Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Still missing Twinkie

Have you ever noticed that most dachshunds have a name that ends with "i" or "ie"? I didn't really notice it until we got ours, which were: Wolfi, Sammi, Cassie and the Twinkie, above. This portrait was taken on her last day, after she had stopped eating, She put up a valiant fight, though, after Dr. Dawn Sessions diagnosed her condition, removed a lot of things caused by it and put her on medication to control her auto-immune disorder, sterile nodular panniculitis. She lived longer than she might have because of that.

Here is a short poem:


Good to have a memory of silk,
memory of the glance, serene

and troubled all at once,
memory of the moth,

ghost moth or dog moth
flying upside down

between the possible and the what if,
the pulse and the confusion of limbs.

by Michael Palmer, from Company of Moths, New Directions, 2005, page 35.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

That touch of yellow

I took this boat portrait Sunday through the window of the Greens Restaurant at Fort Mason. The window alone is worth the trip, but the food is very good too: intelligent, wholesome and delicious. What makes the picture sing, I think is that yellow jacket and the yellow thingamajigs near the rear.

These lemons, still uncut, were a still life subject one night at printmaking class of beloved memory. There are cut lemons in tonight's poem. After I decided to use it, I found the first translation online. It differs only slightly from the translation I chose from a book, The Eye of the Poet (below this poem.) But I think it is interesting and instructive to look at these slight variations in translations of the same poem.

The woman stood up in front of the table. Her sad hands
begin to cut thin slices of lemon for tea
like yellow wheels for a very small carriage
made for a child's fairy tale. The young officer sitting opposite
is buried in the old armchair. He doesn't look at her.
He lights up his cigarette. His hand holding the match trembles,
throwing light on his tender chin and the teacup's handle. The clock
holds its heartbeat for a moment. Something has been postponed.
The moment has gone. It's too late now. Let's drink our tea.
Is it possible, then, for death to come in that kind of carriage?
To pass by and go away? And only this carriage to remain,
with its little yellow wheels of lemon
parked for so many years on a side street with unlit lamps,
and then a small song, a little mist, and then nothing?

From Exile and Return; Selected Poems, trans. Edmund Keeley)

Before you see the second translation, here's a little more yellow from last Saturday in Almaden Quicksilver Park, a duo of little yellow wild violets.


The woman stood before the table. Her sad hands
cut thin slices of lemon for tea
like yellow wheels for a very small carriage
in a child's fairy tale. The young officer across from her
is sunk deep in the old armchair. He does not look at her.
He lights his cigarette. His hand holding the match trembles,
lighting up his tender chin and the teacup's handle. The clock
for a moment holds its heartbeat. Something has been postponed.
The moment has gone. It is now too late. Let's drink our tea.
Well then, is it possible for death to come in such a carriage?
To pass by and disappear? Until only this carriage
remains with its little yellow wheels of lemon
halted for so many years on a side street with darkened lamps,
and then a small song, a bit of mist, and then nothing.

From Yannos Ritsos, Selected Poems, 1938-1988, edited and translated by Kimon Friar and Kostas Myrsiades (BOA Editions, 1989, page 29 as reprinted inThe Eye of the Poet; six views of the art and craft of poetry, David Citino, Oxford University Press, 2002.

Do you prefer one translation over the other?? The yellow stamens of this afternoon's epiphyllum can please you while you think about it. I like parts of each and am not ready to pick a clear favorite. Yannos Ritsos has long been one of my favorite poets. Sleep well, dream finely.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Red, white and blue

When the sky is so blue and the clouds so white, you might be near San Francisco Bay in April. At least I probably won't be able to help using a few more of the pictures I took at San Francisco's Fort Mason yesterday. This one reminds me a little of a steam locomotive. At the far left, in the far faint distance, one of the towers of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge can just be seen.

The Dream 

The dream of Narcissus,
that there would be a silence loud as time

The dream of the writer,
that there could be a silence loud as time

The dream of time,
that rest might come

The dream of rest,
that unrest might arise

The dream of the palm,
that pilgrims would enter the village

The dream of the village,
that they depart with their fronds

And the house dreaming of its leveling
and the exile of his well

The dream of night,
that the day would be purified

The dream of day,
that the dark would be lifted

And the dream of the dream,
but who's to speak of this

Michael Palmer, 
from Company of Moths, New Directions, 2005, page 42.

Take a look at the structure of this poem. Two-line stanzas, each with a separate dream. And each beginning with a capital letter. The second line in each stanza begins with the word "that" except in two cases. Lots of commas are used, which probably could be left off, relying on the linebreaks; what do you think? Each stanza takes off from the noun in the second line of the previous stanza. This creates a path throughout the poem. Dream is an evoccative word; I wonder if we could try to write a poem in this structure using some other potent concept?? Good night.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Two Gulls

Today I drove with friends to San Francisco for one of the quarterly meetings of the Haiku Poets of Northern California. Meetings are held in Fort Mason, an old military installation now transformed to public uses. I took time to take a few pictures. When I get home I always wonder why I didn't take more pictures! I love the light here, but it is so bright and reflective that I cannot see what I am doing while I am doing it. What I should plan (I always think later) is come here and spend the whole afternoon and devote it to taking photographs--with maybe a whiffle through the bookstore that supports the San Francisco Public Library. There is some great stuff for sale there. I almost bought an old doll book today. Or an old bird or flower print. The red and cream of the buildings and the changing blues of the bay and sky make beautiful compositions everywhere you look--and in the distance is the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a great haiku meeting, too, with an excellent reading and a lecture-workshop on small poetic forms made  by counting words or syllables according to a plan or template you can develop yourself. This works to discover surprising material and poetic juxtapositions.

