Sunday, December 18, 2016

In the Week of the Winter Solstice

Early this morning, through the laundry room window: a tiny square of gray sky, black laurel leaves streaked with snow, and the moon limping westward.

Nothing I ever wanted means anything to me, now: the leaf-shadows nodded on the concrete floor, while the rectangles of moonlight containing them moved just slow enough that I never saw them doing it, like the minute hand of an old clock. There is a metaphor for days and years, here, if I were clever enough to make it. Or maybe there isn't, and I'm just clever enough to tell that there's not, without being able to say why.

The mountain was out this morning, in a new dress of snow, the brilliant white and bluish shadow in stylized blotches, so that I wanted to copy down the ideograph the ridge lines made: forward and backward esses forming the borders between the shades of white. See, I would say, this is the character for mountain.

But there is no need for a character for mountain when the mountain is there to point at. And what's the point of talking about a mountain when it's gone? What are we doing now, and what have we ever done? We have grown old talking about what we remember, or wanted to remember. There's a hitch and slow-down, every time I rise from a chair recently: a caution. Perhaps I cracked a rib the other day.

Tomorrow, maybe, the ice will be gone, and life will be more pliant. My petulance at not being able to go out precisely when and how I like begins to wear on me: and then I think of the people in Mosul or Aleppo, of what real constriction looks like, and I'm ashamed of myself.

I go slowly in the dark, holding my hand out to find the door. There. When the door is at arms' length, the steps up to it are there to be stepped on: two shallow steps and and then a third half-step onto the sill, from the garage into the kitchen. I wonder if this little house is the last physical place I will memorize, and be able to move around easily without light.

Sunday, December 04, 2016


Frontispiece by Walter Crane, 1907

The theme of my recent reading, by chance, if you wish, has been donkeys, asses, burros. I just reread with pleasure Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes -- with an internal shiver at Stevenson's odd precocity: he was in his twenties, but he muses with a brittle, elderly wisdom, as if caught in a temporal backwash from his early death -- and I am slowly making my way through Juan Ramón Jiménez's Platero y Yo. I don't think I've read Platero before, but I wonder if I read it when young and forgot it: if it set me the example for the sort of blog-writing I do best. Anyway, Platero is the poet's donkey, and often addressed in the mode I call "the second person blogular." You -- yes, you -- are the intimate who will understand, though the rest of the world mock: the object of all the tenderness that would otherwise be spilled and wasted.

Stevenson thinks of writing as I do: in the dedication to the Travels he writes:
Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it.  They alone take his meaning; they find private messages, assurances of love, and expressions of gratitude, dropped for them in every corner.  The public is but a generous patron who defrays the postage.
You can read it in an evening, free from Gutenberg: Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


She said: you have broken it; now you get to see inside.
She said: what you've worked on all your life is worthless.

I said, if what I've worked on all my life is worthless,
high time to break it. There is still a streak of gold 

where the low sill of the eastern sky is cracked;
and if you think I am afraid you do not know me yet.

She said: what have you given to your children but loss?
I said, then at least I have taught them what there is to lose.

She said: what will you give me, to make it all untrue?
I said, nothing will make it all untrue, but I will plant

such strange things in your breast that their singing 
will haunt you in the morning and the night,

till its wickerwork is open, and their song
has spread apart your willow ribs and turned them into light.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Broken World

My heart is convinced that Trump will win this election. My head says no, and points to our three point lead, and a variety of ingenious reasons for thinking that two-thirds of the imponderable and unpollable influences will break Clinton's way in the end-game: but my heart has its own reasons, and it says that liberalism and democracy are dead: our social capital is expended to the last penny: and we really are going to elect a sociopath to hold coke parties adorned with Playboy bunnies on the back lawn of the White House. I have always, of course, been a political gloomy Gus, and my originally low opinion of American political intelligence -- I came to political awareness, mind, during the Watergate hearings -- has gone steadily down for four decades. 

Joaquín Sarollo: Benito Pérez Galdós

Hitler's election in 1933 was, to my mind, understandable. Germany was undergoing political and economic convulsions that made desperate measures seem the only rational response. Inflation was running at a thousand percent: Communists and Brownshirts were rioting and brawling nightly in the streets. And Hitler was a war hero and a patriot, a man who loved his country deeply and was passionate about its restoration. If he had a bee in his bonnet about Jews, well, at least he was not in the pocket of the big banks.

In the United States, meanwhile, everything is fine. Basic crime rates are the lowest I've known in my life. The economy is in full recovery from the great recession. Our perennial wars are far away and fought by volunteer poor people, who like that sort of thing. We want to elect our fascist, apparently, just to see what happens to a polity if you break it.

Charles Dickens

The autumn is walking in the hills, and the beauty is almost unendurable. There is sudden fire in the wet forest, and the hands that reach out to me from the past are strong, warming after that first cold contact: the fire of old loves, of hearts that yearned for ordinary decent lives for ordinary decent people. In the hills it's harder to believe in the triumph of hatred and suspicion.

Émile Zola

I have nothing to say. I love you all. We don't know what the future holds, but we know that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and receive weary wanderers with an open heart. We will go on doing that, where we can. The world is, was, and always will be broken.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Tryon Creek

Under the tall cascaras and the alders
I limp to the creek on shells of sodden gold; no one 
peels these trees but God and ravenkind.

