Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Duffy's Last Day

He nestled his nose in the 

Crook of my arm, breathing

Out one hot breath after the 

Other, trusting me as he

Always had, his whole life

Long. Then the vet lifted

Him onto the table.  I stood,

Petting him as his heart slowed

While the vet listened.  She

Looked up, nodding.  I looked

Down, not able to look up as

I left.  On hikes when he was 

Out of sight I used to call

“Duffy, I can’t see you.”

He always appeared.  I

Wanted to do that again.

Later on at home, I meant 

to call Jessica, but said “Duffy”

Instead. I corrected myself

But Jessica watched the

Hall a long time, waiting.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Prey II

If on the other hand

He walked with Jessica

Whose teeth and jaws 

Are wolf-like enough

To make the most perverted

Decide not to express his

Nature while she growled,

No shadow would

Crowd this pairing He

Wouldn’t mind her pulling,

And even if he stumbled

She would wait with strong

Shoulders braced while

He used them to stand,

And if some off-leash

Dog were to approach,

Her snarling ferocity

Would abash it,

And one twice its size.

Wherever his progeny

She would always be there.

Prey I

The old man’s attempts

To disguise his hobble

Are of no avail.  He

Eyes with weak eyes

Each shadow and tries

To make his stick

Pound the pavement

With more force than

He any longer has.

A keening sound hounds

Him from time to time.

Is someone out there 

Or is it an aberrant noise

From his hearing aid?

He shines a light

Beyond, fearful he’ll

Trip on a raised piece

Of concrete.  Would

He be able to get back up,

Or would the shadows

Get him before he did? 


Not all at once perhaps

But by fits and starts

Pervading the roadsides,

The dry shrubs and small

Trees, the air is full of it.

Breathing they say

Will kill the old

If they do it too much.

I don’t know how

Much that is,

Nor how to take

It.  Nothing

Is ever

That simple.

I look at all the leaves

Beneath the trees

Fearful they’ll catch.

Behind me my old dog

Coughs.  He has been

Breathing a long 

Long time.

Hot wind

He sucked in the air

Heavy with dread.

Looking out he saw

The flames and a 

Moment more 

The “inland forest”

Burning.  He 

Measured its

Bearing.  With the 

Wind behind, pushing

He needed no urging

And raced through the

Night with the fire

Snarling behnd.

Was this the final

Warning, or

A mere beast one

Sometimes sees

In the smoke

Before an angry

Wind leads it away.


The long-handled hoe

For the weed, the grass

Chopping in late afternoon.

In the morning the shoulder,

The hand, and the head

Looking down each

Passing season.

“Look up,” I’ve heard,

“Thy redemption draweth

Nigh.”  My eyes water

When I try.  I’ve 

Taken my rake 

To the weeds 

And seen them

Into a barrel

Which I push

And shove out

Front and do look

This way and that

For the trash truck

I hear drawing nigh.

The Last Dive

Clumsily struggling to water’s

Edge with his stick helping,

He looked out at the rock

Promontories and imagined

The perch and opaleye.

Nearly falling he snatched

A handful of sand, standing,

Letting it fall through his 

Fingers, he remembered

Susan at the tiller while

He shortened sail

On the way to

Long Point in a 

Stormy sea.

He had dropped over

The side and speared 

Some fish they had no

Appetite  to eat, 

Swinging as they 

Were at anchor

In that angry sea.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

On leaving a body of writings to one's descendants



The above brief article is an interesting WIRED magazine tale.  An irascible (English?) Professor died at age 90 leaving an enormous body of his writings, apparently all of which were unpublished.  He wanted his daughter to preserve them in some way and she did, in an internet archive that comprised seven gigabytes.  

The irascible professor wrote a lot of poetry throughout his life, apparently trying to publish it early on and when he was unsuccessful in that, declared that “it was their loss” and no longer tried to publish, but continued writing.  Did he think that he might be “discovered” at some future date?  There have been notable such discoveries in literary history which he would surely have been aware of.

The above tale does resemble mine to some degree.  I went through a Bachelor’s degree and halfway through a Masters degree before contenting myself to a life in Engineering.  But I wasn’t utterly content in that field, however competent I might have been.  I continued to write poetry.  For several years I worked (Engineering work) with Lee Griffith who accomplished a Masters Degree in English from Duke University.  His specialty had been, when he still thought he might ultimately become a Professor of English Literature, Poetic Criticism.  Thus, I would regularly write and he would regularly criticize, using the latest criticism from Duke at the time. And so I was encouraged to keep on writing.  Occasionally I would send something off, not so much wanting to publish as doing what was expected.  Eventually, Lee was caught in a layoff and went someplace else in aerospace to work, but I kept on writing.

