Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Same Dream

 I wanted to use the poem by Su-Tung p'o, but have no river gorge pictures from China.
There is also a melancholy feeling to this road-travel picture from the Great American West,
taken through the car window a couple of years ago.

On a Boat, Awake at Night  (1079)
Faint wind rustles reeds and cattails;
I open the hatch, expecting rain–moon floods the lake.
Boatmen and water birds dream the same dream;
a big fish splashes off like a frightened fox.
It’s late–men and creatures forget each other
while my shadow and I amuse ourselves alone.
Dark tides creep over the flats–I pity the cold mud-worms;
the setting moon, caught in a willow, lights a dangling spider.
Life passes swiftly, hedged by sorrow;
how long before you’ve lost it–a scene like this?
Cocks crow, bells ring, a hundred birds scatter;
drums pound from the bow, shout answers shout.

Su Tung-p'o             
Translated by Burton Watson

(Line 12. Drums were sounded in the bow when boats were under way.) Translator's note.

Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o; translated from the Chinese by Burton Watson., 
Copper Canyon Press, 1994, page 77.

Sometime, when you are alone at night, perhaps far from home, or from a lost home, let your mind wander over the landscape where you are, and write down whatever thoughts come up about where you are, what creatures are there, and what you think you know.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Where We Live

Here she is again, in closeup, the Blue Witch. 
Here she is a landscape plant seen on the Daily Walks. 
But she,or a close relative grows as a a native in nearby parks and reserves. 
She is a member of the large and important plant family called Solanaceae, 
which includes many cultivated plants such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, 
tobacco and chili peppers. 


Life has a repetitious feel,
continuing the yearly progression
                                      of one's history
                                in one place
                      change is subtle
                                     sometimes hardly noticed
                 and then a large gasp,
                               someone is gone, forever

                        The migrating flocks return
                the coast range changes color,
                   monarchs come back...
                       restless surface
                                   watching the minutes'
                     Not too much happens       strands
                              of consciousness
                                     strands of dreams
                  precious, rare and mundane
                                                    where we live

                                  --Joanne Kyger

From: Again
Poems 1989-2000
(La Alameda Press, 2001)

I found this poem yesterday on a gift bookmark in a book 
I was putting away. The poem was printed as a gift 
from Poetry Flash
early in this century, perhaps near the time when 
there was all that fuss about Y2K.

It is printed in brown on pale brown cardstock.
I've just looked at the current Poetry Flash on 
the web. It is very handsome and a good resource
for poets in California and far beyond.

I like the way the words in this poem
are placed on the page; I also like
the Californianess of this poem.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Feeding me with words

The clivia is blooming in the yard-corner now, as it has reliably for many years. 
The blooms are starting to look just slightly tattered about the edges now.
Soon they will make their bright berry-like seeds, which usually last through the winter. 
Sometimes I look through my garden photos like these
(we have lived here fifty years and planted everything!)
and think that the photos are another form of nature journal-keeping.
Kooser states at the beginning of this volume that 
he "has always been covetous" of a friend's the nature journals.

Her hair was white, a cloud, and her eyes were the transparent green of leaves with sunlight shining through. It seemed that I was peering into her to find whatever may be hidden, singing there. And as she cut my hair, for that is how she made her living, she told me that in a cardboard box in the back room shand e had two orphaned birds, a tiny Steller's jay and another still too small to properly identiry, She planned to feed and care for them until this were ready to fly, for that is what, she said, she did for love. We talked through the mirror, where I sat in her nest, under the folded wings of a barber's cloth, eyes wide and bright, my shiny old man's beak between them, a woman feeding me with words.

Ted Kooser                 (born 25 April, 1939)

The Wheeling Year; a poet's field book, by Ted Kooser.
University of Nebraska Press, 2014, page 20.

There is almost no sentence in this book, (which the author has selected from his many years of writing things down, and arranged for the months, and seasons, of the year) that is not quite wonderful! It is the sort of book to read, and then to dip into, returning now and again. For tonight, I looked in April, because that month is almost here, and because I am more excited than ever about the springtime!

