Saturday, January 28, 2012

Everything Is OK Just the Way It Is

For the past two weeks, I've been reading this poem every day, trying to understand why it drew me in, why it has stayed with me and won't let go. I've tried several times to write about it, to give it a context that would help articulate my feelings about it, and each time I deleted the words I'd written. They felt false. And then it dawned on me. I was trying to understand something that didn't need to be understood, it just needed to be felt.

"White Autumn"

She had always loved to read, even
in childhood during the Confederate War,
and built the habit later of staying up
by the oil lamp near the fireplace after
husband and children slept, the scrub-work done.
She fed the addiction in the hard years
of Reconstruction and even after
her husband died and she was forced
to provide and be sole foreman of the place.
While her only son fought in France
it was this second life, by the open window
in warm months when the pines on the hill
seemed to talk to the creek, or katydids
lined-out their hymns in the trees beyond the barn,
or by the familiar of fire in winter,
that sustained her. She and her daughters
later forgot the time, the exact date,
if there was such a day, she made her decision.
But after the children could cook
and garden and milk and bring in a little
by housecleaning for the rich in Flat Rock,
and the son returned from overseas
wounded but still able and married a war widow,
and when she had found just the right chair,
a rocker joined by a man over on Willow
from rubbed hickory, with cane seat and back,
and arms wide enough to rest her everlasting cup
of coffee on, or a heavy book,
she knew she had come to her place and would stay.
And from that day, if it was one time and not
a gradual recognition, she never crossed a threshold
or ventured from that special seat of rightness,
of presence and pleasure, except to be helped to bed
in the hours before dawn for a little nap.
That chair -- every Christmas someone gave her a bright
cushion to break in -- was the site on which she bathed
in a warm river of books and black coffee,
varieties of candy and cakes kept in a low cupboard
at hand. The cats passed through her lap and legs
and through the rungs of her seat. The tons
of firewood came in cold and left as light, smoke, ash.
She rode that upright cradle to sleep
and through many long visits with tiers of family,
kissing the babies like different kinds of fruit.
Always hiding the clay pipe in her cabinet
when company appeared. She chaired decisions
to keep the land and refused welfare.
On that creaking throne she ruled a tiny kingdom
through war, death of kin. Even on the night she did
stop breathing, near a hundred, no one knew
exactly when, but found the lamp still on,
the romance open to a new chapter,
and the sun just appearing at her elbow.

~ Robert Morgan  (1944, Hendersonville, NC)

P.S. After returning to it again this afternoon (don't you love the line about the clay pipe she hid in her cabinet?), I picked up the small blue card I had used as a bookmark. Turning it over, I realized it answered every question I had about this poem, and a lot of other things:  "Everything is OK just the way it is." 

The image is one I took last winter, about this time, in Moab, Utah.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Ballad of the One-eared Stinky Monkey

Snow is coming down and Buddy is one very content, not-so-little-anymore puppy. He has always liked shoving his nose deep into its cold fluffiness again and again as though he has just discovered the greatest thing on earth. He finds particular pleasure in tossing one of his babies up into the snowy air, catching it and then running around madly just to do it all again. And again. It's the stuff happy is made of.

Now, lest you think Buddy's babies are being mistreated, I have to add that they seem as delighted by all this fun as he is. And he knows the routine. He either barks or grrrs softly at the door when he feels it's time to come in and warm up, or take a snooze, tired out from all that strenuous activity. Sometimes, he just stands by the door, expecting me to read his mind, and I've gotten pretty good at that. We've had a lot of practice.

He has several babies to choose from, an entire basketful, and he is careful to make sure everyone gets their shot at some time outside, but it's the baby bear that seems to be his favorite now. 'Twas not always so. 

Once upon a time, it was a monkey with two ears and a very healthy behind. As way led unto way, one ear was chewed off in a moment of overzealous affection and then he became the one-eared stinky monkey, stinky being a natural by-product, shall we say, of incessant chewing.

As these things go, the love-induced chewing led to more chewing and then it was the behind which became, ultimately, unrepairable with needle and thread. I'm happy to report my sewing skills have remained intact, being much in demand these days, but sometimes even they cannot bring someone back to "life."  Thus, the closet shelf became the final resting place of the one-eared stinky monkey, a back shelf lest Buddy see it and whine for its return to the fold. I cannot bring myself to relegate it to the dustbin of history. Not yet. These things take time.

I've thought of replacing his monkey with a brand new one, and perhaps one day I will. In the meantime, I have discovered that second hand and thrift stores are great places for inexpensive stuffed toys. When I go to town without Buddy, he always checks the table as I unpack the grocery bag, checking to see if Ma remembered to bring him back a new pal.  No, he's not spoiled one bit. He just lives with the constant expectation of good to unfold, and that seems like a pretty fine way to go through life. We have this unspoken agreement. I make sure life is good for him and he makes sure it is for me. It's a win-win.

The opening photo is Buddy when he first came home with me at eight weeks old. He is now almost a year old. What a wonderful year it has been.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same

A few days ago, a friend and I were visiting on the telephone, talking about the state of the union. The subject of Charlie Chaplin came up and we both agreed he was an amazing person. Tonight, President Obama will give the State of the Union Address and so finding this video today seems rather timely. It's from the Charlie Chaplin movie, "The Great Dictator."  First released in October, 1940, its relevance today is almost astonishing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My Lesson From the Sea

It's now going on two years since I visited the Atlantic Ocean. It was time spent, for the most part, on a quiet beach in the off-season, which was, for me, the perfect time to be there. There were early morning walkers, some with dogs, some in pairs, some alone and deep in thought. Many were visitors from someplace else who had their own purpose for being there. Almost always these fellow travelers offered a hello, or a nod in greeting and, occasionally, would stop and visit with me about the ocean, the day, the weather, some observation they had made. And some would sit quietly on the benches, set near the sand dunes, just looking out to sea.

My time included some deep thought, but mostly it was about opening my arms wider to life and taking in all that the ocean had to offer by way of understanding myself a bit more. Some lessons were hard-won, and some were dropped at my feet unbidden, as wholly unexpected gifts. I have only recently come to understand more fully just what the ocean and the days spent there really brought me, and eventually taught me. The ocean is a wonderful thing, full of deep mystery, and so inviting. It offers us an opportunity to write our names in its "book of waves," to feel a part of that never-ending night sky; it teaches us to become our own lighthouse.

This morning, with several inches of fresh snow outside the door, a morning poem arrived in an email that left me smiling with its beautiful timing, its ability to so poetically distill these lessons from the sea, what it has taught me:  it drew me to its shores so that I might become better able to See.

"I Was Never Able to Pray"

Wheel me down to the shore
where the lighthouse was abandoned
and the moon tolls in the rafters.

Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.

I was never able to pray
but let me inscribe my name
in the book of waves

and then stare into the dome
of a sky that never ends
and see my voice sail into the night.

~ Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch lives in New York and is president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Painting by Winslow Homer. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he once lived and painted in a studio at Prouts Neck, just down the beach and around the corner from where I stayed. Perhaps one day I'll return and pay my respect for all the hours of pleasure his paintings have brought me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Listening to the Inner Need

Color is a power which directly influences the soul.

Colors produce a corresponding spiritual vibration, and it is only as a step towards this spiritual vibration that the elementary physical impression is of importance.

The artist must be blind to distinctions between 'recognized' and 'unrecognized'  conventions of form, deaf to the transitory teaching and demands of his particular age. He must watch only the trend of the inner need, and hearken to its words alone.

Everything shows me its face, its innermost being, its secret soul, which is more often silent than heard.

The word composition moved me spiritually and I made it my aim in life to paint a composition. It affected me like a prayer and filled me with awe.

Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, and the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.

That is beautiful which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul.

Everything starts from a dot. 

All quotations by Wassily Kandinsky (1866 - 1944), a Russian painter credited with painting the first purely abstract works.

They make me happy.  I hope they make you happy, too.

Friday, January 20, 2012

And Then the Spell was Cast

From Lao Tzu to Etta James, it makes perfect sense to me. I remember you, dear lady, as the one who accompanied me over Monument Pass time and time again, as I made my way back to Minnesota from Santa Fe. When I got to the Colorado border, I would slide your CD into the player and "At Last" would take me up the mountain, across the Continental Divide, then down the other side, gliding around curve after curve, leaning in with every note you sang. I wasn't in love with a person, I was in love with life, and it was my song. Thank you, Ms. James, for keeping me company.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Morning Song from Lao Tzu

When I woke up this morning, I was planning on writing about poetry and had a poem in mind that I had been going back to this past week just because I liked it and what it had to say about life, but then I realized I needed to listen to the nudge I was getting to go to the book shelf and bring down this slim volume entitled, Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu. It calls out to me occasionally, and, when it does, I know I need to respond. It never fails to provide just the right idea for propelling me forward into the day, allaying any fears or sadness I might be feeling, allowing me to really feel the Oneness that connects me to all things.

I like what Brian Walker, one of several wonderful interpreters of these timeless ideas and the author of this book, has to say about Lao Tzu:  "I have come to think of Lao Tzu less as a man who once lived and more as a song that plays, eternal and abiding."  This was my morning song that led me to "still waters."

The Universe is a vast net of energy rays.
The primary ray is that which emanates from the
   Subtle Origin, and it is entirely positive, creative,
   and constructive.
Each being, however, converts the energy of this
   primary ray into its own ray, and these lower rays
   can be either positive or negative, constructive or 

An individual who is not yet fully evolved can be
   adversely affected by negative energy rays in the net
   around him.
For example, the combined influence of several
   negative rays might cause an undeveloped person to
   believe that his life is being controlled by an
   invisible, oppressive ruler.
Such a misconception can be a significant barrier to

To attain full evolution and the status of an integral
   being, you must be aware of this intricate net and
   its influences upon you.
By integrating the positive, harmonious energy rays
   with the positive elements of your own being, and
   eliminating the subtle negative influences, you can
   enhance all aspects of your life.

In order to eliminate the negative influences, simply
   ignore them.
To integrate the positive influences, consciously
   reconnect yourself with the primary energy ray of 
   the Subtle Origin by adopting the practices of the 
   Integral Way.
Then all the rays in the net around you will merge
   back into harmonious oneness.

Chinese artwork by Wang Qiang and Chen Jun

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Because it is Right

Cowardice asks the question - is it safe?
Expediency asks the question - is it politic?
Vanity asks the question - is it popular?
But conscience asks the question - is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular,
but one must take it because it is right.

~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Not Language but a Map

"The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart"

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couple on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets wre translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems and psalms?  My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
Oh Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

~ Jack Gilbert  (1925 - )

added note: Jack passed on November 13, 2012.

My photo of ancient rock art taken outside Moab, UT.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Slipping off to a Sand Dune with Dr. Seuss

Some of you might know by now I'm a Dr. Seuss fan. I am, I am. So, when my son told me about this great little video made at the Burning Man Festival using the Dr. Seuss book, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" I knew I had to watch it. Then share it. You probably already know about the festival, so I won't go there, and maybe you even know about this video and I'm way behind the curve, but just in case that's not the case, I'm posting it.

The title is alluding to Maria Muldaur's song, "Midnight at the Oasis."  One night at a bar, many years ago, a man told me I looked just like her. He told me this more than once. I told him he was drunk. He insisted he wasn't. Then he fell off his bar stool.

They're connected by a very thin thread. But a lot of things are.

Here's the song:

And here's the video:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ode on a Cast Iron Pan

This morning, while making breakfast in a cast iron pan, I thought of a friend whom I haven't seen in over a year. She lives about two hours east of here, and I rarely get over that way anymore. When I first returned to Minnesota, I stayed with another friend who has a double geodesic domed home over that direction and I met some really cool people while I was there, including this gal. I wrote about her when I first started blogging, before anyone read it but me. I have never actually supplied a link to a previous post, although I have mentioned a couple of them when I felt it was apropos, but I'm making an exception, because I want to remember this friend and that wonderful day we spent together, and I'd like you to meet her, too, through this post.

At the end of the day, she said how grateful she was for all the help I had been, and although I was having a great time and had no  intention of being reimbursed in any way but with a great memory, she would not be dissuaded, and so I went home with a crazy cool cast iron fry pan that makes me happy every time I use it. I grew up in a house where we used nothing but, and I'm betting many of you did, too. It's actually a cross between a fry pan and a dutch oven, so it's versatile, and I simply love it.

Here's the link (the title alludes to the post before):

A good friendship and a good cast iron pan just seem to go together. And I think it's time to re-season both.

Monday, January 9, 2012

There's a Bluebird in His Heart

Please be patient with me, but that rabble-rouser (she said affectionately), known as Reality Zone, posted this cool Charles Bukowski video on his site. I warned him I was stealing it, making this sort of a Charles Bukowski trifecta. I was so moved when I first listened to it, I was in tears. Then I listened about four more times. And I'm still moved. This poem probably says more about the man than any one or any thing else ever has, or could. It may not be him reading it (see addendum), but I love the reading, his words are powerful, and I always appreciate seeing into someone's heart through their own words, rather than filtered through my perception.

Thanks RZ, for posting it, for sharing personal experiences in response to my last post, and for being so gracious about my re-post.  Here's a link to RZ's site, a go-to place for non-mainstream news, politics, metaphysics, and music. You never know what you're going to get. It's always interesting, starting with his avatar (above), artwork by Alex Grey:

Addendum: With a little further investigation, I have discovered the wonderful reader is a British actor who goes by the pseudonym Thomas O'Bedlam on his youtube channel. The name alludes to an interesting, anonymous poem from the 1600's:'_Bedlam. To add to the intrigue, Roger Ebert says we should be able to guess the actor if we listen close enough. Regardless, it's a great poem and a great reader.

Only 1:57, then I promise I'll move on.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Peace Train Inside All of Us

One of my favorite anthologies of poetry sits next to me, as it has for the past few mornings. I try to open it at random and in that way I feel I can get a glimpse of what the world has to say to me, what it might want me to know, and then perhaps pass it on. In this anthology, the poets are sometimes represented more than once, in different sections, but almost never more than twice. So, the odds of opening it to the same poet two mornings in a row might be considered a long shot. I try to pay attention to where I am directed to open it and then leave the rest up to whomever is in charge of these things.

This morning, I opened it to the other poem by Charles Bukowski. If I'd read it before, and I probably have, it'd been quite some time. It seemed to be mirroring my thoughts. It was obviously written during Desert Storm in the early '90's. Unfortunately, it seems we've dug an even deeper hole in the sand, which makes this poem as timely now as it was then, perhaps more so, especially in light of Rick Perry's remark that he would consider sending troops back into Iraq. I didn't watch hardly any of the debates. That was quite enough, thank you. I can't handle that much unkindness all in a row. Here's Charles instead:

"the con job"

the ground war began today
at dawn
in a desert land
far from here.
the U.S. ground troops were
made up of
Blacks, Mexicans and poor 
most of whom had joined
the military
because it was the only job
they could find.

the ground war began today
at dawn
in a desert land
far from here
and the Blacks, Mexicans
and poor whites
were sent there
to fight and win
as on tv
and on the radio
the fat white rich newscasters
first told us all about 
and then the fat rich white
told us
and again
and again
on almost every
tv and radio station
almost every minute
day and night
the Blacks, Mexicans
and poor whites
were sent there
to fight and win
at dawn
in a desert land
far enough away from

~ Charles Bukowski

To put an exclamation point on this: Cat Stevens was always in the background of my life during my college years. I loved his music. Every single song talked of a world we hoped to see. Yes, he is Yusuf Islam now. And he is still the picture of kindness. I want to spend more time listening to him than the political machinations that seem to be permeating the airwaves.

He first recorded "Peace Train" in 1971. Forty years ago. During that time, I discovered there's a peace train that runs through me, and that's the train I have to be on at all times if I'm ever to see the world I hoped for back then. Here is Yusuf :

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Happiness Comes in Bursts

Have you ever had a moment when everything felt right and good, a feeling washed over you or burst in through an open door somewhere inside you, and you knew everything had fallen into place?  I call them bursts of happiness and they stop me in my tracks for just a moment while I pause and say yes to life and life says yes to me. They don't happen often. I suppose that's what makes them feel so special.

My bursts of happiness can happen when I'm driving in a car, walking down the road, vacuuming my house, just living life, but always when I least expect them. A couple of days ago, as I was working in the kitchen, I just turned around and there it was: this perfect crystalline moment and life felt so darn sweet.

This morning I opened a book of poetry, as I'm wont to do, and there was none other than Charles Bukowski, a rather rough-edged fellow, looking back at me. His poems, surrounded by all this sad and serious melancholy, usually include just the tiniest bit of light coming through the cracks, his own bursts of happiness. So you see, it can happen to anybody. But, you probably already knew that.

The poem I opened to, "too sweet," reminded me of my own days at the race track. I didn't get there often, never took a trip solely for that purpose, but I recall at least one day in Arizona and more than a few in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I liked to play the ponies and I don't mind saying that. I was a pretty safe bettor, never went too far out on the financial limb.

One day, out of the blue, I decided to get a better look at the horses. It wasn't that I expected to get some inside information, but I like horses and those were some very pretty horses. On my way back to the stands, as I stood and watched them being ridden to the starting gate, a dark-haired fellow silently moved next to me. I was momentarily uncomfortable. Then he quietly said, "Bet on 7." Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I walked to a betting booth and placed my bet, covering Number 7.  Couldn't tell you the horse's name now, which is a shame, but in that one bet my entire trip was paid for.

I don't think I've been back since, not because I saw the error of my ways, but for lack of opportunity. Life took me in another direction and my time at the track was over. No regrets. I like going out a winner. Here's Bukowski to tell you how it feels. And not just about winning at the track, but life in those moments when there's an open door in your heart you didn't even know was there and happiness comes bursting through.

"too sweet"

I have been going to the track for so
long that
all the employees know
and now with winter here
it's dark before the  last
as I walk to the parking lot
the valet recognizes my
slouching gait
and before I reach him
my car is waiting for me,
lights on, engine warm.
the other patrons
(still waiting)
"who the hell is that

I slip the valet a
tip, the size depending upon the
luck of the
day (and my luck has been amazingly
good lately)
and I then am in the machine and out on
the street
as the horses break
from the gate.

I drive east down Century Blvd.
turning on the radio to get the result of that
last race.

at first the announcer is concerned only with
bad weather and poor freeway
we are old friends: I have listened to his
voice for decades but,
of course, the time will finally come
when neither of us will need to
clip our toenails or
heed the complaints of our
women any longer.

meanwhile, there is a certain rhythm
to the essentials that now need
attending to.
I light my cigarette
check the dashboard
adjust the seat and
weave between a Volks and a Fiat.
as flecks of rain spatter the
I decide not to die just
this good life just smells too

~ Charles Bukowski  (1920-1994)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"The Secret Life Begins Early..."

When I was a child I had a favorite tree I would spend time with when I needed someone to talk to. I would trudge across the field in front of our house and into the woods beyond where a large and very old white pine stood waiting. If I pressed my ear against its rough bark and held it close, I could hear the wind whistling through it, telling me its secrets. Then, I would tell it a secret or two of my own.

Shortly after I moved here, two summers ago, I felt drawn to one particular Norway among many in the back yard. It seemed to be beckoning to me, and so I walked over to it, held it close, and told it how happy I was to be here. That winter, nine deer came regularly to browse beneath it. Quite often three or four would stay to bed down as night fell, then leave at first light.

These trees that surround my house make me feel loved and protected. I am honored to live among them, to be in their presence.  They still tell me secrets. Sometimes, I tell them mine.

When you write late at night
it's like a small fire
in a clearing, it's what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get too close to it.
It's why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who'll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing;
a secret life is that important.

~ Stephen Dunn, from, "A Secret Life"

The photographs are mine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Where Anything Could Happen

"There was this funny thing of anything could happen now that we realized everything had."
 ~ Raymond Carver

For information on "Ghosts of Paris" and the person who created them:


Thanks to Tony Zimnoch at:  for pointing me in their direction with his latest post.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Next of Kin to the Wayward Wind

There's a crazy wind blowing around out there tonight, making the natives restless ... Buddy, mostly. Earlier he kept coming up to me with this stricken smile ('cause goldens rarely stop smiling), as if to say, "Please, make it stop, Ma." He wanted to go outside as it's his favorite place to be but the wind was whipping up the scent of something and he didn't like it. When he stuck his nose out I thought I heard the dim call of a coyote or two, so I suspect that's the cause of his reluctance. I finally put him in his crate and I think he prefers it; there's a more peaceful and protected feeling there. Hope he doesn't have to pee anymore tonight.

Early this morning, as we turned the page to a new chapter, I awoke with a call to sweep the kitchen floor. It has a sense of parable about it, doesn't it?  Rumi mentions it in at least one of his poems and Christ Jesus mentions it a time or two if I'm not mistaken. I would imagine it holds a place in many traditions, spiritual and otherwise. So, I swept out the old and, in doing so, prepared for the new ... whatever that turns out to be.

Not so new is this recording by the great Patsy Cline. Several folks recorded this song, but this is the one that helped raise me and I prefer it.  I pretty much prefer anything sung by Patsy. BTW: The photograph is one I took on the road to Valentine, Nebraska as I drove out west last year. I take its picture every chance I get. Talk about the potential for wind ... Anyway, without further ado, here's Patsy: