Sunday, March 30, 2008

Song Circle

I’m lost in my chord changes, trying to keep up with the beat
And the march of the thirty other people playing this song –
The song takes me into that magical place, where
Rhythm and tone, vibration and beat
Become the entire world, at least for a while.

Richard sits in the middle of it all, gently moving us along
Through the song, and onto the next one, giving each one of us
A moment of attention, here and there, each of us feeling
Truly welcome, and truly special.

We come to one of his favorites, and he asks us to carefully tune,
And we go through the song, and all are caught up in its particular
Sweetness, all of us playing our best.
There are a few wet eyes among us, for it truly is a beautiful song,
Made even more special today, strangers and friends, coming

We play on, and I have a moment for that rare bird’s eye view of my playing
And I see the progress I’ve made, and I see where I need to go.
The guy next to me, its his first time here, and I see him struggle,
And figure something out, and see his playing pushed, just a bit,
And a grin on his face, as he realizes he made it through the song
Just fine.

An hour flies by, and its time for the break.
Coffee, tea, and good conversations erupt all over.
The buzz is about instruments, song circles, techniques, workshops,
The joy of getting something to come together, and the joy of being

Another hour of playing, more challenges, more achievements, more beauty,
And then, its over, all too soon. Sadly, we move to put our instruments away,
And stack the sheet music books back where they belong.
Drifting slowly away, the music remains
In my heart.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Coffee Klatch

Small town cafĂ©—
We all know each other,
Except for the tourists coming in
Out of the rain, looking for “coast food”
Clam chowder and smoked salmon, I guess.

None of that here, but the tomato soup and the turkey
Sandwich are good today, or the enchilada.
Don’t forget the carrot cake, or the big ginger snaps,
And coffee.

Gotta have the coffee. Cups are over there, by the pot.
Serve yourself. The locals know all this, and just toss
Their dollars onto the cookie case when they come in,
Not bothering the cashier, who is talking on the phone,
Or helping get ready for the lunch rush, or back in the cooler,
Getting more turkey out for the sandwiches.

She’ll usually only come back out front if there is a shout the coffee’s about dry
Or some tourist walks in, wanting clam chowder or directions to the beach,
Until the Regulars leave, and then she’ll count the money, and fill the till.

Don’t sit at that table. It’s nearly ten, and time for the
Ten O’Clockers, the Regulars—
Some still buzzed from the Eight O’Clock Coffee Klatch,
At that other place, down the road.
Oh, only some of the Regulars hit both groups, but the news
Is still the same, and needs to be told and hashed over
Again, and again,
Often with some new twists and theories.
Stay around long enough and the story will change completely—
To a version you want to believe, at last.

Leftist Conspiracy and City Folk Power Hunger are the popular ones—
Bureaucratic follies and political jokes abound—
Funny only to those who are Right Wing.
Proud to be Red Necks, this group, or so they want to be
Until its their ox being gored, or their family member in a bind.

When the tables turn, they want what everyone else wants
And pretty darn fast, pushing their way to the head of the line,
Their own politics then be damned, when its their turn in the barrel.

I sip my coffee nearby, trying to talk sense with a friend. We share our views
Of what we read from that New York Times columnist this morning—
Speaking in near whispers, out of the earshot of the Regulars,
Whose guffaws over a racist or sexist joke (take your pick)
Flll the room


Young man
In trouble—
Its epidemic
In this town
In his family
In our country.

Lost his girlfriend
Nearly became a dad—
Too early, and not his choice in a mom
But she looked good when he was drunk—
What he can remember.

Now, about to lose his license,
His prospects for the job he wants,
And more money down the drain,
Unless he changes.

At the crossroads, a serious talk—
Lay it on the line
Where the rubber meets the road—
Its time to change, he finally decides.

Not wanting to be the town drunk, not wanting to follow his brother
To jail, to rehab, to never having a license,
Or kill someone he loves,
Including himself.
It sinks in.

He leaves
Ready to change, I hope—
A worthwhile half hour of
Laying it on the line,
A wakeup call,
One that’s finally being heard
As he heads down the hall.

A Moment

A Moment
A friend, his wife, their daughter, on a Spring Break trip
Nearly home, my buddy driving, everyone else asleep—
Suddenly, crazy speeder behind them, not slowing,
Hits them, and pushes the three into the
Oncoming lane
To meet
Head on
Another car.

More innocents
Horrific crash
A split second in time
Lives changed

Idiot speeder
Races off
Back down the road
Soon to abandon the van
And run away.