Notice how effortlessly and simply the metaphor of feeding infant birds is extended into the communication between the two people. Your task: Take a journal entry of your own about nature, and try to extend and enrich it with your vocabulary choices.

 And this was the sun today in Clivia Corner!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Daily Walk; looking around

Blooming now in an untended weedy patch by the street. 
Because of all the rain, there are all sorts of surprises on the daily walk.
Today's apricot iris is just one of them.


Every spring 
      the ambiguities 
         of childhood 

the hillsides grew white 
   with the wild trilliums. 
      I believed in the world. 
         Oh, I wanted 

to be easy 
   in the peopled kingdoms, 
      to take my place there, 
         but there was none 

that I could find 
   shaped like me. 
      So I entered 
         through the tender buds, 

I crossed the cold creek, 
   my backbone 
      and my thin white shoulders 
         unfolding and stretching. 

From the time of snow-melt, 
   when the creek roared 
      and the mud slid 
         and the seeds cracked, 

I listened to the earth-talk, 
   the root-wrangle, 
      the arguments of energy, 
         the dreams lying 

just under the surface, 
   then rising, 
         at the last moment 

flaring and luminous-- 
   the patient parable 
      of every spring and hillside 
         year after difficult year. 

Mary Oliver 

Dream Work, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014, p.10.

This is quite a simple poem, arranged in indented four-line stanzas,
nine of them. Your task: look about and write your own springtime poem of about this length, using this form. Or invent a spring form of your own!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hammering a Nickel

I often think of my father, who was so even-tempered, confident
and practical. Often, when I am switching off an unused electric light, I say,
"Hi, Dad!" to myself. He knew electricity cost money; and he wasn't about to spend
it unnecessarily! When he rewired houses, he put a control panel by his bed 
how he could turn off the lights anywhere in the house. He turned everything out
at his own bedtime. If I hadn't finished my book-of-the-day yet, I rose
from my bed to turn the light back on.
If he was home when anyone had gone into the basement,
he ALWAYS turned off the lights with the switch
at the head of the stairs. The person in
the basement would scream, "LIGHTS!"
with all available strength. If he was still in the hallway,
then Dad would turn them back on.

Once we had a small leak in the bottom of the Disposall in the kitchen sink.
Dad hammered the edges of a nickel to thinness; then he epoxied it
over the leak. When I came into the kitchen as he was finishing, I asked
him why he used a nickel. He said it was because nickel resists
corrosion better than other metals.
That repair did last until we moved.

He had memorized many long poems when he was young, 
everything from Tennyson to Robert W. Service,
and could be induced to recite them.

And he favored several of the old songs, and would sometimes sing one
while working in the garden. Annie Laurie was one of his favorites.
I miss being around people who knew those old songs.
And I still miss my father, who died in 1987.

The image above is of one of the haiku cards I made as gifts
when we went to Japan for a haiku conference.
I like to cut old rejected photos, particularly landscapes, 
 into one-inch slices; and then find something
 to work with. Sometimes, 
one can draw out from the edges
onto the mounting paper,
but I haven't done that here.

Good night, Dad. . .

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Chasing the Moon

Oh, wow! We turned left off the Almaden Expressway in a light rain. 
And there was the MOON, its light spread out by the raindrops
on the windshield. I took more pictures.

This is one of the next ones; I got closer to the glass 
and tried to hold steady. The car kept on going east.
The windshield wipers pulsed.

Three blocks later. I jumped out of the car and ran to the corner, beyond the obstructing trees.
And now the moon had covered its face with cloud.

Monday, March 21, 2016


Only another half-hour remains of this day.
All day today I have been tidying up this and that
and not getting down to serious business.
This photo was taken a couple of years ago--
it's a view of our Michigan meadow through
some of the big windows in the front room.
We might make it back there this year;
we will just have to wait and see what we can manage.
Who knows how much more serious business 
I will have time for.
This photo reminded me that Al Young on Facebook
is posting pictures he took in and through windows;
so is Marlene Mountain!
Think about this . . .

