Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Interstell​ar traveler caught in wintry mix

The grey sky
portentious, waiting
a sense of always waiting
not anticipatory
not really
more the flatlined relief
that no more catastrophes
can happen for a moment
let alone miracles
my friend writes to me of magic
and I know it is afoot
everywhere and at all times

Yet I am encumbered
by knowledge and
the distance between
my old lover and me, as he
burrows through his tunnel
of pain and suffering
hopeful that the torches will last
the journey
I call upon my light beings
and ask them
to speed my healing to him
as in days of yore

Yore - a word not
much understood
these days
how I stood on
the small platform
between worlds
and held my hands
down toward the sick and wounded
letting the truth and power
and purity - too many words already
for something that has no translation -
sparkle down like stars
upon them

Perhaps I was a conduit
in those early days
of cooperation in
earth's affairs
And now burdened
by memories
I wonder how complicit
my bloodline is
in the later conquest
as Gaia heaves a sigh
I nestle in her bosom
and wait

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Walking on Jogibara Road

This is a painting that I hope conveys the surreal quality of living in India ... where unending hard work is so often juxtaposed with the softest, ethereal beauty.

Quite often I paint from photographs, and in this case, even my photograph was so blurry, it was almost impossible to see it clearly. While I was painting this today, one phrase kept going through my mind ... "I'm trying to understand it ..."

As my brush strokes became more confident, I began to see that there's a rhythm and magic to the way the trees function in the soil and mix their branches with the wind and sky, and the woman's steps are deliberate, while she focuses on the road ahead. Perhaps her eyes soften to match the swirling trees.

(oil on canvas)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dreams of a Savannah Boy

His nickname “Lord Ballew”
Suited his style and gentlemanly air
Selling turbines and generators
Things we kids could not figure
He was more Shakespeare than engineer

My father, tall and handsome
Hand in one pocket, joke well chosen
The whole table would laugh
His bucked teeth the only flaw
That made him just the boy next door

He was a man who loved Tchaikovsky
Segovia, Bellafonte, Dillard,
Gilbert & Sullivan, and Makeba
Who sang the lead in Pajama Game
Kismet and Damn Yankees

He taught me how to harmonize
How to jump in and catch the melody
Like a rope vine swing
And figure it out as I went along
Until standing in church we two

I used to watch him playing tennis
From my perch on the Silver's garage roof
With his white shirt untucked, sockless
Tennis shoes so big on his long, long legs
I rooted for him to win and then felt guilty when he did

Nobody had a chance playing against my Dad
The only time I beat him at chess,
He knew he had won
My Mom told him to let us win just once
But my seven card stud became ferocious

And the college boys paid my expenses that semester
Playing five-card draw in the student union
Putting on a bored, fatalistic face
It was my Daddy that made me realize
You could hold your breath with a flush

Listening to Rachmaninoff or Chopin
Or seeing a movie through his eyes
Side-glancing to see if he agreed with
Bogie, Grant or Stewart
It might be a word or a movement

Following my Daddy’s mind was
Easy riding with your arm on the sill
Feeling the breeze and reaching out
To brush the honeysuckle
On the side road to town

At the ball in my long gown
Appliqu├ęd with velvet leaves
He did the two-step with me
Just to give me a rest
From the sweaty men with their bouquets

Driving down to Tennessee
Showing us the Burma Shave signs
And the log cabins where the share croppers
Used to dwell
It was another world

My Daddy had seen everything
He never talked about the Philippines
Except to say he’d seen an elephant
And sometimes hint at mishaps
Other guys had had with local girls

He always had a ready story
About his Maryland lass
Who waited with impatience
For his return from the war
And then stuck by his side ever after

Daddy held my hand when I was sick
And danced through hell to fight my demons
Took me out to dinner
And met my eyes
With insight, seeing everything

I didn’t know until much later
Those piercing eyes were but a shield
For the tender heart beneath
A man can carry such love only so long
Until the force erupts in church or at an old movie

Nobody gave a hug like Dad
A hug that said, “I’ll love you forever
My sweet baby
You don’t have to worry
About a single thing.”