The clouds today were softly ornamenting the blue, blue sky. For some reason, I thought of the Chinese poet Gu Cheng. I've quoted him many times on this blog; here is a link to those posts; it will begin with this one..

Far and Near

you look at me one moment
and at clouds the next.

I feel
when you're looking at me, you're far away,
but when you're looking at the clouds, how could we be nearer!

Gu Cheng, translated by Gordon T. Osing and De-An Wu Swihart

The form of this (at least in translation) is: two three-line stanzas, each beginning with a very short line followed by two longer lines. And the last line is the longest in the poem and ends with an exclamation point. You should know that I do not know how (or if) they do linebreaks in Chinese. I'm just looking at the English poem. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ithuriel's Spear

Late this afternoon I went looking for lupine on the Lupine-Covered Hill (another year) in Almaden Quicksilver Park. The link will take you there. But there has been so much rain over the past few weeks that there was mostly a rank growth of grasses. With, here and there, Ithuriel's Spear, Triteleia laxa. The wind was whipping the flowers and the grasses about, but I managed to get this shot. So, then I had to find out who was Ithuriel, anyway??? Turns out he's in the Kabbala. The last time I thought about the Kabbala (often an ignored topic, don'tchathink?) was when I read a big news story about Madonna's interest in it. She was supposed to be "studying" the Kabbala; I had to look that up then. I couldn't "look up" why anyone would be studying it anyway, but let it go, since Madonna might seem slightly weird to some people, anyway.

Tonight I was looking at Kate Greenstreet's Young Tambling. Instead of choosing a poem, I chose one of her epigraphs instead:

That same day M. stuck his
walking stick into the imprints
left by horses' hoofs on the
roadway---it had been raining 
the day before and they were
full of water. "Like memory,"
he said.

Nadezda Mandelstam

[from Hope Against Hope; A Memoir,translated from the Russian by Max Hayward]

Young Tambling, Ahsahta Press, 2013, page 73

M. is how his wife refers to the Russian poet Mandelstam in her amazing book about M. and their lives together and then apart. I left my copy in Michigan and hope to get back to it soon. I was disappointed tonight to find it is not available on Kindle. Ah, well. Goodnight.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Raindrops and a Lullaby

Today it rained, off and on, for much of the day. When I saw these raindrops through the window I was out there in a flash! I am beginning to think that pink is my favorite color, as these few buds unfold. I counted today and there are still three buds left. 

Two of us went for lunch with an old friend today. She was fun to be with! 

For tonight's poem, the last one in the book of 
Mary Ruefle's Selected Poems, Wave Press, 2010, page 142. 


My inability to express myself
is astounding. It is not curious or
even faintly interesting, but like
some fathomless sum, a number,
a number the sum of equally fathomless
numbers, each one the sole representative
of an ever-ripening infinity
that will never reach the weight
required by the sun to fall.
There is nothing on the ground
to pick up and examine.
It is too far back among the leaves
to reach. And here I am walking 
idly, passing it from below,
with only a faint breeze to remind me
there is anything there,
the merest rustle of which
quiets me down to the point
I am able to sleep at all.

And now it really is time for bed!!!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Perhaps there is a free lunch?

Aunt Kim was out delivering the mail; she called us about the free hot dogs, which turned out to be very tasty indeed. This was during the wonderful summer visit last year. Tonight I found this photo of Logan with his mustard dog while I was messing with photographs. There were free drinks and free strings of beads that day, too. I can't wait for picnic time to come 'round again. For some other adventures of Logan, search this blog with his name, which will also give you a post on the poet William Logan.

The rest of Mary Ruefle came today, and I love what I got. There is a delicate, tiny book called A Little White Shadow, that reproduces a small book of very short erasure poems made from an old book that has most of the words whited-out, leaving the only words chosen for the poem visible in a white ground on tannish paper. It is most (and very) appealing in this facsimile form, but just for fun, here is one of the poems all by itself:



     spoke fluently in many languages,

                 a human humming bird

(an erasure poem by Mary Ruefle from A Little White Shadow, Wave Books, 2006)

I have seen other erasure poems, but usually the covered words are scribbled out in ballpoint pen, or something else dark. Part of the genius in this volume is in the use of white-out.

The other book is Madness, Rack and Honey, Wave Books, 2012. It is a collection of lectures about poetry by Ms. Ruefle who teaches at Vermont College. Through dipping-in, I know I am going to like this book very much. It should contain many serious and interesting things to think about. Here is a passage from the Introduction.

"I always looked askance at writing on writing, but I'm intelligent enough to see that writing is writing. Still, my allegiance to poetry, to art, is greater than my allegiance to knowledge and intelligence, and that stance is harder and harder to maintain in today's world, because knowledge and intelligence form the corporate umbrella (the academy) that shelters and protects poetry in a culture that cares about other things. On the other hand, the evening news tells us a corporation is not interested in protecting anything, other than itself. This is best contemplated by the younger generation, on whom it will have the greatest impact." Page VII

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Flowers are perfect, but what of that?

Like this flower this afternoon, with an accent of white window frame. I have said that this frost-survivor epiphyllum was a least-favorite, but there is a color subtlety revealed by this unaltered photo that sings! Makes me want to break out the watercolors!
Tonight I got about halfway through Robert Frost; the early years. He was co-valedictorian of his high school with the girl he later married. Then he quit Dartmouth without finishing his first year. Then he is this-ing and that-ing, while his girlfriend sticks firm to her interesting idea that he should be able to earn their keep before they marry, One of the main things I got from tonight's reading is how over-the-top ruled by emotion he is, despite all his intellectual gifts. At one point he runs away and walks through the Great Dismal Swamp (honestly, the Great Dismal Swamp!) and having failed to fall into the swamp or be bitten by a poisonous snake, etc. finally starts home riding boxcars until arrested, when he has to send to his mother for the fare.

