Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas: Orono Maine 1956

The trains would roll
The streamlined F3 locomotive
would pull the Bangor and Aroostook passenger train
across Pine Street and over the Penobscot River bridge

head out of the small Maine town
and like a magnet pull us along
west across the Mississippi to
New Mexico and California   

But for now
the model train laid out in an oval
of flimsy track on linoleum floor

would have to wait the vagaries
of electric circuits in a little house
taxed to the limit by the chill

of winter air against the cracks
and fuses blowing at the demands
of Christmas lights and electric oven
glowing just above the tracks

© 2014 Frank Kearns

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ready to Go

The weathered barn
dusty bay in the far left corner
the nineteen twenty nine Essex

upright steel box of a body
yellow cracked wood-spoked wheels
the grease caked hard on the spindles

the upright bench seats
dusty seat covers somewhat worn
but still intact

the open glove box door
world war two gas coupons
casually thrown inside

plenty of gas
for next week's trip to Boston

© 2014 Frank Kearns

Image Attribution

By Lars-Göran Lindgren Sweden (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Love and Relativity

In the dark of the planetarium
I think about the rings of Saturn
and realize that when we lay together
I fit against the curve of your back

the way the third and fourth rings fit
close but with a space in which
Einstein might have talked of love
as the transition of flesh into energy

or perhaps he meant the other way
because love for us is the oscillation
the transition from the fire of passion
to the feel of the earth when freshly tilled

between the melting of touch and sound
into a glowing orange heat
and the mundane placing of a picture
just above the living room couch

all of which is much more confusing
than Einstein’s simple formulation

© 2014 Frank Kearns

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Heading Toward October

They all are heading toward October
buses   planes   and cruise ships even
going to see the October of
New Hampshire and Vermont

going to see the scarlet and the
deepest color of orange and
my favorite transparent yellow
glowing in the setting sun

going to see the bed and breakfasts
the flowing expanse of folding hills
and returning hopefully to home
just before November comes

with naked trunks and twisted limbs
when all the deepest forest is revealed

Fall Tree Photo Jere Kearns © 2013
© 2014 Frank Kearns

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Circling Venice

A shameless plug for my collection, available on The story of my migration to California, and the story of how Carol and I came to be together. It's really inexpensive!!! Feel free to purchase, write a review, etc etc.

Circling Venice

Here is a teaser:

California Orbits

we were comets hurtling
in great eccentric orbits
so close in Venice years before
flying fast at periapsis

then speeding off again up Highway 101
distance measured by the plains of Camarillo
speed measured by the beat of the Cumbia
the trumpets blaring in sweaty Oxnard bars

finally the endless outer reaches
tiny houses by the farm fields of Ventura
searching through Kepler’s laws
waiting for gravity or stubbornness
or orbital momentum
to draw us back again

you count from 1975
I count from an airplane ride
on the way to San Francisco
window seat                       the clouds
bright behind your hair

you count from a chapel in Huntington Park
I count from holding hands again
tighter                            like we meant it
stopping each other in mid flight

in the sunshine of the Embarcadero

Monday, September 8, 2014

Learning to Fly

Once, in a dusty attic in my grandmother’s house, I saw the remnants of the model airplanes my father had made as a child. Long as a grown man’s arm, they were made of tiny sticks, lacy and delicate, covered with the thinnest of tissue paper. I could imagine them floating in an open field, like a butterfly, carried on cushions of air.

The models that we made were very different. Their construction was crude, about the size of a serving plate, made of light slabs of balsa wood for wings, body, tail and rudder. At the heart of these models were tiny gas motors which, even with an attached fuel tank, were about the size of a one quarter measuring cup. Once started, the motors screamed like a thousand angry bumble bees. Our ears buzzed, fumes flowed in the blast of air and coated the hands of the boy holding back the plane, while the “pilot” raced to where the control handle lay in the grass.

These models were called “control line” models. Two thin wires ran from one wing of the plane to a handle maybe fifty feet away. The “pilot” held this handle at the center of a circle, and turned in place as the plane flew round and round, restrained by the two wires. Dizziness was always a danger, as was wandering away from the starting place as we turned. If the pilot wandered, the circular flight path could move to where there the edge of the house or the laundry post out in the field would cause a mid-air disaster.

