Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I lost myself on the empty beach
which everybody else had abandoned
at the first hint of winter chill
and watched a thin undulating line
just above the north horizon
as it approached where I sat
until the great impossible birds
became an animated cord,
a beautiful aerial corps de ballet
flying in careful formation,
a squadron, a beach patrol
checking interlopers and hangers on like me
to see if we belonged there
and should be allowed to stay.

I had seen pelicans on the beach before
but never in a line like this one.
They weren’t scanning their usual haunt
beyond the breaking surf
for foolish fish or other careless creatures
who venture too close to the surface
and pay for it by being caught
in one of their clumsy dives,
but they were flying over empty beach.

I spied the leader of this scouting party
positioned only slightly ahead of the others
with undisguised authority and superiority
that put me on my guard.
They flew directly over me
and turned in unison to sweep lower
to check to see what I was all about.

The huge birds made a wide figure eight
before continuing their survey of the beach.

I can’t say how I know they approved
and gave permission for my being there.
Who can ever say how exactly
a man gets his visa for a visit
to a place that clearly belongs to others,
but I got mine that morning
and only wish I could be invited to fly with them,
to tag along and make a sweep or two
of empty beach and restless surf.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'm trying my hand at black and white digital photography. Just as the world is in living color, all digital photographs begin as color images which are converted to black and white in the computer. These are some of my first efforts. You can get a full screen photograph by clicking on the image in the blog.Because I've always liked Georgia O'Keefe's jimson weed paintings, the wild flower is obvious subject for me. This Kumayay lady was working on a clay pot in Balboa Park last summer at a festival. The black and white photographs is a much more satisfying image than it was in color.The Kumaya were well acquainted with the little canyon that is now Mission Trails Park. I especially like the fence, the road, and the invitation to the eye that they provide as a way through the mountains.Will and Estelle Secor's Muffy was a perfect subject for a black and white photograph. The fishing fleet in San Diego Harbor provides good contrast material for black and white images.I got this shot coming out of the Golfo Nuevo south of Buenos Aires in 2004.In 2006 I got this photograph in Prague near the famous clock that puts on a good show every hour on the hour. It's is a good compromise between black and white and color photography.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


The stuff of poetry is here
by the side of the road
near the top of the hill:

I love you, Dad. Roney.
We miss you.

Altogether not much to show
what his life was all about.
A bicycle wheel, five American flags,
christmas tree stand, plastic tree,
jade plant in a bucket,
empty champagne bottle,
pot of bamboo,
a cross and some rocks.
1-1-56 to 5-22-04.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


All day long there has been a poem waiting,
hanging around in my mind like next spring’s daffodils.
You know how subtly powerful those things are.
I see and smell them months ahead of their actual appearing.
Violets do that, too, especially the little wild ones.
This poem that I can smell and taste and almost see
is one that has peeked at me before
but has always teased and then retreated
like the faint figure in a French Quarter window
suspended in blackness behind flimsy curtains,
tentative, androgynous but definitely there.
I’ll sit and wait awhile to see if more of it appears.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Miss Bowman came from Indiana
to be our sixth grade teacher
young even to sixth graders
probably no more than twenty
and smoking cigarettes
in the cafes down town
she seemed to know something
other teachers hadn’t learned.

she told me I had a place on the food chain
she said everybody has a place
even Max Grant who was alive then
and as far as I know figured he would always be
but he died young in his thirties
while the rest of us went on living for awhile

there was something she said about worms
that may have some relevance here
but the part about corn being used to feed chickens
and chickens being the most usual Arkansas Sunday dinner
was the part that made the most sense then
and how would they get into those metal coffins anyway?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

My neighbor saw me fooling around with leaves and might have gone off wondering what kind of “funny business” I have with trees. I wasn’t raking leaves and throwing them away, but picking some up from under a pear tree so I could bring them into the house. It was windy and cooler than usual in San Diego, so I decided I’d try to make my photo-for-the-day inside the house.
I was reminded of a telephone conversation between Muriel and her mother in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” one of J.D. Salinger’s Glass family stories. In the story Muriel and Seymore Glass have just driven down to Florida from Connecticut. Seymore hasn’t been home from the War long (World War II) and is suffering from what we now call "Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome." Muriel’s parents are worried about her.
“Mother,” the girl interrupted, “I just told you. He drove very nicely. Under fifty the whole way, as a matter of fact.

