Friday, December 29, 2006

I met Max at the San Diego Auto Show this afternoon, and he got me thinking about how inefficient and ineffective and inadequate some people can be for the jobs they are supposed to do. Max stands near the entrance to the cavernous San Diego Convention Center and greets visitors to the auto show. He is perfect for the job. He is articulate, has an obviously big brain, and given the appropriate information, makes accurate and fair decisions. He is a decider.

San Diego being the perfect place to work (or not), I doubt that Max would be interested in a job in Washington; but it occurred to me that he would be a perfect stand-in for the big decider in the White House.

Max got me thinking about a poem by E. E. Cummings that I’ve always liked. I know enough about Cummings, who died in 1962, to know he wouldn’t mind my using his poem in this blog.

pity this busy monster,manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim(death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange;lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born--pity poor flesh
and trees,poor stars and stones,but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if--listen:there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go

e.e. cummings

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Yesterday the newspaper account of a crime of violence against a woman reminded me of something I wrote in my journal several years ago after I had read about the rape and murder of a homeless woman at the archery range in San Diego's Balboa Park.


The beauty of the windows
and the clean good looks of us all
as we sat enjoying our sancity
helped us forget the newspaper.
His eye is on the sparrow,
the soloist sang with such feeling
that she and some of us wept,
and the choir sang
Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
And the pastor assured us,
God is great! God is good!

But what about the woman killed last night
in the lonely blackness of the night
behind bales of hay in the archery range,
a world not half a mile from where we sat.
Who watched from Heaven
when she was raped and beaten
and left to die in the dry whispering grass
while sparrows slept in the willow tree?

The police say she was habitually drunk
when she was not panhandling.
When she lay drunk in the street at noon
and when she soberly pulled her thin shirt around her
in the cool early hour of morning in the park,
who was watching this sad creature?
Was it the same God who watches sparrows?
Are they more lovely? Or are they cute?
When she was young and lovely,
was she graced with His attention
but somehow lost along the way
the right to be observed and included?
Have I missed the point, or what?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


She stood at the edge of the curb
holding onto her shopping cart
piled high with leavings from other lives
wondering, I guess, which way to go.
On the warm autumn day
she was dressed already for winter
perhaps just to have a place to keep
the sweaters and skirts she owned.
The orange hair under her man’s hat
would have served a circus clown,
but there was nothing to laugh at here
where other people live in houses
while she lives out of a grocery cart.

If she had ever been attached to it,
the spinning and whirring industry
of America had cast her off
or perhaps had just unwittingly lost her.
She looked through me or past me
as I walked by her on the street
as if to say don’t try to speak to me
because I am not attached to anything
except perhaps forgotten garbage.
So I obliged her and went on my way
wondering as I walked down the street
how to sweep her from my mind. A homeless man found a place in the courtyard of the Mission Valley Library where he would not be chased away.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The tiny winter camelia is only about two inches in diameter; but what it lacks in overall dimensions, it more than makes up for in the relative size of its significant parts. It is designed primarily for reproduction. Pleasure for the gardener and for bees and butterflies is a side benefit. The stamen, the fertilizing organ of the flower, attracts the attention of all bees and butterflies in the neighborhood. The anther and filament display must surely be the envy of everything else blooming in the San Diego winter. With Photoshop I transformed the colorful display into what I imagine the bee sees at the height of his ecstasy.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My sister Helen and her husband Don made the figures for the manger scene. Margaret and I put them out every year. This time when we went through the boxes of Christmas decorations, we couldn't find the baby Jesus. The wise men were there, and Mary and Joseph, and even the lambs were in a box together. We have a stand-in this year. Many years ago in Singapore we bought a little reclining jade Buddha. He is the right size so we put him into the manger scene. Flanked by the lambs, protected by the Holy Family, and watched over by the wise men the scene somehow seems right. It occurred to me that the world would be a better place if we could manage in the reality of 2006 to bring together figures from all the world's great religions.

