Sunday, May 29, 2011

Diamond Hunting

I'm hunting diamonds up in the California mountains, as I visit my niece and her family. Diamonds lie on the ground everywhere on her property, or occasionally in rocks as I found them above and below.

Most of the diamonds I find are scattered brilliant points of light. In the photo below, there's a largish diamond on the far right, and smaller ones in the upper left and lower left.

If I didn't aim my butt at it, this view below is what I would see.

This is Pouncer, the guard cat.

This week, the Poetry Jam asks for poems on forgetting. I've written the piece below about a psychotic breakdown I watched my mother suffer as she was dying of Alzheimer's disease. During the breakdown, my mother fell and sliced her forearm, requiring stitches. All the verses are in Haiku form with 5-7-5 syllables. You'll find all the other Jammers here.

What Happened to Your Mother?

Fear dims memory
You have been here before this
Don’t you remember?

Put up the “closed” sign
Shut the windows. Pull the blinds
Step out. Lock the door

Assume a blank face
Take the elevator down
Walk into the street

Sleepwalker shuffling
Bare feet wade through broken glass
Crouch. Howl like a dog

Train tracks hum a tune
Freight train rockets through the night
Rattle clatter bang!

Duck your head and run
For the dark house down the road
Slam and lock the door

Darkness is total
The silence reverberates
Outside, a cat screams

Curl up in the bed
A blanket over your head.
Shiver. Block all thoughts

You’ve done this before
Your fear is a panting dog
Don’t you remember?

Shut out the memory
Grit your teeth. Clutch the blanket
Don’t answer the phone

Lie still in the dark
You don’t know who is screaming
It could be yourself.

Wounded animal
A dog howling Cats yowling
You’re safe here in bed

Glass slices the flesh
Needle stitches the wound closed
Mama wildcat screams

She’s out of her mind
Lights on but no one is home
Don’t you remember?

You’re out of your mind
Is it your fault she’s bleeding?
Don’t answer that door

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tanks for the Memories

Fatherhood is a blessed business, even though the man himself universally is hardly holy.

I post this weekend to honor my father, born May 1930, who died at 52 of brain cancer. I’m older than my father lived to be, and I’m proud of who I am today in goodly part because of who my father was and what he bequeathed me. He was an interesting man, and I still don’t approve of his absence from my life. This photograph of him was taken during the Korean War, when he was training with the National Guard. I love you, Dad.

Requiem for My Father Following New Evidence of God

My religious education was not your fault
but I begged God for your life with every
book, chapter, verse, creed, catechismal
question and answer I knew. I bargained

for your life with mine, with my future
happiness, I swore to God He could keep
that future good husband and I would do
without wedded bliss or children if only

He would let you live. I swore off drugs,
men, intellect, pleasure of all kinds if He
would hear my prayer and save you. On
my knees I begged, through choking tears

with loud beseechments, calling on His
Holy Name, His mercy, His holy book,
His past behavior with humankind, every
nickel and dime method I could conjure

to touch His hallowed heart. I knew I was
pathetic, not nearly eloquent enough to earn
a miracle. I confessed I was by nature sinful
and unclean, deserving of His temporal and

eternal punishment, mea culpa, mea culpa,
I don’t deserve it, I confided, but please
let my father live. I did not pray in faith but
in desperation because you were in fact

my god. I was 28 years old and did not grasp
the fatal truth of His claim to be a jealous
God who suffers no other gods before Him.
My very prayers stung His jealous ears.

Visit the Poetry Jam site at to visit other poets pondering fathers.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

News of the Weird

There are days when I open the newspaper and feel like Alice after tumbling down the rabbit hole.

"We're all mad here."
~ Cheshire Cat

First up today is the news that circumcision of male children could be banned in San Francisco this coming fall. The proposal put forth by a group of “intactivists” got enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, and if the initiative passes, it will prohibit circumcision in all males under age 18, with no exceptions. If you’re wondering, as did I, why on earth anyone would want to dictate such a thing, the Wall Street Journal reports that the measure’s supporters believe it is mutilation without the permission of the child and has no health benefits. Hm.