The knees and the hips of my jeans are wet:
I've been nosing in the bushes like a truffling pig,
looking for disregarded, not yet ruined things.

It was just yesterday, or some few centuries ago,
the earl king came riding through these woods,
and saw your lowered gaze, and took your offering

of painfully gathered herbs: a prudent soul
is careful of kings, but also of ladies with sharp eyes
who linger where the strong root fingers tangle

in the bright hair of the brook. No more.
Neither he nor you, nor even I, for long,
will walk at large on the creeksides

in this new-made world of time.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


And if I rise from beds to walk
on brilliant yellow leaf:
And if the one who huddles in
so timid warm and brief

is the one who found me after all 
and called me into life:
how thank those woolen feet I held
in service to their wife?

But walk a little further 
where the gray clouds shear away, 
and blinding silver pours
out into dawn of day. 
I'd thought of Venus 
and of Vulcan, and of interlocking doors--

but I had thought that Venus
had loaned me to her friend,
to spread her skin with orange oil,
as comfort at the end.

(For even splendid husbands die by afternoon, 
and skin longs for a stroking hand,
and the long dark evening calls 
for cradling when it can.)

No. It it is the little one,
whose candelabra formed 
of pukel men with hollow eyes
was seldom lit or warmed:

She struck the match and named 
me, and I was bound to come:
bound to receive her fingerprints
in the wet clay of my palms.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Well, it is like someone playing keyboards, 
meditatively, way high on the scale, as high
as the the sound will go. Or like a steampunk
mosquito swaying at my ear. Or like 
a silver brightness, not quite seen.
It is what silence sounds like now:
the goddess of hazards who hums as she works;
or the sift of the sunrise between steel clouds.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Pledge Of Other Things

Start again: it's the morning walk,
the long slow flourish
of silver in the gray sky, the sudden
slash of rain across my face,
and the leaves scrambling on the street:
if I've forgotten the recklessness that matters
then I've forgotten everything.

Start again.
One painful step, the aching heels,
the flash of pain that runs from hip to calf,
the relief of closing eyes against the light,
so that the pulse knocks once, twice, thrice against the lids.

Start again.
Leave the brutal soldiers to their work,
leave Nineveh its overlaid, perpetual collapse.
Did I think there was no work for me alone to do?
But it's one stone at a time. This word:
its heft in the hand, its longing
for a throat to call its own.

Cup my hands and let them fill with light,
let the radiance dribble down my chin. 
I have forgotten, haven't I? I have.
No matter. Start again.

Straighten up, and the company of ghosts
shuffling at my heels 
falls back and falls behind: they can't keep pace
with standing still.

One prayer learned late or early
will make them flinch; and this light,
this rainwashed silver scarf,
is a pledge of other things
soon to be remembered in their turn.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Not Saying Things: Part Three

Well, sure. Let's talk about plutocracy and corruption, then.

There's such an array of stuff that Clinton is accused of that you can end up a bit dazed. This part is easier if you're old, because the stuff came at you a little at a time, and you knew where it was coming from. I don't even remember what the hell Whitewater was supposed to be about, but I know that I looked at it and thought it completely bogus. Likewise the murder of Vince Foster. In those days Bill Clinton was hugely popular, and attacking his far less popular, unladylike wife looked like a better shot than attacking him directly. They started making crap up to throw at her.

If you want to dive it and relive those wonderful days, be my guest. I'm done. The Clinton enemies have been at this for a very long time.

But there was lots of new stuff to sort through. There was the whatever-it-was she was supposed to have done or left undone in re Benghazi. She was supposedly giving all our uranium away to Russia. She was taking extraordinary amounts in speaker fees from Wall Street.

Michael Arnowitz -- a Portlander, I'm happy to say, though I don't know him -- did a nice takedown of the whole silly speaker fees thing. The guys holding the Benghazi hearings ended up with egg on their face and the question of whatever-it-was is as mysterious as ever. It turns out that, no, Secretary Clinton did not sign away the nation's uranium. What I ran into that was entirely new to me was the Clinton Foundation, presented as a sinister money-laundering operation.

So, the foundation? As it happens, I know a bit about non-profits and how to evaluate them. The Clinton Foundation is a good one, and it spends its money exactly as it says it does. It calls itself a foundation, but it's actually, mostly, a charity: they run their own programs, addressing things such as the availability of drinkable water and HIV medications in Africa. So Pence gets to say the Clinton Foundation takes in all this money and then only spends ten percent in grants. That's true -- because it isn't primarily a grant-funding operation. They do their own stuff, and they do it well and transparently, and they get good ratings from the people who rate charities.

Aha! But people get political favors if they make big donations! Well -- no, they don't. I spent a while chasing this stuff down as well as I could, and I found exactly one iffy-looking nomination to some board after a big donation. It wasn't really a very exciting corruption story. Okay, but -- if you make a big donation you get face time with Clinton, possibly at the State Department, and God knows what goes on in those meetings! No doubt some very sinister favor trading, so cleverly done that no one can detect it.

