Thursday, June 4, 2015


Hi Gerry and Lorry.
I just finished reading Island Dreams, all in one sitting. If I were a poet like you, I could say all I want to say about the book in ten words. Being more limited, it would take me 100 times that. It is a book of love on many levels. Bob and Susan did a wonderful job in editing it and designing it. I like the page-size and square format because there is a lot of white space for the poems to breathe. The lack of illustrations in the main part of the book contributes to that open space also. It says, these poems can sit by themselves, they need no other support, and that space invites the reader to sit with each individual poem as long as she wants, not rushing, crowding. Reading the poems was, as I expected, a chance to visit some old friends and times, but meet a lot of new ones also.  There is a smoothness to the way Bob chose to group them. And the poems themselves, the work, are just lovely. It is like you have a vision into a crack in the world and you show us what you see, you give us light and wisdom and touch our hearts, all with so few words. What a journey. I was happy to see that you and Lorry ended up back at the reunion, slightly greyer in the hair, but no less loving or loved. Congratulations. I hope you are as proud of the book as we are of you.

Much love,


Alice Winston Carney, author of A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse: A Memoir

 It's such a great pleasure to wait and to have a book in mind that waits with you. In this case many years went into Island Dreams, actually about 50. That seems astounding to me, but yet this is my 70th year on earth.  Our friend Alice W. Carney, a really fine writer in her own right (write), has said as much as I could say about this book of ours. One of the poems in the book dates back to 1963 and describes a hitchhiking trip from Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Quebec City where we -- two friends and myself -- sang for our supper and rode a few hundred feet on a freight train and spent a night in a Montreal jail for vagrancy.
The poem "Quebec City" won a poetry prize and earned me (at age 19) a payment of $50.00 thus proving that a poet could make his way in the world, with his thumb out and his wallet handy. I was to learn as I went on down the road and Island Dreams tells the tale of living on island after island until the islands weren't islands any more -- they were just isolated pieces of earth, or sand, where we pitched our tent of love and went on from there. When I say "our" I am speaking of Lorry and Gerry, and later on, Mariah and Hannah, our daughters.
Jack Kerouac called his days with thumb out, "A billowy trip in the world." I have always thought that's what it is to be alive ... to breathe deeply and look out of unjaded eyes at all that is around you. And that's what poetry is, a little eye-prayer to all the things a baby sees. My deepest thanks go to Bob and Susan Arnold, editors and designers at Longhouse Publishers and Booksellers. It was Bob's idea to have me reach back all the way to the beginning, thumb out, and expectant that a ride would come. And it's been quite a ride.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Famous Last Words Of People Close To Me

My aunt Glad in her 84th year looked at me from her rocking chair and said, "Can't be anything too serious ... I sleep too good nights." That night she died. A day doesn't go by that I don't think how much I loved her. She was honest and kind every day of her life and I hope some of that rubbed off, a little of it anyway, on me. I miss Glad.

I remember the day our housesitter passed. Among her last words: "Tell the Hausmans I'm sorry I didn't get over to take care of their dogs." Bless, Kathy for that, and for all the years she did take care of the dogs. You don't miss your water until your well dries up and Kathy was a good deep well. I miss Kathy.

I remember, too, my friend Phil, the painter, the jokester who, in middle age, finally found his true love. It was love at first sight, first kiss, first everything. He painted better, too. And his paintings started selling. Love is the foundation of all things but we got to see just how strong a foundation it was with these two. But one day after they were married, the two love birds were having a cocktail together and Phil got a strange look in his eyes. He died right there, drink in hand, smile on lip. "What'd you put in my drink?" he asked. And died. I was watching Madmen the other night and a painting on Don Draper's wall looked like one of Phil's. He was the kindest, funniest, madman I ever knew. I miss Phil.

A friend of mine named Mike was in the hospital a few years ago and I had driven him there at 3 AM.
We were in the ER and the doctors and nurses kept up a blue stream of visitations: "I am from Respiratory."
"I am from from Surgery ... I am from" etc. Finally a nurse stepped in and said, "I am from Breathing" and Mike's eyes opened and he said, "I am from dying." The only other words he spoke to me, later on, were: "Did you meet Natasha?" I asked who that was and he replied, "Someone from high school, long, long ago."
"Where is Natasha now?" Mike replied, "I don't know but she's sitting right next to you." There was no one there that could be there. I nodded. "Nice to meet you Natasha." Then Mike said, "You can't see her, can you?" I miss Mike.

When my dad was on his deathbed in the hospital, he asked me if I thought the nurse was cute. I said she was, and he asked me to give her a pinch -- from him. "I'm too weak," he said, "or I'd do it myself."
I pinched her and she was about to retaliate when I said, "That was from my dad, he said he was too weak to do it himself." She shook her head, "The dear," she said. I miss my dad.

My father in law, Roy, said before he died, "Life is a dirty business and then you die." He waited to see what I would say. I replied, "There is only life." After he died, Roy came back. I woke up in the middle of the night and there he was sitting on the corner of the bed, white hair all mussed and flaring and lit up by moonlight. He looked me square in the eye and said, "You're right. There is only life." Then he smiled and vanished. I miss Roy and all of them who have gone beyond the veil, as they used to say, and I wonder if they miss me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

155th anniversary of the Pony Express

I was in Indianapolis telling stories to 4th grade students.

They asked if I knew any historical stories, like the ones they were reading in school. I told them that my dad was born in 1900 and he actually saw Buffalo Bill a few years later at the Wild West Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

No one in the classroom knew who Buffalo Bill was, so I said: "He was a Pony Express rider."

"What's that?" a boy asked.

"The first deliverer of the U.S. Mail," I said.

"A mailman?" the same curious boy asked.

"That's right."

I explained how the Pony Express riders were kids, fifteen, sixteen years old, even younger. They had to be light on their feet and quick in the saddle and very determined to get the mail delivered, I explained.

"How far did he have to ride to deliver the mail?" (same curious kid)

"Well," I said, "He was a circuit rider. That means he had to go a certain distance, drop the mail off and then another circuit rider, a light-footed boy of the same age and height, would take off on a fresh horse and go the next distance with the mail until another rider took over and then --"

Curious said, "-- all the way to California, I know."

"Yes, that's true. The Pony Express linked up and went all across the country."

Curious made a face. "I don't really believe you," he said.

"Why not?" I asked, surprised.

He said, "Do you have any artifacts from the Pony Express?" (He actually used the word "artifacts")

"In fact, I do. Look at this book bag. My brother is a leather craftsman and he made me this replica ... this artifact,  this re-creation of a real Pony Express bag!" I was so proud of my brother and my book bag in that glorious show-and-tell moment ... plus I knew I had him.

Curious looked at the bag skeptically. "That's not REAL," he informed the class.

"No," I pointed out, "It's a replica, something designed to look like --"

"That's baloney," he said, cracking a sly smile.

"No, it's leather," I said. "Cowhide."

He stood up and faced the class like a trial lawyer. "How could such a tiny bag hold all the letters in the United States?"

I had to admit. He'd won his case. But I had one last squeak left in me. "There weren't that many people back then, and not many could write letters in the first place."

He wasn't sold on it. Neither were the others.

"Buffalo Bill was a REAL guy," I remarked.

"They'll learn about him next year," the teacher said. "Unless Core doesn't let us. They don't like things out of sequence."

I shut up then and passed the hand-tooled Pony Express bag around the room and one cute, smart girl said, "I wish I had one."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ross LewAllen: The Wolf and the Typewriter

This is a story of friendship. And of mutual love and reciprocity.

My friend Ross once asked me, "How do you get rid of writing doubts?"

I asked, "Where did they come from?"

He thought about that for a while and then said, "From an elementary school teacher long ago, I was told that I was no good at writing." From that point on I stuck to drawings, painting, anything but writing. But you like my poems, so maybe I can write after all."

"You could always write, Ross. But maybe you were carrying that grammar school teacher around on your shoulder."

"I think I'll carry a wolf on my shoulder from now on. Thanks, Bro."

A few days later I gave Ross the portable typewriter you see in his painting.

A few days after this, he gave me the pen you see in our photograph.

Ross is a love beyond measure, beyond friendship, beyond everything but the breath we breathe.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Flying Chair

We all have stories where something happens to us that we cannot explain. This one came out in my collection The American Storybag. Almost immediately I received some emails and other direct responses from kids who asked, "Is this story true?"I would say to them: "All stories are true. This one happened as I said it did. But, then again, I was seven and my cousin was five."

My cousin Kyle said to me, “Do you remember the little room on the third floor of Grandad’s lodge overlooking the lake?”

“I remember it--not much bigger than a closet.  There were two pieces of furniture -- a marble table and an old rotten, horsehair chair.”

Kyle said, “When we were five we’d go into that secret room when no one was looking.”

“It was at night," I said. 

"Our parents thought we were fast asleep."  Kyle laughed, a little hysterically, I thought, but, yeah, it was kind of funny the idea that we were together in the shadow room with the big gloomy chair.

“Mmm,” Kyle purred, “the big chair was our secret sharer.  Remember?”

“It's coming to me -- something weird about that," I admitted.  "Did the chair have -- powers?” 

It was coming back in more detail.  The narrow steep stairs winding up to the third floor.  The creaky door to the secret room.  The knotty-pine closeness of the walls.  The absence of breathable air.  The dust.  The secretness.  The horsehair smell.  The moon on a thousand year old, threadbare oriental carpet. 

There was the old chair, so vast and solid, a kind of personage that beckoned children to sit on it.  Yes, it had powers, all right. 

We crept up to the chair and inched our way up onto the sprung horsehair cushion.  The chair smelled ratty and rotten.  The room so airless and close, as if whatever lived within the walls needed every bit of oxygen that was available, and none left for a couple of errant and disobedient kids. 

Suddenly it was clear to me why the chair was so special.

It transported us to places we didn’t want to go. 

Settled into its cavernous bulk, the chair somehow blasted off like a rocket, flew us out of the Lodge and skimmed us across the lake. 

Not only that, it skimmed us under the lake.  Then it soared us into the clouds, and above the clouds, took us into outer space, sent us into the Milky Way where we tailed the tails of comets. 

And then, always and forever buried in my memory, the old chair turned around and brought us home. 

We'd blink -- and there we'd be in that stuffy, small, airtight room that smelled of one hundred years of dust.

I remember that, one night, Kyle met me in the darkened hall in front of the secret room, and she whispered, “Tonight we’re going to do something different.”

“What will it be?”

“Come, I’ll show you.”  Kyle was both mysterious and mischievous and I often forgot she was my cousin, more like some magical, dreamed-up friend from a storybook.

Soon we were seated, elbow to elbow, in the chair. 

I remember how the chair was woven of twigs, millions of strands of twigs and it was, in reality, a once upon a time tree that was now a square, squat painted tree that looked like a chair and had horsehair cushions, bottom and back. 

So we sat together, Kyle and I, and the chair rocked out of the secret room and into the open night of sundry stars. 

All was well until Kyle screamed at me -- “Let go of the chair!” 

I wouldn’t -- but she did. 

And then my cousin Kyle went spiraling off into space. 

She was tumbling and rolling, while I held onto the arms of the chair until, at last, it upended me and then I was floating around  in the heavens with Kyle.  We were flying, I guess.  Not like Peter and Wendy or the Lost Boys because there was no sense of self, there was only space, emptiness, void, air, wind, volume of nothingness, white noise of moonlight, and us moving through it, invisibly and immaterially. 

We were, and we sort of weren’t. 

We were not flying so much as we were flight itself.  We were like the thought of flight.  Miraculously detached, unloosed from the world.

And always, at the end of the ride, the old trustworthy chair scooped us up and brought back to the airless attic, secret room.

“We must not tell anyone about this,” Kyle warned.  She was younger than I but so much wiser.  I wanted to tell the whole world about our discovery. But I agreed not to tell.  But – and I swear this is true – when we got out of that room,
we each forgot about the chair.  We forgot about flying.  We forgot about the thought of flight.  We even forgot about ourselves. 

Some months later, Grandad lost all of his money and the lodge was sold for petty cash.    

The old chair went with the Lodge. 

We did not think about the strangeness of this.  The place where we grew up -- gone.  Not lived in by us anymore, inhabited by someone else. 

Thus did we grow up, and forget what it meant to be transported by magic.

Sixty years passed. 

Kyle and I got older, and then, just plain old, as I'm afraid we are now.  But we still laughed a lot and from doing this, we had laugh lines and lots of wrinkles. 

Well, as it happened, one day a few months ago, we were sitting on the dock by the lake below the hilltop where the Lodge had been – it burned to the ground in the 1970s -- and a big wind came up out of nowhere. 

Kyle’s beach chair, and mine, didn’t move because we sat hard upon them, waiting for the wind to go away. 

It did, finally, but then, when we weren't expecting it, the wind returned and knocked Kyle and me into the lake.

Kyle laughed.  “Can you still hold your breath like you used to?”

“Sure," I said.

