind-worn afternoon
Shading into night.

Hundreds of times before
I have felt it in some district
Of shingle and downspout at just this hour.
The renter walking home from the bus
Carrying a crisp bag. Maybe a store
Visible at the corner, neon at dusk.
Macaroni mist fogging the glass.

Unwilled, seductive as music, brief
As dusk itself, the forgotten mirror
Brushed for dozens of years
By the same gray light, the same shadows
Of soffit and beam end, a reef
Of old snow glowing along the walk.

If I am hollow, or if I am heavy with longing, the same:
The ponderous houses of siding,
Fir framing, horsehair plaster, fired bricks
In a certain light, changing nothing, but touching
Those separate hours of the past
And now at this one time
Of day touching this one, last spokes
Of light silvering the attic dust.

Think about writing elegies to a place, a place at a particular time. Notice in this poem, for instance , the details of older home construction, accumulated snow, and immigrant neighborhoods that are specific to older Eastern cities. Often elegies are written for a person who has died, but an elegy for a place can also contain a quality of remembrance of what has passed and gone. Specific details, as in these poems, focus the attention.

The poem is lyrical, but not regular in line length, number of stresses per line, nor lines per stanza. Each line begins with a capital letter, regular punctuation is used and often the line breaks are concurrent with phrases, but not always. There are some very elegant linebreaks in this poem that will repay your attention. Read it out loud!

I also think the next to last word is very interesting because it brings in the suggestion of Attic, which refers to Ancient Greece and takes one even further back in time.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One of my favorite camellias, Purity

We have grown this camellia in a tub near our front door for many years. It is just beginning to bloom now. It has lots of buds and will continue to bloom for quite some time. When I worked at the library, I used to wear one in my hair and it lasted all day. 

It is brilliantly white, like one of the well-laundered shirts my father always wore to work at the General Electric Company. When they were no longer suitable for work, he cut the collar off the band and wore one to work in the garden, or on all the house improvements he made. He would roll up the sleeves first, and then in summer cut off the lower parts of the sleeves. For a long time he had these shirts done at a laundry. They came back wrapped around a cardboard (these "shirt cardboards" were a favored art material and much prized by us.) Later, the shirts were also wrapped in a plastic bag imprinted with the legend, "LOOK NIFTY, BE THRIFTY, USE SWIFTY. (Swift Cleaners) This was before the time of Ziplocs--we re-used these bags for everything. Just the other day, I found one wrapped around a doll I had before I went to school. I will scan it soon, and add that to my collection of sacred family artifacts. 

Tonight, a poem that I have loved for many years, since I first hear the poet read it here in California about the time his book, THE WANT BONE, came out. Some of the reasons I love it are personal, like my love of textile details and sewing. I also like all the labor history and specificity about the Triangle Fire, and the differing places and circumstances where clothing is made. I like VERY MUCH all the specific details that are recounted so clearly and in such a loving way. I admire the organization of the poem in three-line stanzas. It contains lists, stories and all sorts of material in this form. It is a truly admirable piece of work and unlike any other poem I know.

If you get a chance to hear this poet read in person, be sure to take it. He is s superb enunciator of poems.


The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes—

The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

A third before he dropped her put her arms
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers—

Like Hart Crane’s Bedlamite, “shrill shirt ballooning.”
Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked

Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord. Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans

Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,

Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers
To wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,

The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:

George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit

And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,

The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,
The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

From Robert Pinsky Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2011, pages 102-104

My Birches

I love these trees at the edge of my Michigan yard and am posting them now to make myself feel better, because last night's phone post didn't go up, and I just discovered that and reposted it. So then I started a short post (for tonight) about the moon and Mahler's music. I must have deleted it instead of saving it, because it is gone, gone, gone gone! And I don't have the photo handy now because I had saved it in an earlier uncompleted post. Now I'll stop whining. Maybe for a long time.

I just got back from my poetry writing group! I was so glad to see my gang again! We all do such interesting work! And now to bed, and tomorrow night a better effort here. . .

Monday, January 27, 2014

Electrical Tower

This is a replica of the solution to downtown lighting nearly 100 years ago. The City Fathers arranged for a tall tower to be constructed at the main downtown intersection of San Jose, California.

