Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mark Twain AKA Samuel Clemens

November 30, 1835-April 21, 1910

"Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog."  Speech, 11/23/1900

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In the Style of the Brothers Grimm

An Adult Nursery Rhyme

It’s tea time, my free time
but what’s a dragon to do
I’ve read this book a thousand times
the story must be true

The fire burns red and blue and green
the lilies wilt and it would seem
that all is well with me
but I’m alone so far from home
and there’s no one I want to see

It would be good if the rains would come
and wash away my grief
my belly’s full but my heart is broke
and sleep brings no relief

The wings upon my broken back
no longer do they fly
so I will close my eyes at last
and hope that I don’t die.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Life Mistake #253

I once had an opportunity to buy an Andy Warhol litho, something similar to the above. It was less than a grand, but way out of my league at the time. I've always wished I had bought it anyway. 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Just Another Norman Rockwell Day

I grew up yearning for Norman Rockwell holidays, painfully aware that my family would never quite measure up. After I went to live with my father and step-mother, we did have big family gatherings at Mamaw and PawPaw's tiny house in Ropesville, Texas. The table settings were simple, the food magnificent, my aunts striving to outdo each other. The men and children ate first; the women waited till last to find a place.

My son inherited the Gregory cooking gene. Each Thanksgiving he carefully prepares all the traditional dishes: turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, pickled beets, green beans, homemade pumpkin pies. And we are all most thankful.

Too Good to Miss

Every Tuesday and Wednesday, I'm mesmerized by the talent on "So You Think You Can Dance." And I'm totally blown away by Russell Ferguson, a krump dancer from Boston who is also trained in ballet, modern dance, and tap. After the show, I even pick up the phone and vote for him.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mare's Tails and Fish Scales

Mare’s tails, we called them. They offered the possibility of some respite from the heat as we made our way up and down the rows. Two up, two back, sun-up to around noon, when the heat would drive us in for lunch. Baloney sandwiches and ice cold sweet tea, maybe some leftover cake if we were lucky. Afterwards, a long nap on the cool linoleum floor. 

By 2:00 we’d be back in the field, revived and working quickly to finish as much as we could by 5:00 when it’d be time to change the irrigation pipe. Mom set the pace and I kept up as best I could. If I was unlucky and got the rows where the Johnson grass patch sent tubers deep into the red sand, she’d come and help me dig it out.
Up and down, up and down, eyes darting, me watching for snakes, Mom watching for field mice, each with our separate demons. 

Once she chopped the head off a small gopher snake, left it laying between the furrows, waiting for me to get even with the dead carcass so she could yell “SNAKE!” and laugh while I went leaping up and down the row, shrieking and cursing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Awesome Young Man

I couldn't figure out how to link this more elegantly. But, check it out. Very cool!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Happy Birthday to My Beloved James

Love Story in Six Parts

1. Long Night

Damp skin to damp skin
she rocks gently
to the hum of the kitchen
the flutter of night birds.
His tiny hand wraps round her finger.
For now they are safe.
She prays for a long night.

2. The Kiss

Her heart is full of grief.
Her heart is broken.
The pain runs out the bottom.
Love flows in the top
runs out the bottom.

They let her dress him.
She touches his face, his body
checks to see
if he was taking care
of himself.
He’s not skinny.
She feels better.

She kisses his feet.
Like the day he was born.

3. Waiting

A menagerie of glass
a hummingbird with no feet
an apple with no stem
an angel with only one wing.
He sees past the missing parts
the sharp dangerous edges
scoops them up
gives them sanctuary
in the small drab room
where his dreams struggle to survive.

They crouch on shelves
hide in drawers
wait in boxes
to be discovered by someone else
a new savior
who can find beauty 

where others see
only trash.

4. April’s Sorrow

Wind whips against windows
rattles the glass
whistles up drain spouts.
Trees bend
flick roof tops with bare limbs
unburden themselves
of the last dry leaves
prepare for spring rebirth.

April’s sorrow,
an unwanted but expected guest,
slips quietly into the room
sits in the corner of her heart.

She presses fingertips
to the cool glass
prays for a cleansing wind
to lift the dead foliage
of guilt and regret.

