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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

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.

Planting Palms and Poetry – W.S. Merwin Forest Honors

Merwin and Palms PBS

In reverence, poet W.S. Merwin began planting trees nearly 40 years ago on land surrounding his home in Maui. He created and cultivated an 18-acre palm tree botanical garden, that has become one of the largest and most important collections of palms in the world.

The collection includes more than 2,740 individual palm trees, representing more than 480 taxonomic species and more than 125 unique genera, and featuring nearly 900 different horticultural varieties, the Merwin Palms and the land on which they live have been called Hawaii’s Walden Pond.

The plantation has become The Merwin Conservancy, which preserves the palm collection and the land from future development. The conservancy allows for scientific and botanical study of the palm species.

Merwin’s home on the property has been preserved as a place where art and nature intersect.  Many of the most famous poems and literary works authored by Merwin were written there. The Poet’s Home is now offered to poets, artists and authors as a retreat center.

Appointed United States Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress in 2010, William Stanley Merwin has a career that has spanned six decades. A poet, translator, gardener and environmental activist, he is one of the most widely read and honored poets in America.

Awards include the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the Bollingen Prize, the Tanning Prize, the Lilly Prize and the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award. His Migration: New and Selected Poems won the 2005 National Book Award for Poetry and Present Company, which closely followed it, earned him the Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress.

Now, in recognition of his botanical accomplishments, Merwin will be among 13 distinguished honorees at the 2015 Arbor Day Award ceremony on April 25 in Lincoln Nebraska.

Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. As a formal holiday, it was first observed in 1872, but tree planting festivals are as old as civilization.

Merwin will receive the Good Steward Award recognizing the value of the botanical garden he created. The Arbor Day Foundation said the impact of Merwin’s work reflects the values of wilderness, the stillness of nature, and our personal connection to the natural world.

Merwin Rain in Trees Cover


W.S. Merwin, 1993


On the last day of the world

I would want to plant a tree

what for

not for the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit

is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands

in the earth for the first time

with the sun already

going down

and the water

touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead

and the clouds passing

one by one

over its leaves

Merwin Conservancy

Text © 1988 by W.S. Merwin. Reproduced by permission of Georges Borchardt Inc. for the author. All rights reserved.

Information on the Arbor Day awards are online at

The work of the Merwin Conservancy is online at

What Songs

Jazz 2

What lips my lips have sung
and what kisses I’ve stung,
and why, I have forgotten
and recall not what crooked
arms have lain beneath
my head till morning; but
startled by rain I awaken,
appraise these ghosts that tap
a cord inside, rush upon my
emptied glass, listen for reply
and in my heart there stirs a quiet
pain for unremembered men
that thrill not again, who will
not turn to me at midnight with
a cry. Thus in winter stands
the lonely tree, lighter now
that birds have flown away
one by one, its boughs more
silent than before: I cannot
recall what loves have come
and gone, only that summer
sings in me no more.



Foghorns lowing in humid voices,
ward off terrible nights, just terrible,
rattling putty-loose panes in your
windows staring blindly at fronds
madly slapping at wind but you sleep
I had been sleeping, my brother
but now I am awake in my child’s
room in the night watching twinkle
lights on boats pitched in the bay’s
foamy throat, horns calling to us
to you lost
in fog wallowing into swells
it is as if your absence opens
the sea’s chasm now, it coughs,
and you still sleep with deep
meaning forever through the end,
carelessly listening to the foghorns
praying their baritone chorus over
a signal light flashing from voice
to voice and I tremble, pull the
coverlet taut across my child’s
breast and when I turn from
the window and from the restless
sea, from loss, from you, the room
fills with dark forest lush with vines
we’ve  never seen, frogs croaking
songs we’ve never learned, will
never know, but the anguish we’ll
never lose in the voices of engulfing
darkness, moaning your name
Richard and now that I am alone
I’m ready  to confess the awful pain
twisting my conceited heart it
was some trivial dispute that carries
me here, my arms full of ghosts,
of roses, to kneel at your feet
almost ready to see how at each
turning we grew and I chose this way,
this place and and you another but
now this, this converging of ocean
and earth with horns deeply chanting
I can keep going if I listen, if I feel
where I cannot breathe, if I will begin
without you, horns lowing your name
east through the fog,  to meet your
rising light standing at water’s edge
at this void beyond voids where
we’ll once again share our child songs
in this empty space where love speaks
in the fog, at this place, Land’s End.

Lighthouse fog

Richard Douglas Campbell (b) Sept. 10, 1951 – (d) July 29, 2014

Ash scattering, San Francisco Bay, Sept. 10, 2014

If A Real Clown Appeared

If A Real Clown Appeared

If a real clown appeared at the edges

of the fair, silly coat with golden buttons,

floppy hat and shoes, shiny hair and cut

off jeans, would  you laugh and stay or

run away or hide beneath a circus truck

pretending not too see? A midget pony

or juggler would be easier to explain,

you think. But, there’s nothing funny about

a girl clown, is there? And, if this she-clown

wore white gloves and hoisted a Japanese

parasol and you realized she had something

pressing to say, would you come and listen

or hunker in disgust? My friend recognized her

urgency, saw a woman out of context, random

and wearing a rope and painted frown,

eyes in permanent surprise. This clown said

she was looking for a home, a bed where

she could lie, a sink to wash her garish face,

and wondered what she’d find. Would you

give her these? Would you? Would you, like

my friend, smile and offer a hand? And, if you

were this clown, when you felt hesitation

in his grip, would you make a sad face, a parody

of comic art, and then depart or what? It turned

out right. I saw them walking in the park, him

leaning on a stroller, her twisting pink balloons 

for kids, while practicing her performance art.
Photo: 1980, Dixon CA Mayfair. For Davis Enterprise, first-person feature on becoming a circus clown. Poem inspired by Stephen Dunn’s poem “If A Clown,” The New Yorker, Aug. 24, 2009.