It is slightly funny now, but it must have been a real disappointment when it didn't shed enough light that far to be useful. In loving memory, the structure has been duplicated in San Jose's history park. This is a delightful place to visit and walk around and take pictures of your children! 

No poem tonight, but this is sort of a poetic structure. Come and visit!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Oh, where's my name among the poets?"

Thinking about the moon--which you cannot help doing if you are reading Classical Chinese poetry in translation, which I have been doing for the past several days--I found this picture of moonrise over my daughter's barn to establish the mood. I have loved this one ever since the poet Laura passed out a linear translation and I made this attempt to honor it.

Here is David Hinton's version of this poem by Tu Fu from The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, edited by Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 2003, page 115.


In delicate beach-grass, a slight breeze.
The boat's mast teetering up into solitary
Night, plains open away beneath foundering stars.
A moon emerges and, the river vast, flows.

Will poems bring honor? My career
Lost to age and sickenss, buffeted, adrift
On the wind--is there anything like it? All
Heaven and earth, and one lone sand-gull.  (David Hinton)

and here is Arthur Cooper's version from the Penguin Classics, Li Po and Tu Fu
Penguin, 1973, page 237


    By bent grasses
in a gentle wind
     Under straight mast
I'm alone tonight

     And the stars hang
above the broad plain
      But moon's afloat 
in this Great River:

     Oh, where's my name 
among the poets?
     Official rank?
'Retired for ill-health.'

     Drifting, drifting,
what am I more than
     A single gull
between sky and earth?        (Arthur Cooper)

I find the choices made in lineation very interesting. I also note that Cooper resolves the question:
what kind of gull is a sand-gull? by just saying "gull." Tonight I did a Google Image search for sand gull and got a lot of pictures of all different kinds of gulls, mostly on the beach, or sand. . .

Sill, I think it is a beautiful poem. I urge you to try versions or translations of poems in languages you might have some knowledge of. It is excellent practice!

Don't forget to click the link at the end of the first paragraph above for my version of this poem. I am going to try to find the linear translation that was passed out that night, but it might have succumbed to time and its effects. And here's a photo of a gull I took when my grandsons were tossing bread!


Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking forward to another spring; back yard plum in bloom

I don't have any peach blossoms in my archive, but I wanted to use this poem! This plum was planted by us many years ago, two trees in one hole, Howard's Miracle (large yellow very sweet) Elephant Heart (huge, red-fleshed, purple skinned) and then the Santa Rosa plum (the common, vulgar prune plum) which we grafted on later (pretty proud of the success of that graft!) when the nurseryman told, us we needed a pollinator for much fruit. I love the gorgeous array of stamens on plum blossoms. And I love how early they bloom. It's been quite a while, though since we have seen any bees. . .

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions Ltd.,

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sunset through wires, American-style

This photo was taken near the end of the Long Trip, when we were just a few hours from home in San Jose. America! What we have known and loved! Tonight's poem is from one of our contemporary great poets, Li-Young Lee, who after a family life that took him here and there, came to rest in America. I think it certainly has echoes of the Classical Chinese poets in the last few posts. We are not finished either with the Ancients of China, nor with Li-Young Lee. Read this lovely tribute to his family and his heritage now. And stay tuned.

I Ask My Mother To Sing

She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.

I've never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.

But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more,

Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.

Li-Young Lee from Rose, BOA Editions, 1986

This is the photo of the poet I took after his reading in San Jose, many years ago. He was carrying, in addition to his book and manuscripts, a battered copy of the poems of Wallace Stevens. Before that time, I had been sort of repelled by the difficulty I had in understanding Stevens' poetry (that cigar, that snowman, that Blue Guitar, that jar in Tennessee!) but since that time, I have read and considered it more and perhaps we will even have one on this blog soon! There is some pretty great stuff there!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Tonight met old friends from the library for dinner and an author event featuring Nicholas Carr and Robin Sloan at the Campbell Heritage Theatre. The photos of the stage are unremarkable, but I loved the glass balls floating illuminated in the pool outside.


Blue mountains north of the walls,
White river winding about them;
Here we must make separation
And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.
Mind like a floating white cloud,
Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances
Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance.
Our horses neigh to each other
       as we are departing.

Li Po (701-762) in the version by Ezra Pound 

in The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, p. 82.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wind on the Water

Planet Earth 

It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet, 
has to be ironed, the sea in its whiteness; 
and the hands keep on moving, 
smoothing the holy surfaces. 

