Thursday, August 31, 2006
The little silver slipper of light
hiding among billions of stars
in the dark emptiness of space
is the same audacious moon
that dominated the night sky
above earth a fortnight ago.
What I see tonight...a ghostly orb
like a Gypsy’s crystal ball
gone cloudy...makes me think of marbles
you wish had more color, more spark...
Earthshine must be the word for it.
I wonder what it would be like on this night
to stand on the edge of a moon crater
and look out toward earth full bright with day...
Would it be enough for me?
Would it satisfy?
The moon, like us, has two faces.
Could I turn away from earth
and make my way to the unseen side.
For me as it does for every man
a time will come for turning away from earth,
for slipping into space through earthshine.
Full Moon in the South Pacific, January, 2005
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
RUSSIAN LACQUER BOXES
Beautiful, carefully-made small things sometimes dazzle and amaze more than big, showy, in-your-face, elaborate objects. Thirty-five years ago on a visit to the U.S.S.R. I bought a small box made in the the village of Fedoskino near Moscow. Over the years I have been drawn back again and again to the little box for the same reasons I am drawn to another of my favorite painting, "The Luncheon of the Boating Party," by Auguste Renoir, at the Phillips Collection Gallery in Washington, D.C. At the Phillips, I go into the room where the very large Renoir hangs (by itself the last time I was there); and sitting on the bench in the middle of the room, I rest and stare for a long time. I always feel as if I am a spectator in the cafe where the people in the painting are having lunch, and I wonder what they all mean to each other. At home I pick up the little box (2” X 4” X 1.5”), sit in a comfortable chair, and stare for a long time. Both paintings profoundly move me and transport me to places in my memory for which I no longer have addresses.
The technique for painting on the boxes, the same technique used in making icons for Russian churches, was handed down from father to son until midway in the Soviet period. By the middle of the last century as many women as men were painting the boxes. My box is signed simply “mo” in Cyrillic script, followed by the numbers 117-582. I know it was made for the Moscow tourist trade because “Made in the U.S.S.R” is handwritten on the back in English script.
Usually the pictures on lacquer boxes are scenes from popular fairy tales and legends. I have several of those, and I like them; but the box I like best is this one that, as far as I know, is simply a scene from the Russian countryside, not a scene from a story. Perhaps it is the sense of mystery that allows me to lose myself in it.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
WHERE BILL AND SHERRY LIVE
There probably is no Kettner Street in Paris;
London may not have one named for India,
though it shouldn't be a surprise to find one there.
We have them both in San Diego side by side,
where Bill and Sherry live.
And so does the moon live there...and birds...and
buildings like mirrors, and even homeless people.
And the stars shine there; and as they do in Lisbon,
the people come and go on the street below
where Bill and Sherry live.
Monday, August 28, 2006
It’s time for my annual jimson weed photograph and tribute to Georgia O’Keefe. The botanical name for this “weed” is datura stramonium, and among it’s common names in different parts of the U.S. are Jamestown weed, thorn apple, angel’s trumpet, loco weed, and zombie’s cucumber. In places where the jimson weed opens only in early evening and at night, it is known as moonflower. It’s a poisonous weed, a member of the nightshade family.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
The White Barn at Old Town in San Diego
Filling out a survey a couple of days ago for a local not-for-profit business (a questionable category for an organization that was asking me to contribute money to improve its bottom line), I was expected to check a box that would have placed me in a category, a pigeon hole. It has become my practice to ignore questions about race or ethnicity in surveys. Of course, if someone from the inquiring organization had been filling out the form for me, there is no doubt that he or she would have checked the “white” box. But that would have been incorrect. I am Caucasian, and I am a person of color. And my friends who are expected to check the black box are not black because black is the absence of color.
White is a color (more accurately, it contains all the colors of the visible spectrum and is sometimes described as an achromatic color—black is the absence of color) that has high brightness but zero hue. The impression of white light can be created by mixing (via a process called "additive mixing") appropriate intensities of the primary color spectrum: red, green and blue, but it must be noted that the illumination provided by this technique has significant differences from that produced by incandescence.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
THE RETIRED LIGHTHOUSE
The noble, iconic, unmistakable tower
of the retired lighthouse...is aloof, untiring,
a constant reminder on its lonely hill,
that the world will always need beacons...
signals of hope for safe harbor.
