Saying Goodbye, Saying Hello

Thanks to my friend the photographer Bruce Berman 
for introducing me to Depardon's photographs.[1]
Santa trudging through Central Park. My gosh, the photograph speaks eloquently about this time of year.You got to be careful wherever you live. You'll look up and see Santa trudging through the goo of your life. 

I wish to send my best wishes to all of you--peace, good health and well-being in your mind, body and heart. Peace and understanding too for the U.S./Mexico Border and for the world. It's a precarious time now for our communities and for the generations to come. I'm one of those old fogies that believe that peace begins in our own hearts. Blessings to all. 

Here's something I scribbled down the day after Christmas. It's sort of a minimalized diary of my own Post-Christmas day.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

This is the way the year ends and begins—
Extra little Merry Christmas turds.
Snowmelt seeps out of the mountain.
You can end this poem anyway you want. 

[1] Shit. I don’t like to use so obviously copyrighted material. But sometimes the impulse of the time overrides my concern. I’m guilty here, and I’ll be happy to remove this post if somebody asks me. In the meantime, please visit Depardon’s site and Wikipedia Page. He’s a remarkable photographer.


The Whalen Poem

Some of my poet friends don’t understand my allegiance to Ron Silliman’s Blog, and they certainly don’t understand why I lament the loss of Ron’s unrelenting blogging (along with the babbling of poets in the comments section) that came to an (almost) screeching halt a year or so back. To those folks I have two new words—William Corbett. Aka Bill. For some reason I’ve never paid much attention to Corbett’s work. I’m out here in El Paso, he’s over there in Boston. He’s plugged in, I’m not plugged in. No, that’s not true. I’m sort of plugged in. I think my wires got frayed. I think it was 1973. Lee and I, like Hansel and Gretel, went off following the trail G.I. Gurdjieff for three or four years. That’s a long other story. Ni modo.

Anyway, Silliman from time to time breaks his silence[1] and his overwhelming catalog of poetry events and dead poets and videos of poets reading (some dead, some alive) with a personal blognote.  On June 3 of this year he wrote about Corbett’s little book from Hanging Loose Press The Whalen Poem. Shit. Even the title made me want to buy the book. I’m a Philip Whalen addict. Corbett says this about his book of poem—

I spent the summer of 2007 reading the galleys of Philip Whalen’s Collected Poems. I was in Vermont and had the leisure to read slowly, ten or so pages a day. About halfway through the master’s poems I began to write The Whalen Poem. I kept at it until just after Halloween. No book I have written, poetry or prose, has given me the deep pleasure I felt in writing The Whalen Poem.

I understand exactly. I’ve done the same thing. My only dilemma with Corbett’s book is that I didn’t write it. Of course, I would have written it my way. Differently.

Here’s a little piece that gives a good taste of the book. The poem has the off-the cuff dreaminess and improvisational energy that Whalen had, but of course it's purely Corbett being who he is. Besides, I chose it because I’ve felt this same confused emotion so many times in my life. Growing up and having all these different poetry heroes and then finding out they aren’t (weren't) who I thought they were supposed to be in my imagination. 

Pollock by Namuth

He was drunk
He was nasty
            Many knew
We young ones didn’t
He looked great
Brooding in denim
Cigarette between long fingers
On the running-board
Of his beat-up Model-A Ford
On the Evergreen Review cover
Names of heroes
He’s not the same now
You grow up and adjust
You want the old feeling
It’s still there but not
To be trusted…well,
It’s not for him anyway
But for that world when
You didn’t have to know
What you know now

I even had this feeling about Philip Whalen. I first discovered his book Memoirs of an Inter-Glacial Age in the U of Arizona Library in 1964 and from that time on I read everything he wrote. His poetry and its underlying poetics gave enormous energy to my own work as I wandered through the landscape. I only heard him read once in my life. He came to the New Mexico State University. I had looked forward to the reading for months but when I heard him I was disappointed. He didn’t read the poems like I felt he should be reading the poems.[2] The old standards, poems I knew by heart. Poems I had shouted aloud in my scruffy apartments in Tucson and Seattle in the 1960s. Shit. Later that evening at the party at the Somozas’ house, Whalen had so many Zen-wannabes imported from Santa Fe hanging around that I couldn’t get close to him. Besides, I didn’t feel any connection to them. They lived in Santa Fe, I lived in El Paso—enough said. I couldn’t read Whalen’s poetry several years. His reading had sucked that energy away. But I finally realized  that was silly. His poetry was viscerally connected to my work. I finally forgave Whalen for being Philip Whalen. Weird. Or maybe I forgave myself for being who I am. Or something. Maybe I just learned to sit on a zafu and stare at a wall. Even that Whalen had contributed to.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, this is supposed to be a celebration of Bill Corbett’s book The Whalen Poem. Here’s a couple of short delicate pieces for a cold snowy day during the time of Winter Solstice—

There is room here
For 720,000 ladybugs
Devouring 4.6 billion aphids


Drought in Georgia
San Diego fires
I always go commando
Deserving everyone’s love

[1] I’m always worried I’ll find pictures of friends there along with the news of their catching the rickety little raft to the other side. And of course I'm not ready to be up there with all the other dead guys. 
[2] I mentioned this once to Jim Koller and he agreed with me. He too didn’t like the way Whalen read his poems aloud, and Jim was a close friend of his.


Gene Keller on Robert Burlingame

Gene Keller by Richard Baron

As I mentioned in my blognote about Bob Burlingame, our friendship was always punctuated by long interruptions. My friend Gene Keller (singer, songwriter, poet) had a much longer and enduring friendship with Bob, so I asked him to write something. I am posting it below. Gene is one of those necessary pieces of cloth that holds the quilt of El Paso's rich cultural underground together. He's a touchstone. I definitely recommend Richard Baron's unique interview with Gene from Newspapertree.com. Like Robert Creeley, Gene lost an eye an early age, and he tells that story there. The photograph of him is Richard's too. Visit Richard's website. His photographs are remarkable and should be much more widely known. Richard now lives in Santa Fe.

