Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I've been told I need more laughter in my life. In that spirit and in the hope of a new year at least a bit less fraught than the last: How did I survive 36 years without knowing there was a video to this song.

Monday, December 30, 2013


And fell the unhappy King upon his knees,
And unto God at last he did complain,
Saying, "Lord God, what bitter things are these?
What hast thou done, that every man that sees
This wretched body, of my death is fain?
O Lord God, give me back myself again!

   "E’en if therewith I needs must die straightway.
Indeed I know that since upon the earth
I first did go, I ever day by day
Have grown the worse, who was of little worth
E’en at the best time since my helpless birth.
And yet it pleased thee once to make me King,
Why hast thou made me now this wretched thing?

   "Why am I hated so of every one?
Wilt thou not let me live my life again,
Forgetting all the deeds that I have done,
Forgetting my old name, and honours vain,
That I may cast away this lonely pain?
Yet if thou wilt not, help me in this strife,
That I may pass my little span of life,

   "Not made a monster by unhappiness.
What shall I say? thou mad’st me weak of will,
Thou wrapped’st me in ease and carelessness,
And yet, as some folk say, thou lovest me still;
Look down, of folly I have had my fill,
And am but now as first thou madest me,
Weak, yielding clay to take impress of thee."

William Morris, The Earthly Paradise

Sunday, December 29, 2013


I went to the zoo today, thanks to Loretta and Tom for a fun filled if damp day out. 

Forgive me, this song has been stuck in my head all day...

Friday, December 27, 2013


The angels got there, they will tell you 
They ran up the hill, singing a song the color of darkness,
Miriam Pollard, Where the Pictures Came From

Thursday, December 26, 2013


It seems that when the priest Gazan of the Tenryu Temple heard the story of Sasuke's self-immolation, he praised him for the Zen spirit with which he changed his whole life in an instant, turning the ugly into the beautiful, and said that it was very nearly the act of a saint. I wonder how many of us would agree with him.
Junichiro Tanizaki, A Portrait of Shunkin translation by Howard Hibbett

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

CCXII: Favola di Natale

Every now and then on Christmas I re-post a link to a translation I made a life time or two ago of La Favola Di Natale, by Giovanni Guareschi. A Christmas myth of war, loss and reunion, written while the author was a prisoner of war in Germany. I started translating it in July of 2001 in the midst of personal turmoil, and put it online that October, as bombs began to fall on Afghanistan.

From my original introduction:
I hope this translation provides enjoyment, and something to think about. It is a reminder that the God of Peace and the god of War are continually reborn, and it always remains for us to choose which is ours.
Pace agli uomini di buona volontà.

So here it is, unearthed from the fossil strata of my website:
My full introduction:
The Text:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Turkey Assembled for Real

I took advantage of the apocalypse heralding warm weather to get down to Teaneck Creek and permanently pin on the turkey's tail as well as tweaking the wolf. I may want to tweak some more. But for now the three animals are now officially, almost, more or less, done.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

CCVIII: Afraid

Nobody needs anyone
They don't even just pretend...
David Bowie, I'm Afraid of Americans

The video for I’m Afraid of Americans always makes me think of the song less as a satire on America and more as a meditation on fear, paranoia and the other.  Violence certainly begets violence, but (let no one tell you otherwise) violence is not an American monopoly.  More commonly, crazy people make you crazy. Here I think there is a case to be made that America, with its rootless economic nomadism and its conviction that only the above average are worth anything has a special claim on crazy.  Together, song and video reflect that danger in fear itself. What begins as a legitimate critique of obsession with empty pleasure and status ends as violent paranoid delusion. Reznor’s brilliant air machine gun (Wikipedia thinks it’s an assault rifle, but it’s clearly being fired full auto) is indeed just air. There’s a lot going on, but one message seems clear: the visionary or person of conscience risks loosing their own humanity as they begin to doubt that of others. The risk of this alienation is something of a preoccupation of mine. The topic makes me think of an older piece of mine:

All My Useless Outrage, oak, 2009

A fat naked man with a nasty smile could mean anything, (well a lot of things).  Here the title links it explicitly to our topic. Exhibiting the piece years ago I displayed it with this text:

"It was very hard to look at the world with such eyes. When you examined it coldly in this way, the claws of your eyes turned back into your head and tore it to pieces..."
Andre Schwartz Bart, A Woman Named Solitude 
My sculptures draw inspiration from a spectrum of European, African and Native American traditions of ritual woodcarving. Like these traditions, my work gives wooden body to spirits, and daemons, exploring hopes and horrors simultaneously personal and universal.
God may not like Ugly, but somehow he loves them. I don’t. When we look at the Ugly, in crude form, in coarse word, in cruel, selfish action, it forces us to react, sometimes with pity, more often with horror, disgust, violent rage; we tear ourselves apart in the process. 
A fat man, a self-satisfied Ugly American, is a call to contemplate not only the damage the Ugly does, but also how we are damaged, made Ugly ourselves as we look at the Ugly with hatred and match its violence with our own.
The epigraph is from a novel about a Caribbean slave revolt by Andre Schwartz-Bart (French resistance fighter, sole survivor of his family, better known for the Holocaust novel, Last of the Just). It describes the gaze of those watching the execution by torture of a fellow slave. The implication is that innocent or guilty, to look at the world with certain eyes is to lose part of our humanity.  All My Useless Outrage explored this idea on both a general and personal level, visibly and invisibly.  Wood carving is a time consuming art form, and it is easy to become precious about the product of one’s efforts.  In tension with, or rebellion against that I have a fascination with defacing the painstaking work of days, or months. Nails, holes, burning. My initial concept sketches for this piece incorporated this idea in a very particular way. Refraining became as much a part of the work as that intended marring, a reminder to respect our humanity by respecting the spark within the seemingly inhuman...

Friday, December 20, 2013


Terry Windling used this on her always enjoyable blog today, and it struck me enough I think I'll nick it over my own idea for the day...

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Mark Strand, Lines for Winter (from Selected Poems)

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Once in a dream (for once I dreamed of you)
    We stood together in an open field;
    Above our heads two swift-winged pigeons wheeled,
Sporting at ease and courting full in view.
When loftier still a broadening darkness flew,
    Down-swooping, and a ravenous hawk revealed;
    Too weak to fight, too fond to fly, they yield;
So farewell life and love and pleasures new.
Then, as their plumes fell fluttering to the ground,
    Their snow-white plumage flecked with crimson drops,
        I wept, and thought I turned towards you to weep:
    But you were gone; while rustling hedgerow tops
Bent in a wind which bore to me a sound
        Of far-off piteous bleat of lambs and sheep.
Christina Rossetti, On the Wing

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


For it does not pertain to the praise of the artist, as an artist, that he works with a certain disposition of will but rather, what is the kind of work that he produces.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


So much of what we live goes on inside–
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.
Dana Gioia, Unsaid, from Interrogations at Noon

Monday, December 16, 2013


'Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said that "Love is watching someone die"

So who's going to watch you die?..

Death Cab for Cutie, What Sarah Said

Sunday, December 15, 2013


...Nay, let thy sharp sword bide
Within its sheath, the world is fair and wide,
Nor have we aught to do to thee for this;
Go then in peace, and live in woe or bliss
E'en as though may'st, but stay with us no more.
Because we fear the gods may plague us sore
For this thy deed, though they would have it so.
William Morris, The Earthly Paradise

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Only Scrooge could fail to be enchanted by the combination of snow and lichen, especially if you pretend you're British and say it litchen...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Maybe my problems would be solved if I could grow a beard like this:

Monday, December 9, 2013


Sometimes a combination of topics hits you just so. The nexus of art, writing, poverty and religion in Heather King's recent blog post in response to Dana Gioia's First Things article certainly did that.  I've commented on it here before, but I certainly see a Catholic worldview in this tree stump vigil, the sense that if you stare long enough at the remains of a tragedy some concealed meaning will seep from the cracks in the universe and into your head. Here's hoping.

THOU art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


I've used it before in full, but somehow today's shot makes me think of the closing lines...
So shall a homeless time, though dimly
Catch from afar (for soul is watchfull)
A sight of tree-delighted Eden.
C.S. Lewis, The Future of Forestry

Saturday, December 7, 2013

CXCIV: Events

Below you can see a goodly amount of the smaller branches from the Cedar lane tree. They have now made their way to the yard of Country Wood Products in Westwood and are awaiting milling into slabs over the next couple days. Should be exciting to see the first finished boards...

Thursday, December 5, 2013


It's too late for me to come up with any clever quotes or thoughts, but something is stirring...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

CXCI: a little bit

It's the angels up above me
It's the song that they don't sing
It's a little bit of everything
Dawes, A Little Bit of Everything

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


A kind of interesting video posted recently by Robin Wood on his blog, nicely done, alas I think the simple good life is not quite as easy as buying a yurt...

