Friday, October 29, 2021

This Trip We Didn't Quite

From the bubble that is Berkeley, unbursting

with high brows. I can imagine a softball game  

between subjective idealists versus dialectical materialists.

The polysyllabics, small shops from yesteryear,

university of diverse hills, homeless tents contained

in People’s Park soon to be razed for dorms. Ghost

of Mario Savio, burnt draft cards. Deer

reminding us whose woods these are.


Off to Brentwood, space redefined,

near Livermore, near Antioch,

exurbia near nothing,

sprawl of paved vineyards, patches of farmland

awaiting their fate. Homes behind gates,

safe yet some sinking in the clay of it

as if reclaimed by the elements.

Too far from Sacramento, tough drive to the bay

but there is Bart in its far reach.


Eugene in its splendor, awash in yellow

with ash and dogwood, sorrel and maple,

raspberry to rust, orange between,

clinging or falling, a blizzard of lizard leaves

droplets of dew or misty air stitching each

leaf in its funereal curling. Hamamelis,

elderberry and umbelliferyl bush. Is it

raining or is it not? Umbrellas are a signifier

of Californians. Natives wish it away.


Portland, destination of those in flight,

city of bridges, of two rivers rushing.

Hippies, to boomers to home-owners association,

tear-downs and preservation, urbane and foresters,

Portland of bikes and microbrews

atoning for its history, its shame. Portland,

still whitest of all cities. Only Portland

can be better than Portland.


For micro-moments I can see with Peggy’s eyes:

blue scrub jay darts across golden birch unleaving.

Tears of grief and joy, mingled beads on each fallen leaf.

Who offers the menu with tattooed arms, is noted,

who pushes the wheelchair and waits.

All our kin with wide embrace, love

in the salmon, the cereal and the shrimp,

the pasta, hummus and enchiladas.

Bountiful, the autumnal razzle-dazzle,

the silence of sheets in strange beds.

This trip we didn’t quite, this love letter.


Sunday, October 24, 2021

Aging Adventure

A year ago, I was a young eighty-seven and now I’m an old eighty-eight. The point has come when I must start crossing the street at the moment the walk sign flashes. Otherwise, I might not make it in the eighteen to twenty-three seconds allotted. I’m so bent that Rosa Parks would probably get up and offer me her seat. Geometrically speaking I’ve gone from vertical to diagonal and I suppose ultimately to horizontal when they remove me from my rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica. Maybe there will be fractals of me but I’m not altogether sure what that word means.

I’m traveling north right now first to Berkeley where friends put up with me for two nights. In conversations I was reminded how much material has sloughed off along with my brain cells. Great exchange of old names and nearly lost moments retracing that long journey each of us have traveled. That’s what old folks do, I suppose, embellish past glories and get to tell old jokes they’ve either never heard before or long forgotten. The Berkeley Hills is a community of elite retired professors, faculty, journalists, editors and assorted professionals with no Trump lawn signs or anti-vaxers in sight.

On to Brentwood, CA, at the foot of Mt. Diablo, to visit with my daughter, Lauren and husband Bob. They have arranged for me to experience real weather. Rain is falling in earnest and is now being called an atmospheric river. Along with the downpour we have gale to hurricane force winds as if Zeus were wheezing and sneezing sufficient to launch a thousand ships. If I stepped outdoors, I might be mistaken for a low-flying drone.

I am being treated so royally I may never leave. Teaching your children to be kind to the elderly has its dividends. My ambulation now requires a walker and handicap bars in the bathtub. That is now out of the equation. The water heater just sprung a leak so no hot water. This is not to imply my visit had any causal relationship. As an ordained Humanist, my blessings have been bestowed upon this house, as if it needs any.

From here I am scheduled to fly to Eugene, Oregon where I shall briefly welcome communion with my step(less) family, off-spring and off-spring of off-spring. And then upward to Portland (valedictory visit?) staying with my daughter Shari and husband Jim. Final stop with friends for a night in the woods near Lincoln City close to the ocean. I may then be sent to Nanook of the north. Breaking news from an ice floe as it happens.


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Chess on Grass

I understand some of you don’t like baseball. I forgive you if you forgive me my dislike of opera and feta cheese. Yesterday’s game was almost operatic. The home run that turned the assembled from despondency to jubilation was deserving of a curtain call. Instead, the diva of the Dodgers received high-fives from everyone in the dugout plus a rib-crushing hug from the old man of the team who turns 42 in a few months.

As for feta cheese I have nothing to say. My tongue has been rendered inarticulate.

Baseball may seem boring and too slow for some. More’s the pity. These unfortunate souls don’t understand how baseball is another version of chess played on grass. Aficionados look at the field as a board game with strategies six moves (innings) ahead. Positioning half a step to the left or right to protect against an extra base hit can be decisive. Checkmate.