Another interesting thing was his discovery of the newly popular, recently deceased poet, Emily Dickinson. He bought her book, and really responded to her poetry, partly because he had doubts about religion also, as she did. (His mother was very religious and became a Swedenborgian. This was also the time when the writings of the great Victorian scientists and thinkers were being widely disseminated and discussed.) But, imagine living when Emily Dickenson was a new, hot, poet!! Just imagine!

Here is a poem by Dickenson that he responded to; it is quoted in the biography on page 124.

I reason, earth is short
and anguish absolute,
And many hurt;
But what of that?

I reason, we could die:
The best vitality
Cannot excel decay;
But what of that?

I reason that in heaven
Somehow, it will be even,
Some new equation given;
But what of that?

--Emily Dickenson

Heavy stuff, this. Take a look at the form, also. Three four-line stanzas, each with the same question as a refrain. Think of your own question and make your self a little poem. Or try it using this same question, which is quite widely applicable. And now to bed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Possibilities, like buds

More yesterday from the lavender rose; the other one with the sweet scent seems to be the one we lost, and we have forgotten the name of this one, too. One always wants a record, when it is too late to begin keeping one. I remember reading about keeping a garden journal early on; I sort of planned to do so, there are lists here and there inside the back covers of gardening books. I know a fellow, DM, who has kept a journal of the books he has read for many, many years, He showed it to me once, and I was alive with jealously. The other day I found the only one I ever started--it is in a blank book with a Gnome on the cover, a Gnomebook. Remeember when those gnomes were ALL THE RAGE?? Must have been the 1980s. I didn't even keep it for even a year. And with this Kindle and the Amazon used books thing, I start many more books than I finish these days. One more whine and then the poem. Today I read the book Urban Sketching by Thomas Thorspecken, Barrons, 2014. He has been sketching EVERY DAY FOR FIVE YEARS and posting the sketches on his blog. These sketches take him one to two hours EVERY DAY! And I was so proud of my one-year-plus daily blog!! The other day Mary Ruefle was recommended to me and her book came yesterday. So tonight, here she is with a wild rose, instead of a tame hybrid tea, as in the picture.

The Wild Rose Bush

Undone chore: pruning the wild rose bush. If
I had pruned the wild rose bush today, my life
could continue walking on new stilts, I would have
a better view of the future and be able to go further
than I can imagine at this moment. But the bush
has been pruned many times already, it has lived through
sixty years of childhood, it has felt its hips swell
and offered their red pips to the birds, it has watched
the bee pumping the foxglove, swelling her cups
with astonishing quickness, and heard the enormous rose
applauding, it has died of embarrassment and never been able
to so a thing about it, the way I can't bring myself to do
a simple chore like pruning, which is good for the world,
which pulls the world back from the brink of disaster,
which helps it forget its recent grief and not so recent grief
and ancient grief. You can hardly call me human, 
though I own a pair of clippers. I have never suffered
and I have never known a hero. My father never said or did
anything of interest. He never said "If you are angry
pour everything you have ever eaten into the sea,
let the sea foam at the mouth, keep your own lips clean."
He never said that. He just sat in a comfortable chair
and let the news slip out of his hands and onto the floor.
He could not compete with it. He didn't even try. He seemed
to reach a point where he realized the news would go on 
without him, long after his little nap, and later his death.
When he reached that point his head lolled to one side,
the way a rose will if left unwatered.
Sometimes I say he was saved.

from Mary Ruefle, Selected Poems, 
Wave Books, 2010, pp. 60-61.

Follow the play of the mind (with its surprising shifrts) through this poem. Although at one point you feel she is being unfair to her dad, it turns out OK and anyway, he has gone beyond caring. Take a look at some chore and see if you can let your mind play silly games, See what youcan come up with. I think my library used to have a children's book called Write Me A Poem, Baby! so that's what we ought to do tomorrow.Tonight it is really too late to get started.

We took the remaining dog with us on the Daily Walk today, It wasn't that long -- (and we didn't meet any other dogs) just around a long block, but she licked the bottoms of her feet for a long time after we got home. Not used to sidewalks, I guess. She has been sleeping ever since we got back.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Every day is different

Early this afternoon, we took our special favorite Rylka, aka Pookie or Twinkie to the vet. Her medical problems became too great and she stopped eating among many other symptoms. When we got out of the car at the vet's, she saw S take a drink of water; when she seemed thirsty, he poured lots of little drinks into my cupped hand and she drank them all. Then we went in to say goodbye. Late this afternoon we went together outside into our spring garden and this epiphyllium was in bloom. I didn't alter this photo!

Here she is this morning; she wasn't even tempted by an egg, which she usually likes.

Robert Frost was born in 1874 and was but an indifferent student in grade school. But he changed his strategy in high school and became an outstanding student.. He also edited the school paper and even played on the football team in his senior year. Here is a poem he wrote in his senior year, which he did not publish in the student paper. I decided last night I would share it tonight.. Because of today, I haven't read any further in the book; so as far as I am concerned, tonight he is still in high school.

Clear and Colder--Boston Common

As I went down through the common,
     It was bright with the light of day,
For the wind and rain had swept the leaves
    And the shadow of summer away.
The walks were all fresh-blacked with rain
     As I went briskly down: ---
I felt my own quick step begin
     The pace of the winter town.