Cowards in the night
Fleeing from the carnage they caused
To wait for the ambulances.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Uninvited, Again

Uninvited, Again

You wear many faces, and take many forms
As you come into my life at the most awkward, inconvenient times.
And sometimes, you are Anger, and sometimes, Sorrow, and sometimes
Guilt, and sometimes you just take me on a rollercoaster of feelings and thoughts,
Bringing me tears of laughter, and devastation and sadness and joy,
And sometimes, its all at the same time.

You don’t give me pause to catch my breath, or gain my footing,
As I slide around in the muck of it all, slipping and groping,
Until I find myself out of breath, and out of feelings,
Wondering what hit me, and made me stop
And grieve all over again, just like that first day
When Death came right into my face, and I finally understood the term
Grim Reaper.

You came, uninvited as usual, when Dad died, and my favorite aunt,
And my grandparents, and then my mom, and, oh yeah,
When two of my friends died after wrestling with cancer.
You know you’re not invited, but you stick your nose in my life

And, so I pick up my guitar, and I walk on the beach, and I sing in the shower
And on the way home from work, and I tend to my roses, and drink wine with my wife
On a beautiful sunny day, and then you don’t come around very much.
Yet, you still plan your ambushes, and jump me when I least expect it –
Like the times I’m driving down the road, and I suddenly burst into tears
And mourn the death of my Dad, some twenty four years ago, just like it was

Oh, Grief, you will not get the best of me, and I will keep sending you on your way.
I know I must wrestle with you, and I must deal with the memories of those who have
Died, and I must remember the good times and the bad times.
And, it is in the remembering that my loved ones live on, and you keep your

Sunday, March 16, 2008



Between the downpours that flooded the lawn
And sent the earthworms onto the sidewalk
And filled the ditches by the side of the lane
So that leaves and refuge scraps of shingles plied the new rapids—
There was unity.

Between the howls of uber-wind, never wanting to stop,
Shaking the house to its core and finally topping the centuries old
Eagle Tree in the pasture, flinging its roots to the sky,
There was unity.

Amid the Gore-Tex clad linemen, and the spontaneous crews of
Chainsaw-armed road clearing crews, creators of a new roar in the air,
There was unity.

In the convoy of PUD trucks leaving at daybreak, their crews
Barely awake after four hours of sleep, their hydraulic buckets still
Covered with tree needles and sawdust from the day before,
There was unity.

As the shopkeeper sold matches, candles, and canned soup in the
Dark, on credit to a neighbor in need, and the postmistress selling me
Stamps, and sorting mail with a headband flashlight, while telling a joke,
There was unity.

In the eyes of the firemen, lining up in the deli for lunch,
Their turnouts covered with sawdust and grime, and in the
Eyes of the man whose trailer was still floating in the waters, and the
Farmer, who had spent all night saving his cows from drowning, and then doing the
Milking by generator and lantern light,
There was unity.

After the floodwaters, after the winds, after the endless stream of black clouds
Flying across the skies, after the waves tore at the beaches, after the rivers and bays
Filled with freshly slain trees and newly launched log-boats,
Amidst the blue skies and now drying asphalt,
There was unity.

Neighbor helping neighbor, stranger stopping to saw up the tree leaning on the roof,
As another came by to clear a ditch, move some limbs, hook up the phone, turn on the power—
Reaching out to others, listening to the stories, offering comfort, giving a hand,
There was unity.

Two Shooting Stars

Two shooting stars,
One a bright blaze towards the sun, an hour from rising,
The second, headed for the ocean.

Both awakening me from deep, cold night sleep
As Orion danced his Autumn dance across the predawn sky.

An omen? A message from the gods?
Or just the opening act of the dawn?

Johnny Cash and Me, Together

Johnny Cash and Me, Together

Johnny and I sang together, in perfect pitch
our harmonies blending, and filling the room with our songs
of life and heaven and being with the Lord.

Song after song, Johnny and me, each one getting better,
each one improved with my voice, adding another line of melody onto his.
Oh, he played the guitar and he sang so clear, and my excuse
was that I left my guitar in the house, and I just stopped by
to lift my weights and ride my exercise bike,
and to ponder my new painting, and perhaps
decide what brush and what tube of paint comes next.

I happened to put Johnny into the stereo, and crank up the volume
simply to pass the time while I peddled the bike, and look at my canvas.
But Johnny, he’s so cool, he asked me to sing along
and I couldn’t say no, especially when it seemed
my voice blended so well with his as we did the whole album.