The motors were strong relative to the size and weight that the plane, so the models didn’t so much fly as trail desperately after the propeller as it clawed its way through the air. These models flew fast, so our learning process was about what you would expect. The plane would take off; our attempts at control would cause a few quick up and down oscillations and then finally a dive into the grass.

In spite of our complete lack of mastery of these simple models, we began to build a larger more sophisticated version. This was a completely different project. The wingspan was the width of a kitchen table, and the construction was more like a real airplane, with ribs and bulkheads forming a skeleton which was covered by balsa sheeting. The motor was larger, and surgical tubing ran back from the motor to a separate aluminum tank, the size of a small coffee cup, nestled in the middle of the fuselage. This model took us about a month to build and paint, much longer than the simple slab models we had been flying.

The big day finally came. We had heaver control wires to handle the additional power and weight, and they were longer too. Since we were using up a lot more of the back field and there was less clearance to the various obstacles, we arranged a 4 foot diameter circle of red bricks around the pilot pivot point, so that if we started to wander as we turned round and round, the bricks would warn us and keep us in the right spot.

After a couple of spins of the prop, the motor came to life. Rather than the frantic high pitched scream of the smaller motors, this one had a more satisfactory tone, like a chain saw in full song. My brother held the tail of the model, I ran to the center of the circle, picked up the control handle, pulled the slack out of the control lines, and gave him a quick nod to release the plane.

The plane was still fast, but not as fast and frantic as the smaller models. I actually felt like I had some control, and instead of crashing after a couple of turns I was able to keep it airborne turn after turn. Finally we were really flying!

The crash was so sudden it seemed the world stopped. One instant there was the plane circling fifteen feet off the ground, its red stripe along the side clear in my memory. The next instant all sound was gone, the lines were slack, and pieces of balsa, fragments of fuselage and wing and tail, were sailing through the air. I had somehow wandered out of my circle of brick, and drifted over so that the plane had collided squarely with the six inch thick twenty foot high cloths line post. And what I remember most clearly of all was the aluminum fuel tank, free of the fuselage, gleaming in the sun, as it performed a slow cartwheel, painting a filmy arc of fuel in the clear air as it turned.

We never did much flying after that.

©Frank Kearns 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mule Skinner

After five days at the fairgrounds
in Bishop California
finishing third and fourth
in a couple of calf roping events

and chatting with a small but steady stream
of strangers who strolled the rows of stalls
after days of bits of apples and carrots
for children to feed to his mule Sunflower

Henry was more than happy to lift
the heavy tongue of his dust streaked trailer
walk Sunflower up the metal ramp
turn north onto highway 395

and as the mountains began to tinge red
he looked to a summer of days in the saddle
and felt the knots in the back of his neck
two days drive to Bozeman Montana

Thursday, August 28, 2014


we were running in the evening air
the top of the hill our finish line
both of us panting at the end
she so near to me I tingled
as a mist of breath caressed my cheek

this morning boys jog in the park
a tall girl swings on a low tree branch
yearlings        faces not yet marked
they feel the sunlight on their face
dampness of the still-wet grass

later we were together        close
in the deepest corner of the empty barn
the scents of hair and skin and earth
all the many colors
                        of the end
                                    and the beginning

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Wet Bulb Thermometer

Usually it’s a dry heat here
but the last week brought humidity
and air conditioners grind on overtime

until the midnight bedroom windows
offer cooling currents of relief

side by side         the sheet pulled half way up
we search for pleasing weather words

temperature is nice       barometer too clinical
dew point has a sensuous ring

now the wet bulb thermometer
sounds a little twisted for our taste

but it offers numerical measurement
of how a casual arm would feel
laid across the arch of waist

and how a finger will glide on flesh
in a night when skin feels perfect touching skin

and gentle movements quickly leave behind
the state of the wet bulb thermometer

©Frank Kearns 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

Words for Rain


Deep in a hot southwestern night
I’m haunted by the memories
that will perhaps leave peacefully
if I can give a name to each
of a thousand images of rain

a name for the driving lashing rain
that splattered on the windshield glass
in ever-changing circles and rivulets
and dodged the syncopated wipers
for one hundred turnpike miles

a name for a mist in early summer
that thickened on the canopy of pine
till droplets fell to darken and dapple
the paths which led around the pond
to the place we called Perch Cove

rain as verb    to lavish or bestow
great buckets of rain     so sudden
they absolve the layers of festering dust
and on a damp mid-summer night
break loose the clots of memory

and what name will finally satisfy
the weeks of late September rain
cold against your upstairs window
disquieting the inner cracks
threatening to freeze and split the soul

 © 2014 Frank Kearns

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Taking Apart the Tree House

I do it piece by piece
reversing its assembly

bending back each exposed nail
so no snag or injury

will come to me     or you
I do it slow     I mean no harm

Bit by bit
each piece of well used wood

comes loose
an offering

to shadows and echoes
cycles of memory

bits to be hauled away

© Frank Kearns 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Calculating Love

I was working with a crew high on a hill overlooking the rolling vistas of Simi Valley when my cell phone rang. It was Dan, an old friend that I hadn't talked to for 5 years. He called to tell me Roger Arrington had died. Behind me generators hummed. Our crew had long range cameras mounted on the lift gate of a truck: we were tracking moving vehicles along a highway miles off in the haze, field-testing the way the computers recalculated the positions of cars as their outlines passed from bright sunlight into deep shade As I talked to Dan over the wind and the noise, I couldn't help thinking that this was just the kind of thing Roger would have loved.
Roger had been my mentor when I first started working at Hughes Aircraft Company. He was about my height and a bit younger than me, and he was the smartest person I had ever met. We worked with cameras and lasers and telescopes, and Roger knew all the theory of all of that, and all the practical details too. But he also knew all there was to know about aircraft flight, and shipboard radar, and a thousand other things. We would play a game: pick a subject - and Roger could tell us the basic equations, the primary mathematical laws that governed that particular topic.

For years, every Friday lunchtime Roger held what the intellectuals would call a salon. He and a bunch of us would go to a Mexican restaurant on. It was invitation only, and if you were invited it meant that you had been judged to be one who truly appreciated science and engineering in its many dimensions. We stirred rice into cheap enchilada sauce around a large table in the dim light, and discussed Roger’s latest “thought experiment.” These thought experiments were concepts where all the details were explored: was the concept feasible, what were the engineering challenges, how would the project be built.

They would go on for weeks. But after awhile, most of them were set aside and replaced with the next challenge. But Roger also had challenges of a different sort. Although he couldn’t really comprehend it, he was in love. He was in love with Donna, a woman that we all thought was about the nicest lady in the building. She liked him a lot. They were in their thirties, and it was marrying time. But for Roger everything was a thought experiment, and he couldn’t tie down all the logic involved in this situation. How does one know for sure? And if things don’t work out, should he protect - how would he protect his modest assets.

The last Friday lunch that I remember - we were eating the same enchiladas, mixing the same rice, trying to help Roger understand that love was something he was never going to be able to figure out. The leap of faith eluded him; he was confused and defeated. And after that, none of us were really interested in going out for Mexican food on Friday afternoon.
Up on the hill, looking out over Simi Valley, I had a hard time hearing Dan over the wind. He was telling me that Roger had died of a degenerative brain disorder. As we talked, a bit of dark humor that drifted uninvited into my mind– he had died from an overworked brain. I quickly filed that thought away as completely inappropriate.

On the phone, I heard Dan pause.
“You know,” he said, “I just thought of something that I am almost ashamed to say.”
I smiled to myself - and told him “I know exactly what it is.”

            © 2014 Frank Kearns

Monday, April 28, 2014

Honda 250

Raggedy little motorcycle
black and pitted chrome
bits of dirt and oil

tattered seat and
cables dangling just short
of catastrophe

good enough to putter
across Venice Boulevard
and over the canals

sorry enough to droop
it's headlight in disgrace
at the sight of the big BMW

parked proudly on the grass
in front of your apartment
one warm Saturday afternoon

foolish enough to dump me
spinning on the tarmac
to the laughter of all the girls

just good enough to be
enshrined in our mythology
the golden coach

that carried us together
at the start of our
love story

© Frank Kearns 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Road Work

This morning my office van-pool slowed
and as we passed an impressive large hole,
three men leaned on their shovels
and contemplated the beauty of their work.

Hail to you, road workers,
gathered in the morning mist,
hard hats, jeans and scarred leather boots,
hoodie jackets and florescent vests

circled behind orange cones,
insulated coffee mugs in hand,
oblivious to the passing glances
of young women in BMWs.

Stuff, what wonderful stuff you have,
dump trucks full of asphalt and sand,
shovels and jackhammers, picks and bars
metal to be hoisted and swung all day.