As I went down through the common,
     The sky was wild and pale;
I saw on tree with a jib of leaves
     In the stress of the aftergale;
But the others rattled naked poles
     As I went briskly down.
I felt my own quick step begin
     The pace of the winter town.

As I went down through the common
     In the crisp October dawn,
Benches were wet and stuck with leaves
     And the idle ones were gone.
The folk abroad raced on with me
     As I went briskly down.
I felt my own quick step begin
     The pace of the winter town.

As I went through the common,
     Then felt I first delight
Of the city's thronging winter days
     And dazzling winter night,
Of the life and revelry to be---
      As I went briskly down,
I felt my own quick step begin
      The pace of the winter town.

Robert Frost, from Robert Frost; the early years 1874-1915
by Lawrance Thompson, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966, 
pp. 110-111.

When you write your poem on this model, remember that Robert Frost had been soaked in this kind of poetry--his mother was a schoolteacher and also a poet, and this sort of poem was very popular in America for many years. So don't expect yours to just rattle along like this. But strategies that might be useful, are reusing (perhaps with alterations as here) some of your best and most rhythmic material. Refrains, with alterations. Think about it! Also think about your place to walk and write a poem. Sleep well.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Grandiflora rose Apricot Nectar


This is a favorite rose. The color is such a beautiful blend of yellows with palest reds that it is hard to imagine designing anything prettier. The rosebush is growing a little too close to the avocado tree, so I have to cut back the lower branches of that tree so it can get more sunlight. This year, many buds, and so it looks like we will get a good show. I thought it was a pretty choice for an Easter post, so I took this photo this afternoon with my what-did-I-ever-do-without-it iPhone. S and I spent a very quiet day, enlivened by a visit to a pancake house. Our nice waitress was the youthful-looking mother of nine children; she was about to finish her shift and was getting videos on her phone of her grandkids jumping on the tiny trampoline she gave them for Easter.

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

             by Robert Frost

I seem to remember that it was Frost who said that writing verse without meter and rhyme was like playing tennis without a net. This poem will satisfy every desire that one of my older grandsons has for poems that rhyme. (He kept suggesting that my poems could be much improved in that regard.) And here is an EASTER poem I found using Google Search. I thought Frost must have written one! Besides this poem has a bird!

Having said farewell to Munter and Kandinsky, tonight I started the first volume of his biography, Robert Frost; the early years 1874-1915, by Lawrance Thompson.  I have been more curious about Frost ever since I read about his years in England in the book about Edward Thomas. Actually I don't have time to read such a long book now, but what the heck!

Happy Easter to all!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Material and what you make of it

This is another of those desert scenes from our ramblings across the American West. I have thought it would make a fine painting, and I mean to try that. I see the lilac undershadow on the clouds and the yellow tips on the rabbitbrush just coming into bloom. The cloud shapes and the varying sizes of the clumps of brush, the horizontal sweep of the mountains and the road. Tonight I have been reading a book of the letters between Gabriele Munter and Wassily Kandinsky. The book is called Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Munter; letters and reminiscences,  1902-1914, Prestel Verlag, Munich, 1994. I have never been a big fan of Kandinsky, although the rest of the Blue Rider guys are great! And now I am less than a fan of the man Kandinsky, but you will have to read the book yourself and make up your own mind. Maybe I am too harsh. And, on the basis of what I have seen, I like Munter's paintings very much. They have a simplified and colorful beauty that is very compelling.

Here is a link to Kandinsky's painting of Munter at work. 

And here are the things that people have put on Pinterest that show her paintings.

And here are some self-portraits by Munter,

Some people felt that what Kandinsky and Munter and the rest of the Blue Riger gang was doing was not really painting, but something closer to the crayon drawings of children.. Some people say there is no such thing as prose poetry; it is either poetry or not and one can tell! But this prose poem by Mary Ruefle that I found tonight in the Best American Poetry 2013 pleased me very much. I think I will find her book of them.

Little Golf Pencil

At headquarters they asked me for something dry and understated. Mary, they said, it’s called a statement. They took me out back to a courtyard where they always ate lunch and showed me a little tree that was, sadly, dying. Something with four legs had eaten it rather badly. Don’t over-emote, they said. I promised I wouldn’t but I was thinking to myself that the something-with-four-legs had certainly over-emoted and that the tree, in response, was over-emoting now, being in the strange little position of dying. All the cops were sitting around eating sandwich halves and offered me one. This one’s delicious, said a lieutenant, my wife made it. Seeing as it was peanut butter and jelly I thought he was over-emoting, but I didn’t say anything. I just sat looking at the tree and eating my sandwich half. When I was ready I asked for a pencil and they gave me one of those little golf pencils. I didn’t say anything about that, either. I just wrote my statement and handed it over—it was a description of the tree which they intended to give to their captain as a Christmas present—I mean my description—because the captain, well, he loved that tree and he loved my writing and every one of the cops hoped to be promoted in the captain’s heart and, who knows, maybe get a raise. Still, after all that sitting around in the courtyard eating sandwich halves, I had a nice feeling of sharing, so when they asked me if I had anything else to say I told them that in the beginning you understand the world but not yourself, and when you finally understand yourself you no longer understand the world. They seemed satisfied with that. Cops, they’re all so young.