Next, astronomers think we may have a whole mess of rogue planets floating around the Milky Way galaxy without a star to steer them by. They’ve identified 10 big gaseous balls, similar to Jupiter, wandering around unsupervised, apparently not orbiting any star. This news astonishes astronomers. How did the gas balls get there? Why are they homeless? Are they in fact homeless? Were they thrown out of orbit for insubordination? Are they gas bubbles burped by a baby universe? Hm.

Finally, we might not have time to ponder either of these news stories if this Saturday unfolds as predicted by Harold Camping, who expects believers in Jesus Christ to vanish from the earth in a phenomenon known as the rapture. Mr. Camping’s calculations of the Biblical timeline leave no room for doubt, he says: On May 21, Jesus Christ will gather all his faithful followers into heaven in the twinkling of an eye, and the last days of Earth will begin. Hm.

According to the Associated Press reporter who submitted this news story, “most Christians don’t believe in [the rapture]” and “the Christian mainstream isn’t buying it.” He doesn’t cite sources substantiating those declarations, so I assume he’s confusing his opinion with something called “facts.” I’ll just point out that “most Christians” I personally know do believe something similar will happen one day, at a time unknown by anyone.

But I think it wise to keep my ignorant nose out of things that might or might not happen in the future. There’s work to do here and now, so I’ll just keep my feet right here in the present. Actually, at this hour of the evening, my feet will carry me off to bed.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Poetry Jam Theme for May 23

I have shook off the rain that soaked us here (who knew the power of a poetry theme could be taken so literally by the Weather Man in the Sky?). We have et us some good grub and we await the arrival of our Poetry Bus rider friend Rachel, et al, here in not so sunny California. Mi casa is a pit stop on her USA tour. Maybe if I keep our theme simple, she will take time from gawking and dash off a poem.

I asked to host the Poetry Jam blog for the upcoming Monday, May 23, for a reason: my long-gone father's birthday falls on May 24. Dad was a child of the Depression, a self-made man born in Oklahoma and transplanted to a small town in rural California. He was a poet in his way, a honky-tonk poet. I'm posting a photo of him in his prime.

The theme for our Poetry Jam this coming Monday, then, will be your choice of two wide-open topics, fertile ground for the Muse:

1) Write a poem about Father, fatherland, daddy dearest, your experience of fatherhood, the father you never had, your father or your own fatherhood, or the father of your children, or the father of your father, or your Heavenly Father, or go father afield and do what you will with the notion of fathers.

2) Write a honky-tonk song. Wikipedia's discussion of honky-tonk music is here.

Visit the Poetry Jam site at to link up later this week. Hopefully, I'll be able to figure out Mr. Linky's foibles.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tempestuous Sky

I’ve been a bad blogger but a good gardener thus far this month. My surgically altered and mending hands have created a veggie garden for my daughter Milo and I to share. They’ve rejuvenated drip lines and sprinklers. They’ve tended all the dahlias and roses painstakingly, and they’ve repotted, transplanted, pruned, and fertilized everything. They've made one gopher R.I.P. They’ve pulled millions of weeds.

I apologize to all my blog friends for neglect. I’ve poured all my energy into the soil and the plants. Six weeks ago the doctor diagnosed a severe vitamin D deficiency and I’ve sought the sun for help. A new anti-depressant, cheap and non-toxic, has solved my insomnia problem, thank God, but it has a grogginess side effect. It’s a time of transition, and I’m happy about an evolution.

One of the transitions involves the world-famous Poetry Bus. It has trundled off to the Bus Yard in the Sky. Its poet riders have formed the worldwide Poetry Jam in retaliation, jamming on Mondays, with our new blog site linking us all. You’re welcome to join in.

This week’s theme is Thunder and Lightning. In a nice synchronicity, my bit of California is enjoying a tad of that this week. However, the muse has gone mum with all the gardening, I guess. So I’ve pulled a stormy piece from the archives to offer as my riff. But first, here’s a little relevant artifact from my family history, invented, perhaps, by my father:

Thunder roared and lightning flashed!
A tree fell down, and a frog got smashed!

And now for some real tempestuous weather. Today is my 19th wedding anniversary, and let it be known that the narrator of this piece is NOT moi.


The wind stirs in the leaves of the trees—
sounds like a stream chuckling down a stony shoal
sounds like surf supping at the shore
sounds like kindness if I can conjure that stream, that shore

In truth, menace rises beyond the window
violence edging over the horizon
and stalking this way. I have silenced the radio
and shuttered the television, and now I lie

my eyes closed on the sofa under the window
I have drawn the shade so I am not tempted
to see, may rather remain in my reverie
of the wind susurrant in the sycamores, murmuring

its love for me, and not your red rage roiling
down the road to burst into this house with all the glee
of an invasion, and not your shoddy rape
of what little mercy lives in me, your beloved wife.

Tonight's anniversary supper ended in chocolate decadence cake with lime sauce (for Joe) and creme broule (for me). I now lumber happily off to don elasticized pajamas and ponder wedded bliss...

Photo credits: unattributed work found via Google

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It’s easier to eat crow warm while it's warm

I made a mistake in one of my magazine articles last month and I had to write an erratum for the upcoming issue. For fun I looked up quotes on the subject of being wrong:

“When you realize you've made a mistake, make amends immediately. It's easier to eat crow while it's still warm.” This is attributed to a gent named Dan Heist and seems to be the only thing he’s noted for. I couldn’t find anything else about him.

And then there was this from Yogi Berra, who knew whereof he spoke: “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

I especially liked this one from British broadcaster John Peel: “I never make stupid mistakes. Only very, very clever ones.”

My blunder was just sloppy research, not clever, but it got me thinking about a recurring topic in my household: How can two people with opposing viewpoints hold a courteous discussion, supposing one of them thinks the other is mistaken?

After two decades of discussing things with me, my husband, Joe, has a viable answer. In fact, he often is asked by friends if he will perform marriage counseling services for them (he politely declines). “The four most important words in a marriage,” he says, “are ‘Honey, I was wrong.’”

He’s right. I’ve forgiven him countless times. And vice versa. I know his method works because we celebrate 19 years of wedded bliss next week. Ogden Nash put it this way: “To keep your marriage brimming, With love in the loving cup, Whenever you're wrong, admit it; Whenever you're right, shut up.”

Mistakes can be useful in personal relationships. They give us the opportunity to be wrong for a change, which is restful since we all work so hard to be right all the time.

I’ve noticed we’re pretty quick to tell somebody he or she is wrong, especially when it concerns politics, religion, and family matters. This is based on faulty logic, that two people can’t both be right at the same time. It’s the gunslinger in us. “There’s room for only one opinion in this town, and that’s mine.”

In an AA meeting last week, a friend of mine said, “I often mistake my values and judgments for the Truth.” I think we’re all very nervous about ourselves, and we soothe those anxieties by insisting we harbor our beliefs because they are “true” in terms of reality or fact. If our views are right, then views that differ from ours are wrong. We even feel led to convince each other of such verdicts.

We mistake our opinions for facts. We also don’t know how to coexist with divergent perspectives. Even our language reflects this adversarial thinking. People have “opposing viewpoints” and “conflicting opinions.” From the get-go, we’re opponents in a boxing ring. Starting out as adversaries doesn’t bode well for discussions between husband and wife, parent and teenager, or any other duo. Pretty soon everyone will be blaming everyone else for being wrong, and dedicated to proving it.

I think we all need lots of reassurance, and we all find reassurance hard to give. It takes enormous effort to put our defenses on the back burner and encourage the other person. And getting both parties to do it at the same time? It’s a wonder our relationships survive. Many times Joe and I have tried to talk to each other about a prickly thing, each of us trying to choose our words wisely, but then I interpret something he said in the light of my own defensiveness, and immediately I stop being willing to reassure and become devoted to proving him wrong. Many times I have carefully used “I” words but he heard those blaming “You” words, and we wound up in the boxing ring again.