Set back a little from the edge of the bluff,
the lighthouse rises from the coastal scrub.
In dazzling sunlight or in fog the white pillar
stands alert above its small, humble cottage...
A blind sentinel, an extinguished torch.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Thursday, August 24, 2006
The Cultural Center,
How far away are those stars really?
It can’t be as far as they say,
millions of light years or whatever it is.
Out there in the unfathomable universe
is nothing and everything suspended,
waiting for truth or revelation or God
or whatever it is that explains all this,
and all that and even dreams and fantasies,
the mysteries that are not supposed to be understood?
But anything as tangible as Alpha Three
at the far end of the Milky Way
or whatever they call the supernova they discovered Wednesday
that’s supposed to be as real as shit on Sunday
in Tijuana’s trickle of a river flowing under that sad bridge
with those poor pregnant indians sitting on it
selling peace bracelets and one hundred percent cotton blankets
has to be closer to where I sleep at night than they say it is.
Otherwise how are they going to know where to find me after I die?
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
a sculpture by David (D.J.) Brelje
one of the Urban Trees
on San Diego's waterfront
the epitome of unraveling mankind,
strides away from private terror
and never fight again.
shows no such weak ambiguity,
standing firmly fixed and in one piece,
poised and ready to fire.
Is it winning
that makes a piece of art
a thing to last forever?
is the way to be fast forgotten.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
NIKON WANTS TO KNOW
What Has Japan Got Up It’s Sleeve Now?
***Nikon USA Club Registration***
Please fill out and return within the next 10 days.
Thank God...I have finally been welcomed into the Nikon Family
after having bought over many years more than a dozen cameras,
many lenses and a wide and wild assortment of accessories
to feed my fascination with photography
and perhaps my addiction to all things photographic.
Other times I have filled out the card
and other times I have been welcomed into the club,
but this is the first time I’ve been offered the family,
and Nikon wants to know...and I want to know
What are the privileges of membership?
After each significant purchase
Nikon wants to know from whom I made the purchase
and if I have just purchased a 35 mm camera,
is it the first purchase of this type, yes or no?
Am I a beginner, amateur, serious amateur or professional
they want to know, check one.
Was I most influenced by the dealer recommendation,
(Shall I say the salesperson was devastatingly attractive?)
or was it a professional recommendation, TV ads,
Dealer Ads, friend’s recommendation, magazine article;
all of this they want to know because I am a member of the Nikon family.
But what are the privileges of membership?
Will this product be used primarily for commercial, industrial or government What?
Will it be utilized in scientific or medical what? Or photo journalism;
or will it be a creative hobby or family travel or sports outdoors?
And, for god’s sake, why do they want to know
which water sports I or my family enjoy?
Scuba diving, wind surfing, going to the ocean,
para-sailing, snorkeling, whitewater rafting,
canoeing/kayaking, swimming or surfing?
Does this have something to do with the privileges of membership?
And how did I pay for this product? Check one!
Cash, personal check, credit card (AMEX, Visa, Mc),
store credit card, store finance or other?
Would it matter if I said the attractive salesperson
took a liking to me and made a gift to me of the product?
And item twelve, the request for date of birth;
when they learn I am old, will they love me less?
And my marital status, what about that?
Married, divorced/separated, widowed, single/never married?
Does all this relate in some way to the privileges of membership?
Will having been married for half a century raise or lower my status?
My occupation is important to Nikon.
Am I a homemaker, professional/technical, executive/administrator,
middle management, sales/marketing, clerical, craftsworker,
machine opertor/laborer, service worker, retired, student,
or self employed/business owner? Check one!
And what are the ages of all children living at home?
Shall I tell them I wouldn’t mind if they were but they’re not?
And they want to know my income.
