Larry on flat tax

A lot of people have been sending around an email about a 28th ammendment–along with Warren Buffet’s great quote about the budget deficit: “I could end the deficit in 5 minutes,” he told CNBC. “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.”

However, according to Larry (and verified by Snopes),  most of the information in the email is inaccurate.  In regard to the “tax the rich” discussion that’s also current, Larry sez:

“If you want a flat tax (by far the simplest, most equitable solution), you need to get 218 congressmen, 60 senators (enough to prevent filibuster), and 1 president to stop selling their votes to special interests.” Larry says he’s heavily short on this possibility.

As if to prove his point, he pointed out that two New York Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, are sponsoring a bill that would make selling fake maple syrup a felony.







Roberto Chavez at the Autry

For those of you au courant with the art world, there’s a dramatic set of exhibitions of Los Angeles artists happening in Southern California. Sponsored by the Getty, and called “Pacific Standard Time: Arti n L.A. 1945-1980.”  I went to the opening of one show at the Autry called Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican-American Generation. Our old friend, the artist Roberto Chavez, is one of the artists featured in this stunning exhbit. (You can see a short video of him sketching here.)

We’ve know Roberto for decades, and it is a thrill to see his work displayed in such a well-curated show. I’m willing to forgive any number of hyphens for the job the organizers did.  As you come into the show there’s a wall of self portraits of the six artists in the exhibit in various media, grouped almost as you would group a wall of family photos.  Here is Roberto’s self portrait:

We used to own a wonderful small self-portrait of Roberto with a lime-green background, one of my favorite pieces of art. But we loaned it to a gallery for a show and the owner sold it–a shocking offense I haven’t gotten over 30 years later.

There were other works in the Autry show that I loved. One is the wonderful “Group Shoe” portrait as a humorous take on the first show Roberto and three friends were in (a group show, hence the pun) at the Ceejay Gallery. Here’s the photo from the catalog along with Roberto’s painting:


















Another favorite is “Ladies Art Class,” from the days of Roberto’s teaching career. He told another friend that after he painted this, each of the women came up to him individually and told him that he had captured all of the women in the class perfectly, except her.

The only other living artist featured in the show was Dora De Larios, a ceramicist–one of her works is here. She and Roberto were both in attendance and both gave afternoon talks and brief speeches at the gala that evening.  An artist I’d never seen before whose work captivated me was Domingo Ulloa. Two of his woodcuts were especially powerful, Painters on Strike, and Wolf Pack:








You can see more images from the show, but they left out many of the ones I found most moving, including Roberto’s canvas titled Belsen.  This is a grim piece in blacks and yellow greens of bodies being stacked with a bulldozer. When asked about it after his talk, he said “I was interested in people being treated like garbage.”

Here’s a few you won’t see anywhere but here, though, a Chavez painting of apples that hangs in my daughter’s dining room, and a painting of persimmons that I think of as its twin by Bob Ross (another terrific artist) that hangs in mine:

There are more, but I think this is enough for today! (And for those of you who really notice, that’s Larry’s ear in the corner of the apples painting.)

A few New England snaps

As a complement to the cactus and succulents on Abbot Kinney, I found their New England equivalent on Huntington Avenue in Boston:

Here’s my favorite sign from Western Massachusetts–a little free publicity for Tony, in case any of you have some fresh deer to slaughter.  Along with a taste of that great fall color–I love how this tree has been sculpted around the wires:






Lots more to come, but for now, it feels great to be back home. The chickens are laying, the tomatoes are ripening, and the baby greens are sprouting.

Plus, this morning over breakfast (kale, zuccini, onions and herbs from the garden, sautéed with eggs gathered yesterday!) Larry pointed out Robert Pierpoint’s obituary, with this great photo.  It’s worth reading the article to find out the story behind it.

A great trip, and great to be back home.


