Accounts of the Ordinary

On Ogygian shores Calypso lived
with two daughters, wild and fair
each with eyes of pale moonstone
and hellebore strewn in their hair;
by day they bathed in sylvan pools
beneath the winding stair.

Ogygia, shimmering prison –
past the shrouded mist yet lies
three thousand leagues from here or more
as the Wandering Albatross flies.
For the man now long since departed
O’er the thundering waves she cries–

The sea, the sea, the roaring sea
Delivered me he who was drowned!
The man who was king (and pulpit drunk)
wore a tangle of kelp for a crown!

Ogygia, lost in the bounding main
under a sepia lighted brume,
the wine-dark sky makes cruel silhouettes
on his weeping heart weeping for home.
Into her arms, her warm oubliette,
(always pulpit drunk he went)
of drinking her secret perfume.

Oh, such wroth experiments!
From dead meaning concrete towers
those green light electric cigarettes
fall into her indigo harmony flowers −
no butts to junk his monuments
for seven long years of hours.

The sea, the sea, the roaring sea
Delivered me he who was drowned!
The man who was king (and pulpit drunk)
wore a tangle of kelp for a crown!

Fair Nausithous, wild Nausinous
their miasma, a jasminey breeze;
it whips up the fever, blisters the skin,
it coughs in the rustling leaves;
it steals the breath and leaves the bones,
to dark indigo harmonies.

Ogygia, the watchers spy the sails
billowing white on the azure reach;
the moon-calf shakes the monkey pods
slink prowling on the beach;
for He is going home tonight
in swift ships beyond the reach.

The sea, the sea, the roaring sea,
elivered me he who was drowned!
The man who was king (and pulpit drunk)
wore a tangle of kelp for a crown! 

The Seabees make poison honey
that drips in bomb drops from the comb;
blown bits of Ogygia’s stone coral skirts
churn the irradiant foam;
the sand is aglow with the half-light
of eyes set in pale moonstone.

Return, return, my phantom king!
Through the ages she scours the shore;
he comes by air in a squadron of bees −
Have you seen her electric hair?
Calypso, Queen Bikini Atomic!
she is post detonation
a nuclear sensation
child of a Titan-Atlas affair.

The sea, the sea, the roaring sea,
elivered me he who was drowned!
The man who was king (and pulpit drunk)
wore a tangle of kelp for a crown!

Now I with my daughters
we search the clear waters
for he was lost and then found.


Assorted Chocolates

chocolate box

Each piece in the Colonial Assortment
is an uncharted island
shrouded in a brown paper;
a sweet shop case of lily pads
from which you hop
flavor to flavor.

Salted Almond Caramels
are tropical beach getaways,
South Pacific whitewash at your toes,
an endless horizon of
Ganache Bliss, the mountain
sleeping behind you
under Scotchmallow skies.

Raspberry Creams
are the velvety blonde hairs
on your lover’s suntanned neck;
Butterschotch lollies,
the sensation on your tonuge
of his still warm skin and
and late night swims
with Praline Turtles.

But Vanilla Walnut Fudge is daybreak,
a well-deserved stomach ache.
And for gluttonous mistakes,
Peanut Butter Patties
take the cake.

Dark Bordeaux is a bloody ritual,
the jungle night dithyramb,
the cannibal’s matrimonial
the last dance of the native virgins
before the slave traders’ run.

Bridge Mix has an aftertaste like
giardia at summer camp which
makes you shiver and wretch.
Ginger Clusters are gymnasium-spiced,
with notes of square dancing
and the smell of sticky hands.

Inside the Cocoanut Creme
the texture of childhood
goes stale, killing you softly
abandoning you to years
of Brittles and Toffees.

Mint Meltaways are nice like
Greenland’s shrinking ice;
Polar Bears Paws (nuts and
nougat in white chocolate,
oft called Bons Bons of Extinction)
are delicious to Tamora
as Chiron and Demetrius.

Nuts and Chews are a plate of
oily noodle kugel on the table
stuffy sitting rooms of aunts
talk politics and cataracts
at the party where you chew
in closet with the coats
hoarding chocolates from your sister
every minute getting sicker.