This is where we're finally getting down to what's real about the trouble with Clinton, and the Democratic Party, and money. Yes. Money gets you access. It generally always has. This is why so many big corporations donate to both parties. When they've got a political issue, they want to make sure they can stroll over and have a little talk about it.

Clinton thinks this is not a problem, because she is not going to offer a quid pro quo. I actually -- laugh at me if you like -- totally believe her about the quid pro quo. I think she's incorruptible. If somebody says, "here's thirty million for your foundation, will you get the State Department to approve our arms deal?" she'll say, "thanks so much! The State Department will approve it or not approve it on its merits!" And they'll go away thinking they've bribed her, and the State Department will approve it or not approve it on its merits, and some people in Africa will get HIV meds.

I have no doubt whatever that one of the benefits that the Clintons anticipated, when they started their foundation, was an extra reason to have face to face time with people in the donor class. Those are people with power, and the Clintons gravitate to power. Always have. They would probably have given these people face time anyway, because they like to keep in touch with powerful people. And *that* is a problem. Just that these are the people that Clinton sees, week in and week out. The people she talks with. The people she's tuned to.

It is not, however, corruption. Clinton is pro-business: she's hardly made a secret of that. She thinks corporation and businesses are the source of American prosperity -- I think that's true myself -- and that therefore they need to be supported and encouraged. As a far-left kind of guy, I think this is a problem. Clinton (and the Democratic party) are just too cozy with these folks. They're biased in favor of business from the git-go.

But being pro-business is not the same thing as being corrupt. It means you lean rightward. It means that you have no particular impulse to become well-versed in environmental issues. It means that you know all about business and corporate concerns about legislation right away, and maybe hear about other concerns later, if at all. It's the perpetual bias of both parties, and will be as long as politics is donation-driven.

Is this plutocracy? Well, yeah, kinda sorta, over the long haul it works out that way. But it's no particular fault of Clinton's, and she's no worse about it than anyone else. It's a systemic problem, and it's not one that Sanders or anyone else was going to fix from the White House. If it's to be fixed, it will fixed legislatively, and state by state -- almost precinct by precinct. It's very, very deeply inwoven in American politics. (And if you think it's worse now than it used to be, you really need to read up on American political history. I particularly recommend the first volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power.)

The most important step at present, in reducing money's sway over politics, is overturning Citizens United, which Clinton is totally and publicly committed to doing -- she's even saying in so many words, if you don't plan to overturn it, don't apply for a Supreme Court nomination. Even if you think Clinton is crooked, I think you can agree it is not her style to renege on something that simply put and forcefully repeated: if she's president, Citizens United goes down.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Not Saying Things: Part Two

I came to have a higher opinion of Bernie Sanders, as I followed him in the primaries. My opinion of both candidates, in fact, was much higher at the end of the primaries than the beginning: I seem to be the only human being in the nation of whom this is true. I liked him. He was civil and respectful throughout the campaign. And of course I agreed in principle with a lot of what he was saying, because I am way off to the left of the American electorate, and he was saying a lot of lefty sorts of things.

In fact, I see that I have to back up a bit to explain my initial bias against him, which may seem a bit mysterious, at this point.

Once upon a time I was an opinionated young man -- even more opinionated than I am now, I mean; a really opinionated young man -- and like many young men I took my opinions very, very seriously. I measured politicians by how much they agreed with me. If you agreed with me about a lot of things, then I thought you were a good politician. If Bernie Sanders had been a national figure at that time I have no doubt he would have been my favorite guy. I was a sucker for third parties, in those days, and I was predisposed to like someone who bucked the parties. "Independent" and "maverick" were words that deeply appealed to me.

Well, time went on, as it does, and my respect for opinions -- mine, everyone's -- dwindled. Everyone's got them, and it doesn't actually matter all that much what they are. When it comes to things actually happening, it's not the politician with the right opinions who matters. It's the politician who can wheedle, threaten, beg, or bargain enough to get other people to go along. And those politicians were the people who took their party machinery seriously, and who worked to get their hands on its levers.

The other thing that became apparent to me, with the passage of time, and the reading of history, was that the two party system was not an accident or a happenstance. There will always be two parties, roughly equal in power, in the United States, apart from re-alignments once or twice a century. It's baked into the Constitution. (That's ironic, because the writers of the Constitution hated parties, and hoped we could have a political life without them; but hey. They were doing this democratic republic thing for the first time. Cut them a little slack.)

So anyway -- whether that's true or not, it was the way I was thinking by the time Sanders came to my attention. "Independent" had lost its charm for me. So had opinionated guys. I cared about legislation, and tax structures, and the composition of the Supreme Court.

Over the course of the primaries, I learned more about Sanders, and though I never learned much respect for his ideas about foreign policy, which were at best sketchy, nor about banking, which I thought were uninformed, I did learn to respect him as a politician. He did lots of progressive networking, and his relationship with the Democratic Party was nuanced and fruitful. He wasn't just exploiting the Democrats by staying outside the party and then running inside it. He was trying to move the party, and he understood how difficult it is to do that from the inside. So I liked him, and I like him still. I hope he's in the Senate another thirty years, and I hope someday we will have made the Democratic Party a place he can call home.

Saturday, October 01, 2016


A wind from the South, bringing rain.
The wires tremble, trying to remember
the art of winter and the arrangement 
of a thousand glassy silvery eyes: they knew it once
by heart.