(First written April 26, 2009, edited 10/17/2014.
Dedicated to my father who passed away 9/17/2014.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


How do we parse these overlapping
Tectonic plates of relationships
That touch ever so gently
In the periphery of our consciousness
Surfacing in dreams to dance together
Figures normally unfamiliar
With each other

How can we be certain that each one
Receives its due consideration
That none are left behind, abandoned
To memory, slipping down as leaves
Into a pond in autumn
Of course, inevitably, or deliberately
Some will become invisible

Some have to go, with their unresolved conflicts
Ragged edges and pain
And others unfinished or ended too soon
Those we can release with more ease
We can say we learned something from them
Or they were not to be …
But some will remain

Like tattoos on the skin of our minds
A part of us, and more – a definition of our inner selves
If not the face we show the world
Those relationships have their own lives
Even when the person we knew is gone or demised
And over time, the edges are smoothed
The colors all fade, but there’s a silent voice
That can talk and answer questions

It’s a testimony to life’s grand design
That we can still be surprised
By the ping! of wisdom
From an old source
And, to be honest, you really can’t know
Which voice – if it’s one or a composite of many
We are so loosely braided into the carpet

I don’t claim these words are even mine
Whose thoughts am I thinking today?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Windy Day

I wasn't quite satisfied with the painting so I changed it. And besides, it was not so much a storm coming. It was a windy day and I remember the trees talking to me, and the sense of urgency to get in before a storm really started. I could just see the woman and her dog way ahead.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Storm Over the Rail Trail

Just finished this painting today. The process was interesting. First, fortified myself with coffee and Bach remedy. Put on a playlist of songs I call "painting." It starts with "Corinna" by Taj Mahal. Then got out the paint, organized the colors I needed, picked a brush, and started with the sky. Did the sky while the tape was breaking into Stevie Wonder's "Blame it on the Sun." Finished the sky on "Sister Morphine" by the Rolling Stones.

Remembered Tsering telling me always to start with the dark colors. Chose a brush for the pathway, and stopped to munch on some unsalted cashews. Then started on all the brown, sketched in around the houses, put in all the grasses with Tom Wait's "Waltzing Mathilda," added the trees and branches to "Flying Red Horse" by John Gorka. Took a break and played a game on my computer. Went back and added the tall tree and the darker colors, more branches, and grasses. A good, athletic song by Eric Bibb - "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down."

Red flowers. Took another break to ease my back. "Will My Mother Know Me There?" by Ricky Skaggs was playing as I put in the white of the houses and roofs, and finally the snow. Added more tendrils of grass and branches. Added the vermilion part of the flowers. The last song had long since ended - "The Nearness of You" by Nora Jones. Remembered my friend Debbie in Boston, who said, "Music will never let you down."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Songs of St. Louis

I recorded an "open mic" reading of my poem, inspired by the killing of Michael Brown. (If you want to listen, scroll down to the second "play" button, and excuse my poor weblog programming skills.) The slightly re-written poem appears below that.

I was working on Cabanne Street in a Home for Girls
Girls with a Bad Rap or Bad Company or just Bad Luck
One of the girls was White and maybe I was White
Some would consider me so
And some didn’t quite know
But I could always look like a nun
When faced with police
Unlike my swain whose ebony face
Shone with blue lights in the sun

The first time he was stopped
He had a script of a play on his dash
You could read it through the glass
A priest accuses God
And the cop who was White, surely looking for a reason
Said, Lightning should strike you right now
LeRoi answered, Yeah, I guess so
They laughed and the cop let him go

Once, a drunk plowed through a red light
Into LeRoi’s car, skipped over the white line
And he’s still in his seat, dazed and bleeding
As the sirens came near
Cops drag him out
My friend ran over and screamed
Get an ambulance he’s bleeding!
And we end up at the hospital
Everybody was fine

Unlike Leon Spinks who got arrested when cops
Planted coke in his car
I mean, how could a poor Black from the projects
The Projects! No less than Pruitt Igoe
Get an Olympic Medal for boxing
And go so far
I mean, justice no object

And the first month I moved to my place in St. Louis
I heard about a nurse who got shot on the street
No reason, they said – just a random thing
Who did it? They searched but no shooter appeared
So I figured, okay, this is a violent place
I could end up dead any time
No point in wasting myself on fear

A block away, two whores were in their house
Minding their own business
When cops came in looking for drugs
Emptied all the drawers, cut up clothes
Waved their guns
Tossed a fur coat in the bathtub
Soaked it in water through and through
And when one girl objected, shot her too