“Did he try any of that funny business with the trees?”

“I said he drove very nicely, Mother. Now, please. I asked him to stay close to the white line, and all, and he knew what I meant, and he did. He was even trying not to look at the trees--you could tell. Did Daddy get the car fixed, incidentally?”--------------
If you haven’t read “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” I recommend it. It’s the first short story in Salinger’s Nine Stories.

Friday, January 19, 2007

St. Francis Yacht Club, San Francisco

Electrophotomicrography is a means of photographing electrically; and it also happens to be the longest word I could find in the dictionary when I was in elementary school. Oh, how I enjoyed the feel of the letters on my tongue as I spelled over and over and over, letting the rhythm catch my attention and my breath the way poetry does when it takes us away from ordinary considerations. I came across the word recently in a National Geographic article, and it brought back to my mind the smell of my sixth grade classroom and the teacher, the one I tried to impress with my spelling and with a cheap bottle of perfume called Evening in Paris. I bought the little bottle of perfume in its delphinium blue bottle to give to her just before Christmas hoping she would know that I was in love with her. Maybe I was just in love with her job. Although I’d never given it much thought, maybe she had something to do with my becoming a teacher. I’m also guessing that it may have been Miss Nonnie Bowman who first told me that poetry can always be found anywhere if you know how to look for it, like Moses finding manna in the desert.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Monday, January 15, 2007

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZA RICE was in a meeting in Egypt when she was told the details of the hanging of two close associates of Saddam Hussein. Apparently there was no taunting of the condemned men, no pictures taken with cell phones, no unseemly behavior by any of the persons watching the execution; but Secretary Rice still was not pleased. It was reported that in the process of hanging the men, one of them was decapitated by the fall from the gallows. She said she was disappointed that the executions had not been done in a dignified way. President Bush made the same observation earlier when he heard that the execution of Saddam Hussein had been filmed and that there had been taunts by some of the guards who were witnesses. He also said he was disappointed that Saddam’s execution lacked dignity.

Do these people listen to themselves talk? How is a hanging a dignified affair? What about Abu Ghraib? ...and Guantanamo? What about the agonizing deaths of 3000 American soldiers and the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians? Where is dignity for my country in this whole sorry mess? Am I supposed to find it in the flag-draped coffins of our soldiers being returned to their families? Am I supposed to see it in this pathetic President weeping as he presents the Metal of Freedom to the parents of a slain war hero? MERCY: DAVID SPARETH SAUL'S LIFE
The painting by Richard Dadd (British, 1817-1886), is in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Dadd was permanently institutionalized after killing his father in 1843. He spent his life in prison painting works which addressed the subject of his delusional illness. Based on a Biblical story, "Mercy" represents the young King David rejecting an opportunity to assassinate his enemy Saul. King David's restraint was a virtue Dadd hoped to cultivate as an antidote to his own murderous compulsions.

(This painting should be seen larger. You can always click on an image in this BLOG to enlarge it.)

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Uncle Dick liked to tell the story about the time he cured a dog of having fits,
or at least that was the purpose of his doing what he did
with some help from his older brother, someone I knew as Uncle Roy,
when both of them were little more than boys in an Arkansas logging camp.

According to Uncle Dick just about everybody in Arkansas at the time
believed that the way to cure a dog of having fits,
you know the kind where the dog runs around in circles
and chases his tail, foams at the mouth and finally falls into a sleep,
was to cut off his tail, which explained why so many dogs had no tails;
you can be sure it wasn’t because the AKA required it.

Well, this old hound came into the camp one day
and just hung around sniffing at everybody’s heels
until he came to Uncle Roy who had, I guess, what he was looking for
because that dog sat right down beside him
and didn’t move until Uncle Roy did,
and from that first day followed him everywhere,
even out to the woods where he was a mule skinner.

Now Uncle Roy was a lot like most of the rest of us
in that he couldn’t help but be mighty flattered
to have another creature single him out like that,
especially when it wasn’t for anything but affection,
so he didn’t make any effort to lose him.
Everybody recognized this as a classic case
of man being dog’s best friend.
Uncle Roy would do anything for that dog,
which brings me to the point of the story.

The dog had fits.
They were bad fits that came without warning,
and they startled anybody who was around at the time,
and when it happened in the woods it scared the mules,
so something had to be done.

Uncle Dick reminded Uncle Roy that the dog had a long tail
and said he’d be glad to oblige by holding the dog
if Uncle Roy wanted to cut the dog’s tail off with an ax,
and he said he wouldn’t even mind being the one with the ax
in case there was any chance the dog might misunderstand
and be mad at the guy who actually did the cutting.

So they walked out to the wood pile one Sunday afternoon
after the dog had recovered from one of his fits,
the unsuspecting animal following Uncle Roy as he always did.
They talked awhile about how they would do it.
Uncle Roy said he’d better be the one doing the holding
because that way the dog wouldn’t think anything unusual was up.

He got down by the chopping block and the dog came to sit beside him.
Uncle Roy had taught him to sit, which the dog usually did anyway,
but this time the procedure called for standing instead of sitting,
so there was a little confusion with Uncle Roy saying stand boy, stand,
which the dog didn’t get at all, so Uncle Roy had to life him to his feet
so he could stretch his tail out across the chopping block.

There they were, the adoring dog and his friend and master,
waiting for Uncle Dick to carry out his part of the operation.
He raised the ax and was just about to let it fall
when it occurred to him that they had neglected to consider one thing,
that it sometimes takes more than one dose of medicine to effect a cure,
and if they cut off every bit of this dog’s tail they would be in a real fix.
What if he continued to have fits, maybe just little fits,
and they had used up all of the only medicine they knew to use;
so on the way down to the dog’s tail with the ax
Uncle Dick made the decision all by himself to cut off only a couple of inches
so there would be enough tail left for more doses if they were needed.

Well, the dog was understandably unhappy with the whole thing.
He bolted away with much more tail left than Uncle Roy had expected
and began running around, not necessarily in circles,
and Uncle Dick said it looked to him like the operation was a success
because the dog wasn’t foaming at the mouth.
Uncle Roy stood up with the little piece of tail in his hand
and said, what the hell, Dick, Look what you’ve done.

No matter how hard he tried for the rest of his life,
Uncle Dick wasn’t ever able to convince Uncle Roy
that taking a short cut of that dog’s tail was part of a better plan.
The dog looked ridiculous but Uncle Roy wasn’t willing to do it again,
and Uncle Dick said, looking back on it after many decades,
he didn’t figure the dog would have cooperated a second time anyway.
He said he couldn’t remember if the dog ever had a fit again.
He reckoned after thinking about it for more than sixty years,
there was built into the whole situation an inevitable misunderstanding.
There are times when you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
First Century Roman friezes at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Friday, January 12, 2007

SELF-PORTRAITS from almost two decades ago. I was going back through one of my old journals and found a couple of entries that I had almost forgotten. I was apparently doing some heavy introspection during that period. I was also doing the "photo-du-jour" at that time, so I looked closely at the photographs for the days to see if I could remember what triggered the close look at myself. On October 17, 1990, I took a picture of the Presidio clue there. The picture for October 22 was a close-up of a rose against a cinderblock wall that I recognize as being on the campus of the lower school at Francis Parker School. The "You and Me" visual poem was done on October 15, 1990; and the picture for that day was Margaret. That makes sense.

I think it was at about the time the poems were written that I was getting rid of the old IBM "Selectric" typewriter in my office at Parker. I remember going through a little period of mourning as I gave up the typewriter altogether and switched to the computer. I guess I made the self-portraits during those final days of my long love affair with the typewriter...because I could. I could move the paper in the carriage of the typewriter and make the letters print where I wanted them to print. Of course, I could now do the same thing with the sophisticated computer programs that I use; but it wouldn' have been possible on my 1990 computer. How could I have imagined what amazing things we could do on the computer just a couple of decades from then.

