Tuesday, September 30, 2008


This foot does not
wish to be a hand.

It is enough to
kick the living

shit out of things.

OCTOBER 1, 2002

A new moon, nearly a new life. That's Thursday, when I rise retired. The weight of what I'm doing is starting to hit me - nothing will ever be the same. Now I shall have to write as if I mean it, I can't be just a 4:00 a.m. dilettante.
I worry that I shall lose this journal - following the Vagabond path, I'm not sure how much I'll be able to spend thinking such thoughts, recording such notions. Perhaps my book tour in Iowa this month will give me some clue. Perhaps.

Perhaps it all means nothing. If I am meant to write further explorations, I shall. At least I shall make the space for it - some time each day for these kinds of notes.

I mowed the lawn yesterday for the first time since the beginning of July. It smells a bit like a hayfield. There's not a lot of clipped grass, but more than any of my neighbors collect.

South of Ripon, a gathering of crows along Highway E. They seem very wide-winged this morning. Sun on a crow shines like snow. The leading edge of the crow's wing is winter-white in the brightness.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Morning walk.
Hope has feet.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2002

We've had gentle weather over the weekend, though a thunderstorm rolled through Madison in the middle of the night Saturday night as we stayed down there. The flash and boom were soothing in a middlewestern way. We know storms; we accept them; we take them or they take us.

The count is 3, 2, 1. Wednesday is my last day of work. Thursday I am "retired."

The sun today is a surprise of intensity. It's atumn, the brightness of summer, the flash of jewel in the morning sky.

3, 2, 1 days til retirement. Then I must prove to myself that I can and will write. There will be no excuses.

There's a bank of clouds below the sun, greyness to the south and north and west, just a hole in the east letting morning light through.

North of Fairwater a momentary spit of mist. Lets have sun and snow and rain in the next three days, the sum of everything I've experienced driving to work at RCP these past 24 years. Let it all come, let it go.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Birds this morning –
As if the gears

need oiling.

SEPTEMBER 27, 2002

The day has its ritual. It proceeds with you or without you.The sun comes up. The haze burns off. The leaves on the trees turn towards autumn. The sandhill cranes gather and talk about heading south. The squirrels get serious. The school bus stops, its red lights flashing, children come across the street and climb aboard, off to class.

And you - what are you doing? What is your ritual? What pulls you through the day? Well - I've got this space to fill with one good sentence, if I can. At least I'm trying. Others may wish for more. For me, the dream of one good sentence is enough to sustain me. The chase of it shapes my day.

Sometimes I think my world is build like a house of cards, sometimes I think the least unsettling will bring it down. I'm fortunate to have a wife who's not a fragile companion. She is sturdy, she's often sturdier than I am; if the past predicts the future, we'll continue heading along the path together. It's not always smooth traveling - granted, we're human - but we always have the "want to," to continue our journey together. There's a loveliness in the length of time we've already traveled together, and in our promise to continue.

As I head towards my "early retirement" it's good that we're so clearly committed to each other - even saints are hard to live with, and I'm no saint. Though certainly I try to do nothing on purpose to hurt her. (That's the blessing on the other side of love.)

Greyness this morning. A rash of sea gulls in the sky between our driveway and the cloud cover.

Our grass needs mowing. I admit we haven't mowed it since the beginning of July. It has now recovered from the stress of summer - I will have to do something about it before the snow flies, but not now. Now I go to work - four more days remain before I'm "retired."

The hang down sky looks heavy enough that we may have some rain from it soon. Something will come of it, or something won't. The crow flies away, the crow comes back.

"Dirt" is not dirty. Dirt is full of life. Dirt is life. How can we give it any other meaning than the stuff of earth?

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Morning. The light. Cream
at the top of the bottle.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2002

The cool weather continues, even in the sunshine. And we've had sunshine; even on those days that start grey the sun breaks through for a while.

I suppose we get to heaven doing what we are happiest at. That would be heaven - doing what makes us happy. How is it that "duty" lead us away from happiness? Why do we allow it? We drive or we're driven; we act or we're acted upon. Even in horrible situations we can own what we do and take responsibility for what happens to us, how it happens to us; or we can be victims, whipped by the world around us. Nothing changes but one's attitude; one's attitude changes everything. We can sue because we burned ourselves with hot coffee; or we can stop putting hot coffee between our legs. The power to choose is greater than any other force on earth; it is necessarily accompanied by the need to accept responsibility for our choices and the consequences of our choices. Perhaps the need for responsibility is why so many choose to remain victims - "victims" are not responsible for what happens to them.

The "Tumbling Woman" statue is a beautiful sculpture, yet I cannot look at it - the pain. But I would not tell the artist to cover it up because of my pain. I'd simply stop looking at it, as I have stopped.

It's a full-blown, high sky blue kind of beauty this morning. Sun laid on the grass like crying.

We must be careful - what we see is not all there is. Our eyes are but a picture window we look out through, framing out much that's out there.

The field corn has mostly turned, the ears surprising fat considering how dry the summer was. There's a special smell in the air at the time the corn turns - that's autumn's smell, that's the way the seaon affects the nose.

A pair of crows finds worms on a lawn in Ripon. Crows know. Crows have about them the wisdom of dirt.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008






SEPTEMBER 25, 2002

Sometimes we can't find a safe place to settle our thoughts. A journal, properly used, can be that safe place. It can be an artist's sketch book, where you try out this perspective or that, this shading, that light. It's like walking - we can walk to "exercise" and we can walk to go some place. When it's time to go some place, we'll be in shape for it if we've exercised. And sometimes the practice actually becomes the product - you find out that what you tried works, and you lift it out of the journal for use in another context. Sometimes the practice becomes the raw material for poem or memoir or essay. And knowing a thousand ways to talk about morning will be useful when you find the need to talk about morning.

The journal is never finished; it never needs to be finished, polished, smooth. Success comes out of the heap of failure, and the journal is a chance to fail successfully.

Grey sky, cold clouds. The sun cannot break through entirely. It's like a slash in a fat belly - the lard showing. The wind in the flag at the cemetery blows south to north.

There's a hawk on the powerline along Highway E just south of the Sina pig farm. A field of soy beans is being taken north of that, more fields look ready to be taken.

You have to throw off a lot of lines to have one look thrown off carelessly. That's what this practice is for.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Big stones in Iowa –
big broken mountains.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2002

The day comes in like a silken curtain blown by gentle breeze. Morning light is the sheen of silk. It's a cool blue sky, distinctly autumn. I don't have to run away because I'm already there.

Clouds to the west and northwest - a darkness against the blue behind it. Where the alfalfa field had been last year - spikes of rye are coming up. Some of the irrigation rigs along Highway E are spraying water this morning.

Farther north, the smell of pig shit, a sudden freshness of country.

Moon rock in the western sky - hanging bright in a bright sky. You have to love its loveliness.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Clot of clouds to the west,
haze of a horizon,

imagined mountains.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2002

We have faint haze. Faint haze is not, I think, faint praise. The sun is a loud cheer in the east - hurrah for morning, hurrah for autumn coming.

No wind in the flag at the cemetery. With my coming retirement, how many times shall I write that sentence in the future? How often shall I find msyelf in the middle of this paragraph? I'm expecting to be some place else - metaphorically-speaking. Where? And what shall I watch for?

On Saturday I saw a group of sandhill cranes over in the sand country - a couple hundred of them staging for a trip south. The year unrolls like a carpet before the queen. The sky turns blue, it always turns blue eventually.

Friday, September 19, 2008


The day,
awkward, yet

lovely, like
the girl

with skinned knees.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2002

Rain. More rain. The gentle loveliness of its sincerity this morning. It will soak in. It will do more than simply lay the dust.

I wonder how I shall continue these pages into the future, once I lack the reason to drive ten miles every day and meditate on the day's notions. With the traveling I expect to do for my Vagabond project, how shall my focus on place change - since I will be in so many places? Will this become a much broader conversation with myself than it has been? Will I be able to sustain that kind of discourse over the long term? Will it be interesting and useful? You can't walk in fear of what might be, you've got to embrace what is, and GO. So I'll go. Doing the best my meager wisdom allows.

Now I've checked the rain gauge - we've got 1.5 inches. A soaker.

Oh, it's a wet grey morning out in the country, a hang-down sky north of Fairwater, a sssst of highway. Slicks of rain upon an empty field.

A woman on the radio says of a painter, "He carried his weather with him." That would be good advice for all of us - "Carry your weather with you."

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Road straight ahead.
The day, chasing.

There is nothing
more to hope for.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2002

A little rain last night, beads on the windows. As my song says, "A little's a lot, a lot, Oh Lord, when nothing's what you've got."

Ir's a lovely, warm morning; in spite of the greyness, more summer today than autumn. It's a wonderful world.

A few miles north of Fairwater, a smear of mud on the road where equipment has pulled out of the wet field, there where the beans have been taken. As proof that gloom is not doom, it's a hey hey greyness today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Forgive the city.
It will disappear.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2002

A hazy and grey day, laid out towards the season this is becoming. We applaud autumn for its refreshment of cool weather and the coming color, yet we forget this is an ending, a rolling up of things for winter, a putting by. What is gone is gone; what is gone comes back next year, the common atoms re-grouped and freshly bonded. Not ash, but light, as I want to believe.

The sun comes up later these days, the morning feels earlier, fresher as a result, though it is time to be at work. A place changes as its light changes. Light changes the trees, the plants, all the green breathing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


a place

is like
trying to

the wind,
is like
trying to

the morning.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2002

Morning light and blue sky. Morning song of autumn. A clear reflection on the pond. All the loveliness, all the longing!

It's not a heavy dew. The shadows are not dark. It is only a small breeze.

Why is it that the closer I get to retirement, the less I seem to have to say about this drive to work? Is my spirit telling me something my head has not yet considered?

Monday, September 15, 2008


My eyes cast down –
the lifting wind.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2002

Blue sky and sun again. This weekend we packed up an elderly friend's household - what part of it would fit into a pick-up and a car. We are moving her to assisted living in Ripon. She really has no choice in the matter - and she's not happy about the loss of control over her life. I have to remind both M. and myself that we didn't create the situation she is in, we are trying to make the best of her circumstances for her. It's the loss of control over things that's a hard issue. That's true for any of us. It is especially true when you think you are competent to take care of yourself, and clearly you are not.

Friday, September 12, 2008


The land is
what land is,

which is
never ours.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2002

Such a run at loveliness for a Friday the 13th. Sky and sun. The pond is a highly polished mirror; nothing is prettier than the September morning reflected in it. You say "Amen."

Dew is not so heavy on the car today, not so heavy on the lawns. Oh, there are the usual jewels, but not a king's ransom.

Woman on the radio says "shelter is much more than a place to stay." She says it in a context that makes sense. Out of context, it sounds almost like a natural law, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The heart's promise –
or merely the wind.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2002

A blue and glorious day, blue so bright it blows sorrow away. We have chosen everything we've got; we've got everything we've chosen. We are not victims. When the wind blows, we blow back at.

A sour greenness north of Fairwater. A cummerbund of clouds at the western horizon. A lovely shine to everything. I am full of the world and I have nothing to say.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Lakes now

where corn
had been

where lakes
had been

SEPTEMBER 11, 2002

Sunlight is fire in the towers of trees, a bright blue sky behind and beyond, a beautiful day like the beautiful sad day a year ago. One must care and not care. One must love and carry on. The universe is finally a cinderspeck; we are finally ashes. Yet while we live and move we should love and improve - it is the husbanding, the mothering that we must do if we are ever to get out of this world alive - by becoming more than just a bag of bones who lived here.

I think of all those souls lifted. They are moving in the trees this morning, shaking the leaves; they are the ripple on the surface of the pond; they are the gentle kiss of sunlight.

Silence is seldom quiet. Any moment of silence this morning will SHOUT. This instant, this clap of thunder.

I cannot speak of the tragedy yet; I cannot write of it. I choke on the word "fireman," my mouth full of sorrow and wonder both. We never know what we are made of until we are tested. Humans rush in out of duty, a duty we've chosen to accept, a duty we bear - whatever the consequences. We do it because we must and still it amazes me, what we are made of.

No, we are not ashes. I take that back. In the end we shall all be light.

The moment of silence. I've said all I can say.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Silence of the morning –
the day's legs unfolding.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2002

A pocketful of grey. A sky reserved like a boy too shy to ask that girl with braces to dance. There is a rush of something coming, but there is not urgency yet. We hope every girl we love with be the girl. We hope every day will be the one we've chosen.

It was very hot yesterday, humid. The air is cool now, but still heavy and thick - you have to chew it before you can breathe it. Well - perhaps I exaggerate a small bit. You can go off and get the historical data somewhere else. If you're here, you're here for color. Get your hard fact somewhere else. I want always to write about nothing.

The tock tock of the grandfather clock marks moments rushing away like a white-water stream. Every moment gone is a moment we've filled - filled with what? How do you spend yourself? Will you be proud some years hence when you are asked to give account of all these lost moments?

Climb inside a single instant - you can now understand obsession. You wash your face and put on duty, and you never forget your obligation to beauty.

There is already sunlight like spilled cream on the concrete of Washington Street. Watch you don't slip in it. Leaves have started gathering in patches on the lawns, bemoaning their fate as they do every year. These are the common leaves. The leaves afire come later, orange and golden, red. And just as much ended. Beauty doesn't trump death, but the memory of beauty does. That's why you write.

The emptiness of enough. The fullness of not enough. Every day is the day the Lord has made.

It's nearly a year since jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania. All those souls lifted - that has made that ground holy. We have a need to preserve our sacred places. For me, the chunk of field and empty sky where a hawk tree stood til last summer. How do we mark our sacred spaces - with pictograph and petroform as earlier people did? Not exactly, though eons hence perhaps someone will have to wonder over the lay of our rocks, the cast of our bronze.

While the work is archeology and anthropology- somewhat cold and disinterested - the task of understanding sacred sites is also holy work and there is room in it for more than the professional. There is room for poet and farmer and any and all of us who care about these places.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Cranes in their
ancient field.

We are here
only for

the moment.

Haze and humidity. A working sun. Another house is going up down in the Mary Lane suburb of Fairwater.

My parents visited on the weekend, and I've told good-bye this morning and sent them off, back to Iowa. It was a short visit. They will stop for apples in Gays Mill on the way home.

Radio talks about On the Road, a far different benzadrined rush than my Vagabond shall be, perhaps. Yet perhaps Vagabond shall be a rush, I cannot know this early on.

Friday, September 05, 2008


Haze and
heat and

hope for
the kiss

of wind.

Either we have been raised in some massive uplifting or the clouds have dropped down into the trees and streets. It is a foggy, foggy morning. I can see across the street, and a bit farther than that, but you wouldn't say I can see far. It is moisture's lovely touch in the air, not yet thick enough to drink, nor to run down window panes, yet thick enough to blind us. As if blindness is a limitation - rather it's another way of seeing.

Heading east on Washington Street I can see about two blocks. No luff in the flag at the cemetery, nothing to blow the fog away. You can't call it a fogment of our imagination.

In the country, the greyness is very thick, visibility not more than an eighth of a mile. It will be a slow drive to work. The glint of headlights coming at me, like a cat opening its eyes, its glowing eyes.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


All day,
sun and

the press


Blue sky, a thick dew on things, a morning silence as if the birds have their bags packed and are ready to go. The beauty of fullness is at the empty husk of hunker-down. Even in mid-summer winter is a memory, a promise, and no magic potion will push it off forever.

Patch of sunlight on the floor of the garage, like a page torn out of a book, left as litter. A surprise of knowledge, the surprise of ignorance.

A small push of wind in the flag at the cemetery. The road heads north, I go to work for pay. It's for less than a month that I shall be doing so in such a fashion as this. And then retirement from gainful employment, yes.

Walnuts on Watson Street in Ripon, pretending to be tennis balls. They don't fool me twice.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Morning blindness,
the bright day

gone gray.

The whole world and its bright blue fullness are reflected in the still surface of the pond down the hill. I can hear water rushing over the dam - it's that, or a tractor in a distant field, a steady, throbbing roar.

You are everything you wish to be, or else you should be paddle pretty hard for parts elsewhere. We are either victims or not. If we choose victimhood, we choose loss. Even in the direst circumstances, if we choose struggle, joy, acceptance, then we choose life. That's how I'd like to face death - not as a victim but as one who lives in every moment, even the last one. I do not know if I'm such a good man as that, however, that I could choose life at the very last. Of course, as Yoda says, there is no try, there is only do and not do. I shall choose life in the last moment.

Where do these thoughts of last moments come from, especially on such a lovely day? Well - darkness is the other side of light; they are not inseparable. Sorrow is the other side of joy; death is the other side of this teeming blue life I'm full of this morning.

You look out across the lawns and think you could lick the dew off them; you think you could walk with wet feet all the way to Lake Michigan.

No wind in the flag at the cemetery. The musky smell of green everything. Waste water being sprayed just north of town. A county fellow mowing the ditch along Highway E. A field of beans turning at season's end. Stalks of field corn turning, too, all the way up to the brown ears which turned first.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


He may
drive slow

and wide,
that farmer.

He owns
this road.


Blue sky. We had thunderstorms roll through last night. A tornado was sighted near Brandon by the Sheriff's Department. Now it is September, now it's a summer storm that rolled through. Today seems clear as a bell. Let me ring it - CLING CLING CLING-----.

Heavy moisture beaded on the car. A smooth surface where the pond is free of algae. A blue sky on the blue water.

Not much wind in the flag at the cemetery, the wild night notwithstanding. We got an inch and a quarter of rain. The black dirt of the fields north of Fairwater has been softened. Off to the northeast, four sandhill cranes settle into the landscape as if they've been planted.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Hey hey hooray!

Marja-Leena Rathje and I have collaborated for a second time, creating a work titled "Blue" at postalpoetry.org . The combination of my words and M-L's image was posted just today.

Marja-Leena is an artist and photographer in Vancouver. Previously I reacted to an image she had done in collaboration with Karen D'Amico, to create "In Its Four Voices: Silent Messengers" as an even larger collaboration at qarrtsiluni, an on-line literary magazine, where my poem for four voices appears as audio rather than text.

M-L and I have also had another poetry postcard accepted for later publication at postalpoetry. I will let you know when it appears.

The awed

Its tender

The mercy.

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