“Side-Yard” Succulent Tsunami

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

In addition to calculating final grades for the past semester, I spent part of yesterday working on a brief speech in praise of my undergraduate student, Melissa Tang, who wrote a superb syllabic poem in one of my classes and was awarded the Beatrice and John Janesco Prize at the English Department’s annual banquet to honor its best students. Several of my colleagues gave very fine comments about our students’ writing, especially Patty Seyburn, George Hart, and Lisa Glatt.

Mid-day, on a walk to get just a bit of exercise, I noticed that the lobes of an enormous cactus appeared to touch the window of an adjacent second floor apartment. I didn’t have a camera with a telephoto lens, but I am sorely tempted to splurge on equipment just to get such a shot.




Side Fence Toil and Sidle

Tuesday morning, May 23, 2017

I drove up to KPFK’s studio on Saturday morning to record three poems as a reprise of the “Sunset Strip, 1967” reading a few weeks ago at the West Hollywood Library. Kim Dower, who had organized the reading, asked us to be in North Hollywood by 10:00 a.m., and I was not the most cheerful person heading off early on a Saturday morning from Long Beach in order to get up there in time. The day turned out, however, to be a scorcher, and on the drive back I was grateful that the recording session had not been scheduled for 3 p.m. I would not have wanted to commence my round-trip shortly after noon. Perhaps someday I will have a car with air-conditioning, but until then the various commutes I undertake are often an exhausting grind. I had free tickets on faculty and staff day to see a CSULB Dirtbags baseball game at 2 p.m. They went unused. I was glad to hear in the days after that no player suffered heatstroke.

Kim divided the recording session into two half-hour parts, the first one featuring Yvonne Estrada, Brendan Constantine, and Laurel Ann Bogen. The second one included Lynne Thompson and myself, with Elena Carina Byrne being recorded over the phone afterwards. I’ve been to these studios a dozen or so times over the past several decades; like Beyond Baroque, it’s a quirky miracle that KPFK has survived. The music critic, Steve Hochman, introduced himself after the reading at the library, and mentioned that he had been at the Darden Smith show that is the subject of one of the poem I read, “Sunset Blvd.”; it was a pleasure to dedicate the poem to him at the KPFK recording.

By the very late afternoon, it had cooled off enough that I was able to work at the side of our rented residence, and by the last smudge of twilight I had dug up most of the weeds that had grown since the onset of the winter rains, a period of steady moist air that I am already growing too fond of in my memory. There is just enough room to do some more planting and add a little more color to our domestic edges, so a trip to the plant store will be one of the first things we do after I finish grading papers for the Spring semester.

(l-r, clockwise: Kim Dower; Yvonne Estrada; Brendan Constantine, Laurel Ann Bogen)

Full Length Yellow Blooms

Flower Sun Plate

UNBD Soft Landing (Part Two)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Having found the “host” planet at Temple and Third too forbidding, the NanoDrone moved on to Temple and Mariquita.

An initial report of a similar terrain caused the crew to check its fuel gauge.

Long Tube Dense Pole

Soon after, a set of three yellow bands signaled that a landing site had been detected.

Three Yellow bands

The “Descent” began (as “a kind of renewal”):

Begin Descent

Descent Almost Complete

Ultra-Nano-Breastbone-Drone (UNBD) Steers to a Soft Landing (Part One: Hostile Terrain)

Just as mechanized exploratory crafts such “Rover,” “Pathfinder,” and “Sojourner” must consider very carefully the terrain that will serve as their landing spots, so too must every Ultra-Nano-Breastbone-Drone undertake a meticulous assessment of the exact area that will most likely provide a “soft landing.”

This recent record of an exploratory flight was “hacked” from top-level intelligence sources (courtesy of Bitter-Twitter-Foible-L’oeil-45: Stayin’ Alive) and is hereby distributed as a public service to fellow flight controllers.

Satellite Dish Pole

Dense Pole - 2

Dense Pole Onward One

Dense Pole - One

Shelter from the Storm

Rupert - 2017

When one rents, one never knows how long the landlord will retain the property and let the lease in place ride out its month to month contingency. We have lived in the same house for the past eight years, and I am grateful for the continuity. We live at a minor intersection, which is to say that it can be noisy on occasion, though at least two of the families on the other corners are friendly and kind, and there is a sense of a neighborhood. Most of the people in the most adjacent houses have lived here even longer than we have, so if a major emergency occurred, we would at least have some sense of this vicinity being our joint responsibility. We are its caretakers, if not uniformly its owners. The neighborhood is a plural self-possessed.

It’s final exams week at CSULB. Back at the very beginning of this semester, there was a knock on our front door. Brookes, who lives in an apartment behind us, and Jill, who lives across the street, had just happened to hear a cat meowing on the corner of Geoff and Dana’s house, and it was the meow of a lost and hungry cat. “Would you be able to keep the cat for just one night?” Jill asked. “I’ll take it to the vet tomorrow morning and see if it has a chip.” It had already been a very wet winter, and more rain was due soon. Ever if a storm was not due that night, it was very cold out. A strong wind from off the Pacific Ocean a half-mile away was definitely bringing more clouds by the next afternoon. The cat was big, probably a male, and its orange fur glowed in the porch light. “OK, one night.” Famous last words.

The chip turned out to have an initial registration date from eleven years ago. The registration had long expired. A rambunctious beast, it turned out, who must have perfected his act of drumming on windows until he’s let out at several other residences during the past decade. The first few nights were on the sleepless side. “Dogs have owners; cats have staff” is the old saying, and this cat regarded us as staff that needed to be properly trained.

He is still here, though I fear his habit of crossing the street to visit Jill’s house, without looking for traffic, is going to lead fatal consequences some day. It’s been hard to accept that a new cat lives where I once cared for my beloved Cordelia, but Rupert has a raffish charm and he certainly knows how to campaign. More than a few neighbors have reported that he spends time on their porches, wooing the attention of their small children. “Rupert” still feels like a temporary name, like an alias for someone trying to make up for someone else’s mistake. We have yet to take him to the vet, though a visit can’t be put off too much longer.

In the meantime, the chastening of an incompetent President continues to be the main order of business in Washington, D.C. Power ill-gotten can never lose its dubious legitimacy, and the process of indirect elections is hardly serving as an exemplary means of staffing the public sphere by a large-scale human relations department. In contrasting the very local and the national scenes, Rupert probably has a better chance of being ensconced in this house four years from now than Trump has of being re-elected and occupying the Oval Office in the spring of 2020. My bet: even if he’s removed from office, Trump will run for election again in 2019. Extraction from office will only exacerbate his lust for the illusion of political dignity. That man has grown too fond of the panoply of public rallies to settle for being a re-run on the History Channel. Unlike Nixon, Trump will demand our attention again. You heard it here first.

Trash Can Sundials

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trash Can Sundials

Photograph: Bill Mohr
(c) Bill Mohr, 2017

“Light and Line”: Hyesook Park’s Arcs of Stillness

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bowl - HSP

Hyesook Park’s current show of new and recent paintings spreads through several rooms at the Proxy Place Gallery in Chatsworth. The variety at work is exactly that: at work. One must bring an ability to shift from tone to tone in order to absorb the full intentions of any given painting. One of her paintings could be regarded as the best depiction of the enjambment at work in W.C. Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow.” The third pair of lines goes:

glazed with rain

Puddle - HyeSook

It is this enjambment that carries within its scoop the meaning of the “depends.” One can find a longer explication in my article in the William Carlos Williams Review. For the present moment, though, I would rather emphasize how Hyesook Park so deftly renders that almost unfathomably rapid transition between the state of “becoming” (symbolized by rain”) and “being” (the connotation of “water”). How can one possibly detect, let alone represent, the full import of this distinction? To keep them apart without imposing some binary of being and becoming on the perception is quite an accomplishment on her part. In fact, it seems a minor miracle that she has pulled it off and left the viewer reconciled to this simultaneity.

Puddle Up Close

Her exhibition includes several fine small and medium-sized paintings, such as “Bowl” and “Hand,” that reaffirm a seemingly archaic vision of modernity at its inception. In ignoring the allure of popular culture and social media, Hyesook Park reminds us of the rewards of a bold meditation on the “blue mountain” of one’s solitude. “Way,” for instance, depicts what might be ascertained as “satori’s swamp,” and yet the path is not lost, but glowing up from underneath as well as from some lunar source.
Way - Satori's Swamp - HSP

One painting reminds us that not all contemporary artists have surrendered to synthesizers and their equivalents. A traditional musical instrument, primarily played by women, straddles one painting, its pegs like stanchions on a bridge of melody awaiting to be plucked.

Koto Detail - HSP

SHOW: “Light and Line”
Hyesook Park
May 13-28, 2017
Proxy Place Gallery
19860 Plummer Street, Chatsworth, CA 91311
Monday; Wednesday; Friday: 12 – 4 p.m.
(Saturday: appointments only)

Mother’s Day: “Here Comes the Sun”

Sunday evening, May 14, 2017

Yesterday afternoon, after I visited my mother and delivered cards sent by my sister in Tennessee and a cousin in Michigan, Linda and I drove up to Chatsworth for the opening reception for Hye Sook Park’s new exhibition of paintings, which I will write about in a day or two; and then went on to her sister’s place in Thousand Oaks, where we celebrated Mother’s Day with her family. During my visit with my mother, I had asked if she would enjoy going to the small outdoor patio on the third floor. She sat quite happily in her wheelchair in the mild spring sun. Although she still recognizes me by name when I arrive, her personal narrative is steadily vanishing. This time she asked me if her mother and father were still alive. “I can’t remember whether they’ve died or not.” At least she can speak that sentence and know what the question means. One answer is all too obvious, but I allowed her to consider what their real age would be if they were alive, and let her work it out from there.

Today, though, as I sipped my first cup of coffee, I looked out the sliding glass door between Sharon’s kitchen and her patio and saw Noreen, the mother of the Cleary clan, sitting in a chair and enjoying the sun as much as my mother did yesterday. I suggested to Sharon that she should take a picture of Noreen accompanied by a metal sculpture of her favorite animal, the rooster. A few minutes after Sharon snapped the picture, Noreen got up from her chair and shifted to another chair, which positioned her sideways to the sun’s outpouring. My thanks to Sharon for graciously hosting us, as she has done for well over the decade and a half I have been part of her extended family, and for sending me this photograph and giving me permission to use it.


Melchor Peredo’s mural “Una Revolución Continua”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Rachel Levitsky, David Shook, and I had a brief break in the late afternoon of our first full day at FILU in Veracruz, so we walked up a hill past a large public park and briefly visited a market, during which we each fortified ourselves with a cup of strong coffee. We talked about possibilities of visiting the anthropological museum the next day, or of going to the beach in Veracruz. I eventually chose to accompany Forrest Gander and his friend to the museum, and Rachel went to the beach. On Thursday, though, we settled for a quick visit to the Cathedral in Xalapa, which has an enormous statue of the crucifixion of Christ above the altar; the scale of the body is so large and imposing, in fact, that it repels any temptation to be in its immediate vortex. Perhaps this is intentional, for we found ourselves quickly lingering in the rear of the cathedral, where a believer might find solace in the more proportionate depiction of a “Stabat Mater Dolorosa.” We paused only long enough for me to take this photograph, and then headed back to our hotel on a casual route that brought us to a halt. Across the street from a set of outdoor book stalls adjacent to the cathedral was a walkway that led us past an alcove to a large building guarded by a heavily armed soldier. Just past where he stood, I noticed that an interior wall of the alcove had a mural; as I walked closer to take a photograph, I realized that all the walls of this alcove were covered by this mural, “Una revolucion Continua.” It was painted in 2010 by Melchor Peredo, who was born in 1927. I didn’t know his birthdate at the time, so it in retrospect that I express an even greater degree of respect for his skill, commitment and passion. The subjugations depicted in the mural certainly justify the need for the continuity of resistance; in particular, Rachel pointed to the figure of a conquistador stretched out on his side, attempting to sleep, but unable to vanquish the memories of the atrocities he has committed.

Stabat Mater - VC - 1

The Anthropological Museum at Xalapa has on display the remnants of what survived the European invasion. In particular, I was struck by a piece of sculpture that surpassed most work done in Europe, even at the height of its artistic endeavors. “Gemelos,” which means Gemini, depicts the circulating bond infusing a set of twins who are about to deliver a box whose contents may well be unknown to its carriers. They are primarily conscious of their palpable contact with each other: an overlapping pair of feet is matched by hands rubbing against each other at the rear bottom of the box. The mystery of its contents is amplified by the uncertainty of their joint heft: are they about to move the box to some spot known only to them, or have they just arrived at their destination, and are about to reveal the marvels inside? (While the museum’s lighting is more than adequate to appreciate the extraordinary vivacity of this sculpture, I regret that my antiquated cell phone yielded only this image, smeared with my reflection.)

Gemelos - Front

Gemelos - Rear

Sandy Flees Jackson, Michigan (Trump Territory)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sandy Flees Jackson, Michigan

Last summer, I happened to find myself in Jackson, Michigan, and ended up using the public library in order to write my friends Larry and Nancy Goldstein in Ann Arbor about the possibility of visiting them before I headed back to Long Beach. Although I was willing to take the train, they very kindly saved me the trouble and made a round-trip to pick me up, where I spent what proved to be a very delightful time with them. After writing from a computer in Jackson’s library, I went to a local version of an enormous grocery outlet, at the front area of which, near the cash registers, was one of those children’s mechanical rides that I remember along with gumball machines as being ever-present, if infrequently used, in my childhood. The price tag on the ride seemed to be less of a “loss leader” than a comment on the disparity between what jobs paid and what things cost. If “Sandy” could have voted, she would have shown some horse sense and cast her lot with Bernie Sanders. At that point in the election, though, she had little choice but to get the hell out of Jackson.

It is a grossly overweight town. While I certainly need to lose more than a few pounds as I verge on my 70th birthday, I had never before been around so many young and middle-aged people whose girths reflected bad diets. Given that Jackson voted overwhelmingly for Trump, one has to wonder about the relationship between a diet lacking in sufficient vegetables and fruits and political naivete. I suspect that their allegiance to a fast food regimen hasn’t changed since the inauguration of the 45th president, so those of us who want a government that respects intelligent imagination have work ahead of us that will require us to take control of the political machinery. For too long, we have sold our votes for a penny a ride.

One Cent Sign - Jackson