—– In Praise of Ironing by Pablo Neruda

It has to be loved the way a laundress loves her linens,
the way she moves her hands caressing the fine muslins
knowing their warp and woof,
like a lover coaxing, or a mother praising.
It has to be loved as if it were embroidered
with flowers and birds and two joined hearts upon it.
It has to be stretched and stroked.
It has to be celebrated.
O this great beloved world and all the creatures in it.
It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet.

The trees must be washed, and the grasses and mosses.
They have to be polished as if made of green brass.
The rivers and little streams with their hidden cresses
and pale-coloured pebbles
and their fool's gold
must be washed and starched or shined into brightness,
the sheets of lake water
smoothed with the hand
and the foam of the oceans pressed into neatness.
It has to be ironed, the sea in its whiteness.

and pleated and goffered, the flower-blue sea
the protean, wine-dark, grey, green, sea
with its metres of satin and bolts of brocade.
And sky – such an 0! overhead – night and day
must be burnished and rubbed
by hands that are loving
so the blue blazons forth
and the stars keep on shining
within and above
and the hands keep on moving.

It has to be made bright, the skin of this planet
till it shines in the sun like gold leaf.
Archangels then will attend to its metals
and polish the rods of its rain.
Seraphim will stop singing hosannas
to shower it with blessings and blisses and praises
and, newly in love,
we must draw it and paint it
our pencils and brushes and loving caresses
smoothing the holy surfaces.

© 1994 P.K. Page

A short portion of this poem was quoted in Poet's Choice, the collection of essays by Edward Hirsch that I have been working my way through, and discussing here) for the last several days. In Section 59, which begins on page 195, he talks about the work of P. K. [Patricia Kathleen] Page (1916-2010) a Canadian writer who was unfamiliar to me. But I have ordered her book, and look forward to reading some more. I got the full text of the poem from the Green Blog Network here.

It has made me very happy to have taken so many landscape photographs; I love and cherish the earth, too. The photo above was taken in October in North Dakota from Highway 94 on the way to Bismarck from Fargo.The poem is a beautifully extended and embellished metaphor and includes everything from the best laundry techniques to artist's work and materials. Also, archangels and seraphim! This is powerful stuff! Look about you at what is growing now. Today on the Daily Walk, we saw plum blossom buds and blooming narcissus. Of course, the weather is one reason too many people live in Silicon Valley, , ,

Monday, January 20, 2014

Madison Buffalo Jump State Park in the distance

Near Bozeman on Highway 90, traveling west through this stunningly beautiful landscape, I saw this wonderful cloud in the deep-blue sky and, from the car, caught just part of it with my iPhone. Now I can see the mesa-topped butte on the horizon, and wonder if it is part of this buffalo-jump park shown on Google. Anyway, I am imagining a buffalo-jump there and am glad no one does this any more, even if it was "an efficient means of slaughter." Of course, I would have prepared and eaten the dried buffalo meat and slept warm in buffalo skins like everybody else in my tribe, if I had been there. Sometimes, where your food comes from and how it gets to you and who or what is damaged in the process, probably can and mostly must be ignored. Everything has ramifications. . .

Tonight, again we have a poem by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanaugh. It was reprinted in the book Poet's Choice, by Edward Hirsch, which I described here. It is on pages 105 and 106.

A Quick Poem

I was listening to Gregorian chants
in a speeding car
on a highway in France.
The trees rushed past. Monks' voices
sang praises to an unseen god
(at dawn, in a chapel trembling with cold).
Domine, exaudi orationem meam,
male voices pleaded calmly
as if salvation were just growing in the garden.
Where was I going? Where was the sun hiding?
My life lay tattered 
on both sides of the road, brittle as a paper map.
With the sweet monks
I made my way toward the clouds, deep blue,
heavy, dense,
toward the future, the abyss,
gulping hard tears of hail.
Far from dawn, far from home,
In place of walls--sheet metal.
Instead of a vigil--a flight.
Travel instead of remembrance.
A quick poem instead of a hymn.
A small, tired star raced
up ahead
and the highway's asphalt shone,
showing where the earth was,
where the horizon's razor lay in wait,
and the black spider of evening
and night, widow of so many dreams.