My lady of summer glances back, amused,
but she doesn't bother to wave.
She's already thinking of a dalliance 
she might resume where the river Plate
freshens the Atlantic, and little fish
twinkle on crowded decks, 
and the southern lapwing calls.

Here, the ribs of the sky expand,
and every gutter runs
clean but tannin-stained. If I falter,
it is my age: a strong steady hanker
still draws me to the wind.
it is October,
when the greater gods and goddesses arrive.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Not Saying Things: Part One

I worried, as this year's presidential primary season was taking shape. The Democratic field was small and crap quality. Clinton was a center Democrat, with policies identical to Obama's in almost every regard; not brilliant, but someone who at least did her homework. She was of the great networkers and coalition builders of our time: but no talent for retail politics. Then there was someone whose name I could never remember, and still can't: Malloy? Never figured out why he was running. And then there was Sanders, the sort of fluffy-left politician I couldn't stand. He had never changed an opinion in fifty years of public life. He had one speech, which he made over and over, and his solution to any problem was to resurrect the 1970s playbook. Got a problem? Create a large new federal program! He was exactly the sort of politico that ran the Democratic party into a ditch, in my youth, and ushered in the Reagan revolution.

I didn't like any of these candidates very much. But any of them would do. I don't look to presidents for "the vision thing": I want them to take orders from their party and do the slogging administrative duties of the state. They were all neoliberals (though Sanders didn't seem to know he was), and none of them represented any significant change. Fine. With the Republicans in control of Congress, nothing was going to change anyway. Deadlock was the best we could hope for. I planned to vote for Sanders, since Clinton was obviously going to win anyway, and one likes to send a message to the Democratic establishment. ("Hey, there's still a vestigial Left in existence! Hey! Hey!")

But Sanders, improbably enough, started making a real play for the nomination. And I thought he'd be an especially ineffective president. Whereas the more I looked at Clinton the more liked her, especially for the scrappy, ugly fight that the next four years were going to be. I watched myself morph into a Clinton supporter, somewhat to my own surprise.

But my worry became more intense. The worry was simply this: that I knew the Republicans would try to make the Clinton and Sanders people hate each other. And I knew they had a shiny new tool for that: social media. So I resolved not to be played. I would just shut up. I would not argue with the Sanders people. Not a word. I would not open my mouth until well after the primaries, when they'd gotten over it. No wrangling from me.

I did it too. I just shut my trap. 

It was a bad decision, for several reasons. The main one: I overestimated what I could do. I thought I could just hold back everything I wanted to say, and still be the same person. That I could just let the lies and insults go by. It wasn't so. I came out the other end embittered, angrier at Sanders people than at Trump people. The Republicans hadn't just succeeded in making the Sanders people hate me. They'd succeeded in making me hate the Sanders people. I work every day to unwind that, to try to think of them still as allies. It's not working very well. I'd have done better to have brawled with them: I'd probably like them better now, if I had. Or maybe not. In any case, it wasn't worth it. Though I do feel that it gave me insight into Clinton's character. Clinton has spent a lifetime not saying things: I got a glimpse of what that's like.

Monday, September 05, 2016

September: Progress Report

Losing one's identity is, according to some Buddhists, a consummation devoutly to be wished. I have certainly lost mine. I used to be someone who was extraordinarily well-read. Now, well, I read sometimes, sometimes. Often I just look at silly old movies on YouTube, movies from my native country of the seventies, with the sound off. Or I refresh, monitoring my bets. I read 538 and religiously. I wander in and out of Facebook, far less conversational than I used to be: a mostly silent figure. When I do speak -- or rather type -- I am haunted by how often I have said exactly the same things, time and time again: Oh yes, I say that because I am a Buddhist, a Redistributionist, a Literary Man, A Person Who Looks At The Sky. But really, of course, I am a man who looks at his computer, and who feels that all these identities have grown into enormous suits, that dwarf him, like Byrne's suit in Stop Making Sense. And often I wander away now without saying anything, because what do I really have to say, I, this shrunken little old man gazing rapt at the shreds of his native, vanishing world? I have nothing to say. It was all a lot of silly posturing. I am surprised when I find that I can still speak those languages.

When I read aloud, I can hear my voice changing, the sibilants becoming wheezier, less distinct. When my brother, five years my elder, came out to visit, after many years away, that was was struck me most forcibly: he was hale as ever, but he had an old man's voice. And so I have been watching for the onset. And there it is: some faint loss of suppleness or agility in my tongue. No one else seems to notice it, but I do. 

This is real too: the watch I keep on my own physical decay. It is not quite what I would have thought. I welcome every loss: I am comforted by it. I feared I might be immortal, indestructible. I am not.

And, from someone who never gave a damn about money, I have become parsimonious, hypersensitive to the varied meanings of spending and withholding money. This small person I have become, darting from one hiding place to another, realizes only too well how much of his foothold in the world comes from being able to pay his own way.

In the bits and pieces of Spanish that I read, in primers and first readers and such, it is astonishing how front-and-center the passion of parsimonious grasping is. Over and over the lesson taught to the Spanish-speaking child is: the life of the grasping miser is a wretched one. Spend freely and be a man. Generosity is what makes a human life. I tell you, the takeover of American culture by Latinos can't come fast enough for me. Taco trucks on every corner, and a Church that takes its duty to the poor seriously? Bring it.