Along with the poetry, I’ve written the occasional essay, and numerous letters which might be of interest to my descendants.  And when I think of having my writings preserved, along the lines of the aforementioned cantankerous English Professor, it isn’t with a few, or much of one, of being eventually recognized.  I have had a number of interests over the years and one of them has been genealogy.  My great-grandfather on my father’s side was Schuyler V. Helm, who lived from 1834 to 1882.  He fought in the American Civil War on the side of the North as an engineer (an interesting coincidence in that I was born exactly 100 years after he was and worked in aerospace as an engineer).  I acquired his military records but there was nothing personal in them.  At the end of the war, he was well thought of and was promoted from sergeant (another coincidence.  I was a sergeant in the USMC) to lieutenant, which meant that he could have stayed in had he wanted to, but he took his severance pay, and bought a plot of land in “Indian Country” in what is today Iowa.  I speculate that he was wounded in the way in that he didn’t live very long, only 48 years. (Although another Ancestry.com thread has him being born in 1841 and dying in 1904 in South Dakota which death location has the advantage of being where my grandmother, Bertha Freeman, had family which she occasionally visited when I was small, but Schuyler’s war records support the dates I mentioned.)  All of which is to say, if one of my own descendants of descendant of a friend, or related to my second wife, expressed an interest in whom I was, there would be a cache of information in a cloud some place referenced in Ancestry.com or its like.  


Saturday, June 3, 2023

Looking elsewhere

I’d never seen that look 

Despite seeing her on every

Page, the thinking of everyone

Long dead, whatever living

On the edge might mean --

Out on the fringe of what

Was known, what suspected.

Great swirls of yellow

And orange, a veil

I slithered past and there

Beside me the latest book

I was reading, she stood

Staring down at hands that

Had once been graceful 

And fine but were now 

Gnarled from grasping

More life for my sake.

She turned with a smile

That should have persuaded

Me she was drowning

In agony’s seas.



“One man down,” I 

Fell, little thoughts

Grasping for the half-out

Woman I struggled to

Dream back in.  Saddened

By my inability, she

Longed, I felt for

A resumption of our

Striving to finish

The project we’d begun.

We rolled around

In our presumptive

Belief that we’d have 

Time to exercise

Our hearts, our

Resolutions, with just

A few more minutes

Of productive dreaming.

I looked for her down

Each aisle, but she was

No longer in the store.

Valedictive Dream

I had a dream upon

Learning she was ill.

I’d give of myself

During whatever

Her future held,

And, toward the end,

She said, “well done.”

Whatever joy felt

From her regard

Was splashed like

Blood upon the grail.

Her hands not mine

Were nailed upon

The tangibility 

Of her pain.  She

Roiled within its throes.

No help remained.

She went beyond her 

Strength seeing me

Unwilling to let her go,

And bled out on the way.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Ethereal Considerations

I’ve taken too long, passing beyond

My understanding.  I’ve inched up on

An elbow, watching the ax-wielding

Assassin.  My left side throbbed.

My bullet-proof vest took the brunt

But I was broken.   I fell face 

Down on the floor and watched

His boots as he stomped about

Viewing his work.  Satisfied,

He turned and swung the ax over

His shoulder, drenching my face

With the blood of all the others.

A long time later I struggled up

And made my way through the

Carnage.  Cleaning the blood

From my eyes I touched the

Badge on my belt, the gun

In my holster.  I stood

Unsteadily considering my

Obligations.  Should I retire or

Go out seeking my assassin?

On Stepping Back

        “You need to come forward!”

Brushing the dust from my

Writing pad I take a step

And then another.  Why

Send me, Oh Lord?  I am

Old and weak of heart?

I know the mantra

About your strength

Being all I need, and

Yet I stumble, and 

That’s no metaphor.

Would you have your

Servant on the ground

In some far land,

Where bullets fly, not able

to do more than stand

There smiling?  “Look

They’ll say.  He stands 

There unafraid!”  And I’ll

Say “take this burden from

Off my back and let me die.”


        It isn’t that I’m forgetful –

Not remembering whether

I’ve checked the mail, as

It is that I no longer think

It worth recalling.  I

Should, finding myself going

Out again and again as though

I’d forgotten.  Sometimes I 

Find mail and feel justified.

Sometimes I find myself

Rummaging through my trash

Looking for evidence.  Last 

Night I dreamt I was homeless,

Pushing a cart filled with mail,

And not knowing if it was all 

Mine, furtively thinking I might

Be asked to explain myself

And lacking explanations

Save the name on the

Cart and the time,

I kept on pushing.

Interstitial Innocence

        Standing here in the middle

O nothing, I suck in air

That seems clean, but

Has adiments that cause

Cancer and limits

Life.  From what I

Wonder?  There are no 

Guarantees at birth.