As for being slow I regard that as a plus. Life is slow. Reading is slow. Eating is slow unless we gobble. I can watch a game and read a book at the same time. And then there are leaps. Deliberation turns into a thrill-a-minute. Slumps morph into streaks.

In recent years baseball has grown more and more reliant on analytics. Everything is noted and quantified. Yet in spite of it all, the inexplicable happens as if to defy the statistics. Numbers only tell what has already happened but performance is altered by age or a tired arm or matrimonial strife or busted shoe laces. Baseball is life.

The game even looks like a cross section of the male population. The pot-bellied and the lanky play by side by side. Some six ft. 3 in. men built like Adonis can neither run, throw or hit their weight. Stoics and eccentrics wear the same uniforms. Some even like feta cheese. Baseball makes room for the rest of us. 

Baseball has been a fixation for many poets and writers. It captivated John Updike and George Will. Even Walt Whitman was a fan of the early game. Marianne Moore couldn’t get enough of it, nor could Robert Frost. Donald Hall, Poet Laureate in 2006, saw the sport with a poet’s eye. I attended a poetry reading in which Robert Pinsky inserted the name of a baseball player (Sibi Sisti) for no reason other than the odd sound immediately recognizable to fans of game. I approached him after the reading and we got a good laugh over it.

Peggy became an ardent fan about a dozen years ago. We would root together from the couch where she renamed every player. The bearded redhead (Justin Turner) became the Hairy Tomato. Chris Taylor who seemed unable to smile she called Grimace. When she noted our first baseman (Cody Bellinger) always seem to talk to the opposing player who got a single she christened him Chit-Chat. That’s the poetry of baseball.




Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Shakespeare didn’t make the cut, at least not as a playwright. Neither did Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Vincent Van Gogh or Jane Austen. Vermeer had to wait two centuries to be known outside of Delft. Even Bach was only widely known posthumously. Yet people of no particular importance like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian are household names…though not in this household.

Since many of our celebs today are products of pop culture, they usually transition from a place on the pedestal to one under the pedestal. Oxygen is in short supply at that high altitude. Athletes are handicapped by the adulation received. Many grow up burdened with a distorted self-image and some never grow up at all.

The Church assured celebrity status to the anointed ones by ennobling them as saints. But celebrity as we know it is a function of the mass market. Tabloids have kept certain names not quite dead with JFK and Marilyn Monroe sightings for sixty years. Of course, social media has stretched Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame, exponentially.

Conversely, real heroes such as Nobel Prize winners remain largely unknown. I recently came across a name I was familiar with but not fully aware of his achievements. Consider a man who taught high school English for seventeen years in which time he could count James Baldwin, Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon among his students. During his tenure at De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx Abel Meeropol also wrote poetry. One of his most sardonic poems depicted the Jim Crow South and it resounds as an iconic memory in the Civil Rights movement.

Abel Meeropol’s words were set to music by Billie Holiday and became her signature song, Strange Fruit, which describes an image of a lynching he had seen. Nina Simone also made a powerful recording.

Writing under his pseudonym, Lewis Allan, Meeropol also wrote the lyrics to, The House I Live In, whose rendition by Frank Sinatra grew into a short film winning an Academy Award in 1945.

The song was set to music by Earl Robinson, another name lost to most. Robinson also wrote Ballad for Americans, Joe Hill and the movie, A Walk in the Sun. Robinson was the uncle of Alan Arkin.

Meeropol wrote the libretto for an opera, The Good Soldier Schweik, performed in 1958 by the New York City Opera Company.

In yet another act of compassion Abel Meeropol and his wife also raised and adopted the two boys orphaned by the execution of their parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

His was a most notable life among many whose contributions to society are deserving of a place in our chronicle, now filled with names famous because they are famous.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

History Inside Out

Peggy was born shortly after W.W. I had ended. When her world crashed leaving her an orphan in Oct. 1929, so too did the stock market crash a week later. Lost in a Lost Generation yet, somehow, she found herself. She grew up in reduced circumstances as breadlines were the headlines but also with the imaginative power of radio and talkie movies to leaven the years along with early love from her mother.

I’m told I entered this world on the first day of spring, 1933. I wouldn’t know. As I recall I was otherwise occupied that day. My brother lost his status as an only child and I never got around to apologize for having been born. Ten days before, FDR took his oath of office and a month before that Hitler, unapologetically, took over as chancellor of Germany. Lots of breaking news that season. I slipped by largely unnoticed.

It occurs to me that possibly all of us tend to find corollaries from our personal lives with the larger history of the times. The blackouts and war bonds in the earlier years of the forties rewarded me with big bands and big screens. As a teenager I distinctly remember the sense of the post war boom paralleling my own coming of age as if my growing up had been projected into the larger chronicle.