And I wander, barely here, redeemed by massage and human touch, when I am redeemed. And by the sky above me, when I am riding my bicycle: that still happens sometimes too.


The month of love and renewal, in my personal calendar. I am not sad, though I suppose I sound so: I am happy, confused, and young.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The White Calves of the Northmen

Hah. Rode my bike the scant four miles to Tom's, and back!

No doubt I look very silly, trudging up the Mt Tabor switchback, pushing my bike, with my rolled up trouser legs; and sillier still swooshing down the eastern side, my pale hairy calves glaring at the sky, and my white beard floating in the wind. The native priests are invoking their Lord: from the white calves of the northmen, dear God, deliver us!  Soon enough He will, O Walesas! But not yet, not yet.

A white-sky day with faintly perceptible drizzle, not enough to wet a bicycle seat. September, a day early.

Full of love for you all. Good morning!

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Pull a needle from the cushion.
Mine is too weak to see its, now;
but thread by feel, by the give
when the thread finds its way,
and the resistance 
when it's drawn through against the odds.

What will we know later?
Not much. The sweetest hem will fail.
The kiss that fascinated, in the day,
will be perfunctory: received
as homage to antiquity.

If a breath inflates
a heart-locker deeper now than ever
still the ribs must shift against the fat,
bedded in gleaming white;
and a whole breath requires
first hauling the spine up straight.

Stitch by stitch around the cuff:
quick fencer's thrust
and tender tug, and finally
knotting off, again by feel, and
cinching it home. I hope to die this way,
a tientas, groping 
for an unknown certainty.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Sunset: Horsetail Falls

I think
I must limp into speech again
run a finger around 
the drain trap of the larynx
and shake the gettings off into the trash:
Sure older,
sorrier, less sure,
but still there are those who wait
like bachelor buttons on the roadside
swaying together with the queen anne's lace.

Even a very old woman, fading,
will find speech at odd times.
The first time she and her husband
(her first husband, not this one) were asked out
their hosts cooked on a wood stove, and
forgot the salt for the potatoes.
Just that: all the other details gone.
Where, when, why, we'll never know.
But she repeats, before the speech dies out again:
forgot the salt for the potatoes.

Still there are those who wait
like berries in the shadow of the bluff.

The last of the sun
makes a golden buzz of the line
where yellow-moss cliff meets sky,
and the water hits rock twice, three times,
before the final splash in the 
green dark below, where night
already has a hold. This is August,
and though tongue and throat are thick,
I think
I must limp into speech again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Frog Lake

A pale, worried, overstretched moon setting behind Mt Tabor: the sky light blue, faded before the day has even begun. Maybe we will have some summer after all, even if it is starting late in July.

Rubbed raw with politics, with the name-calling and the injustice and the vilification. If this is the best we can do, we had better close up shop.

By the little lake, yesterday, on the south slopes of Mt Hood, thousand of frogs, smaller than my little finger nail and as brown as the mud: we mistook them at first for insects. The whole shore was moving with them. To walk we had to retreat to the tree line, where it was dry; and the scented pine needles and twigs crunched under our feet.

An osprey came and surveyed the lake: he made one dive, splashing into the green water, but  missed his fish. He swept the lake again, twice, three times, he but didn't see anything he wanted to dive again for. He settled in the top of the tree, to brood about the Republican Convention, and work out a geometrical representation of the area of an irregular ovoid, reckoned in frog-yards, and how many fish-rises that should come to. The answer didn't lift his scowl, but he stayed there, swaying in the thin air and the shrill sunlight. There was peace maybe, somewhere, but he couldn't find it.

Then up highway 35, through the pleasant orchards and vineyards: a lovely and peaceful country, with glimpses of Mt Adams across the river; and then home along the Gorge. The cliffs on our left were outlined in a fuzzy, green-gold radiance, but my heart was closed to it. At Viento we stopped to use the bathrooms, and I suppose it was there that I lost my reading glasses, which I had perched incautiously on my knee while I napped in the passenger seat: no doubt I hopped out of the car and cast them out into the gravel. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2016


A house fly tapping the reflective linoleum with seven legs: the seventh, thicker than the rest, is of course his tongue. There is an abrupt typewriter rhythm to all his movements, and I wonder what his subjective experience -- if any -- might be: is he really dancing where he stands, a six- (seven-) legged Gene Kelly? Or to his own fly mind, are his movements as measured and deliberate as mine when I walk down the street?


A political distress comes to the boil: how thoroughly I disbelieve in the human capacity to grasp and grapple with the future! And yet we have to try. And the contempt we all have for each other seems to be all we have in common. I don't remember any equivalent to this contempt, even at the height of the fury about Vietnam. Where it all leads, I don't know, but it's hard to imagine it's going to be a good place.

I work hard not to participate: not to call names, not to impute motives, not to assume stupidity or ill will. It wears on my soul, because I do have strong opinions, and because they are very dark ones. I don't want to share the darkness, though. So I bite my tongue, and wait in the loneliness. There are worse things.