Except “return to sender”

However long

That takes.  Each of us

Being a narrative unless

One becomes an historian

Who leads an uneventful

Life in the first

Person. I Googled

“Afterlife” and received

Words wrought round

About with doubt, aware

Of the aerie nothing

On which we stand.

At the Bottom of the Stairs

To have come this far,

Back up then, and 

On again down longer

Than any I’ve known,

Or seen die.  In my 

DNA, further back

Some went further down,

Some few.  The mystique

Escaped me.  I lost something

In the fall.  I wasn’t there as

I would have been in the past

looking down from bridge-railings,

And from oil-derricks’ summits.

Sure then of a steady hand

And an early taste for climbing.

Once more seemed more at

First than I could manage;

Yet I did and sat up there

Staring down, and they 

Stood clear of the bottom

Step with nothing beyond.

Engineering considerations

         Moving across the field eyes

Down, looking for FOD, I

Found a pair of glasses and

Tried them on.  This wasn’t 

What I wanted – having skill

But no desire. I looked back

At the building where

The planes were built.

I had arranged my classes

To emphasize literature

Yet here I was, marching

Onward, looking down.

Stretching and waving 

My arms.  No one

Would fly ‘till the

Design was verified.

My own intentions

Remained eluded.

I pocketed the glasses

And performed

An about face.


Night Sounds

A horn sobs

In the night. Closer-

In a dog barks. The

Horn’s diminishing

Hides its voice in a

Series of cars successively

Passing.   One winds up,

Someone young and glad.

And from a bike snarls

Growls upon Expressway to

The North.  I’ve shriven

My shaggy head with it all

Too many times – Waking

As I still do to see Susan

Sitting in a chair nearby,

Reading Agatha Christie whose

Hercule Poirot would see me

As having dwindled these past

Few years, never completely

Distinguishing myself from she

Who passed beyond my keeping.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Tightening up with our dogs during the pandemic

I recall vaguely that some people in the far north, perhaps Eskimos, described the coldness of the night in terms of dogs.  If it was a three or four dog night; that meant it was really cold.  Getting by with one or two dogs was more tolerable.  It has been cold outside here, below freezing most mornings, but up in my study it is warm enough, sleeping in my lounge chair, covered by whatever blankets I feel comfortable with.  But Jessica, my Irish Terrier, has her own opinion about that.  Perhaps it has some relationship to the coldness outside, but she has been determined to sleep on top of me at night.  She was getting me trained in that respect in the recent past, but when I hurt my shoulder, it was not tolerable for me, and she had to leave me alone.

But my shoulder is a lot better.  Last night was typical.  My term for telling her I intended to get to sleep is “nap.”  “I’m going to take a nap, now Jessica; so, don’t get in my lounge chair.”  She warned me she had a plan by ignoring my words and getting in my lounge chair anyway.  When I was ready to go to sleep, I tipped the lounge chair up gently and slid her out onto the floor.  She watched me settle in and then pawed my arm indicating she wanted to get into my lap.  I said, “okay,” and reached for her, but she wanted to play hard to get, moving away when I reached for her.  At last, I said in annoyance, “Go away, I’m going to sleep”, but just as I began to doze off, she raked my right arm with her nails.  “Go away,” I said again, and tried to get back to sleep.  After a few iterations of this, I was no longer sleepy; so, I turned the light on and read on my Kindle for a while, Ignoring Jessica’s unhappiness with me.  

As soon as I was sleepy again, I put my Kindle away and the next time she messed with me, I jackknifed forward, grabbed her forward legs up close to her chest and pulled her up on top of my stomach; which was her goal all along; so, at last she was ready to go to sleep for the night.  This isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot of shifting about on both our parts.  My ribcage in the area most associated with my left shoulder, while not as sore as it has been, will complain if Jessica is lying on it for too long.  Also, Jessica prefers spending a lot of time parallel to my left leg with her head toward my feet, which is okay because it is my right leg that has the damaged knee cap.  And so, we sleep.

Waking up this morning, some of my joints and other structure felt a bit uncomfortable, but after loosening up with some dumbbells I felt okay.  I don’t have the usual morning headache and in retrospect I enjoyed Jessica sleeping on top of me.  When she was young and squirmy, she didn’t like being a lapdog, but now, when she’s in the mood (or perhaps shortly after she’s been trimmed and its cold outside) she does.  So perhaps it is a coincidence, but when the temperature drops down near freezing outside, I am having one-dog nights.

But as our sleeping arrangements are getting sorted, I wondered about the introduction of a Ben-like Ridgeback.  What would he be wanting to do while Jessica was annoying me by playing hard to get when all I want to do is sleep, with or without her sleeping on me?   And, if he got to close would Jessica wake me up with a growl or a bark?  Of course, he would get used to that eventually, and steer-clear if he could, but he would have to walk by the lounge chair to get to the water dishes.  

In the past this was less of a problem inasmuch as I spent most nights sleeping on the floor, but I’m creakier than I used to be and wouldn’t be able to sleep on my left shoulder at all.  The lounge chair is fine.  My shoulder and I have gotten used to it.

Now, with this hiding out because of the pandemic, not being able to get back into hiking quite yet because of medication changes and weather, Jessica, Duffy, my Schnoodle, and I have been living in a closer relationship than in the past.  I thought they might feel a bit of cabin fever being restricted to the house and yard most days, but not so.  They like it fine.  I have been more attentive to what they want and need, and they like that more than fine.   

So, what would happen if we added a Ridgeback to our mix?  I looked over at Jessica just now and she is lying on a blanket in morning sunlight watching me.  I wouldn’t be the only person to look at (Duffy does a lot of sleeping, and Jessica ignores him most of the time) if we had a Ridgeback.  

And no matter how fixed our situation is now, it would be just as fixed, albeit arranged differently if Ben, our last Ridgeback, were still alive.  Ben was easier to live with than Jessica has been.  Then too, if the weather stays cool at night, and my shoulder heals a bit more, perhaps I can sleep on the floor again, from time to time, and if there were a Ridgeback to keep us company, I could have a three-dog night if I needed one.


Monday, January 2, 2023

On those given to much reading

From time to time, I watch videos by Michael Vaughan on his Booktuber channel.  He recently committed, along with some other booktubers to avoid buying any more books until he read 500 of his own books, presumably most of which will be unread although rereading is permissible.  I wondered how fast he could read and, in another video, learned that he counted the books he read in 2022 and the number was 60.  It doesn’t seem possible that he will meet his 500-book commitment. 

I wondered how many books I read in 2022.  For pure enjoyment and with no literary interests, I’ve been reading mostly detective/thriller novels and I’ve made note of which one’s I’ve read in a little yellow field book.  I counted and discovered that I read 82 in 2022.  I also read books that didn’t fall into that category, some in my own quest to read books that won awards and some for other reasons.  I commented upon those in a journal.  I found 24.  So, 106 in 2022, and while I did read some I’d already read on Kindle, I bought a lot of new ones as well.

Michael Vaughan has some sort of job.  He takes time to make his weekly videos; so, he may never do much better than 60 a year.  [However, in subsequent videos he reports finding a few more.  He is up above 71 now, and because he feels disorganized in keeping track of his reading, despite having a reading channel, he resolved in 2023 to become more organized 😉].  

Michael Vaughan in his last video of 2022 reported the last book he read in 2022, Deathworld by Harry Harrison.  Per Wikipedia, Harry Harrison (born Henry Maxwell Dempsey) was an American science fiction author best known for his character The Stainless Steel Rat and the novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), the basis for the film Soylent Green (1973).  Vaughan had read other Harrison novels, but not yet Deathworld.  He said it was a lot of fun to read.  Looking for something a lot of fun to read at the moment, I downloaded it into my Kindle.  It was written in 1960.  (Harrison died in 2012 at age 87.)  

Always on the lookout for anthropological and evolutionary implications and theories, I was struck by one in Deathworld.  The main character, Jason, a talented gambler, has just arrived on the very hostile planet Pyrrus: “Jason’s eyes opened wider as he realized she was very beautiful – with the kind of beauty never found in the civilized galaxy.  The women he had known all ran to pale skin, hollow shoulders, gray faces covered with tinges and dyes.  They were the product of centuries of breeding weaknesses back into the race, as the advance of medicine kept alive more and more non-survival types.”  [I subsequently read Deathworld.  It was okay, a light-hearted read despite a lot of death, but I'm not tempted to read Deathworld ii, and subs.]

One thinks of H. G. Wells The Time Machine written in 1895 in which he envisioned evolution turning humans into beings with large heads and weak bodies (the Eloi) as well as the more beast-like Morlocks.  The Eloi were apparently descended from Britain’s upper class and the Morlocks from the lower.  When I first read that book, probably in my teens I took it as an incentive to work-out with weights and pass my strength and Marine Corps inclinations along to my descendants, alas. :-)

As to Harrison’s 1960 prediction, yes, we are attempting to keep alive our hitherto non-survivable kin, but the work being done in genetics may be able to eliminate the passing along of the genes that made them “non-survivable.”  So perhaps they would not be doing damage to subsequent generations.

We as a species are moving awfully quickly.  If the Gaia hypothesis, conceived by the British chemist James Lovelock in the early 1970s has any validity" our world may know of an impending invasion by an alien species and be rapidly getting our species ready for it.  And if Gaia is true, perhaps it will, being in its best interest, end California's drought (where Michael Vaughan and I both live).  So good, so far, this season.