The remaining Rum Nougat
is the bitterest pill of all, stinking like
the Old Colonial’s sour breath
too close to your nose
inhaling when he proposed,
then sent one to your father
for Christmas as a gift in exchange
for a mouthful of silence.

Wondrous Cauldrons

Elephant-tracksWondrous cauldrons
boil the tusks
inside the indigo night
the rattling bones, the jungle heat
the stench of gunsmoke
and rancid meat

The matriarch waits
in the shadows for
the witchdoctor to
conjure her daughters
her sons, her sisters
from the roiling waters

A Chinaman squats by the fire
carving an ivory Buddha,
nearby sits the Wall Street wife
the neighborhood thugs
bush pilots and arms dealers;
a small black girl has a secret

An elephant never forgets
the poacher’s face
nor the tiny voice
who told the baboons in whispers
to pour sugar in the gas tanks
drop dead rats in the wells

Soon this orphan will join the others;
they will ride upon the high shoulders
of three million childless mothers;
the ivory will bleed rivers
into the streets of Hong Kong–
the watering hole of hungry ghosts

The Apple Dolls

Apple Dolls

In the ripeness of their youth
they were green and delicious
fleshy, full of juice
some might even say tempting

They had once splashed
in the whitewash
of a deep blue Pacific,
their blonde hair
catching the wind
like scarves spun of sunlight

They had once gathered
by the river’s edge
swimming in the emerald pools
while peevish boys
spied, hidden in the trees
one hand on a fishing pole
the other clammy in a pocket

These clay sirens,
these riverine selkies and
half-shelled Venuses,
these copper-toned goddesses
basked in the last rays
of a setting sun,
having traded their voices
for the scaled tail of a fish

Now they sit poolside
stirring ice cubes
melting in the gin,
their leathery fingers adorned
with small asteroids

someone’s son
has married a business major
another has new granite counters
another is taking legal action
one has a new jawline−
words unmusical
even to their own ears
so they no longer listen

They don’t dare go near the water
where the Lady of the Lake
holds her hand mirror towards the gazers
and the narcissus has dropped
all its pale white petals

One of their party has gone missing
Gone, quite literally, to seed

Nobody speaks of her−
the wild woman
planting pocketfuls of beans
and brown-eyed Susans, broadcasting
bush lupines and poppies

She wears a pair of crow’s feet
about her eyes
a shaggy grey braid
trails down her spine
like a tail full of burrs,
foxtails and blow wives

She buries acorns
in the earth’s hard crust,
offers libations
to a small hole in the ground
once covered by an inland sea

The towhee is in her kitchen
a fox nurses cubs by the back porch
the paper wasps have chewed through
the walls of her shingled shack
in winter the roof leaks
odd things are growing in her toes
on her face a sort of
lichen creeps

One year the field cracks
from too little rain
she finds the shell
of an ancient animal
the wind whispers in its
its hollows, calling her home
towards a saline dream

The others, still haunted by
the starlit encounters
with boys in the sultry heat,
still wading in the sapphire shallows
in the emerald pools
where their reflections
told them Time was a
a bargain to strike−
They are the Apple Dolls.

Time has made wrinkled mockeries
of their maidenhood yet
they have not a single seed
saved in their pockets
left to offer

Old Maui High School


Last week we were in Maui for spring vacation. To get off the busy Hana Highway, I went for a walk up Holomua Road – a beautiful tree lined road that runs through the sugar cane fields and eventually connects back to Baldwin Road after the pavement gives way to a rugged, potholed stretch of red dirt.

I had been for walks on Holomua years ago but never made it as far as the Old Maui High School. It always amazes me that the modern builders of public schools fail to consider the impact profound and despairing UGLINESS might have upon attending students. I have a deep fear of ugly, multi-roomed buildings. The ruins of the Old Maui School – designed by Hawaiian architect Charles W. Dickey, now home to birds and ghosts – stand out in stark contrast to the portable buildings, the acres of concrete, and the overall prison-like facades of many of the schools built during the last few decades in California.

Apparently, many of the former students of the beautiful Old Maui High School felt that what remained of the school, closed in 1973, was worth saving. Read more here.

Old Maui High School 2

Old Maui High School 3

I’m not convinced money is the only problem for California’s impoverished public schools; trying to get any new idea past most school administrations requires a Herculean effort or, more likely, a full blown revolution. Personally, I’d rather go to class in a ruin than a portable but I teach in the woods anyway. (It seems only fitting that the Old Maui High School is now home to an environmental education center.) But maybe that’s the point – treat students like prisoners by surrounding them with stark, inert walls, feeding them chemical laden, packaged non-food so that the school districts can skim the profits, squeeze every last drop of critical and creative thinking out of the curriculum, remove outdoor education programs from K-8, and prisoners are what they will grow up to be. Prisons are, after all, one of the largest industries in the state.

In his wonderful book The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton writes: “Bad architecture is in the end as much a failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of the same tendencies which in other domains will lead us to marry the wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us.”

Split Custody


In the dark of winter nights, I walk along
the west side blocks of Broadway
where a few old mansions still stand, some of them
life insurance offices, another a pet clinic

there is a certain stretch of sidewalk
where new streetlights cast a sickly light
where the pavement buckles from
the surface roots of the Western plain trees

the effect is not entirely unpleasant;
it recalls the grand boulevards, the parks
of a European city – La Belle Époque
this alee of shadows, half lit by a false gaslight glow

I walk here often in dreamlike respite from the blight
of the big box stores, the housing tracts,
the portables of the elementary school
deposited debris from a great flood

At the end of the block our stage set ends:
the apartments elevated over an asphalt courtyard
the gas station, the abandoned used car lot
the sourgrass patches, the soda cups in the gutter

At the curb I see, tidily stacked, the overnight
things of children – the two little boys, I guess,
playing in the shadows of the apartment’s
covered entry where their mother smokes

two pairs of tattered, canvas sneakers
two worn backpacks, the zipper broken on one
a coiled comfort blanket bearing
the burrs of last summer
a soiled stuffed rabbit
a sippie cup
two tiny lunch boxes

These things, mute guardians of children
seem to protest: “Take me instead, Take me!”
The little boys give chase – one the hero, the other villain
the mother stands silently in the bone chilling air

They are waiting for the rolling in of tanks
for the Boogie Man to drop down from the trees
for the Chitty Chitty child catcher
for a piloted asteroid
an Axis of Evil air strike
for Gotham to fall
for Godzilla to rise
for Mothra to descend

When she thinks of her ex,
in the shadows she thinks–
They might as well be.

Judecca’s Broom Closet

witches from macbeth

Alexandre Marie Colin – The Three Witches from Macbeth (1827)

In Dante’s Ninth Circle
there exists a hidden chamber where those
sinners against the greatest of all Benefactors–
that warm bosom of man known as Motherhood–
tremble in the icy darkness
wide-eyed and awake

Nobody speaks of this concealed room–
known among security as Judecca’s Broom Closet

It isn’t marked on any medieval map or chart
no stairs lead down to it
no doors lead out of it
it lies at the very center of a pathless void;
a great din surrounds it, drowning
the gently sounding stream–
narrow watershed of the stars

Even the purest of souls recoil, retreat
cover their ears against the roar of wailing infants
that blares, night and day, through speaking-trumpets
hidden deep in the gaping mouths of Dis
that long ago spat out their Brutus
their Cassius, their Judas

The emperor of the despondent kingdom
towering mid-chest from his frozen pond
has weathered, stiffened in limb and vigor;
yet the women who guard Inferno’s last stop,
ever resourceful, have found various new uses
for his spreading batwings –

a coat rack
a thing for drying towels
for beating rugs
for hanging hammocks
cloth for sails and linens
bone for hoop skirts

In life, these sinners bred this sonambulistic
maniacal army of wives, lovers, young mothers;
they kept them awake at all hours of the night
with their infernal raucous
their pig snorts, their sawing of logs
their diesel truck brakes
their low flying jets
their symphonies of pink noise

They never heard the babies crying, even when they did.
Here is always night, but the weary never rest.

Cursed until the Rapture to be awake until it comes
icy water is thrown upon the doser, the nodder
boiling pitch upon the cat napper, the hay hitter
the telephone is always ringing
the coffee is all decaf
the toast is cold, the eggs still raw
the game is never on
the beer is flat
the wine turned

Such a small price, say the guards,
for interrupting so many lifetimes of dreams