Saturday, July 30, 2022


When she let me in front of her in line,

cart full to overflowing

with this and that

and mine with no that and only

a single this, her generosity

brought a glow to her face

as if I had done her a kindness

the way my seemingly dead orchid

sprang to new life overnight,

after drinking three melted ice cubes,

its purple tongue wagging.


I’m holding on to these moments

to place on one side of the torsion scale

with scruples and grains on the other

as I used to do in the pharmacy

but now I am seeking a measure

of balance as a prescription for myself

on this enormous scale

with the weight of war, malice and neglect

pressing down as I try to stay in equipoise.


Friday, July 29, 2022

The Drenched and the Parched

This country is no longer divided between Blue and Red. We are now either Green or Brown depending on which side of the Mississippi you find yourself; flooding in Kentucky, drought in California. The soaked versus the parched. If they would only share their rainwater, we’d gladly give up a piece of our sun. After all it’s our El Nino that produced much of their deluge.

Never mind the Keystone oil pipeline. We thirst for their lakes. They have five of them, all Great and could spare a couple. Fair is fair. We’re even getting nostalgic for puddles. We’ve lost our lawns and worse, our aquifer. Soon California will look like the color of pebbles. One day, in my next incarnation, I may end up a flower with my dry throat open. 

While all this time their flower beds are soggy, blossoms wet and wild overrunning the fields fully quenched, wetlands welcoming migratory visitors, swamps swampy, windshield-wipers pendulating, umbrellas dripping, ball games rained out, downpours on picnics, air so thick you could climb it.

This could be pay-back for all the water-boarding we did.  Zeus works in mysterious ways ever since he turned over the watery realm to Poseidon, famous for his temper tantrums. No wonder Zeus fell from grace off Mt. Olympus, like Sisyphus' stone. 

Recent wars in Sudan and Rwanda, have water sources as a major cause. Yemen is both the poorest and driest country in the Arab world. The Middle East which comprises 5% of the world’s population relies on just 1% of available fresh water. Water is a far more precious commodity than oil in that region; the gush from springs more valued than spurts of the gooey stuff. 

Water, water everywhere and not a drop.... Only 1% of Earth's water is fit to drink. The rest is either in the briny sea or frozen in ice caps. In the not-too-distant future we may find ourselves engaged in water wars…and not fought with water pistols. 

Desalination may be an answer but cost and environmental damage have been great challenges. The largest such plant in the Western Hemisphere is up and running in Carlsbad providing 50 million gallons of water per day to San Diego County. The water use in this country is indefensible. The average American accounts for an unconscionable 82 gallons/day (is that possible?) compared to 5 gallons for Africans. Of course, these figures include agriculture, industrial use and golf courses. 

It has been 109 years since we drained dry the Owens River with the first aqueduct, thanks to lies, bribery and an occasional murder. Of such stuff Academy Award movies are made.

Mea Culpa for all the water I’ve let go down the drain in my lifetime (until recently) while brushing teeth. Then there are the long showers I took while singing arias from Gilbert & Sullivan. The drippy faucets I didn’t get new washers for. The fire hydrant water in sweltering July NYC I sloshed around in my early days. And that extra ice cube I didn’t really require in my vodka & tonic. Next time I promise to hold the rocks.

 If there is music in all this I cannot end the riff on such a frivolous note. Yet it is not quite a dirge. Los Angeles is a rescued desert. It could revert back to where it was. But aridification is part of the larger issue of our failure as stewards of this planet. Let me hear that trumpet. Better yet make it Handel's Water Music. 


Where are you hiding?

If you don’t come real soon

I'm gonna ...........

                                                                  (Gospel, Work Song)

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Having Painted One Wall Teal

The other three in ho-hum white 

are green with envy, singing the blues.

Teal, you are your own unsolved mystery.

In a blue haze you have infiltrated

the forest green, undercover, double agent,

exposed in your naked allure. Take me,

teal to your forbidden alchemy. Now

I see you, now I don’t. Bluesy sax

at dusk, increments of green pasture

swallowed by ocean, swallowed by sky.

