Home-word Bound #1

Social distancing guidelines now include no more than 10 people gathered together in one place, and, anyway, to stay home. I grew up one of ten kids. The doors and windows to our house were never locked. I never even had a key to the place. And friends and friends of friends roamed freely across the threshold, in and out. A restriction of no more than 10 at any one time might have come as a welcome rule for my parents – but they rarely objected to visitors.

I’ve lived at 19 different addresses over time, never alone, not including the room in the garage at the back of our lot my dad and I built when I got back from the army and found my digs in the house usurped by younger siblings.

But I’ve lived in the house I’m in now for 30 years. It was built in 1907 in what was then a mostly truck farming community or trolley commute from downtown Portland. The street name is now Southeast 69th Avenue, but it was originally named East View Street. A house this old comes with stories, particularly one that has been home to several households over the years. Those stories are often told by neighbors who have overlapped stays with other neighbors.

Not long after we first moved in, I was digging around in the backyard and uncovered a large clam shell. The occupants just prior to us lived in the house 12 years before we moved in. The shell, we learned from one of our old-timer neighbors, predated those years. There had been a family, lived in our house, who hosted South Pacific sailors who regularly came to port for the annual Rose Festival (the first Rose Festival Parade was held downtown in 1907). One year, one of the sailors brought the shell as a gift for the house hosts. We learned from that same old-timer neighbor that another year one of the sailors died in the house. He collapsed from a heart attack in the entry room. His name was Joe. His host would later also die in the house, in the downstairs bathroom, also from a heart attack. His name was also Joe.

Lately, homebound by local decree, I’ve increased my walks around the neighborhood, reflecting on houses. Local neighborhood lore tells of one house that was once a tuberculosis sanatorium, another that was a brothel, another that was a small barbershop, another that was a local post office. It’s not a neighborhood of any spectacular historical interest. While a few of the houses might maintain historical value, there’s no doubt that in another hundred years they will all be replaced. The clam shell might still be somewhere around, though. Maybe something still will be living in it.

From Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Act II:

Ham. Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true. Let me question more in particular: what have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?

Guil. Prison, my lord!

Ham. Denmark’s a prison.

Ros. Then is the world one.

Ham. A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ the worst.

Ros. We think not so, my lord.

Ham. Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.

Ros. Why, then, your ambition makes it one; ’tis too narrow for your mind.

Ham. O God, I could be bounded in a nut-shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

East Portland, 1907. Mt Tabor is dark, tree covered hill, middle right.
Photo: Oregon Historical Society.
East Portland, 1891 (OHS). View looking east from Mt Tabor.

Winter Solstice Walk

Cold. Wet and damp. Dark. Slippery walk in Mt Tabor Park, where the trees appear ready for the winter solstice.


The reservoirs, built with new Portland Cement techniques in the early 1900’s, until recently, held the city’s drinking water. A new, enormous underground tank was built and the reservoirs disconnected. What to do with them now has occupied the community and city planners for the last few years. I’m in favor of building a wave pool, though there’s been no discussion of that idea I’m aware of.


The Oregon Myrtle and Washington Hawthorne are lovely in winter. In California, the myrtle is know as California Bay Laurel. The leaf is like a bay leaf in shape, color, and texture.


A slow walk focusing on the big and small. To the east, Mt Hood dominates the view. Throughout the park, the popcorn bush is popping its white kernels.


Someone built a labyrinth of branches in the grassy opening to the west-side creek valley. Portlanders love to sit out. In the yard at the west-side entrance to the park, two colorful chairs sit empty.


Plein-air on Mt Tabor

Late summer in the Northwest finished hot and dry, smoke and ash drifting from the wildfires drizzling down onto our outdoor evening tête-à-têtes in the city. The Gorge fire was the closest to us. Ash blew with the east winds and if windows were left open you awoke with ash on the sills and furniture and floor. Down south one of my brothers and his family were safe but dramatically affected by the wine country fires. Now in Portland we’ve had a few days of sweeping rains, and suddenly flood alerts replace air quality alerts, but today is a lovely fall day, and I took a walk through Mt Tabor Park.

I wanted to walk in the sun, so in the afternoon I climbed over to the road above Reservoir Number 5, around its south end, to the flat road up above Reservoir Number 6. I stopped to take a picture overlooking the water, across the Hawthorne neighborhoods to the city and West Hills beyond. Now walking north, I noticed an artist standing at an easel, working.

I took a few pics of him working and got his permission to post them to my blog. The artist is Jonathan Luczycki, who paints in the plein-air style, which means he paints outdoors and tries to catch the light and colors, shadows and shapes, of a particular moment, before that exact image changes and is lost forever. I thought to myself, “This guy is a poet who paints.” Jonathan explained the plein-air artist must work quickly before the moving lights and colors change. It strikes me as a very physical kind of painting. Because of the speed with which they must work, the plein-air artist canvas is often smaller in size.

Painting from a photograph will not produce the same effects the plein-air artist achieves. For one thing, a camera rarely captures true color (indeed, what even is “true-color,” when we all see things so differently). More importantly, the camera is too quick, works too fast, freezes the image. The plein-air work breathes, catches subtle changes, of a human view.

I talked with Jonathan for just a few minutes, and he continued to work as we talked. But he was personable, friendly, outgoing. That is the beauty of working outdoors. I promised myself I will get back to writing some sidewalk cafe poems, some plein-air poems.

looking west over Res 6 and SE Portland 24 Oct 2017Jonathan Luczycki Mt TaborJonathan Luczycki Mt Tabor 3Jonathan Luczycki Mt Tabor 2

 

Current Conditions, Fall Walk on Mount Tabor

For this Fall walk on Mount Tabor, I took the same paths, photographing the same trees and views, as I did on a walk in Spring of last year.

This week’s Rolling Stone magazine sports a good psych-brain article on the difference between fear and anxiety. One difference is that fear appears to be a kind of GPS (Global Positioning System), constantly mapping our current conditions, while anxiety plays out what we’re thinking might happen to us at some point in the future. The angle of the RS article is the effect of so-called fear manipulation infusing the current election campaigns and resulting media coverage.

“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too…

Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower

But I’m not always sure what comes first, the campaign or the media coverage, Dylan’s thief or his joker. It’s not fear but anxiety that’s being manipulated. Fear is immediate, warning and response: take cover; not here, not now, not me; play dead; run for the hills. The problem with anxiety is there is no response, only a warning. We’re incapacitated, not with fear, but with not knowing which way to turn. Fear draws a map; anxiety is a riptide we can feel but can’t see, “no direction home.”

Fall suggests to some only a warning winter is coming. Anxiety prevents us from feeling the truth of our current conditions. That is why in literature, Winter is the season of irony and satire, Fall the season of tragedy (Summer of romance, Spring of comedy). And our current conditions usually change slowly. Yes, the leaves are changing color and falling and Winter is icummen in, but an endless summer is impossible; it will take time to finish the new novel – I’m thinking Spring, 2017, before another book launch, but I’m not anxious about it, and certainly not afraid of it. When I’m writing, I feel no anxiety, like a walk in the park in Fall.

My Blood Red Moon

Blood Red MoonA couple of out-of-town visitors from Vineland crashed here last night, the night of the celebrated Blood Red Moon. We ate dinner at the Bagdad on Hawthorne, walked around the blocks, checked out the absurdly named “Goodwill on Hawthorne” (gentrified thrift shop), and headed up to Mt Tabor to view the moon.

A month or so ago, I watched Ang Lee’s film “Taking Woodstock.” When we got up to Mt Tabor, the film came back to me. The crowds up in the park reminded me of the famous concert scenes: lines of cars, people walking, bicycles, strollers, guitars hanging from shoulders, something celebratory in the air – the moon, though not yet; as it happened, someone exaggerated how early the first views over the Cascades would open, and some people had apparently waited a couple of hours for the show to start. But what the hey; it was a free concert.

We drove up from the west, past the cinder cone, around the upper swings, and over to the east side road that up rises from 69th. We might have been in line at Woodstock. The road was moon-jammed. The east-side picnic area looked like the media corral at Cape Canaveral. There were tripods with exotic if not phallic telephoto lenses. People were spread out on blankets, enjoying a bottle of wine, coffee from a thermos, bread and cheese and apples and grapes, on lawn chairs and beach chairs, reading, talking, watching, people sitting on the picnic benches and on top the tables, people crowded along the paths, clustered together in spots where the views of the Cascades open up through the near tree tunnels, no shortage of dogs, tail gates open, everyone gazing east, anticipating the moon on the clear evening, a touch of fall mist rising off the distant mountain range. In short, it was a party.

By now, you probably have seen a picture of last night’s Blood Red Moon, if you didn’t take your own, so I won’t bother posting the one I took (instead, I’ve included my photo of the moon marble on a blood red bell). Never before has the moon been snapped by so many cell phones on a given evening, and it won’t happen again, I heard, until 2033. Everyone I talked to had calculated how old they will then be, a math problem I did not want to contemplate.

Back down on 69th, the Line 15 bus was unable to make the turn east from Belmont, was stuck fast diagonally between lines of an overflow of questionably parked cars, and traffic was being diverted. A tow truck arrived with red lights flashing. The night was darkening, the Blood Red Moon rising, gradually turning white, everyone in the streets, watching, Woodstock wonky-like. I’m thinking tonight I might walk back up into the park and see if there is still a moon.

East Side Mt Tabor Photo Essay Walk

The sidewalks in what used to be called Tabor Heights, on the north slopes of Mt Tabor, were poured in the early 1900’s. The dates are marked on the curbs, but many of the dates are being lost to code enforcement requiring homeowners to fix broken concrete in their sidewalks. Curbs rounding corners were banded with steel to protect them from wheels of horse drawn carts. The steel bars are now peeling off.

Steel rings were placed into the curbs for horse ties. Some folks have taken to tying play animals to them these days.

The names of the streets were cut into the curbs.

John Lennon once said a poet’s job is to walk around and notice things that no one else has time for. It’s late December, but bulbs are already starting to come up, and noticing them, I was reminded of John.

 

There are a few poetry posts in the neighborhood. Today, this one contained Walt Whitman. I stopped to read it. Here’s what it says:

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

The excerpt is from Whitman’s preface to Leaves of Grass.

Someone left a small pile of used bricks near the sidewalk. Maybe they are going to make a little stepping block. Used brick is very useful.

The deciduous trees in the neighborhood are asleep. One of the biggest yard trees around is located on Yamhill, across from the small pile of bricks.

In addition to a lot of bikes, beer, and beards (as illustrated in Alex Barrett’s This is Portland), there are a lot of churches in Portland. This stained glass window is at Ascension, on the corner of SE Yamhill and 76th.

Tri-Met Line 15 passes through the neighborhood. This one’s rounding the Ascension corner, continuing its westward route to Belmont and downtown.

The NO sign is on the fence of the playground-parking lot at Ascension. It was the occasion of a sestina (see previous post). Today there were a couple of bright orange-red cones by the fence. So much depends upon the bright orange-red cone; not sure what depends on the sign of NO. John Lennon might have written a song about the sign of NO, instead of a sestina.

Just below the sign of NO, on the wall, is a little plaque that reads, “Dedicated to All of the Lost Children.” It’s easy to miss. It’s just below the sign of NO.

Inside the Ascension grounds, there’s a lovely shrine.

This building on SE Stark shows a number of projects involving bricks.

This is a Portland landmark, on SE Stark. Stark was originally called Baseline Road, and from the baseline meridian, measurements and directions were made. The two photos show one of the old baseline markers, located just west of Flying Pie Pizza, on the south side of Stark.

This is another Portland landmark, the original Flying Pie. Above the sign, you can see the tops of the firs atop the northeast corner of Mt Tabor. I’ve dropped a few hundred feet since beginning the photo essay walk.

 

 

 

This is my destination, Bipartisan Cafe, SE Stark and 79th. Note the Vintage cocktail lounge sign just below the Cafe sign, where I’ve played guitar a few times. Vintage used to be the Why Not Wine bar. I played some guitar there when it was the wine bar also, a few times with George, and a few times solo.

 

 

 

Here I am inside Bipartisan, putting together the photo walk essay, drinking a cup of coffee. The cafe is crowded today. I’m sitting on a couch with my back to the wall. They’re playing some good songs in the cafe. People all around me are talking, reading, working on laptops, as I am, drinking coffee. There’s a guy showing his daughter how to play Scrabble. There’s another guy reading and listening to his iPod, white wires going into his ears. Outside, the rain is beginning to fall again. There goes another Line 15. Above and behind me is a large poster of a Rockwell. At the top it says: “OURS…to fight for.” And at the bottom it reads, “FREEDOM FROM WANT.” The drawing is of a family turkey dinner.