Think about writing your own poem based on a long drive. Notice how Zagajewski effectivly varies the line lengths. Perhaps you will mention a feature of the landscape, or something you are listening to (or switching off) on the radio. Think about the difference between sheet metal and live things, like spiders and trees. Think about hope and despair. Think about how we are preserving the buffalo, almost extirpated by our own mighty hunters. Think about a quick poem. Sleep well.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Idea of Belted Cattle

Someone, at some distant time, decided that breeding to maintain this white belt was a good idea. The breed had other useful qualities: thriftiness and more trouble-free births among them. It's had a lot of popularity in several European countries, and in America, and has had various ups and downs in population. Accounts of the history of the breed vary, but it has existed for hundreds of years. I had wondered about this breed, and was delighted to catch a glimpse from the highway. 

Today was a meeting of the Haiku Poets of Northern California. It was great to see some friends again and play a terrific high-speed haiku writing game using word prompts. From the book table I acquired a book of tanka (originally Japanese five-line poems from which haiku developed) by our late haiku friend (and also science-fiction author) Paul O. Williams.

So tonight's poems are his tanka from the book, These Audacious Maples, XLIBRIS, 2007. The lines of tanka can be syllable-counted 5-7-5-7-7 or fewer syllables. That is the form Paul uses, these syllables or fewer in a five-line form. It's useful to think about writing many small poems in this way. There is enough room to develop an idea, and not enough to exhaust your reader. Like Belted, or Dutch Belted Cattle, there are variant kinds, longer, shorter and in many languages.

sleeping on a ridge
among mountain laurel
in the morning
the whole river valley
a line of solid white mist

swallows gather
as the last asters bloom blue
thick dust on their leaves . . .
then the swallows are not there
the moon, too, slowly waning

High on the hill
your yellow shirt blazes up
like a golden stone,
like a small woods fire 
in the tinder of my heart.

a morning walk--
on the garden wall
a woman reading
the paper--her slippers scuffed
the smooth skin of her instep

there is no right thing to say
but you must
say something anyhow--
spiderwebs gleam in the sun

Time to cut my nails--
again I remember
they grow at the speed
the Pacific Plate slides north--
quietly today.

Paul O. Williams

Notice how he makes a choice about capitalization or punctuation--not always the same choices, but geared toward the machinery of the poem. 

When someone you care for has gone, and you encounter a scrap-spark of them in something they wrote, it is precious, a reminder of them, of your joy in them, and of the loss. But you can be glad you knew them, and dwell in that pleasure again briefly. 

Good night.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Robins in snow

Of course, this was last winter. Now I am in California and actually have green grass in my front yard. I only knew these were robins when I enlarged the picture. They had come back a little early; the red breasts gave them away. It was a beautiful after-snow day above The Little Union Canal.

The last few days, I have been having a series of nutty, various and time-consuming, computer and update problems. At first my anxious soul screamed "VIRUS" but that seems not to be the case. Mostly, whenever I go through these things I learn a lot, but I kind of wish equipment and software played nicely together without all the hassles. Oh, well.

I am really enjoying the book, Poet's Choice by Edward Hirsch, Harcourt, 2006. Hirsch reworked and rearranged his newspaper essays for this discursive anthology. Since the book is several years old, used copies are available and cheap. Get yourself one; dip in! In the final essay, FAREWELL, he uses Basho's verse:

another year gone--
hat in my hand,
sandals on my feet

which pleased me very much because of my interest in haiku!

In the same essay, he quotes Red Pine's version of Li Po's


Blue mountains to the north of the walls,
White river winding about them;
Here we must make separation
And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.
Mind like a floating white cloud,
Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances
Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance.
Our horses neigh to each other
as we are departing.

(pages 404-405)

Oh, these small, soft, beautiful ancient Chinese poems! We will have to do more of this!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dreaming of Spring

  Just west of Fargo, North Dakota, last year. You can see forever!

Prairie Spring

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.

               ---Willa Cather

(This poem is in the public domain.)

I have been trying to find a poem of Loren Eiseley's, but this is what I found instead. Good work, Willa! 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Makers and the things they make

I took an art class and the teacher brought with her this puppet from Indonesia. Later, in another class, I made this etching after a photograph I had taken. I have loved the delicate arms of these puppets ever since I saw my first one. There are so many beautiful made things all over the world. And the puppets of this tradition, Wayang Golek and the sister tradition of Wayang Kulit are surely among the finest.