Oh you, the prince of the backhoe,
your levers control the mighty arm
with the scoop that lays bare
layers of tortured rock and macadam,

And hail to you, king of the ponderous roller
regal barge moving massive and slow,
giant cylinders steaming over still soft road,
and you sitting motionless high in the seat.

© Frank Kearns 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Jawbone Siphon Song


Jawbone Siphon Song                 

                                         “There it is. Take it.” William Mulholland

Bart drove Sarah up Three Ninety Five
then North away from the two lane blacktop
on the unmarked graded road

to where steel pipe as wide as an automobile
bends up eight hundred fifty feet
a giant “V” carved on canyon walls

They stood on the warm steel in the sun
and felt the heat work into their shoes
felt the vibrations under their feet

and heard the Jawbone Canyon Siphon’s
hum         almost inaudible above
the desert sounds and silences.

Bart talked cubic feet per second
incompressible fluid and the pressure
of a column of water towering high

and Sarah listened        but listened too
to the song from inside the arched metal tube
as the water raced passed hoop joints and rivets

echoes of flowers in Onion Valley
and trickles from glaciers nestled in
the granite slopes of the Palisades

she heard the scratchy resonance
of dried out fields      sold-out farms
and the whisper of men at the spillway gates

and a mantra of names
Eaton Mulholland Lippincott
Otis San Fernando Los Angeles

a chant repeated by the wind
as it picked up the salt and sand
from the dry brown bed of Owens lake

to twirl across the empty flats
and sift through the shells of windows and doors
in the broken-down sheds of Olancha

Copyright © Frank Kearns 2014


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Pump House

The Pump House

Bethlehem Steel was my war, my trial by fire, or whatever other phrase you want to use to describe the searing, testing experience of a young man that shapes him and gives him the confidence to stand up in this world.

I had remembered the dark feel of the place, dusty gray-brown under giant sheet metal bays two hundred feet wide that ran for a quarter mile. I could hear the rattle of the overhead cranes running along tracks high up in the bay, hear the clatter of table-sized magnets dropping long steel billets onto the cooling beds, and feel the thunder of the electric furnaces roaring through the night as one hundred tons of scrap steel melted to the torture of the electric current.

I remembered how we blocked out the fear as we stood in a pit to position long gear casings; reaching up to guide them as they came down swinging, being lowered too fast into the confining hole by a drunk crane operator. I could feel the metal as I straddled the crane rail fifty feet off the ground, reaching under the trolley to grease the railroad-car sized wheel bearings. And I can still feel the tingle in my leg as I rested my heavy boot on a bar running low beside the beam, which I later learned was the hot rail for the crane’s electric motors, 220 volts of direct current fed by room-sized generators, and I can see my lead-man’s face turning pale in an instant when I told him about it.

But what I had forgotten was the pump house, nearly a year spent off the rotating mill as the plant started to die and they cut back crews, a year of working days by myself, fixing the tall water pumps that were wearing out like everything else, taking apart two to try to make one that would continue to pump the cooling water that kept the searing heat from melting the machines.

How they were lonely days, left to my own devices, mind massaged by talk radio, trying to make usefulness from junk, trying to make sense out of the world and keep the dying plant alive, a year of watching the slow death of something way bigger than myself.

© Frank Kearns 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Modesta Avila

Modesta Avila
     First felon of Orange County - 1889

Thin columns of rising smoke
trace the mesh of railroad racks
out across the scrub and farms
of the ranchos of Southern California.

Stubby black engines pulling
cattle hides and oranges
spurt rhythmic blasts of exhausted steam
and startle the jackrabbits

in a mundane daily working way,
as if the sleepy donkey carts
of the land-rich Californios
had last rolled centuries ago.

Modesta’s teenage eyes flare out,
steady in the booking photo;
her crime       she dared to string her laundry
across the Southern Pacific tracks,

an eighteen year old       Mexican,
upturned by the shifting tide,
tired of the incessant grunt
of indifferent locomotives

sealing her childhood beneath the rails,
unable to see a world beyond,
a woman knowing no way to stop
the hard steel wheels of the passing trains,

willing to lose the sunsets
glowing orange in the ocean air,
or trade the sight of butterflies
drifting from fresh spring grass,

or       rage welling in her neck,
nothing more than wanting,
wanting just one chance to say
this land        it was my father’s.

Frank Kearns 2014