Friday, October 28, 2011

Poets Read at Occupy Boston

Yesterday, Oct. 27, in Dewey Square, Boston, Don McLagan tries to keep his poems dry.

Rain picks up. People begin to gather for the reading.

It was my turn. I read "Buying Flowers," a poem from the T'ang Dynasty, which speaks for the poor man in the "emperor's city." As I read this 8th century poem, I felt part of a cycle of voices. Rain spotted the page.

Buying Flowers

Late spring in this emperor’s city,

horses and carts clattering past:

it’s peony season on the avenues

and the people stream out to buy.

They won’t be this cheap for long.

At these prices, anyone can buy.

Showing five delicate whites amid

hundreds of huge luminous reds,

they rig canopies to shelter them

and bamboo screens to shield them,

sprinkle them, stand them in mud,

keeping their color rich and fresh.

Families come back day after day:

people just can’t shake their spell.

Happening by the flower markets,

an old man from a farm somewhere

gazes down and sighs to himself,

a sight no one here could fathom:

a single clutch of bottomless color

sells for taxes on ten village farms.

Po Chu-i (772-846 C.E.)

Translated from the Chinese by David Hinton

J. took the photo. Po Chu-i's poem set in spring, in the imperial city, fits the fall day in Boston. That red umbrella is a rain-spotted peony, and the folder in my hand a big petal. Let's stop there before metaphors taken too far become absurd.

Friday, October 7, 2011


It was marvelous to see this still life in a private apartment near Harvard Square. Someone arranged it for the passerby, kept the shade up. I wonder what happens at night. I wonder whether the still life is lit then.

Duck, horse, church, red tassel, sage, shoebox, carrousel riders but no carrousel. What else is there? What can you see? Not the absent person. Do you make altar-like arrangements like this one?

On another day, this time at the pond: snarled, useless fishing line and fly caught the light.

Fretted leaves make shadows.

October days: I want to be out, in them.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Loitering with Intent

Though loitering with intent, not to do mischief, while reading you, off and on, in the nowhere of the blogosphere, I haven't blogged much. Summer, storms--of various kinds--and physical problems have cut short my time at the computer, but now there are fresh pictures, and a little about Robert Walser's Microscripts.

Above: black elderberry--I think--at the pond, tiny figures in the distance, just the right proportion.

Hard-boiled? The eggs are so carefully placed. Discarded from someone's meal?

Delicate chance mold, mushrooms breaking down all right and finding another form. Words that might apply to Robert Walser's life.

Walser sometimes shrunk his writing to tiny letters and marks, which for a time was believed to be code. He wrote "Swine," an essay now included in Microscripts, published by New Directions, on a slip of paper measuring approximately 3 inches by 2 1/2 inches. Walser's tone disarms with seeming inconsequence. His tone charms me:

A person can be swinish in matters of love and might even succeed in justifying himself to a certain extent. In my opinion, various possibilities would appear to exist with regard to swinishness, etc. Someone might happen to look like a person who appears to be a swine, and all the while he is at bottom perhaps fairly upstanding. One can say with a rather large degree of certainty that men seem to possess a greater predisposition and talent for swinishness than women, who of course are now and then capable of achieving excellence in this regard.

Walser's charm is sly: "achieving excellence " in swinishness. I'll cop to that.

What are you up to? Let me know, please.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Forget about macro. Try working small. There are daikon radish in the green pot and cress in the muffin tins. I punched holes in the muffin tin with an ice pick--easy. Water must drain. Isn't that an enormous ash tray?! Repurposing--awful word--is satisfying.

Fiona Hill's book, "Microgreens," is my guide, and already I've tasted a cress leaf, a primary one, but will be patient and wait until the secondary leaves come in.

Though I like working small, I don't want to shrink. My friend R., who has been lifting weights for years, is doing well at eighty! I've begun to lift at a local class and like it. I'm working with small weights, a present from J., They are red, my color.

What are you growing?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wedding Surprise

'Keep it fresh', someone once said about writing poetry, yet "keep" implies control. How to live a fresh life? Maybe wander a bit and do nothing; though, as for exercise, I need routine, which can be be reassuring but sometimes dull. Sunday I went out for what I thought would be a routine walk, round and round on a brick path, and found a wedding party assembled for photographs. I wish I had gotten a shot of the red fans the bridesmaids carried but it was difficult. I didn't want to intrude. The couple was striking.