Another of the made things that had long interested me is diaries, notebooks and journals. I happen to live in a rich time. The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982 is available on Kindle and used copies are widely (and cheaply) available. It is the sort of very fat book that should be read in shorter chunks. Oates typed her journal quite faithfully over a long time. The typescript now rests in an archive and she left the selection of entries up to an editor. I think this sort of record kept over long periods of time is valuable and very interesting. I certainly wish I had kept one.

Recently, I read about The Diaries of Hans Christian Andersen, selected and translated by Patricia L. Conroy and Sven H. Rossel, University of Washington Press, 1990. I ordered a copy and it came yesterday. It's in translation, naturally, and only a selection. Andersen was born in 1805, which makes him a century older than my father, who was born in December of 1905. Anderson also made many drawings in his diaries, which is another thing I am very fond of. My favorite illustrated diary is Muriel Foster's Fishing Diary. Over 35 years in the early part of the 20th Century Ms. Foster kept a journal of her fishing expeditions, with watercolors and measurements of the fish she caught and various things that caught her eye by the river. She kept the journal in a long ledger that was made for recording fishing statistics, but her embellishments are strikingly beautiful. The facsimiles of this book are out of print and used copies are quite expensive.

The Anderson Diaries are illustrated in black and white and the drawings he made look like he used pen or pencil. I will know more after I finish the book. H. C. Anderson traveled all over Europe and beyond and met many interesting people on his travels. Here is a sample from page 123:

Wednesday, May 5. [1842] We set sail at 4:30. (It's the anniversary of the day Napoleon died.) I was awakened by the motion. It was very foggy, but the fog had just lifted enough, so that you could see the whole coastline. It looked like a long road on both sides; and behind, low, forest-covered mountains. Gardens, towns, cemeteries alternated. Leafy trees, tall cypresses and flowering fruit trees. The sun broke through just once, and then the warships seemed like transparencies. Therapeia, closed in by forest. Buyukdere, in a bay; this is where Medea is supposed to have been, Somebody showed me Hubsch's house. We came out into the Black Sea in cold fog and wind. The sea was calm; and by 12 o'clock, lovely weather. A little bird flew up to us and stayed on the deck. Down in our lounge there was a canary in a cage singing. Our captain is from Dalmatia and is called Florio. Sundown. I'm suffering from a strange apprehension.

I think I might read a poem that began "We came out onto the Black Sea in cold fog and wind." I know I would love to write one. Many other sentences in this short passage could trigger a poem. Look for them; I am doing so now. I love the single-word sentence "Sundown." I love the idea that this traveler wrote these thoughts and images down so many years ago, and I can read them now. The place where Medea was supposed to have been. So many stories! So many lives, long and short.

Lyric Postmodernism

This my grandchild four years ago. She is holding out littlest dachshund. After my grandkids play with our dog, they have to take a bath and put on fresh clothing because my son has a severe dog allergy. So she makes the most of her chances. Not a bad plan for many things, really. I think you can make the necessary connections with tonight's poem by Brenda Hillman.

Partita for sparrows

We bury the sparrows of Europe
with found instruments,
their breast light as an ounce of tea
where we had seen them off the path,
their twin speeds of shyness and notched wings
near the pawnbroker's house by the canal,
in average neighborhoods of the resisters,
or in markets of princely delphinium and flax,
flying from awnings at unmarked rates
to fetch crumbs from our table half-spinning
back to clefs of grillwork on external stairs
we would descend much later;

in rainy neighborhoods of the resisters
where streets were taken one by one,
where consciousness is a stair or path,
we mark their domains with notched sticks
of hickory or chestnut or ash,
because our cities of princely pallor
should not have unmarked graves.
Lyric work, flight or arch, death bridge
to which patterned being is parallel:
they came as if from the margins
of a painting, their average hearts half-spinning
our little hourglass up on the screen.

Brenda Hillman in Lyric Postmodernisms; an Antholoogy of Contemporary Innovative Poetics, edited by Reginald Shepherd, Counterpath Press, Denver, 2008, page 111.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Bravest Duckling

When Mrs.Mallard brought her ducklings up to visit last spring, this little one was the only one who ventured inside the patio railing. By now he or she will be all grown up and perhaps was one of the mallards that enjoyed my cracked corn recently. I am especially fond of the lavender touch that showed up on his feet when I lightened the underexposed picture.

