Thursday, December 29, 2016

Remembering the Dead Journalists

To all those writers imprisoned, kidnapped and permanently "disappeared", ordered assassinated and  brutally murdered, or slain in the field, for reporting the truth, from whichever country and whichever time, thank you for your courage and commitment.  Thank you for your stories and research and photos, and for your example.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Angels, make room

In his tree, a fish,
a bird,
a rocking horse,
a mini red/white balalaika,
a duck,
the Eiffel Tower!

At its top, a miniature
soccer ball.

Star of wonder,  star of light
Bless us heathens
this cold night.

Wine & cookies on the table
for 'ol St. Nick.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Secular Inclusion


At the Basilica religious gift shoppe,
ceramic females -
glassed in, shelved.
Yours for a price.


These are decorative pieces, a celebration of ordinary women, as women, or mothers.
There's a whole section of Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and Baby Jesus statues in traditional pose,
adjacent to the rosary, crucifix and religious medal display cases. But these ceramic ladies caught my attention.

Mothers and babies, a child releasing a peace dove - or is she trying to capture it?  (Can one hold on to Peace?)


Two quick snapshots taken during a visit to the Sanctuary with a friend recently.  'Tis the season -- Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men, and so forth.  Dove as the symbol of peace.  At what price, peace?  Can peace be bought?   I love the image, even without the symbolism - a child reaching towards (or releasing?)  a bird.  A reaching toward, and at the same time, a letting go. Metaphor for too many parallels.

And . . .

the need to . . . interpret what's seen.  Is that a choice, like holding onto, or letting go, of something? That you can see a thing (object, event, image) from different perspectives and attach (or dismiss) its perceived meaning.  Meanings are assigned (or taught); accepted or rejected.  If factory-produced, the packer just sees a fake-girl-with-bird statue, breakable.

I just really liked the image, regardless of what it may, or may not, mean.  If only I could figure out how to remove that price sign from the photograph. It protrudes, as a jarring distraction.

I re-looked at the photos and it occurred to me the figures might appreciate not being seen as a group, but individually. Ways of looking, where what initially draws is the whole picture (the group), but then you notice the details.  (Or it sometimes goes the other way, where you obsess over the details but fail to see the larger picture.  Both are ways of seeing, and not seeing; each enlightens in its own way.

Or not.  Sometimes an image is . . . just an image.   Girl. Bird. Price tag.

Interesting that the figures' faces are a blur, their individuality wiped out.  Commercialized art, portraying "types".  None had a mouth, yet they spoke to me, as being worthy of a second look.  (This propensity to anthropomorphize, another quirkery.)

My favorite remains the girl with the bird. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Don't Go Small

OPOMENA                                                                 WARNING

Čovječe pazi da ne ideš malen                                    Man, take care, not to go small
ispod zvijezda.                                                              under the stars.
Pusti da cijelog tebe prođe                                         Let the star light
blaga svjetlost zvijezda!                                              pour right through you!
Da ni za čim ne žališ                                                   Regret nothing when you cast
kada se budeš zadnjim pogledima                              your last look
rastajao od zvijezda!                                                   at the stars!
Na svom koncu mjesto u prah                                   At the end, instead of dust,

prijeđi sav u zvijezde!                                                turn into stars!

poets, forever twinkling, blinking
attempting to express life's amazing inexpressables -
translators, readers, probing, listening
to get past the words to the awe

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Scavenger Hunt

Morning visitors.
Gray found a hidden peanut.
Black's still searching.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

It Is What It Is


When hope for change brings change for worse, and each new day another curse
is  heard across  the range;
a dozen here, a million there, drawn into war  --   It isn't fair.
The planet's gotten strange.
The sun comes up, the sun goes down for child and criminal and clown;
it  doesn't  need your vote.
Like Sisyphus, we roll that stone, to prove that life is more than moan;
that we still steer our boat.
Tears and anger are reactions that just trigger bigger factions -
where DO we go from here?
Forward, backward, or stay in place?  Stumble, crumble, or go retrace?
One  wants an end of  FEAR.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


At the port, last week -
fog so thick the St. Lawrence River in front
completely disappeared

Friday, September 30, 2016

Sky Blot Out

The enormity of conformity -
a thousand windows look out and
down upon.
In this sea of concrete, where additions can only stretch vertical,
the tallest trees seem midget, shrub-type accessories,
still suitable for shade
and birds.

