Wednesday, July 24, 2013


i want to live so I can see you grow

see you learn
see you change into whoever
you will become

to do that I need a gift of time

I see more clearly now that
time is more than a trick
It is a daily portion of experience
served out breath by breath

how I breath
determines the duration and value
of time

the time I spend with you

my wife
my child
my grandchild
my friend

is what makes life sweet and worth pursuing

i want to live so I can see you grow

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Gary Snyder

I've been reading Snyder for years.  I had the memorable pleasure of hearing him read at Lake Tahoe back in the 90's.

For the past six months I've been reading everything he's written.  I started by re-reading all of the books I already had (including RipRap and the Cold Mountain poems). Then I went on amazon and started buying his books.  Axe Handles is magnificent. Turtle Island won the Pulitzer prize for poetry in 1975.

It all goes well when I start my morning mindfully reading Snyder. He takes me back up into the mountains where I lived for so long.

There's a documentary about him on Netflix that I'm going to track down too.
I love doing this.  Reading through the body of work of a great writer is time well spent.

This poem in particular has been a touchstone of my writing life:

Hay for the Horses

by Gary Snyder

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
        behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the 
        sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

From Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems by Gary Snyder, published by North Point Press. Copyright © 1958, 1959, 1965 Gary Snyder. Used with permission. - See more at:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Spring Notes 4/21/2013

Slow sips of morning coffee -
deliver the last message
of my mindful
morning cup of
- time, attention, awareness
- and Getz plays Bossa Nova

- remember being 17 and terrified?

Hidden at home,
in my room with the patio entrance
and the private bathroom

-my desk (now hobby center in my 50 year old baby brother's garage)
The Royal typewriter, the white out, clumsy fingers and a dictionary at hand

my first stereo cobbled together under the advice of a forgotten friend
-music from the vacuum tubes and vinyl -

and I write,
Monday school deadline
- dominates my Sunday afternoons.


Friday, April 05, 2013

Haiku in the morning

I dug a battered cardboard box out of the shed a few days ago. Written on the side was the word Poetry.

I'd been looking for this box and now I've found it.

I unpacked my old books and stood them on the shelves near my reading chair. Sort out the Gary Snyder in one section, William Carlos Williams in another.  Then the haiku.

I have the habit of starting the day with a mindful cup of coffee and some random reading.  I grab a book from my shelf and turn to any page. I try to read the poems with a mindful focus. I'd been reaching for books that weren't there.  Now they are.

Just this morning I was reading about the life and work of the great Japanese Haiku poet Issa.  I was introduced to this form, and Issa in particular by my high school English teacher Denis Huckaby. Now, fifty years later the echo of that first discovery is still faintly ringing my inner ear.

I do not memorize poetry.  I have no facility for remembering verse.  However I do have one Issa down pat:

Oh snail,
Climb Mt. Fuji
But Slowly, Slowly

That's my memory of it.  I was pleased to see this Haiku referenced in a Wikipedia article about Issa.

"One of Issa's haiku, as translated by R.H. Blyth, appears in J. D. Salinger's 1961 novel, Franny and Zooey:
O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
The same poem, in Russian translation, served as an epigraph for Snail on the Slope (published 1966–68), by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, also providing the novel's title."
Give or take a little punctuation and I seem to have recalled it quite accurately.

The book I pulled from my shelf is an ancient college text called An Introduction To Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki.  I was amused to see the book is still in print and available from Amazon with used copies from only 1 penny.

My edition, complete with scribbled notes from my days as an English major at Berkeley is worth far more than a penny  (to me).

Skimming the selection of translations I came across my one memorized poem, translated by Henderson:

Snail, my little man,
  slowly, oh, very slowly
    climb up Fujisan!

The literal translation is included:

Katatsuburi | soro | soro | nobore | Fuji-no-yama
     snail  | slowly  | slowly | climb-up | Fuji-mountain

50 years ago Mr. Huckaby gave me a haiku assignment.  I went to North Hollywood Park, across from the library and wrote a dozen haiku as I sat with my back against a very old eucalyptus tree.  I was hooked on catching 17 syllable moments.