I have Tomas Transtromer's The Great Enigma, translated by Robin Fulton on my Kindle, and because of this poem, I need to find out how many ducks (about) live on the Earth just now. I know there are more people, but the poem was written a few decades ago.

Dream Seminar

Four thousand million on Earth.
They all sleep, they all dream.
Faces throng, and bodies, in each dream--
the dreamt-of people are more numerous
than us. But take no space . . . .
You doze off at the theater perhaps,
in mid-play your eyelids sink.
A fleeting double exposure: the stage
before you outmaneuvered by a dream.
Then no more stage, it's you.
The theatre in the honest depths!
The mystery of the overworked director!
Perpetual memorizing of new plays . . .
A bedroom. Night.
The darkened sky is flowing through the room.
The book that someone fell asleep from lies
still open
sprawling wounded at the edge of the bed.
The sleeper's eyes are moving,
they're following the text without letters
in another book--
illuminated, old-fashioned, swift.
A dizzying commedia inscribed
within the eyelids' monastery walls.
A unique copy. Here, this very moment.
In the morning, wiped out.
The mystery of the great waste!
Annihilation. As when suspicious men
in uniforms stop the tourist--
open his camera, unwind the film
and let the daylight kill the picture:
thus dreams are blackened by the light of day.
Annihilated or just invisible?
There is a kind of out-of-sight dreaming
that never stops. Light for other eyes.
A zone where creeping thoughts learn to walk
Faces and forms regrouped.
We're moving on a street, among people
in blazing sun.
But just as many--maybe more--
we don't see
are in dark buildings,
high on both sides.
Sometimes one of them comes to the window
and glances down on us.

--Tomas Transtromer

I love the imaginative and surprising, yet clear, leaps in this poem! I love the Transtromer imagination! I like the varied line-lengths, too. It makes me wish again that I knew Swedish!

Monday, January 13, 2014


 I took the book The White Indian Boy, a gift to me when I had just turned seven, to the January Yuki Teikei Haiku Society Meeting, where we all shared a long-loved book.

So naturally, yesterday I read it again. And I loved it still. In one place, he and some others hunt a buffalo and shoot so many arrows into him that they spoil the hide. But his Indian mother sewed up the holes and it served him as a warm sleeping robe for a  long time thereafter.

Then I was reminded of my buffalo, a highlight of this summer's cross-country trip. Here he is in another view. You can see how he prefers the short mown grasses by the path. Everybody was taking pictures (quietly) like crazy, But we kept well back and no one had arrows.

The adventures of the author took place in the 1860s and 1870s, and it is slightly different from other Indian Captivity stories, in that he wasn't captured, he decided to go and live with Washakie's tribe when they offered him a pinto pony! He sneaked away and met them at night and lived with them for a couple of years before returning home. They wanted him because the chief's mother had lost all her children (except Washakie) and was deeply depressed.

I also finished Day 13 of the 15 day art challenge given to me  by a friend. I have done something every evening, but nothing has really caught fire. I have been using 4x6 watercolor postcards, so I haven't had to work up a sweat; now I think I need to do it earlier in the day.

So we go along. And along. It's very pleasant, really. But I always thought I might accomplish something. I guess a life is really an accomplishment.
Posted by Picasa

"Most Beauteous of All the Race That Skim the Wave or Soar in Space"

Because I said so!

I love watching the wood ducks! This winter there were ten pairs living by the Little Union Canal in Eagle, Idaho. They are much prettier and daintier than the mallards. This female looks a little shrewish, but usually, she just looks sweet, with her white teardrop-shaped eye makeup. Below is a Poem from The Past that I found--where we find so much--with my search engine. I was just explaining to someone the other day about the classes I took around 1992 to learn how to use a search method called GOPHER, where you typed UNIX commands at the prompt and found a lot of machine language, and lists. At the time I thought it was very exciting, and took all the trainings available through the library. Carol Tefft, from the Los Altos Library Branch was another librarian who was early interested in this. Carol died this year, sadly, and I know her beautiful grandchildren will miss her very much. I will always remember how excited Carol was about a program called Visicalc that made calculations for you. At a couple of the Library Branch Head meetings, she almost wouldn't shut up about it. It ran from a 5 1/4 inch floppy disc, and you had to load the program every time you used it, but she saw how promising it was.

Now things are a lot easier and here, after this Memory Thread, is the wood duck poem that was published in 1886. The poet is Isaac McClellan, a schoolmate and contemporary of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which places him quite squarely among the giants of that era of American literature. He was also famed as a hunter and outdoor sportsman, both in America and abroad. But, even though he shot a lot of waterfowl, he also recognized their beauty. This poem has been posted on the site, a source of sporting equipment.

The use of iambic tetrameter, with its regular four-stress line, means that the poem (as most others of the time) has a regular, easy-to-read quality that many people recognize as poetry. One of my grandsons would definitely prefer that my own poems rhymed and had a more regular rhythm. Now we can see how parts of this are a little forced and artificial-sounding to our ear. Yet children love this sound in poetry and can still be captivated by its rhythm, as long as they love to hear you read and the TV is turned off, and they are to young for their own cell phones. I am enjoying this while it lasts, even it sometimes I feel like a dinosaur because of my lifelong long of books. I might not use a word like "lakelet" any more, but I think it is quite pretty.


In May-time, when the lilac-plumes
Droop from the branch their purple blooms;
When chestnuts clap their leafy hands,
And every bud with joy expands;
When in the moist, sequester'd nooks
Of woods is heard the call of brooks,
The wood-duck builds its downy nest,
Secure from prowling schoolboy's quest.

The swampy, shallow creeks they haunt,
Where thick woods o'er the waters slant,
Whose interlacing branches make
A dusky evening in the brake;
And there their little nests are made
In hollow mossy log decay'd,
Or where the woodpecker had bored
The crumbling bark to hide his hoard,
Fast by the stream whose ripples beat
The tree-roots of their close retreat.

Most beauteous of all the race
That skim the wave or soar in space,
With plumage fairer than the rays
The bird-of-paradise displays,
A mottled purple gloss'd with green,
All colors in the rainbow seen;
No tropic bird of Indian skies
May rival thy imperial dyes.

Least wary of all fowl that wing
O'er salty bay or inland spring,
They haunt the pond whose reedy shore
Extendeth by the farmer's door,
Or rivulet whose waters trill
Their melodies below the mill;
And here the ambush'd gunner lies
To gather in his lovely prize.

Fair are thy haunts, O bird that glows
With hues of violet and rose,—
By lakelet, by transparent stream,
Fair as the landscape of a dream,
Fair with the drooping groves that throw
Their shadows o'er the current's flow;
Fair with the bordering slopes that lave
Their grasses in the crystal wave,—
The crystal wave reflecting back
The sky-cloud drifting on its track,
Where morn and eve enfold their wing
Celestial, and the bluebirds sing.

McLellan, Isaac. Poems of the Rod and Gun. New York: Henry Thorpe, 1886.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In which I attend a haiku meeting and take pictures only in my head

It has probably been more than a year since I got to attend a meeting of my beloved haiku group in the Edwin Markham ("The Man With a Hoe") House at San Jose's History Park. Each one of us read from a beloved book by an American or Californian author. Roger began the meeting by reading a GREAT story from Saroyan's The Human Comedy. All the time he was reading I noticed that the light coming in through the window illuminated his head in a good way. I wanted to take a picture of him reading with the open book in his hand, but didn't summon up the moxie to call attention away from the reading. This will always be one of those photos that only I can see. As a sort of consolation prize to my self, I took a lot of pictures of the Empire Fire House., just down the block at the history park. By the time I got under the wires for the old-fashioned trolley, I was too close to fit it into the frame. So I took a lot of shots standing in one place. When I got home, I used the app Autostich to combine them. This is the wildly funny result. I think it has something to do with parallax, or something. But it, too, is not the picture I wanted. I wish I had a picture of all of us; there were so many people at the meeting that we had to bring chairs from the other room.

Near the end of the meeting I invited everyone to start reading my blog, and this silliness is now what I am offering. I can only hope that you will read the posts earlier this week for the good poems therein.
Here is one of my haiku from the meeting:

frost damage
near the trunk, still
some good lemons

And so goodnight!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Summer's Ghosts, mid-July

Don't ask me to explain why I like this tonight; I just do! I am in the midst of an extended struggle with Picasa over blogging from it as I have always done. It also makes the hard drive (or something) go click-click-click-click if I ask it to. I thought the laptop was broken,  but it DOES THE SAME THING on aother laptop. Tomorrow, I will try one that hasn't been "upgraded" to Picasa 3.7 which keeps insisting I back up on their cloud even though I don't want to!!!