Sleep comes its little while. Then I wake
In the valley of midnight or three a.m.
to the first fragrances of spring

which is coming, all by itself, no matter what.
My heart says, what you thought you have you do not have.
My body says, will this pounding ever stop?

My heart says, there, there, be a good student.
My body says, let me up and out, I want to fondle
those soft white flowers, open in the night.

Mary Oliver        (born September 10, 1935)

A Thousand Mornings, Penguin, 2013, page 34. (Kindle)

I was delighted to find out just now that Mary Oliver was only four days old on the day I was born. It's my cool fact of the day.

OK, now you write one!  Simple title, you could even use this one. Three three-line stanzas. Nothing fancy about the rhyme or meter; lines of irregular length. Regular punctuation, just as if it were plain prose. End with a wish or a want. . .     Good night! Spring is coming, or already here. . .

Sunday, March 20, 2016

By the seashore . . .

This is a section of dance regalia from the Odawa powwow near Harbor Springs, MI,
many years ago. Cowrie shells
were used as money by many Native American tribes, 
when they could find or trade for them.
It is interesting to note that shells have often been used as money
at many different times and places.
It is often difficult for me to walk on the beach with putting one or two shells in a pocket.

here is one quick link from eBay.
Be sure to scroll down the page!

      butterfly-shell clams

These minute shells, open but hinged,
rest in a mahogany dish turned
by my uncle. After he died,
Mother, flying thousands of miles,
carried it to me. The shells have traveled
their own migration, brought west
by a friend from her Florida beach,
the coquinas persistently leaving
these spread wings for her daily walk.

Opalescent, citrine, amethyst,
they shine in this desert light
as if they belonged---
like rabbitbrush in bloom,
or very old, discarded bottles changed
by the desert sun from clear to violet.

They cluster now on the handrubbed wood
as if each receding or advancing tide,
each mallet stroke of sun, 
has been worth it.

June Frankland Baker
                             Commonweal, 14 August, 1992, page 27.

My haiku mentor, Kiyoko Tokutomi, came from a place in Southern Japan, on the island of Kyushu, where the beach had similar pink shells, which she called in English: cherry petal shells. She loved them in childhood; these tiny things can be very evocative.

Click here for Kiyoko's haiku!

and then there old tongue-twister:
She sells seashells by the seashore!
Say it over and over. . . . . . . . .

The poem was written by my best friend from high school, 
who found me again through another poet, Naomi Clark, 
many years ago. I am trying to reduce my worldly possessions, 
and so have been looking though many hanging-file-folders.
Last week I found this clipping from Commonweal.

My favorite line in the poem is:
"each mallet stroke of sun"
I think it is an excellent observation, uniquely expressed!

June Frankland Baker continues to write and publish her poems;
she lives now in Washington State.
She is also a regular reader of this blog;
this is a surprise for her. . .

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The New Stove

Often, one sees a survivor from the past and wonders if anyone now remembers anything 
about who once lived there, ot touched that. This is a house I saw outside St. Ignace, Michigan,
while we were on our way back to California from one of our long sojourns
in the Michigan woods near the Tip of the Mitt. The steeper pitch of the roof
gives us some idea of the winters here.
And the beautiful weathered grays of the wood
cry out to be rendered in watercolor.

The New Stove

The old one, ungainly, out of place
    sits by the back door, sides
streaked with old meals, buttons
    carrying old fingerprints
away --- tomorrow to Union Gospel.