Meanwhile a delicate, beautiful summer unfolds, strangely kind and gentle: like the summers I remember from childhood, when we thought that the sky and the weather couldn't really change. Moments of peace.

Really though it just comes down to taking each task as it comes, and doing the best I can with it. I have no calling and no caller. I walk on the hillside, and the shaken catsear sends pale flakes into the air: I don't know what they're called -- they're not the seeds -- tiny husks, I guess. They launch for no reason, with no mission, but they ripple through the complexities of air, as if they had one.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Surrounded by Making

On the way out to Sylvan, at sunset, I'm on the lower deck of the Marquam bridge, leaving one snarl of freeway and approaching another. I get one quick glance at the new Tilikum Crossing, and then I'm negotiating the approaches to the Sunset Highway. This is all choreographed and memorized, because a wrong lane is a mistake that could cost me twenty minutes: and you don't maintain a massage practice by being twenty minutes late. So I focus. And anyway, the lower deck of the Marquam is more like a tunnel than like a bridge.

But coming back! I'm in the post-massage state of deep relaxation and tenderness. Night has fallen. I'm off the clock. And I'm on the upper deck of the Marquam, swooping up over the river with all the glorious lights of Portland off to my left. By planning or by fate, one lane takes me all the way through the labyrinth, from the Sunset to I-405 to the Banfield. I don't need to think. I need only follow my path, rising up and over, the world rotating beneath me: city lights, dark water, gleams, and glimpses.

Not long ago -- I don't remember the holiday: was it Memorial Day? -- there was a fireworks display on the river, and the starbursts of light were all around me.
Those shoals of dazzling glory, pass’d,
I lay my spirit down at last.
The return of a handclasp, a long exhalation. For a space of time, outside of the world of expectation and reckoning, outside of my own awkwardness and ambition. But the price of getting outside is accepting that I must go in again, without murmuring. And I do: but first, the interval of driving over the river, still breathing in tandem, still with my mind full of touch, of the long and detailed conversation of skin and skin. There's no translating it into words, and I won't try. But the nightfall and the trees outside the windows linger in my mind for days, and the hand-thrown pots that I must carefully step around. I am surrounded by making.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Muzzy with lack of sleep: Martha's phone was peeping -- at the high range audible to me, inaudible to her -- all night long, every minute on the minute, three quick peeps. I could have woken her to ask her to go find it, but that would have roused me completely as well: so I hovered in half sleep for several eons, while the world crumbled beneath me and the past built coral reefs up over my head: the sun glimmering through the miles of sleepy water, and my head nodding in the chance currents.

So today: groggy, but possessed of that resolve that often comes with lack of sleep. I will do things differently, from here on out. I will ride this horse up out of the canyon and never be lost again. High ground.

In the murk, my hands find purchase at last, and I heave myself up and out of the quicksand.

Oh, my love, the wind is blowing up here on the ridge, and everything is clear and sharp. Where have I been, what have I been doing? I sit down and hug my knees and look out over valley. 

All my former lives are baled and ready to stack. It's been a long time since I wielded a hay hook, but it's one of those knacks you don't forget. 

Happy solstice, all you dear, strange, wavering creatures. A couple more weeks of light. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016


An unexpected respite: rain instead of a heat wave, and now a gentle cloudy day. Glad for my client this evening, in her little attic room upstairs: with the fan we'll be just fine. 

The voices all around me tumble and purl. I can distinguish nothing, but they form themselves into musical patterns and repetitions, with little crescendos of laughter from time to time. Mostly rising inflections: a questioning patter, as if everyone was uncertain and wondering. I float and tick with it, like an egg in its shell in a bubbling pot.

At a point of unexpected equilibrium. I've forgotten whatever it is I imagine I am supposed to do. I know it's getting warm out there, despite the overcast, but the air-conditioning is cold on my skin. When I got up this morning and saw that it had rained a little, and the ground was wet, I was relieved, and stood on the porch, perceiving the petrichor as a blessing, but missing its message: I saw only how glad the recently-cut grass was, and how the droplets were shining on the white hood of the Honda. 

The world has always been illegible, I guess, but I used to feel more often that there was a message I was missing. Now, not so much. Nothing written, nothing missed. I breathe deep, and there's a little sense of loss, but a larger sense that I am no longer wasting time on priestly nonsense. I have been too susceptible to plausible insinuations. "What if it says this?" Well, yes, what if: a thousand what ifs. But I want to actually know, and hold it in my hand. Or else to just breathe the air and the light for a couple of breaths, and then let this morning go, without instructions or summations or reviews. 

Tom has his house to mind, and Goldberry is waiting.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016


Old tools are best for a job like this. Cold chisel
and a hammer. I tap my belly one quick rap
and it shatters like a dream of piggy banks:
the coiled viscera wake, lift their heads, and gaze at me.

"Help me here," I say. I open each length
and lay it down, so that it pants in the unfamiliar air,
turning its pearl and ivory innard to the dawn.

There in the inmost reach I find it,
a length of yellowed bone written with a curse.
The ink is plum colored, going darker as it breathes;
the curse no more imaginative than any
these past five thousand years. "Live in pain,
and die groaning!" says the bone.

