…one hundred kinds of silence                                                                                     according to the Chinese belief,                                                                                             each one distinct from the others

 but the differences being so faint                                                                                          that only a few special monks                                                                                                  were able to tell them apart

from “Grave” by Billy Collins

5 A.M.

On Mission I know the trucks are running

but it’s quiet here in my den,

except for an animal scuffling in the attic

a scuffling amplified by the wall heater.

There are trillions of noises

and new ones manufactured all the time

the sound of packaging tape, for instance,

ripped into strips like artificial skin

and there are the ancient sounds

an apple thunking on the roof.

Sounds vastly outnumber the hundred silences

so the silences shouldn’t be hard to catalogue.

I may as well try

(numbering is based on esoterica only

a monk would give a rat’s ass about.)

Here’s one: the silence

of all you’ve procrastinated doing

plug the gaps in the eaves to keep out the vermin

yell at the squirrels for taking one stupid bite out of the still-green apples

put a note in the package saying sorry for being so out of touch.

Here’s another, number 26: the silence after someone, real or imagined,

says It’s a brand new day, make the most if it.

The silence of pretend it’s good for you.

Okay. It’s a new day. Today I am a scientist of silence.

I spot one in the low 40s:

the gap between the Goldberg Variations, when one stops

before another begins. God’s sewing machine.

I wasn’t even closely listening. It was aural filler,

a bulwark against silence number 9, the existential silence. A biggie,

don’t you agree? Let’s not talk about it.

There’s another. The things not talked about. Number 14.

The blackening banana peel draped over the rim of the coffee cup

signals number 99. The bottom third, (67-100) all seem to be pulled by a nag:

what are you doing with your slice of the banana cream pie of life?

Do this much. Put the peel in the worm bin.

Many noises masquerade as silence.

I won’t let them throw me off track.

The complacencies of the peignoir. Why does that come to mind?

No answer. Silence number 45.

The silence of no answer is always in the mid-range.

Suspended in a pseudo-silence like sounds underwater

each new day turns into the old day, then passes away.

Today I did not pin the wings of a single butterfly

of silence. Maybe if I meditate more but

to say there is silence when I sit on the zafu is ludicrous.

My mind cavorts like a drunk

polka-dancing. Still, there is one identifiable silence,

the silence of the skull encasing the mayhem. The skull wherever you find it

transports a specimen of silence.

Wishful thinking has a silence, now that I think of it:

the silence of entropy, number 37, of waiting

just waiting, still waiting for someone to make happen what needs to happen.

Or maybe doesn’t need to happen.

I’m back in bed before midnight. Somewhere in the country of sleep

I will skid into a patch of silence, I’m pretty sure. Calling it number

23 is totally arbitrary, I admit.

I make oatmeal for breakfast. The word oatmeal

Has a silence tucked right between its vowels.

It’s the silence of lowered expectations, reasonably

lowered expectations.

Look, another month has gone.

You get older and  minutes are packaged as days,

days as months, swaddled and delivered in feet upon feet

of clear plastic tape.

There ought to be a name for the sound of it sticking and unsticking.

The Germans will think of one. Until then, silence 18.

The Germans surely already have a word for nostalgia for what never occurred.

My doctor said that is what I am suffering from

that it’s radioactive with a half-life

of several reincarnations;

that’s enough to raise it to number 2.

A loveable silence is there somewhere, maybe 55,

the silence of disbelief when your friends

realize you’re telling them another fart joke.

Or this one: what’s the stinkiest day of the week?

Saturday, there’s a turd right in the middle of it.

Here’s Margaret tootling around her garden thinking nobody heard but

it’s really her own hearing going.

I suspect there is a panorama of silences in Margaret’s stroll.

Margaret are you grieving over goldengrove unleaving?

Well aren’t we all?

How’s this for number 1? The silence of pure wonder.

I wonder if monks tell fart jokes. I know nuns do.

Wait a second. I’m not going to end this poem with a fart joke

though it would entail some distinction as a first.

Excuse me for a moment. I’m going to go meditate.

A much better ending, don’t you think?

Silence number 9: the silence of the reader.




















It was my birthday and I was running off a hardcopy of my novel, chapter one to the end, and when I told some friends it sounded like it was an act packed with symbolic meaning, but it was mainly a coincidence and the fact that I took the afternoon off. I had the time and a good stack of blank paper.

Three-hundred and thirty seven pages. You understand why I haven’t before. A friend who doesn’t have a computer (yes, Virginia, there is a remnant) is willing to read it. I don’t know if I can say wants to read it. Does that mean I am finished with it after dozens of rewrites? Whatever. I decided to Print, so long as the cartridges had ink. And it was my birthday.

The Epson printer did its preparatory clearing of the throat, and got to it, belching page after page, the little engine that could, on and on in a high drone of endeavor, a sound that in its sustained monotone seemed to be a new sound altogether, the sign of imminent collapse…but the pages came out, and of course I thought of my mother in the hospital in Quinter putting me out, the 5th of what would be eight. How long did it take her?  I kept feeding new packets of virgin paper into the Epson and the stack grew, an albatross, a bloated carcass, obscene. All those hours and hours writing: they didn’t feel like a waste but the amount of paper! Monstrous.

