Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Cleaning Crew

To the ladies who clean our office building every day,
constantly moving,
always with a smile on their face.

The Cleaning Crew


Sparkling halls
Dust free walls
Counters rubbed
Toilets scrubbed
Ladies come
Spanish tongue
Clean our mess
OK I guess
Smile too
And when they’re through
Home to see
Their family
Just like me
And just like you


Hail lady, waxing floors,
Our thoughts are with you.
Blessed art thou who do these things,
And blessed is the fact that I don’t do them.

Holy lady, mother and wife,
Pray for us poor slobs,
Now, and at the hour of our death,

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Orono Calling

The Bangor and Aroostook Railroad passed right through the little town of Orono, Maine, located on the west bank of the Penobscot River. The only passenger train passed through this quit grade crossing at 3 AM every night.



Orono Calling

Three AM        Orono calling
Sleek locomotive leads silver train
Past sleepy unmarked railroad crossings
Deep in the woods of central Maine

Sleek locomotive leads silver train
Two heads poke out of a back yard tent
Deep in the woods of central Maine
Up to the Pine Street crossing they went

Two heads poke out of their back yard tent
Barefoot they run in the late night dank
Up to the Pine Street crossing they went
To sit and wait on the railway bank

Barefoot running in the late night dank
White light moves on a distant hill
Sitting close up on the railway bank
They hear the whistle long and shrill

White light moves on a distant hill
A rush round the bend and then it is here
The whistle loud now       long and shrill
The thrill of the sound and the pounding fear

A rush round the bend and then it is here
The flying Southbound passenger train
The thrill of the sound and the pounding fear
At this small rail crossing in central Maine

The flying Southbound passenger train
Lifts from the tracks and leaves behind
The small rail crossing in central Maine
And dissolves to smoke down the trails of time

Weeds grow in the rail beds left behind
As midnight passes in fitful daze
The silver train flying the trails of time
Roars through the dark city’s neon haze

As midnight passes in fitful daze
Sleek Locomotive pounds in the night
Awake in my dream-like neon haze
White light splashes from single head light

Sleek Locomotive pounds in the night
My room is the overgrown railroad crossing
Windows explode from passing head lights
Three AM       Orono calling

F3 Locomotive Leads Bangor and Aroostook Passenger Train

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

for Phil

He leaned back
Arms by side
His shoulders straight
And sang.    He felt
The power of his voice
Anchored by his
Rock-like pose
His energy
And  (say it)  joy
Belting long strong notes
In front of the good
But rag-tag band
The joy of being
After all the drugs
The joy of singing
After not quite catching
The peak of the punk wave
The joy of living
After not achieving
The Fame of ‘X’ or Patti Smith
The joy of friends to hug him
After decades in the dark
The joy of the
Old time
Washboard rhythm song
The joy of the bass
The fiddle
And his voice
His own voice
Soaring and alive

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ten Cords of Dry

A cord of wood is a pile, neatly stacked, 4' wide by 4' high by 8' long. A city person would be amazed at how much split dry wood it takes to heat a small cabin on an Island off Vancouver for a whole winter.

We met a tall, strapping wood sculptor at an art show in Joshua Tree, in the Mojave desert. He talked glowingly of the time he spent on Hornby island, off Vancouver, and how the artist community in Joshua Tree was almost as good as what he had experienced there. We asked him why he had come to this place in the desert, so different from that cold damp island.

Ten Cords of Dry

It was the heft of the axe,
the solidity of the chopping stump,
the pull of his shoulders as he swung
from Spring to first snow,
one hour every morning before coffee and breakfast,
that kept him sane those fifteen years on Hornby Island.

The tangibility of the task,
the sheer size of the pile
growing bit by bit,
to be sucked up by the ever hungry winter stove,
that part of living - no uncertainty,
ten cords of dry
the reason why.

Angela crept softly
into his periphery,
a bit of red shawl in a summer park,
gentle swaying at a late night gathering,
then finally a touch and spark,
the two of them in a crowded coffee house,
the whole world dissolving into fog.

Winter was warmed by
long nights of talk,
their skin touching hot under blankets,
cold air seeping around the edges,
and the ever dwindling pile
of split wood in the barn.

