Monday, February 26, 2007

(Click on a photo to see a larger image)


A friend of mine can’t smell anything
Since an accident in which,
If in which can be said of accidents,
His bicycle collided with him on it into a
Somewhat out of control pick-up truck
Just south of highway 94.

“Can’t smell anything,” he said
After they took the bandages off.
The broken nose looked normal,
But you know how looks are deceiving.
“Not at all,” he said.
“I may lose some weight.”

And so he sued the son-of-a-bitch
Who couldn’t control his pick-up
In the vicinity of Highway 94.

His bicycle wasn’t to blame
He said to the jury
When pressed on the witness stand
To say what happened truly.
“And the loss is great,” he said.
“When I try to remember
Bacon frying and flapjacks
And fresh powdered babies
And honeysuckle,”

Memory isn’t enough.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

(Click anywhere on a picture to enlarge)SAN DIEGO MASTER CHORALE

Voices pure, simple, clear together make the miracle
that even the best singer by himself cannot make.
Music strips away morose residue left
when promises are not kept,
when joys are unrealized,
when sadness settles,
when fear comes.


Friday, February 23, 2007

“Unconditional Surrender,” the name J. Seward Johnson gave to his sculpture inspired by Alfred Eisenstadt’s famous photo, got me thinking earlier this week about my own experience on V-J Day, August 14, 1945. I was a ten-year old child in the little town of Roseboro, Arkansas, on that day. Rosboro is a long way from New York, but the celebration there was as exuberant as the one in Times Square. None of my kinfolk had been killed in the war, and we knew they would all be coming home soon. My mother send my cousin and me to ring the church bell.

Today I wandered around the hill above Old Town in San Diego and got my photo-du-jour. The Presidio Museum is not at all like the little white wooden Arkansas church in my memory of August 14. The only thing this Southern California building designed by William Templeton Johnson has in common with the little church in Arkansas is that they both have belfries.


"Come quick,” my Mother called from the kitchen
window open to the summer breeze;
I hurried onto the porch and into the house
because what was in her voice was new and urgent.

“Get Donald and go over to the church
and ring the bell. The war’s over! The war’s over!”
I was ten and couldn’t remember the war starting,
only that my uncles had gone to fight in it.

In our house the radio was blaring with bells ringing
over the hysterical announcer yelling
that Japan had surrendered and surely
peace that would last forever had come.

He said it was A-bombs that did it:
Hiroshima and Nagasaki obliterated
in an instant by a new miracle weapon
that would make war unthinkable.

I asked her how long we should ring
the bell, and I guess she took her cue
from the radio that predicted peace
forever and said, “As long as you can.”

So I ran to my cousin’s house;
and over the jubilation there I told him
what Mother had asked us to do,
and his Mother said yes, yes, do it.

As fast as our bicycles could go
we rode to the church and began
at first together then one at a time
to pull the rope that rang the bell

until there was nothing but the ringing
and Donald and me hanging onto the rope
pulled up and down in the little hall
under the bell tower of the country church.

I remember other things from childhood
but none so clearly as that ringing
and Donald who has now been long dead
hanging onto the rope with me pulling

the bell to announce peace on earth.
I thought then that peace and Donald
and my parents and brothers and sisters
and all good things would last forever.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

These San Diego weather forcaster get me every time. Thinking it was going to begin raining any minute, I went for a short bicycle ride in the city.

At suppertime the promised rain still hadn’t come, but the light, high clouds over the city gave me perfect light for photographing flowers in the Marston House Gardens at 7th and Upas Streets.

More than a hundred years ago Irving Gill designed the house for George and Anna Marston. Marston was a successful businessman and important community leader at the turn of the last century. Marston is credited with creating Presidio Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. He believed in the importance of balancing environmental considerations with urban growth and development. The 1905 house, which is now a museum, reflects Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence on American home design. It is one of San Diego’s best examples of classic Craftsman Style.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

This statue, titled “Unconditional Surrender,” features a larger-than-life sized figure of a World War II sailor kissing a nurse. It was created by J. Seward Johnson and is a three-dimensional interpretation in color of Alfred Eisenstadt’s black and white photograph taken in Times Square on Aug. 14, 1945, the day World War II ended.