There was break-away action.

How do you break up the routine? Or do you?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back Home Up North

It's taken a while to settle in, get my bearings and begin writing again. I've missed connecting with you. I'm glad to be back. North is still home. North is familiar glossy black sugar-eating ants rather than Florida's red fire ants. They sting. A few black crazy ants dance if you get too close and do not sting.

I feel at home when I take the lid off the compost pile and see this piece of disintegrating fabric. How long will it take for those embroidered flowers to disappear?

Someone on my block has put out books-- for the taking. There were no takers, not before rain soaked the books, certainly not after. None of the books interested me--pop, pulp, poor.

The next morning some of the books ended up in the gutter. Teenage marauders?

Small ruins are easy to take.

Tell me how you get your bearings.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


In a few days I'll be leaving South Beach and wanted a few pictures to remind me of the view. Twilight today: a view I'd never see without my little camera.

It's been a quiet day. Scorching weather at first. J. and I closed ourselves in. Air conditioning on. Simple Father's Day lunch. For post Bloom's Day, between the first course and the main, we read passages from Joyce's Ulysses out loud. Short passages, stumbling here and there. I like the words Joyce gives to Simon Dedalus: ". . . that will open her eyes as wide as a gate. I'll tickle his catastrophe, believe you me." Smiling we finished our lunch and talked about other things.

The weather changed. Rain at last. The storm blew out. Clear air. Brilliant sunset. How are you all? I've been caught up with packing and sorting and haven't had time to check in.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Baudelaire Addresses Hair and Lovers

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

Some of us write actual letters to powerful people, hoping against hope to convince them to do the right thing. The formal terms of address are sources for irony: "Your Honor" for the dishonorable; "Your Majesty" for the non-majestic nebbish; "Your Holiness" for the unholy; "Your Eminence" for the fallen; "Your Grace" for the klutz.

I prefer Baudelaire's address to hair: "Ecstatic fleece"; "Take me, tousled current"; "vault of shadows." ("Head of Hair," translated by Richard Howard, Everyman Pocket Library.) Baudelaire's 'terms' are authentic. Outdoing himself, he addresses his lovers: "salutary leech"; "My Queen of Sins"; "Sublime disgrace"; "slattern deity;" "lazy beast"; "Dear Demon."

Nothing twittering here. His poems have what Elizabeth Bishop valued in writing: Accuracy, Spontaneity, Mystery. (Capital letters and Italics hers.) She was a fan of this wicked poet.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wild Vine in Art Deco Land

The tree strip--in this part of Florida they call it a "swale"--is parched; a hot wind raises dust, yet a volunteer vine zooms across a weedy neglected patch in front of a boarded up building.

Will you help me identify the vine. Watermelon?

The growing tip has felt its way to chain link. Do you see the tendrils? I wish it would rain. The vine would grow even more. Can you imagine the chain link covered with green?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

So Few of Us Then

'Christianity was a death cult,' a friend said after she had seen the catacombs in Rome. I thought of her words as J. and I left the theater after seeing The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a film about the prehistoric drawings on the walls of the Cave Chauvet. 'It's not about death,' I said. 'All about life.'

'Energy,' J. said.

While I'm cautious about idealizing the life and work of Aurignacian and earlier people, and most attempts to re-enact and revive the past--remember Leni Riefenstahl--the work of our ancestors fascinates and awes. There were so few of us then.

At Chauvet. The legs of the bison are also the legs of the woman. We see her from the vulva down. (Thanks to S.L. for posting this photo.)

The tiny figurine, carved from wooly mammoth tusk, found in a cave in southwestern Germany, is 35-40 thousand years old. There's a small loop at the very top through which a string could be threaded. The figurine may have been worn as an amulet. (A flute carved from a vulture's bone was found near this figurine. I couldn't find a photo of the flute.)

Figurines from the Grimaldi Caves, often called Venuses.

The horses at Chauvet, 32-33 thousand years old, as is the hand in the top photo, also at Chauvet.