I'm too frustrated to be poetic, but this picture is somewhat poetic, n'est-ce-pas???

Good night, and good photographs and cooperative computer programs to all my readers!!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Museum silence and calm shadows

I have really been enjoying The Best of the Best American Poetry; 25th anniversary edition
on my Kindle. Sometimes you only have time for a poem or two. Your phone, Kindle or iPad
is usually handy. I have to admit I still probably prefer the slim volume of poems by one author,
but this way of reading is growing easier for me, I chose the photograph above, because to me
it has a sort of calm that accompanies the poem in an interesting way.


Reading Aloud to My Father

I chose the book haphazard
from the shelf, but with Nabokov's first
sentence I knew it wasn't the thing
to read to a dying man:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, it began,
and common sense tells us that our existence 
is but a brief crack of light
between two eternities of darkness.

The words disturbed both of us immediately,
and I stopped. With music it was the same---
Chopin's piano concerto---he asked me
to turn it off. He ceased eating, and drank
little, while the tumors briskly appropriated
what was left of him.

But to return to the cradle rocking. I think
Nabokov had it wrong. This is the abyss.
That's why babies howl at birth,
and why the dying so often reach
for something only they can apprehend.

At the end they don't want their hands
to be under the covers, and if you should put
your hand on theirs in a tentative gesture
of solidarity, they'll pull the hand free;
and you must honor that desire
and let them pull it free.

1996 (The dates at the ends of the poems in this anthology are the dates in which the poem first appeared in one of The Best American Poetry anthologies, not the date of first publication.)

And now Jane Kenyon is dead, and her husband, Donald Hall has written feelingly about her decline and death from leukemia. In addition to Kenyon's father, Nabokov is dead, too, not to mention Chopin. But tonight, you and I are still alive; while we contemplate death, we probably ought not to think about it exclusively. But I think this is a very real and honest poem about Kenyon's experience, and I am pleased to have found it for tonight.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

"All your life you wait for the propitious time"

Landscape by Louise Gluck

Time passes, turning everything to ice.
Under the ice, the future stirred
If you fell into it, you died

It was a time
of waiting, of suspended action.

I lived in the present, which was
that part of the future you could see.
The past floated above my head, 
like the sun and moon, visible but never reachable.

It was a time
governed by contradictions, as in
I felt nothing and
I was afraid.

Winter emptied the trees, filled them again with snow.
Because I couldn't feel, snow fell, the lake froze over.
Because I was afraid, I didn't move;
my breath was white, a description of silence.

Time passed, and some of it became this.
And some of it simply evaporated;
you could see it float above the white trees
forming particles of ice.

All your life you wait for the propitious time.
Then the propitious time 
reveals itself as action taken.

I watched the past move, a line of clouds moving
from left to right or right to left,
depending on the wind. Some days

there was no wind, The clouds seemed
to stay where they were,
like a painting of the sea, more still than real.

Some days the lake was a sheet of glass.
Under the glass, the future made
demure, inviting sounds;
you had to tense yourself so as not to listen.

Time passed; you got to see a piece of it.
The years it took with it were years of winter;
they wold not be missed. Some days

there were no clouds, as though
the sources of the past had vanished. The world

was bleached, like a negative; the light passed
directly through it. Then
the image faded.

Above the world
there was only blue, blue everywhere.


Poem by Louise Gluck from The Best of the Best American Poetry; 25th Anniversary Edition, Kindle pages 76-78.

I cannot recommend this book too highly. It contains enough fine poems to sustain you for a long time. Not much of it is as relentlessly bleak as this; it might be bleak, but it feels genuine to me, and clearly observed. Although I am basically a cheerful person, Louise Gluck is one of my very favorite poets, The accomplishments of her many books of poems deserve as much attention as you can give them. They are widely available; she is not one of the "secret" great poets who can be hard to find. Note in this poem the varied lengths of short stanzas, and the simple clear vocabulary. 

Photo note; I took this on the trip west, when we had stopped to let the dogs out, just off a freeway interchange, Sun through trees, what could be more beautiful???