She said I love you so - but know
that I am a traveler in this place
of high pine and rain.
My home is on a desert hill,
where the Mojave slopes down
to meet the Colorado,
where the relentless sky
finds every hiding place
and purifies my soul.

I’m leaving now - to greet
the flowers of the sage and ocotillo,
to burn away the residue
and find out what I have that stays,
and purge what has to go.

As Angela brings out the tea,
he’ll tell you now,
ten years gone by,
in the desert light of Joshua Tree,
that he came to flee the endless cold.
Ten cords of dry
the reason why.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

1961: Stanley Ann and Me

                                                                                              Carol Kearns
                                                                                              September 2012

It’s hard to believe that four years have already passed since President Obama first ran for office in 2008. I was so proud when the Democratic Party made him its nominee, and prouder still of my country when he was elected to office as the better candidate.

The President’s most strident political enemies deride his background as a community activist and claim that he is a socialist. Others assert that he is a closet Muslim, born outside the country.

But there is one issue that is thankfully avoided in public discussion as completely inappropriate – and that is the very young age of the President’s mother when he was conceived and born, and whether or not she was really married. Even President Obama, in his book Dreams from My Father, says that “how and when the marriage occurred remains a bit murky.”

I think quite a bit about Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, later known as Ann Dunham, because she was born only three years before me, and this makes her part of my generation. When I think of her, I see myself. President Obama is young enough to be my son, and he was born during tumultuous times that I remember very well.

I also think often about the president’s grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham, because they stood by their high-spirited teenager and embraced a multi-ethnic family at a time when many parents would not have.

When someone mentions the 1950’s and 60’s, most of us usually recall fun things like American Bandstand, Elvis, and the Beatles. But in 1961, when President Obama was born, it was still a felony in many states for mixed race couples to marry, and the growing challenges to segregation in the south were being answered with considerable violence.

Obama’s grandparents moved to Hawaii with their daughter in 1960 after she finished high school in Seattle. Ann Dunham was known for her enthusiasm and curiosity about life, and shortly after entering college, she was swept off her feet by a 23-year-old Muslim student from Kenya. She was only 18 when her son Barack was born, six months after her marriage to his father in February.

Ann’s experience of falling in love and having to get married was typical for many young women; but to me, the staunch support of her parents during that socially repressive time is quite unusual. The social stigma of an unwed pregnancy, and especially for babies of mixed race, induced considerable fear for all involved.

How many girls were sent away to deliver a baby, to fabricate a husband, or to put the child up for adoption? Whenever my own mother heard of such stories, she would warn me, “Girls who get pregnant are ruining their lives.”

Ann was blessed to have the parents that she did. Even in the island paradise, there was considerable animosity among the various ethnic and racial groups; yet Ann’s parents stood by her and her son. Nine years later they embraced a second grandchild, a girl, whose father was Indonesian.

In August 1961, when President Obama was born, I was one month shy of my sixteenth birthday – ready to start tenth grade and get my driver’s license. The country was struggling with Jim Crow laws, with the fallout from rock and roll, with the burgeoning feminist and free-speech movements, and with the over-all challenge by the baby boomer generation to the stultifying political conservatism and McCarthyism of the 1950’s.

Civil rights activists pressed harder for the country to live up to the principle “all men are created equal.” As I watched the nightly news with my parents, or read the headlines, I saw people staging non-violent sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, and people traveling south (and dying) to help with voter registration drives. There were even demonstrations in San Diego, and an older friend from school spent a weekend in jail. Some of the worst for the country was yet to come.

In September of 1963, when Obama was just two years old, Governor Wallace of Alabama defied a court order admitting black children to a public school in Huntsville. A week later, four children were killed in the bombing of the Baptist Church in Birmingham. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was a little girl in Birmingham and knew those children.

Most people I knew supported integrated public facilities, but many still had trouble with mixed marriages. I remember a negative discussion of such marriages by fellow students in college.

President Obama chose to remain with his grandparents and finish high school when his mother went to live with her second husband in Indonesia. It is understandable that he felt he had much to sort out as he grew into manhood.

I also think about Ann Dunham at the time of her death in 1995. She wasn’t even 53. This was the year I turned 50, and I had just started my second year of teaching. Ann Dunham died so young, but she also packed a great deal of living into her short time here. She probably had no clue that she was mother to a future president.

Times are much different now than when Obama was born fifty years ago. Who could have imagined that in 2008 the vice-presidential Republican candidate would present her pregnant, unmarried daughter to the national convention.

We have come a long way, and I hope that as a country we don’t go backward. No matter what people may think of the President’s politics, do they see any of themselves when they consider his personal story? I see his mother as a young girl and I remember the country’s turbulence during my adolescence, and I hope we continue to work toward what is right.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Con

He sat in the driver’s seat of a 56 Ford pickup truck. His arm, resting on the edge of the rolled down window, was thin, tanned and wiry. The thing that distinguished him the most from the folks standing on the street talking to him was his hair. On this early morning in Venice in 1972, the young men standing in the street had hair: long hair, curly hair, puffed out or hanging down in lanky strands. Don's hair was slicked back from an already receding hairline, greased tight against the top of his head, then curling a bit down toward the back of his neck.

He was older, a child of the 50’s and not the 60’s, 33 years old. His hair, his worn white t-shirt, his truck sitting low with faded paint, formed a picture of Whittier Boulevard in 1960, not Dell Street just before the first canal in Venice, California in 1971. But the biggest thing that separated Don from the rest of the young men that gathered around his truck that summer morning was that Don was a con.

Don had served ten years in federal prison for bank robbery. He told me once how, at the age of 21, his restlessness got the better of him one day, and he walked into a bank with a 38 and not much of a plan. He talked about the simple justice of life inside, how you didn’t want to owe anybody anything, how at a movie showing a man had stepped over three rows of chairs and slit another man’s throat for a pack of cigarettes. And I could see, even that morning sitting in his truck, that the restlessness was still there, that the ten years in the pen had been wasted on Don . It wasn’t about rehabilitation, it was about understanding: the shades of grey, the calculus of relationships, the balance of giving and taking, the art of letting it ride.

That morning he was on a mission, to get a pickup truck load of sand for the weed-strewn corner of Linnie Canal and Dell Avenue that was the sight of the soon-to-be People’s Park. Don had been eyeballing a large mound of sand piled up at the end of Driftwood Street by the beach maintenance crews that we back up to with his truck and help ourselves.
“Let’s get going before too many people are out,” Don said. Me and another guy jumped in and headed for the beach.

The woman who loved him that summer was tall, gentle, and like many of our friends at the time tended to drift off toward the mystical. She gave him everything she had, and wanted nothing more from him than the touch of his skin as they lay sleeping in the early morning. All she wanted was to see him in the morning there at the table in the kitchen of their little house off Venice Boulevard, drinking coffee and eating her freshly baked bread and raspberry jam. She wanted to touch his hair as she walked by, and have him reach out and find her hand. And that was all.

Don received all that and loved it. But his was the arithmetic of the prison: every favor incurs a debt, and every day his debt to her grew until it ate at his heart.

“Can you do something for me?” he said one day in early September.

“Tomorrow afternoon be at Nu Pars at 3.” I would have done anything for him, anyway, but this time his eyes were fixed on mine.

“Be sitting on the bench outside. There won’t be hardly anyone around after the breakfast crowd is gone.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Wait for me. If I don’t come by 4, forget the whole thing.”

The Con


The hard lines of the prison cell
and the convict creed
beckoned the subconscious as
a light out of the turmoil
for an eighteen year old
who had wandered through dead end jobs
prying plywood forms day after day
from still warm sweaty concrete walls

who drank through his paycheck
while his girl friend cursed and
everyone was somehow
an antagonist ‘till he seemed to be
bounced from pinball bumper
back to the spring-loaded piston
then launched again on another wild ride
that became a blurry spinning
and ringing in his ears
and who wandered head pounding
down hard concrete sidewalks
looking for a way to stop the noise

Finally he found solace
in jailhouse arithmetic
a favor received is a debt incurred
an allegiance pledged
is a bond broken only by death
and jailhouse justice where
a borrowed pack of smokes unpaid
could slit a man’s throat
and rules were black and white inside


Now Don was an ex-con

the geometry of living
in Mary’s Venice bungalow
where the light filtered soft
through batik curtains
while she nurtured life into
a small herb garden on Linnie Canal
bought stone ground wheat
and gently soothed his hair while
his every nerve tingled with agitation

while up and down the alleys
clouds of young men moved
in arguments about consensus
and the individual
while women playfully passed their fingers
across his back as they walked by

the calculus of stepping back and
letting go and watching as the egos played out
the balance of giving what he could to her
not knowing what it was he gave
while letting himself take the feel
of her warm skin in the early morning
and the soft peace of incense floating
through the dim living room

the art of letting all this ride
and never asking an accounting …
were mysteries that ate at him.
and so he didn’t tell her
that morning as she poured him coffee
and toasted homemade bread
that today he’d rob another bank
just to get inside


(This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real persons living or dead is purely accidental.)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Crows are Back

The crows are back. They haven’t been here in years. Some say it was the bird flue that got them, but whatever is was we were happy without them. This year, however, they returned, and we were not happy to see a half-dozen of them on the front lawn, pecking away. Not that I don’t like birds: we have a number of sparrows and things flying around the yards, and I keep a feeder out back for the smaller ones.

But crows are different. I go out front to get the paper at 5:30 in the morning, and the crow walks slowly to the opposite side of the yard, with the insolent eye of the gangster.

“Sure, mister, I’ll get out of your way. But I’m keeping my eye on you.”

The crow cries sharp


The flock lights in a nearby tree

                       and plots indignities

                                            on nearby outdoor diners

The crow is not the lowland farmer

                      faithfully turning the field with his spade

but the Norse chief standing

                      in the prow of the raider boat

the crew carefully shipping the oars

                      and readying the swords and lances

Crow photo:
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Dream Away Lodge: the Obsession Continues

I've continued my obsession with the Dream Away Lodge with this little song. My song writing career is hampered by a complete inability to sing, but hey ... I don't let that stop me! Here are my lyrics to "Dream Away Lodge". I'm searching for the right music ... I envision it as a slow waltz ...

Feel free to contribute to music and/or lyrics. If chosen, we'll split the writing credits when it hits the big time :-)

Dream Away Lodge

Follow the ghost of the Albany stage
As it climbs through the late evening fog
Swaying it’s way through the old Berkshire hills
Up to the Dream Away Lodge

Gray haired musicians play pining love songs
Diners talk while friends laugh at the bar
Children chase fire flies out on the lawn
In the glow of the dream away lodge


History and mystery are these towns’ stock in trade
It’s the tourists that pay all the bills
When the Tanglewood crowd has returned to New York
The fiddles float soft through the hills

The roads of the Berkshires are paths through an ocean
Darkness starts thirty feet from the road
The hearts of the people are warmed by the flowers
And tied to the earth by their grandparents stones


Dog Walking

The simplest things can bring such pleasure. For us walking the dog is a way to connect with our neighborhood and ourselves.

Dog walking

We’re talking
Tail Wagging
No Squawking

Legs moving
Smelly bagging
Speed improving
No nagging

Morning greeting
Asphalt heating
Wet grass breathing
Neighbor meeting

Hips rocking
We’re talking
Tail wagging
Dog walking

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The DreamAway Lodge

Neon in the night

We took a lot of pictures on our trip, but there are some places that you feel would be almost sacrilegious to photograph. That is the way I felt about the DreamAway lodge.

The old county road is a narrow lane heading steeply up October Mountain, in the middle of a vast sea of the green forests of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. These mountains are low and soft, rounded at the top, more like hills for those used to the towering steep mountains of the Rockies or the Sierras. Travelling through these hills, though, is like swimming under water in a murky pond. The thick mixed woods close in on every road, and what few vistas there are reveal no distinct landmarks to provide orientation: only a rolling ocean of undulating green.

The climb up the mountain seems endless. As the road curves back and forth, the shadows of late afternoon cover the road and steep the forest in a dark cloak, rich with the scent of broad leaf trees, thick with the oxygen of rich air, and heavy with mysteries that lie in the miles of woods.

Suddenly the road opens up to a clearing, ringed by a wall of trees, and there at the top is the DreamAway Lodge.

children barefoot in the grass
young lovers huddling on the edge of illumination
from the white light of windows
and the green and blue of a neon sign

innocence and age
untrained teenage waiters
the song of the soft guitar
the foot fall of ancient innkeepers

old pony-tailed musicians come back
to find missing pieces of their soul
while toddlers chase fireflies in the island of light
as night settles in on October Mountain

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Doggie Blogger

Many writing groups and workshops do writing exercises. We start with a prompt, like a random word drawn from a collection. Or maybe one xeroxed page from a rhyming dictionary. Then we are asked to spend ten minutes writing based on this prompt.

These exercises can be intimidating: especially when in a group of strangers I definitely feel the pressure to perform. But the purpose of these exercises is to stimulate creativity, and for me also to realize that I don't have to go looking for "the big idea" to start the next poem. Some of the works that I enjoy the most come from these exercises. They might not rise to the level of finished pieces, and are sometimes a little silly, but hey, so are a whole lot of music lyrics, and we enjoy them!

Here is a quick piece I wrote in one of our Downey groups based on the prompt "Write concretely about something absurd."

Doggie Blogger

After the death of the humans
My dog kept up my blog.
I guess I had not logged off

and typing with one nail
on each paw proved to be
a bit of a challenge,

but clearly it wasn't that hard,
because thousands of dogs kept up
their communications on Facebook and Twitter.

The cats began to participate too,
although they were more lurkers and stalkers
than active participants.

Keeping hte computers running
did not seem to be much of a problem,
although the dogs had a little trouble

getting into Best Buy
because the automatic doors wouldn't open
since the electric eye was set so high.

The biggest breakthroughs took a little while.
The pawgometric mouse was first,
and then, finally, the development
of bark recognition software.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Got Tubas?

There have been a rash of tuba thefts from the band rooms of the LA Unified School District. Tubas are expensive, and this loss is sorely felt. It underlines, however, that TUBAS ARE HOT!

Tubas are hot
In the subways of Barcelona
they replace the double bass

In the bandas of Los Angeles
the tuba man gets double pay
'cause he draws all the girls

Tuba in the Barcelona subway, playing for change.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Barcelona Beauties

Thumbing through photographs, I came across the pictures from our trip to Barcelona last year. I'll work at sharing  some photos (and some poems.) this weekend.

Barcelona Beauties

the motor scooters buzz and weave
around the cars on cobbled streets
and park double wide on broad side walks

young women wearing helmets
bare shoulders and spaghetti straps
shopping bags between their feet
fly past the high rolling wheels
and almost touch the motor bus

Sunday, May 27, 2012

California Dreamin

I'm working up my narrative of the "Myth of California." For this young boy in New England in the 1960s, it was hot rods, music,  a magic land, a lighthouse in the distance ...

I'd love to hear your image!

T-Bucket Hot Rod.   See end of this post for attribution

California Dreamin

in New York and San Francisco
rooms filled with smoke
as the beat poets worked their magic
with alcohol fueled inspiration

while in my corner of the world
there was snow in winter
or softball games in the church parking lot
as the light softened on a summer evening

and always the woods
hilly           laced with decaying stone walls
glades of sunshine
pockets of cool cool dark
and in our damp cellar in December
"If every body had an ocean"
floating in from the AM radio.

cars were the way out
my closet filled with Hot Rod Magazine
way before I could drive
pages full of dripping chrome
metalflake paint


                    top down

                              California cars

two long low dragsters
poised at the starting line for Winternationals
mountains in the background
at a place called Pomona
men in shirtsleeves and sun sun sun

around the corner
on a brilliant July day
on the old road past our front yard
comes a bright red Triumph sports car


neighbor's older brother driving


                    dark dark tan

                              back from California

"We'll all be plannin' out a route"
I folded over the Time Magazine
to a picture of a dozen long haired boys and girls
at a stop sign in Santa Barbara
captured with their thumbs out

          and started the car

Photo: T-Bucket hot rod. Photo taken by Morven at the weekly Garden Grove, California car show on Friday April 23, 2004. 07:17, 24 April 2004 . . Morven (71959 bytes) (T-Bucket hot rod) {{GFDL}}

Saturday, May 19, 2012


"Beginning in the 1970s, the precipitous decline of the area's manufacturing base resulted in a loss of the jobs that had allowed skilled union workers to have a middle class life."
          Wikipedia, "South Los Angeles"

In the Los Angeles area, the period of heavy industry which existed in the Northeast for a couple of centuries was compressed into about sixty years, starting in the 1920s and ending somewhere in the 80s. People migrated from all over the country to work in the auto plants, tire plants, aerospace factories and steel mills.

I worked in the Bethlehem Steel plant in Maywood, California from 1973 to 1982, at the tail end of this period. There were blacks from the deep South, whites from Oklahoma, Latinos from all over the Southwest, Native Americans from the reservations of Arizona and New Mexico. A toxic, dangerous, truly vibrant melting pot.


Ford Pico Rivera
GM South Gate
GM Van Nuys
Firestone Tire plant 1928
     the mocking skeleton still visible
     as an Egyptian fort
     off the 5 Freeway

Bethlehem Steel
Slauson Avenue Maywood
Alcoa Aluminum
     rest in peace1994
North American Rockwell
Kaiser Steel Fontana
corrosive dust in the air
and union jobs for everyone

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weekend In Joshua Tree

A desert Southwest saying is that “water is worth killing for.” Just off the I-10 in Palm Springs green golf courses drip damp with irrigation and green lawns are rimmed with bush after bush of perfect roses, while safely out of sight to the south the Colorado delta turns to mud and fishermen caught out by low tide crawl-swim on their bellies through a half mile of muck to reach the shore.

We come to the high desert to hear the echo of the ancient earth, to feel the heat beneath the April sun, and to witness the renewal that distains our hand.

Link to Desert Flower Photo Pics

Desert Lights

In the hills
of Joshua Tree,
A rough trail
among the rocks and creosote
yields a black stink beetle

digging through the armor
of the hardened ground,
baking in mid April,

while beneath relentless sun
the blooms of flowers
shine like supernova.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Art From Found Objects

Many thanks to Downey resident Roy Shabla, who curated a show called "Contraptions: electrified, mechanized, digitized, funk-junk art show." The show featured assembled whimsical gadgets, "useless" machines and art constructed from the discarded objects of our materialistic world. As you can see from the photos, the show took place in the evening, in the parking lots at Number 34 on Florence Avenue. Thanks Ronnie, the proprietor at Number 34!

An Art-Making Machine
(My apologies: I don't remember the name of the artist)

For a brief introduction to the found objects art form, here is a link to the works of Ruben Acosta. His three- dimensional painting-like constructions displayed on easels at the Contraptions show inspired my poem "Art From Found Objects"

 A Piece by Ruben Acosta

Finally, here is a link to the world of Roy Shabla.


Art From Found Objects

on an easel
in a parking lot
scenes from life
are pieced together
layer upon layer
bits of paper and plaster
some wire and some paste

some color from an old paint can
a diagonal swath of gauzy mesh
family    friends    and kindred folks
tangled up with mending tape
to form a map of the wandering path
and the years I stumbled through

my vision is my vision
but found pieces that I pick
and those that somehow
come to me and stick
are green if they are green
no matter that my vision
calls for blue

and then my canvas too
reveals itself
as fragments held with glue
that gradually dissolve
to shed foundation pieces
a brother here
a city there
until the air flows
gently through

scraps of colored paper
and fellow wandering souls
swirl in the dusty wind
some come to rest
against the back
to find some daubs
of still-wet paste
that bond the paper
to the place
and form perhaps
the image of a face

the sun slants
through the parking lot
and lights the easel
part by part
the rhythm
and the shadows
spring alive
to become art

Copyright © 2012 Francis Kearns

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mt. Katahdin

Mount Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine. It was named Katahdin (The Greatest Mountain) by the Penobscot Indians. Like the Sierras, Katahdin is a granitic mountain, unlike most of the mountains in the East.

Mt. Katahdin

mountain name
that floats West
from central Maine
to the slopes of the Sierras
where I walk today       and feel
this Eastern mountain’s pull

a young boy’s Mount Katahdin day
drifts from the East and crosses time
a walk that leads above tree line
to glories of a granite dome
where 60 miles of fir topped hills
stretch below us to the sun

a lean-to on a narrow trail
half way up an open slope
where little legs and tired feet
give up short of father’s plan
and mother gathers us around
to sit and rest and eat

below a steep pitch to a creek
the sound of water barely heard
above the ever changing wind
and here an adult’s minor pique
at the limits of young feet
is surely not a matter of concern

yet fifty years ago today
I still see father standing there
hands on hips       perhaps a smile
just before he turns away
to hike way back to get the car

miles to see
a day in the sun
salt in the memory
mixes with the chocolate
that mother digs out from her bag
to sooth our tired spirits
while we wait

Copyright © 2012 Francis Kearns

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Seven A.M. Bus

The 111 bus runs from the Los Angeles Airport transportation center East along Florence Avenue . Crossing the 110 Freeway, it slices through some of the toughest neighborhoods of South L.A. Continuing East, it passes through the densely populated Latin American working class neighborhoods of Huntington Park, Bell and Bell Gardens before coming to a somewhat upscale section of Downey, where lush lawns and palm trees surround large newly constructed houses.

The Seven A.M. Bus

you’re in front of me
at the stop light
orange aluminum
dull windows
your high rubber tires
roll along through the morning damp
on your swaying journey
along Florence venue

roll your black tires
pump your pistons
sweep up the women
from the morning dark
they hold your cold seat rail
and stare out the window
drop them off
on the wide streets
of green lawns and palm trees

they wakened their daughters and sons
in the apartments of Huntington Park
and the little Bell Gardens houses
and packed a sandwich and piece of fruit
for their husbands

come back for them tonight
they look down the road
past the lines of cars
and strain to see you in the dark

roll your tires
spew your smoke
work your swaying orange magic
change them back
to laugh freely
tuck their children into bed
and hold their husbands’ hands
set them free tonight
these women
of the seven A.M. bus

Frank Kearns
February 12, 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

So Cal Yankee Feedback

Dear Readers,

Thank you all for the kind comments that I have received. It is appreciated and encouraging!

Several friends have indicated that it was difficult to leave comments on the blog. By default Google required a  reader to register on one of the Google platforms in order to leave a comment. I have changed this setting. Now when asked to CHOOSE AN IDENTITY you can select NAME/URL and entering your name, or more simply select ANONYMOUS.

You still have to "prove you are not a robot" by re-typing the twisted distorted words that are displayed. I don't know what to do about that yet ...

So feel free to leave all the comments you want, in any form that works for you, including here on the blog.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Three A.M, Orono Calling

For a week the Native American names that surrounded my youth have been following me everywhere.




And last night in a dream I thought of Orono, Maine, the town where I lived from my kindergarden years until the 5th grade.

Three A.M, Orono Calling

Something wakes me at 3 AM in this Los Angeles suburb, but what I hear is the long ago tin clatter of a rusty alarm clock in a musty tent in a backyard in Orono, Maine.

Orono in the fifties was a sleepy town in the center of Maine, on the banks of the Penobscot River. In the winters the days were short and cold and the snow piled high, but summer days were long, and moisture and fog from the river turned everything green. Spreading trees shaded sidewalks and back yards, and grass grew so lush that children spent an entire week barefoot, only putting on shoes for Sunday service.

I was eight years old that summer, and my brother John was six. We roamed the town unsupervised, walking up to the center of town, exploring the fields that sloped down toward the river, or hanging out at various friends’ houses.

There were two forces that anchored the children’s’ universe in Orono. The first was the River. A large Northeastern river, the Penobscot was wide, grey and deep. It flowed quickly through Orono, and its banks were steep and slick with mud. Parents warned their children of the dire consequences that would befall them if for some reason they got near those banks. We heard tales of drowning, and, perhaps worse, tales of the punishment that would befall us if we even got close. For the most part we gave the banks of the Penobscot River a wide birth.

The other force was the railroad. The Bangor and Aroostook was a small railroad, now long gone, whose reason for existence was to haul the potato crop out of the farmland of Northern Maine down to the coast. Unlike the river, we were on close terms with the railroad. A single rusty engine pulling a few dozen cars would shake us children to our bones as it came right through town, down a little gully with grassy slopes, then across Pine street, our main route to school. The railroad crossing was marked by a faded white wooden “X” with “RR Xing” painted in peeling black paint. It was up to every driver approaching and every kid walking along the track to look for the train and listen for the slow blasts of the whistle.

After Pine Street, the train headed toward the river, where it crossed on a railroad bridge. This bridge loomed large in children’s mythic lore. It was long, spindly, and had a narrow wood planked walkway alongside the track all the way across the bridge. There was no fence or gate to keep anyone from walking out on that walkway. If you got caught out there on that long bridge when the thundering engine headed across, followed by clacking cars and grinding steel wheels – we were sure that no child could survive. One teenage boy who was said to have deliberately stood out there when a long freight came through was viewed by all of us as a living legend.

So we young children were intimately familiar with these lumbering freight trains of red white and blue box cars filled with potatoes and flat cars stacked with logs from the Northern forest. We would put pennies and nails on the track, sit up on the bank as the freight trains past, and gleefully run down to survey these results after the train had gone. This all seems dangerous, but it was hard to be surprised by these trains. You could almost feel the rails come alive when the train was a ways away. They were slow moving and noisy, the whistle was loud, and so none of us ever worried too much about playing and walking on the track.

But these were freight trains. We never saw a passenger train. There were rumors that one came through in the dead of night, and it was so fast and quiet that if you were on the track when it came through it would run you over before you even knew it was there. Our Dad was always willing to entertain our quest for information, so without seeming too interested we asked him about passenger trains on our tracks. A few days later he told us that the only passenger train that ran through Orono Maine came through town at 3 A.M. Well! Now this sounded like adventure!

My brother and I had for several weeks that summer been sleeping out in the back yard in a musty World War Two surplus pup tent. We found an old wind up alarm clock in a closet, snuck it out to the tent, and set it for two forty five. We woke up the next day as the sun peeked into the tent. The rickety old clock was still ticking, but some how or other we hadn’t set it right. So that day we conducted a number of tests, figured we had it, and set it again when we went to bed.

The alarm clock jangled in the dead of night. We fumbled around to quiet it for fear that someone would hear. Our eyes were sticky from sleep, but we pulled on our baseball caps and headed up Pine Street barefoot in the dark. Somehow it didn’t seem as dark as we had imagined it would be. We were exposed, and imagined the eyes of every neighbor and parent watching through black windows as we heading up toward town. But no one appeared, nothing moved. We reached the grassy bank overlooking the track, sat down in the grass and waited.

First we heard the faint click and sigh of the rails. We looked off toward the North, and sure enough we could see the headlight searching across the fields and down the track. Then the light flashed along our bank, and the train was here! At the head was the smooth bluff nose of an F3 locomotive, travelling fast and grinding its wheels as it raced around the curve toward Pine Street.

Nothing terrible happened to us. The wind pulled our hair and pajamas as the engine flew by. We grabbed glimpses of people asleep in their chairs through the windows of the smooth sliver cars. And then it was by us, the rounded tail of the last car swaying slightly and the red tail light growing fainter in the distance across the bridge, drawing our eyes with it down the far off track. We sat for a while after the rails grew quiet. We got up slowly and stepped off the bank onto Pine Street. Turning toward home, we could feel the pull. It lingered in the air, drawing us South down the track, toward places that we couldn’t name, away from Pine Street, and Orono Maine.

Copyright © 2011 Francis Kearns

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Painting Lascaux

Last summer Carol and I visited the Dordone Valley in Southwestern France, where there are numerous caves with prehistoric paintings from over 20,000 years ago. The most famous of these is Lascaux, with its spectacular "Hall of Bulls". These caves represent an amazing record of prehistoric man.

Earlier we had visited the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain. There we saw how Picasso deconstructed and rebuilt the images he saw around him into a fresh vision of the world. His paintings are the work of a genius painter and a transcendental seer. The painters of the caves of Southern France reveal the same genius in both painting and insight into the world around them.

Here is a link to the Lascaux cave:

Painting Lascaux

Returning from the hunt with the men
the boy idly traces
the back of a horse
on the muddy river bank
when something in the line
the trueness of the image
pleases him

he draws line after line
image after image
and some take on
a life of their own
so that adults walking by say
ah that’s nice

and when he closes his eyes and sees
a horse tumbling through space
or a cow jumping high in the air
hind legs tucked up in delight
he paints     and others feel
the tingle of mystery

the elders
watch all this and nod
and one day
take him by the hand
come they say
it’s time for you
to paint the cave

Copyright © 2011 Francis Kearns