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The Bananafish

A popular fish in some schools the deep
sea swallower called the bananafish:
Though it lives on the floor of the aphotic zone,
it is not bioluminescent; in fact, it’s invisible.
Rising to the surface with changes of tide, mind,
and mood, it’s worse by tens than the burbling
Jabberwock. A bananafish is never caught;
it slips you, and you are capsized.

The bananafish sees without eyes things
that disappear, hears sounds in the depths
of silence, lives on even when squished
or peeled or baked into bread or spread
in undigested seeds. They live in clusters,
but it only takes one to upend your plans
for a day, a week, or a lifetime. Nevermind
the Jabberwock; beware the brilliant
brainy glare of the bananafish.

What bites but has no teeth?
What smells but has no nose?
What swims without fins,
goes loopy if left to shelf,
barmy as the froth of beer?
Ans: the double-dealing
bluff bunko, the sly hoax
of Sansjawdsalumpigus,
commonly called the bananafish.


Hermit Crabs

A hermit crab leaves
home for a new dig
again and again gig
after gig sea busker.

From her mitt he falls
web of empty shell
on the beach combs
a low tide husker.

In a shell in a cave
floor of the sea
hermetically rich
rarely distressed he.



Around the point at high tide

…picking up somewhere we left off…

The past is not enough to live on
to make ends meet.

what test passed avoids stays
to wheedle this incessant urge
past the tinnitus still sings proof
below like wave bounce go easy
under the sheer cliff and around
the mossy point to the bay
where the dolphins play

but the past is not enough to live on
you say and you say things like
anyway the sea is calm tonight
and you need to calm down
and relax we are past all that
pother the rigmarole accoutrements
impedimenta odds and ends
ins and outs no you need
to cool off i’m sorry if you are
disappointed but you see
how tranquil this palaver
becomes us as we unbend
and are made drowsy
not dreary but like
drizzle after a wave breaks.

South of Refugio



An Old Cat

He ate no more,
“Please me no tuna
dish at your open door,”
around the room a moat
filled with stone worms.

For bait he’d chummed
kittens cutely perched
in nooks of paper cut hearts.
A trawler he rowed to catch
the bones of relict relish.

He went on like this and on,
a sophist uttering disgruntled
guttural grunts mistaken
for charms by gullible
attendants on holiday for good.

His gig whirled on the briny beach,
bodies of ditched sea snails filling
with new fats and oils and muscle.
He stow away in a cave,
plenty likes to last a new day.

Toward a Rhetorical Ocean

Joe Waves at El Porto_4115537213_mWhen does a bummer become a hell? For the average surfer, an ocean with no waves is but a bummer of a morning. The lull will pass. Need to pull some maintenance on the surf rig, anyway. But one can’t escape the hell of other surfers when the swell does come in.

“All those little crystals flew behind us in drifting angel trails.”

We’re on page 226 of Daniel Duane’s “Caught Inside: A Surfer’s Year on the California Coast” (North Point Press, 1996, paperback 1997).

“We all paused a moment, pictured it. Willie and Vince looked at each other: angel trails . . . metaphor or assertion?”

It’s a good question that’s answered by Duane’s rhetorical decision to write about the real ocean, not a metaphorical one. If a surfer mistakes a wave for something it’s not, someone might drown. “Caught Inside” is a researched book combined with the one year memoir, with appearances by the likes of Richard Henry Dana Jr (“Two Years Before the Mast”) and Ed Ricketts (“Between Pacific Tides,” “Cannery Row,” “The Log from the Sea of Cortez”). These by writers who almost never took something for what it was not, but catalogued and described in terms of scientific method – observing objectively, identifying, naming. And Duane is good at following suit. He’s interested in local observation, behavior, and faithful reporting:

“…and John Steinbeck intentionally socks it to Ricketts with a moral about those who would romanticize the wild: ‘Here a crab tears a leg from his brother . . . Then the creeping murderer, the octopus, steals out, slowly, moving like a grey mist, pretending to be a bit of weed, now a rock, now a lump of decaying meat while its evil goat eyes watch coldly.’ It’s Melville’s universal cannibalism of the sea, where Ricketts sees in the horror of the glassed-over pool a ‘lovely, colored world” – tide pool as evasive simulacrum” (230).

Nor does the shark pull on a pair of Hang Ten trunks before drifting with the tide toward a breakfast of those yummy looking frog legs dangling off that funny looking abdomen with its upside-down fin. That’s not a frog. That’s a surfer, and the fin is the skeg of his surfboard.

