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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tide, Time and Poetry (Revisited)

I was called to substitute for your regular pastor at an inopportune moment and had no sermon prepared. However, I found this Antijeremiadic McWhirtle on which to improvise.
Like all humans, I contain several tablespoons of salt --a ratio I share with my weight in seawater because both are made on earth. Earth, in turn, was assembled by electric and gravitational attractions various compounds in outer space exerted upon one another. Throughout these compilations there remain attachments to forces among shifting stars. Like sound aimed at a microphone element they stir the oceans and make them speak. We hear it on the shore when currents collide in waves. We hear it when wind scrapes treetops. We hear it in our brains when we are very sleepy. Here is a little poem about that:

The ocean is always
In you and in me,
Where gravity dreams,
Fictitious forces swirl,
Marmoreal seams pitch
Into air.
What is too far
And ancient to see
Can at least be
Heard there.

Let's see what rolls out of the waves, shall we?

Certainly technology-heavy genres have their distances and drawbacks. Heavy Metal and Rap always sounded like rhythmic tantrums to me --a parent shouting its wit's short end, a child stomping off, the heart beating over one's foetal head. When the beat stops I expect to hear: NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM!!, glass breaking or a door slamming. But that too is part of the poetry of our time, the rhythm of waves. We ignore it at our peril. I've never been an avid e.e. cummings fan either, but discovering "i sing of Olaf" at a crucial time impelled me to leave no authority unexamined and saved my life.

Next wave: In 1968, I drove a hop truck in the late summer harvest. When possible, I'd stop for lunch at Flora's place. She had a poster there of a Robert Frost quote, "Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee, and I'll forgive Thy great big one on me." Flora was a retired school teacher who knew poetry and I was a hick who needed to know more. Reciprocity, especially in forgiveness, opens poetry --and working hops without it was just hot and hard. I kept learning and prospered.

I could go on anecdotally  about how poetry redirected me in positive ways, but these two successive waves suffice. Thought is very random enterprise, like the vast universe that sets it up and sends sunlight to fuel it. It generates safeguards of common sense that make us find beaches not with little whiney trumpet exhaust or subwoofing cars but in ancient hop trucks. It also furnishes an ocean in our heads, portable oceans, which cuts metaphorical driving considerably. I am reminded of the old Masefield poem, which I learned over a half-century ago but can still recite inaccurately from memory:

"I must go down to the sea again, to the Coney Island sand,
And all I ask is a traffic jam backed up to Disneyland..."

John Masefield, as you know, was a writer for Mad Magazine who became the British Poet-Laureate.

I am still a hick. Help! Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Predacted Redux

I decided to repost the first (2009) entry in this blog, with pictures this time but there are temporal adjustments on the webcam that escape me. However I'll set the lens to focus back generally --after all, humans aren't designed to be exact, just closely approximate. Yes, I remember this one,  from 1956. Close enough.
The kid was full of hope.  
And then I am in 2016, which is (let's see, borrow from 20, carry  the one into 10's column --5 from 11 is...) 206 years later. Closely approximate. Amazing, the flannel shirt has lasted this long --and I appear no older than my later 60s. My computer is an early model, an upgraded Jacquard Analytical Engine that used to operate looms. Here, my math skills are eclipsed only by theological inaccuracies that initiated this blog.

I see the introduction has run too long, so I'll clickably link to the post under discussion called --I can't remember what it's called but click here-- and see if you can struggle through it --I sure can't. I hear this from others about their first blog posts and wonder if anybody's working on the problem. Still, I rather like its closing paragraph, especially in an election year for some reason, and will reproduce it here:

The feeling common to faith, intuition and logic is that something has opened, moved and caused ripples upon the surface of the waters; something tremendous has happened. Very much like falling in love --itself too intense for analysis-- which is esteemed by church people, intuitives, logicians alike, and misunderstood by all. As a unifying force, love elevates the enigma and will doubtless save us all if we do it more.

