Saturday, December 31, 2005

naught six

A time for resolution and I, a man of little resolve, look to the right-hand column of this blog and see the quote with which it began. My vow is to try, to make an attempt, to live by Whitman's words. Now where the hell did I put my hat?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Ledger

photo by nancy vaughn

I suppose it's traditional to take stock, as the old year wears down; to do a bit of accounting, see how the books balance. It's never really been a tradition of mine, but I'll indulge myself so that this entry isn't just a black, blank page.

On the debit side, I seem to have lost my way in the gainful employment area, having done a pitiful job in attracting new architectural clients, and a less-than-stellar job of serving those I have. The offsetting credit: an upturn in my writing quantity and, arguably, quality. Not a lot of groceries purchased with the proceeds of the writing, but I need to lose weight, anyway.

Some good friends were lost, to death and attrition, and nothing will make up for that. I did, however, make some new friends, whom I've come to value quite dearly.

Another grandchild appeared; my fourth, and I got to spend a bit of Christmas with the whole lot. This outweighs any possible shortcomings in all categories.

We have squeeked by the shortest day of my 61st year without the screen going entirely dark, and there were a few moments when it didn't look like that was likely, so, perhaps we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne. I'm running out of red ink, so will try to record a few positive developments in the coming year.

I can do no better than to wish you peace.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More Greetings


For Better or Worse

On a recent archeological dig in one of the literary areas of our attic, I came across a number of old hard-bound friends, and decided to see how they'd handled their interment. Not all faired well.

Next time you feel certain that the world is just now going to hell, remind yourself of the things we used to read.

Case in point: I re-read Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth, which I still consider to be one of the great classics of beat writing, although it predates the beat "movement". Cary's hero, Gulley Jimson, is a grimy modern artist-outlaw-ne'er-do-well-Robin Hood-thief-philosopher-jailbird and, as such, is pretty easy to love. He also beats women. Yeah, just kinda matter-of-fact like; he beats women. One dies. Did this book model the misogyny that was an integral part of the beat movement? I can't remember being so repulsed by that aspect of the book (published in 1944, the year of my birth) when I first read it, in the early 60's. Maybe the world's changed, maybe I have.

I looked at a few other old books from my collection -- an anthology, Poetry Out of Wisconsin, another book which is mostly quite good, and edited by August Derleth, contains a few pieces that refer to African-Americans in such hateful terms that you can't imagine they could have been printed in Poetry Out of Alabama !

Even Mary Mapes Dodge's Hans Brinker has some pretty hideous references to the Jewish communities in the Netherlands. Of course, disrespect of Native Americans was so widespread that I'm hard-pressed to single out an example.

So, just when I think things couldn't be worse, I look back and see that they were. At least the sound of most modern writing makes me think that things have, indeed, gotten better. I hope that our attitudes have changed, as well as our words.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Season's Greetings


Brown trucks and white, with red and blue;
trucks of indeterminate hue carrying, cross-continental,
and to Tupelo and Wichita,
mountains, monumental, of stuff: mundane,
sentimental stuff bearing the urgent message,
I have not forgotten -
that you’re hungry, that you love, that you ordered,
that I owe, that I love, that our love bordered on a need,
not greed, so I am sending, from a catalog from Texas,
some smoked meats to Vermont, sweets,
from San Francisco to Duluth, floor mats, taupe,
for a Lexus, vermouth from someplace to someplace else,
hoping, against hope, that your order is filled,
your stomach is filled, your wishes fulfilled,
you’ll love me still, for a while, and hoping, too,
for something in return; things not returned, spurned,
things not carried by truck: a good thought, luck,
oh-you-shouldn’t-have but, really, you must send hope
on wings of a dream, or a joke, a smile
on wisps of blue smoke; make it worthwhile.
I have not forgotten - too much;
not forgotten you . . . your style.

- Ralph Murre

William Proxmire

So long, Bill Proxmire -- you served us well. Give our best to Gaylord Nelson, if you should meet up in some sky-bound senate. The state and the nation will look long and hard to find more of your sort, and if a few exist, I fear we won't elect them.

'til death do us

a female cardinal
her soft brown dress
blending with fallen leaves
lies beneath my window

a male cardinal
balanced on balsam
resplendent in crimson contrast
is ill-dressed for grief

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Sacred and the Sold-Out

A friend has gently chastised me for citing the sites of the sights photographed for this blog, or even hinting at the locales. She says that if I love these places, I will tell no one. This will sound pretty extreme to some, but she is right on the money. If you have lived in a beautiful place only to see it overrun -- even if the overrunners are wonderful people -- you will understand her concern. A few clues have been removed from the blog.

This business of vanishing wilderness and vanishing countryside is a fence that I've tried to straddle for a long time, with limited success. As a rural architect, my living has been earned by designing all the sorts of buildings which are gobbling up acreage and shorelines and encouraging people to visit once-wonderful places so that they can return to the city with a Chinese-made trinket and a pocket full of real estate brochures. I can rationalize, to myself and my ecologically aware friends, that if I hadn't done it, someone else would; and they might have been architectural boors.

I haven't done any commercial projects in a while, but have concentrated on home design, which seemed, somehow, less damaging. Still, the homes are marching over hill and dale, through the woods and up the beach. Everybody needs a piece of the pie, and then their appetites for pie increase, and they need bigger pieces, and more of them, and it occurs to them that they could make a tidy profit selling pie. (is anybody getting hungry here?)

Wouldn't it be just dandy if I could wrap this entry up with some clever solution -- some way to quench the thirst of the advantaged -- without wrecking the economy, either the nation's or my own? That would be nice, but I'll need to think about it. Meanwhile, I'll do my best to keep the secrets of the sacred places of solitude.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Like Water . . . for what?

Are we just water lapping at the feet of cliffs of granite, or mounting full-furied attacks, our energies spent in dazzling spray, rainbow-hued flower children dashed against a five-sided fortress? When will mothers stop giving their sons, and when will the old men sleep? When will the cliffs erode, and when can we dance on the beach?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

On September's Shore

a harebell dwelling
on granite and good wishes
dares the coming ice
- arem
a fond glance back at sunnier days
( click on any photo to enlarge)

Got a Pulse?

Here, perhaps, is a link to some of my poetry and an interview by Henry Timm. This was printed in the Peninsula Pulse, and appears on their website -

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Second Grade and Second Class

At Norbert Blei's workshop last summer, we talked a little about the influence of Jewish literature and a little, too, about our views of Jewish/non-Jewish relations. We were to think of our first awareness of being Jewish, or of our first meeting with a Jew.
Several of my correspondents have reminded me of the little piece I wrote on the topic. I'll reprint it here, with apologies for possible mis-spellings of names and Yiddish words.

My First Jew

Mrs. Steinberg, my second grade teacher at the Oklahoma Avenue School, kitty-corner from Thompkin’s ice cream parlor and just up from Rexall drugs where I got caught stealing Hershey’s chocolate, what can I remember of you?

After first grade’s militant Miss Marshall, I was already up to here with shiksas; not that I knew from shiksas, that would come later. Not that I knew from Jewish; that too, would come later.

Of course, I’d already heard the term “dirty jew” here and there, mostly from the unscrubbed snot-noses of my neighborhood who also taught me about “dirty japs”, and taught all the other loveless lies designed to demean.

But Pa would come home from building new booths at Oscar Plotkin’s deli or building cabinets at the Goldberg’s house and he’d talk of what wonderful and wise people were these Jews. But, what did Pa know? He was a small, hard man with a big, soft heart – he always saw the best in everybody – what about the grimy ragman who bought rags in the alleys? What about “jewing you down”, to get a better deal, to get the best of you?

No, Mrs. Steinberg, you were Dad’s kind of Jew; nurturing and loving and making me excited to get to school and eager to learn new things. Too bad I didn’t figure out ‘til years later that YOU were Jewish.

Oh, that you had been my first Jew! It was not to be. My first Jew was no Jew at all, but a phantasm, a myth, born of ignorance and bigotry, of hatred and envy. My first Jew was very, very old when we first met, but he is still very much alive, and he lives . . .
just down the street.

-Ralph Murre

Monday, November 28, 2005


photo by barry murre


Where’s the boy
whose dark eyes laughed
as he ran the pastured hills?

And the boy
who drove the tractor
that furrowed October’s brow?

And where’s the boy
who knew what the brook
was babbling about?

Where’s the boy who knew
how the oak would split
when it was ready to be fire?

And the boy
who delivered the steaming calf
when it was breeched?

And where’s the boy
who dreamed the dreams
and told them to a dog?

Has he gone into town, then?
Taken the smooth-paved road?
Do you expect he’ll be back?

- Ralph Murre

Saturday, November 26, 2005



A bright spirit walks unseen;
truth, but not fact,
and is given direction
to the long-shuttered
Church of Holy Myth
and Mystery, where
no parishioners kneel
and the last believer
tends the flowered graves,
and the bell tolls
the unprovable,
and a trick of light hides
what might be,
and the truth is carried off
like a suitcase
of warm clothes,
and the facts
won't keep out the cold.

- Ralph Murre

Wednesday, November 23, 2005



Like third-class,
he gazes from the dim hull.
Porthole; too near waterline,
bright world passing,
opening glass to breathe
may drown him
as, airless, he listens
to roar of days going by,
faint sound of lifeboats rusting,
well-oiled hum,
well-heeled sigh.
The deafening weight
of the disappointed,
the inaudible lightness
of the hopeful.
The orchestra and dancing above.

- Ralph Murre

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Followed the van of a schizophrenic today. Her driving was fine, and gave no hint of her mental condition. Her two bumper stickers were the tip-off: one advocated random acts of kindness while the other urged voting for Bush/Cheney!

Monday, November 21, 2005

rock photo



Rock – smoothworn, black, warm of sun
Big enough to sit on
Still a stranger on this dolomite shore
Having just arrived at the last ice age
Having left your parentland
Before it knew its name
Talk to me in your slowquiet
Sloweloquent way
Talk to me of listening
Talk to me of patience
Tell me of a time
Before steam, before sail, before paddle
Tell me of a time
Before alewife, before trout, before sturgeon
Tell me of a time
Before clocks, before calendars, before time
Teach me . . . sloweloquence
Teach me . . . slowquiet
Teach me . . . Rock.

- Ralph Murre

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Helmsman

Construction Ahead

An old and e-nept guy from the Midwest attempts to build a blog. Show the world what's going on in the gray matter behind the graying exterior. Snapshots of voyages, literal and figurative. No need to check in on a minute-by-minute basis. Postings to be irregular, at best. An occasional poem. A photo. A love song to the planet. A snide remark. A daydream.