How you frolic with light,

unfathomable dervish.

Deep blue-black sea met by emerald Dardanelles.

You are the marriage of two waters,

Ukrainian grain let through,

armistice of wheat, an irreconcilable peace

teal of tenuous negotiations. Neither all

green nor all blue but an anthem of teal,

the world needs your song from deep in the swirl.







Tuesday, July 19, 2022

A Mean For All Seasons

Mark Twain once quipped that the coldest winter he’d ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Down here our winter season is often indistinguishable from the other three. But the mean temperature is on the rise everywhere making distant memories of those Chilly Scenes of Winter.

Thankfully, we always have our inscape, that country of the imagination on no map. That is where we can exalt in silent hallelujahs of wonder. From the havoc of painted bulbs in spring dresses we move to Wallace Stevens’ mind of winter conjuring jagged ice on juniper. Only in this inner field can we see nothing that is not there and the nothing that is. From this void we can register the enormous absence of what once was.

In the meantime consider movie terms: that Long, Hot Summer prevails through Summer and Smoke and what remains are Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.  Then there is always the bard reminding us to frolic through A MidSummer Night’s Dream until that Winter of Discontent. We are men and women of all seasons.

We have our dunes and tundra yet our interior landscape is fertile in patches where a blizzard of pear blossoms parodies a snowdrift ahead of the starter’s gun on winter solstice.  As we age, we sense the thinning of ice and hear it cracking underfoot. There are plenty of fissures in life as a correlative. Glaciers calve within and without. What once was may no longer be. 

We endure our own climate change but that inner spring still sings. Is our gulag inching toward or away from a grove? At the time of equinox our vernal yeast rises in annual insurrection. There are rooms in our mansion still shuttered whose charged air we must release.

Meanwhile in the night sky a comet will streak across the dark. It won’t be Halley's, but Twains will be born everywhere in fathoms of huckleberries. Are we not all fugitives rafting down our Mississippi? 




Saturday, July 16, 2022

Poem To My Photographer Friend

                                        For Judy Raffel


How I have traveled through

your intrepid and peripatetic lens,

seen biographies in your album of faces,

the astonishment of young eyes

and exhaustion in the tracing of others,

been exposed and double exposed

to your inner dimension

of a recomposed actual, your layered poem

of the overlooked and abandoned,

grace and gristle, the sublime in the squalor.

How you have given me new ways of seeing,

to perceive from odd angles,

silhouettes of feathers and beaks,

verticals, diagonals and horizontals

from railroad tracks to bridges,

stairways, shorelines and rooftops,

disparate buildings juxtaposed,

bones of the city, architecture of your mind.



Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Pitching The Story of Our Times

Louis B. Mayer: All right, who do you know?
Me: Nobody and my friends are nobodys also.

Me: Can I call you, Louie?
Mayer: Call me L.B.

Mayer: Don’t waste my time. I’m a busy man. What have you got?
Me: I have this script about a raving sociopath who takes over the country.

Mayer: What is it, a horror movie? Bela Lugosi?
Me: More of a tragi-comedy, no strike that. It ain’t funny.

Mayer: So what have we got here?
Me: He is elected President

Mayer: I haven’t got time for this. You say a crazy guy wins the election?
Me: Right, it's sort of a sci-fi movie

Me: I can see Orson Welles dumbed down.
Mayer: You mean Citizen Kane meets some lunatic?

Me: More like P.T. Barnum meets Charlie McCarthy meets Al Capone

Mayer: Capone? We can use George Raft.
Me: No, he’s more than a gangster, he barks like Edward G. Robinson.

Mayer; Sounds like a musical comedy. it’s over-budget already.
Me: Listen to me, L.B., you only need one actor and a mob.

Mayer A mob? Get me Frank Capra on line one.
Me: You’ll never regret it. You can use a lot of out-of-work extras.

Mayer: Sounds like a cast of thousands. Bring in DeMille.
Me; More like a zany madcap romp.
Mayer: Get me Preston Sturgis.

Mayer; It may play in the heartland but not in the Brown Derby or Stork Club.
Me: It will be a blockbuster. Everyman gone berserk. Hitler will be envious.

Mayer: What about the ending? It has to be happy.

Me: Trust me, L.B. we’ll have him either in handcuffs or a straight-jacket……or both. Or at least a long shot of a guy in an orange jumpsuit picking up trash from a homeless encampment.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

When the Macro Meets the Micro

Here I am in my favorite chair. The weather is 72 and sunny (no relief in sight). Bach and Brubeck sounds are alternating their good vibes. I just ate a bowl of granola with frozen blueberries. Images of flowering succulents from the Getty Garden mingle with Van Gogh’s irises in my head. Nothing hurts. This is my opium for all it leaves out.

The same narcotic Coleridge might have imbibed when he set out to write the Kubla Kahn and his stately mansion so decreed. To each his Xanadu where blossomed many incense-bearing trees.

As Peggy Lee sang:

Show me the way to get out of this world ‘cause that’s where everything is.

If everything is going, I don’t want to stay here

Who wants to stick around and watch the world disappear?

With the French revolution gone amok, heads rolling and Napoleon about to plunder the old order, Coleridge found his way out, in 1797, sailing down sacred rivers through caverns measureless to man. He was plucked from his revelry by the now famous person from Porlock who came on business matters. There’s always a man from Porlock, from the macro, to intrude on our personal, micro. We are privileged only by an accident of geography to be here rather than there.

Back in my easy chair I could swear I was on the verge of uncovering the meaning of life when suddenly reality burst through the door. Porlock lives! No need to recite the litany of dread leading to despair. The interface between reality and the imagination was the underlying subject of Wallace Stevens’ entire oeuvre. He regarded reality as the necessary angel as he toiled all day at Hartford Indemnity Insurance Co. Yet he walked one mile to and from work with his head in a foreign country called Imagination. As did Kafka. As did Dr. Williams and Dr. Chekhov. As did mailman Bukowski.

Which brings me back to the poem we are all writing , not necessarily on paper, to buoy us up and away from the muck and slime, but enough about Trump. In these dark times, we each have to strategize how to get through the day to say nothing of the night. I think it has always been thus. The man from Porlock has turned into a metaphor. Could it be he was a harbinger for the beginning of end of Romanticism, decades ahead of time, a reminder that the toast is burning, the dog needs to be walked, to change the paper toweling, pick up the mail and tend your garden? There is poetry in all these places and where there is poetry there are political acts.

Even Coleridge noted a ceaseless turmoil seething / as if the earth in fast thick pants were breathing. The specter of global neglect and political calamity loom so large they engender cynicism and paralysis. These have become their own abyss, formulas for disengagement.

The best we can do is to live consciously. Assert our being, our sanctity. Extend ourselves to help others. Buy local. Spare livestock. Take the bus. (I am scolding myself here) Write a check for the good candidates. Spread and model whatever enlightenment we possess. Small behaviors move the needle as an aggregate. As the cliché goes, we need to become the universe we wish for.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Hysterical Historical

With astigmatic hindsight I nominate Abraham Lincoln as our worst president. Not for cozying up to railroad interests nor for authorizing the hanging of renegade Native Americans. Lincoln made a grave error we are now living with, more than ever before. He should have let the southern states go. Slavery would have fallen from its own weight for economic reasons even if its moral abomination couldn’t penetrate the unconscionable heart and soul of slaveholders.

Subjugation of Blacks has continued in spite of the Union victory and three constitutional amendments. Racism has hardly been confronted. What reconstruction briefly happened has long since been reversed. We are a country in disgrace with a sin-sick soul.

162 years later it is clear that Lincoln should have let them secede. The Confederacy would have been a third world country mired in poverty and crippled by brainlessness. The only contribution we would have missed is jazz but those sounds would probably have made their way up the Mississippi anyway.