Alongside the historical beachcombers, Duane populates his book with local surfer aficionados he meets along the surfer’s way, most of whom follow the surfer codes. Surfing, annoyingly, is a social activity (much valuable surfing time is spent driving up and down the coast road searching for a preferred spot where no surfers are already out), which means if we want to be something more than shark bait or flotsam flown against barnacled rocks by an unheralded outsider, we must adhere to standards and conventions of behavior – in the water, up on the beach, and in the stingy community where being a surfer bum is economically and socially a monk’s life. Affordable beach city pads are already extinct in most popular areas, just about anywhere along the 800 mile California coastline, and dedicated surfers, the true aficionados, those who plan on spending every single morning in the waves if not also every single afternoon and evening glass-off, sacrificing relationships, careers, jobs, family, the crab traps of “benefits,” don’t have much time left over to load the 16 tons, even if they wanted to.

How should we spend our time which becomes our lives? Thoreau spent two years living in his monk’s shack on Walden Pond, alone, but within walk of the city. And he had a few visitors and neighbors. Thoreau didn’t surf, but he did walk through the woods eight miles every day. Those kinds of pursuits (surfing and walking) place obvious limits on other options, finding a job, raising a family, going out for pizza and a movie every now and then, not to mention finding the time to read a book about some surfer’s year at the beach. Maybe hell is an ocean with waves but none you can take off on, none for you, caught inside a commute. Quit daydreaming about the surf and get back to work. You can always read about the ocean, in bed, before sleep, before falling into the deepest ocean of them all.

With thanks to my brother John’s friend Lisa who brought “Caught Inside” to my attention. Black and white photos in this post include featured photo of me on wave (without wetsuit) with surfing buddy sitting outside at El Porto, 1969. Collage of waves with me on my Jacobs Surfboard, same day. Those were typical waves for an El Porto foggy summer morning. The aficionados would have taken a look and continued their search, leaving the slop all to us!


when cold time frost slips
cross moon & sun
snivels buff’s hug mist

yr fingers & toes fixed
to warm grass high
above buttered beach

swells swirled since
our first buss this
dovetail tally recalls

slips & falls
shorts & talls
sols wherewithal

tetherball pole wrap
round & round we

Look Inside “Coconut Oil”

“Coconut Oil” is ready, the “look inside” feature enabled, paperback and e-version.

Forty years have passed since the close of “Penina’s Letters,” and Penina and Salty return to Refugio, a fictional beach town on Santa Monica Bay, in “Coconut Oil,” a sequel to “Penina’s Letters.” 

Salty is again our first person narrator, and “Coconut Oil” continues an experimental narrative form – as Sal hands the mic off to several other characters and we are brought up to date on Refugio.

The themes of “Coconut Oil” include aging, housing and homelessness, gentrification, and how we occupy ourselves over time.

The style is experimental in a way a common reader might enjoy. And there is music! Songs, dancing, and some funky text features!

The back cover photo for “Coconut Oil” was taken from the northbound Coast Starlight train as it passed by the point at Refugio Beach, California, a campground 26 miles north of Santa Barbara, in the late 70’s. The front cover photo, more recent, shows the author’s shadow over a tree hollow holding mushrooms that look like bird eggs (where his heart should be).

Refugio from Coast Starlight
Refugio Beach from Coast Starlight Special

Coconut Oil – A Novel Book Launch

Salty and Penina, the war torn, young couple from “Penina’s Letters,” return to Refugio in “Coconut Oil,” a sequel.

They come home to Refugio (the fictional beach town located north of El Porto and south of Grand on Santa Monica Bay) in an attempt to retire a bit early. So forty or so years have passed since the close of “Penina’s Letters.”

Salty is again our first person narrator. But “Coconut Oil” continues an experimental narrative form, and Sal hands the mic off to several other characters as we are brought up to date on Refugio.

The themes of “Coconut Oil” include aging, housing and homelessness, gentrification, and how we occupy ourselves over time. The form is experimental in a way a common reader might enjoy.

The paperback version of “Coconut Oil” is available now, and the electronic version should be up next week.

The back cover photo for “Coconut Oil” was taken from the northbound Coast Starlight train as it passed by the point at Refugio Beach, California, a campground about 26 miles north of Santa Barbara. The photo was taken sometime in the late 70’s.

Refugio from Coast Starlight
Refugio from Coast Starlight Special