--Mary Ruefle

Now go and write a little story like that! You won't need to worry (this time) about lineation or rhyme. Sleep well. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sunlight on Pink Epiphyllum

I looked out my window this morning. One of the few epis that didn't freeze is beginning to bloom. This amazing plant is not very prepossessing, having awkward straplike long-hanging leaves. but the flowers are spectacular! Then I was off to meet friends for lunch, This was pretty special because I have known these people since we were going to wonderful poetry workshops in the 1980s. This splendid scene of workshops with future Nobelists is no more, but we remember it with gratitude. Lunching out is something I very rarely do. It was a winebibber's restaurant, with a huge selection of special wines. And very nice serving people. The hostess was wearing black boots with a black dress that had three or four limp-yet-fluffy ruffly-lacy very short skirts. It is the sort of outfit that is suddenly very common, even on children; I had never expected to see it in my life. It reminded me of those racy French postcards from 100 years back. Tonight I am feeling a little old and prissy. Which is not surprising, really. I spent some more time in the past tonight when S found The Mystery of Edwin Drood on Roku and we watched the first episode. 

Because of last night's poetry gathering, I have Kindled Carolyn Forche's newest book Blue Hour: Poems. It is unlike her other work--it's quite mysterious, really. It will take me a while to get a handle on it. Once, long time gone, I was sent to pick Ms. Forche up at the airport when she came to San Jose to do a reading. She was great fun to talk to in the car, and I totally respect her ethical positions in many of the things she has written about. She has a special place in my heart for woman poets of my time. So I am glad to have her new book, and even glad it is not easy, because it shows she is not coasting. . . Here is a tiny sample, naturally it has trees, which along with birds, may be my favorite poetic tropes:

In the Exclusion Zones

Ash over conifer and birches, over heavy thickets. Resembling snow and its synonyms. Silvered fields of millet.

A silence approaching bees of the invisible or the scent of mint.

One need not go farther than a white towel hung in an open door.

Carolyn Forche from Blue Hour: poems, Harper Collins, 2003, Kindle location 215.
(I think the first two lines are supposed to be one long line, making it a three line poem, but I can't be sure on the Kindle. Any of these lines would make a superb prompt for a poem of your own. Just write it at the top of a page and take off from there!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Third Thursday for Poetry Month

This little beauty always reminded me of firecrackers. I think it is a mammilaria cactus (so-called because each of the spine-bearing protrusions are like little nipples.) The firecrackers are the flowers. Alas, it succumbed to last years unusually hard frost (one of only three we've had in the 48 years we have lived at this place.) These frosts are particularly hard on cacti and succulents. Tonight I found this photo of one of my little cactus favorites and decided to use it with this post about poetry and language. Because the eclectic reading made a lot of little firecrackers go off for me.

Tonight was a get-together of local poets for the annual reading celebrating Poetry Month = April. They have monthly meetings at the Willow Glen Library in San Jose. I enjoyed it so much I thought I would talk about it here. The idea was that each person who wanted to would read and share with us a published poem, and also read us one of their own.

Here is a list of the names of the poets people chose to read: I am not sure I got them all, or spelled everyone right, but I think I understood most of the names. I was writing them down because I wanted to check out poets unfamiliar to me. I was reminded of several favorites that I hadn't looked at for a long time. I just got Blue Hour on my Kindle and will look at it as soon as I finish this.

Frank O'Hara, Joy Harjo, Luis J. Rodriguez, A. E. Solomon/Sullivan? Debra Greger, Adam Cornford, Mary Oliver (2,) Gregory Orr, Adrienne Rich, Norman Dubie, Frank Jasper, Naomi Shihab Nye, William Stafford, Mary Marcia Casoly, Billy Collins, Louise Bogan, Sylvia Plath, Carolyn Forche, from Blue Hour, published in 2003 (how did I miss that!)  Lucia Perillo, Csezlaw Milosz (2,) Martin Espada, Emily Dickenson, Mirabai--translated by Jane Hirshfield, Maura Stanton. I was particularly interested in the fact that only two poets were chosen by two people. So we got a very interesting short anthology of poems.

The poem I chose to read has been a favorite of mine for 30 years. I just checked and it seems I have never used it on this blog, even though I can hardly believe that! Below the poem on the page is a date: 1936. I never noticed before that this poem is about my same age: I was born in 1935. So it is a pre-World War II poem that takes place in Central Europe many, many years ago. It is the first poem (page 3) in Bells in Winter (Ecco Press, 1978) by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by the author with Lillian Vallee.


We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today, neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.


By Czeslaw Milosz, translated by the author and Lillian Vallee.

Notice the form of this poem: nine full lines, many of them complete sentences. A question without a question mark. A unfancy vocabulary, and straightforward thought. Try writing a poem using this model and shape. Good night, and it has been a very good night. Thanks to P, for the ride there and the encouragement to go.

The poems of their own that each of the poets read were good, very varied and remarkable for a lack of whining, I felt. I came away feeling again that this is a great time and place to write poems and share them with others. I am feeling energized!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What are lichen? and a Gray memory thread . . .

One of the pleasure of this older garden with a lot of stonework and stone outcroppings is the marvelous amount of intricate lichen that can be seen in the Tilden Botanic Garden. I am so proud of myself for finally learning to pronounce this word! When I first heard someone say like-en, I didn't know what they meant, having invented for myself something like litch-en. This stuff is pretty in a delicate, grayish-green understated way.

Here's some more from Thoreau's Journals. Thhirty-nine notebooks! Speaking of journals, I must share that Theodore Roethke died in his mid-fifties leaving so many notebooks and so much other paper that it makes me tired just ot think about it. And I'll be offering up some more samples here soon.