Simply Yoav from Schwachter X-photography on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.  Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

Saturday, November 30, 2013


What are you doing, Simon? Here's a man dying in misery and you take fright and pass him by? Have you grown rich, maybe? Do you fear they'll steal your treasures?
Leo Tolstoy, What Men Live By

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Happy Thanksgiving and Hanukkah all


--it was a feast indeed. For once on a holiday, not one of the family circle over-indulged. Usually our Italian neighbors are so neighborly that they offer our weaker brethren hospitality in the way of wine and grappa and the result is maudlin sentimentality if not pugnacity on their part and wrath on mine. But this day was indeed a day of cheer...

Dorothy Day, Thanksgiving Dinner and Other Things

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CLXXXIV: a railroad car

Romero got married on the fifth of July
In our Lady of Immaculate Dawn
Could have got married in the revival man's tent
But there ain't no reviving what's gone
Slipped like a shadow from the family he made
In a little white house by the woods
Dropped the kids at the mission, with a rose for the virgin
She knew he was gone for good

It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg
And that's still a long way from the place where we are
And if evil exists, it's a pair of train tracks
And the devil is a railroad car

Could have stayed somewhere but the train tracks kept going
And it seems like they always left soon
And the wolves that he ran with moaned low and painful
Sang sad miseries to the moon

It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg
And that's still a long way from the place where we are
And if evil exists, it's a pair of train tracks
And the devil is a railroad car

Rose at the altar withered and wilted
Romero sank into a dream
He didn't make Heaven, he didn't make Harrisburg
He died in a hole in between
Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train

Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


 I hate quotes without a citation, but I was reading an artist interview quoting it, and it stuck with me today. Definitely says something similar in On Fairy Tales, Google fails to yield immediate wisdom...

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . . If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.
J.R.R. Tolkien.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Such is our way of thinking—we find beauty not in the in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, the one thing against another creates. 
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Management has Spoken

After last weeks reinforced concrete Marian apparition I was surprised to see myself in the church bulletin today:

The shrine had been cleared out, and honestly looks much more subdued and fall appropriate in the way I envisioned it. Still, the plastic flowers and one handed Mary showed someone else cared. (I checked, one handed Mary is safe and sound in the back.) It made me think of a piece I'd written about the shrine, musing about artistic intention and its collision with real life. Since as far as I know it was never used for the intended purpose no reason not to recycle it.

About a year ago I completed a religious commission, a blessed mother outside a church in New Jersey. I built a raw wood shrine housing a life size figure of Mary carved from a dead pine tree that stood on the spot. I’d approached it with a rustic, eco art influenced aesthetic.  It was my own parish, and I thought I understood the context pretty well.  Instead, the emergence of this outdoor shrine, outside the direct control of the priests, provided an outlet for traditions of devotion I am familiar with, but had never seen in my own home parish. I've been disconcerted to find this very intentionally earthy statue constantly festooned with various plastic debris. Metallic tinted Christmas bells, tinsel, plastic rosaries, fake flowers in various unearthly hues have all taken up residence. It would be hard to imagine something further from my original intention.  I’m still constantly adapting the piece, rearranging these offerings, (removing items only on rare occasions) adjusting landscaping (and battling with grounds people with weed whackers).  This works because I’m not an outside consultant, but someone with an ongoing relationship with the space. Maybe more importantly, though it is not my aesthetic, I have some understanding of this form of devotion, powerfully associated for me with childhood memories of Italy and cemetery visits with my grandparents to the graves of my great grandparents and uncle, faded plastic flowers and cracked marble crypts. Experience allows me to respect even what I would rather not have around.  I don’t think any generic virtue whether of talent or open mindedness can replace that kind of experience...


Quite agree, quite agree, too silly, far too silly...
Monty Python, Dead Parrot Skit

Saturday, November 23, 2013

CLXXX: Where to?

You'll have to trust me there is a tree stump back there...

And shall I not be safe from men-folk there,
Thou cruel King, when she is guarding me,
The mighty maid from whom the shepherds flee,
When in the gathering dusk 'twixt day and night,
The dead leaves tell them of her footsteps light,
Because they mind how dear Actaeon bought
The lovely sight for which he never sought,
Diana naked in the water wan.
William Morris, The Earthly Paradise

Friday, November 22, 2013


If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Now, I am a backstreet driver from America
I am not at the wheel of control
I am guilty, I am war I am the root of all evil
Lord, and I can't drive on the left side of the road.
Nanci Griffith, It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CLXXVII: words to live by

Be brave at the trial! Blame everything on me alone! And whatever the judge will ask you, say one thing: I was drunk, I don't remember anything.  Michail Bulgakov, Bliss