Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Yesterday I saw on the street a man who once worked for me, a man who never liked the fact that I had replaced his patron, the man who had given him his job. The man and I are near the same age, but now he looks much older. In the dozen years since I last saw him he has become stooped and withered. I remember a morning when he came to my office to learn if I would require him to leave his job.

I went back to my journal for 1990 and found the following entry:

(Journal entry on Tuesday, November 20, 1990)

The man who once was my enemy,
he having chosen the relationship,
stood before me trying not to look into my eyes,
wondering, I imagine, why it is that I was not defeated,
why it is that I am still there,
a significant, even critical, part of his life.
He had underestimated my ability and determination
to stay in a place where he did not want me to be.

He had come this morning to find out what I thought of him.
He could tuck his tail and run away or stay,
and if he stayed, he had to know some things...
what would the king of the mountain do with him?
perhaps he thought another assault would give him victory?
But he wanted to know, too, what I would require...
did I want servitude and groveling from him?
would I make him eat a plate of crow?

Somewhere I read that conquerors should be generous,
so I motioned him to sit and pointed to my best chair.
He lowered himself slowly as if expecting a trick,
as if the beautiful, clean chair might hurt him.
He turned his body to the side to keep from facing me.
I waited for him to speak before I said a word.
I made it clear that I was prepared to listen to what he said.

I thought of things I might say to him,
hard things, things that would make him wince,
things that would sting his eyes and burn his soul,
things that would make the point that he had lost the war,
that there could be no more battles or negotiations.
But I simply sat and looked at him and waited.
The harshest words are ones not said at all.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I have explored the underworld
and like it
but wouldn’t want to stay there
for longer than it takes to look
or touch
or taste
or take away
some piece of it to remember

It’s enough to have explored caves
but unnecessary to live in them

Did these street people go out one day
with little or no purpose except
from their safe homes
which phrase can be itself
a contradiction
ask any of those with scared eyes
if clear diction is important in cases like these
saying as little as possible
can you spare some change
and forgot to drop solid pebbles
using warm bread crumbs instead
those pigeons will do it every time
leaving nothing but shit
for of course somebody else to clean up
and did they think memory alone would work
for them or any of us
it goes finally sooner for some
my Mother is a good example
which is exactly what I mean to say
with a special emphasis on good
people who forget where they are
and only lightly remember truly
they’ve ever been part of a family

somebody should pass around a description of Cerberus
so the damned dog that’s guarding the gate
can be seen for what he is
don’t be fooled by the wagging tail
and the come-hither look.

Monday, March 26, 2007


One evening last week in the short period of magic light between day and night, I stood on the narrow platform between swaying railway cars on the Mexican line between Chihuahua and Los Mochis when I glanced back from watching towering rock cliffs and deep, subtropical ravines of Copper Canyon to the door into car number four. The surface of the class in the door had turned to hazy mirror in the deepening darkness.

This was not the first time it has happened. Usually it’s when I’m walking down a street in the city or passing quickly by a mirror in our house. For several years now I have been occasionally surprised suddenly by the image of my father reflected back at me. When I was young, people would tell me I looked like him, but I didn’t see it. He was thirty-two when I was born; so when I was fourteen and fifteen and sixteen, I couldn’t believe that I looked like a man who was almost fifty. Ha! Now I am seventy-two, and I am nothing but pleased when someone who has known both of us says I look like him. Thinking about how much I look like my father always reminds me of Wordsworth’s poem:


By William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.

In the early evening on the railway car platform I stood stock still staring. When he seemed to stare back at me from the railway car window, I felt an impulse to speak. The face, my face, reflected in the window could have been his. But I said nothing. What was there to say? He has been dead for almost forty years.

A few days later I created a conversation I might have had with him:


These days more than ever
I get him mixed up with me.
I wonder who the reflection is
as I walk along the street,
glancing sideways to catch him
staring back at me.
It’s the way he looked,
the way he walked,
and this morning
as I spread the lather
around my face
avoiding the mustache
it was my face...and his,
his mustache and mine.

He says,
we should have talked.

I say,
about what?

About everything, he says.

We are talking now, I say.

I know, but it’s too late.

I don’t like the idea that it’s too late
for anything...
especially talking.
What is it I should know from you?

Isn’t there anything,
some unanswered question
after all these years?

I once wanted to ask you about Mother.
Did you ever...
you know, step out on her.

Every day when I went out into the world.

Every day? I don’t believe it.

Every day. I stepped out on her.
The world and I had an affair
and she was jealous.
One day I went off with death
and didn’t come back.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Curling in cinematic slow motion
the Pacific teases the desert shore
saying I am the water you need
and rushes headlong to crash
in utter chaos against rocks
in an eternal game of red rover.

After the sun has set I stand
at the tidal edge of beach
trying not to be afraid of what
moves in the fathomless deep.

Coursing through darkness like an arrow
aimed as surely as the moon in its course
the sea bird’s call pierces my heart.

No matter what you say
or how you touch me
I am utterly alone in the world
except for slight bare brushes
with other individual existences.

Does the Gray Whale stop to sleep
out there in the deep roiling ink?
And the calf, is it afraid?

It was almost fifty years ago that I first saw the scattering of massive rocks at the tip of Baja California. Last week I saw them again. We were sailing in from Topolabampo to anchor out from Cabo San Lucas at about ten o’clock in the morning, and the sunlight was just right. The early light hadn’t bleached the giant cliffs the way mid-afternoon sun does.

Each of the separate monoliths in the string of rocks must surely have a name, but I don’t know even one of them. The tall, dry pinnacle jutting out of the sea at the end resembles a super-sized California gray whale frozen forever in mid-spy hop. At low tide another rock is just barely visible beyond the big one. My fertile imagination makes it a baby whale peeking out to watch its mother.

But it’s not the rocks that fascinate me; it’s the light. It sometimes seems to come boldly white from inside them and at other times the light is flat, reluctant and gray. Just for the heck of it, I went back to an old box of slides from the 1964 trip down the length of the Baja Peninsula and sadly found that most of them have faded. The rocks are there in the photo; even in the old slides they are spectacular. My friend Gary is twenty-something in the photographs, and seeing him occasionally now reassures me that the light in him is still brilliant. And Cabo San Lucas? In the 60s one little motel was all we found in what has become an impressive resort city.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Theory of the Origin of Everything
Paradigm Explaining the Origin and Expansion of Everything

Monday, March 12, 2007

Today’s blog posting is a ramble. The pictures have little, if anything, to do with the poem. I was with my student, Alex birnbaum, yesterday; and I was with Margaret, David, and friends Gloria and Ellie today. We were thinking and talking a lot about retirement, how good it is. It still seems strange to me that I have all of everything that I need, and more; yet I don’t have to work. Then I remember that I never worked just for paychecks anyway. I worked because I had things to do that I wanted to do, that I liked to do. The paycheck was a nice side benefit. They tell me it was the lifetime of work that makes a very good retirement at the end of life.

Ah, there’s the rub. “THE END!” Of course, an ending is always inevitable; but in the meantime, I’m still busy trying to figure out what I’d like to be when I grow up.


Must I choose today
what part I shall play,
which lines I shall say?
Will anyone care
what hat I shall wear?

I shall grow up
if I have to at all
to be seven feet tall
and shoot balls off a wall,
or decide to live life as a pup.

I would like to be a plumber
or in a choir the official hummer
or in a band the only drummer.
I want to make a lot of noise...
not be silent like good little boys.

Instead of peaceful homophony
I prefer a little cacophony,
an occasional break with heterophony
and sweet simple jazz
with razzmatazz.

I think I’d like to climb a mountain
and maybe even design a fountain.
I could be a mannequin,
but I’d prefer a paladin
out looking for his talisman.

If I had to be a judge,
I’d find and sentence every drudge
and give the nudge
to silly twits who choose monotony
instead of flowery careers like botany.

I’d travel to Mars
then write my memoirs
and stay out from behind bars
unless, of course, for a just cause right
I stand my ground and put up a fight.

I confess some interest in a life that is wicked
if in front of crowds I don’t have to get naked.
I think maybe I could be outrageous
and even at times a little courageous,
but God forbid I become umbrageous.

But what a joy to be a teacher,
an indispensable creature
whose most essential feature
is a willingness to change,
is a willingness to change.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Tragedy is defined by how much or little
the bumps and knocks of everyday living
have done
to knock you off course.

That man I read about in the newspaper
who has lived for forty years in an iron lung
has suffered a little more than the woman
who said goddamn son of a bitch
this morning
when she damaged her nail polish on a shopping cart
down at the Safeway store on Washington Street.

With his chest heaving at regular intervals
prompted by his electric breathing machine,
does he ever say or think Oh shit
waking up
to find the goddamn polio isn't just a terrible dream
but a fucking nightmare come to stay until death
takes him?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A photograph is a shared memory. We think we know who we are because we have seen photographs of ourselves, of the places where we have existed, and of the people who have shared the circumstances of our living.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Tao, an ancient Chinese guide to living in harmony with the universe, is seen as a way to greater personal fulfillment. Adherents to the principles of the Tao claim that it enables them to connect seeming disparate experiences and pieces of the world and to create a manageable, unified whole. Taoists deliberately avoid approaching the world frenetically.

Harmony is the key.

It is often said, perhaps reflecting the egoism of our species more than reality, that humans are the only creatures in our world who are truly self-aware. As a self-aware person my goal is to experience the world. I want to see all of it in its chaotic randomness, and I want to feel it as a whole. In spite of chaos, sometimes to the point of absurdity, I want to believe there is balance and unity in the world, that sense can be made of it.

Just as teaching did for me in all the years of a long career, photography helps me see wholeness. One of the most important lessons I learned as a teacher is that all learning, all education, is about the connectedness of things. The primary role of the teacher is to help people move toward wholeness, to see and feel wholeness. Whenever we set about trying to learn anything that is new to us, we begin with pieces of information that can be studied. We understand one piece or part of a piece at a time, and eventually we put the pieces together. An attempt that fails is also part of the learning process and becomes a new piece of information. We must know why an attempt fails in order to try again. Of course, we can make multiple attempts without stopping to analyze why the pieces are not fitting together. At some point in the process the pieces come together, they become part of a sensible whole. Sometimes a series of random attempts at getting the pieces to fit together can result in the right fit, wholeness. Even then understanding comes when we understand the connectedness.

The world is a collection of disintegrated parts. Seen and felt separately those parts often have little or no meaning. The teacher addresses the problem of disintegration and helps the student get enough information and experience to see the world as a manageable, integrated whole.

Between a little less than something
and a little more than nothing
beauty lies...You must see a bigger version of these meercats at the San Diego Zoo. Click on the picture.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Who tells the sleeping
January jacaranda at the
edge of the desert
to wake in April?

Is it a sensitive
prime mover of the universe
touching a secret switch
that turns on the blue flame?

What starts the magic
that replaces yellow lace leaves
and dry dangling seed pods
with flowers the color of sky?

What about tornados?