Epson counts backward, reversing time. I ran out of paper on page 30.  So what did I do until I bought some more? Re-wrote the first 29 pages. Yesterday I finished the job. So now The City of Disappearances camps on the counter, and I am afraid to look at page one lest I start rewriting.




Periodically there’s comes a whiff in the political atmosphere, like the smell of hops around a brewery, of a serious movement toward a viable Third Party. It dissipates as fast as it arrives and the status quo, the folks who vote 100-0 to ship some more bombs to Israel, settle comfortably back into their seats with their greased palms upturned for more of what you can give them. Rolexes? Junkets? Voting blocs? It’s enough to make you go inside the brewery, any brewery, and not come out until the world looks a little more hospitable to optimism.

I am happy to announce another attempt, birthed on a recent trip to Santa Barbara; a Third Party that will go a long way toward solving our nation’s problems. The genius of my idea, if I say so myself, is that it combines two meanings of party, the joyless political kind, and the kind the kids of UC-Santa Barbara enjoy, at least until one of them falls, as it often happens, off a cliff into the sea.

It’s the Goodbye-and-Good-Riddance Party. The platform consists of saying a mindful farewell to dead weight on the ship of state. Think of throwing the dead weight off the aforementioned cliffs, if you can overlook the ensuing pollution of the lovely beaches.

Candidates for inclusion:

The state of Texas

Pundits punditizing

Talk radio


Spouses of rogue politicians and their spouses

These are all too obvious and stir no controversy whatsoever. What’s the fun in that? Let’s try harder. Got suggestions? Macro, micro, obvious, obscure. Think of that closet you haven’t cleaned out since Jimmy Carter was president. Contribute and I’ll put you on the list of potential running mates. Rolexes accepted, if you’ve got nothing better.



The risk: to admit I’m tired of gardening. It’s like what Samuel Johnson says about the man who is tired of London, he is tired of life. For the record I’m nowhere near tired of life. (I hope, anyway. You never know, do you?) No, it’s just gardening, or the way I do it I’m tired of. At least today, working in the Richmond District, at a garden that is always one step away from getting completely out of hand or three steps beyond. As is right and just, I blame the idiot who planted all these shrubs that have gotten far too large for this small rectangle; ceanothus, variegated buckthorn, cordyline, camellia sasanquas…and these are in just one narrow bed. The rest of the garden is likewise effulgent.   I perch precariously on the “NOT A STEP” step and turn the unwilling buckthorn into a dowdy column hating the shape I’m creating. And who planted this garden? Me. It’s one of life’s little garden jokes that if you get to live long enough, you see the results of the mistakes you’ve made, large and small.

I might not live much longer if I don’t get down.

You could presume that given the leafy plenitude of this garden, the young woman who lives with her husband and kids in the upstairs flat would not feel the need to add plastic foliage, and you would be wrong. In plastic buckets we have before us three artificial plants, not even exotic facsimiles but the most hackneyed, dieffenbachia, parlor palm, and philodendron, each faded to a green seen in the faces of the seasick. Here is the irony which keeps you, dear reader, from getting chlorosis: after I have snipped a million snips and am in the clean-up phase, I must comb the plastic foliage free of buckthorn clippings.

I hedge. Maybe I am a little tired of life.

9 Moons

moon over the Bay

I make things up.                                                                                                                            The moon is something                                                                                                                      I made up.

moon over Silicon Valley

Am I superficial                                                                                                                           because I am                                                                                                                                           a self-made man?

moon over the Tenderloin

Desire rubs me raw.                                                                                                                             I learned something                                                                                                                       this long life.

moon over Land’s End

You went long before me.                                                                                                            My path seems endless                                                                                                                 but I’ll get there.

moon over Bernal Heights

You know home.                                                                                                                                  It fits like a glove.                                                                                                                             What kind of glove?

moon over the Castro

I have a zipper                                                                                                                               where my boyfriend                                                                                                                       has a spine.

moon over Tiburon

What you mistake                                                                                                                            for whitecaps                                                                                                                                      are legions of sharks.

moon over Muir Woods

Here’s a secret                                                                                                                                   for those of you                                                                                                                              who lack one.

moon over Dogpatch

I have an itch                                                                                                                                     like fireweed                                                                                                                                             in a crack of concrete.




Where is thy sting-a-ling-ling?

After offering condolences for my father’s death, Janeann said, “Now it’s our turn to move to the edge of the double ditch.”

“I’ve never heard it called that,” I said.

“It’s an Irish saying.”

Since his passing other people have made similar comments.  There is no one between our generation and the abyss. Step right up.

You’d think the news that my personal star turn under the blue sky is of limited duration would sink in and prevent me from wasting hours dicking around on the computer, like I did this morning. It’s so easy to do.  Still, it was not a total waste. I found this.  My faith in humanity is revived.  Yours will be too.

Video: Nude Blacks hold off tough English charge – Story – 3 Sport – 3 News   

You’re welcome.




around those suckers and hooked up to a tractor                                                                and yanked them out of the tired ground                                                                                 the damn things bucking                                                                                                               roots snapping                                                                                                                                    like something alive.

Clarence who mowed the cemetery complained they                                                      were too much trouble to mow around.

The cemetery in Collyer                                                                                                           would never have been                                                                                                                mistaken for Versailles, but without those fat junipers                                                 you couldn’t tell it                                                                                                                            from the nearby pasture                                                                                                                  if it wasn’t for the tombstones.

Maybe that’s the point.