Saturday, July 25, 2015

Three Seeds and the Imaginal Garden

Walking near Lake Merritt in Oakland early evening tonight, where I used to walk with my dear dog Golda. We had a routine where I'd park near the gym on Grand, in side streets a few blocks away. Before or after I'd go to the gym, I'd walk her in the residential streets surrounding. We savored those blocks together, and there was a particular house with a garden that we both looked forward to going to.

Tonight I walked toward that Dr. Seuss garden again, this time hollow without my friend. But I went there again in remembrance of dear Golda.

It is a dry hippie garden. That is, the garden is dry, not the hippies--drought-resistant. You know the sort, with no grass but colorful flowers in abandon, no particular pattern. The sort with no pretense but only welcome, that gladly encrusts a cast-off skateboard into a little shrine by cacti. A shrine for what, who knows, but one feels it is for good. Tonight I noticed new sea-green ceramic shards scattered artfully, but not too carefully, into the shrubs.

When Golda was still alive, on just one visit we happened to meet the owner, a nice British man with grown children. As we spoke, Golda lay patient in the shade of the cacti and the great trees. She felt a calm there. He said the skateboard had been his son's and became part of the garden when he'd stopped using it. When the owner regaled in his delightful British accent, he said that his wife had put up the Little Library. I thanked him for it, as well as for his colorful garden.

They'd started a Little Library on the curb, not the cabinetry-approved, sealed sort, but the turn-a-moldering wooden crate-on-its-side-atop-a-wicker-something sort. Golda and I had loved to browse the books, and here I'd found a Trail Runner's Guide to the SF Bay Area last year. I'd only started on it since I wanted to put off hours-long runs while my dear old dog still wanted her slow walks, where we both spent hours sniffing the air and shrubs.

When I walked by tonight, I admired the garden again and remembered how it was one of our destinations, the sort of place that feels tender, warm, kind, cluster-bursts springing vividly with imagination.

I turned my head and browsed the slanted handful of titles. I recognized the deep green spine of Beryl Markham's West with the Night. Hadn't I read that when it had come out? Not sure, I flipped through the chapters. One caught my eye, and a paragraph on seeds called to me:

"Look at a seed in the palm of a farmer's hand. It can be blown away with a puff of breath and that is the end of it. But it holds three lives -- its own, that of the man who may feed on its increase, and that of the man who lives by its culture. If the seed die, these men will not, but they may not live as they always had. They may be affected because the seed is dead; they may change, they may put their faith in other things."
--Beryl Markham

May we hold all three of these seeds, even those of the imagination.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Completist Streak

In the New York Times profile on the famous mathematician Terry Tao, the author notes that in college, Tao had a penchant for long runs playing the simulation game Civilization.

Now, though, Tao, a UCLA professor, has sworn off all such games--due, he says, to his "completist streak" which makes it hard for him to stop playing.

Now, there! I had thought I had difficulty stopping reading a story or article because of--I don't know, an obsessive tendency? An obstinate, hard-headed, stubborn, impractical bent?

But Mr. Tao has taught me that what I really have is a completist streak!

That sounds so much better.

It took a mathematician to solve that puzzle.

Thanks, Tao.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

2 Poems in Drunken Boat: Orangutans in Sumatra, and an Oakland Lully, Lullay Carol

2 poems appear in the Union folio of Drunken Boat (thanks to editors Alvin Pang and Ravi Shankar).

One explores how palm oil plantations are affecting orangutans in Sumatra, and how Singapore palm oil companies are meshed with U.S. consumers' drive for palm oil as a transfats alternative. Read "Sita and the Orangutans Sumatra Sutra" here

The second poem I wrote in Oakland just before the holidays when the whole world seemed both stilled and streaming. Read "Lully Lullay" here

You may read both poems here

You can also Listen to the audio

Bee Poems

The Guardian has linked to some bee poems

The editors of winged: new writing on bees, an anthology of bee poems, link to information on colony collapse disorder

Friday, May 8, 2015

1 Poem - "Legacy Tattoo"

If you ever want to check out a truly gorgeously made magazine, the Catamaran Literary Reader is it! Sumptuously produced, it features beautiful paintings on almost every spread, many of them local to Santa Cruz, where the magazine originates. The Spring 2015 issue features Rebecca Faust and Melissa Stein. Thanks to Zack Rogow for including my work in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue, a poem entitled "Legacy Tattoo."

Back story: the title originates from a time I spent with my sister a couple years ago. I visited her where she was living in Mynot, North Dakota. That spring in 2012, the ice pack up in Canada had held off melting until past its usual time, and then, suddenly in April, the ice melted with a vengeance. The waters thundered down from Canada and flooded the banks of the Souris River (yes, it means mouse in French). My sister had bought a house down in this area, and it was flooded to the point that it was uninhabitable. When I visited her, she was in a temporary rental.

One day, I went out running by myself, down to the Souris River. Even 500 feet from the river's banks, all was swept-over gravel, as if smoothed by once had been the river's rough and wild hand. It was still a vast, silent empty. The few businesses were closed, detritus of lumber and branches stacked to the side and in the front, clearly speaking to the nonoperational quality of what lay within.

One shuttered business, in a two-story wooden house with a porch, bore the sign, "Legacy Tattoo," in red letters on a white background, the lettering like that of a saloon. It was too evocative, that old tattoo parlor shuttered with the high plains eerie light hitting it. It got me moody, intrigued, and reflective on our legacies--ancestral and creaturely--and how they imprint us.

Read the poem here

2 Poems - "Sita and the Orangutans Sumatra Sutra" and "Lully Lullay"

Thanks to Alvin Pang and Ravi Shankar for publishing a couple poems in Drunken Boat, a special issue on the theme of Union, including poets from Singapore and the United States. I took the occasion to consider orangutans in Sumatra in "Sita and the Orangutans Sumatra Sutra."

I also included a poem "Lully Lullay," written Dec. 24, 2014, a jazzy livestream of upsetting headlines and songclips (Joni Mitchell and mournful Xmas tunes) and my neighborhood happenings including migrant birds' journeys, all against the background of the culture winding down to a standstill on the day before the holiday.

Read and Listen to the Poems Here

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Coqui Frog Gets Smaller, Song Gets Briefer & Higher

I am always curious about how our little creatures deep in the forests are experiencing changes due to our creation of more carbon dioxide in our global air. Let's take a look at the little coqui frog in the forests of Puerto Rico. The coqui has existed for more than 11,000 years and is a beloved protagonist in Puerto Rico's folklore, songs, and children's books.

UCLA Professor of Biology Peter Narins has been studying the coqui for 41 years. In 1983, he began a longitudinal study of the coqui, studying male frogs at 28 different altitudes, from near to sea level to up in the highest hills. Checking back in two decades later in 2006, he found that frogs had grown smaller, which is consistent with moving upward in elevation due to a rise in ambient temperature. Basically, the frogs found their current elevation too hot, so they moved upward in elevation, thus causing their offspring to be smaller as they migrated upward. During this same time period, the temperature had raised .5 degrees.

Not only had the frogs migrated to a higher elevation, but their songs had changed. Usually in Puerto Rico, the frogs at a lower elevation are shorter with a higher pitch in comparison with the lower, long songs of their brethren in the hills. Narins and his research partner Sebastiaan Meenderink found that, within a certain elevation, over the 2 decades, the frogs' song pitch had risen and also had grown shorter in duration.

The song is used for two purposes: the "co" part of the song is for territorial defense against other males, while the "-qui" part of the song is intended to impress female coqui frogs. Since the purpose of the latter song is to attract females to mate with, scientists predict that the briefer, higher-pitched song will decrease the coqui's reproductive success. In other words: briefer & higher song, fewer coqui females attracted, fewer baby coquis grown. This spells potential trouble, since the coqui exists within an entire interdependent web: the coquis are the prey of other animals such as "owls, snakes, land crabs," according to Stuart Wolpert.

Read the original research here