Percy Shelley



I'm saying your name out loud again

now I've turned fifty

and feeling more like an ageing survivor

of the Pisan Circle

than one of its younger, hyperactive expatriots.

My time runs

a hundred and fifty years later--

give or take a few years.

I would have drowned

in a sailing accident

less than a month shy of my thirtieth birthday

(perhaps in the Columbia or Willamette River

at the end of May, 1976), and I never

would have seen Hawaii.

Of course, I learned young how to swim

and probably would have reacted

more calmly (and less creatively?) than you did

at moments of crisis.

So here I am remembering

how your words clasped my youth

like rain clouds on the mountains,

thundering with blinding truths,

demanding loud commitments.

And how one night, when I fell asleep,

you stepped out of your short biography in

The Norton Anthology of English Literature

to knock on my parents' front door to tell me

it was Williams who prevented you

from taking down the sail

in your final storm.

Let me tell you here:

that dream today is definitely "a fading coal"

some thirty years later;

spoiled little aristocrats like you

don't get a classical

education in Greek and Latin anymore.

But the pursuit goes on,

"the desire of the moth for the star."

"astra ad astram,"

and we still forego certain comforts,

      increasingly desired in middle age.    





An Open Letter to the People of Santa Monica

Regarding the Demolition of the Old, Old Library


after school in sixty three and four

while others were loading surfboards

into open vans

I had to take the blue

number-nine bus into Santa Monica

get off across from Henshey's

the only department store around

and climb up stairs

to the noisy pink

red-tiled building set back

from the boulevard


then I loaded and unloaded

books and bound periodicals

and listened to nearby footsteps

as on a wooden stage

or the occasional voice

forgetting to whisper


that library housed more books

than I ever knew

could be opened in one place

and a mural depicting

a scientist with test tubes

an engineer with a model airplane

other inducements

to reading and the arts


I read Dewey decimals

on the sides of bindings

my right hand closing

around a cover

my left probing for a passage

between two other volumes

waiting to fill

the idea of order

in somebody's mind


what curiosity shook loose

my job set back

as right as such

inducement could perform


that was my first employment

I spent my paycheck on vinyl records

Bach's Brandenburg Concerti

Mozart's for Flute and Harp


sure it was a firetrap

too hot in summer

damp in winter

noisy much too often

and I commend the construction

of a new library overdue


but I'm sending this letter

to ask you what happened

to the people in the mural

and maybe to remind you

every movement of that order

is bound to shake loose somewhere

a load of memories

perhaps even on a page

in somebody's book


                     (a poem never previously published, but read at a Reading/Recital with Benno Rubinyi,

                                                 pianist, in the auditorium of the then new library in June of 1981 or '82)




                                                             for Peter, lost hang glider

                                                           ". . . every dream is a light"

                                                                                       Bill Stains



                The Greeks had it all wrong:

                crazy to think wax wings would melt

                        just by flying up, a little closer to the sun!

                But then they also thought Phaeton once tried

                to pull that fireball across the sky

                        in his father's own chariot.



                What Icarus really needed was wider, broader wings

                        the right kind of wind to lift him

                where he just had to go,

                                forever pursuing a wild updraft off a cliff,

                the whole ocean below performing its exotic dance for him.



                We on the ground had lost him from our views;

                        so he got up one morning, took off,

                                glided for a time, then plunged away from us.

                His friends assumed he was following them back in,

                        but when they searched horizons,

                                they found no trace.



                Now, in hindsight, we remember his beautiful eyes;

                        they were always yearning skyward,

                forever questioning our earthbound squint,

                                while we debated the truths

                        deciphered from old myths.                             Beyond Modesto


Sam Upton and Father, Central Park, NYC


Some events are instantaneous and eternal.

Take Samuel Upton's arrival in Central Park

Out of a Zeus-sized thundercloud, Summer 1980,

And say: "This child will be 21 in the year 2000."


His smile will take you a long, long way:

Out of the clouds, back to his father's arms

Outstretched and ready to receive any easy

Burden, bound to get heavier as years go by.


Already those legs have learned to walk on land

And, charged with the miracle of their arrival,

With all the excitement of streets and alleys

Yet to discover in a big city, they are running

At full career.


No, this kid is no Hercules hurled from Olympus

To desperately waiting mortal arms. The miracle

Here is a cherished thrusting upward from the father

To the son--suspended, weightless in a moment,

Caught by the camera--more like a kite

Linked forever without the tug of string.


And the actor-to-become now walks on Earth,

Filled with the smile of that immortal sky.              