So to Gene's remarks:

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write about Bob Burlingame (1922-2011). As you wrote, we had an "enduring friendship." In 1968 I took a class in Modern Poetry with Burlingame. We studied Eliot, Frost, Cummings, Stevens, and W. C. Williams. This was in the days of mimeographs, so he would occasionally bring sheets of poems in purple ink by contemporary poets such as Bly and Kinnell, translations of Neruda and Machado. He became my thesis advisor in graduate school, allowing me to present a creative thesis rather than a scholarly essay.

I learned recently that it is said of Barney Oldfield, an early American auto racer, he couldn't think unless he was going a hundred miles an hour. Bob Burlingame's wisdom says, "Slow down. See the world at two or three miles an hour." I love his eye for a clarity of detail as he walked in the deserts and mountains of his life. In his readings of his own poems, he also demonstrated the virtue of slowing down by mouthing each word slowly, giving the consonants and vowels a moment to rest in the ear.

He was a plain man of the Kansas plains who wandered into the Southwest. He came to Texas Western College in 1954. Over the decades he influenced many young poets now entering their own elderhood - Howard McCord, Pat Mora, and Ben Sáenz, among many others.

He offered another lesson, that the craft of poetry was about writing and not so much about publishing. Individual poems appeared in journals, including Kayak, Quarterly West, and Texas Observer. But a book of his New and Selected Poems came from Houston's Mutabilis Press in 2009 - Some Recognition of the Joshua Lizard. The litany at the end of my poem that follows, Plain, is taken from the titles of his poems in that book. At the time of his death in late September, it was noted that a book of desert poems was forthcoming. I look forward to it like water after a hike.


            in memory, Bob Burlingame

If he had been
a creature on
an endangered list,

he might have been
a blackfooted ferret

beneath a gnarled
hackberry stump creekside
off the plains of Kansas,

or the plainest of plover
only found rarely
in a high canyon

deep in the Guadalupes
under the white peak
of  El Capitán -

ancient reef
overlooking the salt flats
of West Texas.

He becomes a joshua lizard,
dry weeds, yellowood,
rooster, fish, beaver, finch,

blue milkwort, wild cherry,
sandhill crane, turkey vulture,
sunflower, shark, dandelion,

portuguese man-of-war,
sycamore, mountain laurel -
all that sing in solitude.


Stepping through the door
opened me like sugar,
triggered a beam.

The clarity of light
through the door
soaked to the marrow.

At home in words,
I'm caught in the continuo
of their music.

A page of poetry opened -
an aural architecture
in a sonnet by Donne.

Like this, only simpler,
a way of seeking
that includes seeing.

Sweet words of light
behind every door,
after my mentor.

(from Chrysalis, 2011)

Here's a nice video of Gene singing a song at a party in the Sunset Heights neighborhood of El Paso, 2009. Puro Gene. Happy and at ease and wise. 


Some Recognition of Salt Flat, Texas: Robert Burlingame

This is how Bob Burlingame (aka Robert Burlingame) made poems. In the mornings, he’d take a cup of coffee or tea into his study and sit in front of his manual typewriter. He’d witness the coming light of the morning, he’d listen to the birds, and he’d sit there waiting for a poem to come along like a visitor. Knock, knock. It would be the poem—a collage of memories and thoughts and images. And he’d write it down. He’d play with it some. Many days a poem didn’t come. So he drank his coffee and went about his life. The next day the same thing. A morning ritual of gathering poems. An ancient sort of hunting ritual. This is what he told me when he still lived in El Paso. Then when he retired from teaching at UTEP he and his wife Linda moved near the Guadalupe Mountains.

His post office box was in Salt Flat, a weird little semi-ghost town on the west edge of the salt flats in the photo above. The peak is El Capitán, the highest mountain in Texas, and US Highway 62 climbs to a pass to the south of the peak. I believe their rented house was in there in the llano up above the salt flat and east of the peak.

My friend Joe Somoza corresponded with Bob. They’d go back and forth with some letters and stick in a poem as gifts to each other. An old fashioned friendship of two poets. Bob’s poems and letters were still hammered out on that manual. Joe had to write him now and then and tell him to change his ribbon. Joe and Jill visited Bob and Linda up there. The house was still on the grid but barely. West Texas is magnificently huge out there. Skies forever, the earth fluid and ceaseless like the sea. Bob loved it up. He liked the touch and smell and taste and vision of real stuff. Joshua lizards. Nickel Creek. The little sparrows and the turkey buzzards. Busy ants. Snakes.

Bob was a great admirer of Judson Crews and his poems. (Besides the Wikipedia piece, read Mark Weber here.) He liked all that sexual energy going wacko in the gardens of Judson’s poetics. Bob and I would giggle together about those garden poems. Dionysius dancing in the mud among the squash blossoms and cucumbers and peas and lettuce. Judson, such a handsome man, was a happy satyr. I won’t name names. But Bob’s poems were more reticent and meditative. Quiet and very attentive to detail. The sexual urge was there but it floated beneath the surface of the poem’s flowing. Once before Bob retired my son Johnny (still in high school) and I picked him up and we drove up to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park which surrounds El Capitán. I had never taken the middle trail up into the mountains—the Dog Canyon Trail or the Texas Trail. I can’t remember which.  Bob led us up the mountain. He was a skinny guy and hiked with steady joy and passion. He had all that curly kinky reddish hair and he wore khakis and a flimsy pair of low top tennis shoes. It was a wonderful hike. We talked about poetry and about Johnny growing up and looked at things. We walked through a grove of Texas madrone trees. Like walking through a Judson Crews poem. It was so beautiful. A great and wonderful hike. And on the way back we stopped at that old gas station and convenience store that used to be perched up top where U.S. highway 62 climbs up out of the Salt Flats. We ate sandwiches and drank water and soda and talked and laughed. It was a wonderful day. I was so glad Johnny had a chance to come along with us.

A Texas madrone grove somewhere in West Texas

Another time we sat in a sandstone canyon. Big round stone. Scrawny trees and grasses rooted in dirt fissured into the rock. Bob, my friend Tom Baker and me. This was in at the tail end of the Organ Mountains between Las Cruces and El Paso. We ate sandwiches and watched a canyon wren dart among the rocks. You don’t get to watch canyon wrens often. They are timid birds but they have wonderful trilling echoing song. We didn’t talk. We didn’t want the bird to go away. I had forgotten this story until right now.

The odd thing is that I had a few exquisite experiences like these with Bob but then he and I would become lost to each other in our different worlds. We didn’t reach out to each other like he and Joe did. I regret that. And now I miss him.

Bob, like so many of my older friends, is pretty much un-googlable. That speaks well of him and makes me sad and proud at the same time. But here are some poems from his last book Some Recognition of the Joshua  Lizard: New and Selected Poems from Mutabilis Press in Houston:

With nothing to do
wakeup coffee warming his guts
he remembers the finch
     red at the throat
          he’d found in the yard dead
beneath the immense gaze of El Capitán

empty eye
piece of fluff rotted
to a perfect skull
     its frayed beauty struck
          tears down his face
as he saw but did not want to see
its panache spoiled in final reckoning

he wanted as little to go
though he knew he would
as if he’d gone already
     to the poppy’s yellow
          bloom bravely
separate on a rocky shelf
crisp injunction to tearful woe.


A friend writes me
a letter, can you believe
tells me he’ll look up my poem’s subject
on the Internet, that endlessly ramifying root
holding us all together as we sway above the earth.

I think fine, I think
of the undulating flights of sandhill cranes
finding their way through a breezy heaven,
the rank perfumes of lakes and rivers below
     their guiding compass.

I think sure, I think
of the busy ants outside my door as they signal
one another to carry in more food,
the soft sibilance of antly scraping telling
     us the wisdom of saving.

I think yes, yes, why not
go to the cold glass page impersonal as a glove
go to it, the book is there these days,
or a view of it, though somewhere
in a dim library you’ll find
     its original dusty and ignored
          its pages yellowing beneath
the smudged lipstick left there once by a girl
who read it in bed, her warm flesh pressing.

(for Joseph Rice)

A while ago we walked
     up to where you’d stayed,
          old friend

we saw where you’d slept
     blue-blanketed narrow bed
          and the glassed wide doorway
you’d gazed through onto the mountain

the first night it rained
     thunder rolled and rumbled
          as you told us later,
your face a smile but serious

we had gathered my poems
     hundreds on white sheets, poems
          reaching back
half a century

but what you remembered most
     was the fierce wind
          out of the pass
and the stars over the mountain’s slopes
that, too, is a poem, you said.


The Luminous Beast & the Cairn for Janine

I’ve said this before but, since I’m getting old, it’s okay to repeat myself. Jerome Rothenberg (I think it was him) called poetry “a luminous beast.” Some sort of mythological animal that embodied the words and poems and ideas of all poets. The tail of this beast stretches back into pre-literate times when history was story and poetry was spoken language that had the power to shape the natural world. And it still survives in our language in these digitized bits of information on a computer screen. In poems we all provide sustenance to the beast as it squirms its way into the 21st Century. Like the Tao, it knows its way. I’ve come to trust the beast’s instincts explicitly.

The beast rumbled in my imagination when I saw this photograph of Bob Arnold’s cairn dedicated to the memory of Janine Pommy-Vega (more here and here). It's on his land in rural Vermont. The stone was harvested right there. It would be a nice place for Janine to rattle her gourd, to beat on a drum, the chant her poems. She would love to dance on a cairn.

Janine was a good friend and I came to know her poetry way back when through Longhouse Publishers and Booksellers. Longhouse is the collaborative project of Bob and Susan Arnold. The cairn for Janine is on their property. The poetry and the publishing and work of chainsaws and stone and cooking and eating food and the warmth of burning wood is all part of their one life. 

I’ve never met Bob or Susan. Yet I’ve known of their work—Bob’s poems and prose, their Longhouse venture and their backwoods lifestyle in Vermont—and I’ve fitfully corresponded with them for most of my adult life. They’ve even been generous enough to publish my work in their magazine and in their delicious Longhouse libritos (little books). As I’ve said in a recent letter to Bob, they feel like intimate friends. That’s because we share a common bond with the Luminous Beast.

Please read the Kent Johnson interview of Bob that appeared in Jacket Magazine. It’s important stuff, and it documents a way to live one’s life fully engaged but doing the work of one’s essence. An ancient way to dance. Visit the Longhouse website and buy books there. Read Bob’s work and the poets that he and Susan especially support. Now, I see from the website, Bob has become the literary executor for Janine, Cid Corman and Lorrine Neidecker and he’s constructing websites to celebrate their work. I’m sure Susan is doing at least half the work. Wow.

Bob and Susan Arnold understand.

Bob and Susan Arnold at work in Bearsville, NY. 
2005 photo by Janine Pommy Vega


On the Occasion of the marriage of Johnny and Ailbhe

On October 1st Johnny Byrd, our oldest son, married Ailbhe Cormack. It was a wonderful occasion, and together they seem such a remarkable couple. All three of our kids were together, our five grandchildren. Plus brothers and sisters and friends from around the U.S. Bridget Cormack, Ailbhe’s mother, also had her three daughters together—plus sisters and relatives from Ireland and Australia. It was three days of celebration. Ailbhe and Johnny had gone whole hog and paid the postage too. On Friday night outside in the backyard Lee and I hosted a party for relatives, friends from out of town and the good friends of Ailbhe’s and Johnny’s who did much of the heavy lifting of helping. Big sister Susie emceed, brother Andy toasted them, as well as many others. The San Patricios (yerno Eddie Holland, Ailbhe, Johnny and the gang) played Irish music. The next day was a formal Catholic wedding (this is El Paso after all) at the historic Holy Family Church in Sunset Heights, then a six-hour blowout rock n’ roll party with food and wine and beer up McKelligan Canyon, and the whole thing was topped off by a brunch the next morning at Bridget Cormack’s (Ailbhe’s mom) plus relatives from afar hanging out at our house all day long afterwards.

I was very happy, Lee was very happy. The whole weekend was special. I am always being reminded how essential ritual is to being in a human community. Large or small rituals. A wedding or a funeral or a birth or simply breaking bread together with a close friend or a loved one. Saying a prayer together. Holding hands. Being awake to the life force running through us all. “It’s tribal stuff,” daughter Susie told me. I was asking her about how and when she and her friends (glorious men and women all close to 40 years old) would do this circle dance, the music blasting away, and one by one, the dancers would enter the center of the circle to dance. To strut their stuff. To explain through the music and their bodies who they are. She said, “Dad, you used to do that stuff too. You just don’t remember.”

Well, we didn’t exactly do the circle dance, but as a teenager on Friday nights at the Clear Pool in Memphis, the last song—maybe Larry Williams (“Boney Maronie,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzie,” “Short Fat Fannie”) making all the white girls go crazy—was always “When the Saints Go Marching In.” There’d be a long line of us snaking around the dance floor. It was some kind of joyous drunken tribal community. I have always believed that the rock n’ roll and the rhythm and blues music (mostly the music of Southern Black America) saved my life. But that’s a story that goes someplace else.

When Ailbhe’s and Johnny’s wedding weekend was over Lee and I were exhausted. Physically. Emotionally. We had witness and experienced our fill. It was like we had stepped aside like our parents had done before us. And these were our children, these were our grandchildren, these were our friends and brothers and sisters who we’ve grown old with, this was our community. Our children were at the center of all of this. It was our time in so many ways to be witnesses. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time.

I'm not sure who took the photo above, but it's an iconic traditional photo it works for me. Our close friend artist Jill Somoza took the photos of Lee and me. We were so happy. Below the photographs are two short poems I read at the night-before party. I wrote “Memo #6” on a beautiful night 30 years ago. We had only been in our home on Louisville Street for four or so years. Now he’s a few years short of 40. The age I was when I wrote the poem. The other poem is from my recent book—White Panties, Dead Friends & Other Bits and Pieces of Love. It’s a reworking of a poem I wrote in the 80s. I was proud when Ailbhe chose the last part of the poem for the wedding invitations.


Memo #6

When me and my son pee outside in the darkness
He looks at the ground and I look at the stars.

He is eight years old and I am almost 40.
That is the difference.

A Story about Marriage
Once upon a time
a long while ago
there was a man
who received all
blessings under the sun.
Yet, he missed
something essential:
there was no place
to practice his gifts.
So he asked God
for the blessing of death.
God gave to him a woman.
But other peoples
tell the same story
Once upon a time
a long while ago
there was a woman
who received all
blessings from the earth.
Yet, she also missed
something essential:
there was no place
to practice her gifts.
So she too asked God
for the blessing of death.
God gave to her a man.
Because of these stories
babies are now baptized
in their mother's blood.
And from these two stories
did wise Solomon first
create his eternal seal.
So many stories, my love,
quilted together,
are true and real, like

you and me, me
and you, we practice
our marriage

in this little bit of
time and space—apart,


Raising three kids has been for Lee and me the most interesting and exciting thing we’ve done in our lives. A truly remarkable journey. I wish many blessings on them and their families and their communities.


The Great Outback

My friend Luis Villegas—“the fine arts handyman”—came out of his semi-retirement and built a deck for our backyard. We’re getting ready for Johnny Byrd’s wedding to Ailbhe Cormack and at the family party the night before we need a stage from which to declare our love. Lee’s been wanting some sort of boardwalk contraption for a long time, but the wedding pushed the ball downhill. Of course our deck had to be different. It had to be shaped like a piece of pie sitting into the corner of our backyard. A square deck is not what we wanted. Luis was hesitant. He’d had a heart attack and he couldn’t do any heavy lifting. Not to worry, I told him. I’d help, I’d hire our friend Gabriel Espinoza. So Luis thought about it some, drew up the design and did the job, along with Gabriel and me, and it’s miraculous. He even curved two 2”x6”x16’ boards to fit the pie around the outside of its edges. A true mystery. Luis kept mumbling about the Steinway curve. I will tell you sometime how he did it.

I’m so happy with our deck that in the early mornings I drag all my cushions outside do my meditation. The sun is rising, the neighborhood is waking up, the air is cool, and I can see the mountains when I look to the west. And, because the deck levitates above the earth on concrete blocks, the ants don’t come climbing up my legs. Life is good. So a few mornings ago I crossed my legs and sat down on my zafu. The full moon was falling in the dawn sky behind the mountains.  I bowed, straightened my back, head pushing the sky aloft, and sat there in my goofy half-lotus. My breath settled into my diaphragm. Time passed like it always does. Ernie our big black cat nudged me. I keep a wide spot on my zabuton reserved for Ernie. I patted him some and he curled up beside me. This is his morning pleasure. I returned to my sitting. A little breeze.

Then I heard some scuffling off to the side. I didn’t pay attention for a few minutes but after a while I had no choice. Clovis, the young grey tabby cat from next door, had caught himself a bird. A yellow-rumped warbler. Poor thing. Clovis is quick and he likes to perch in the trees when he hunts. We think he carries some Siamese blood in him. Clovis had broken one of the bird’s wings and had the bird in its jaws and was shaking it furiously. Then he plopped it down in the grass and watched it for a while. The bird lay there panting in desperation. Then he flapped wildly his wings and try to drag himself away from his tormenter. His exertions made Clovis wonderfully happy. He pounced on the bird and shook him and pranced around. It was his show for Ernie and me. Ernie simply watched, not moving, with that unattached curiosity and grace that cats possess. I tried to do the same. But of course my mind quickly contorted into a mild ethical turmoil. What should I do? The bird was suffering terribly. It would soon die. I thought maybe I should grab rescue the bird from Clovis’ teeth and kill it quickly. I’ve done this before with wounded birds on the road. Slammed it against the pavement or crushed its head with my foot. Not fun. But quick and to the point. But I didn’t do that. I was just sitting there--correct posture, hands lightly clasped in the cosmic mudra, my breath going in and out--in Clovis’ and Ernie’s territory. This is what they do day and night--hunt and kill birds and eat them. No lesson I could teach Clovis, no bird's life I could save. I was their witness and in a way that was a privilege. I didn’t make any decision. Instead, I went back to my sitting. The intermittent scuffling sound grew faint and disappeared. Fifteen minutes later the alarm bell rang. I looked up. Clovis was no longer there. Only a few feathers remained. Clovis had devoured the bird completely.



So why am sitting on the ground videoing a Tim Hardaway press conference?

Well, I don’t do too much El Paso political stuff on my blog, and Tim doesn’t like to go into that melee either. In fact, his clumsy entrance into a hot national political issue (in 2007 he announced himself to be homophobic) is the reason he was the subject of my amateur video. Tim, like he says in the video, likes to be remembered for “the UTEP 2-step” and “the killer cross-over.” Oh well.

Lee and I do get involved in local El Paso politics from time to time—sometimes the result of our daughter Susie Byrd (our oldest) representing District #2 on City Council. That’s our district, the district she and her two brothers Johnny and Andy grew up in. In fact, Susie, her husband Eddie Holland and our three Hollandbyrd grandchildren live next door. That’s cool by us. Very cool.

Anyway, Pastor Tom Brown—a right-wing religious (Christian) reactionary—is leading an effort to recall Susie. The basic story line is a bit contorted. The City Council voted to extend health benefits to the partners (unmarried, gay, lesbian) of city employees. Most cities already have these rules. Even Southern cities. It’s the right thing to do and it’s good business. Especially for cities competing with other cities to attract new business. Tom Brown and his cronies blasted the Council. And they drafted “a family values” petition and ordinance to do away with the Council’s vote. The ordinance they drafted was vague and confusing, and they refused to edit their proposed ordinance for clarity. But they highlighted “family values.” They gathered enough signatures, the city held a one-issue election (a very small percentage of registered voters participated) and the ordinance passed. The Council then voted to rescind their new ordinance by a slim margin—4 for, 4 against, with the Mayor breaking the tie with a FOR. So Tom Brown and others are now gathering signatures to recall the Mayor, Steve Brown and Susie. (The terms of Rachel Quintana and Beto O’Rourke expired and they are no longer on Council.)

Susie Byrd, Tim Hardaway, Jody Casey-Feinberg and me @ Cinco Puntos

So enter Tim Hardaway. In El Paso Tim’s remembered for those great UTEP teams (1985 through 1989) where he dominated the Western Athletic Conference. I was a big fan. My friend Tom Baker and I used to go watch those games. Two years running they had Tim, Antonio Davis and Greg Foster—all future NBAers—on the same team. The legendary Don Haskins was the coach. We were big fans. I followed Tim’s career in the NBA enthusiastically. I’ve still pissed off at Chris Webber for pouting his way out of his contract with Golden State when they had Tim, Webber, and Chris Mullin. Shit.

But post-career—despite an extraordinary NBA career (perhaps even a Hall of Fame Career)—his reputation took a nosedive. That’s because he’s now too often remembered for saying, “Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States.” He was making these statements during a radio interview and in response to the publication of John Amaechi’s book Man in the Middle where Amaechi announced he is gay.

So in the video he announces his change of heart and he gives his support to the NO RECALL Movement in El Paso. Daughter Susie, and NO RECALL leaders, especially Jody Casey-Feinberg, arranged the press conference. Concurrently they were announcing a NO RECALL Rally for the next Sunday.

Good for Tim. I enjoyed talking to him. He was in town for a charity golf tournament and he had agreed to do the press conference. Beforehand, he came by the Cinco Puntos office and we talked basketball and Susie told him the story I just told you. He talked about his family coming to him after he made his homophobic statement and how they listed friends and relatives who are gay or lesbian. He was taken aback, he said. These were people he cared for. And so he came slowly around the corner toward understanding. Besides, he seemed like a nice guy, one of those guys who spent a lot of time in a gym and whose world too much was defined by coaches and teammates. That’s another kind of closet or cloister or whatever. So when he foolishly made his statement and it was blasted over national sports news shows he had opened some doors that he didn’t know were there.

Good for Tim. I’m glad he did what he did.


Ensōs go round and round: Ed Baker & JB Bryan

West Texas Ensō
by JB Bryan

The Perfect Ensō
by Ed Baker

A few weeks ago I blogged the beautiful and witty ensō by Ashikaga Shizan (1859-1959)--“Eat this and drink a cup of tea.” which is in the collection of my friend Bruce Kennedy. Then, within the next several days, I received the following images from my poet and painter friends JB Bryan and Ed Baker. I’m a huge fan of both men—their work as poets and as painters. Each has found his own path through the cantankerous side of the American grain. They echo each other but they are totally different—different as Albuquerque is to Maryland. Spend some time with their work, buy their books and art, celebrate your own life.


Amor por Juárez: Marching for Peace, June 10 2011

Friday evening, June 10th, 2011, citizens of El Paso marched across the International Bridge to Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, to join la Caravana por Paz y Justicia, led by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and citizens of our sister city to protest the on-going violence in Mexico, especially in Juarez. For more information about the march, read Debbie Nathan's article here in Colorlines  

When I have the opportunity, I will add more about this event and the pact that was signed by organizations on both sides of the river. 


The End of the World

Eat This and Have a Cup of Tea
Calligraphy (Enso, or circle, and words) by Ashikaga Shizan (1859-1959) 
Many thanks to Bruce Kennedy

What Happened?
Sunday, May 22, 2011
New York City

The world was supposed to end yesterday
But Paul and Timothy got it all wrong
They talked to God to see where their math went askew
God said the End of the World needs more juice
Like that jazz sextet at the African Market on 116th
The other side of Malcolm X
Three black guys on the brass horns talking New Age Zulu
Piano Cuban talks back voodoo bebop
The middle-aged Jew translates the Word on his drums
Likewise that skinny Asian American woman thumping the standup bass
(Where’d she come from?)
The Muslims are praising Allah on their prayer rugs
An ancient Japanese guy is slurping at his noodles
Rumor is that he’s enlightened
Although you’d never guess it
He’s eyeing the young women of poetry
Lesbians or straight he has no preferences
They are wearing skirts, they’re wearing naked legs
Their swaying hips prophesy the Ying and the Yang
Today they are our gate into the meadow
Tomorrow perhaps a mockingbird
Summertime and the living is easy, sweetheart
Maybe the world has already ended
Maybe we’re the last to know

I usually don’t put my own poetry up on my blog but I’m back from three weeks in New York City. In New York I always get a great feeling of liberation. The rain. The gardens and parks. The people, always the people. Sometimes I think its simply from being among all those people climbing up out of the subways like the animals that we are. This time the subways and the streets were full of hawkers handing out the news that the world was going to end of Saturday, May 21. One yellow broadside I took home was using Paul's letters to Timothy for their calculations of doom. I tried to read it but got bored and watched the Mavericks beat the OKC Thunder. It's an old disease from my childhood. I went to bed as usual and nothing happened. I woke up to a beautiful day and I went to the African Market on 116th Street in Harlem looking for a new kofi, a round hatless hat to keep my head warm and protected from the sun. It's a good place. All sorts of stuff from Africa. A sextet was playing good New York City jazz. A young Asian-American woman was playing the standup bass surrounded by four black men (a trumpet, two sax, one piano) and some kind of white guy hammering away at his drum kit. Obviously, the world hadn’t ended. That was cool by me. I jotted down some notes and that evening I wrote this poem.

The wonderful Enso by Ashikaga Shizan is from the private collection of calligraphy of photographer Bruce Kennedy. I ran into Bruce at the Still Mind Zendo one Tuesday night that I went scavenging a place to sit zazen. I know Bruce from our respective lives in the publishing industry. But I didn’t know he was a fellow Zenster, nor did I know that he was a wonderful photographer and a collector of calligraphy. It was a delightful surprise. And the Ashikaga Shizan fits so perfectly with what I wanted out of this poem. In fact, it says it better.


The Corner of Clark and Kent:: A Little Something for Wayne

I knew Wayne through poetry--his poetry, my poetry, poetry readings and the beast of poetry itself, what Martin Espada calls the Republic of Poetry, a particular kind of glue. Besides his own writing, he was an activist for poetry and the arts, especially in Las Cruces, NM. I want to tell something of his story because he was a poet, a storyteller too, and his life since he arrived in Las Cruces seems to me pertinent to the our culture. Las Cruces is almost an hour away from our house, but I’d see Wayne at all (literally, “all”) the poetry readings I went to in Cruces, many here in El Paso, and at all of the Somozas legendary Thanksgiving dinners. He was always good to talk to, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, all the time full of wit and intellectual curiosity. Over the last few years he was not in good health, always in some sort of physical agony, but he carried that pain with a certain grace. And I had come to admire his poetry—always unexpected pieces of his imagination—and his readings in which he'd always be trying something new. All his life, it seemed, he had been a devotee to the mythology of Clark Kent and Superman. Shape-changer. Transformer. Mytho-americano hero. Maybe that helps explain what happened—after he retired from teaching at the Western Illinois University (students attest he had been a wonderful teacher) at the age of 55, around the year 2000, and moved with his family to Las Cruces, he decided to step out of the closet. He had been too long in there. It smelled of his sweat and his sorrow. He was a gay man, he said, and he wanted to live openly as a gay man. It broke his wife Barbara’s heart. Of course, she probably knew already. Bedrooms don’t hold many secrets. Not after 30 or so years anyway. Still, she must have hoped he would change his mind, changed his heart and body--she must have prayed to God and to hell with the Clark Kent and Lois Lane rigmarole. But Wayne had walked away. He had done his job as a married man and as a father and now he had to be himself. Wayne’s poetry flourished. He was writing daily—strange surreal poems, Superhero poems, serious political commentary poems, funny poems, frivolous poems, anything that popped into his head. He worked on a crime noir novel and a non-fiction book about a crime back in Illinois. He became a leader in the local poetry scene, organizing open mic readings, sending out a monthly newsletter about poetry events, serving as editor of Sin Fronteras (a poetry collective), publishing the poetry e-zine Lunarosity and hosting a monthly poetry workshop at his house that included poets Joe Somoza, Dick Thomas, Sheila Black and others. He fell in love with Randy Granger—flute player, composer, musician—, and he invited Randy into his home. They lived in a sprawling house on the West Mesa overlooking the Rio Grande Valley, the lights of Las Cruces, and the magnificent Organ Mountains. Their garden was wonderful place to be at twilight on the end of a perfect October day. The garden had a small pond with Koi and goldfish and lilies. The pond was fed by a bubbling fountain, really a contraption of found junk that Wayne pieced together. It was an ugly thing really, but that was okay. It had a peculiar and wise charm and, besides, Wayne made it and he thought it beautiful. I bow to people who do things with their hands to bring home-made beauty into their homes. But of course there’s always trouble. Without trouble there’s no story. No poetry. Even for Clark Kent who turned into—not Superman—but Wayne the gay poet. His son John moved in. John is a good young man, shy and introspective. All his life he’s suffered from cerebral palsy that runs down the left side of his body like a clogged up drain. John and Randy were friends at first but as time wore on they got in each other’s way. One the lover, the other the son. How could it not happen? They, like us, are human beings. John moved away. He too fell in love, Melissa, a wonderful young woman in El Paso, but he stayed close to his dad. He just stayed away from the house. Wayne was happy with that. He loved his son John, he loved Randy. The same tension grew with Wayne’s daughter but from afar. Children must watch. Their mother was very sad. She still harbored her hopes for Wayne’s return but had moved back to Illinois. Her sense of herself had been pulled out from under her. All the habits of everyday life are wiped away. It opens up all sorts of questions about who we really are. Life went along. It always does. Wayne had a heart attack and survived. He hurt his neck and back terribly and had to wear a brace for a long time. The doctors had a terrible time trying to control his blood pressure. But he continued to write and to live a full intellectual and creative life. Then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He wouldn’t live. The doctors tried hard—radiation and all the rest. But Wayne was wasting away, he made his plans to die, sorting out his belongings for his children and for Randy, saying goodbye to friends, all the while the cancer eating at him. Friends—especially Dick and Sherry Thomas, Joe and Jill Somoza—helped Randy, who was always there along with hospice, to care for him. Son John and his girlfriend Melissa drove him to Houston for treatments. “Wonderful and special times for John and me,” Melissa said, “in the midst of that sorrow of his dying.” Sure enough, Wayne died on March 5, 2011. Ten days later his ex-wife Barbara had a massive heart attack and died. “Her heart was broken,” John said. Our lives are like this. We breathe in, we breathe out, and then we don't. 

May they both rest in peace.

The Corner of Clark and Kent

Most of us boys were born
under the hood of a car, forearms
like Popeye's, pliers for fingers, grease
behind our ears.
By the time we were thirteen
we knew everything there was to know
about standard transmissions and short cuts
through country roads.
We were raised at the corner of Clark
and Kent where gods descend into men,
men into steel machines, bodies
built like Buicks,
faces framed by work.
We learned to eat with our mouths' full,
talk when we needed to piss, grunt
and groan through meals.
My daddy said I had what it took.
I just didn't have the desire
to spend my life with my dick
on a fender,
my head beneath a hood. I pulled out,
like I told Jenni I would, pulled out
before I was married and mortgaged, fighting
whoever came near.
One day I was thinking about Jesus, remembering
"wipe the dust from your cuff." I hit
interstate 80 at 75,
picked up
Jimmy, drove west 'til we ran out of talk.
He said he missed Cindy more than he'd thought.
I didn't miss Jenni enough
to go back
to a Sinclair future or a body shop job
in a town with gravel driveways, no
traffic lights, lots of old family vans,
and align myself with steel-belted men
who stick oil-stained fingers in their ears, walk
like they're full of shit, sit like they're
straddling a gear,
and all I kept thinking was, Jesus,
I'm going to end up in a neighborhood bar
where you know a man by his truck and his tab,
spitting image
of his daddy, same bruises, same worts, same scars.
I pulled out, like I told Jimmy I would,
pulled onto the highway and never went back.
I wonder if I'd been better off
chained to a white picket fence
than wondering how to make sense
of dreams
that don't connect and can't be recharged
at the corner of Clark and Kent.


Watch Presumed Guilty online until March 31

If you live along the border, especially here in El Paso a few minutes from Juarez, you are always hearing terrible stories about the Juarez police and Mexican army abuse of civilians, seemingly with a free reign to do what they want. This impunity extends into the Mexican judicial system where the Mexican judges at all levels act so many times without any regard to the facts. It's more about money and power and fear, the old mordida system--a system that's lost its core integrity. The movie Presumed Guilty by Roberto Hernandez and Geoffrey Smith document one such case. But what makes the movie so much important to me is that I've met and talked with Kevin Huckabee, the father of Shoun Huckabee, who has been incarcerated in the infamous Cereso Prison in Juarez now for over a year. He never got a fair trial and there's good reason to believe that the evidence that put him in jail was planted by the Mexican army. Shoun and his friend Carlos Quijas had witnesses to support their claim, but one witness was killed, the father of another was killed, and all other witnesses have disappeared. Who is to blame them? So Shoun and Carlos languish in prison, learning the hard truths of life in a prison where everything is bought and paid for. Kevin, who is in poor health, goes over as much as he can, he helps pay for bribes to keep his son safe, he negotiates with the Mexican prison system, he enlists the aide of Amnesty International and lawyers and activists--anybody who can help. Infuriating in all this madness is the U.S. government's total lack of help. Our U.S. Representative, Silvestre Reyes, totally ignores Kevin's pleas for help, saying he trusts the Mexican legal system, saying his hands are tied, saying it is not his problem. Meanwhile, the U.S. government will send Bill Richardson around the globe to extricate American citizens from similar situations, it refuses to pressure the Mexican government for release of its citizens five minutes from its border.

Below is the introduction and a link to the Wall Street Journal article by Nicholas Casey that documents the terrible dilemma that Shoun Huckabee and Carlos Quijas find themselves in. The El Paso Times has totally ignored the issue. And below that is a description of the movie Presumed Guilty. The movie is essential to anybody wanting to more fully understand the distress of the citizens of Mexico. It's available free for streaming on PBS POV. Please send the link along, especially to those able to raise a voice in support of a true justice system in Mexico.

July 17, 2010 from the Wall Street Journal by Nicolas Casey.
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico—Two Americans were driving back to El Paso, Texas, last December after an afternoon across the border in Ciudad Juárez. A few blocks from the border, they were surrounded by Mexican army trucks and pulled from their Dodge Ram.

Violence escalates in the drug wars in Mexico as a car bomb set off by a cell phone kills at least three people. Deborah Lutterbeck reports. Video Courtesy of Reuters.

Mexico's military says it found two suitcases full of marijuana in the cab of the pickup truck. Two soldiers later testified that they drove the two Americans to a military compound on the outskirts of town, questioned them briefly, then turned them over to civilian authorities. The Americans were charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

Those two men—Shohn Huckabee, 23 years old, and Carlos Quijas, 36—are being held in a Ciudad Juárez jail. They tell a different story about what happened that night. They say Mexican soldiers planted the marijuana in their truck. When they arrived at the military base, they say, they were blindfolded, tied up, hit with rifle butts, shocked with electricity and threatened with death.

Presumed Guilty
Directed by Roberto Hernandez & Geoffrey Smith

In December 2005 Toño Zuniga was picked up off the street in Mexico City, Mexico, and sentenced to 20 years for murder based on the testimony of a single, shaky eyewitness. PRESUMED GUILTY tells the heart-wrenching story of a man who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A friend of Toño’s contacted two young lawyers, Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete, who gained prominence in Mexico when they helped bring about the release of another innocent man from prison. As Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) legal researchers, they tracked an alarming history of corruption in the Mexican justice system (93% of inmates never see an arrest warrant, and 93% of defendants never see a judge).

Looking into Toño’s case, Roberto and Layda managed to get a retrial–on camera—and enlisted the help of filmmaker Geoffrey Smith (THE ENGLISH SURGEON) to chronicle the saga. Shot over three years with unprecedented access to the Mexican courts and prisons, this dramatic story is a searing indictment of a justice system that presumes guilt.


Japan (2)


What is the key
To untie the knot of your mind’s suffering?

Is the esoteric secret
To slay the crazed one whom each of us
Did wed

And who can ruin
Our heart’s and eye’s exquisite tender

Hafiz has found
Two emerald words that

That I now cling to as I would sacred
Tresses of my Beloved’s

Act great.
My dear, always act great.

What is the key
To untie the knot of the mind’s suffering?

Benevolent thought, sound
And movement.

~ Hafiz ~

For those brave souls who Act Great
that others may live....


I stole this from a great website--PANHALA--I only found this week through a newsletter I receive. I've been astonished, reading about the news in Japan, the men who are walking into the inferno of those reactors, doing their incredibly dangerous job, acting great, as Hafiz has said. Hafiz was the great Iranian (Persian) poet and mystic. The Panhala website marries poems with images and the results are many times very beautiful and meaningful. 

I wish the people of Japan peace and good health.



The following five poems from Japan were translated by Kenneth Rexroth (see his beautiful book 100 Poems from the Japanese). I receive the Village Zendo Newsletter. A person who I assume is Nina K posted them this morning, having received them from another list operated by Larry Robinson of California, "who sends out poems almost daily." The poems found a place in my heart today, so I thought to share them. I wish you are all well. Peace and hope for the people of Japan. For us all.

I can no longer tell dream from reality.
Into what world shall I awake
from this bewildering dream?

                       — Akazome Emon

The fireflies' light
How easily it goes on
How easily it goes out again.

                       — Chine-Jo

The crying plovers
On darkening Narumi
Beach, grow closer, wing
To wing, as the moon declines
Behind the rising tide.

                       — Fujiwara No Sueyoshi

I loathe the seas of being
And not being
And long for the mountain
Of bliss untouched by
The changing tides.

                       —  Anonymous

If only the world
Would remain this way,
Some fishermen
Drawing a little rowboat
Up the riverbank.

                       — Minamoto No Sanetomo


Mas: Puro John Ross, RIP

"Then there was John. Even in his seventies, a tall imposing figure with a narrow face, a scruffy goatee and mustache, a Che T-shirt covered by a Mexican vest, a Palestinian battle scarf thrown around his neck, bags of misery and compassion under his eyes, offset by his wonderful toothless smile and the cackling laugh that punctuated his comical riffs on the miserable state of the universe."
--Frank Bardacke, in the Nation

"Life, like reporting, is a kind of death sentence. Pardon me for having lived it so fully."

--John Ross, in refusing to accept recognition from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, 2009. They wanted to celebrate him for telling "stories nobody else could or would tell." John defiantly created his own story that they would not want to tell. Here's the poem he read to them to conclude his bit of very public guerrilla theater.


Coming out of the underground
On the BART escalator,
The Mission sky
Is washed by autumn,
The old men and their garbage bags
Are clustered in the battered plaza
We once named for Cesar Augusto Sandino.
Behind me down below
In the throat of the earth

A rough bracero sings
Of his comings and goings
In a voice as ronco y dulce
As the mountains of Michoacan and Jalisco
For the white zombies
Careening downtown
To the dot coms.
They are trying to kick us
Out of here
They are trying to drain
This neighborhood of color
Of color
This time we are not moving on.
We are going to stick to this barrio
Like the posters so fiercely pasted
To the walls of La Mision
With iron glue
That they will have to take them down
Brick by brick
To make us go away
And even then our ghosts
Will come home
And turn those bricks
Into weapons
And take back our streets
Brick by brick
And song by song
Ronco y dulce
As Jalisco and Michaocan
Managua, Manila, Ramallah
Pine Ridge, Vietnam, and Africa.

As my compa QR say
We here now motherfuckers
Tell the Klan and the Nazis
And the Real Estate vampires
To catch the next BART out of here
For Hell.

Three recent tributes to John Ross really catch his flair and his life, so I thought I would link to them: The Frank Bardacke piece in Counterpunch linked to above; "Rebel Journalist John Ross, the Master of Speaking Truth to Power, Is Dead" by blogger John Nichols in the Nation; and "John Ross, 1938-2011, Beat Poet, Revolutionary Journalist" by Tom Robbins in the Village Voice. Each writer seems to have known John well and loved and respected him. It's nice to see John get all this attention. The Nation piece has John's complete rant of the speech to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was a Wobbly in the original sense. He spoke his truth to power, he put himself in danger, he was brilliant, he was raw, he was witty, and he loved the Lakers (why, I don't know) and probably the Knicks too if they would ever get their act together.