Now it's getting late and, I think, time to avoid thinking about stuff --especially any aspiring candidate for anything who just acts creepy-- and raid the kitchen for cookies and milk.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Good Old Grinnin' Gruntin' Other News

What is election anyway, hah? In its closing month, it  is mostly reflection --two surprisingly similar words that probably don't mean each other, but if they do, what then, eh? Then we have Other News.

What is reflection? Here is a thought experiment to help take our minds off the election: If we position two mirrors facing each other, they reflect mutually --toward infinity, limited only by surface imperfections and differences of angle which become more pronounced farther into the experiment. Or is that election?  Maybe I need a photo here.
Above is the rear end of our 1971 VW Bus. The little door, top-hinged to conk one's gonk, covers the engine compartment. The battery, which weighs 35-40 pounds, is situated impossibly inside, just ahead of the right tail light. This is doubtless the cruelest spot EVER to put a battery in a vehicle. I changed it out for a new one yesterday --as I've done many times but I'm old now. Had to bend over double with my head in there and got all banged up. I now feel lousy.


In other, yet other Other News, the Harlem Globetrotters signed up Pope Francis as a team member last year and gave him a jersey  but I doubt they'll play him much. He's older than I am and would get all banged up too. I've got to reach further back...

In the mid-1960s, I wanted to hone my interpretive reading/public speaking skills and signed up with the Sacramento Valley Forensic League. To train ourselves not to break up during competitions, one method was to recite this bit of Rudyard Kipling's poem, Gunga Din, while adding our own adjectives and keeping straight faces as long as we could:
"I was chokin’ mad with thirst,
An’ the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din."

Of course, we learned to recite it through such augmentations as grinnin', gruntin', fartin', belchin', stinkin', droolin', shittin' but when someone wrote in Kiplin' , it generally got a confused pause --and laughter. We were ready. Election months are full of trial, honors, confusions, opportunities to break up, disappointments and triumphs. You be ready too.

Monday, September 26, 2016

1979, Preaching To The Zinnias

It's only 1a.m. here, still time for a  Sunday night sermon, so...
Having revisited 1964 in my previous post, I thought it apposite to travel closer downtime (or perhaps uptime --after all these years of timetravel I still get the terms confused) toward the present (then) and share an experience of theological vertigo In 1979. Here is a Normaphoto recently taken in our garden that got me remembering. Remembering what?
If you look at the sunflower towering over zinnias below, you'll get some idea of what I endured keeping a promise that year ('79). My friends, Kate and Mike (both blond and blue-eyed with heads like lightbulbs with sensible brains in them), had decided to get married and asked me to speak at their wedding. Wedding was set at the First Baptist Church on L street in Sacramento. Church was built in 1929 on the general plan of the Roman Pantheon --beautiful pile of chiseled rock that towers halfway to hereafter. The loggia consists of open corridors formed by columns through which I was led to a high pulpit with the little poem I wrote as a gift to them. That is when vertigo set in. I am a gardener who has trimmed down tall trees but never without climbing-gear, so there was a surplus of emotion in my delivery.

However, composure was saved by concentrating on a youngster's face about 20 pews back:
This enabled me to recite the following poem:

I have climbed the stairs,
An astonished child.
I have left the lull of illusion.
You and I and a tremor of time
Climb brimming green along the shore.
I am not only myself anymore.
We are a wave 
Holding sunlight and life,
A rolling glow, music and more--
More than the sum of ourselves before
We gave our gift to time.
We stepped our separate stairs
To a door upon the earth.
It is open.
We have a simple hold,
A touch, a wash of fanning sea
Over a swath of sand, a boulder,
A lace of foam, a stairway of waves--
A lyric on the land.
When songs mingle, they sing
Among themselves, winding gift
With gift where new-winged dreams
Drift, melodies touch.
We touched,
We joined ways, and to
That touch entrusted all our days.