And these--can you see the wooly mammoth on the right? I hope you get a chance to see "The Cave of Dreams" and to read such books as Preshistoric Art by Randall White.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Our Species & the Scent of Figs

Monday morning. The beach is overwhelmed by trash, mostly plastic. Weekend, beach-party trashers were here. I did not photograph the litter. If I had I would have had to look at it more closely. Instead I looked east and walked on, but for a moment I thought: This place needs a swarm of eco-prophets to patrol the beach. Never mind, 'Beware the end of days,' rather, 'Beware drowning everything in trash.' Mind almost rinsed clear, I watched a huge tractor plow under seaweed and garbage. Near South Point the tractor stopped. Coming abreast of the tractor I made the mistake of looking at the driver in his high seat. His bulk filled the cab. He was enormously fat. "It's almost over," I said to myself, "our species and this planet." The thought made me smile.

At South Point Park there were more birds than people, the human figure small in relation to water and sky--the right proportion.

Without planning my route I headed home and found myself in front of a clump of fig trees I had found weeks ago. There hasn't been much rain. The figs are unripe still, yet the broken fig gave off a subtle perfume--depth without musk, new green, and pale yellow honey. Untended, the fig trees still flourish.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


South Beach is tropical--the same longitude as Vietnam. In May the temperature reaches the nineties. It's a common notion that life in the tropics slows down as the temperature rises. Human life may slow down. People may stroll rather than race--stroll with their parasols. You see them here. While the human pace slows, plants, compared to those up north, seem to riot and bolt. The passion vine races, poinciana speeds, palms shoot up. It's wild. The plants could be running on Cuban coffee. If I drank it I'd be jumping out of my skin. For me: green tea, a parasol, and a willingness to stroll, though I don't stroll easily. I've lived up north for years, where people race and trees need a hundred years to reach their full height.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Post Office Pleasure

A child plays at the fountain inside the United States Post Office on 13th Street in South Beach, where I like to buy stamps. If I time it right, there's not much of a line and I can speak with an actual person. FedEx and UPS have been useful but I don't want to give up the post office. The writer Zadie Smith called people like me and herself, '1.0 people.'

On the ceiling above the fountain the light makes a lessor sun. The painted-on stars shine.

Do you send actual letters? Do you go to the post office? I confess: I go less and less. This morning I was glad I dropped mail into the post office slot.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fine Morning

It was good to go out this morning after a difficult time, walk to Provence, a cafe in South Beach, drink a coffee and eat a brioche before the place filled up. Province is a good cafe. (Forget about pricey "Paul" on Lincoln Road.)

Travelers from Germany scanned the menu.

From toothsome pleasure at Provence, I walked on to bookish pleasure at the library and checked out the 18th century, Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, which I would not have chosen if it weren't for my reading group friends. The title of the first chapter: "In which Chen Shih-yin meets the Stone of Spiritual Understanding."

The South Beach Local went down Washington Avenue, the elegant man in the red cap among us.

Please tell me what you are reading. What did you see today that held your interest?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Talking to Strangers

Never talk to strangers we're told. If, while you're out, on foot, and a stranger stops his or her "vehicle" and asks you to come closer, don't! I'm, of course, no longer a child, though child-size. In northern New England, where I visited last week, I went out on the unexpectedly warm morning the day before Easter and walked down a dirt road, mountains in the distance, water rushing in the ditches. Small daisy-like yellow wildflowers--not sure what they were--had opened: all flower, no leaf. (Camera broken so no photo.) Happily I poked along--literally: I had picked up a walking stick. Down the steep dirt road I went and, when the road petered out, turned back, making my way to the paved road.

Though there wasn't much traffic I walked facing oncoming cars and made sure my long red scarf was visible. On the side of the road I picked up a discarded pale purple shopping bag in good condition. I'll use this, I thought, stick in one hand, empty holiday bag in the other. A voice called, 'Isn't it a beautiful morning!' Startled I looked to my right and saw a woman who had stopped her SUV in the middle of the road. Her large, round, bright face came at me from the driver-side window. A girl, most likely her daughter, sat in the passenger's seat, her head down.

'Yes,' I answered. 'Beautiful.'

'Are you going to church?' she asked.

'No,' I said in a perfectly even voice.

'I have something for you,' she said. Her smile was sunny and intense.

Curious, I went closer. She held out a pen and a card encased in plastic. Her serious daughter never looked up. The driver's eyes lit up: big, round, blue. I took the pen.