Next time, I’ll bring my guitar, and I may even steal the solo,
at least once, and give him a run for his money. Oh, he’s good,
but with me joining in, it sounded even better.

I knew he was happy, how it all turned out,
it was, after all, a good session, and I was a good partner,
never once louder than him, and my bass line was just right.
We’re partners now, and sounding pretty good.
I can’t wait to teach him some tricks of my own.

Pardon My Anger Tonight, Mr. President

Pardon My Anger Tonight, Mr. President

Today, the proud Vietnam veteran father tells me of his daughter,
the disarmer of bombs in Baghdad
earning her Bronze Star
but not able to tell of how she comes close to dying nearly every day,
due to “national security”.

The president addresses the nation tonight
wanting more troops to fight more of this war,
not convincing us, a nation of warriors and protesters
of Vietnam, who all well know the decades of
dream terrors and insanities of a senseless war
that achieved death and destruction but gained us
no glory, no land, nor any freedom for anyone, except the refugees
we took with us when we left, tails between our legs.

We know too well the suicides, the alcoholics, the drug addicts,
the practitioners of domestic violence, who have filled our courts
and our prisons, and our homeless shelters, and our mental hospitals –
all the product of a war that served no national purpose.

We who have lived with that have seen this war come upon us,
and we remember not only the cemeteries, but also the nightmares,
the broken spirits, and have felt the agonies of lost souls
living next door, and walking on our streets, and drifting slowly away,
too numb to tell us of their pain, yet screaming in the middle of the night.

So, pardon us for not jumping on your bandwagon, Mr. President.
We wave the flag, and applaud our soldiers in the airports, and we
attend their funerals in solemn silence, hands over our hearts, tears
streaming down our cheeks, and we do this
not for your war, and your sense of history and hunger for glory and fame,
but because these young men and women, brave and courageous every one,
put their lives on the line for their country, and their own sense of honor and purpose,
not buying into your politics and your thirst for destiny and personal pride.

We watch your daughters grow to adulthood, and enjoying the drunken parties
of a private college, and move into careers, safely protected in their high-rise offices, and
gated-community McMansions – no soldiers are they, and not
candidates for the Bronze Star for having to diffuse bombs in Baghdad today.
You haven’t even attended one of our soldiers’ funerals, so how do you
know this kind of pain, you who evaded Vietnam by drinking in Alabama?

And, pardon our anger at this repeated insanity, of a war being fought
likely to enrich your friends, and the oil companies, and God knows what other deals
made in fancy bars and restaurants, and smoke-filled back rooms,
where we haven’t been invited and where our concerns are not on the agenda,
and where the blood of our young men and women isn’t even given a value,
though more and more of it is spilled every day.

We watch the former dictator, the mass executioner of the Kurds, and the oppressor
of his people, hanged before a mocking group of soldiers and puppet government types,
the justice of it all ignored in a rush for more blood, more vengeance, and tribal wars,
to which we were never a party and never had an interest, and where, twenty years from now, our national sacrifice will simply be a footnote to their civil war, and their
religious bickering, going on for another thousand years.

And, their bickering is only slightly more violent and more hypocritical than our own,
And then you end your speech to tell us that God blesses America.
Yet, I wonder if God is, instead, crying for America and for Iraq, and for all war.
And, how many of us feel like joining God in a good cry tonight?

Let them deal with their own views of their own God, and their own theological infighting, and who divides their oil profits and who has this year’s right to pilfer the national treasury, and lead the prayers at the local mosque.

And let us tend to our own problems, and feed and clothe our children, and
provide health care to the sick, and the old, and the insane—
and the tens of thousands of new veterans of a foolish war, who will soon be wandering
our streets looking for a job, or maybe just their sanity –
new veterans, repeating the aftermath of Vietnam and all that it wasn’t.

Make way in the courts, and the homeless shelters, and the unemployment lines,
but not the mental hospitals or the veterans’ clinics, for there is no money now for those,
and let us become ready to meet this new generation fighting a senseless war,
and maybe, again, when we do this all over again, with a new generation of survivors,
we will do it better.
After all, Mr. President, doesn’t practice make perfect?

The Year Is Coming To An End

This year is coming to an end. I feel it in the cold wind driving down the canyons of the coastal rivers, in the roadside hail and slush from last night’s torrent of cold rain, hail, and icy winds. The winter sun, in midafternoon, is almost touching the southern horizon over the slate gray ocean. There’s a big surf, but there’s also whitecaps going against the waves, driven by the icy wind.

I drive into the quaint, coastal-tourist town, now healing a bit from the storm nearly a month ago. Fallen trees are gone, power poles are restored, and there is a bustle of activity on the main street, as the town has filled up for the New Year’s celebration. There’s an excitement in the air. Its time to celebrate, even if its just the turning of the calendar. We are all, perhaps, ready for a new year, a fresh start.

I meet my hearing aid specialist at his beach house. His wife and granddaughter are running around, excited to be leaving for a stroll on the beach. A fire blazes in the wood stove, and the cabin is losing its winter chill. They are all thrilled to have left the City, and found their way to their beach retreat, ready to relax and enjoy the ocean and the quiet town and just some time together. The little girl tells me her name is Victory and she is three. And, at her next birthday, she will be four. For her, this is profound and she is filled with seriousness in this telling.

The bookstore is crowded, with book lovers poring over the new titles, finding some treasure to read on New Year’s Day, in the quiet of their cabins and motel rooms. Every time I come to this town, I have to stop here. Where else does one find a poster of Hemingway next to one of Poe, and next to Che Guevara smoking a cigar? One lady’s loud voice fills the store with her opinions on authors and her review of her family holiday gatherings. Her companion looks pained and embarrassed for her, and simply wants to find a book and leave. The rest of us nod silently in agreement, and sympathy.

The book store clerk recognizes me as both a local and a regular, and greets me with a grin, and a grimace at the loud lady’s commentary. The normal atmosphere here is a hushed excitement about books and quiet conversations about new discoveries and greetings with old friends, culminating with a stroll to the coffee house a few blocks away, new books in hand.

I, too, am drawn to the coffee house, and the owner makes me a great latte, and wishes me a joyous new year. The hot coffee feels especially delightful as I make my way back to the car, the chill winds of the late afternoon making me glad I have my fleece and my coat on, but wishing for my gloves and hat.

Driving home, along two bays, the beach, and across a number of rivers, the solstice time emits a slow, weak light that turns everything to silver. Even green trees have a glint of platinum, as they reflect in the bay waters at high tide. The sun hides behind thin clouds, its aurora turning fat as it fills the lower sky over the bay and the ocean. All too soon, the light fades even more, and its dusk at 4:30. At least, the days are getting longer now, if only by a few minutes.

The gas station attendant gives me a wave, as he scrubs my windshield clean of the last week’s worth of rain, sleet, and road mud. He’s happy to be working, and he knows we last saw each other as he was shuffling down the courthouse halls, in belly chains, on his way to court. We don’t mention that meeting, and we both prefer to simply wish each other a happy new year. And life goes on.

Darkness now upon me, and I pull into my driveway. The lights are on, bringing a warm bronzy feeling to the cold night air. I open the door and the warmth and smell of dinner and the arms of my loving wife await me.

Defining Creativity On A Sunday Morning

Defining Creativity On A Sunday Morning

The lines
Kept changing, as the charcoal moved—
The paper, getting darker in some places,
More defined, showing where the light would fall
On the form slowly appearing on the page
As I drew on.

The model stretched and moved, and took up another pose
And more lines came out of my stick of charcoal
And the shadows achieved their
Definition, at least for this instant.

All of us drew, in the midst of growing artist tension --
We each worked into the rhythm of the morning and the model
And the light-- oh that light, its all about the light--
Seen from our respective perspectives.

Oh, theory is fine, until you have only the
paper,the charcoal,
And the challenges of the light and the model
In this morning light.
Then, theory be damned, for I have to find the light
In the stub of the burnt grapevine in my hand.

My lines, starting to come together, started
To make something of it all,
As I closed in on

We could talk theory, this morning, but it all comes down
To charcoal, and paper, and light
And the shape of the model
On this Sunday morning.

Later, on the way home, I compared it all to sex,
To achieving orgasm, not with aroused genitalia,
But with burnt wood, and ground up trees, dried out flat,
And the light coming across the naked shoulder.
Is it still sex if you only end up with lines on the paper?
Its still orgasmic to me, another way of expressing myself
In the tender line traced across the rough paper
And finding

Tending To My Spirit

I find myself in the studio, building a small fire, and taking up a brush, and some bright greens and blues. I must paint sky, and I must paint the summer green of trees and grass, and sunshine. This week, I ventured into oils, buying myself a nice starter set of oil pigments, and some high quality linseed oil. I take a few of my paintings, and try out the oils and the new colors. It is pleasing work, as the oil seems to make the colors shine, and my brush work becomes a dance with the light and the texture of the paint, the oil, and the canvas. My painting becomes like the writing of music, and I am the conductor.
Soon, a sad little painting of a moonrise begins to take life, and the newly gilded moon dances over the platinum and marigold yellow clouds, flying over the dark purple mountains below. I have a stool to sit on and music to play, but today, I must be on my feet, and the music is found in my brush as it dances across the canvas, and pauses occasionally on the pallet to gather more light.
I take a new canvas, and boldly paint the beginnings of a portrait. New territory for me, but the brush and the canvas call me into this work, and soon, a face begins to emerge. Today’s project is to put in some hair, the eyes, the nose and the cheekbones. And, yes, it is looking like a face. My subconscious is happy, as it is has been prodding me to move my brush to make eyes, an ear, and a nose for some time.
Time stops having its regular meaning, and my morning is governed by the feelings of the brush, the silence of the oil and the pigments, and the occasional scratching of hog’s bristle brushes on canvas. “Skritch, skritch.” The earthy aroma of the linseed oil reminds me of a hot summer’s day, and my dad’s woodshop when I was a kid. My long ago ancestors must have been cave painters or the carvers of totem poles, as the linseed speaks to my heart, and brings a sense of peace to me today.
I’ve certainly enjoyed playing with the colors and brushing acrylics on canvas and paper, but with the addition of the oil this week, my work seems more complete, more in tune with the songs playing in my heart. Now, there are new rhythms of painting to learn, as the oil dries ever so slowly, and is singing new songs for me to learn. And, so I dance on.
I throw a few more logs on the fire, and pick up another canvas. This time, the blues of the sky truly seem to reflect that Eastern Oregon August brilliance I had wanted to recreate, and then, I add some lights and shadows to the little cabin in the aspen grove, and the painting finally seems to near completion. Another canvas will someday be a building I have been trying to paint for a year, and even today, the addition of some oil and new pigments seems to have finally brought the building to life, against the backdrop of Mount Emily, the guardian mountain overlooking LaGrande.
Another painting is the tree with its two eagles, awaiting the morning sunrise. The tree itself now lies in a muddy pasture, the victim of this winter’s worst storm, but its former glory may be on my canvas, if I can get the light just right. It remains, as they say, a work in progress.
Rain comes down now in a huge torrent, overflowing the eavestroughs, and I begin to clean up my brushes. I seem to relish the tinctures of paint residue in the turpentine, and the squeak of the paper towels rubbing the newly cleaned brushes to freshness again. I toss the now muddy turpentine outside, and watch the rainbows of the turpentine dance in the rain before being washed away.
I had wanted to write a poem this morning, but the poems in my heart began to be heard in my brushes, and on the canvas. And, that is perhaps the way the poems will be written today.

Two Eagles

Two Eagles
On Three Graces Rocks
One Tree

Tide high now
Slate gray clouds promising at least rain
Also hail, maybe snow
Before the tide turns again

No boats today
White surf pounding rocks
Covering the beach
With white foam
Or is it more winter snow?

One eagle turns, looking up the bay
He flies, joined by his mate
As gray cloud turns to black
And moves to the shore.



Into the air, spray blown sideways
Near a wave turned to white drenched rock
Green water, frosted with white
All stirred up
Awaited the onset of the storm.

Vast curtains of rain swept in, and turned the horizon from
A clear line between blue and dark green, to
sooty blackness, moved closer, winds gusted
Until splattered onto the window –
Clarity of light then scattered into globs of wet lenses
Blurred and sharpened tiny dots of ocean tempest.

The Best

The Best

We had only this day
And, today, the eagle lovers gazed as us from their tree
As the tide turned, the rain moved in, and we shared their world—
For only this day.

We had only this day
So, my friend took me on a trip to see
Three rivers and a bay come together,
Where ducks made jewels appear in the water
As they took off into the morning sun
Above the newly green grass of March.

We had only this day
So I had time with my friend to feel the rain
And the squish of mud, and to see the willow begin to bloom,
And the new skid marks in the beaver trail
No one else had ever seen.

We had only this day
So my friend and I laughed at a joke
And the amazing beauty of a day on the water
While no one else came out to get wet and muddy
And gather up the trash along the water’s edge
At high tide.

We laughed at being pirates, our loot being what others had lost.
With three almost new snow tires to our name, and three blue barrels, just slightly used—
Countless bottles of tequila and whiskey, and even a full can of beer
Still cold from lying in the mud.

We had only this day to experience a place near our homes,
To be friends together, and pirates, and to be the guests
Of the eagles, beavers, and ducks, as the tide
Began to turn, and the clouds blew away—
We had only this day
To make the best of our friendship.