But I’ve learned that if I work at it, I can suspend my commitment to being right just a little bit more. We human beings respond well to loving reassurance that what we feel and think is important. I’ve got to give that reassurance if I want to get it. I’ve got to model it in my own behavior. I’m talking with someone I care about, for Pete’s sake. You’d think it would be easy to remember that affection even when we’re in conflict. But no. I’m too busy mistaking my opinions for facts again.

Joe and I get the best results out of our “discussions” if we give each other plenty of strokes, like admitting I am overreacting, admitting I am overly worried about myself and forgetting to think about him, admitting my flaws and my vulnerable feelings, admitting my love, my ignorance, and my desire to understand. It’s hard work, being loving, isn’t it?

About the photo: Yes, it isn't a crow; it's a blue jay. But it's eyeballing a crow, a warm crow, just out of camera range.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

This Bud's for You

Breaking news in the California wine country where I live: The vineyards have experienced "bud break"! That's what you see in my photo above...the new shoots have shot forth and the grapevines are reborn. It's cause for celebration in my region, makes the news and everything.

It IS wonderful to witness the renewal of things. It makes me downright cheerful, a state of mind I sorely needed after the pity-party I threw two weeks ago. Here's a snapshot of how things stood then:

I haven't been a happy camper inside my own soul. In that quiet place where I've found contentment through the years, a few words from a few unhappy people and a few sad situations wormed their way in and started putting down roots. [Here's the rest of "Hanging Pictures in the Sewer."]

Titanium over at Element 22 had something to say in response to a remark I made in that post, i.e., if I fall in a cesspool, pretty soon I start hanging pictures because I start feeling comfortable there. Here's what Ti had to say about that:

"There’s something in these dark places, too. Like bulbs wintering over in a cool cellar, devoid of sunlight, all we can see and smell is the desiccation, the decay, the frailty of our own wintering-over. It is a season of the soul, this dark place- and one that will feed the source of the green shoots that are soon to come.

"Without the winter, the dark, the stink- there couldn’t be new growth. Sometimes we have to be cut back and cut down completely in order to return full of life. The green shoots are coming through the soil with these words of yours and soon the sunlight and gentle rain will coax flowers like you’ve never seen.

"In truth, if each one of us is NOT a troubled soul, we are not stirred in any way. Try to see ‘troubled’ as a transitive verb. See it as the transition that it is, the agitation of soul that stirs change and growth. Sometimes even the unkind messengers are prophets unknown, harbingers of change that was already blowing in the wind."

What are your thoughts on Ti's equation: agitation = growth?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tunnels, Tsunamis, and Fake Moby Dicks

My left hand is in a cast from surgery last week. Dr. Don'tcha Luvme sliced the carpal tunnel and released the guitar strings that help my hand make music. My right hand, one month post-surgery, is now the Big Bopper again. I've done little but piddle around and write a few poems. I have my eye on a gopher tunneling in the neighbor's driveway flower bed, perilously close to my own. The critter seems content to dine on the neighbor's poppies so far, but if he moves east two feet, he'll discover my scrumptious dahlias. Then I'm afraid he'll meet his end. Savor your poppies, little rodent.

Meanwhile, the photo today is of Morro Rock in the harbor of a small town called Morro Bay on the California coast near my home. Geologically, it's the core of an old volcano. Historically, it's half the size it was before entrepreneurs quarried it in the early 1900s. Spiritually, it's significant to the local Native American people, who are now the only ones who may climb it, except for a few rangers who track the rock's peregrin falcon population. Oddly, a tsunami from the Japanese earthquake entered the tiny harbor last month and destroyed some fishing boats.

Fish or Cut Bait

I’m through with you, log
Done hauled your ass
From hell to kingdom come
And still you won’t be moved
Been days I hunched here
In this dinghy thinking
I would reel you in
You beast
I was a fool
Believing you
Were some big fish
I hooked, dived deep
And running strong
You weren’t
No Moby Dick
I know and now
My arms be
Rubber bands
Of weariness
I cut my line
And point my bow
North for home
Across the green lake