The Cloth of Gold Beneath the Sackcloth of Ordinary Reality


Everthing About Me Was Screaming to Be Recognized

There are lots of ways to describe what this website is up to. It’s about somehow or other getting “an intense vision of the facts,” as the poet William Carlos Williams called the process. The philosopher Pierre Tielhard de Chardin said “to see or to perish” is the bottom line for every single sentient being – such as us humans. Or you could call it finding a way to focus “the beam of attention” as much as possible every day all day. So how to pull that off? My English students at Diablo Valley College used to try strategies for that. Their reflections, which they shared with each other, often described their results. One of them delighted me with what he said about his trip down to the tide pools around Moss Beach on the Coast.

Here’s the part that struck me:

Just Waiting to Be Understood and Have Recognition

But to my surprise everyone and everything was beautiful when I got to the beach. The sun was shining and the tide was out. The place was truly waiting for us. It knew we were coming and had a fabulous show waiting for us. I could hardly wait to get to the bottom of the hill and look around in the water. The life of the sea fascinates me. There are strange and beautiful things there just waiting to be understood and have recognition in our world. Well, I don’t pass them by. I stop and say hello every time I’m down there. —  Mike


I Stop and Say Hello

Well, as they usually did, students read each others’ reflections, and Gary wrote that Mike’s reflection had triggered an epiphany!

Here’s his response:

Ah, The Center of a Different Kind of Universe!

It’s the wildest idea I have ever had in my life. I had considered the idea that all things derive their meaning a purpose from man, for he defines them. This is the concept that man is the measure of all things. As I perceive things, they are to me just that. That puts me in the center of the universe, MY universe, whose boundaries extend as far as I desire them to go and include those objects and people I make significant to me.

Screaming to Be Recognized and Be Given Meaning

Mike put a completely new twist on the theory, and it was like turning on the light and finding that I had always been in the dark before. It was simply a new angle I had never considered before, but once the bend was made, everything became straight. It was a case of putting an old idea into a new arrangement and coming out with a new one. It is a whole new set of vibrations. It is like discovering a whole new set of frequencies that I never new existed before. Everything around me is screaming at me to be recognized and given meaning and to be freed from non-being. Everything is reaching out to me, straining and stretching and pleading. I gain a completely new and real importance, and I think for the first time I have really became the center of my own universe. — Gary

A Feeling of Ownership

And my own reflection?

Well, thanks, Mike and Gary. You remind me there’s a feeling of ownership in realizing that when I get up this morning I get to make the sun come up, just like Orpheus, not yesterday’s cliché of a sun but this new one, this sun has never, ever been in existence till I laid eyes on it, till I laid my full beam of attention on it. I’m in charge, and everything lights up with my attention and thanks me by making my world larger. And the stronger my beam, the more illumined that being becomes. It’s up to me, isn’t it? It’s my job. My cereal, my milk, my fly buzzing where it’s not supposed to be – I get to liberate them from non-being. I’m in charge. “Does anyone ever realize life, every, every minute?” asks Emily in Our Town. “The saints and poets maybe. They do some,” she is told. Well, why should saints an poets have all the fun? Move over, here comes my sun.

How about you, reader of this post?


Going To and Fro on the Earth, and Walking Up and Down on It — Looking for Poems


Mount Diablo — 3849 Feet

I Brought Back All the World on My Face

Dear McKowen: I have spent a Sunday up on the mountain of Diablo: Motorcycling up and down, looking at the scenic view . . . I brought back all the world on my face–cheeks set aglow by sunset sky, planes, hawks, people, woods, horses, spring flowers and wind.

Years ago I found those words in a reflection of Lupe, a student of mine, from Puerto Rico, at Diablo Valley College. No wonder I enjoyed my work. Let’s make Lupe’s reflection look more like a poem:

           Dear McKowen

I have spent a Sunday
up on the mountain of Diablo:
Motorcycling up and down,
looking at the scenic view.
I brought back all the worldimages
on my face–cheeks set aglow


by sunset sky, planes, hawks,
people, woods, horses,
spring flowers and wind

How does that look? Any better?

This makes me think of a class I had with some students one morning years ago. I remember putting a poem of William Carlos Williams on the chalkboard one day and pretending–just for fun, but more than that too–that I had written it to my wife and had left it on the refrigerator that morning.

Plums Realms

So I asked the students if they thought Ruth should forgive me. Shouldn’t she be glad I ate the plums? They discussed that back and forth for a while. Some thought it was pretty sneaky.

Then I asked if I could get away with telling Ruth that my note was actually a poem? Maybe she’d go for it? Did they think my note was a poem? Come on!

Well, what if I had typed it up and arranged the words like this:

                                                  THIS IS JUST TO SAY

imagesI have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I thought she ought be damned glad to have such a swell husband even if he did eat the plums. (I did later  confess that William Carlos Williams was actually the guilty party.)

And along that same line of thought I asked if, say, someone had written a note like that instead of writing a regular reflection, should I forgive him or her? And I played around with that a while: Is he or she “getting it” – getting what the study of our language and its literature is all about? I asked. Isn’t eating a delicious plum, whether school keeps or not, precisely the same thing as reading a delicious poem?


A Delicious Poem

Remember when Piglet asked Pooh, “When you get up in the morning, Pooh, what’s the first thing you think about?” And Pooh says, “What’s for breakfast? And what do you think about, Piglet?” “I wonder what exciting is going to happen today,” says Piglet. Pooh ponders that and then says, “It’s the same thing.”

Pooh and Piglet

It’s the same thing.

Get it?

There are delicious plums right under our noses – wonder moments – lying about on sidewalks and in the dust balls under the bed – everywhere. And as Auntie Mame said to Patrick when things looked dour, “ Remember, my little love, life is a banquet, and some poor bastards are practically starving to death!”


Life is a banquet.

It’s a matter