Okay, I wasn’t there, but we heard stuff like this
Somebody got murdered every week or so
Our murder rate seemed to match the heat
And the welfare rate had only Mississippi beat
Math was never an issue
But the lack of money was

So you make your neighborhood your own
You don’t want some stranger messing it up
You build your bravado, your music, your color
Your walk, your talk, your energy, your fun
And pretty soon, you don’t care so much
For what you don’t own

You cook whatever meat you have on the bone
And burn some incense and have a party
You get in your car
And drive real slow with the music on loud
To cover the sound of the muffler dragging on the ground
You get a coat hanger to tie it up smartly

You go home to Kinloch where sanity reigns
And you can breathe in peace
Until they land the next plane
Like it’s coming to you
So, Ferguson, nothing much is new
Except that now the microscope is focused on true

I dated a St. Louis cop once – he lived in a dungeon
The place was a mess, the plumbing malfunctioned
He was a patch of desert in a delta bayou
With a fatal case of blues
He was proud of his brutality
And polished it like a cue

It’s been years since I went back
I remember the summers that stretched on forever
The patchwork sky, the dripping air, the squirrels, the bugs, the life
The slow moving city, fast-rushing River
You wouldn’t want to swim in it
My girls in the Home were all good girls
Even the Bad ones

Sometimes at night we used to share our thoughts
St. Louis is the training ground of the faithful, she said
Yeah, that’s no joke, we agreed
When you think about it, there’s always a need
And a very good reason
Why dancers, musicians, playwrights and poets
Are born in a place with a troubled season.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jesus was a Virgo

I need to go to Boston
I feel like I want to crack something open
A whole ice tray of feelings
The love, mostly
Keen and sharp like the winter wind
Whipping across from the Hancock Building
Eyes clenched to the sleet, inscrutable
And on the inside, a vast ocean of space
Driven by single purpose
Nothing I wouldn’t do for the Beloved

When Jesus was two years old
He already knew he belonged to the world
His life would be a gift to humankind
He had an unbroken umbilical
At two, my destiny was only a spark
Beginning its slow spiral
I was sixteen when I chose heart over head
If I had to choose
Not beauty or wit or surely sanity

I wonder if Jesus had a nickname as a child
Before he was called a prophet, a Lord, a Prince,
All those epithets that couldn’t contain him
Jesus must have made friends easily
Gathering his disciples around him like bees to clover
My only nicknames were cruel ones made by boys
Until college where the girls named me Slinky and Cat
But love always got in the way of friends
No bees, only outlaws who would be worshipped

Jesus was an outlaw, too
I probably would have loved him,
Would have pulled him down from the cross and taken his place
Like an idiot, or a saint
And my nickname would have been She Who …
I don’t know exactly, but not Slinky or Cat
Anyway, one thing to say –
Jesus wasn’t a Capricorn
I saw his birthday written in a tome
A book of secrets from an unlocked case 
September 9, was it?  September 6?
Anyway, it’s no surprise.
Jesus was a Virgo.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Antidote to Summer Doldrums

New developments with the cats .. the new neighbor downstairs has been feeding them.  Slowly, little by little, the young mother cat and her adorable wee kitten come up to the stoop and eat.  Mowgli, my manly cat pal, leads the way, curling himself right next to the doorway like he owns the rug.

I'm glad to see that they are being adopted, even though I'm a bit sad to lose the opportunity to interact with them in the wild.  Yesterday, they showed me there was still that streak of wild cat in these jazz babies.

I went out to get into my car and go to work and right there on the sidewalk was a fresh (and dead) mouse.  It was a touching gift of gratitude for the folks that have been feeding the cats.

Wildlife aside, I will say that the urge to create has gone rather dormant in me, perhaps as a result of the summer doldrums.  Doldrums.  Such a nice word for the stillness of hot, sticky summertime.  You might stir yourself enough to get up and go into the kitchen and pour a glass of water ... 

The Walkway over the Hudson is one antidote.  No matter how hot it is, there's always a breeze over the river.  And there's a positive spin on the Walkway, no matter who is doing the walking.  It might be a man and wife with a stroller or a couple hand in hand or oldsters walking three abreast in threadbare cotton and canvas hats.  You can overhear heartbreaking conversations or banal ones.  Kids on skateboards and scooters.  Dogs.  Lots of dogs.

Here's one of the photos I took of the Walkway, one of the amazing skies.