May 12

     As the bay-wing [the vesper sparrow] sang many a thousand years ago, so sang he tonight. In the beginning God heard his song and pronounced it good, and hence it has endured. It reminded me of many a summer sunset, of many miles of gray rails, of many a rambling pasture, of the farmhouse far in the fields, its milk-pans and well-sweep, and the cows coming home from pasture.
     I would thus from time to time take advice of the birds, correct my human views by listening to their volucral (?). He is a brother poet, this small gray bird (or bard) whose muse inspires mine. His lay is an idyl or pastoral, older and sweeter than any that is classic. He sits on some gray perch like himself, like a stake, perchance, in the midst of the field, and you can hardly see him against the plowed ground. You advance step-by-step as the twilight deepens, and lo! he is gone, and in vain you strain your eyes to see whither, but anon his tinkling strain is heard from some other quarter. One with the rocks and with us.  
     --Henry David Thoreau

From The Heart of Thoreau's Journals, Dover, page 177.
How many of us have held one of those milk-pans, or touched the long, slender well-sweep? But we can usually all find places to walk. In Erica Goss's new book, Vibrant Words: ideas and inspiration for poets, Pushpen Press, San Jose, 2013,.  there is a section that begins on page 115, titled, PARKING LOTS AS INSPIRATION. and another section (beginning on page 23) called I LEFT MY HEART IN THE LOS ANGELES BASIN. Think about it. And listen to the birds, or the wind in the trees, or even to the sizzle of the asphalt.

Tonight, we met a beautiful greyhound on the Daily Walk. He was taking a leash-walk with his owner and reminded me that it is possible to forget how elegantly THIN greyhounds are. He was also really, really gray, a beautiful soft warm grey. He was so streamlined that even his ears folded back against his head. A friendly dog, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Last Saturday every vista of the Tilden Botanical Garden was beautiful. I have heard about this place for years and now wonder why I never managed to go there before. I guess I could make a list. . .

I have been reading The Glass House; the life of Theodore Roethke by Allen Seager with an introduction by Donald Hall. I am almost finished, but it got to be blogging time. This is a short one of the many poems he wrote using the material of his father's commercial greenhouse in Saginaw. Michigan.

Child on Top of a Greenhouse

The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,
My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,
The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,
Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
A few white clouds all rushing eastward,
A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,
And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting!

Theodore Roethke

Monday, April 14, 2014

Classically California

Here it is! California poppies are known in many other places (because they are happy to seed themselves profusely) but it is in California that you can find sheets of them in meadows and hillsides and along the roadsides, too! It is the classic springtime treat if you find them paired with Ceanothus, or California lilac. Near Valley Center in northern San Diego County, they grow along a country road, which is appropriately named Lilac Road. This picture was taken Saturday on the trip to Tilden Botanical Gardens near Berkeley. Since orange and blue are complementary colors, as I learned in the Fourth Grade, they are perfect companions! The delicate ferny leaves and four-petal blossoms of the poppy are also perfectly set off by the masses of ceanothus bloom!

The Tilden Garden was begun in 1940, and some of the early construction work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Some of their stonework can still be seen in the garden. Now there are four gardeners and a master gardener working to maintain and improve it. It is arranged for each of the biomes in California and upper Baja California. There are sections for example for the desert and redwood forest.

And here is some Thoreau, one of his many observant musings about nature, and her ways, from his Journals. Would he have thought this garden not quite natural enough? But I. I was extremely happy fore the chance to visit in springtime!

September 17, 1841

Nature never makes haste; her systems revolve at an even pace. The bud swells imperceptibly, without hurry or confusion, as though the short spring days were an eternity. All her operations seem separately, for the time, the single object for which all things tarry. Why, then, should man hasten as it anything less than eternity were allotted for the leastd deed? Let him consume never so many aeons, so that he go about the meanest task well, though it be but the paring of his nails. If the setting sun seems to hurry him to improve the day while it lasts, the chant of the crickets fails not to reassure him, even-measured as of old, teaching him to take his own time henceforth forever. The wise man is restful, never restless or impatient. He each moment abides there where he is, as some walkers acutally rest the whole body at each step, while others never relax the muscles of the leg until fatigue obliges them to stop short.

Henry David Thoreau,
from The Heart of Thoreau's Journals; edited by Odell Shephard, Dover, 1927, 1961, page 9.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The closest inspection

Oct. 22, 1838  Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf and take an insect view of its plain. Henry David Thoreau from The Heart of Thoreau's Journals, Dover, 1961, page 9.

And this is this afternoon's rosebud, and the weekend's blown rose. We don't remember the name of this one. The roses seem to be quite happy this year. They are quite like soul food. And I am feeding myself with a small Ted Kooser poem again tonight.

Selecting a Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful, 
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Ted Kooser, from Flying at Night
Univ. of Pittsburgh Press,1985, page 3.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pipevine Swallowtail

Today on a wonderful Yuki Teikei Haiku Society trip to the Tilden Botanical gardens in the East Bay Regional Park District near Berkeley in northern California. We had a tour of the parts of the garden and time for a ginko, or haiku-writing outing. This butterfly is called a pipevine swallowtail; when he spreads his wings, they are iridescent blue on the sides that fold together. Linda P. told me to watch for that, and it was worth doing!

This is my haiku:

folding, unfolding
heedless of its beauty, the
pipevine swallowtail

     June Hopper Hymas

This is a picture of a single blossom on the plant called Dutchman's Pipe after the shape of its bloom. This plant is not a nectar source for the adult butterfly, but a food source for the larvae. The flower is pollinated by gnats.