It's a long way from a First Century stable in Bethlehem to a Twenty-first Century department store in San Diego. When I went to the mall for some last-minute shopping today, I saw another figure that seemed to have been misplaced. She was alone, half-dressed, standing in a corner with her detached arms flailing. Perhaps someone had bought the clothes right off her back. That scene, too, seemed to me to be an appropriate metaphor for Christmas, 2006.

Friday, December 22, 2006


The tapping together of wine glasses
or coffee cups three times or twice
if that’s the agreed upon symbol
of promise to be nothing but nice...
can mend and renew affection.
You don’t do that kind of thing
with strangers or neighbors
you don’t very much like,
or even people you once loved
but don’t have feelings for now...
a wink can be risky
if no understanding is shared
of the extent and limits of meaning.
A handshake is civil;
a hug is a gift to a friend;
but a kiss is a kiss is a kiss...
not maybe I will or maybe I won’t.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

...A poem I stitched together from a conversation I overheard in the Urgent Care clinic where I spent an hour getting some advice for dealing with a persistent cough and bronchitis.


The Gray-haired G.P. smiled and said,
“We’ve come to the age
When these things can’t be neglected,” meaning we,
He and I, are old.
“If your heart hurts, check it out,”
And he checked it out
With the help of a skinny boy of maybe twenty-five
Who came from Alaska
To be a medical technician in San Diego
And never went back since 1999.

Blood pressure 132 over 70, heart rate 64, temperature 98.6,
EKG perfect, breathing normal,
Breathing normal, breathing normal, normal.

“Well, it’s not your heart that hurts.
Maybe your rib bruised by a cough
Or you slept wrong
Or some other thing that you can’t even remember
Happened, happened.

Stand straight. Sit up straight. Don’t give in to it.
Walk the same as usual except pretend
You’re in the army.”

It’s a worry, isn’t it,” the boy named Charley said,
“When the hurt is in the region of your heart.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


No place in San Diego is more colorful than the cluster of stores, restaurants and coffee shops on Fifth Avenue between Robinson Street and University Avenue. For many years I have watched as small businesses have tried to adapt to changing market trends. Beginning and completing a short section of the avenue, two Starbucks coffee houses are successful where Gap and a couple of other clothing stores have opened, struggled for a few years, and finally gone out of business or moved to other locations. Two second-hand clothing stores have managed to stay. Although I’ve never actually gone inside either of them, I walk by often to enjoy their window displays. At “WEAR IT AGAIN SAM,” the clothing is said to be “vintage,” not “used” or “second-hand.” The mannequins in the windows change their costumes often. I’ve never been on the street when the change occurs; but when I pass and see them in different clothes, I think of Pygmalion and imagine the window dresser falling in love with the mannequin that obviously gets the best costumes. She’s the one with the Mona Lisa smile. She knows something.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Spontaneous combustion can be a worrisome phenomenon!
Don’t you wonder what it was Moses saw
when he said a bush in the desert ignited
and from the middle of the fire he heard a voice?

There may be other explanations worth considering!
When I looked out into my backyard late this afternoon
and saw little flames dancing across the bushes there,
I needed only a voice to make the miracle complete.

Of course, no voice came, just a mockingbird singing.
The flames were just new leaves fragile and thin
coming as they do in subtropics after a rain.
But it was miracle enough for me.

You can’t blame Moses for saying God did it
who after all gets blamed for or credited with
lots of things when no easy explanation is obvious.
It was a desert, after all, and he had to believe something.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

For a long time one of my favorite poems has been "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens. I get up every morning and go out into the world hoping that I will see things that I have seen before, but that I will see them differently. The English teacher in me wants to explore the difference between "seeing differently" and "seeing different things." The difference between the adverb and the adjective is important. Am I seeing different things, or am I seeing the same things differently?

San Diego's midday light has been different from the usual clear, sometimes rude glaring brightness. Scattered clouds slowly gathering into a storm have sobered the landscape. In my computer "darkroom," with the help of Photoshop, I have found even more than thirteen ways of looking at palm trees.

...And then I remember bark is what dogs do and wish I could photograph that.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Imagine, if you can, a perfect silver box with enameled lid of black and green
the size of the largest Brazil nut ever put in a Christmas stocking
and of that shape which really is no shape at all but a presence.

Open it with your mind’s fingers and let your mind’s eyes see inside
the even small stones, four gray, one brown, and one like the planet Saturn
in those images reconstituted from radio impulses beamed from deep in space.

Then see the three rounded sea-worn glass pebbles like jewels,
amethyst and two emeralds more precious than any that ever came from Brazil,
fit for a king’s crown, but here for me to keep forever in my treasure chest.

One tiny sea shell is there and another only slightly larger and perhaps rarer
because it’s a perfect blending of color and form and flawless fabrication.
Both were houses once for creatures that lived their lives beneath the sea.

Altogether they are eleven elements in my life that were not there before today,
and I will keep them knowing how years from now they will help me remember
a day, a walk beside the sea, and a friend who knows the value of such things.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Is being lost a matter of being without poetry, I wonder,
in the redemptive sense I mean like when the Pentecostals say
Brother you ought to be saved because you are lost
and God wants to save your soul whatever that is?
But one thing is for sure, and I don’t think the preachers themselves
know what the fine print says about life and salvation,
I have learned that spiritual security has a lot to do with poetry,
being able to talk it and sing it and write it and stick your tongue in it
whenever you feel like it which is pretty much most of the time
making it an addiction I guess or at least an obsession
but not so as anybody would notice or not in a clinical sense
which would bring psychiatrists running to poke their you-know-whats
into the matter and that would kill any chance of poetry surviving
in or on or around the organism in question which is me.
At least that was the case when I started out talking about being lost
and thinking right away about poetry which seemed to save me
...for the moment.

Monday, December 11, 2006



  "A colleague was asking me why I could remain so optimistic in the face of such difficult challenges for the church and the world around us.  I simply responded as I have throughout my life that I am filled with hope, an almost naive hope, a hope that sees beyond the evidence, that visualizes peace, the shalom kind of peace, that is just the right blend of holiness and wholeness. 

And just as I was thinking that I must be crazy to hold on to this naive hope I read the poem you've read before I'm sure, "The Mystery of the Holy Innocents," by Charles Peguy: '"I am,'" God says, "'Master of the Three Virtues."'  Faith is a loyal wife.  Charity is a fervent mother.  But hope is a very little girl.  "'I am,"' God says, "'the Master of virtues."'  It is Faith who holds fast through century upon century.  It is Charity who gives herself through centuries of centuries.  But is my little hope who gets up every morning.  Says good-day to us...  "' I am,"' God says, "'the Lord of Virtues."'  It is Faith who resists through century upon century.  It is Charity who yields through century upon century.  But it is my little hope who every morning says good-day to us...   It is my little hope who goes to sleep every evening in her child's bed, after having said a good prayer, and who wakes every morning and gets up and says her prayers with new attention... 

You believe that children know nothing, and that parents and grown-up people know something.  Well, I tell you it is the contrary (It is always the contrary).  It is the parents, it is the grown up people who know nothing.  And it is the children who know Everything.  For they know first innocence, which is everything. '"The world is always inside out,"' God says.  '"And in the contrary sense, happy is he who remains like a child and who like a child keeps his first innocence."'   May we all be as innocent and as hopeful."
--Robert Smith

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006


Late Afternoon Light
Shooting in fast from the vastness of space at around a hundred and eighty thousand miles per second the brash light that began its journey earlier today from the nuclear furnace on our exploding sun mellows, turns a shade halfway between orange and golden, and slides across the shimmering Pacific before dancing in to touch pirouetting leaves and sleeping pussy cats and frolicking calves and stoic houses all getting ready to bed down for the night, except, of course, the cats, who live their secret lives after dark. Oh, how I love the mystery of light, all light, most especially natural light, even rude noon light, but the light that I want to ride away on at the end of my life is that last ray coming in at the magic moment just before the sun drops into the ocean leaving everyone stunned by a sense of emptiness and loss.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Great Grandmother, they say, was a Cherokee.
Even a casual look at the members of my family
all standing together for the reunion picture
will tell you that we aren’t descended from
anything pure and easy.

The Cherokee lady was married to a cowboy
who spent enough nights with her to sire
a bunch of half breeds but most of his time
herding cows across the plains of Texas
before settling in Oklahoma.

The more recent names on that side of the family
are Dutch and English with my Grandfather
on my Mother’s side looking out from an old picture
the way Rembrandt painted some of his subjects
looking out at the world.

On the other side the names are English and French,
but the language those folks spoke was pure American hillbilly
straight out of Arkansas where people still take pleasure
in being Southern and unhurried in all things joyful
slowly but gladly tell you so.

We are the ubiquitous, mongrel American family
that includes everybody that came from everywhere
and will go and be whatever is needed now and whenever
to keep this country the place that belongs to nobody
in particular and to everybody who has the good fortune
to be born or taken without hesitation under the wings
of the Great American Eagle.

The Photographs: Tagger Art underneath the Interstate 163, San Diego River Bridge in Mission Valley.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

THIS MORNING I WATCHED WITH FASCINATION as a bipartisan commission presented its report in a news conference with a warning that “the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” I tried to imagine what President Bush and his closest aides must be thinking as they were rebuked for their current strategy in the Middle East. I am also trying to guess what their response will be in terms of policy. I am hoping Democratic Party leaders will resist the temptation to boast that they were right all along and that the President and his crew were wrong, and that both groups will determine to join in a bipartisan effort to solve the problem that jeopardizes our union.

Coming to the end of a year in which I’ve spent just about as much time outside my country as in it, I find myself examining my feelings about and my responses to America. I am proud to be an American. I feel myself swelling with pride when I come across acknowledgments in other countries that America has often been the source of inspiration and sometimes the very salvation of people who are not Americans. I felt that pride last month when Margaret and I walked past the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the Left Bank in Paris. I felt it every time I walked on a street named for an American (Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy). I long to have a sense of pride in my country replace the dismay and sorrow and embarrassment I have felt in many conversations about the Iraqi situation.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

With a climate almost exactly like San Diego's, Barcelona is a great city to visit any time of the year. What can you say about the city? It's Gaudi...Antoni Gaudi! The photo above, taken from the deck of "Millennium," includes the monument to Christopher Columbus (pointing in the wrong direction), the gothic Barcelona Cathedral, and Sagrada Familia Cathedral. A question someone might have asked more than a hundred years ago when Antoni Gaudi traipsed around Barcelona insisting on building a new cathedral was "Why?" After more than a hundred years (since 1882), with the main center of the cathedral yet to be built, some people are still asking "Why?" But regardless of the naysayers, The Holy Family Cathedral is still a magnificient idea very slowly turning into a reality. Go see it.

Barcelona Cathedral is a treasure. By A.D. 343 there was already a basilica on the site of the current cathedral. In 985 the basilica was destroyed by the Moors. It was later replaced by a Roman cathedral, built between 1046 and 1058. In 1298 construction of the gothic cathedral started. The only thing remaining today of the old Roman cathedral is the Santa Llucia Chapel. This 13th Century Bacilica, fullname the Cathedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia, dominates a small plaza in the middle of the oldest section of the city. Everybody comes to Barcelona to see Sagrada Familia, and people whose focus is too narrow sometimes miss this great old gothic church.

There is a lot of Gaudi stuff to see in Barcelona.

Even after Gaudi changed the face of Barcelona, it remains a thoroughly European city. La Rambla, with its mimes and kiosks; and the waterfront, with some of the best buildings, come together at the Columbus Monument to define the beginning of city.

Like San Diego, Barcelona is a magnet for the homeless. It is easy to find poverty here. Conditions which promote suffering seem not to change much from age to age and place to place. Misery is a universal human condition.