Poetry 2014


Gadzooks! That likes me well. Pistachios!”
I number this among my favorite lines.
I know. I know it is ridiculous.
Gadzooks! It sounds like something you would find
In Shakespear in the middle of a scene
With plastic swords: “Gadzooks! You’ve marked me well.
It is a pleasure, sir, to fight with you.”
And while the plastic swords are clunking on,
The villain’s top concern is not the fight
But how to keep his mustache on his lip.
Imagine. Late at night. Deserted street.
A mugger comes. “Gadzooks” you holler out.
“Pistachios!” What craziness is this?
The guy would think you’re certifiable
And either laugh, or run away, or shoot
himself for picking such an one as you to rob.
“Gadzooks! That Likes me well, Pistachios!”
Has Austen, Twain, or Melville such a line
So able to be used at any time
In any situation? Well? Gadzooks!

Troglodyte’s Lament

I must admit that I’m a troglodyte,
A luddite’s child in spirit and in fact.
How else could I imagine that the world
Would be a better place with rhythm, rhyme,
And meter being used in poetry?
A dinosaur who doesn’t know he’s dead
With bones encased in stone, and still I try
To raise my head and speak. A hopeless task
I know, and yet stupidity compels—
Stupidity or ignorance or both.
And still I hope the troglodytes will rise,
And dinosaurs will once again be free
To terrorize, intimidate, and rule.
It’s possible. The earth’s magnetic poles
Could flip. They’ve done it many time before,
And we will all be standing upside down.
It’s possible, if you feel lucky punk,
To buy a lotto ticket and to win.
It’s possible the unacknowledged king
Will once again decide the only way
To write a poem in the way he wrote
It in antiquity. It’s possible.

A Private Arboretum

A public arboretum has to be
Pristine. The lawns’ green velvet, manicured
By experts. There you’ll never see a tree
With dead or dying limbs. And it will list,
In colorful brochures, its trees and shrubs
By species and environmental needs.
My private arboretum is a joke,
An afterthought, a postage stamp compared
To any of the world famous ones.
It’s messy, badly planted, overrun
With weeds and gophers and a lack of care.
The garden rooms just happened. “There’s a spot
With nothing in it. This will fit just fine.”
Is all the planning most of them received.
But if an arboretum’s meant to be
A place where you can recreate yourself,
Then mine’s among the finest in the world.
I walk on Ostia Antica’s paths
When underneath the pine trees that I grew
From seed, and drink some wine while sitting at
A neighborhood piazza here in Rome.
When in my Secret Garden, I am back
In London. It is Easter. Glorious.
A short walk takes me to another room.
I’m at the Buchart Gardens, then at Kew.
And soon, with just a little work and time
I’ll recreate Descanso over there.
But don’t expect perfection as you walk
Along the nonexistent garden paths
Unless you see the gardens that I see,
The gardens I have planted in my mind.

How many fruit trees does it take to feed
A family of three? You wouldn’t think
The number would be very great at all.
A tree or two. Perhaps a nectarine.
And if you dare to eat a peach, a peach.
A plum, an apricot, an apple, pear;
Perhaps persimmon, quince, and durinan.
I know. I know. But when you dream, dream big.
Plant cherimoyas next to oranges, limes,
And lemon trees. And olives! Don’t forget
You need a bunch of them for eating, oil,
And making soap. And pomegranates too.
Noah was a piker. Two by two.
For each variety you’ll need to plant
At least a couple, maybe three or four
For pollination, different cultivars.
It’s obvious to me I need more trees.
I’m only growing forty-seven now.