It has been a very long day, and I am very tired! And so, filled with blossoms and leaves in sunlight, I'm off to bed. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Just Now

This is the first 2014 bloom on one of the few survivors of my attempt to be ecologically responsible by growing California Native Plants. It is the California native Douglas iris. I once saw a field of them in bloom overlooking the Pacific. My first plant has multiplied into many more, but they get too much shade now to bloom heavily. The bloom has a dainty delicacy that I love; and reminds me of the many happy wildflower hikes I took with the local CNPS group, and the many wonderful wildflower meetings (you meet the most interesting people!) I went to when I didn't mind driving to Palo Alto in the dark. Several years ago I gave my native plant library to Jane who then planted a splendid California Native Plant front yard. And then, as things turned out, she moved to Canada, but the people who bought the house are maintaining the garden nicely, I heard recently.

Here's another poem about memory from my almost complete Ted Kooser library.

Just Now

Just now as I look down
the cool street of the past, I can see
streetlamps,one for each year,
lighting small circles of time
into which someone will step
if I squint, if I try hard enough---
circles smaller and smaller,
leading back to the one faint point
at the start, like a star.
So many of them are empty now,
those circles of roadside and grass.
In one, the moth of some feeling
still flutters, unspoken,
the cold darkness around it enormous.

Ted Kooser, from Flying at Night; poems 1965-1985, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press,  1985, page 93.

Follow the sound of the letter t through this poem as you follow the development of the metaphor. This poem is just great! And so beautifully constructed!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

That touch of appleblossom pink

Apple blossom season is almost over, but some of the small fruiting spurs lower on the tree are just now blooming. I took these pictures just this afternoon. Unlike the plum blossom buds, the apple blossom buds are that lovely soft pink.It makes me want to write a song!

Apple Blossoms

One evening in winter
when nothing has been enough,
when the days are too short,

the nights too long
and cheerless, the secret
and docile buds of the apple

blossoms begin their quick
ascent to light. Night
after interminable night

the sugars pucker and swell
into green slips, green
silks. And just as you find

yourself at the end
of winter’s long, cold
rope, the blossoms open

like pink thimbles
and that black dollop
of shine called

bumblebee stumbles in.

Susan Kelly-Dewitt

 Poem reprinted from To a Small Moth, Poet’s Corner Press, 2001,

I must reveal that I found this poem using Google. I had forgotten to mention the bees. I never stand by this tree without hearing them, under the blue, blue, blue California aky.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The delicate skin of the pear

On which there are always blemishes, little things that happened on the way to the store in the big truck and on the way to your house in a reusable shopping bag.  Because the skin of a pear is a tender and vulnerable thing.

I keep saying I have to give Ted Kooser a rest, that I need to find other types of poetry. So I sit and look through books I have marked the pages of, and then I pick up Weather Central, just for a minute, and find tonight's poem without even struggling.

A Stoneware Crock

Take hold of this old five-gallon crock
stamped with its little red wings,
and hook your thumbs over its lip,
and let it fly you back over the years

to the gray-green backwater valley
of pickled, to sugary kitchens
with galvanized buckets of cucumbers
smelling like freshly brushed hair,

a place of red hands, of oilcloth,
of mason jars bubbling in canners
enameled like midnight and spattered
with stars, of linoleum floors

where big women move on their casters
like upright pianos, rumbling along
with their bifocals steamed, keeping
the stove stoked, the coffeepot on,

their gossip rolling at a steady boil
as the packed jars cool, and lids clack in
upon the vacuum, and the morning air
is wild with flags of vinegar.

Ted Kooser, from Weather Central, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1994, page 53.

There is so much truth in this poem, so much carefully selected correct information, along with outrageous metaphorical play, that reading it over after I typed it, I am still giggling. As well as being in the steamy kitchen when my slender mother canned tomatoes, canned grape juice poured through double layers of cheescloth, and, yes, pickles! And where we also dried corn kernels in the slowest oven, overnight, with the oven door left ajar to let the moisture escape. Oh that corn, its flavor, its chewiness!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

An Iris Offers its Beauty and Fragrance

I always think of the man who planted these blue irises beside the Little Union Canal. He's dead now and I never knew him, but I have been told that he cared for his roses in his front yard (now ours) almost every day. I went looking for one of my iris photographs because I want to give you tonight the long passage that ends Ted Kooser's short history of his mother's family. He thought about this book for fifty years and finally, during his mother's final illness, he finished it in time for her to read. It is a short book, only 60 pages of small size. Here is the ending.

     An April morning, nearly fifty years later. My mother has recently died, at age eighty-nine, the last living link to the stories of her family. She has left me to reckon with a rapidly fading past that will, from the day of her death forward, be as Edwin Muir described it, little more than a confusion of lights on a ground of darkness.
     This is the rainy season, when the Turkey River bears close watching. In Osterdock an old man in a cap with earflaps leans over the bridge rail to observe the water inching up the supporting columns. He has a red face and a drop of clear moisture at the end of his nose. It's a new bridge, made of concrete, wide and solid. The former bridge was narrow, riveted together out of steel, and it shuddered ominously whenever a floating tree trunk bumped a support. Nearby is the broken and overgrown foundation of the general merchandise store where we once bought ice cream cones, where my grandmother and her sister, Laura waited outside in the shade of a tree. The old man tells me he cannot remember my mother, Vera Moser, or her brother, Elvy, or her parents, John and Liz, but he says with a smile that the hills along the Turkey River are full of Mosers and Morarends.
     Four hundred miles from this new bridge that reaches not merely over a flooded river but pushes forward out of the past, the irises in my garden will soon bloom. Their petals are tightly furled, spun into tight little cones of rich color, yellow and blue. Within a day or two they will be open, lush and loose, spilling their fragrance, old irises from these green hills, their gnarled roots borne from house to house, from garden to garden, down through time. An iris is forever young because it had no stories to sadden it, to weigh it down.
     Before me I see the violet ones, the blue ones, the yellow, the brown, and the silky white ones marked with blue, the salmon-colored ones, the coral and pink. They began their journey long before I was born, and a hundred years ago, my grandmother's mother, Dorothea Morarend, seated on her front stoop just a mile from where the old man and I look down upon the river, waited for them with the same anticipation that I feel today. And yet the irises are oblivious of me and my family, are indifferent as the whitewashed boulders along that long ago driveway, stones that turned their back to my Uncle Elvy as he dragged his sack of fish into the yard at twilight. An iris offers its beauty and fragrance as if nothing has changed, as if no one were gone.