                  (2003)  Beyond Modesto


False Spring

                for my son, Ben


           Those lumpy, brown beginnings of buds

           just now bulging out of black winter branches,

           showing a brittle, bright pinkish color

           the closer my eyeball bounces their way

           without fogging or blurring my lenses.


           I'm only out here broadcasting their beauty

           because the weather's so balmy and dry--

           February's fatally False Spring, when rain and wind,

           sleet and snow have stopped backing me under cover.


           Spying this way, I could use a close-up camera

           to shoot a threateningly perfect moment, when,

           already vulnerable, the plum tree hints its first renewal,

           then dangerously flashes its true colors again,


           and I meanwhile expose my own interests,

           leaning and staring without any clothes on--

           a spring bud no longer, but out there drinking in deep

           another False Spring: my well-trimmed beard turning white,

           plenty of gray hair on my chest mixed with the blond,

           and my face forever grinning at the Big Chill

           always clicking away, always so sure to return.   

                                        (1997) Beyond Modesto



Present Etiquette


           When you visit friends the first time,

           Don't bring presents for their children. An important

           Rule of etiquette. More so than the way a child

           Should hold a spoon or refrain from bouncing at table.

           Take Pauline and Lloyd, for instance, they brought me

           Wonderful things, wrapped in glossy paper, a white sticker

           On the ribbon saying Bullocks Wilshire--can't remember

           What came inside!--where Pauline worked every week day

           Over a case of jewelry, watches, cosmetics, perfumes--and

           Lloyd a car mechanic: greasing engines, relining brakes.

           Beware! If in future you should forget--just once--

           See the little monster throw a major tantrum,

           Watch the parents' awkward efforts at containment,

           Feel the odd adults embarrass. . . .Never say I didn't tell you.

                                                               Beyond Modesto



Late Rain


                  When he grew weary of the raindrops,

                  coming as they did in great abundance,

                  out of season, just when a much longer

                  drought had become almost axiomatic,


                  he thought of the geometry of suburban

                  street gutters filling up around him--so many

                  happy arroyos--and how impermeable

                  he once had been: a boy dressed

                  in his slick yellow raincoat and hat

                  of innocence, sailing pretend rafts

                  (old Popsicle sticks would do)

                  down those parallel street gutters

                  stamping his rubber boots in the puddles

                  ahead of that miniature flotilla, where

                  individual rafts might get hung up

                  on dams of debris--soaked leaves; stray paper;

                  dark-green, dislodged moss and slime--

                  at or around a corner--and that cleansing

                  brown flood, moving it all along "nicely"

                  faster and faster as the raindrops grew larger,

                  then finally cascading down a drain

                  under a road near a cliff, the shortest distance

                  between points,


                  or long twilight echo, overlooking flat seas.   

                                                Beyond Modesto



A Transderm System:

Soundings Off Cape Meares



        First apply the system before you need it.

                        It's easy on stable land or in a harbor,

                only the docks aslant at low tide.


        Second wipe pre-selected skin, hairless behind one ear.

                Then listen to the captain flex his motor.


        Third peel, clean-handed, the Transderm package, not touching

                        the drug's adhesive surface. See illustration.

                You have entered Tillamook Bay. . . . Western grebes dive

                left, loons and a guillemot right themselves. Avoid

                        salt spray on lenses.


        Fourth make good all contact with the skin. Warning: wash

                scopolamine from hands, out of eyes. Your pupils--

                        those black dots--dilate to cormorant beaks.

                                Note welling surf scoters, flocks of pipers

                        shoring the north jetty.


        Fifth remember, in open ocean, a pelagic cruises lasts

                seven hours. Tilting, you list a tufted puffin,

                        white wing-tipping Bonaparte gulls. (Side effects:

        a dry mouth, drowsiness, blurred vision. Some report

                memory disturbance, hallucination. It is best

        not to operate dangerous machinery.)  You're missing the murres,

                phalaropes, fulmars, petrals. There goes a rhinoceros

        auklet. Are grizzly bears commonly sighted this far off shore?


        Sixth remove the system after losing all interest

                in your motion sickness. If concern splashes above

        the three-day marker, place another system behind the other ear.

                Porpoises and dolphins are swinging. Listen! I think I hear

                        the Credence Shearwater Revival!


        Seventh run for the rail. When waves lunge on deck,

                don't forget: the Transderm System must remain dry

        at all times. Add nauseam. What excitement now

                in an albatross or a shrimp trawler?         Beyond Modesto