"You, and after all this time?" I say, gently
and in grief: for she and all her kind are long departed.
I am left alone to remember all the glory and the hatred,
the sweetness of a voice too beautiful to bear, 
the clutch of a missed grip, and a missed foot on the stair.

Each tender worm closed up and settled in, I'll glue
the fragments of my belly back: I'll be
a mended Buddha on the knick-knack shelf, 
with only a net of red lines
to show in trace the breakage of the orb. 

And here be-shelved we stay;
the length of bone still warming in our hands,
and pulsing with the rising of the sun.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sleeping With The Moon

Gathering the threads of what I am 
and amen't going to do
for the rest of rolling eterne, 
or twenty years, or two:

I shall eat vegetables twice a day,
thread fingers through your hair,
wash the dishes once a week,
and bring myself to despair.

I shall run sometimes and lift up weights
and wander out under the sky,
I shall read the books that prove me wrong,
and ready myself to die.

The sandpipers run in and out with the wave
the monk runs in and out with the breath:

I rise with the sun and examine my hands,
and sleep with the moon a-purr on my chest.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Your fetch is beside me now, a glimmer and a guess: the heat from your splendid body, the coil of your spine, your quickness and stubbornness. I can well imagine you setting out to find the Utter West, at the age of five, with a sandwich and an apple in your bandanna. The sustenance disproportionate to the quest, maybe; but that has not changed as the years have rolled over. How could it?

Longing wistfully for dalliance, but I look west myself, across the Willamette Valley to the dim hills. I come to the sea and that's the end -- you can't count air travel, or the sad waning brilliance of the Hawaiian Islands. No, for me the sea is the last wall. It goes on forever and there's nothing beyond it, nothing real. The gray and white writhing serpent who encloses Middle Earth. It's been too long since I've seen it.

So I wait for your arrival, and sun chases shadow and shadow chases sun. You are mistaken in me: I can't measure to your greatness. But I'm grateful for the mistake, and for the rumor of the quest. Silent horns blowing in the margins of memory, and white hounds glimpsed in the thicket. Maybe we will share an apple and a sandwich, up on Saddle Mountain, and guess at a brightness on the western verge that can only be the sea.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Finally, some leisure to ask myself: what exactly am I doing here? I have been slipping, becoming less deliberate and more reactive. There's no need for that.

It's old habit from childhood: the first order of business is to get well out of sight of the grownups, and the next is to take whatever opportunities offer for gathering forbidden fruit. I've lived most my life that way, despite the fact that no one much cares what I do, and no one is in a position to forbid me fruit, any more. I am freer than most human beings can ever dream of, and still I'm going to act the slave? This won't do. No. Take a few breaths of air. Let my mind settle.

The crescent moon in the darkening sky. Rhododendrons blossoming everywhere, some in cheap lipstick colors, but some delicately shaded and beautiful; and others boldly spotted, with an unexpectedly leopardish mien, lashing their tails by the sidewalk. And everything green with new growth.

A quiet day. Tuesdays we usually ramble up the Gorge, or some such, but Martha is down with a cold. Hence the pause and the space for walks and for thought, in between times of reading aloud.

The fatigue has not lifted, really, not yet, but it could lift, now.

Thursday, May 05, 2016


It becomes more opaque, as time goes by: my eyes going milky white, and all the hard edges softening. The suffering so constant and overwhelming that it stops catching, and flows smoothly over my hands. There are things that I should attend to, and I don't even feel the tug of it any more. Why dip a little pail in that river? I'm not going to bail it out.

And yet, the sense that I'm missing something becomes more urgent.

I watch my large, strong hands reach for a creamer, pull open the little foil top -- how do they even find and grasp those little tabs? -- and pour the little white stream into my coffee. They are slow-moving and confident, these hands: they seem to belong to someone more able and sure than I will ever be.

Two young trees across the street, stirred by the wind. 

I think I need to find the mornings again, before I'm wound up in the nets of wanting and remorse, before anyone I want to please is awake: I need to walk out under the sky.

And it does not really matter. Far, far less depends on me than I think. 

Aware, suddenly, of the accumulated fatigue of the last week. I could sleep. I could sleep for days, and let the dreaming sky wheel over me: sun, moon, stars, cloud.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reading Spanish

Something shifted, a few months ago. I had been going on for years, reading a few pages of Spanish and adding two or three words every day to my Anki flashcards, and I had settled into an amiable despair about it. The lovely thing about Anki is that it keeps bringing the words back to you, and you get a real sense, over the years, for just how much work it is to keep your vocabulary alive: you no longer get to believe that just because you learned a word a couple years ago it's going to stay learned. The real progress I could make with vocabulary turns out to be maybe two words per day. That's fine if you aim to be able to chat about the weather, but if you aim to be able to read difficult texts, and poetry, you're aiming at a vocabulary of, say, 20,000 words. Ten years' worth of work.

Well, sure. But I've done ten years' work -- considerably more, actually -- and the slow accumulation is paying off. And I realized at last that the vocabulary drilling, though necessary -- I do need to have a certain number of words really nailed down -- is not an efficient use of most of my time. What I actually need to do is read, read huge quantities of Spanish, and most of the time, just glide over words that I don't know, or don't really know. So I changed the proportions. I require myself to read at least twenty pages a day, and sometimes double that. And I'm beginning to see the end of the road, when my reading facility will near my English reading facility. I'm still drilling on vocabulary -- partly just because I like doing that -- but I just have to get through the pages. I actually can master the reading of Spanish, even if I never become fluent speaking it. ("After all, you can't speak English fluently either," said Martha, which is true enough.)

So I'm happy, and energized, about this.

A quiet white-sky day, heart-wrenchingly beautiful, with soft oblique lights: new leaves glowing, and the new needle-growth a pointillist's dream on the dark firs. Everywhere the scent of flowers. All the sound is muffled and muted, almost as when there's fresh snow.

Wishing I could go rambling up the river: but it's a work day. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pre-Paid Cremation

When I am old and gray 
and feathered like the pard
I shall take my shotgun out 
and whistle for the bard.

God is great and good 
and has a sword upstairs,
but poetry is final 
and winds up your affairs.

We have on hand an envelope 
whose outside offers us
a pre-paid cremation 
with very little fuss,

but I'll wait a bit until the buggers 
bid each other down,
and sweeten up the flames 
with a night out on the town.

Sure, dementia is a cruel word 
and hides a host of ants,
a crawling dissolution 
of stray words in your pants;

but ferocity's the greater 
as the hearing gets more dull,
and the blurry sky's more brilliant 
when your watered eyes are full.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

This Little Boat Of Happiness

This little boat of happiness
has a gunwale rimed with salt;
your lacerated hand will feel
the prickle and the fault.

The distiller has a funnel
where sun sparkles on the drip:
if there's joy in pure water,
there's smarting where you grip.

Seawater and blood
are the same in vacillation,
this dissolution followed
by that desalination;

The sea is wide and sad
and full of ions of magnesium,
solute gold enough for princes,
and ions of potassium;

We purify to drink because
we have no other choice,
but it's salt in the water
that gives our tongue a voice.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Poetry is not a calling, for me. More
an intermittent whisper, or possibly a peeling:
one whittles when anxious. They say Grant,

at the Battle of the Wilderness, stripped dozens
of unoffending branches. Collateralia.

So on a bright Spring day when a young man
ought to be getting his healthy exercise
(and avoiding self-pollution) I grasp

a less problematic rune-stick, a Welsh
I Ching, a private prophecy: one keeps thinking
naked truth might appear, till one

looks down to find the stick is peeled to nothing
and the truth is still unsaid.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Complex Recurved Bow

Lines wander over your face, 
shadows of we know not what 
tracery of string or
leafery of twig:
we only know curves, 
forced on light that longs 
for Euclidean purity which would destroy it once for all:
the glimpse of cheek, 
the crescent of ear appearing
where the round flicker of flesh is there and gone.

Silly Greeks with their straight noses! Thank God
no nose is straight, and no mouth but forms 
a complex recurved bow, however slight: all
potential force, coiled and strung; the tongue
fletched and ready to fly.

A full quiver of love and dread,
a tin cup on a ring, some plums,
a sandwich in a bag:
the archers have risen early, with the mist,
and gone into the hills before the sun was up.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


The third proximal phalanx of the hand
runs from knuckle to knuckle
of our most defiant finger:

mine, some two inches long,
I would like to have as a knick-knack,
save for the trouble

of cutting it out and boiling it down.
Bell clapper or door knocker,
or simply a worry bead:

how comfortably
it would nicker and pout
between finger and thumb!

Polished bone;
protuberance, nubble and shaft:
it would be a talisman,

a covenant,
a piece of luck to carry in my pocket
or nestle in my palm.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Deep brown leather, bound and banded
with gold thread cinched in the furrows:
it's easy to the hand. Each finger finds its place.

Stained and in places dry and even crumbling:
but it buzzes and trembles like a living thing.
Strength runs from it into even an innocent grip.

If you raised and whirled it -- the fulcrum
not far, but far enough -- you'd pull back and the edge
would whip down with more than human force.

Notched and blackened, long disused,
a wavering light, a dim croon. Why 
would a weapon come to me now, when

my heart is wrung dry and my soul has flaked away?
I kneel in the dark with the blade across my knees;
dust on my tongue, starlight on the floor.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Pretend-Summer Morning

A sudden strange access of confidence, as though I had walked out of myself into some other person, a person with no history of doubt or failure. Death sniffs at me like a curious cat. I'm ready to lay out all my things on the hilltop, free to all finders. This is good. I'll take it.

An extravagantly warm day, a foretaste of summer. The weather is an almost daily reminder of disaster, nowadays. Everything a little off kilter, a little on the wobble. We screwed up good, and now we're in for a ride.

Happy doesn't quite describe my mood. There's weariness in it, for one thing, shading to impatience, and a tenderness, especially for everyone I touch. People's real words are written in their skin. They say things, sure, they have to, but those words, even when they reach my dull ears, don't make much impression. 

You were afraid of your surgery, and grateful for my touch, last night, and today I'm thinking of you. Were they sobs, or the beginnings of snores, or both? So often weeping is what we do when we can't find our way to sleep.

Meanwhile, this pretend-summer morning gets warmer and warmer, and the new leaves shiver in the wind. Wishing the surgeon a sure hand and a clear head, and the same to the nurses, today! And blessings on all who are abroad and homeless, at sea or on the street.