Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mount Miguel February Sunrise

This is the second in a series of revisions to existing poetry submitted to Vanderbilt for consideration of acceptance into their MFA program for creative writing:

East north east of my front door,
Mount Miguel wore a shroud this morning;
Low clouds draped across her shoulders
below the peak at sunrise.

By circumstance, my front door faces east,
greeting the sun god
like the Navajo’s hogan door has done for centuries
over in Four Corners, a mountain or so
east of here.

Man’s antennae now reach skyward
on Mount Miguel’s peak,
silhouetted black against the rising orange orb,
before it slings white hot heat and light low to the south,
moving through the day,
bowing to the Baja lands of Mexico,
as it is wont to do in the winter months
here in the high desert.

The instruments of new fangled transmission look foreboding:
Spanish castle towers of the inquisition;
I wonder if the Kumayai once sat atop,
above the cloud shroud,
lifting their own clouds of smoke,
transmitting their own news of the day.

The city folks implanted here
tend to forget what this land beneath them was;
really is.
We have learned to just add water
to get paradise,
now overrun with those that forget
to look East at the sunrise
silhouettes of the ghost talkers.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Obits at Sixty-Seven

i do not know why
my hands turn the pages to
the obits
my eyes scan the listings there;
i am not from here,
not likely to know anyone
heralded as dead here,
if i did know someone
buried there in the obits,
i would already know
their kin, their age,
the disease or what it was
which killed them;
so why do i go there?
i ask myself with
no real answer;
i go there almost daily,
scanning, reading the curious obits,
hoping i really won’t know anyone listed there,
passing by most of the really aged,
perhaps because i ain't there yet,
who these dead folks really were,
what were they really like,
if they died nobly,
how their loved ones feel, really feel,
about this death thing
what made them write or contribute
the words to the obit,
including or omitting pertinent facts
what were those omitted facts
realizing i am sad they are gone,
perhaps because
i am getting a bit long in the tooth,
i go to the obits
i am damn glad
it’s not me
listed in the obits.

Bonita, California
January 19, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

An Oil Well in Lebanon and What Might Have Been

SAN DIEGO – With all of my travels and other pursuits in the past month, I needed a break, and no, golf doesn’t count.

Last year, my father gave me a box of memories my cousin had passed on to him from my aunt. Naomi Martin, my father’s older sister not only kept her memories but also retained my grandmother’s memories in that box. It is a treasure trove I am trying to figure out how to disperse to my family.

I took my needed break and decided to go through the memory box again.

I picked out and carefully cradled a yellowed newspaper clipping in my palm, afraid it would disintegrate – Newsprint paper, like us, becomes fragile when it ages. Although there was no date attached, this fragile clipping was from 90 years ago.

The article was not from the Democrat. It had a Lebanon “special” dateline, a practice used only for out of town articles, and was most likely from a Nashville paper.

The news might have changed Lebanon’s future. It certainly would have changed mine. But a denouement could not be found in the box of memories

The headline would have startled readers today: “Crude Oil Found in Abandoned Well.” The four-paragraph article describes the oil being discovered by children playing in my grandfather’s yard.

The story reported these children had lowered tin cans into the well and pulled out crude oil instead of water and an analysis revealed the stuff was of “exceedingly pure quality.” The article explained experts predicted “should it be found to be in commercial quantities would equal to (sic) any crude oil in America.”

The article ended noting my Grandfather, Culley Jewell, previously had been a well digger and was directing well clean up with intent to lease the well.
“What happened?” I wondered and, as usual, sought Lebanon history information from my parents. While explaining my call, I asked my father if he was one of the “children.”

He laughed his knowing laugh, admitting he was around ten when he and others were dipping tin cans in the backyard well. So the oil discovery occurred around 1924.
The water well had been abandoned a dozen years earlier when city water became available. This struck me as funny considering city water availability today. My grandfather and father’s home was at the east end of West Spring Street, two whole blocks from the square.

Extreme dry weather – without Al Gore and his legions claiming global warming – had warranted reopening the well, but the restoration had not been completed.
My father told me he was playing with friends when they pulled up their cans filled with black liquid instead of water.

“We thought it was gasoline,” my father recounted. “We even put it in our old Ford and it ran on the stuff.”

“I couldn’t find any follow up clippings,” I explained. “Obviously, there was no oil or Lebanon would be replete with oil derricks today, and we would be rich,” I reasoned, “So what happened?”

“Daddy had it analyzed and they eventually decided the oil was just run off from a stream,” my father concluded, laughing again.

As he explained, I thought about how many experts today would be flabbergasted over such a sequence. Automobile makers would descend on Lebanon in droves to learn more about this magic stuff which could make automobiles run from straight out of the earth. Petroleum engineers and geologists would hover over the well and froth over the prospects of oil in Tennessee.

Real estate agents would clamor to buy up all of the property within miles and hook up with oil interests to mass produce and market the black gold. And eventually, an environmental protest against improper dispensation of oil would bring thousands to the square. Somebody would be arrested and have to pay a king’s ransom for a fine.

Politicians would make speeches, and enact 500 laws. All of the news networks would send hundreds of cinematographers, production crews, and pretty announcers to tell the nation nightly of the progress.

But in 1924 or thereabouts, there isn’t even an explanation of what ensued. My father didn’t even get his name in the paper.

I think I would have liked it better back then.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

poems, revised by a faint hope

Last fall, i applied for a prized goal, to be accepted to Vanderbilt's Creative Writing MFA program. It is the most selective program of its type in the country with over 600 applicants for six positions, three in fiction, three in poetry. It is one of the top 15 such programs in the country.

I applied for the program fully aware of my long odds. Acceptance would move me toward a long time goal of completing a degree from Vanderbilt, an opportunity i squandered almost half a century ago. More importantly, i have recently come to the conclusion poetry is my best avenue for my story telling and writing, a focus which should remain my passion for the rest of my life. i thought the pursuit of this degree would give me skills, knowledge, and discipline to write better poetry.

As i went through the application process, i found i was enjoying writing and editing my poetry even more than i anticipated. The application process itself help me transition to a different way of thinking about my creative writing, and, i think, has positively impacted my writing.

i still hope Vanderbilt's review board for the program will pick me. i think i am good enough of a poet to compete. But i also accept i am a bit older and the board member's personal preferences in poetry will impact the outcome. With stiff competition, i recognize it is highly more likely i will be rejected rather than accepted. If that is the case, then it's okay. This six month pursuit has improved me.

One significant contributor to this improvement has been Dave Young. Dave received his Master's in English from San Diego State and has retired from his teaching career at San Diego's Mission Bay High School. Dave critiqued the poems i intended to submit with my application. He gave me some wonderful guidance and i have taken all of his comments into account.

The original poems have been posted here previously. i thought you might like to read the improved versions. This is the first.


When most folks meet him,
they notice steel blue eyes and agility;
his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
those folks should look at his hands:
Durer, if he saw them,
would want to paint them.

His hands are marked from
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors,
starting in ’34 at twelve dollars a week.
He has used those hands to
repair the cars and
our hearts;

His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in war
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bougainville, New Guinea, the Philippines.

His hands have nicks and scratches
turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.

Veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands,
pumping life;
tales are etched from
grease and oil and grime,
cleansed with gasoline and goop and lava soap;

They are hands of labor,
hands of hard times,
hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring.

His hands own wisdom,
passing it to those who know him
with a pat, a caress, a handshake.
His hands tell the story
so well.