Rainy day in New England

It’s cold and rainy today with a definite feel of the coming of winter. It reminded me of this poem by Robert Mezey (one of that amazing group of students of John Berryman’s at Iowa).  His is a California fall poem, and it always gives me a shiver when I come to the last lines. I especially like the image of fire’s many small teeth, and the sun narrowed to a filament. The poem is full of the feeling of death that waits for all living things and that fall exposes.

Touch It

Out on the bare grey roads, I pass
by vineyards withering toward winder,
cold magenta shapes and green fingers
and the leaves rippling in the early darkness.

Past the thinning orchard the fields
are on fire.  A mountain of smoke
climbs the desolate wind, and at its roots
fire is eating dead grass with many small teeth,

When I get home, the evening sun
has narrowed to a filament.  When it goes
and the dark falls like a hand on a tabletop,
I am told that what we love most is dying.

The coldness of it is even on this page
at the edge of your fingernail.  Touch it.

Robert Mezey

Sunny Southern California

I’m on a 10-day jaunt—first LA, then Boston, New England, NY.  (And just when the pullets have really started to lay!) More about the terrific art show we went to at the Autry Museum when I’m home and can post the photos.  Meanwhile, here are a few shots from my cell phone while wandering along Abbot Kinney, in Venice (California, not Italy). I was struck by some uniquely Southern California scenes—landscapes of succulents and cactus against concrete and horizontal wood is a common theme.  This one fronts an what looked like an office building without a name.

Rusted number cans full of succulents gave this clothing store a hipster look.

And I’m not sure what’s behind the massive base of this palm.

Heading off on side streets, the posh mingles with the down and out and the just plain zany, like this southern plantation on a small city lot.

The dog was alive, btw.  And this one seemed just ironic—let’s vote for peace while we keep everyone out.

A delicious, kitschy hour in the sun.



Dr. Seuss plant

Every gardener has favorite plants. Mine is a little vine called Ceropegia Distincta.  It looks like nothing but a lot of green sticks a lot of the time, and then suddenly sprouts tendrils and leaves. Little flower buds form that turn into white and purple polka dotted upside down umbrellas that look like an illustration from a Dr Seuss book, this one from McElligot’s Pool.  After months looking lifeless, the ceropegia is doing it again this week:

It’s not a metaphor for anything, but is just itself.



Okay, time for a short rant about motivational pablum.  Like Chicken Soup for the Soul (I’m NOT going to link to that), or the slightly more sophisticated message from Thich Nhat-Hanh which I saw on a blog I occasionally enjoy, An Improvised Life:

We often ask, “What’s wrong?” Doing so, we invite painful seeds of sorrow to come up and manifest. We feel suffering, anger, and depression, and produce more such seeds. We would be much happier if we tried to stay in touch with the healthy, joyful seeds inside of us and around us. We should learn to ask, “What’s not wrong?” and be in touch with that. There are so many elements in the world and within our bodies, feelings, perceptions, and consciousness that are wholesome, refreshing, and healing. If we block ourselves, if we stay in the prison of our sorrow, we will not be in touch with these healing elements.”

There’s something about this kind of instruction (and I do admire the man!) that makes me want to go out and eat worms out of sheer perversity. Life is complicated and those healthy, joyful seeds also contain disease, death, despair, or as Berryman put it, “the image of the dead on the fingernail/of a newborn child.” Acknowledging that complexity is (at least for me) a much richer, deeper praise than asking what’s not wrong. Sorrow doesn’t have to be a prison; it can be a door to accepting the world as we find it.

“Cantatrice,” by Berryman, is by far more my kind of prayer. It appears at the end of this post, which I see was a little bit of a rant itself.

From the 60s or maybe the 70s

Larry has been going though boxes, and found this note that I’d copied from a personal ad:

Dear Johnny,
Please come home. Your father promises
he won't argue so much and he will
call you by that bird-name.

I can’t quite imagine the personal ad my parents would have printed, but like this one, I doubt it would have done any good.