Later at Berkeley I wrote another sequence (featuring Katatsuburi) that got me a conversation with the instructor. This long gone teacher, name forgotten, was larger than life to me. He was poet, a teacher and a former Montana smoke jumper ready to dive into forest fire hot-spots.  I wish he'd been Gary Snyder.

But he wasn't.

When I was solo climbing, I'd some time think of Issa's stead slow climbing snail.

On long up hill slogs with a full pack
I'd pace myself with a climber's rest step,
chant gaining Sierra elevation.

I learned from my resurrected Haiku text that Issa was also a trained artist who often signed his brush work '... and Issa too."

Henderson mentions an atypical Issa haiku "written in very pompous and old-fashioned 'epistolary " language (sorobum), which was then commonly only used in stage performances. "

He who appears
   before you now--is the Toad
       of this Thicket.

Henderson goes on to explain that the position of a sitting toad is like the one assumed by Japanese when they squat on the floor for a formal greeting. He concludes with a description of a painting of a famous frog like theater manager who was a contemporary of Issa, Miyako Dennai III.  (I know a killer keyword sequence when I see it.)

This is the picture:

I love how the Internet makes it possible to see the arcane and obscure.  All you need are the questions and the keywords.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday morning

my heart
in a still pool


old man

an old man
head in hands
squatting on

mind full
of dead beat
sierra poetry

bowels losing
the last day's work

knowing who he is

a man
a husband
a father
a teacher

still thinking
       pushing aside medical bills
about catching
in virtual nets

like mosquito
window glass
and screen

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Present Moment

My mind is
on Mars
at the
present moment

I'm listening to the morning sounds
coffee perking
paws on the floorboards

My feet stir
red dust
at the present moment
the turmoil of
just another day
stirs up the present


Breathe deep
listen to the dog snore
breath out - only moment
smell the dog musk and

feel the sun shine through the window

and down the corridor

where my loved ones stir

present moment
while my mind wanders
over the inner falls
of my out breath

and I witness my life
like a pebble dropped in still water

in the present moment.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Like placer gold
panned from the stream of experience
we have mined a life together

jewels discovered in the light

a young woman suns
on a delta deck
early days by the water

laughing I hold a
wiggling bass as you
scream in the shower

in a shepard's hut
on a mountainside in Crete
the wonder of our life

high pass in the alps
You stretched out on the mountain grass
NATO helicopters rumble by below

the faint smell of olive trees
blossoming Greek morning
I climb the Lion's Gate for you

in the beehive tombs of Agamemnon
the echos of our young voices
I love you

blocks of ancient limestone
eroded steps
exposed by time
a chalk marked path
top of the pyramid

Sahara, silent and eternal
The scared horse flesh carries us
where Caesar and Napoleon rode.

drag a finger in the Nile
risk the worm infection
to feel the flow
African water
becomes Mediterranean Sea.

the boy king's tomb
alone, alive, breathing the
captured air
a few moments together
last forever

worn smell of the old hotels
the Raj molders
in Darjeeling
breakfast tea and curry
Kanchenjunga is the sky
our knees touching
over continental breakfast

sitting in the old Sikh's parlor
Kalimpong motorcycle
a Royal Enfield
he once rode to Calcutta
shared with us
gleaming pride

leopard tracks the snow
on the trail to Annapurna
we share a lunch
with jungle monkeys
Dhaulagiri ridge to heaven
as the mists pull back
we are in the Himalaya

long climb
a high pass in Nepal
a boy stands by
a wash tub
of icy water
bobbing brown bottles
Star Beer
what time is now?
a porter's day wage
consumed in slow greedy gulps

spider veins
the Brahmaputra
in the dry season
land locked
Indian tarpon
thick sided
golden scaled
roll in the narrow creeks
swim to the sea

sliding like a slow snake
the Brahmaputra spills the Himalayan
snow melt, now muddy tea, into the
Bay of Bengal

the moment in the bazaar
too weak to push forward
I leaned on you
you helped me stand
I knew you were the

The English added gardens to the Taj Mahal
where we decided to have children
make 'our hearts hostage to fate'
be in this wheel of life every moment

and we feel the wonder of our days
living moments
recalled and treasured
hard won placer gold