Kyle dived down.

I dived down.  The lake was as clear as the air above it. 

We swam in circles.  Lots of seaweed, beer cans, stones, bluegills, sunnies, bass, pickerel.   
"Let's find the chair!" Kyle said.

After swimming for a while, I felt chilled. “Kyle, I’m getting cold.” 

“Pssh,” she said. “Find the chair!”

I swam around some more, staring into the wondrous clarity of the lake.

Then Kyle cried out,  “There it is!”

The old horsehair chair.  Kyle and I were flying above the ancient, rotten horsehair chair. We touched the twiggy green-painted, woven arms and then the sprung matting of the cushion . . . and . . . it happened all over again. 

We were both seated upon the chair underwater.

Then we flew, raced in and out of spiral coves and caves.  The chair took us to the swamp, scattering turtles and herons, and there was that instantly familiar release that knows no bounds, that unlimited non-human form. . . flying, we flew. . . out of body, we abandoned our bones and entered that unknown, unknowable zone of pure flight, of the thought of flight, and then of nothing, nothing at all. 

When, at last, we dragged the aluminum dock chair onto the dock, I was shivering and shaking, and I started jabbering about flying but Kyle said, “Let’s not tell anyone about this.”  And I haven't -- until now.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Those With Claws, Those With Toes

The king of the night callers is the great horned owl. He comes on clear and cool, long and hollow --  Hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo-hoooo. A five beat basso singer. There is a dignity in his call, a certain restraint, as if he knows, no matter what, he's soon to dine.

I love hearing them. But I'm mindful of what they do when, soundlessly, they fall upon prey. Not even a whisper of wings to warn rabbit or
flying squirrel that an arsenal of claws is about to land.

That's a swamp rabbit's tail in the picture. And the claw marks of the great horned owl in the sand. He landed right, this particular owl, but swamp bunnies will fight for their life, and this one surely did.

I found no other evidence of his loss than this brown fluffy tail. But during the day I saw him sitting in the sun, seeking to heal his wounds with kindly sunlight. He was alive and would live but he was damaged. The fur along his spine was ripped clean. He hopped away when he saw me.

Predators don't always win. Crows kill owls during the day. They first harass them with raucous noise, and then they come in number and chop the owl, blinding him first. I've seen it happen and have written of the encounter in the broadside poem on this page.

It's all give and take, in nature.  All creatures giving and taking, different times of night and day. The whole hullabaloo of life and death, chance and change, luck and pluck. Pity the bunny? Praise the owl? If there's a moral in all of this, Great Maker forgot to tell us. But he didn't forget to give us five fingers and five toes, which to my mind is way better than claws. 

Pencil drawing by Sid Hausman
 Poem broadside originally
published by Giligia Press,
Fresno, California in 1968

Friday, November 14, 2014

The sun comes up and the moon follows

The riddle of life yields more answers as you get older. You begin to see the pattern of beautiful repetition. The sun comes up and the moon follows.

My riddle of the morning came to me with a voice I heard in my head.

The book awaits, yet waits not. The corn sleeps to make more corn. The egg is armored but easily shelled. The song sings though the singer is gone. All is well and not undone.

The tendency is to think that everything is coming undone when, in fact, it only goes out to come back in. All of life is a riddle and a cycle that can be solved. For some it comes at the end of life. For others it begins at birth. For a few it occurs when a small pebble knocks against a column of bamboo.

As to my personal riddles, here shared ... I gave many storytellings over the past twenty years where I was paid with corn. The book is coming: the love  letters of my father and mother. It has taken a few years to edit them, but we're nearing completion.

The significance of the egg is not a secret, but if you take a cold egg from the fridge and place it against your eyelid, it soothes the eye more quickly than Visine. My brother learned this from a Taoseno named Tieflo a long time ago. But I should add that Tieflo used round river stones about the same size of his eye sockets. Tieflo said if you did this quiet meditation for a few minutes every day you would never need to wear eye glasses. In my case I take them off after a long day and cool my eyes with cold eggs, in the belief that something may grow without my knowing it.

The singer and the song -- everyone has a secret song of some kind, an exalted and uplifting melody with lyrics that soothe the heart no matter how many times the song is heard.Some songs I only heard once yet I hear them over and over in my head and remember the day the words were sung.

The empty mirror needs polishing, again and again, every day. You will not see yourself in it. The mirror will only reflect emptiness. And in that emptiness the sun comes up and the moon follows.