Remember to catch Larry on KCSM, FM 91.1, tonight (October 9) at 9 pm PST with Mal Sharpe, autographed photos to give away, and cuts from the Ponderosa Stomp. You can stream this live on the web.

Lucky in lunch

How lucky to live in the Bay Area, with its surfeit of poetry events. Today, I heard Bob Hass talk about and read from the work of Tomas Tranströmer and Czesław Miłosz. The one-hour event is from a series at UC called “Lunch Poems,” and was billed as Hass reading from the work of Miłosz. News had just come in that Tranströmer had won the Nobel Prize and Bob talked about and read a few of his poems, too. He has translated both poets, and said that the three of them once had a meal together in Paris.

It was wonderful to hear Bob’s exposition on both these poets. I don’t have copies of exactly the poems he read, but soon the reading and Bob stories will be on YouTube, you can search for it.  In the meantime, here is a famous poem by Miłosz, who lived in exile from his native country for several decades in Berkeley. Until he received the Nobel Prize in 1980, he was almost unknown here, a professor of Polish literature at UC, writing in Polish, not largely translated.

This poem is fairly typical, starting with an event, seeming to meander along, almost prose, in reminiscence.  The “magic mountain” itself is a reference to Tomas Mann’s novel by that name, about a man exiled to a sanitorium for tuberculosis. But as the poem meanders it gathers to a fierce anger–the poet blazes out at his lack of recognition, the absence of fame, his inability to change the world. From there it moves to acceptance, endurance, and a wonderful couplet about how the work of poetry itself is a kind of salvation:

With a flick of the wrist I fashioned an invisible rope,
And climbed it and it held me.

Then, the poet is back in the real world, a little self-mocking, a little disdaining of the pomp of caps and gowns. He returns to July in Berkeley, hummingbirds and fog. It must have been hard for a poet whose work over and over seems extraordinarily alive to place to have lived most of his life estranged from home.

A Magic Mountain

I don’t remember exactly when Budberg died, it was either two years
ago or three.
The same with Chen. Whether last year or the one before.
Soon after our arrival, Budberg, gently pensive,
Said that in the beginning it is hard to get accustomed,
For here there is no spring or summer, no winter or fall.

“I kept dreaming of snow and birch forests.
Where so little changes you hardly notice how time goes by.
This is, you will see, a magic mountain.”

Budberg: a familiar name in my childhood.
They were prominent in our region,
This Russian family, descendants of German Balts.
I read none of his works, too specialized.
And Chen, I have heard, was an exquisite poet,
Which I must take on faith, for he wrote in Chinese.

Sultry Octobers, cool Julys, trees blossom in February.
Here the nuptial flight of hummingbirds does not forecast spring.
Only the faithful maple sheds its leaves every year.
For no reason, its ancestors simply learned it that way.

I sensed Budberg was right and I rebelled.
So I won’t have power, won’t save the world?
Fame will pass me by, no tiara, no crown?
Did I then train myself, myself the Unique,
To compose stanzas for gulls and sea haze,
To listen to the foghorns blaring down below?
Until it passed. What passed? Life.
Now I am not ashamed of my defeat.
One murky island with its barking seals
Or a parched desert is enough
To make us say: yes, oui, si.
“Even asleep we partake in the becoming of the world.”
Endurance comes only from enduring.
With a flick of the wrist I fashioned an invisible rope,
And climbed it and it held me.

What a procession! Quelles délices!
What caps and hooded gowns!
Most respected Professor Budberg,
Most distinguished Professor Chen,
Wrong Honorable Professor Milosz
Who wrote poems in some unheard-of tongue.
Who will count them anyway. And here sunlight.
So that the flames of their tall candles fade.
And how many generations of hummingbirds keep them company
As they walk on. Across the magic mountain.
And the fog from the ocean is cool, for once again it is July.

Berkeley, 1975

Lit crit

I’ve been slowly reading through a 1992 issue of a British literary magazine called “Verse,” which Larry found amid his books. It features Donald Justice, a poet I really like. I memorized this sonnet of his, which he wrote to get into John Berryman’s seminar at Iowa. According to Larry, who told me this story, many more students than the seminar could accommodate showed up the first day. Berryman assigned a sonnet, and only a few even tried–fewer were accepted.

I like the mysteriousness of this sonnet about Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge. It plays on a story we all know, and yet makes it happen anew. I especially admire how “the first omen” is that they “can find no flaw/ in all of Eden.” We humans don’t seem to be able to bear perfection very long! And “the first omen” sounds so full of dread, followed by the dream of the lion sharpening its claw. We know what’s going to happen and this sets it up. I also like how it takes us right up to the moment of exile and leaves us in dread.

The Wall

The wall surrounding them they never saw;
The angels, often. Angels were as common
As birds or butterflies, but looked more human.
As long as the wings were furled, they felt no awe.
Beasts, too, were friendly. They could find no flaw
In all of Eden: this was the first omen.
The second was the dream which woke the woman.
She dreamed she saw the lion sharpen his claw.
As for the fruit, it had no taste at all.
They had been warned of what was bound to happen.
They had been told of something called the world.
They had been told and told about the wall.
They saw it now; the gate was standing open.
As they advanced, the giant wings unfurled.

Donald Justice

When I memorized this poem, I decided to switch a line, so that the poem ended “As for the fruit, it had no taste at all.”  The rhyme scheme still works that way, and I liked ending it with the sense of futility that line gives. But of course, that’s not Mr. Justice’s version, and he’s no longer around to discuss it. If he were, I’d write to him. I wonder what you think?

Meanwhile, although I admire Dana Gioia and William Logan enormously, the kind of literary criticism that appears in this volume seems beside the point (six different essays on his verse!). Either you like Donald Justice’s rather formal poetry or you don’t; discussing its format, analyzing its meter, and probing its origins doesn’t enhance my enjoyment of the poems. Au contraire. A surfeit of lit crit is one of the reasons I’m on my extended leave of absence from college.

As Larry said this morning, “If all the literary criticism in the world were to disappear overnight we would be not one whit poorer.”

You might have noticed that there hasn’t been much “Stuff Larry Sez,” lately. He was gone, then I was gone. Larry went to the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, a celebration of roots music that featured Big Jay McNeely, Lazy Lester, and many other colorful musicians. Larry is going to talk about this and give away some autographed photos on Mal Sharpe’s “Back on Basin Street” radio show on KCSM on Sunday, October 9, at 9 pm.


Sin Buffet

The services at Mendocino Coast Jewish Community Center are uniquely meaningful, thanks largely to Rabbi Margaret Holub. Margaret brings a transcendent spirituality to the services and innovation to the rituals. The singing, the harmonies, the relevance of the sermon, are all a contrast to what I grew up with. This year, I was lucky to attend Rosh Hashana services, which include the blowing of the shofar, a primitive blast of the ram’s horn.

This is something I loved even in the interminable, boring suburban services of my childhood. After then there is “the dreaded and anticipated sin buffet,” which has evolved over the years as an addition to the traditional ritual of “tashlik,” in which you take the debris and detritus of the old year, and cast it into the sea.

For the sin buffet, Margaret collects ideas over time and writes little cards, with cups of panko breadcrumbs in front of each. (Originally she wrote multiple slips of paper for each sin, and put them in paper cups, but as sins multiplied, the presentation evolved, too.) You walk around the table, contemplating the sins listed, take some crumbs from the ones that apply particularly to you and put them in your pocket. Then you go down to to the ocean and toss them in. It’s a way to focus on what you need to work on in the coming year. Here is what it looks like, and some sample sins:









As you can see, there’s something for everyone. I love the idea of reviewing possible sins, and selecting the ones that resonate. And if you don’t see anything that applies to you, you can always choose this one, a cup particularly full of crumbs: