The casket factory

Among the jobs early on
while Vietnam loomed
Chicago raged
Detroit burned
Sgt. Pepper played
The Doors perceptively and Arthur Brown
crazily fired our imaginations
were golf-course lawns
and cemeteries to mow
boxes of motor oil to toss
out of steaming semis
chickens to gut and gizzards to clean
and the casket factory

Every night on the three
channels our black and white
received we watched
as soldiers and sailors and fliers
returned to a land that seemed to them
more foreign than the mud
and rice fields
they left behind
but the ones I saw
most clearly were those
who were destined for my creations
wood and metal homes
padded and shirred
braided and lacquered
polished to that highest of sheens
to honor a lie
in the casket factory

Every day they came back
and every day I worked on
boxes to hold their dreams
sons and daughters
fathers and mothers
uncles and aunts
but we were just happy
they were not us
twenty-four hours each day
we cut and welded
sewed and painted
those eternal spaces
and believed or hoped that someday
there might be an end
to the casket factory

John McPhee Made Me Cry

and not in the way
that a movie about
a boy and his dog
who get lost in the forest
and then get separated
and the dog gets his leg
caught in a bear trap
and he has to chew it off
(his leg, not the trap)
but they are finally reunited
(like the way Barbra Streisand
and Robert Redford are
in “The Way We Were”)
and find their way
out of the forest
but the boy goes off to college
and forgets about the dog
who is last seen walking
into the forest once again
looking for his leg


the lottery reached
$184 million today
no one chose
the true six numbers
not even the computer I asked
to make those decisions for me

still, I’ll buy a ticket
again next time
the one that promises
houses in Taos and Spain
wine from France
a beach near Hilo
fast yellow cars
and watches I’ll never
consult because
my personal assistant
will always know the time

The painting process

Preparations for painting are going well. This stage is rather tedious, but it’s a part of the creative process: the base leads to the finished product.

Here’s a panel with the mesh base applied. You’ll notice that there are what appear to be circles under the mess. A bit of serendipity there: as I unroll the mesh and cut it into strips on the board, the strands on the edges sometimes get separated from the inner part of the roll. Most of the time, I just cut these off and toss them, but for this piece, and one other that I’m doing, I’ve applied them to the base. In one of Octavio Paz’s poems, he refers to the circle as the perfect representation of the impulse of art, so I include a few in some of my pieces.

Mesh baseThe second image below shows the beginning of the application of the joint compound. The type I’ve started using starts out pink, as you can see, and turns white as it dries. I’ve found this very helpful. Some areas of some of my pieces have a thicker coat, so it’s good to know when those spots have dried completely before applying the gesso.

Beginning to coverThis next photo shows the mesh fully covered with compound. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for it to dry.

Fully coveredThis photo shows a panel to which I earlier applied compound. As I looked at the piece, I decided that it needed more texture, so I’ve added another layer, with some deep gouges. We’ll see how those look when they dry. I may need to adjust them some, which I do with sandpaper. This piece may need even more layers. I’ll know when it’s dry.

Extra layer of compound

There’s no David on my block

My neighbor mows his lawn in the nude;
It’s not an attractive nude
like a Brancusi sculpture,
no Modigliani here
or even one of Rodin’s lesser-known works;
It’s more on par with those chain-saw pieces
you see along the road in Maine or Arkansas.

In spite of the assault on the senses
this event entails,
I marvel at his courage,
given the velocity at which
a rock or piece of hidden limb
can bounce off the stone wall
he skirts (if only) next to his house.

When I was growing up
Summers were spent shirtless, shoeless;
Despite the frequent reddened skin,
the stubs and cuts and bites,
the feel of mud oozing between toes
And fresh-cut grass
was worth the pain, soon forgotten.

Perhaps that’s it:
He’s trying to regain that long-ago
freedom and lack of care;
But I’d prefer to see him in more
than SPF-52.

On reading a poem by Billy Collins

It might be about the perambulations of his dog
Or of his thoughts (not the dog’s)
About a particular style of jazz

Perhaps it deals with the big questions:
Love, death or the way trees
Appear to be waving goodbye
Or even hello

In any case
His logic carries me along
Until he pulls the old switcheroo

And the dog wanders off
To play clarinet with Woody Herman
And the New Thundering Herd