The 25-foot statue was temporarily at 44th and Broadway in New York before coming to San Diego. It will be here for at least the next few months. The woman in the kiss, Edith Shain, was on hand early in February for the unveiling. George Mendonsa, an 82-year-old retired fisherman who lives in Middletown, R.I., has insisted for decades that he’s the man in the photo. Some others have laid claim to the kiss.

In 1987, eight years before his death, Eisenstadt told an interviewer, “There was so much ecstasy, it was unbelievable what was going on.” I photographed sailors and everybody kissing each other... The next day I heard I had a remarkable picture. I didn’t even know. For me, everything was a fleeting moment.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


The Wind brushes away sand on the cliff
making random patterns.
I don't need to know how it happens.

A pebble dropped onto still water
makes perfect circles.
Physicists can explain why.
I’d like not to be distracted by facts.
I’ll watch until the water calms.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I went out to the Salton Sea today because I've had the notion in my mind for a long time that I want to find a photograph there that no one else has ever seen or even imagined. What I found was a a great stench. Millions of little fish have died and are washing up onto dying beaches. What a sad place. I haven't given up the idea of finding photographs there, but I'll have to go back another day to do it.

What I rediscovered today was the fascinating Anza Borrego Desert between the green Laguna Mountains and the dead Salton Sea. As I wandered around the desert and along the empty shore of the sea, I kept thinking about Robert Frost's poem, "Desert Places." I only vaguely remembered some of the words of the poem, but the last line of the last stanza kept running through my mind. I came back home and went immediately to my copy of "The Complete Poems of Robert Frost." After finding that I had remembered it correctly, I settled into being glad that I am acquainted both with desert places and with poetry.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
--Robert Frost

Friday, February 16, 2007


The patient trees in a gnarly row
take whatever weather comes along
and make do with it.
I wonder if something in them
remembers the Serengeti Plain
or the Zambezi River.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007
noun (pl.--gies)
.a comparison between two things, typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification;
.a correspondence or partial similarity;
.a thing is comparable to something else in significant respects;

.LOGIC a process of arguing from similarity in known respects to similarity in other respects.
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? ...for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
St. Matthew: 28-34 (King James translation)

In any month of the year springtime is never more than a few days away in San Diego. The area has enjoyed three days of scattered showers, and spring flowers are popping out all over the place. On an early morning walk I came across fresh daisies and was reminded of the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount about how lilies grow without effort. When I got back home from the walk, I read again the sermon hoping to find that I had simply forgotten what must surely be reassurance of a glorious ending for the lily. It seems clear that Jesus is saying people are like flowers. In my rereading I didn’t find what I hoped I had simply forgotten.
The first part of the analogy is encouraging, even comforting. But what about the rest of the story? On the same wild daisy bush some blossoms are indeed dressed for church. They sparkle. They dazzle. But it’s hard to ignore last week’s flowers. They don’t look so good. They’re withering and dying...right on the bush.

Am I missing something here? Jesus seemed to be saying that we shouldn’t pay any attention to the tomorrow part of the flower story, the withering and dying part; that last phrase seems downright sinister: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Well, anyway the daisies in full bloom are sufficiently beautiful to distract me from looking too closely at the ones that are withering and dying. What’s the worst that can happen? After a little decline the beautiful flower simply ceases to exist. That, after all, isn’t so bad. Maybe Jesus was saying it’s enough. I can accept that.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The little house at the corner of Imperial Avenue and Stockton Street in Barrio Logan reminds me of a person I know. THE HOUSE OF CHARM, combination barber shop and beauty shop, perches on the edge of Barrio Logan...across Stockton street from Christ the King Church with its unsettling statue of Jesus without hands. No amount of painting and name changing hides the fact that the little blue house had humble beginnings, was once a place where real people lived.

I like common people,
especially the ones who enjoy ideas
along with their meat and potatoes.
The guy talking about his value to mankind
has made himself believe he isn't ordinary.
He was common once but doesn't remember,
and I suspect he is lonely now
for the fellowship of ordinary folk.
Now that he can charge big money
to anybody who spends time with him,
he has a measure for his importance.
He likes the words "charm" and "charming"
and uses them to talk about his house
and his wife and his wondeful life.
He seems unaware, like the emperor in the story,
that he is naked as the day he was born.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Yapping, yelping in deep night canyons,
coyotes wake something in me that rises only at night;
some sleepy sentry of the soul
stirs to stand guard against faceless fear
waiting always at the edge of knowing,
threatens like thunder from formless clouds,

takes my timid sleepy midnight self
and grabs it by the throat.
What is this shadow thing
not real enough to do me harm
yet closer still than animals that prowl
and howl in darkness of the night?