For baby boomers, the conformity of the fifties was overthrown by Beat poetry, Women’s Lib., anti-war protests in a haze of hemp and racial awakening. The cauldron of the sixties might be regarded as an extension of inner ferment; a bar mitzvah of the soul.                                                     

For those born in the mid-seventies it must also feel like the start of something new. The Vietnam misadventure was over and it was no longer necessary to burn your draft card or learn Canadian as a second language. My Buck Rogers of comic books was now a ho-hum reality.

Anyone who entered this world during Reagan’s morning in American must have grown up relegating the Cold War to the distant past and seen the new-fangled computer as the dawn of civilization. Into that darkness before the dawn much of history had been discarded. A generation grew up thinking Joan of Arc married Noah and Julius Caesar invented the salad. Somehow those voices of protest got absorbed or commodified into the mainstream mush.

One wonders what effect Trump has had on young minds. Have we been bequeathed a narcissistic sociopath as a model? I wonder if kindergarten kids are now running with scissors and knocking over blocks while others have embezzled milk money and tried to overthrow the election of class president. One Trump is more than enough; a nation of little Trumpettes is reason to check out of this orb.

As I confront mortality it sometimes feels like the curtain is going down on democracy itself at least on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For the rest of the week, I wonder if our planet will survive as a human habitat. But then again, I hear Peggy’s voice warning against the rehearsal of bad news. Better to just let me hear that trumpet. The morning glories have survived my thumb. Two orchids are wagging their tongues. John Coltrane is saying everything he knows in his sax. And the Dodgers won last night.

On the macro plane, channeling Peggy, it may be that Trump is serving a purpose by revealing naked capitalism in all its greed and indifference to human suffering and our ecosystem. Out of this revelation a new society may be born.



Thursday, October 7, 2021

Living In the Moment


Here I am,

trying to catch the butterfly of the moment

even though butterfly is one of those words

devoutly to be avoided in any poem

worth its anti-gravity

( unless you work for Hallmark Cards.)

The best I can do is note all the flutterbys

I failed to net. Why butter, I wonder?

Flutter is better than butter, I contend.

And now I know the answer

though I wish I could withdraw the question

because their excrement looks like butter

so says Google as if it were a flying cow.

From now on I’ll take my toast dry, thank you,

and that could be my butterfly moment,

patterns made by my toaster oven

on the multi-grained, high fiber, whole wheat.

Hold the excrement.


The trouble with moments is that they are relentless.

There goes another one.

I can’t imagine butterflies enjoy being pinned.

after all, life is short enough orchestrating their symphony

among the wildflowers. Are their brief days a frenzy

or are there patterns, as in toast, we cannot see?

(Is that you, Jesus or is it Marx?)

To be permitted to gaze into the vivid unseen

if only for a split nanosecond seems to me

a better use of butter as the fly flutters by

with me on the wings of the lepidoptera.




Monday, October 4, 2021

Somebody Cared

That was a line from a film Peggy and I watched about 30 years ago. Somebody cared enough to paint a picture of a guild worker in the late renaissance. The movie was about a battalion of infantry troops who come upon a deserted house during the Battle of the Bulge. One soldier was transfixed by this painting in the attic.  As I recall he repeats that line several times, Somebody cared.

In turn Peggy was struck by the image of that infantryman who took time off from war to study the image of the man. This was a Peggy moment. Transcendence from the darkness, from the business of killing and Peggy cared that the soldier cared.

I just now read a synopsis of the film on Wikipedia and no mention is made of that scene where the soldier stops to stare at the art work. In fact, he is depicted as being mentally unstable. But that’s all right. One takes what one wants from a narrative. The story is about a truce that goes awry between young German soldiers and the Americans. The film is entitled, A Midnight Clear.

Peggy researched that painting, found it and constructed one of her boxes with the repeated face of the man as if declaring her kinship with that soldier. To be an artist is to inhabit a state of otherness which society deems as unstable or possibly subversive.

Going through boxes and files which Peggy kept over seven decades. I keep discovering quirky, beautiful, historical, ephemera.  I keep discovering Peggy. How she retained old postcards, some of them from the 19th century, others from friends sent in their travels or just because they knew she would love the image. She also kept business cards, hundreds of them for their artwork or for the memory of the particular restaurant or gallery. They were not just dumped in a box; each was inserted in its own plastic space, ten to a page. To save is to care.

We are a culture of consumers. We are good at it. Try finding a parking place at Costco. We pick and choose and discard. Landfills and the ocean would testify. 

Peggy’s appetite for life was of a different order. She didn’t gather things for their utility but for their essence. These cards and other papers I am finding have no secondary market, no value at all except aesthetic or how they registered in her memory vault. They delighted her and maybe launched a poem. They were her way of honoring the past and implicit in that is the wish that the object would find a home in the future. The very act of preserving, of caring brings her into this room. A price beyond currency.