The woman waved and drove off. I held the pen and read the message in shades of blue. "Welcome Friend!" Welcome printed five times in differently sized fonts. At the bottom of the card: "We're blessed because you're here." On the reverse side were verses from the New Testament, mostly from the Book of John, and sayings: "God loves you!" followed by "We all feel the terrible effects of sin in our lives." I looked at the lovely pale blue mountains in the distance. A woodpecker tapped, tapped again. Wandering again I walked on, the violet bag on my arm.

The blue pen on the kitchen counter in South Beach where I'm typing is still sealed in plastic. Through the plastic I can make out the fine print circling the bottom of the pen: John 14:6. The verse appears in full on the card: "Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'" I don't break the seal.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rumi and Agave: "Safe from Virtue and Vice"

A huge agave plant sends up a towering tree-like stem, and flower in which a bird perches. The Persian poet, Rumi, sends us this poem:

A Just-Finishing Candle

A candle is made to become entirely flame.
In that annihilating moment
it has no shadow.

It is nothing but a tongue of light
describing a refuge.

Look at this
just-finishing candle stub
as someone who is finally safe
from virtue and vice,

the pride and the shame
we claim from those.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Public Places

The public park is full after school. After-school goes on until dark. These boys filled the bench. After I took the shot, a boy said, 'Isn't that against the law?' 'Not in a public place,' I answered, identifying myself as a writer and blogger. 'Freedom of the press,' another boy said. We talked for a while about public and private. 'It would be against the law if I took your picture in a private place without your permission,' I said. They asked me about taking pictures of famous people. They didn't express any interest in being famous themselves and weren't interested in seeing the picture of themselves. They wanted to discuss ideas.

I like public pleasures--frangipani, sea grape, palm, park benches, beaches open to all, though I wish my fellow citizens would not litter the beach. These boys should have access to fine public schools, public universities. They have access to the park, to flowers, to the ocean, to a first-rate swimming pool, and tennis courts--all public.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Related life forms from the Eukarya domain to which humans belong

Love, death, flora, fauna, self, mother, father, child, sister, brother, pleasure, etc., etc., We all have our themes and interests. We make distinctions. Certain things interest us, other do not. 'I am not interested in death, not even my own,' Colette famously said.

Editors also have preferences. Some have mission statements. The 21st century has not so far been a time for anything as grand as a manifesto, but there are mission statements and explicitly stated editorial policies about content. One from the American Poetry Journal states, "not interested in: poems about family members; poems about the poet; the poem; or writing a poem; or poems with an overabundant 'I.'" (Italics theirs.) Their mission does not interest me. I love, for instance, the big I-am of Whitman's "Song of Myself," and the first person voice of Bishop's "In the Waiting Room."

The idea of family--all kinds of families--fascinates me. According to scientist E.O. Wilson, writing in The Future of Life, biologists now divide life into three domains "on the basis of DNA sequences and cell structure." Humans belong to the Eukarya, a vast domain, which I like to think of as family. The Eukarya, includes "the single-celled protists or 'protozoans,' the fungi, and all of the animals." Plants, too.

Dear Readers, dear Eukarians: what fascinates you?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Friends in the Surf

There were few people on the beach this morning and nothing to block my far off view of two young women lying in the surf. The caution flags flew from the lifeguard station, and there were Portuguese man-of-wars all along the beach, but these friends had found a safe place. As I reached them, I heard them talking compatibly. They lay on their stomachs; the ocean washed over them. The water was cold, the sun warm. I could hear their light voices for a minute or two after I had passed them, an easy back and forth in the dissolving foam, the waves played out. I couldn't hear much of what they were saying. It didn't matter. The rhythm and sound of friendship stayed with me as I walked north.

Monday, February 28, 2011


A sign nailed to the lifeguard station explains the meaning of the flags. The yellow stands for "moderate surf conditions"; "exercise caution." Moderate is somewhere between calm and rough. The purple flag means: "dangerous marine life." Here the danger is mostly in the sting of the Portuguese man of war. The flags do not need much interpretation, except perhaps to reflect on "moderate," as you wade into the surf and feel the waves slap and the tide pull.

There are other objects that I elevate to "signs," a mess of keys in the sink, for instance.

Asparagus fern--fresh green against pink.

And this green doorway with its single plant.

If I hadn't seen the wedding party I might have taken these bouquets for offerings to the ocean.

Keys, green plants placed at entrances, bouquets trailing ribbons & gauzy fabric, a cargo ship coming in. How do I read these things? I read them in a hopeful mood.