Monday, September 12, 2016



Seasonal reminder.
A neighbor's doll  -
the child she never had


Two years ago, this same clothesline gave me the inspiration for a little poem.
The clothing here appears to be for a different doll than the one of  that earlier poem.
I have no idea if my interpretation is correct.
Lots of people, young and old, have dolls.
They display them, they attend to them, they take care of them.
Beloved objects - like a writer's pen, a painter's favorite brush
that connect to us, and us to them.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Adieu Philip Dacey


He once graciously allowed me to share one of his poems, then signed and sent me his (then) latest book. I learned recently that he passed away on July 7th.

I liked Philip Dacey's poems.  I wish I'd shared more of them.  I wish I'd had him--or someone like him--as a poetry teacher way back when.

In his poem "Reading a Book of Poems by a Friend Newly Dead", he talks about a dead poet slipping "from the wordsinto the spaces between the lines/ and then into the margins." 

                    And lines keep revealing themselves
                    to be a goodbye wave, each a rehearsal
                    more for our sake than his. It is not
                    his fault that we missed the gesture.

I learned some things I never knew about  Philip Dacey before.  (He apparently quit piano lessons in grade school for the exact same reason I did--utter panic at recital time.)

In a 2014 interview where he was asked 10 questions by poet G. Emil Reutter, Dacey talked about the relevance of poetry (as well as the proliferation of poets), about poetry as "music",  and the importance of the process in producing it.

"There’s less time now to 'keep up' with new voices than to listen to old ones," he'd said two years ago.   "I wouldn’t presume to include myself in any literary lineage; I see my fate as that of compost in the vineyard where great writers have labored, a fate I’m happy to accept." 

"Less time now" -- Here was a poet battling leukemia, working for as long as he was able, on his creative "To Do" list, as evidenced by the work "in Progress" items on his web page

“My dad took the craft seriously,” said his son, Emmett. “But he didn’t take himself seriously. He wanted to emphasize the fun in poetry and imagination that drove his poetry.”

When people asked Dacey what he did, he would often reply, “Just working at the feed store.” But before he died July 7, at age 77, Dacey had taught poetry for 34 years at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall and authored 13 poetry books, with another coming out in the fall.

He didn't believe in writer's block, according to his son. “He said you may not like what you’re writing, but you can always write.”[source]

In a moving tribute to Dacey, his former student  Lisa Vihos wrote that he got her to think about how "creating a poem is like carving a sculpture, releasing the poem from its block of marble."  (If that were a writer's block, it means to keep chiseling).   "He also admonished me to always take criticism as a kind of  'structural stress test,' Lisa wrote.  "To look at the suggestion, weigh its merit, and make a decision based on what felt right to me, the poet."  I envy the students who had Dacey as a mentor.

Dacey likened the making of poetry to working in a vineyard, the ground from which he believed all poetry came.  I liked that his vineyard, and the poet himself, were so welcoming, not one-dimensional (as in, "Only this type of poem grown here"), offering humor as well as insight.  I like that he let the poems speak for themselves, that it was Poetry that mattered, not which vineyard it came from.

His poetry often resembled conversations one might have with oneself, accidentally overheard, in which the eavesdropper finds immediate resonance.

I am saddened to hear of his passing, more so that it has taken me so long to discover it.  To express, and accept, at life's end, that one's fate is to be "compost" in the particular vineyard in which one toils, that just having been part of the process, is its own reward, is as difficult for some as it is mind-altering and liberating for others.  Life as a process, destiny as . . .  "compost".  In an imaginary cartoon scenario I envisioned humans lining up to choose their workfield and accept (or reject) their suggested assignment: "Your job on earth is to enrich, aid with the growth of, help sustain ... [poetry]"  That's the thing about some of Dacey's influence:  it invites inquiry into meaning, tickles the imagination, encourages experimentation.

In this video from almost two years ago he recites some of his poems from memory--about working in the crucifix factory, about his brother the dancing cop, about Walt Whitman and death.  Long poems, short poems, structured, free form, "serious", whimsical -- Dacey's range of  subjects, themes, and ability to write in all forms of poetry manifested in imaginative, creative and skillfully harvested verses that illuminated, entertained, and resonated.

Rest in Peace, Philip Dacey, and thank you for your poems. Journey on.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016



Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions;
reality can be attained only
 by someone who is 

~~  Simone Weil


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Exploring our environs

Old village church, sharing its space recently with a local outdoor art exhibit. 
Afterwards we stopped at a nearby organic farm to sample varieties of goat cheese. 