Is it under fifteen thousand, between fifteen and nineteen,
twenty and twenty four nine hundred and ninety nine
all the way up to one hundred thousand and over?
I think we are getting here to the privileges of membership. Check one!
And check one again!
Which of the following do I use regularly?
American Express, Diners Club, Carte Blanche,
Bank credit card (MasterCard, Visa),
Gas. Department store, etc. credit card(s).
airline club/frequent flyer program,
or none of the above?
And for my primary residence, do I:
own a house, rent a house, rent an apartment,
own a townhouse or condominium?
They want to know, these fellow Nikon Family Club members.
All of this is related surely to the privileges of membership.
And to help them understand my lifestyle,
they ask that I indicate the interests and activities
in which I or my spouse enjoy on a regular basis.
Is it, check one, bicycle touring/racing, golf, physical fitness/exercise,
running/jogging, snow skiing frequently, tennis frequently,
bowling, camping/hiking, fishing frequently,
hunting/shooting, power boating, sailing,
crafts, crossword puzzles, grandchildren,
needlework/knitting, outdoor gardening,
sewing, walking for health, automotive work,
electronics, home workshop/do it myself,
motorcycles, recreational vehicles,
avid book reading, Bible, devotional reading,
current affairs/politics, health foods/vitamins,
house plants, photography, attend cultural/arts events,
charities/volunteer activities, fashion clothing,
fine art/antiques, foreign travel,
gourmet cooking/fine foods, wines,
coin/stamp collecting, collebtibles/collections,
Our nation’s heritage, real estate investments,
stock/bond investments, veterans benefits/programs,
entering sweepstakes, home video games,
household pets (cats, dogs, etc.)
money making opportunities, science fiction,
wildlife/environment issues, career oriented activities,
personal/home computers, science/new technology,
self improvement, VCR/DVD recording/viewing, watching cable TV,
watching sports on TV or NONE OF THE ABOVE?
What about blogging? Shall I tell them I’m a blogger?
They didn’t ask! Is there something wrong with blogging?
And then if, after all, I would prefer not to participate in this opportunity
to enjoy the privileges of membership in the Nikon Family,
I may choose to check one lonely little box at the bottom of the page.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Sunday, August 20, 2006
FISHING FLEET, SAN DIEGO HARBOR
Fishing boats at night
Whenever I pass at night a street familiar
but unknown because I can’t know
what’s going on in fixed, cheerful-seeming houses
beyond the sidewalk and night green lawns,
it’s easy to imagine a fairy world of light
and goodness where everyone wins.
Boats on a windless night in their glassy moorings
like ducks all in a row are something else.
They come and go in and out of sheltered bays
for respite from the storms of open seas.
I like to think the cheery lights mean surely
the day's catch was good,
God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world;
but it isn’t necessarily so.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
I WENT LOOKING FOR THE HUMMINGBIRD
I went looking today for the hummingbird
among the grass and honeysuckle on the hill behind the house.
I had seen him there on other days flitting among the blossoms,
dipping his head from his helicopter hover
to drink a nectar I can smell but cannot taste.
While I waited in the tall grass beside the fence,
he darted in to take a drink
but flew a circle first to check the scene,
then settled into a quiet hover
turning slowly in the center of the little clearing
until his gaze was fixed on me.
My breathing all but stopped to keep him there,
but he knew I didn’t belong.
This was his place, not mine.
It was I who had to go.
I clutched my pride and walked back up the hill
knowing that without invitation I had come too close.
I watched from a greater distance
knowing at least that I had been acknowledged.
Friday, August 18, 2006
This morning as I was getting ready to photograph a flower, I accidentally pressed the shutter release while the camera lens was facing up into the sun. When I downloaded the day’s photos, I was surprised to find the image of the white sun surrounded by undulations of green/blue sky. Using the tools in Photoshop Elements, I fooled around with the image and got a variety of effects. The first “fooling around” image is a simple solarization. “Solarize” as a verb in photography has come to mean “to change the relative darkness of a part of an image by overexposure to light.” The other images are the result of adjusting hue and saturation.
Music has its accidentals, signs indicating momentary departure from the key signature by raising or lowering a note, and a piece is often better for them. The accidental clicking of the shutter release gave me my most interesting image for today. It’s an abstract impressionist accident.
Remembering WALLACE STEVENS
In a poem he calls "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (1947). It Must Be Abstract"
The inconceivable idea of the sun.
You must become an ignorant man again
And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it.
...And WALT WHITMAN, from "Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun"
Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams
...and among my first introductions to English poetry...WILLIAM LANGLAND'S "The Vision of Piers Plowman"
In a summer season when soft was the sun
A fair field full of folk found I there
Thursday, August 17, 2006
SOPHIE AND NICHOLAS FUDGE
Nicholas’ eyes are still bright from the enthusiasm of the lesson he had just finished giving me when I snapped the picture of him and his sister Sophie. Yesterday I found a green beetle which I knew immediately that I must bring to Nicholas because he is passionate about bugs, especially beetles, most especially green beetles; and he knows a lot about them. He told me about beetles, with excitement that I’ve always liked when I see it in a teacher; and he knew exactly what I should know about this particular beetle. He told me earnestly why it is called a green fig beetle. “When the beetle is looking for food, as all beetles must do, it is hoping to find rotting fruit. If it can’t find rotting fruit; and it finds fruit that is not rotting, it will eat that...reluctantly, because what it wants more than anything is rotting fruit.” Nicholas checked my eyes constantly as he was telling me to see if I was really getting it. He told me a couple of times just to make sure.
If Nicholas decides someday to be a teacher who gets paid in something besides beetles for teaching, he will make a very good one.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
“Sometimes the best art isn’t immediately obvious. You might not get it or even like it the first time you experience it. But, if you take a moment and give it another try, it might reach you in a way you never thought possible. It’s a bold move to see again, read again, listen again.”
---Erin McKeown, Musician
This quote, “The Way I See It #115” was on my Starbucks coffee cup this morning. The older I get the more certain I am that it’s important not to dismiss an idea or an experience outright without giving it another chance. The first time I saw photographs by Diane Arbus, I wondered how or why they were considered important. They seemed so ordinary...in an extraordinary sort of way; and over the years since that first experience with her work, I have found that it is exactly her way of treating ordinary things that makes her photographs important. Some of her images are so compelling that I can’t erase them from my memory. I’m still trying to figure out why Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s wrapping of the Reichstag was important. As I walked through that building in Berlin earlier this year, I tried to picture it cocooned in Christo’s sheets, and I didn’t “feel” anything. I’ve looked at the pictures of the wrapped Reichstag, and I don’t get it. But I’m not giving up. There are people out there whose judgement I trust who do “get it,” so I’ll keep trying. I don’t think anytime soon I’ll be ordering a piece of Christo’s fabric from his new Arkansas River Project in Colorado (souvenir swatches of his other projects are available on his WEB site), but I’ll give him and his thousands of admirers the benefit of the doubt. Mahler’s symphonies took a while for me to like when I was young, but over the years I have come to like them so much that I am drawn to listening again and again. I’ve read Faulkner’s “Light in August” every August for the past thirty years, and it’s better every time. I'm in the middle of it now, and I find I can almost recite some of the paragraphs; and I like the feeling, like being able to recite some of hamlet's speeches and Frost's "Dust of Snow" from memory. What a blessing memory is. How sad that it can also be a curse.
This is a close-up photo of the trunk of the eucalyptus tree in my back yard. Almost all of last year's outer skin has wrinkled and fallen away and been replaced by fresh new bark. A small piece of the old bark seems reluctant to let go. The first image is the same photo solarized.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Crows or Nightingales
If you’re a real damned poet,
I was going to say, “and you know it;"
but, of course, changed my mind
because something so obvious
you can’t pass off as poetry anymore;
anyway, to get back to real damned poetry,
if as you dream or think at the very
instant you begin to wake up that you
hear nightingales, and it turns out to be crows;
but you desperately want nightingales,
it leaves you wondering all day...
or is it “wandering all day?”
see what I mean? ...maybe both...
...if you’re a real damned poet or not.
I think poets are supposed to know these things.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Sunday, August 13, 2006
City Fest, Hillcrest, San Diego
Obviously there are things wrong in America these days; but there are also many things that are right in this country. The teenage Ann Frank’s situation in Amsterdam during World War II and our situation in America in 2006 are very, very different circumstances; but I often have to remind myself these days of the words she wrote in her diary when so much in her world was obviously very wrong, and evil was a palpable reality: She wrote, “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
In spite of a few people, including some of our most prominent leaders, doing unconscionable things, we have all kinds of good stuff happening in our country. The rest of the world doesn’t know that the majority of Americans prefer to live in community rather than in isolation. People in other countries often think of us as self-centered and extravagantly self-indulgent because they are presented with images of us when we are doing things that make us appear ridiculous and foolish. People who have not known many of us think there are more Paris Hiltons among us than there actually are. They hear much more about our greed than they hear about our generosity.
I would like to have walked with the world this afternoon down Fifth Avenue from University to Upas in Hillcrest to show them my neighbors celebrating community, celebrating each other. I would like them to have seen the smiling boy in my photograph wearing his T-shirt that says “I HAVE ISSUES.” I would like them to have seen the woman handing out free bottles of water and the guy handing out packets of wildflower seeds. I would like for them to have seen people holding
hands and laughing and enjoying being out in the beautiful summer day.
I would like to say to them that I really wish neighborhoods in Bagdad could have a CITY FEST.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Timothy and Tana were married today, which happens to be Margaret’s and my wedding anniversary. The idea is that they are, of course, coupled forever. I hope it is so, but I hope also that the mystery they are to each other will never be revealed completely, that each of them will always see the other with a sense of wonder that can only exist when there is more to learn.
Both of them are poets. Tana’s writing is so powerful that it shakes me. She intuitively senses where the edge is and sometimes comes so close to it that I feel frightened for her. Reading her poems is often like watching a talented tightrope walker. I hold my breath. Her poem “Between Lost and Gone” for example...
Between Lost and Gone
by Tana Jean Parker
It could be the Russians really don’t know
where their nuclear weapons are.
The memory of my cousin kissing
my nipples before they were breasts
went missing for years—
all that can be said
is I put it somewhere safe,
buried it under the long roots
of the dark pines hovering
over Balch Camp. Left in the echo
of summers that meant sugar and dew
covered sleeping bags, the months
we watched “Red Dawn” twenty times
at least. We were children—
ready with plastic guns.
Timothy’s poetry is powerful in another way, more wistful, with more longing, not so close to the edge. His poem, “The Wind at Dusk,” is a song that resonates with me as if I were a sympathetic string on a familiar instrument he is playing.The lines I like best from that poem:
“The Wind at Dusk”
And I wish to be more
than I can bear, more than the earth can
carry at one time so that it takes me
in conscious, unbearable weight
and sinks me with the sound of my voice
calling out into the darkness...
The world has had the likes of Heloise and Abelard and Elisabeth Barrett and Robert Browning to tell us how fine love can be. Now we have Tana Jean Parker and Timothy Welsh.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Thursday, August 10, 2006
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
--Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man”
On my bike ride early this morning through the center of the city, I was reminded once again that many of our people are not enjoying the good life that America is thought by the rest of the world to provide for her citizens. Before the tourist buses begin their trips around Balboa Park, more than a dozen men and women were being asked to gather their belongings for another day of wandering. Three people were still asleep on the steps of the Presbyterian Church. At least a dozen homeless persons wandered through the beautiful little park across from the U.S. Grant Hotel.
The lady in my photograph had made the bus stop at Broadway and Fourth her place...until someone comes along to explain that she cannot stay there.
For statistical purposes San Diego’s homeless population is divided into two groups: urban homeless persons and homeless farm workers and day laborers. According to a report of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness in San Diego there are presently around 10,000 homeless persons in the city. That doesn’t take into account the homeless not seeking assistance. According to the Task Force’s report, “There are estimated to be 4,840 single adults, including over 1400 single adult women, in the urban homeless population. Family members make up 32 percent (2,372) of the urban homeless population. Single women head the majority of homeless families. However, in recent years, increasing numbers of single male parents with chidren have become homeless.”
At the end of the day, before they go off into a canyon or to a place under a bridge to sleep, many of the rural homeless will undoubtedly work for minimum wage to pick the food crops most of us will enjoy in our comfortable homes tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Thirty years ago I lived for four years in Singapore shortly after that island republic was expelled from the Federation of Malaysian States. The new little country was unique in all the world because an honest attempt was being made to accommodate several distinct ethnic groups, four languages, and several religions. Chinese, mostly Buddhists and animists, made up the largest group. Malays, mostly Moslems, were a significant and important group because Malaysia and Indonesia, with Islam as the state religion, surrounded Singapore. About nine percent of the people were Indian; most of them were Hindu with a small group of Sikhs among them. The rest of us had come from all over the world, and the
language that was common to us was English. Street signs were often written in Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, and English.
Over the years I have watched as Singapore has struggled with its national identity. Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister, is an old man now; but he still insists that “We can all get along.” He has appeared alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) benevolent and dictatorial. He has had the courage to publicly change his mind on important issues. What
has not changed about him is his insistence on celebrating national diversity.
Until recently I thought his way of thinking about diversity was the American way. I should have known better. I was born into an America that discriminated against most non-white citizens. Without thinking there might be something wrong with the attitude, I grew up assuming that because I was white and male and Protestant Christian I could almost always be at the front of any line where rewards were being distributed. In adolescence when I studied American history, I was told by my teachers that I was fortunate to be a citizen in a nation built on an idea that all men were created equal. In my first year of high school I began to wonder why the textbook ideal didn’t match the reality. My seatmate (two-person desks in some classrooms) in my ninth grade English class was a Japanese-American boy who had been interned in a camp for the duration of the war with Japan.
As an elder citizen of this free country, I am dismayed that the present administrations in the majority of the states in America and the president of the United States continue to insist that civil rights should not be extended to all groups in our pluralistic society. For example, we reassure ourselves that we do indeed celebrate diversity by permitting parades and festivals (that bring in big bucks and give politicians a chance to be seen approving diversity) by gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender persons; but we will not give them the benefit of many of the civil rights the rest of us take for granted and enjoy.
Americans have a way of assuming that we are the model society, the nation which should serve as the pattern for all others. But we do make mistakes. We start a war then lie to ourselves and to the rest of the world about why the war started in the first place. We insist that economies of all the other countries in the world should serve our economic interests first.
But there is good news. The good news is that as a people (if not in government) we are making progress. I can’t explain why it is that we sometimes elect inadequate leaders, but I do feel reassured by the fact that most of the people I know personally honestly don’t want to be bigots. Even the people I know who say they believe a gay couple should not be allowed the benefit of marriage (They actually prefer to say “marriage is between a man and a woman”) readily confess that they like and approve the gays they know personally. I want to believe that we are getting better.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Gerald Naus and his kitten Bennie were obvious choices for my photo-for-the-day. Gerald, an expert blogger, gave me my first lesson in blogging and helped me set up this site. He maintains a blog called "The Cafeteria is Closed." Gerald and I are friends who share a keen interest in photography. We don't however, share political or religious views. Perhaps I should have named my blog "The Cafeteria is Open." It's a wonderful thing to live in a society that tolerates citizens with opposed points of view and even allows for friendship between two people who intellectually exist on opposite ends of a political continuum.
Yesterday's photo of a tiny, timid little hummingbird in apparent repose is a deception. Tiny he is, but timid is not an accurate description of this little dynamo. He is not in respose but is waiting to dart out at any other bird that may try to approach "his" bird feeder. Actually the bird feeder is Ruth and Bill DeRisi's gift to neighborhood birds. This alpha male hummingbird assumes it is his...to share with the females he chooses. He will take on even the much, much larger orioles that try to get to the feeder.