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Naturally it’s raining
soaking the overturned lyre with its
one string left. I am going my way
which makes a strange soughing.

This way dust that way duff.
I consider both paths
but keep right on humming
remembering those leaves fixed in judgment

and then us trembling toward winter, falling.
I remember the rain with its bundle of nerves,
water taking sides, driving down
going nowhere, everywhere.

Dumb as I am, wise as I am

I forget sunrise, a blind girl tapping.
I forget love glinting off windows
cats’ eyes spying on us behind curtains
us kissing along the cobbled path
winding through smoke trees.
I forget to speak
to your one smile

to your mouth open then shut.

This must be what I wanted to be doing—
strumming alone between two deserts


Image: Livermore Hills in Drought, 2015


Running the River: Art & Literature in the Delta


This photo from 1900 shows European-Americans boarding rowboats on the banks of the San Joaquin River in California. Using archives records like maps and photographs, scientists are trying to revive the delta. Photo courtesy Bank of Stockton

Given its isolation from major Northern California urban centers, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has resisted development and remains suspended in time, but not for much longer. It’s a place of wonder—1.1 million square-miles of rivers, creeks, marshes, sloughs, levees, 500,000 acres of farmland, and it is the font of about 7.5 million acre-feet of water that’s distributed to cities and farms throughout California—it’s a playground for recreation, an agricultural hub and there are those who say, without blushing, it’s a paradise fraught with political maneuvering and environmental threats.

Few will say, however, that the largest river delta on the Pacific Ocean side of the Americas is a hotbed of literature and art. But those working to protect and restore the delta say that is wrong. Various groups, including writers, poets, artists, academics and community advocates are busy collecting the cultural artifacts that help mark the delta as a unique place in the world, one with a rich and diverse creative history.


Because I’m currently working on a novel set in the delta, I attended a discussion this week sponsored by the grassroots organization Restore the Delta about the past, present, and future of Delta Literature. Although literary luminaries from Jack London to Joan Didion have written about life in the delta, and their stories speak to significant topics in American history, scholars say the full range of narratives about this vital region awaits systematic collection, presentation and interpretation. There’s a lot of work to do.

During his overview of Delta Literature, Robert Benedetti, University of the Pacific professor emeritus of political science, commented that the “subtle beauty of the delta and a quiet appreciation by poets is needed,” if the delta’s rich cultural history and natural resources are to be saved from further neglect and degradation.

He also pointed to research into the literature of the delta by Gregg Camfield, professor of literature at the University of California, Merced. Canfield noted in his research that narratives shape human action and “we try to make sense of the past by telling its story; in the process, we shape our present and our future.” His survey of delta literature is online at:

Paula Sheil, founder and executive director of Tuleburg Press & THE WRITE PLACE in Stockton, as well as a poet and accomplished sailor, read “Out the Gate,” her poem captures the delta breeze blowing gently past farms and levees, picking up speed and spilling out to the bay, meeting the gush of ocean “like big dreams in a torrent.” She refers to the delta as the “anti-San Francisco,” suggesting the delta is the flip side of hip, slick and cool, a counter weight or cultural anchor to the excesses of its famous neighbor.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a land of stunning open spaces fed by five major rivers. A maze of creeks and sloughs spreading finger-like through some of California’s most important habitat, especially for Chinook salmon and Greater Sandhill Cranes. It’s a bird watcher’s feast for the eyes and a fisherman’s delight. It’s also home to immigrants and dreamers who prefer the delta’s cloistered backwaters to brash and garish city life.


Photo Courtesy: Friends of the River

In reality, Sheil said, “It’s the people who make the delta.” Adding that she tells her students that through the delta they’re connected to world, meaning by following the waterway to the ocean they have access to every distant land. But, she said, “Stockton youth don’t have access to the water. Some children who live in Stockton have never seen the delta.”