By the way, you can always see a larger version of an image in the BLOG by simply clicking on it. Will wonders never cease! It's something that couldn't have happened with my old typewriter...but sometimes I still miss it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Sometimes in the middle of a sentence when my mind is not on guard
a flash comes boldly forward wiping away everything in an instant
leaving only a field of summer green wheat with distant mountains
or a Kadazan farmer slashing at the jungle with a machete
or the face smiling and shoulders of someone I knew well once.
Who knows where they come from, these replays of snatches of life?
Perhaps a distant sound or beam of light or soft cool breeze
comes in sideways activating some retrieval mechanism
that locates in the stacks or drawers of the archive of my memory
mostly wonderful but sometimes disturbing pictures and feelings.

But what about that other kind of memory flash
that comes only once or twice every decade
showing me a piece of experience that never was mine,
that comes out of some residue of a former life or from my forebears
reassuring me that there are threads in the fabric of my existence
I did not select or put in place from which I cannot disengage?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The eighteen-year-old silverback lowland gorilla at the San Diego Zoo was brought in to be the troop leader when the previous alpha male died, and he made it clear immediately that he knows what his job requires. On the early Monday morning in January when I visited, he was charging about the enclosure reminding all the other silverbacks that he is in charge. The younger males and all the females got out of the way of his charges, but they were obviously not afraid of him. The zoo keepers say he is a gentle, considerate leader. I have heard that it’s not a good idea to look an alpha male silverback in the eye, but he seemed to be looking straight into the camera lens when I snapped the picture. An adult female was sitting on the highest part of the enclosure when I began watching, but she hurried away when the alpha male came near.
Over in the orangutan enclosure, a toddler scrambled over and around adult females and a couple of adolescents, but he didn't go near the big, heavy jowled male. In the Malay-Indonesian language of Borneo and Sumatra where orangutans live, “orang” is the word for “man,” and “utan” is the word for “forest.” This fellow, who seems to be playing soldier with his palm branch, is a “man of the forest” in the San Diego Zoo. Actually, an adult male orangutan dwelling in a real rain forest lives a solitary, lonely life. After adolescence he goes off into the forest alone, stays away from other males and meets a female occasionally for sex, which seems to be of little interest to him. In the orangutan enclosure at the zoo, the alpha male stays mostly to himself. OUR COUSINS
Well, maybe not quite kissing cousins, but it is said that bonobo chimpanzees, sharing 98 percent of our genetic profile, are as close to humans as foxes are to dogs. Anthropoligists believe the split between the human line of ancestry and the line of the chimpanzee and the bonobo occurred only 8 million years ago. The divergence of the chimpanzee and the bonobo lines came much later. Observing a group of bonobos at San Diego Zoo, I lost any shreds of doubt that I am related to these creatures. Bonobo children play in the same ways that human children play. Bonobo adults tolerate their rambunctiousness. Most of the time, adults are getting ready for or indulging in or finishing up some kind of sexual activity; so youngsters have nothing to do but play or just hang around. NO PANDA-MONIUM HERE

While the bonobo children were running and jumping, mostly over and on each other, in another part of the zoo a panda family presented another picture. Of course, pandas are not primates and are not closely related to us, but it's easy to use anthropomorphic terms in describing them. All three of the Zoo’s pandas were in their enclosures on the day I visited. The mother and baby panda were on one side of a high wall and the papa sat munching bamboo on the other. Baby slept on a precarious perch high in a tree, mother panda sat demurely on a log watching visitors as they passed by, and papa panda seemed not to care about anything but his bamboo breakfast.
OTHER ANIMALS at the zoo may not get star billing, but I never get tired of watching them, even when they do little more than lie in the shade and chew a cud or hang out in a cold pool pretending they are in the Alaska wilderness or stand around on one leg and stare at the sky.