At midday, running like a sheep dog
through the open low-land marshes, silent,
loping in sunlight across green pasture,
the coyote is not a thing to fear and hide from.
I’d like to whistle for it to come and sit
beside me where the river meets the sea.

It is the animal inside me that I fear,
the beast that lives in me and wakes at night
to stalk my unsure self dropped by sleep
into wildernesses I have no map for.

Friday, February 09, 2007


Why do the Japanese love cherry blossoms more
than apple or pear or peach?
Is it the soft near-pink skin of the cherry tree?

The pear tree is not for everybody, I guess.
It’s bark is like an alligator's hide,
and the flowers smell of earth.

But, ah! The blossoms bursting out of pink nubs,
gnarly unpredictable reach of dark limbs
against any kind of for the eye.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


The deadly war machine
slipped out of calm harbor
into open sea and disappeared in a fog bank,
before sliding beneath the surface to swim
with unsuspecting whales.

What a planet this is we live on...
Not at all what it seems.
Looking in from other worlds
the bright blue earth
must seem only good.

Monday, February 05, 2007


I began the writing yesterday after church. Although there was nothing in the service, except maybe the recitation of the Apostles' Creed, that should have caused me to remember an old Gospel song: "This world is not my home, I'm only passing through." Of course, it is obvious that this world IS my home; and that while it's true that I'm only passing through, I'm not counting on the heaven described in the creed that I recited in unison with a thousand others, who may or may not have been paying attention to the actual meaning of the words. I found myself trying again to reconcile the prettiness of the church environment with what happens in the real world. I had read in the morning paper about a bomb blast in a marketplace in Bagdad, a horrendous act plotted and executed by people who claim to be doing on earth what they believe a god in some kind of heaven wants them to do. One hundred thirty people were brutally murdered and many others were wounded. The photographs and writings in my journal for the day are futile attempts again to make sense of things. The first photograph was taken on Thurday last week as I went to choir rehearsal. The other photographs are from earlier times.

The Kyoto photograph was taken in early March 2005. On the day I took the photograph of the Shinto nun walking across the temple grounds, I didn't spend much time inside. On a visit years ago when I stayed a week in Kyoto at Myoranji, a Zen temple, I spent a morning sitting on the floor of the main temple trying to be invisible as I watched priests and supplicants move through their acts of devotion and worship.

The photographs from Vietnam were taken in 1970. From Da Nang where I was working, I drove out to Marble Mountain during the day when American Marines held the countryside. At night the land belonged to the Viet Kong. The temple is still there, of course; and I hope to go back someday soon to see it again. It was a most marvelous sensation to come into the darkness of the cave from the atmosphere of war outside and feel peace in the coolness of the temple. In a village at the foot of Marble Mountain there was a woman crying where she had been brought out and forced to watch as the Viet Kong shot her daughter for alleged collaboration with the Americans. Other villagers said she had been wailing there for more than a week.

The Hindu Penitent was honoring a pledge he had made to walk in the Thaipusam festival in the multiethnic Republic of Singapore. The year was 1973.

Today I let go the requirement that church make sense...
like turning loose a tethered balloon struggling to be free,
I released my grip and let it go, let it rise, let it float out of sight.
Out of mind is another thing to work on.

Sitting in the cocoon richness of the sanctuary
I unhooked my mind and watched the eucalyptus dance
behind light fringed pines and a million mirrors
that were leaves of an olive tree behind the church.

In Kyoto at Heian Shrine I watched, understanding nothing,
as solemn Shinto priests said prayers and moved softly
through orange pillars and banners with text I could not read
and was transported beyond truth and knowing;

Long ago on Marble Mountain in Vietnam with war raging
I retreated into a temple carved from solid rock in a cave
and found my soul strangely still, my fear lifted, my mind at ease
despite the absurdity and chaos of a battle outside;

I stood close once as a Hindu penitent was pierced with hooks,
and rods and tiny spears, skewered senselessly. His body
like Il Sodoma’s St. Sebastian shot through with arrows
did not revolt me but filled me with awe and wonder.

So why have I resisted priests and ministers at home in robes
parading, posing, positioning themselves to speak to God
big G when I have had no trouble suspending reason
when watching priests and supplicants in faraway places?