If at first you don’t secede try, try again. As for the western states and other territories where guns and gospel prevail, thank you for the apple pie, now please leave.

The 600,000 dead did not deliver a new birth of freedom. They bequeathed us a century of lynching, disenfranchisement, police brutality and daily indignities. It has resulted in a house divided which teeters like never before. We are not or ever have been a nation of, for and by the people.

In fact, have we ever really been a nation of states united? More often we have a history of being a rather loose confederation of states. The recent Supreme Court decisions certifies that fact. By systematically weakening the federal government’s regulatory power we cripple that function and misplace it back to the gerrymandered regions which should have seceded long ago.

They have subverted the Constitution, institutionalized male dominance, installed a mock-Supreme Court which is an extension of a corporate wet dream preparing us for American-style fascism. The privileged life of a few has shown a profound indifference to our planet’s demise wrought by foul air, rising seas and aridification.  

I forgive you Abraham Lincoln. You picked the wrong general in McClellan, the wrong vice president in Johnson and the wrong night to go to the theater. But you were a fine writer and a moral philosopher. You underestimated the rot and fury of the man with the whip and the loathing planted in the soil of the South. If only you had listened to the future we wouldn’t be in this chapter of the Civil War without end. Waving goodbye to the new Confederacy would go a long way to our pursuit of happiness.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Independence Day

Unlike other holidays such as Thanksgiving and Labor Day we can always count on the Fourth of July to fall out on July fourth. This year it conveniently happens on a Monday which gives us an extra day to take advantage of that mattress sale we’ve all been waiting for. It promises to be a big day for hot dogs, beer, flags and Yankee Doodle Dandy reruns. Remind me what any of this has to do with the Declaration of Independence.

It will also be the weekend when firecrackers go off driving dogs to bark themselves hoarse and set refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine into a round of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I can easily live my remaining years without any more fireworks. I even get no kick from parades. Mere oom-pah-pah sends no thrill to moi.

The hoopla we celebrate is for a document notable for its hypocrisy as it excluded all but the small minority of propertied white men. Call it aspirational. The Declaration did not even suggest a nation. (Lincoln got that wrong in his Address at Gettysburg). It was a rallying cry for revolution leading to the Articles of Confederation.

One indisputable fact is that the fourth of July is the day three of our first five presidents died.

I’m going to mark the day by adding strawberries to my bowl of cereal along with blueberries and almond milk. That’s about all the red, white and blue I can muster. I might also wave the white flag of surrender and ask Alexa to play Charlie Parker’s bluesy sax followed by Red Norvo.

The tricolors in the news these days are the now famous ketchup dripping from the wall and pieces of the blue plate special in the Trump White House. To each his own flag. As I recall, ketchup has a history in the Oval Office. That other illustrious President, Richard Nixon, was also an enthusiast. His regular breakfast was cottage cheese abundantly reddened with ketchup. He even got H.R. Haldeman to eat the stuff as a mark of fealty and look where that got him.

Didn’t Ronald Reagan proclaim that ketchup would suffice as a vegetable in school lunches? Not even Marie Antoinette could have thought of that when she flipped off the starving masses dismissing them with her famous remark of letting them eat cake. Could it be her decapitation was the result of Robespierre trying ketchup on his cake crumbs?

Is it ketchup or catsup? I think Heinz gave it the K and it stuck particularly on the walls where Trump is having his tantrums. He may have already lowered the resale value of Mar-A-Lago. I wonder if the mustard is also coming off his hot dogs.

My guess is that Hollywood has always been the biggest buyer of ketchup using it as a blood-like substance in Westerns, war movies and assorted mayhem. Whatever it takes to fake authenticity.

In their pursuit of happiness some are more equal than others. I remember when the down and out would frequent the Automat, get a free cup of hot water, add a few globs of ketchup and call it tomato soup. Is this a great country or what?