I'll stop here and mention the poem's line cued an interpretive dance
It is still my policy, after 37 years, not to become crapulent at wedding receptions.
Go thou and do likewise.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Some years ago, I examined three years that were historically important to me, 1510, 1892, and 1964. This being an election year, a time to reflect upon what democracy means to the future, and Sunday, I have selected the lattermost as my sermon.

In keeping with a somewhat irritating recent preoccupation with dates, I am going to examine 1964. Hadn't intended to, but I was in the pumphouse  and found an old uniform patch in a disused humidor --as one does. I picked it up, ran my thumb over its stiff threads and thought of old chums --Tom, Jack, the boys we used to be. The embroidered patch measures about one and a half inches by two and depicts our first president, Geo. Washington, on bended knee proposing to a lily.

The lily is a fleur-de-lis, a heraldic flower that does not occur in nature. It represents royalty, in which case it's unlikely Gen. Geo. was proposing marriage. It also represents north, which makes Washington's pose even more improbable. However, the patch was one I wore on my Boy Scout uniform that year and fleur-de-lis was on everything scouty. Also, north is a favorite direction of mine so I gave it benefit of the doubt.


I just made a long arm and fetched my Handbook For Boys --39th printing-- and found this: "You probably know there is a huge chunk of iron in the earth, up north, that attracts the magnetized needle of your compass -- that this iron deposit is known as the magnetic north pole." --page 162. I have never had reason to challenge this idea. Even now, the symbol attracts my memory like a big magnetic brain-chunk.

I am in my 60s now and highly suspicious of brain-chunks. I do not like to think my hairline is receding so much as my mind is expanding, but one cannot rule out brain-chunks. I was only 14 for most of that year and thought no more of them than I did of dingleberries on livestock.

In the summer of 1964, last half of July, I was one of 50,000 Boy Scouts camped in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. You probably know about Geo. Washington's awful winter there in 1777. It was all snow and blizzards and the Continental Army ruining in ice. If you were in a high school marching band in the 1960s, you probably know that's where your uniform got donated from. Here is a slight exaggeration of what Valley Forge looks like in summer:

It was hot. It was very hot and my chums, Tom and Jack, and I tried to do all the things Boy Scouts are supposed to do. We were, after all, young Americans with vigorous bodies, hearts of lions and the digestion of goats. We hiked and tied knots, worked on merit badges, cooked and puked. But usually we'd give in to the heat, find a little shade, share cigarettes and discuss the future. We liked discussing the future --there was so much of it back then-- and as our stay proceeded we got excited about it. President Johnson was going to visit the Jamboree on its final evening and give a lecture about the future.

That evening arrived, unfortunately not without incident. One scout, in a dash to catch up with his troop, was hit by a bus. Word spread and we all reflected negatively upon our illusion of immortality. Jack led Tom and me in a prayer over our little supper. Jack was very religious, even though he laughed when I once asked him why the Pope dressed like a hand-puppet. He responded by asking why we dressed in little shorts and tassles like circus chimps. There were no answers.


Doubts were forming even as we made our way to three hills that served as rough seating for 50,000 boys. Three slopes converged upon a dingle and we arranged ourselves like berries around it. There was a little stage and microphone down there. Lyndon Johnson arrived! We clapped and clapped.

The president began by assuring us we were "the hope of Amurricah", then outlined what we might expect of our country. He said: in the next 50 years tremendous progress would be made in medicine, the puzzling out of biological mysteries; space exploration would take us closer to the stars and advance earthly technology, especially in communication. From this remove of a half-century, I must admit he was correct. We clapped and clapped. But still, there was doubt. Jack and I looked over at Tom. He was not clapping.

"Come Tom," I said."Clap for Lyndon!"

He clenched his teeth and said, "Do you have any idea what that s.o.b. is going to demand we do in four years?"

Having learned sufficient wilderness survival skills to decide against a career in homelessness, I left the Boy Scouts shortly thereafter. Jack also quit to pursue an interest in sociology, then psychology and finally theology. Tom stayed in Scouts longest, well into high school and his teeth remained permanently clenched. Years later, I asked him why.

"Brown shirts," He said through teeth. "I like the brown shirtssss."

Tom became a neo-Nazi. Jack became a Catholic priest. As usual, I became a gardener.

We're all in this together.
Go in peace.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hygieia's Legacy

The are vagaries of the spirit, unutterable and eidetic, invoked by meditative doodles in early autumn night:

They call me back through old Portuguese-Semitic-Roman-Greek genetic memories to times and places painfully hard to recall. I do my merely mortal best, and reach back along a line of increasingly ancient deities to Hygieia:

Hygieia, the beautiful Greek goddess of sanitation.  I should have known after my recent encounter with  a backporch snake ; I should have recognized the omen.  Yes, it got in under a door but the signs and portents were obvious. I should not have been surprised when the toilet started rocking and hissing --but I was.

Hygieia (also spelled Hygeia, Hygiea, Ὑγιεία but these things happen) is always depicted with her snake, Wisdom, and her bowl, which contains medicinal potions.  The snake, being wise --therefore knowing good from evil--  climbs up Hygieia and feeds from the bowl.  Yes, religions often get answers by peeking at the mythic structures of religions sitting in desks next to them. 

That being so, and with all the pressures of testing these days, it's not surprising Hygieia's Bowl has become the symbol of pharmacy worldwide. Snake has been run up around the  medical caduceus.  Hygieia herself has retired to sanitation, sending omens (snakes) to those of us whose sanitary bowls she worries about.

I'm a believer!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Rose Revisited and The Cisco Kid

It's been too many years since we looked in on Tex and Rosie  and high time we did so again. To those dear readers unfamiliar with this romantic Old-West couple, I recommend clicking on their blue names in the previous sentence before proceeding.
Two riders approach the one-room school house. We hear an a-c-g chord progression strummed from somewhere inside the dust cloud and Tex singing, "Oh mah sidekick died from a kick in the side!" over and over.

Francis: You will never be a good singing cowboy!

Tex: How would you know?

Francis: Because I am a psychic.

Tex: I know that. Well, we're here, and that's my darlin' Rosie steppin' outta the schoolhouse.

Rosie: Tex! You've been gone for years! Where have you been?

Tex: Still trackin' the Driscoll Gang. You wouldn't believe how many people are named Driscoll in this country.  

Rosie: And who's your friend?

Tex:  Danged if I know.  People call him Pancho; other people call him Cisco...

Francis: My name is Francis, senorita. 

Rosie: Tex, Pancho and Cisco are both nicknames for Francis.

Tex: Well, I just call him Sidekick. He was recommended by a barkeep in Abilene. I asked where I could find a good sidekick t'help me round up all the Driscolls and the barkeep sent me next door. There was a sign, said, "Gifted Francisco, Psychic", and I reckoned it close enough no matter how they spelled it.

Rosie: It can make a difference, Tex. What did your parents name you before you before you got stuck with "Tex"?

Tex (thinks hard for a while): Henry! I believe my name is Henry!

Rosie: Might there also be some confusion between "sidekick" and "psychic"?

Francis: Excuse him, Senorita Rosie. He needs me to foresee his future mistakes --of which there are many.

Rosie: Very well, but...but Tex, Henry, O Henry, couldn't you change your career to something safer? You've had so many adventures. Perhaps I could help you become a writer!

Francis: Yes, I see it growing more and more probable! The knight without armor, "The Caballero's Way"! Tell him!

Rosie: My poor Tex, O Henry, confused all this time by sidekick and Psychic.
Francis (riding off at a gallop down Main Street): ¡Ándale, Loco, let's went!

And in the distance the image divides into two riders who shout, "Oh Pancho!" and "Oh Cisco!" and, if your hearing is very good, "O. Henry!", followed by rapid hoof-beats and laughter.