The City of Stockton is located on the San Joaquin River on the eastern edge of the delta, but freeways, development, train tracks, barriers of all types prevent exploration. “We live on the San Joaquin River and there isn’t even a place to put a kayak in the water.” Sheil said.

Tama Brisbane, Stockton poet laureate and executive director of Stockton’s “With Our Words,” a national movement to combat illiteracy, isolation, alienation, and silence by bringing new voices from the margins to the core of society through literary and performing arts. She noted that young Stockton poets who’ve traveled to poetry and performance art festivals around the country often have trouble explaining where they come from, have a gap in their understanding of place, of the delta that makes the territory from which they come unique.

“Stockton is a city that doesn’t own itself,” Brisbane said. “Stockton needs to hustle to get its identity back.”

Stories matter. They make us who we are. Camfield said in his survey of delta literature that “human beings selectively interpret their lives by way of narrative arcs, by how these narratives shape human action. We try to make sense of the past by telling its story; in the process, we shape our present and our future.”

With a delta novel in progress, the discussion about the literary past and future of the region was creatively stimulating and encouraging. But, a newcomer to Stockton, I also saw how quickly the city is transforming, wiping out the connection to the past.

In downtown Stockton old buildings with ornate architectural details are rotting, while next door new structures of steel and glass are under construction. Preserving what’s beautiful and meaningful from the past, while nurturing a proud new generation, is a task delta artists, poets and writers are embracing. It’s an exciting time in the delta and I look forward to contributing to the effort with a few good words of my own.

About these photos – Before the panel discussion, I had time to wander in downtown Stockton for a few photo grabs. I’m planning some mosaic projects and was delighted to stumble on some interesting examples in the lobby of Stockton’s old Elk’s Lodge on Sutter Street.

Laughing Tomatoes

This post was published on the “Word Garden” site in 2011 with the support and permission of Francisco Alarcon. He passed away Jan. 15, 2016, but his generosity and love remain. It’s reposted to honor his spirit and courage.

I recently bought my grandniece Sofia a copy of Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems, by California poet Francisco Alarcon. She loves poetry and playing with words. Francisco’s poems delighted her and she couldn’t wait to share them at school in El Cerrito.

Francisco’s beautiful children’s book is written in English and Spanish and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. (Children’s Book Press, 1997) I heard Francisco read from the collection a few months ago at the Sacramento Poetry Center and was charmed. Sofia’s mother is Mexican-American, and Spanish and English are spoken interchangeably at home. At school it’s English, but with her 4-year-old energy, she giggles and leaps languages and continents with ease. Her joy in language and life is totally international, which brings us to today — International Children’s Day — June 1.

Time to get your silly on! Sofia will, Francisco does. Today’s observance is celebrated throughout the world with speeches on children’s rights and well being, children’s TV programs, parties, various actions involving or dedicated to children, families going out, singing, dancing — doing all the things my Grandniece Sophia loves, including laughing like tomatoes. Here is Francisco’s poem, along with some shots from my friend — Acclaimed Dominican Republic photographer and artist Julian Rodriquez:

Laughing Tomatoes

One year birthday

with flavor

they change

in our backyard

we plant

the happiest
of all

with joy
they grow round

to red

Boy in hat

their wire-framed

Two kids, New York 1972

Christmas trees
in spring

–Francisco Alarcon

What makes International Children’s Day special to me is the hope it spreads for the future of children, the builders of tomorrow, especially those children growing up in the world’s troubled places.

A new study by the United Nations on Violence Against Children is the first comprehensive, global look at all forms of violence against children. The central message of the study is that no violence against children is justifiable. The study reveals that in every region, in stark contradiction to states’ human rights obligations and children’s developmental needs, much violence against children remains legal, state-authorized and socially approved violence continues.


The Study aims to mark a definitive global turning point: an end to the justification of violence against children, whether accepted as ‘tradition’ or disguised as ‘discipline’. Find the study at

2 Julies

Francisco X. Alarcón (born in Los Angeles, in 1954) is the author of eleven volumes of poetry. His most recent book of bilingual poetry for children, Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008), was selected as a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association, and as an Américas Awards Commended Title by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs.


His previous bilingual book titled Poems to Dream Together (Lee & Low Books 2005) was awarded the 2006 Jane Addams Honor Book Award. He has been awarded the Pura Belpré Honor Award by the American Library Association a number of times. He has been a finalist nominated for Poet Laureate of California on two occasions. He teaches at the University of California, Davis.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Julian Rodriguez moved to New York in 1964 where he studied at Germain School of Photography. He worked for many years as a studio photographer and later did architectural and construction photography. He says his subject preference is people, especially children, because they’re the most spontaneous. After spending most of his life in the USA, Julian returned to his island home a few years ago where he continues his photography, as well as woodworking and painting.

All Hallows Eve

I tell you this because it happened

beyond the nether regions


where you shouldn’t go

where speaking isn’t needed

shrugs and nods suffice


and steely truth unhinges night

with dollar bills folded moist against the skin


and clangs and clinking ice can pass

 for conversation

as she spreads her legs to shimmy

a final peep into the darkest folds of life


Into the caverns of delight

where slumber whispers undisturbed

while demons howl in fright.


She finds the passage

headed down the tunnel built for flight

running sweating from her concrete tomb

blood pouring from her beaten womb

her hallowed soot goes cold.


Her spirit dances now in swirling ash.

Her eternal agony untold

but I see those moments in a flash


When sun shines on the saints of old

and embraces her with sacred light

her horror bathed away.

She arises now.

Takes her place with all the saints

on this One November Day.

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Kate Campbell Images: Graffiti/Signage in alleys around and under Pike Place Public Market, Seattle WA. Shot while researching the novel Adrift in the Sound.

Fashion, Film and Fantasy

When I got there the music was bumping, pounding in a way guaranteed to give you tinnitus in old age. I wiggled around the limos to get to the velvet rope where the guard did a full look-over before letting me in, the list monitor matched my name to my face, then I was there, in the happening–Beatnik Gallery, fantasy-time Sacramento.

“Fashion On Film” premier, a showcase of short films inspired by the local fashion scene, was a melange of photo shoot, runway show, costume design showcase, make-up and hair design, trunk sale and party in an art gallery with tons of people.

Here’s a link to a video explaining what this fun evening was about

And, here’s a link to film producer/director Matt Salvo’s movie trailer for “Freakquency”

High fashion is not my usual subject matter so I was astonished to find hundreds of people in a big mid-town art gallery celebrating the local fashion scene on a work night.

Runway show at “Fashion on Film” premier

 I was there because a couple of friends have produced fashion films selected for the upcoming Sacramento International Film Festival and another friend, a former high-fashion model, has an insightful new memoir out about her international modeling experiences — Runway: Confession of a not-so supermodel. As a result, beautiful clothes, body art, technology and fun suddenly came together in my life. I wasn’t looking for it. It just happened and now I’m trying to understand “fashion” in this larger, more dynamic context.  

When the party was over, I couldn’t help but wonder What’s the point?  Yes, it was a fun evening. But, I guess I’m wondering why young women model. What I mean is why would any beautiful young woman wants to dress in showy clothes and strut around grabbing attention? If you’re young and beautiful, the attention is automatic so why bother with theatrics? What is the internal dynamic that causes someone to exhibit themselves beyond the usual notice? What’s the emotional payoff on the runway?

One of the short films was the story about a girl caught in the hum-drum of life and college. For her, getting onto the runway was about “the dress.” I assume the motivation was that she got to wear lovely clothes she wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Is that a common motivation for models or is there something deeper? What’s in it for the model?
Meghan modeling, age 18

I asked author/editor Meghan Ward about the motivation and she said: “For me it was ALL about the money. During high school, I was waitressing at the Sign of the Beefcarver for $2.15 an hour plus tips (and the tips were low because we didn’t have our own tables and didn’t serve the food – it was a buffet-style restaurant). I met a girl in a lifeguarding class I was taking who had just been paid $800 for one day modeling in a pizza commercial. I was probably making $50/day waitressing. That clinched it for me.

“But others do it for other reasons,” Meghan said. “I think many just like the attention, the chance to be on a runway or in a magazine and be admired by others. Others do it to get away from their home towns and travel. I think every model has a different reason.”

She has a blog post about the top 10 questions people ask her about modeling. Here’s an answer to the question:

Do you miss it?

Meghan: I miss the travel sometimes. I never stayed in one country for more than three months at a time. I lived in Paris, London, Tokyo, Milan, Hamburg, Munich, Zurich, Sydney, and New York and traveled to Greece and India. And I miss the money sometimes. I could afford designer clothes back then. I owned a $2000 jacket and several $400 pairs of shoes (and this was 25 years ago). I bought my own apartment in Paris when I was 21 (long sold, sniff sniff), and an Alfa Romeo for my French boyfriend at the time. But it’s really true that money doesn’t buy happiness. I’m much happier now wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes  than I ever was back then.
Although not my usual subject matter, here are some raw images captured at the Fashion on Film preview party:
Film producer/director Kim Mims
 on the red carpet

With film producer/director Matt Salvo
Photo by Ching Lee
Cast of “Freakquency” with producer/director Matt Salvo
From “Gatsby Glam” collection
“007 Hot Shot” collection

“Star Wars Fantasy” collection

“Star Wars Fantasy” collection
“Street Smart” collection

Kim Mims talks inspiration/motivation behind
her fashion short: “Life on the Reeway

Why does fashion matter?
Leave a comment.
We’d like to know what you think.
You’ll find us in the Word Garden

The Runaround

Note: The Runaround is an occasional Word Garden feature that includes info on happenings and events sent in that we’re happy to share.


Nov. 8, 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Reception and Photo Archive Sale, Upstairs Studios ARTHOUSE, 1021 R St. Sacramento. Art photographer Dianne Poinski offers her experimental images, proofs, mistakes and miracles at reduced, sometimes “extremely” reduced prices. The sale will continue and be open to the public on Second Saturday, Nov. 9, but the best selection will be found on Friday evening. Find her online at




Nov. 10, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Art in the Garden at UC Riverside Botanic Garden — to raise funds for the Botanic Gardens. Artists will sell paintings, jewelry, musical instruments, metal work and ceramics. The event is free for members of the Friends of the UCR Botanic Gardens and $4 for non-members, which is the regular gardens admission cost. Parking is $2 in lot 13. Please note that not all of the artists are equipped to take debit or credit cards. For more information about the gardens, including directions, visit


Nov. 16, 2 to 4 p.m., San Francisco, Kashia-Russian Exchange: An Afternoon of Stories, Dance, and FoodThe California Historical Society, 678 Mission St. (map)

In 2012, to mark the bicentennial of the founding of Fort Ross in the Sonoma County coast by Russian fur traders on Kashia land, a group of Kashia Pomo people made a cultural exchange trip to Russia. Join the Honorable Russian Consul General Mr. Sergey V. Petrov of the Russian Federation in San Francisco and Kashia Tribal members for an afternoon of stories from the trip and plans for a future trip, as well as a special performance by the Su-Nu-Nu Shinal dancers and a tasting of traditional foods with a modern flair. Along with the issue of News from Native California featuring the Kashia trip to Russia, there will be Kashia jewelry for sale. The event is free, but donations to The Metini Native Cultural Foundation are gratefully accepted.

Upcoming Outdoor Events from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Tundra Swan
Weekends — Elkhorn Slough Ecological Reserve. Docent-led walks are scheduled every Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Binoculars and bird books are available for the public to borrow at no cost. The visitor center and main overlook are fully accessible. Day use fee is $4.32 per person, age 16 and older. Groups of 10 or more should schedule a separate tour. For more information, visit
Weekends — Guided Wildlife Tours at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, 12:30 to 2 p.m., Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, 3207 Rutherford Road, Gridley (95948). Each walking tour through this premier birding spot highlights the migratory waterfowl and other wetland wildlife. The cost is included in the wildlife area entrance fee. Tours are canceled in the event of heavy rain. No reservations are necessary for groups of less than 12 people. For more information, please call (530) 846-7505 or email
Weekends — CDFW Sandhill Crane Wetland Tours at Woodbridge Ecological Reserve. Tours are available each month October through February. They are timed to begin in the late afternoon when the crane “fly-in” for the evening roost can be observed. For more information, please visit or call (209) 234-3435. Tours fill quickly. Self-guided tours are also available to view the cranes and other wetland birds.
Yuba River East of Marysville, 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. The tour will focus on the salmon life cycle and its natural history. For more information, please
Saturdays — Swan Tours in Yuba County, 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. The event explores an area called District 10, a 23,000-acre expanse of privately owned rice fields and restored habitat. This area boasts one of the largest seasonal concentrations of tundra swans in the Central Valley as well as a variety of other species, including ducks, geese, shorebirds, herons, egrets and raptors. For more information, please

Going Native — Top to Bottom

So I get up at dark o’clock and head out from Sacramento to the Santa Cruz Mountains above Silicon Valley, traveling ribbons of asphalt, then along the spiny top of the mountains, before plunging into a deep, west-facing ravine. I head down a rutted dirt road. My destination is Yerba Buena Nursery, California’s oldest retail plant nursery specializing in native plants.

Jan Stewart, gardener

I meet up with Jan Stewart, left, avid gardener and advisor on all things California grown. Our mission is to first enjoy the nursery’s 40-acre demonstration garden, contemplate the collection over tea and finger sandwiches in the nursery’s old farmhouse, and come to some conclusions about incorporating native plants into ornamental gardens.

The nursery was founded in 1960 by Gerda Isenberg, a pioneer in the native landscape movement. On her family’s 3,000-acre cattle ranch, Gerda built a nursery dedicated to natives, many of them are today rare or endangered in the wild.

I’ll let you in on our conclusions in a minute. In the meantime, here are some images of what we saw as we walked the garden in early spring.

The good folks at Yerba Buena (means good herbs in Spanish) say there are many reasons to grow native plants. They’re diverse and beautiful, hearty in their native climates and, perhaps most importantly, they create a sense of place, a homey normalcy. It’s what we talk about when we talk about California. And, native wildlife usually make themselves right at home, which is only natural. The nursery includes more than 600 species of plants, all grown from seeds, cuttings and divisions.
Over petite fours and hot tea on a blustery spring afternoon, we enjoyed the sweeping view from the farm house dining room, done up in chintz and roses. Here’s what Jan and I decided. Everything they say about native plants is true: they’re beautiful, drought tolerant, attract beneficial wildlife and provide a unique sense of place. But . . .  You knew there’d be a but. Wild and leggy, native plants don’t provide the sculpted, multi-dimensional richness of an intentional garden. They can be planned into tough spots where more delicate non-natives don’t thrive.
But, natives are not indestructable. I brought an aromatic shrub home, planted it in an unshaded front bed in my garden and it promptly keeled over. Another tip, find a local native plant nursery that sells species suited to your own micro-climate. I saw many ferns and delicate flowering plants perfect for coastal growing areas, but unsuited to Sacramento’s blistering summers and heavy clay soils. There was much at Yerba Buena that just won’t work in my garden.
Decorative gardens need native touches and accents, we decided, sometimes in stronger measure than others, depending on the design and environmental conditions. But to feed the spirit and calm the soul, a well-designed garden calls for more than just going native from top to bottom.
If you’ve got thoughts about using native plants in ornamental gardens or have photos of natives showing how they’re used, please submit them through the comment box on this blog. We’d love to see how you’ve incorporated natives into your own garden. Let’s take a look.