5. What She Saves

Each harsh word.
Each time she made a selfish choice.
Midday calls from the school,
late-night calls from the police.
Relief when he leaves;
grief, emptiness
when he is gone.

He lives a life without rules
but with consequences.

She waits for visiting hours to begin
endures the silence 

when family news is exhausted.
Later he refuses even phone calls.
She waits
sees the future,
is not prepared when it arrives.

She saves it all in a small box,
buries it
in the back yard
in an unmarked grave.
Starts a new box for
other things she needs to save.

6. Dia de los Muertos

Borrowing the custom from her neighbors
she builds an altar
covers it with photographs
birthday cards, his favorite book,
homemade calaveras and sugar skulls.

She reads that in Oaxaca those who
leave this world con violencia
return early, October 28th
perhaps to leave space for gentler
spirits who arrive on All Souls Day.
She buries herself in mindless work
glasses of tequila
until well after midnight.
The altar sits dark.

November 1st
tissue paper flowers, papel picado
flutter in the draft of burning candles
lifting another layer of grief.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Makebate: a trouble-maker
After 3 days on the job, I'm obsessed with fixing what's wrong and making everything better. 
It's a curse.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I'm so tired I can't stand myself. But it's all good.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Where It All Began

And why it will never stop. . .

These girls were students in my first teaching gig: after school at Hall District almost ten years ago . For the next few months I'll be running the same program down the street at Ohlone School. After one day, I'm already smitten.

Back to School

It won't be quite this much fun, but it will be good to be back with the afterschool children. It's a parttime gig until April 1. I won't have quite as much free time, but I'll have a bit more money :>)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Waiting for Picasso

I'm old, look good in blue, and want to sit barefoot on a street corner and play the guitar. Maybe I was just born too late.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Once Upon a Time

There was a mom with two small sons. They all lived in a small house with one real bedroom and a pretend bedroom in the garage. On neighborhood clean-up night, they walked the streets, dragging home a blue and turquoise sofa and a dresser with a missing drawer. 

Responding to a strange yearning, the mom saw small framed reproductions of famous artworks at the local grocery store. Choosing carefully, she brought home a Monet, two Van Goughs, and a Picasso. 

Sitting alone in the dark, she looked around the room and saw that it was good. 

Happy Birthday Whoopi

AKA the Genie from Aladdin, by way of photographer Annie Leibowitz, commissioned by Disney to celebrate their "Year of a Million Dreams." 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

To Do List

Plant yellow jonquils and purple iris
Listen to ravens outside the window
Encourage the world to be kinder
Teach children to fall in love with words

Feel less sad when I say goodbye
Cherish my granddaughter’s voice
Worry less about the future
Weep when I remember my father

Try everything at least once
Fill my life with color and song
Work at being more patient
Learn to live one day at a time

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

This photo represents a time when James was feeling strong and self-confident. Having just finished Marine bootcamp, he felt a part of something larger than himself. Sadly, within a relatively short time, he was assigned to endless days of mindless maneuvers and resorted to endless weekends of drugs and alcohol.
At some point he went AWOL and ended up in the brig. He eventually fathered a son, married, fathered two more children, divorced, dealt drugs, fathered another child, and lived on the edge for the rest of his short life.
But I will forever remember that tearful day when I watched my son stand with his Marine brothers, feeling strong and full of purpose.

Wanda Part 8

Ruby looks at the clock. It’s only 5:30 but she’s been awake for at least an hour. Marvin snores lightly, the lines on his forehead relaxed. She eases from the bed, puts on her robe, and goes to make coffee. It’s Wednesday and she needs to be at Furr’s by 8:30 to sack groceries.
She lights the oven, stirs up a pan of biscuits, and fries some bacon. Awakened by the smell of breakfast, Marvin is up and out to milk. Ruby goes into the middle bedroom, nuzzles Daisy’s ear, and gently shakes the bed. “Time to get up little girl. If you want a ride to school this morning, you’ll have to be ready to go when I am.”
Marvin brings in the bucket of warm milk. Ruby strains it through an old dishtowel and finds a place in the refrigerator for the gallon jug. The three of them sit down to eat, the silence broken only by the scrape of forks.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Happy Birthday Clara Ann Fowler

AKA, Patti Page, reminds me of being 10 years old (1954) and going to live with my father and step-mother (AKA Mom). Mom had a beautiful voice (still does) and would sing many of the pop songs of that time. One of my favorites was "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?"

Somewhere I Have Never Traveled

One of life's pleasures is discovering universal stories told in languages other than mine. Yesterday, Cindy, Shie-fang, and I went to the Taiwan Film Festival in San Francisco to see Somewhere I Have Never Traveled. It's an extraordinary film from first time Director/Writer Fu-Tien Yu, with stellar performances by first time actors. Hopefully it will be released elsewhere and made available on DVD. For more info:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

San Francisco Icon

Silver Crest: a cool diner with great burgers and an honest-to-god jukebox at each booth. There's a bar and pool table in the back. Chat up the owner who hasn't missed a day in 40 years and you might end up with a free shot of ouzo. Check it out!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wanda Part 7

“So, how far along are you?”

Wanda is caught off guard. She tries to avoid looking directly at Marlene but knows that won’t work for long. She might as well get it over with. “About two months, I guess. I never was that regular so I’m not for sure.”

Marlene balances the plates of pancakes and eggs on her arm and backs through the swinging door. “Looks more like three to me.”

Wanda hopes Marlene is wrong. She also hopes she won’t say anything to anyone else, especially the manager. She needs to work as long as she can and she hasn’t told Jake yet. It could get ugly if he heard from someone else that she was pregnant.

Marlene swings back into to the kitchen. “You seen a doctor yet?”

“I don’t even know one. I’ve never been to the doctor since I left…” she started to say “home” but knew that wouldn’t be a good idea. “Since I left school. Do you know anybody?”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blackbirds-One of My Favorite Things


parapraxis: n. a memory loss; a slip of the tongue; general clumsiness

Like many of my peers, I find myself searching my brain for an elusive word, a phrase waiting right there on the tip of the tongue.
I prefer to see this as the result of having consumed so much information over the years, that some of it just naturally sinks to the bottom of consciousness, waiting until it's really needed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Henri Matisse 1869-1954

Sometimes I think I was born too late. I'm so drawn to the art of this era (late 1800's/early 1900's). Still, there's a role for the "rememberers."

T for Texas, T for Tennessee

She's two-stepping with Daddy to her aunt's scratchy record player. Her family doesn't dance much. Mostly they play cards, smoke cigarettes, tell jokes, and drink coffee.

She knows they wish she'd go outside and play with the kids but she doesn't feel like a kid anymore. She doesn't feel like a grownup either but she's learned to play canasta perched on a stool at her aunt’s elbow. Sometimes they let her sit in on a hand while her dad goes to switch the irrigation line over to the other side.

Once, when her step-mother found out that she'd been smoking with friends out behind the school gym at lunch, she had to smoke a whole pack of Lucky Stikes in front of Uncle James. One cigarette after another, her eyes red from smoke and choked-back tears. Her aunt wouldn’t look at her, never said a word.

A couple of years later she saw her aunt with her dad in the parking lot of Myrtle Hill Baptist Church, their arms around each other, barely visible in the dark. She wondered if it was that day of smoke and tears that brought them together in some kind of shared understanding that it wasn’t good to humiliate a child, even if it was “for her own good.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day of the Dead

On this special day of remembrance, my heart turns to my beloved James. 1963-1997

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Harmonica Player

She wanted to play the harmonica ever since she heard those women at The Five and Dine in El Segundo. They must have been in their fifties or sixties, the three of them. One played guitar and the other a keyboard. But it was the harmonica that made Marlene fall in love.

Later a friend of a friend gave her one but only if she promised to play it. She tried but it was just too big, too fancy. So she put it back in its pretty case and went down to the used book store where she found a smaller one with instructions and a guarantee that “anybody can learn to play.”

At night she’d pour herself a finger of Jim Beam and sit out on the back step to practice. At first it seemed hard and then easy and then it got hard again. The only part she could get right was the uh huh huh huh. After awhile it got to be more fun to have another finger or two of JB, forget about the book, and just let ‘er rip.