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October 31, 2013

Gathered at the River by Denise Levertov

Gathered at the River by Denise Levertov

for Beatrice Hawley and John Jagel

As if the trees were not indifferent…

A breeze flutters the candles but the trees give off
a sense of listening, of hush.

The dust of August on their leaves.
But it grows dark. Their dark green
is something known about, not seen.

But summer twilight takes away
only color, not form. The tree-forms,
massive trunks and the great domed heads,
leaning in towards us, are visible,

a half-circle of attention.

They listen, because the war
we speak of, the human war with ourselves,

the war against earth
against nature,
is a war against them.

The words are spoken
of those who survived a while,
lying shadowgraphs, eyes fixed forever
on witnessed horror,

who survived to give
testimony, that none
may plead ignorance.
Contra naturam. The trees,
the trees are not indifferent.

We intone together, Never again,

we stand in a circle,
singing, speaking, making vows,
remembering the dead
of Hiroshima,
of Nagasaki.

We are holding candles: we kneel to set them
afloat on the dark river
as they do there in Hiroshima. We are invoking

saints and prophets
heroes and heroines of justice and peace,
to be with us, to help us
stop the torment of our evil dreams. . .


Wind threatened flames bob on the current . . .

They don’t get far from shore. But none capsizes
even in the swell of a boat’s wake.

The waxy paper cups sheltering them
catch fire. But still the candles
sail their gold downstream.

And still the trees ponder our strange doings, as if
well aware that if we fail,
we fail also for them:
if our resolves and prayers are week and fail

there will be nothing left of their slow and innocent wisdom,

no roots
no bole nor branch,

no memory
of shade
of leaf,

no pollen

October 26, 2013

Neal Kicks the Bucket

Have no fear, Neal is not dead. He just kicked the bucket.

When Neal was a teenager, about 13 or 14, in the so-called ‘stupid’ years because that’s when you tend to misunderstand cause and effect relationships, Neal was in the backyard looking after his squirt little brother, Noel. Noel was about 3 or 4, sitting in the sandbox, drooling. Neal was often called on by his working mom to look after Noel, but he disliked his brother because he was a baby.

Neal wanted to be a football star, kicking was his specialty. He was, in fact, dribbling a volleyball and bouncing it against the outer wall of the house. If anyone had been inside at the moment, he would have been in big trouble.

Then he got bored, but he had no intention of going down to play in the sandbox with his little squirt brother Noel. Then he spotted it. Noel had left a plastic bucket of sand outside the sandbox on the near side. He was inside the sandbox gurgling and shoveling sand up and down like an idiot.

Neal made a plan. He would take a running start and place-kick the bucket so that the sand would spray all over Noel like a sandstorm. He could see it all before it happened. The running start, the plastic bucket full of sand, the tidal wave on his brother’s head – the perfect plan.

Neal shifted his weight back and then forward on his left leg. Then he took the five or six steps to the bucket. Then he put all his weight and muscle into the kick. Then he screamed. Noel looked up in his direction. What’s your problem? Noel went back to shoveling sand.

A plastic bucket full of sand may as well be full of cement. It’s not powdered sugar or fairy dust. It is extremely heavy. Perhaps the sand was even wet. Neal rammed his foot into the bucket and the most it did was topple over on its side. No spray. Only a scream of pain. Neal would have felt the same thing if he’d kicked with all his might the side wall of the house. His big toe started to swell inside his tennis shoe.

When his mother came home, Neal said that everything was fine. When she saw him limping, he said he’d gotten a splinter in his sole, but had taken it out. That was a lie; his big toe was broken. Neal tried to hide his pain and the swelling and discoloration for several weeks, until his toe partially healed. Getting out of gym class was particularly challenging. Things inside his shoe eventually got back to normal.

The price of a practical joke: that’s what Neal learned from this episode. He’s now in his fifties, and every so often his big toe on his kicking foot still hurts like hell. It reminds him that, although his dear brother, Noel, is in his forties, Neal would still like to dump a load of sand on his head.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: An electrician was out late one night and met his wife in the kitchen as he sneaked in the front door.
  His wife asked, "Wire ya insulate?"
  He replied, "Watts it to ya, I'm ohm, ain't I?"
Jeff: Not electrician jokes again!
Mutt: That wasn’t a joke.
Jeff: I know. Okay. A manufacturer of electric light bulbs was talking to the owner of a theater. "I'd like to supply you with bulbs for your marquee," the manufacturer said, "and it won't cost you a penny. It will enable me to realize a lifelong ambition."
  "If I accept the free bulbs," the curious theater manager asked, "will you tell me about this ambition of yours?"
  "Certainly," the man said. "It's just that I've always dreamed of seeing my lights up in names!"
Mutt: Mine was better. If electricity comes from electrons, does that mean that morality comes from morons?
Jeff: You would know. Say, did you hear that in Baltimore, the Psychic Friends Network has filed for bankruptcy. They say they never saw it coming.
Mutt: Hey, Some people are wise, and some, otherwise.
Jeff: And I wanted to be a mime, but I talked myself out of it.

October 5, 2013

Annual Quiz Winners

Hello Fans,
The response to this year’s quiz was terrifyingly terrific. Literally or figuratively thousands of you responded, all wrong of course. I'm keeping all the prizes. The most popular answers were that all those bigshots listed were alien spies or that they all spoke of the pompetous of love or both. I’ll give the correct answer in a second, but let me tell a story first.
I was in Yreka, California in late August trying to get to Tracy, California. Seems simple enough, they’re both on Interstate 5, about a 5 hour drive. But I had no car. When I got to the local bus station, an hour walk on sore feet, they said I could take a Siskiyou Stage bus to Weed. I was a bit suspicious of a town named Weed in the cannabis heart of the West. I got traveling clothes at Walmart. After 8 hours in Yreka, I got the bus to Weed.
The Greyhound station was smaller than my living room and on the outskirts of town. So what? The fat Jackie Gleason guy chewing an unlit cigar said he’d sell me a ticket but the bus came through at 11 pm, an 8 hour wait. Then I’d have to wait over 5 hours in the Sacramento station, most of the night, to get the morning bus to Tracy. I took the ticket and walked around town in 100 degree heat,  sore feet and giardia. Weed, named after Abner Weed, had a nice lumber industry museum that nobody had visited in weeks. It was air-conditioned. The volunteer docent wanted to talk. I also sat on a bench in the shade outside the crafts store and strolled all the aisles of the supermarket without buying anything. Then the whole town closed and it got dark. Then several hours later the bus came. Does it sound like I’m complaining about public transportation services in Northern California? I had nothing but time, 30 hours in all. O.k. yeah, I wanted to get home.
In Sacramento I asked if there wasn’t a faster way to get to Tracy. Yes there was. Go through Modesto. I’ll take it. Got to Modesto at 5 am, leaving at 8:30. Except that the bus station was closed and overrun with the homeless. It was interesting to be the only person who was actually traveling amongst about 100 roaming, ranting, awake and prowling unfortunate souls. Most asked me for a cigarette, and everyone checked the trash can next to me hoping there’d be a half sandwich sitting on top.
It was a bit like being in an open air insane asylum. Not as scary as you’d think, no one seemed threatening (though I'm sure they had it in them). Everyone conserved some dignity. One young woman sat next to me and spent half an hour on her skin care, her mirror hanging on her shopping cart. I mostly sat reading my book, but also talked to a few of the inmates (outmates?) with pleasure. Finally it got light, the station opened, I got my ride and home. Sunrise amongst the homeless Modestoans was something I won’t forget.
O.k., you guessed it. Everyone on the list was homeless at some time in their lives. Some for a short time, living in a car or sleeping in the park, some for years. Be kind to the homeless, they may be next year’s stars.
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Burl Ives
  • Carmen Electra
  • Cary Grant
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Colonel Harland Sanders
  • Daniel Craig
  • Danny Bonaduce
  • David Letterman
  • Debbie Reynolds
  • Djimon Hounsou
  • Don Imus
  • Dr. Phil McGraw
  • Drew Carey
  • Eartha Kitt
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • George Eads (CSI)
  • George Orwell
  • Gordon Parks
  • Halle Berry
  • Harry Houdini
  • Heather Mills
  • Hilary Swank
  • Jack Kerouac
  • Jaco Pastorius
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • Jewel
  • Jim Carrey
  • Jim Cramer
  • Jim Morrison
  • Joan Rivers
  • John Drew Barrymore (father of Drew)
  • John Garfield
  • John Muir
  • John Woo
  • Kelly Clarkson
  • Kelsey Grammer
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Lil’ Kim
  • Martin Sheen
  • Patti Smith
  • Rose McGowan
  • Sam Worthington
  • Shania Twain
  • Sly Stone
  • Steve Jobs
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Traci Lords
  • Troy Donahue
  • Tupac Shakur
  • Tyler Perry
  • Vachel Lindsay
  • William Shatner
  • Woody Guthrie

Oh, wait, there’s a name missing. I was traveling by thumb and 10 cents a day through the Middle East (not Middle Earth, though I was reading the Trilogy) in 1978-79, and more nights than not I slept in the fields or behind the train station. Once I slept under a truck, for two weeks I slept every night on trains. The benches in the parks aren’t that uncomfortable. All for poverty and adventure. I didn’t eat out of trashcans, but I did accept handouts a lot, lived for days and days on Arab bread alone, slept in garages and storage rooms, once on an office desk. The cops mostly left me alone. In Greece a German woman put 5 marks in my hand while I was napping on top of my backpack. I bought ice cream. Then I took the ferry to Italy and the rest is his-story.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Show me the first president's dentures, and I'll show you the George Washington Bridge.
Jeff:  Show me a famous composer's liquor cabinet and I'll show you Beethoven's Fifth.
Mutt:  Show me where Stalin's buried and I'll show you a communist plot.
Jeff:  Speaking of criminals, Arthur Winchester lives in a small town where everyone calls each other by his or her first name. In fact, everywhere he goes, Arthur is greeted by calls of "Hey there, Arty." "How's it going, Arty?" or "How are the kids doing, Arty?"
            One fine afternoon, Arthur decided to go shopping. So he went to Pop's Grocery store and got everything he needed. Then he went to the counter to check out and chatted with Pop for a while. Finally Pop rung up Arthur's bill and Arty paid gladly. But when Pop was handing Arthur back a dollar bill as change he dropped it and it fell to the floor. Pop's son, who happened to be there as well, picked it up, but before he could hand it to Arty, Arty suddenly got outrageously mad and grabbed Pop's son by the throat and squeezed and squeezed until Pop's son dropped the dollar.
           Then Pop's wife picked up the dollar bill. Again, Arty got very angry and grabbed her by the neck, throttling her and shouting, "Give me my dollar! Give it to me now!" Finally, she dropped the dollar.
            Then Pop picked up the dollar. Arthur then grabbed him by the neck and strangled and strangled, shouting for his dollar bill until Pop too let go of the dollar and Arty was able to get it and go on his way.
            The whole town was buzzing for months about the headline in the next day's paper: Arty chokes three for a dollar at local grocery store.
Mutt:  Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.