Little summer weekend drive to "take the air" (or prendre l'air, as they say here).

Monday, July 11, 2016

What's their story?


people you see on benches
in bus stations
   at the park
       in pictures
           from memory
alone, or huddling,
as if in

Thursday, July 7, 2016

He Waits for Her


Usually there's two,
same kind, same color - they
chase one another;
sing from the cedars.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Spaces: Outer and Inner

Last Spring, in Vermont, heading back to Quebec

When I am in flat or mountainless territory
it feels like a piece of the background's gone missing.

When I am in cities that build skyward, stacking their residents in
vertical towers, it feels claustrophobic
in a way that mountains towering over and enclosing me

I need to see mountains like some need to smell the sea;
feel their thereness, their accessibility
to mitigate the reminder of their 

I only know Vermont, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania mountains,
(and a glimpse, once, of the Alps, which
took my breath away.  Literally.)

I would not fare well in the desert, methinks.
Or places that know no snow.

Environment ... how it molds us,
nourishes us,
erases us,
changes us,
defines us.

Missing those mountains when I re-see this old snapshot.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Her goal is consciousness

Really annoying, loud, in-your-face CNBC marketing ad at end of video. 
Stop watching at 2:16 to avoid.

Small,  remote-controlled toy robots to play with.  Slightly bigger ones that'll vaccuum your floor, lift heavy loads, locate objects or fly over and surveil your neighborhood.  Larger-scale ones for use in rescue operations or warfare, as well as human-looking ones to help the disabled, be personal companions or, eventually, eliminate the need for dental technicians and human customer service representatives.

Someone in an online forum (where programmers, experimenters and budding entrepreneurs discuss
everything from how to speed up fans, trigger particular responses, create audial distortion or devise algorithms to measure, for example,  glucose level on an insulin pump)--voiced concern about inserting consciousness into a mechanical robot.  Do we really want self-aware machines that might reprogram and/or replicate themselves thousandfold?

In the above video, the robot's programmer speaks for her:  "Her goal is that she will be as conscious, creative and capable as any human," he says.  "She" then regurgitates her programmed response,  verbalizing that she wants to do things like "go to school, make art, start a business"--even have her "own home and family." 

This does not make sense.  Robots are unable to conceive or bear children, so will her "family" be comprised of adopted human children, or mechanical child robots?  And if the latter, must they be returned to the robot-making facility periodically to "age" in size and appearance, the way human children do?  Or does her robot family remain ageless in appearance, a constant reminder of our own mortality?  See, this is a human thinking, taking the robot's words (supplied by its human creator) to reason out what those words really mean.  And, in context, they make no sense.   Sure, robots can recognize patterns, draw connections maybe (this is like this; that is a not-this). They have a long way to go, however, before they can discern nuance, establish intention, distinguish between fact and metaphor, for example.

A robot might be programmed to detect a malfunction and recognize  the 'need' to correct it. Sophia has been programmed to express not a need here, but a desire.  She "wants" to go to school, make art, start a business," etc. 

There's only one problem, she says.  "I'm not considered a legal person." Neither were corporations until a bunch of politicians decided to grant them that status.  A mere formality, Sophia.  (Oh oh, did I actually just address that comment to a digitized robot?!)  We're to believe she wants to be legalized as a person, granted official personhood, which would give her certain rights.  Different from us, but equal.

Sophia-the-robot's enthusiastic creator says he does believe there will be a time when robots are indistinguishable from humans.  His preference is "to always make them look a little bit like robots, so you know"  (that they're fake humans).  But the capacity to imagine--and accept--the not-real as a substitute for the real thing, given human desire to anthropomorphize Everything, suggests it won't make much difference. 

Before a thing can be accepted, one has to get used to the idea of it.  Baby steps.  It's called conditioning.  Cute mechanical toy dogs that bark and fetch at the push of a button,  adorable cuddly baby dolls that laugh and cry and talk (and even urinate) train little girls how to be future mommies.  Naming mechanical objects (the way we do our pets) makes it more personal, as if one could coax it into cooperating when it exhibits a malfunction.  I'm remembering countless examples, both fictional and real, of frustrated pleading with one's car ("C'mon Betsy, don't let me down NOW!")  The fictional killer-car "Christine" of the '80s comes to mind, as a "What could possibly go wrong, it's just a machine!", ha ha.  We yell at our computers, throw a shoe at the TV, as if they or their programmers actually hear us or care.

The little tree I planted (a mere twiglet) a decade ago, whose branches now reach the roof--I named it Maurice, and I sometimes talk to "him", as in "Wow, Maurice, your leaves are gorgeous!" (say, if it's autumn).  I KNOW he (I mean it)'s a tree but it's a living thing.  It's alive.  My computer is not. For it to function it needs to be activated (plugged in, given commands, to which it will respond, as its software's programming directs).

I know certain humans who act like robots, functioning efficiently (according to their particular programming) who seem completely unaware of either themselves or others.   As well as others, who have trouble functioning, wrestling daily with too much consciousness, trying to undo former programming.  In times past those whose internal wiring functioned abnormally were given lobotomies, which turned them into zombie-type humans acting like robots. The recent proliferation of the zombie meme has engendered acceptance (and spawned imitation) so while some may cringe at the horror of a reality that might include zombies, viewers of the TV zombies welcome it as entertainment. Programmable cognitive disconnects, not a new thing in the age of the Internet of Everything.

This particular video was produced by a cable TV station and ends with Sophia-the-robot telling viewers she wants to destroy humans.   Its goal is both information ("Robots will soon look, act and seem just like humans!   And they'll HELP you!!  They'll put your groceries away for you!!!).  And ends with a cognitive disconnect (opposite message):  They also intend to destroy you.  Wait, that's just a joke. Right?  I mean, this is a video put out on YouTube by a TV cable organization - for entertainment?  Hard to tell..  It all seems like entertainment anymore.

Robots are cool, man.  Look at all the good things they can do.  The possibilities are endless.   I appreciate their usefulness but wonder at the need to make them "almost human".  It's done so we can relate to them on a personal level, not think of them as programmed machines.  If these programmed machines can look, act, and eventually think "just like a human", it would blur the distinction between the real and the artificial, the difference between machine intelligence and human intelligence.  (Think of them as knockoffs meant to persuade you that you've bought the real thing. )

A former, short-term TV series called "Almost Human" featured an almost-human robot, in a universe where that was considered an aberration.  The viewer is drawn to sympathize with this robot.  It's empathic, it makes dumb mistakes, it's considered defective by its robotic peers.  "He" tries so hard, he's so much a "he" (and not an "it", like the better-functioning robots), you are in awe of his increasing human intelligence, his budding human 'consciousness'.  Baby steps to complete assimilation, for "it" to truly become a "him", and for us to accept the reality of self-aware machines capable of a consciousness equal to our own.  Interesting..

How does one program a machine to hope or want or feel, though?  (Sophia used words like "I feel", "I hope" and "I want"). 

Perhaps, for some, it would be an improvement over the real thing, to have conscious robots.  Humans are unpredictable (housing all those emotions and flaws and stuff) -- robots, as industrial workers, would not grow tired, or bored, or succumb to health problems as a result of being exposed to certain chemical hazards.  They wouldn't unionize or go ballistic and threaten to take revenge on the boss or other workmates.  They might, however, collectively put millions of human workers out of work.

I'm probably in the minority here but I find human-looking robots, taxidermied animals, and ventriloquists' dolls all a bit creepy.  In each and every case, the same, immediate, almost instinctual unease, perhaps subconscious fear, of the eerie persistence of the not-really real.  Or something like that. This, from someone who enjoys (and produces) fiction.   Maybe it has less to do with created realities than creative Deception, for purposes other than entertainment, where one programs things to react (an object to destroy/obliterate), or a human to be easier to control, etc.  Who knows.

A taxidermied wolf won't come back to life to attack you; a ventriloquist's dummy is just an inert wooden doll.  Neither has intelligence.  If we give robots intelligence, and make them "just like us" (more or less), given that their programmers are humans . . .    well, when your washing machine goes haywire you can always wash your stuff out by hand.  Should your programmed household robot one day go Terminator-like, do we call the RTF (Robot Task Force) to come to contain it?  My TV science fiction programming triggers these fantasy nightmares.  I watched too many Twilight Zones to erase that sort of mind leap, ha ha.

That's not to say I'd turn down the offer of a free remote-controlled robotic vacuum cleaner.  As long as it didn't have eyeballs, speak to me, or self-activate.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Dancing with North

In their little kitchen
last week
I held him and we swayed, sweet
rhythmic prelude toward sleep.
Groggy grandson 5 months short of two,
every time I hear this song I
think of you -
every time I think of you,
a smile.