The eclipse

Watching the sun disappear in gradual increments today, what amazed me most was how little you would notice if you weren’t looking at it with glasses. The light did change towards the end, but not so much. Of course, we didn’t go to total eclipeseville to see it, just to east county where the sun wasn’t obscured by fog.

What Larry said: “I don’t know what amazes me more, the sense of the bodies moving in space or the ability of the scientists to predict their movement to the minute.”

Oh, and if you want to see the poetry reading last Thursday, here it is:

I’m the second of three readers.

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New work and old

I’m going to be reading at the Tiburon-Belvedere Library this Thursday, the 17th, at 7 pm. Mostly, I’m going to read new work. I’ve been writing some prose poems inspired by Carlo Rovelli’s wonderful books on physics. I’m including one here. But you can also see some of my older work (and some interesting work by others) at this site, created by Beate Sigriddaughter.

Here’s the prose poem:

Lying on the massage table at the mudbaths

after 12 minutes immersed in a tub of hot volcanic mud and 12 minutes in a bath of hot mineral water my heart thumps against the padded surface and I remember that I have a heart that I am a thermodynamic system that chugs along with little conscious thought blood in blood out every artery vein tiny capillary breathe in leafy oxygen and breathe out CO2 and I understand with my hot pumping body that we exist in relation to every other thing that we weave together a universe of beginnings and endings in a ever changing reality composed of individual particles that know nothing of heat or up or before or tomorrow that what I call self is inextricable from the body here on this table the flannel blanket absorbing particles of me as I slowly cool the new age music bothering my sensibility like a persistent gnat the laugh track last night on the episode of Friends the forgotten French vocabulary and Pythagorean Theorem the anxieties waiting to swarm when I return to my usual state every encounter and memory since my small hot self emerged on this planet till the engine finally stops and I cool for good and the cells of me transform into earth ash air as my spirit into yours as you read these words

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Those long summer evenings

They are already growing shorter now, but this passage from Adam Zagajewski’s new book of essays, Slight Exaggeration, perfectly captures the experience of the long evenings–even longer in northern Europe:

“And once again it was June–mild, long, slowly fading evenings, evenings promising so much that no matter what you do with them, you always receive the impression of defeat, of wasted time. Nobody knows the best way to get through them. Continue reading

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Back from camping

I forgot to hang out my “Gone Camping” sign this year but now I’m back with a poem today from a book my granddaughter is reading, Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kuar. She cautioned me that some of the poems are “pretty rough.”

Here is the poem she selected:

you tell me to quiet down cause
my opinions make me less beautiful
but i was not made with a fire in my belly
so i could be put out
i was not made with a lightness on my tongue
so i could be easy to swallow
i was made heavy
half blade and half silk
difficult to forget and not easy
for the mind to follow

rupi kuar


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While there are many wonderful blackberry poems,  I know only three poems about cherries, all from previous centuries–one by Thomas Campion, one by Robert Herrick, and this one, by D. H. Lawrence, that Larry mentioned as we were eating the exceptionally sweet cherries of this summer:

The Cherry Robbers

Under the long, dark boughs, like jewels red
In the hair of an Eastern girl
Shine strings of crimson cherries, as if had bled
Blood-drops beneath each curl.
Continue reading

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Maggie Smith on Monday

I happened on this poem last week, and here it is for you:

Good Bones

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged, Continue reading

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The Exemplary Sentence: Primo Levi

At a friend’s suggestion, I have been reading Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table. I rather skimmed through the early chapters about his relatives, but once I got to the chapter on Hydrogen, I was hooked.

This is not a book about his time in Auschwitz, but about his early years and the years after the war, about life, Italy, the elements and their role in his life. He is a terrific storyteller and a lucid writer, and I’ll quote a few paragraphs here. These are completely separate but should give yo a feel for his writing:

“In January 1941 the fate of Europe and the world seemed to be sealed. Only the deluded could still think that Germany would not win…And yet, if we wanted to live, if we wished in some way to take advantage of the youth coursing through or veins, there was no other resource than self-imposed blindness… “we did not notice,” we pushed all dangers into the limbo of things not perceived or immediately forgotten… Our ignorance allowed us to live, as when you are in the mountains and your rope is frayed and about to break, but you don’t know it and feel safe.”

I often feel like we are holding that same frayed rope now. Continue reading

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Monday on Tuesday

Once again, Monday slipped by me before I could post a poem, here are two worth waiting for. Everyone thinks of Philip Levine as the poetic champion of the blue-collar worker, but I vote for Dorianne Laux.

The Shipfitter’s Wife

I loved him most
when he came home from work,
his fingers still curled from fitting pipe,
his denim shirt ringed with sweat
and smelling of salt, the drying weeds
of the ocean. I’d go to where he sat
on the edge of the bed, his forehead
anointed with grease, his cracked hands
jammed between his thighs, and unlace
the steel-toed boots, stroke his ankles
and calves, the pads and bones of his feet.
Then I’d open his clothes and take
the whole day inside me — the ship’s
gray sides, the miles of copper pipe,
the voice of the foreman clanging
off the hull’s silver ribs. Spark of lead
kissing metal. The clamp, the winch,
the white fire of the torch, the whistle,
and the long drive home.


Oh, the Water

You are the hero of this poem,
the one who leans into the night
and shoulders the stars, smoking
a cigarette you’ve sworn is your last
before reeling the children into bed.

Or you’re the last worker on the line,
lifting labeled crates onto the dock,
brown arms bare to the elbow,
your shirt smelling of seaweed and soap.

You’re the oldest daughter
of an exhausted mother, an inconsolable
father, sister to the stones thrown down
on your path. You’re the brother
who warms his own brother’s bottle,
whose arm falls asleep along the rail of his crib. Continue reading

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After the Solstice

I always feel the turn of the year after the summer solstice. Even though it is still bright summer, each day is a little shorter now, the early spring crops are over, and I get an acute sense of the brevity of summer, the impending autumn.  I think this delicate poem by Jane Kenyon captures that:

Wash Day

How it rained while you slept! Wakeful,
I wandered around feeling the sills,
followed closely by the dog and cat.
We conferred, and left a few windows
open a crack.
xxxxxxxxxxxxNow the morning is clear
and bright, the wooden clothespins
swollen after the wet night.

The monkshood has slipped its stakes
and the blue cloaks drag in the mud.
Even the daisies—good-hearted
simpletons—seem cast down.

We have reached and passed the zenith.
The irises, poppies, and peonies, and the old
shrub roses with their romantic names
and profound attars have gone by
like young men and women of promise
who end up living indifferent lives. Continue reading

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The exemplary sentence

I’m thinking I should call this “the exemplary paragraph” as it’s usually more than one sentence that catches my eye… but of course the paragraph is made up of sentences. In this case from three books I read recently.

But the first is just a sentence, from Trajectory by Richard Russo, a recent book of his short stories. “Because people cling to folly as if it were their most prized possession, defending it, sometimes with violence, against the possibility of wisdom.”

The second is a paragraph from a book by a Jewish woman who masqueraded as a gentile and married a Nazi to get through the war. She is talking with an acquaintance who is telling her about her life.

” ‘Let me tell you we had some hard times when I was a kid. For twelve years Papa had no steady job. We lived on charity mostly. Then, when our dear Führer came to power, things got much better. Just about all the young people we knew joined the Hitler Youth. When I was fifteen I went to a Nazi Party banquet, and they served rolls with butter.’ Is that the reason? I wondered. Is that why they averted their eyes, made themselves blind? For the butter?” from The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer. Continue reading

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