Still Lifes

“In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting

to stride out of a cloud and lift its wings.”

Mary Oliver from The Kookaburras

Still Life With Wildflowers

In late August of this year, of the summer when my wildflower garden flourished and yielded a wealth of colorful bouquets, crickets sang each evening their mindful refrain. “Soon,” they said, “the season will tip into autumn.”

In the garden, cosmos plants stretch beyond my height, seven feet or more. The flags of their flower petals flutter with the benediction of a breeze. Coreopsis and zinnias; daisies and coneflowers; bachelor buttons and black eyed Susans spill across the borders of the rocky path.


Gardening focuses a too busy mind. Often, I am knuckle deep in soil and its mix of bugs, worms, and microbes. I breathe the earthy fragrance of organic material and enjoy common cause with other creatures.

Birds visit during the day. They pluck seeds from the same blossoms where bees nuzzled pollen. Beetles, spiders, and winged insects are drawn to the abundance of plants as they make their way through the territory of their brief lives.

Early Summer Wildflowers

Me too … I reap the peace of communing with wildlife and harvesting flowers that pose as still lifes in the kitchen and bedroom.

The late American poet, Mary Oliver, created still lifes with words rather than paint or photography. Her poetry arose from wandering in the hills and fields of New England. She developed a knack for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Wildflower Bouquet

In her later years, she moved to Florida. She continued to write until the end of her life, taking inspiration from nature in the estuaries, ponds, and dunes of her new surroundings. At the age of 83, she died from lymphoma, a kissing cousin to my blood cancer, multiple myeloma.

My disease paints a picture similar to a still life: it doesn’t move, yet there is a fascination with the details. I have ups and downs but, basically, things are about the same this year as they were last summer when the season began to turn. I persist in a plateau phase with a lengthy history. The relevant blood markers remain stable, the treatments have not changed, and my quality of life is decent.

Still Life with Ukulele

Metaphorically, though, I am under house arrest. I don’t travel well due to the side effects of a busy treatment plan and Mr. Fatigue visits on a regular basis. Nonetheless, I approach 12 years since diagnosis. Cautious management and lots of luck has forestalled the incurability associated with MM.

There is much to be grateful for. Lately, it’s wildflowers, still lifes, and Mary Oliver. That’s plenty … until I write again.


Who Made The World


Why Things Happen

Why Things Happen

For J. D. Riso


I listened to the rain fall for hours

And read a mystery next to my cat,

Both of us dismayed by the dark, wet sky.


I listened and read and accrued the clues

Of how and who as to why things happen.

I heard rainwater scampering across


The roof shingles and into the gutter,

Draining the sky to gravity’s rhythm,

Down the spout and away, under the ground.


I turned a page, the cat stretched, and elsewhere,

Far away, sirens curdled the night air

And soured someone’s life, now, gone awry.


An audio version of me reading the poem may be listened to here.


Wet Weather

“Just remain in the center; watching. And then forget that you are there.” Lao Tzu

In early November, wet weather arrived to cleanse the Hood River Valley. Seasonal debris in our yard glistened with rain.

Oval blades of lilac nested with the serrated ellipses of cherry. The lobed margins of oak leaves tucked themselves into the mix. Veins on the leafy moons of nasturtium floated above a bed of river stone.

Overhead, geese conversed as they departed for winter retreats. My cheeks simmered in the morning’s chill. The scent of decomposing leaf litter filled the sweet damp air.

(Click on any photo to enlarge the gallery.)

From Five Easy Pieces:

Perpetual Autumn

Summer dissolved in autumn’s weakened sun.

Chores came due, and the pine and fir were split,

And the roof scaled to clean the sooted flue,

And the tawny wood stacked up high against

The barren rafters of the weathered shed,

Where spiders fed on October’s insects.


Dense clouds of leaves floated over the fence

From the boughs of a neighbor’s noble oak.

They twirled and plummeted to the ground

In the shaggy frost of early morning,

Nesting on stones that surround the laurel

And the mossed trunk of the white bark cherry.


I gathered up the fallen debris and

Arrested disorder with symmetry.

I quarreled against the icy chill, and

The bedded stems that resisted the rake,

And the whorl of leaves that escaped its scratch

To scatter free, outside my custody.


Some hid in the skirt of the burning bush:

The clutter of perpetual autumn.

Others fluttered away, dried and brittle,

Propelled by the wealth of west winds that honed

And shaped the land and the silent river

Where great blue heron glide and fish alone.


Latest from The Drill.

Tagged: cancer, Columbia River Gorge, gardening, Hood River, Hood River Valley, little things, nature, poetry, writing

My Beautiful Life






My Beautiful Life

I walked alone this afternoon.

October’s velvet light slipped through

The shade of a Big Leaf Maple

And tattooed my arms with shadow.


Erratic winds stirred the branches

And a scattering of leaves fell

Like confetti before my eyes.


They danced minuets in rhythm

To the crosscurrent of the breeze

In their tan and yellow dresses.


They twirled in celebration

Of my life, my beautiful life.

And when the wind died, they stopped, as

I walked alone this afternoon.

Tagged: autumn, cancer, Columbia River Gorge, Hood River Valley, little things, nature, poetry, writing

The Way We Wish It Was

The Way We Wish It Was

We wish for that we cannot have:

Seasons without winter’s torment,

Children who stay forever young,

Their skin supple and their hands small,

Grasping at the longings we share.


We wish to dim fluorescent light,

A wink to shush its cruel scold

That bullies our weary aged flesh,

Its wrinkles and drooping creases

Teased by gravity’s constant tug.


We wish that when we stop to pray

That the ground at our feet were soft,

But often the earth is hard, cold,

Strewn with stones beneath the needles

Where we kneel under rustling pines.


We wish that we could float with clouds

And see the winding path below

Where we wander along alone

The well worn trail of our dreams

In search of the rest of our life.


We wish our longings would dissolve,

And we could accept the regrets

And allow forgiveness, mercy

From this, the way we wish it was,

Which is just the way that it is.


Current numbers in The Drill.

Tagged: Five Easy Pieces, little things, nature, poetry, writing

The Towhee

The Towhee

December 21st, the solstice … yard birds huddle against the advance of winter.







The Towhee

Needles of sleet fell all throughout the night        

  And the towhee pecks at the hardened crust,

    Seeking the moist carpet of leaves below.

      But it is too deep. Only the memory

        Of his stutter step foraging remains:


Of hopping ahead and jumping backwards,

  Of when he tossed aloft the ground cover,

    The turning of each leaf, shoving, pulling,

      And searching for the mysteries beneath.

        He’d been so happy to be that busy


With the bounty of everlasting work,

  Patient in the quest for a tiny seed,

    The egg of an insect, a spent morsel.

      He flies to the white paper birch and joins 

        With the juncos and the chipping sparrow


Perched in the ribs of the tree’s skeleton

  Under the grey breast of the winter sky.

    He waits for the promise of tomorrow

      In the biting wind and the falling snow,

        Warmed by the furnace of his colossal heart.


New numbers in the drill.

Tagged: Columbia River Gorge, Hood River Valley, little things, nature, poetry, winter, winter solstice, writing

Autumn Verses

Autumn Verses

Just remain in the center; watching. And then forget that you are there.” Lao Tzu


The summer idles soon dissolve and autumn chores come due. 

I split and stack the firewood and clean the sooty flue.


In my yard, with the messy genius of its webs,

October’s captured insects keep the spiders all well fed,

And they tuck their sticky egg sacs in the rafters of the shed.


Birds scratch and fidget in the woodyard debris,

Warm in the sun with their activity.

Yet they know, they know, the order of things, 

And that the time is near.


And of all the songs they sang in spring,

While in the trees, that I can still remember,

None hinted at the frosty days that arrive with each November.


I hear a wind chimes’ melody announce a frisky breeze

That stirs and unhinges from the black oak’s branches

A large dense cloud of leaves.


Autumn Leaves and a Blue Sky
The Green Laurel
Firewood Split and Ready to Stack
Burning Bush Hedges
Oak Leaves on the Garden Path


Over the fence they twirl, and plummet to the ground

And nest on the rocks that surround the green laurel. 

The talons of their stems wedge near to the stones

And resist the rake that claws at their bones.


Others hide behind the skirt of the burning bush hedges.

More scuttle down the street on their curly dry edges,

Propelled by a gust, disappearing with the wind.


And I, too, know the order of some things:

That poetry exists in the disorder of life

And decoration in its clutter.


For at 69, I live in a perpetual world of autumn,

Chilled by the oblique light of age and illness.

And the days flutter away, much like the leaves

While I keep the company of stillness.


Yet I don’t resent mortality,

Nor does the child that resides in me.

Though it’s manifest in what we hear and see.


PS: Notes and numbers on the third cycle in The Drill.

Apologies to all who read and commented on Adagio for Autumn. I didn’t like that post and have replaced its intentions with these verses.

Tagged: autumn, cancer, cats, gardening, Hood River Valley, mortality, nature, poetry, raking leaves

Poetry Corner

I was tuned into PBS the other day, and happened to catch a few minutes of a poetry reading. It happened to catch my attention because it was the kind of poetry that doesn’t rhyme. I guess you call it prose rather than poetry. Anyway, there was this guy who was so stereotypical I couldn’t stand it. He was wearing tight black jeans, a black turtleneck shirt, and, as God is mu judge, was wearing a black beret atop his wavy gray locks. He looked like an ancient hipster from the fifties, contributors of expression such as “like” and “dig it.” Like, can you dig it, daddy-o?

I got my first marijuana joint from a guy named Rock. He always wore black jeans, motorcycle boots, a white tee shirt with the sleeves rolled to the shoulder (often a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled within), and was often seen wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket, a la Marlon Brando. He was a juvenile delinquent, or as my mother called him, a ‘hood.’ He boasted an arrest record for petty stuff, and when he wasn’t running a comb through his heavily Brylcreemed pompadour, he was a girl magnet. I suppose that happened even when he combed his hair. He wasn’t Fonzie, just a high school dropout that tended to march to a different drummer, kind of like north Idahoans. The pot I got from him was bought on a dare for the high price of a dollar. My friends and I gathered around and kept holding a match to it trying to make it light up and eventually we burned it up without managing to inhale any. Anyway, back to powtry.

So here’s this caricature, a total stereotype, and he’s speaking impassioned words which, I am absolutely certain, did not belong together if the goal was a meaningful statement.

“Oh, my heart wanders.

Yes. It is my eyes, oh yes.


Show me the gift unwrapped my suspense too suffocating to endure.

Away! Away! Wander!”

Dude, I’m like “do what?” Totally. I have absolutely no idea what that was about, but I did verify that it was a serious attempt at poetic performance art and not a spoof. But sure enough, he’s serious. Well, there was an audience to his show; maybe 20 people packed themselves into the 150 seat room –and then there was people like me, the television audience. I figure that it probably rounded out to a total viewership of 22: the 20 people in the TV audience, me, and some guy who fell asleep while watching an earlier PBS program and hasn’t wakened to shut it off yet.

I could write poetry …er, prose. Here is a haiku about writing poetry: sonorous duplication not an echo. Rhyme! (Not to be confused with the black actor Ving Rhyme, who doesn’t, by the way. Rhyme. I guess it’s another case of prose.

Wander!~ Oh, Wander! Taking my heart with me, I withdraw.

What did you expect? This is about art, for crying out loud. Or silently. Away!


by Thomas R. Smith 

It’s like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn’t.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.

“Trust” by Thomas R. Smith, from Waking Before Dawn. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2007. 

More about Thomas R. Smith. What does health care reform have to do with poetry? A timely essay by Mr. Smith: A Guide to the Health Care Labrynth.

Happiness (Reconsidered)

by Judith Viorst

Is a clean bill of health from the doctor,
And the kids shouldn’t move back home for
more than a year,
And not being audited, overdrawn, in Wilkes-Barre,
in a lawsuit or in traction.

Is falling asleep without Valium,
And having two breasts to put in my brassiere,
And not (yet) needing to get my blood pressure lowered,
my eyelids raised or a second opinion.

And on Saturday nights
When my husband and I have rented
Something with Fred Astaire for the VCR,
And we’re sitting around in our robes discussing,
The state of the world, back exercises, our Keoghs,
And whether to fix the transmission or buy a new car,
And we’re eating a pint of rum-raisin ice cream
on the grounds that
Tomorrow we’re starting a diet of fish, fruit and grain,
And my dad’s in Miami dating a very nice widow,
And no one we love is in serious trouble or pain,
And our bringing-up-baby days are far behind us,
But our senior-citizen days have not begun,
It’s not what I called happiness
When I was twenty-one,
But it’s turning out to be
What happiness is.
We didn’t need another reason to love Judith Viorst, but here’s one anyways. Priorities, perspectives and definitions shift and change as we age and, hopefully, mature. The first sentence resonates like a giant brass gong. Would anyone in their 20s, or even 30s have put a clean bill of health first on the list? Now I can’t imagine anything else. I think happiness may be the absence of strife, trauma, etc., and the ability to appreciate that absence. I know it’s a lot simpler that most folks realize. What do you think happiness is?

(Good insights at The Happiness Project; see cool sites at right.)