It was my mother's stove, our
     companion for fourteen years,
collaborator on how many meals!
     Burners black and still, oven
going cold in the weather, dead clock

deader still. Once it was her
     new stove, hers for a year
before her death at forty-five ---
     clearly not good enough to keep
her alive, but good enough to 

carry me this far, to forty-six
     in this kitchen where I sit
dreaming back and forth, consulting
     that dead clock and those
dark burners with no news of food ---

only memories going back to a day
     in winter, when the stove, unnoticed,
became ours. I remember the last 
     drive to the hospital, my father
driving, my arm over the seat

to hold her hand, holding as if pulling
     her along, holding as if keeping her
from falling some great distance ---
     towing that dry hand all the way.
I remember how my arm went

numb, how I wanted it to sleep
     and hurt, to somehow pay and buy
her back with stupid pain. There was
     her dry hand and her eyes
and that drive going on and on

yet too short. And there was that truck
     of junk leading us --- old refrigerators,
old stoves, battered and rusty --- which
      I tried to stare away but it
continued, bearing its trite symbols

of the obsolete, our culture's silly
     signs of death, and all the while
her new stove waited at home,
     shiny, guaranteed for 
years and years to come . . .

Vern Rutsala

Backtracking, Story Line Press, Santa Cruz, 1995, pages 43, 44.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Honeyflow

First bloom of improbable, thin silk-like beauty of our pink tree peony! 
It usually blooms much later in springtime than this. 
And usually, within a day or two, a wind-and-rain storm 
destroys its delicate petals. We shall see. . .
If has been about 50 years since we began this garden around our new house, 
where the topsoil had been graded off before the foundations were laid 
in what had been a field where tomatoes were grown. 
The builders claimed to have put the topsoil back
before they had seeded the front lawn. It didn't seem that way! 
Over the years we added a truckload and countless bags of mulch. 
And now, you can usually pull a weed, although I am sure
the soil would absorb more compost if it had a chance!

The Sprinkle House at Busro Creek

In 1809 the Shakers established a settlement called
West Union, at Busro Creek on the Wabash River,
in Indiana Territory. There they brought under
cultivation a two-thousand-acre tract Subsequently 
known as Shaker Prairie. During the next few years
they set up a distillery, a gristmill and a sawmill.

By 1820 they had constructed a three-story brick
community house having twenty-five rooms, twenty-
one fireplaces, and two kitchens (one for the women
and one for the men). The following year they built
a meeting house across the road from the dwelling

An epidemic of malaria forced the Shakers to give up
the settlement in 1827. The meeting house alone was
left standing. For many years it was thought to be
a frame structure, but when it was torn down in 1875,
workmen discovered brick walls between the studs.

The present Sprinkle House was built with these
salvaged brick. A square, two-story residence in the
Federal Style, it now stands abandoned and open to the
weather on a gravel road five miles west of Oaktown,
a small farming community north of Vincennes.

Though we are gone for eight-score years, this place ---
this ruined hearth, bricks slipping from the walls---
is struck from what we saw: as though each face

that witnessed here were laid in tiers, all
joined as one.  However strange that seems
to you who stand here now, hearing the call

od mourning dove and the slow, steady stream 
and hum of workers bringing the honeyflow
to the beech tree, only remove the beam

from your own eye, soften your heart and know
we are your neighbors still. Would this be 
lasting, this clover, this wind that blows

through the broken windowframes, if we
found refuge solely in each other? We gave
our all to God, and to Mother Ann Lee;

for them we danced, and not ourselves. To save
was never our intent, but to become
true children of an earthly Zion. No grave

could hold that dream. Now that you've come
this far, rest in the shade and stillness,
walk here alone, notice the print of thumb

and finger on the scove-fired brick, guess
what songs we sang going out to the fields
each workday morning. Let your footsteps press

and sink in the mole-haunted grass, feel
earth's give and take. This is the race
we entered, and for your sake, won: the real.

Jared Carter

After the Rain, Cleveland State University, 1993, pages 33-34.

After I found Carter's poem in the old Laurel Review, I ordered his books! This poet is writing great stuff! Jared Carter has a website, too! This poem also interests me because I have read and studied about the Shakers since my parents moved to Shaker Heights in 1957. We lived upstairs in their home while both of us were finishing graduate work at Western Reserve. The Shakers are particularly interesting to me because they came out of the same period of 19th century Christian upheavals that produced the Mormons. And Mormonism is the religion I was raised in. And the attitude, the interest in--and wondering reverence-- in this poem for what my cousin once called "our forebearers", is very similar to my own.