We had a tinkering of a rainstorm for a half an hour tonight and it's already gone.  The breeze has run off to ruffle somebody else's hair, and the sticky night is back.  The dense call of insects, stacking their songs one on top of the other like cells under a microscope.

A skunk has crept under the window and asserted herself.  I can imagine the cats hidden back in their lair, sniffing the sweet night air, far away from human civilization.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Feral Cat

I've been jotting down little phrases on slips of paper for weeks.  This is what we writers do, I know.  I always have the best of intentions about writing something later.

But here's a situation that I could not put off writing about any longer.

To start, I live next to a woods where I can watch all sorts of animals and birds go about their daily lives.  We have deer, raccoon, skunks, bluebirds, a woodpecker, various crows, robins, wrens, sparrows, mourning doves and a family of wild cats.

The tomcat is an amazingly scruffy fellow with matted black fur that perpetually sticks out like he's angry at all the dogs in the neighborhood.  He streaks through the parking lot once in a blue moon, probably on a hunt.

For two years, his gray and white female mate has had kittens.  Last summer, she had five.  One didn't live, but three females and one small male managed to make it.  My neighbor Ray downstairs, an elderly Italian man who has a cat of his own, put out a cardboard box for them and left food out for a few weeks.

We could see the kittens tumble around, engage in mock fights, chase insects, and try to keep up with their mother all summer.  By fall, they were larger, and spent more time in the woods.  The old man still fed them occasionally.  Somehow they made it through the winter with the rest of us hapless souls, with foot upon foot of snow falling much too often.  My allergy to all kinds of fur and feathers was all that prevented me from taking them in.  The old man's house cat Tiggie had become jealous, so Ray also did not adopt them.

Somehow, by Spring, at least two had survived, along with the mother and the scruffier-than-ever father.  During the first few weeks of April, the three kittens who are now nearly young adults kept coming around the stoop.  The old man had stopped feeding them, to appease Tiggie.  I could see her lying on his windowsill, enjoying her status.  The feral cats completely ignored her, and frolicked on the stoop, ready to accept a crumb from anyone.

Since I had cats years ago, I know a bit of cat language.  My old cat Venus tried to teach me the subtle difference between "I want to eat" and "I want to go out."  I always got it wrong when she was standing by the kitchen screen door.  She finally gave up trying, and decided I was hopeless.  But I do remember some of my lessons.

At least, I know how to say "hello" in Cat.  So I started talking to the kittens.  The females would dash to hide in the shrubs, but the male jumped off the stoop and lingered just beyond.  One day I was in a particularly friendly mood and I gave him the eyelash blink that means "I love you" in Cat.  I guess that was a bad idea.

Now, this cat is on the stoop every day waiting for me to come home.  When he sees me, he arches his back and rubs himself against the door.  He flops on his back and flirts.  He meows most adorably.  He reminds me of the way people will talk a blue streak to you in a foreign country after you speak a few words.  In spite of myself, I named him Mowgli.  He really is a very handsome little gray tiger.

The past few days he was waiting for me, crouching in anticipation of the leap into my door, which I had to close very quickly to avoid him coming in.  I tried, of course, to discourage him in Cat but my accent is really bad, and I'm probably saying, "Oh, sure, maybe later."

Anyway, this all came to a head the night before last.  Here in Dutchess County, we've had a lot of what people call stink bugs.  I don't know the real name, and I've actually never smelled them, but it's said if you kill one they give off a terrible smell.  In any case, I'm a Buddhist and I never kill anything.  When I find a bug, I usually trap it and take it outside, unless it's a spider, which I tolerate in the house.

So I had cooked some dinner, and since it was warm outside, I had the windows open.  I just sat down when I noticed one of those stink bugs had fallen off the window onto my table.  I got a small glass and an index card, and trapped the bug and carried him down the stairs.  When I opened the door to the porch, Mowgli was waiting for me.

He seemed surprised to see me so late, but he took a step back, and watched me take the bug over to the grass and release it.  I noticed him tiptoeing over to the bug as I went back inside the screen door.  He seemed very nonplussed by this apparent gift from me, and a haughty gait, he stalked away.  In comparison to my dinner upstairs, this was indeed an insult.

Perhaps he was saying to himself in Cat, "If she thinks this is what I eat, then she is too stupid to waste time on."  He had already eliminated my Italian neighbor with his tamed animal.

Sure enough, last night, Mowgli wasn't on the stoop waiting for me.  I saw him over near the dumpster, where he probably figured he would have better luck.  I meowed "hello" but he gave me a "You talking to me?" glance.

I wonder what our karma (or his catma) will be in our next life.  Maybe when we meet, he'll offer me a bug in return.  Maybe I'll be a spider and consider it a feast.  Oh, the circle of life ...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Searching for the Library

I need to write a new poem.  And while a poem seems to be slowly coming to the surface like leaves in a heavy rainstorm, so far, it's eluded me.  I have dreams like that.  Dreams that feel like they’re coming to the surface, but when I wake up, they’re gone, submerged into the dark mud of my night world.

Could it be the oppression of snow?  We’ve not had this kind of snow before.  The relentless piling of heavy chunks of white on top of everything, week after week.  I suppose we could get used to it, but we’ll not get the chance.  By the time we’ve accepted all the inconvenience and danger, it will be spring.

Where does creativity spring from?  People talk about having a muse.  I suppose that’s an interesting theory.  Like being in love and being inspired to give the world everything you wish for your lover, or maybe love of an idea that lodges in the mind like a familiar.  I think it has to do with energy, some kind of physical chemistry. When I reach out for that, it just eludes me.  Could be the season or just the nature of my work these days.

Managing a database is like having a virtual orphanage or school.  Each child’s progress has to be recorded, and graded and graduated to adulthood.  Some get adopted.  Some repeat and repeat until you have to send them out into the world, ready or not.  Sometimes they get into my sleep, these bits of data, struggling to coalesce, to become discrete and assume or assert identity.  When I wake from dreams like that, I feel cheated. 

I’d rather have one of my recurring nightmares than a dream about work.  My nightmares follow two patterns.  In the first one, I’m driving my car and I come upon a somewhat familiar route, but it looks different and I get lost and hopelessly unable to find my way.  Sometimes I reach a cul-de-sac with boulders toppled everywhere, or cliffs with trees growing along the sides, or other times the road turns into a canal.  Then I have to get out and walk.  Sometimes I miraculously have a purple umbrella or a white raincoat, or some other helpful item.

In the second nightmare, I’m in a school.  It’s usually a huge building with a very tall elevator, and I’m always looking for the library, which is in a mezzanine and not easy to find.  You can’t get there by the elevator.  So I go up or down the stairwell, stopping on floors and wandering around, hoping to find the entrance.  Sometimes I wander into places I’m not supposed to be, where marble corridors and hunt pictures presage executive suites.  So, if I don’t find the library, strange people arrive and try to draw me into things I don't have any interest in, and I get more and more lost. 

But once in a blue moon, I do find the library, and it’s magnificent, with a high-domed, ornately carved gold ceiling, very high windows and tall, tall shelves of books.  An old Oriental carpet is worn in places, and there are stuffed arm chairs.  It’s just heaven.  And of course, no matter how I try to memorize the doorways, I always have trouble finding it again.

You can surely see how searching for libraries and being lost in a wilderness could be more fun than holding the reins of a database, or shoveling inches and inches of snow around a car that’s totally inadequate for the season.

Maybe creativity, like dreams, is just an escape.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


It occurs to me that freedom is an overused word
Freedom to abuse the earth
Freedom to abuse women
Freedom to spend money you don’t have
Freedom to put toxic chemicals in food
Freedom to market dangerous drugs as safe
Freedom to censor news
Freedom to force workers to work unpaid overtime
Freedom to raise prices and rents indefinitely
Freedom to rob from pensions & social security to pay for wars
Freedom to use those excess oil reserves
Freedom to drill anywhere you please for oil
Freedom to spill oil in a gulf
Freedom to spill radioactive waste into an ocean
Freedom to allow fracking waste to pollute soil and water
Freedom to bomb people with drones in a foreign country
Freedom to drive a car without emissions controls
Freedom to dump waste in a fresh waterway
Freedom to arrest and torture people
Freedom to jail immigrants on suspicion alone
Freedom to spy on people’s emails and conversations

This is different from
Freedom to marry whom you choose
Freedom to worship God, gods or nothing at all
Freedom to express yourself on the internet and elsewhere
Freedom to travel outside your country
Freedom to buy a house in any neighborhood
Freedom to apply to any college or job
Maybe freedom isn't what we mean anymore.