From Lights on a Ground of Darkness; an evocation of a place and time by Ted Kooser,
University of Nebraska Press, 2005, pages 58-60.

And here I am going to make a suggestion, which is made as much to myself as to my prized blog readers: Write down bits of your family history gradually. Don't wait until you don't have time to polish the words and make it as clear and evocative as possible. I am thinking that if you were to keep these words, paragraphs, pages, on a blog (you could make it a private one, if you wanted to) then you will have them available even if something happens to the written manuscript. I'm hoping the Internet is a safe place to store them--it might just be safer than anywhere else. My sister-in-law is preparing my mother's memoirs so that we can make them available this way. I am sure my mother will be pleased.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Ghost Plant

About 30 years ago, I knew Nancy Hanna. She had stunning white hair and I wished I could grow up to look just like that. I was the young librarian in Gilroy and she was a  member of the Gilroy Library and Cultural Commission. (We also sponsored an annual art show in the park.) When I visited her house, she gave me a start of this plant. She told me it was "ghost plant" and I imagined (since she was an artist) that she had made up the name on the basis of its pale color. Just last year I was in a local nursery and they were offering Pony Packs of this plant. The sign named it Ghost Plant. So there you are. I have lost almost all of my other succulents and blossoming cacti in a few hard frosts since then. But I still have lots of ghost plant; if one piece breaks off, you just plant it for more. I have a large hanging basket of it now. And many pots, small and large. It always reminds me of the friendship with Nancy!

And this is the almost excessive and ruffly beauty of a pale pink tree peony, which we have had so long we have forgotten the name of the cultivar. It wasn't doing well at first in this location, so S dug it up and moved it and now we have two of them--because I guess he didn't get every bit of it. It's been a long, full, rich day and I can hear my bed calling to me, but tonight we must first have this poem by Lucien Stryk.

Three Saints of Nardo di Cione
                         (painted in Florence, 1350)

What an eye for color! I remember
those three saints in softest
green, rose, blue flushed robes

staring raptly at me --- as if
we were close-knit, elbows touching,
silent together 650 years. Have

they mused on this selfsame face
over the ages, through tyrannies,
uprisings, famines, searching in

the wrong place for the Fountain
of Forever? Unlike these park-
squatter pigeons, whirring content

past the lily-pond by late-summer
goatsbeard, from bench to bench,
cocksure of offerings. Soon they

will take off, soar beyond nests
in thick trees to the shoulders
of saints, feathers soft green,

rose and blue, in unfading light.

From Of Pen and Ink and Paper Scraps, Swallow Press Ohio University Press Books, 1989, page 43.

In six three-line stanzas and a final line, this poem does everything it needs to to give us such a lovely comparison and make us want to seek out the painting! And here is the link to the painting!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Universal Mind

If you walk toward the Bay in yesterday's photo, and look Northeast, you can see the towers of this power plant. Here is a picture of the Moss Landing Power plant I took nearly 30 years ago. The plant has changed owners many times since then.  I was amazed to learn that it cycles more than a billion gallons of water through the plant every day. Which is why it was built where it was. The plant is right up the road from where I took the tanka workshop yesterday and learned more about "pillow words" or Makurakotoba from PK who has been making a serious study of ancient poetry. It was also a day of good fellowship. We had a wonderful time hearing about a few of our group who completed the challenge to write 10 haiku a day for 100 days. Now I am supposed to try writing some tanka. Tanka are short poems, usually in five lines. But today I just did laundry, fixed a lamp and replaced a button on my favorite denim jacket with all the pockets that button, which will hold cameras, binoculars, art supplies, small notebooks and glasses. Sigh.

For a long time I have been meaning to mention the blog that has been made of selections from Thoreau's Diaries. HDT was quite a serious journal writer and some people feel that the journals are his greatest monument. Someone has been posting his excellent selections from this work on his blog on the days of the year that correspond to the day on which that part was written. Here is the link to the post for today. There is also a selection for Kindle. This is really good stuff! Below is an example that I have been saving for The Memory Thread aka this blog. This is an experience that I have also had, but not frequently. Do check out Thoreau's blog, which, cheekily, is called The Blog of Henry David Thoreau.

Thoreau's Journal: 1-Apr-1860

I am surprised that my affirmations or utterances come to me ready-made,—not fore-thought,—so that I occasionally awake in the night simply to let fall ripe a statement which I had never consciously considered before, and as surprising and novel and agreeable to me as anything can be. As if we only thought by sympathy with the universal mind, which thought while we were asleep. There is such a necessity to make a definite statement that our minds at length do it without our consciousness, just as we carry our food to our mouths. This occurred to me last night, but I was so surprised by the fact which I have just endeavored to report that I have entirely forgotten what the particular observation was.