Now, about this poem! Notice the easy grace with which the middle line in each stanza rhymes with the first and third lines in the following three-line grouping. Notice how the prose introduction throws you off the track so one can go along for quite a while innocently reading without pouncing on each rhyme.

Jared Carter will be back on this blog! But don't wait until then to look for more of his poetry on the internet and in your bookstore!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Destinies and Doings

This is my older son demonstrating what a good elder brother he was! 
This picture was taken in the early 1970s.
My older daughter must be taking the picture, 
because she was the one with the camera that
took these square black and whites. 
At the top, our daughter Michele,
and in the front, Kipp, who grew up to be a Highway Patrolman!
My husband and I now have our one story retirement house in Idaho, across the street
from elder brother. It's where I am able to photograph so many ducks
near the back yard creek.

I guess this post is about the swift and terrifying passage of time. . .
and about families.


                              Elsewhere Anchises,
Fatherly and intent, was off in a deep green valley
Surveying and reviewing souls consigned there,
Those due to pass to the light of the upper world.
It so happened he was just then taking note

Of his whole posterity, the destinies and doings,
Traits and qualities of descendents dear to him,
But seeing Aeneas come wading through the grass
Towards him, he reached his two hands out
In eager joy, his eyes filled up with tears
And he gave a cry: "At last! Are you here at last?
I always trusted that your sense of right
Would prevail and keep you going to the end.
And am I now allowed to see your face,
My son, and hear you talk, and talk to you myself?

This is what I imagined and looked forward to
As I counted the days; and my trust was not misplaced.
To think of the lands and the outlying seas
You have crossed, my son, to receive this welcome.
And after such dangers! I was afraid that Africa
Might be your undoing." But Aeneas replied:
"Often and often, father, you would appear to me.
Your sad shade would appear, and that kept me going
To this end. My ships are anchored in the Tuscan sea.
Let me take your hand, my father, O let me, and do not

Hold back from my embrace." And as he spoke he wept.
Three times he tried to reach arms round that neck.
Three times the form, reached for in vain, escaped
Like a breeze between his hands, a dream on wings.

                                   ---Virgil    (70 B.C.-19 B.C.)

Translated, from the Latin, by Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013.
The New Yorker, March 7, 2016, page 27.

Try to find some recordings of Seamus reading; his voice is wonderful! We heard him read several times in the Bay Area years ago.

Tonight I am thinking about time, and the passing of time. Heaney has done quite a few translations, notably his whole huge Beowolf, which he rendered in more accessible modern English.

In this poem, notice some of the formal aspects, which add to the feeling tone of verses that were written so long ago. One of these formalities is the use of a capital letter at the beginning of each line, whether the sentence structure calls for it or not. Also, two shorter stanzas begin and end the poem, enclosing two stanzas each more than twice as long. The poem also uses a full complement of punctuation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

On Reading Three Books at a Time

Reading has had an outsized importance in my family life. 
I became an avid reader as a child,
and have not really stopped, although 
sometimes I have slowed down a little.
I married an English teacher, and then I became a librarian.
This is my husband reading to the oldest daughter of our younger son
about ten years ago.

From an interview with the writer
John Brantingham

Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?

John: These change as the conditions of my life change. I love books that I can come back to again and again and give me the message that I need. For a long time in my childhood James and the Giant Peach was important to me. I know that sounds strange, but I was the ultimate lonely child, and this was a book about gaining friends and having adventures. When I was older, I read and reread Graham Greene’s novels, especially when I was struggling with issues of identity and religion. Raymond Carver is someone I return to and Andres Dubus too. As for poets, I love E.E. Cummings, Sharon Olds, Donna Hilbert, and so many people I can’t mention them all.