A Master Gardener

Weeds are simply plants that don’t belong.
Environmentalists would say that they
Are just as valuable as corn or wheat.
I wonder, would they give them equal space
Among their roses, daffodils, and kale?
Should dandelions be protected plants?
Valerian? stinging nettle? spurge?
My garden beds are overrun with weeds.
Oxalis, pigweed, wild mustard grow
Among the bearded iris. It is time
For Christmas in the garden. Hoe! Hoe! Hoe!
The world can rot before I let the weeds
Take over. Still, I wonder if I should
Be practicing a more conservative
Approach to gardening, and let the weeds
Take over if they wish. It sure would help
My back, and I could say, if anyone
Should ask, “My garden’s ecologically
Balanced. Nothing’s where it shouldn’t be.
I don’t have weeds. I’ve only plants God made.
And everything’s as God intended here.”

ArtFest 2014

Well, wish me luck. Tomorrow I will be
At ArtFest. It is at the downtown park
In Paso Robles. If you come you’ll see
Me giving interactive demonstrations
On carving and designing wood block prints
To tens of thousands. (I exaggerate
Of course.) There might be some who come to see
The sixty artists and their art. I’ve got
The patter down. I think.
“Come one and all!
Discover for yourself the pleasure you
Can find in carving wood. Just step right up
And soon, you’ll be amazed what you can do.
The greatest printers in the world will come
To you for inspiration and to learn
What they’ve been doing wrong. And all you need
To spend is thirty minutes. Half an hour.
And surely you can take this little time
To master everything you need to know
About the art of carving, and design,
And inking up the block and pulling prints.”

It might be fortunate that where I’m at
Is off the beaten path, and while the show
Is going on I will be lucky if
Occasionally someone happens by.
And even luckier if all they want
To know is where the porta-potties are.

Be Still My Heart

I used to ruin Shakespeare for my kids.
You know the one I had to have them read—
The one about a girl my student’s age
Who falls for Romeo, an older man
Of sixteen years. I’d ask my freshman girls,
“How many of you think you’re old enough
to fall in love and marry? You’re the age
that Juliet was when she fell in love,
and married, and was dead within a week.
And gentlemen, in two more years will you
Be old, mature enough to take a wife?
Be willing to support a kid, leave school,
And work a forty-hour week and then
A second job while all your friends are here,
Are going out for sports, or at the beach
While you are at your nothing, dead-end jobs?
So here’s the plot: mature sophisticate
(that’s Romeo) is certain he’s in love
with Rosalind. With who? You heard it right.
He’ll die without the love of Rosalind.
He’s never met a girl like Rosalind
(Be still my heart!) until he notices,
across a crowded room, fair Juliet;
and then he says that Rosalind’s a dog,
and Juliet’s the only one for him.
You know the rest. Within a week they’re dead.
So, now you know the plot, let’s read the play.

Organic Gardening

Well, yesterday was spent in pulling weeds,
And digging weeds, and getting rid or rocks.
And why? So I can grow organically
Some stupid plants who’d die without my help;
Without the extra fertilizer, care,
And water that they need to live and grow.
The fertilizer is organic, so
Don’t tell me that I am a hypocrite
For saying I’m organic. Well, I am.
It isn’t cheating. You would have to be
A nut, a leftist nutcase if you thought
It was. I mean, come on. Just read the bag.
It says it is organic on the bag.
“Our freshly aged manure balanced by
the perfect ratio of N.P.K.
to make your plants the envy of your friends.”
And next, I guess, you will be telling me
The little Roundup that I use to kill
The stubborn weeds . . . I know. I know.
It’s not organic either. Well it is.
It says right here it will degrade. So there.
Don’t say I’m not organic, ‘cause I am.
Just look at all the weeds I pulled by hand.

You’re Not? I Am?

I heard again the other night the phrase,
“I’m not a racist . . . but.”
I wonder why
they think I will agree with them when they
decide to point their big fat buts at me
as if their breaking wind’s a pleasant smell
I should appreciate; that they’ll convince
Me just how fair and balanced they can be
If only they will say the magic words:
“I’m not a racist.
Just saying that I’m not has made it so.”

It is a most compelling argument
But still, I wonder if the smell would be
The same if I would label garlic rose,
Or said that vinegar was peppermint.
If saying it will make it so, then I
Am rich and handsome, young and very wise.

The Visit

Today I visited with Robert Frost,
But not the Robert Frost of Kennedy’s
Inaugural, and not the piss and fire
Poet who worried, when he heard that Carl
Sandburg and died, if he was number one
At last. The Bob I met with still was young
And only known in Derry. He’s the one
The neighbors knew as lazy—sitting on
His porch when there was hay to cut and bale;
A lazy bum who’d rather sit and dream
And waste his time with words than get to work.
I listened to the wind and whippoorwills.
He hadn’t anything to say to me,
So just like him I sat, a lazy bum
Enjoying doing nothing in the sun.

The Potato Eaters

When “The Potato Eaters” came to town
I got up early to be first in line
To see them, but there wasn’t any line.
I had the painting to myself; alone,
Without a crowd of people pushing me
Along, and docents urging me to walk
A little faster just as though
To linger at the painting was a crime
Or at the very least a waste of time.
But no one was around, and so I stood
And looked and really saw the people there.
I owned the painting for a little while.
But then a group of people came, and I
Was told to move along so they could view
The masterpiece and hear the docent talk
About the use of color and the bold technique.
But did they see what was in front of them
While they were chattering amongst themselves
About their dinner yesterday or what
The options were for eating lunch today?

Artist’s Statement

I’ve gotta keep it simple and concise,
But still, an artist’s statement is supposed
To say enough about me and the way
I work, my motivation, background, thoughts,
And reasons why I work the way I do
That the prospective buyers buy my prints
That people reading it will think my prints
Are just exactly what they really want
To hang above their couch, or in their hall,
Or possibly above their bathroom sink.
I guess it doesn’t matter what it says
As long as what it says will sell my prints.
But what will sell the prints? I guess I can
Describe the process, but who cares about
The way it feels when wood just seems to carve
Itself without resistance, effort, time.
Who cares about the carving and the wood
And how wood carves and how it holds a line,
And why the mountain cherry of Japan
Is better than some other kind of wood.
But will this information sell a print,
And should I mention European pear
Is harder, holds an even finer line?
But what I want to sell are prints, not wood.
Perhaps I ought to mention just how long
I have been carving and been making prints.
“You’ve heard of Guttenberg? Well way before
He started setting type . . . .” No. That won’t work.
What is it that I care about the most?
What do I want to say? I carve. I print.
Because I like to carve and print. That’s it.
I guess I will be satisfied with that.

I’ve gotta keep it simple and concise,
But still, an artist’s statement is supposed
To say enough about me and the way
I work, my motivation, background, thoughts,
And reasons why I work the way I do
That the prospective buyers buy my prints;
That people reading it will think my prints
Are just exactly what they really want
To hang above their couch, or in their hall,
Or even, if they want, a bathroom wall.
But what is it I really want to say?
I’d like to talk about the process, write
About the way it feels when wood just seems
To carve itself, and how it holds a line,
And why the mountain cherry of Japan
Is better than some other kind of wood.
I’d like to mention European pear.
It’s harder, holds an even finer line.
But what I want to sell are prints, not wood.
Perhaps I ought to mention just how long
I have been carving and been making prints.
“You’ve heard of Guttenberg? Well way before
He started setting type . . . .” No. That won’t work.
What is it that I care about the most?
What do I want to say? I carve and print
Because really I like to carve and print.
I guess I will be satisfied with this.
It may not help me sell a single print,
But aren’t the prints supposed to sell themselves?
My artist’s statement’s done. It’s back to work/

An April Pilgrimage

So who would think a cataclysmic change
Was coming just for them? I’m listening
To Joan Baez, remember her and when
She was the hottest thing around? And then
The bubble burst and Folk was out of date.
The other day I heard about the pros
Who rake in millions playing children’s games
And that, when all the adulation stops,
It only takes a couple years before
They find that all their money’s disappeared.
Who was it said, “Count no man happy who
Is still alive”? So where does that leave me?
Surrounded by my books and fruit trees should
I be content, be happy with my life,
Or should I worry everything could change;
Tomorrow find that yesterday is gone?
The pleasure is perverse in doing so;
And even though it’s April and I know
The land is dead while lilacs bloom, I choose
To follow eddieandbill. It is Spring
And marbles and piracy are more fun
Than worrying. Besides, I’ve weeds to pull.

By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee

Where is Gitchee Gumee to be found?
Atascadero and Azusa both
I’ve been to, know exactly where they’re at.
But Gitchee Gumee? I would have to ride
A broken bus into a phony land
To even hope to have a clue where it
Is at. I guess its shining water hides
A trap for the unwary. Possibly
Beneath the water lurks the very worst
You can imagine: Shining blue-green teeth
That click in time to samba music scream,
“It’s mine! It’s mine! It’s mine! It’s mine! It’s mine!”

But Longfellow is out of fashion now.
The tranquil lake he wrote about is gone.
Polluted water breeds the canker sores
That line imagination’s weeping eyes
With putrid exhalations. And the waves
That rippled gently on his quiet lake
Are now malevolent, chaotic chimes
That clunk a drunken clarion of noise
That nothing is, and anything can be
Whatever anybody says it is.

Batter Up

I never really learned to play the game
So I was benched, or so I benched myself.
It’s curious. You’d think that rules are ruled.
You never figure that they never mean
Exactly what they say or that they change
Depending on the situation, time,
Or place. So others played the game and won
Or lost. They celebrated or complained
How they were cheated, treated badly, lost
Because of other’s faults. They should have won.
I wonder, do the losers know the rules
Are evanescent? I assume the do,
But if they do why do they still complain?

Here There Be Monsters

Of course they are the ordinary kind
Of monsters. Not the kind that you would find
Beneath your bed. A horror film with one
Of these would gross about a hundred bucks
And only that if people came to see
It by mistake. Mosquitoes twenty feet
In length? Perhaps a quarter inch instead.
An army of marauding army ants
Each bigger than the army’s Sherman tank?
Unfortunately, no. A single ant
Is crawling randomly around the floor.
A little pressure from a finger tip
And he’d be gone. There are no vampires, ghosts,
Or werewolves here. The monsters that surround
Me are completely different. Don’t you see
Them? They are all around you, everywhere!
You needn’t use a microscope or steal
A magnifying glass from Sherlock Holmes.
You don’t believe me? All you have to do
Is look, and you will see them for yourself.

My Senior Years

My doctor said that I should get a dog.
“A Labrador retriever would be best,
but any dog that’s active will be fine.
Will keep you active. Walk it every day.”

I got a phone call just the other day,
A telemarketer who asked me if
I was a member of our local gym.
I said I wasn’t. “Would you like to join?
We have a special package just for you.
I’m sure you know that keeping active is
Important when you’re in your senior years.”
Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?
“My senior years!” You’re just a little girl,
and yes, I know you’ve been around
for your entire life, and you have reached
a quarter century and feel you’re old,
mature, sophisticated. And you are,
I guess, for twenty-five. I used to think
The same. My senior years! You haven’t got
A clue. My senior years. And what is that
Supposed to mean? “Oh let me help you, sir,
To walk across the street. I’m sure that you
Can’t make it on you own since you’re so old.”

I got a dog. She walks me every day.

I’ve Stolen All the World’s Bees

The honey locust’s blooming and the bees
Are out in force. This isn’t Innisfree.
I don’t live alone in this bee-loud glade.
They can’t be bothered with me underneath
Their tree. It’s harvest time for them. And me?
I guess it’s also harvest time for me.
I’m harvesting the pollen of the day.
It’s early Spring. A gentle sun is warm
And not oppressive like in June.
Calendulas have volunteered again
A ragged carpet yellow, orange, and red.
Zebrinas are a couple weeks away
And four o’clocks have barely started here,
But they’re on China time so what would you
Expect. They’ll open with the dawn and bloom
All day until the afternoon then close.
The accidental forest’s waking up.
It’s time to weed, and dig, and plant, and rest.