Mentors have been and remain important to me. I think some of the people who were important to me don’t know that they were. My first early mentor was my older brother Mark, who has the same love and talent for writing as I do. I nearly failed out of high school because I was hard of hearing and got no help, and I was severely depressed. I came to college thinking that I would probably waste a couple of years and get some kind of job that needed little or no competence and maybe write for myself. Community college saved me, and the professors there showed me that I had value, especially Pam Arterburn and Robin Tripp. Later, my M.F.A. experience shaped me and the kind of work ethic and writer I wanted to be. Suzanne Greenberg, Ray Zepeda, and Gerald Locklin really taught me how to write.

Fiona: What book are you reading now?

John: I always read three books at a time. I’m rereading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie right now because I want to write the story of Pomona, California, and I wanted to review how he structured his story of India. Besides, who doesn’t adore Rushdie. I’m also reading Ellen Bass’s new poetry collection and a Bill Dix novel by Chris Swinney. Chris is a good friend and a great writer. I love his work.

The source of these quotes is the interview with John Brantingham found at this link.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Spring's Narcosis

A few days ago, Rafael watered in some fertilizer 
and left the hose in the graceful loops seen here. 
Early spring is the time for Plum Petal Fall,
almost like light snow.


The silent rage scribbles on the i
nward wall.
Fruit trees in bloom, the cuckoo calls out.
This is spring's narcosis. But the silent rage
paint its slogans backwards in garages.

We see all and nothing, but straight as periscopes
handled by the underworld's timid crew.
It's the war of minutes. The broiling sun
stands over the hospital, suffering's parking lot.

We the living nails hammered down in society!
One day we'll come loose from everything.
We'll feel death's air under our wings
and be milder and wilder then we are here.

Tomas Tranströmer

Bright Scythe by Tomas Transtromer, 
translations by Patty Crane, Sarabande, 2015, 
Kindle location 1223

I don't feel quite this bad most days, unless I am thinking about Donald Trump, which I do as little as humanly possible. 
But this poem is, as many of Transtromer's other poems are, 
unblinkingly sad. And now he is gone; 
I'm glad he got his Nobel Prize first!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Four Family Friends

These four people were a very important part of my childhood in the 1940s. Both couples lived in Scotia, N.Y. The Leighs lived in the house next door, (which we had rented before we bought 316 First Street) and the Hansens lived down the street. (I remember being impressed by their thrift (and the way they spent 
easy time together) when my mother told me 
that they took an evening walk together 
to the library to read the newspaper, 
thus saving the cost of a subscription.  
We all went to church together every Sunday, 
first to the LDS Branch in Albany 
and later to the Schenectady LDS Branch.

Left to right, Henry Leigh, Joan Cooley Leigh (originally from Bountiful, Utah) Evelynn Sylvester Hansen (originally from Southern Utah near Monroe) and Burns Hansen. 
My mother probably took the slide,
perhaps in Utah, in a house I do not recognize.

The men were young engineers who had come east 
to Schenectady to work for General Electric, like my father. 
Both couples transferred back to Utah after several years, 
but we kept in lifelong touch, 
and visited whenever we could. 

The man in the white shirt is Burns Hansen, my first love.
His kind attention was ever available; I never saw him lose
his temper or even get annoyed. I planned to look 
for a husband just like him, since he was already taken.

Skating Backwards 
is also the title of my poetry manuscript in progress.


Sometimes my life opened its eyes in the dark.
A feeling as if crowds moved through the streets
in blindness and angst on the way to a miracle
while I, invisible, remain standing still.

Like the child who falls asleep afraid
listening to his heart's heavy steps.
Long, long until morning slips its rays in the locks
and the doors of darkness open.

Tomas Transtromer
                                        translated by Patty Crane

Bright Scythe: 
Selected Poems of Tomas Transtromer; translated by Patty Crane.  (Kindle location 230)

The feeling-tone of this poem is not synchronous with my memories of the people in the picture. At that Scotia time I never fell asleep afraid; I had a blessed childhood, really. 

I love the work of Transtromer, and was very glad to see these new translations (with the Swedish originals on the facing pages, which are wonderful to examine!) by a new translator who has selected poems from all parts of his long career.

I have missed doing this blog and hopefully will resume now.