Monday, October 27, 2008

O is for Oak

O My, O My! Denise Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday round 3 (with comments) and ABC Wednesday Anthology have passed the halfway mark and are all the way to the letter O.

This is a watercolor landscape of a California live Oak
that I painted in the hills back of the Stanford campus
many years ago. The photograph of the painting was
made only yesterday, however, when I found the painting
languishing among used boards in an under-the-stairs closet.

More Bragging

Mad Kane posted a haiku in response to the Sunday Scribblings' prompt of bragging. I thought it deserved a limerick too.

At times when my self-worth is sagging
I still can find reasons for bragging:
My kids get all “A”s
My husband wins praise
And I brag that it’s due to my nagging.

Don't take this literally. My "kids" are grandparents now, and the only thing I ever nag Otto about is to get him to rest a bit. He wins praise and honors all on his own!

Friday, October 24, 2008

My Brag

Be sure to click on this if you want to read it.

Today’s prompt from Sunday Scribblings is (word for word): "I don't like myself. I'm CRAZY ABOUT MYSELF!" -- Mae West. This week: bragging. What's awesome about you? You can pick one awesome thing, or list as many as you can. Don't be shy!

Well, I peeked at some of the posts already linked to the SS site, and I suspect, from my small sampling, that most people are going to make jokes about either their humility or false humility. How PC can you get? Yes, I know we’re taught that bragging isn’t “nice”.

But I have one thing at which I am so first-rate at that I intend to blow my own horn about it!

I am second-rate at any number of things. I am a second-rate poet, novelist, essayist, and artist, although I like to think that I’m fairly good at all of them. I feel successful as a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother; but surely I share these types of success with millions of other women, even as I take great satisfaction from them.

So what is this one talent that I am willing to brag about unabashedly? It is the translation of poetry from a foreign language into English.

Jorge de Sena was a Portuguese poet and patriot exiled from his own country because of his opposition to the dictatorial Salazar regime. He fled first to Brazil, then, when the political climate there became unfavorable, to the United States, where at the time of his death he was head of the Department of Portuguese Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
As Evidencias, his book that I translated, was described by Sena as “a poem in twenty-one sonnets.” He wrote it while still in Portugal, where it was censored pre-publication as “obscene”. It is true that his angry descriptions of the ruling junta can be interpreted as obscene.
...What things are you?-Less than human, coarse
vile, slimy and crustaceous, mongrels born...
But other of these sonnets are tender and full of love as the poet contemplates the dangers facing his beloved humanity and its world. I am proud of my work of translation.

This, my only published book of translations, was bilingual - Portuguese to the left, English to the right. Here is the final pair of sonnets made doubly poignant by Sena’s own life. Finally Salazar was gone from Portugal and the way seemed clear for Sena to return to his beloved country. He was still packing to go there when he was diagnosed with rapidly advancing lung cancer and died shortly after.

Be sure to click on this if you want to read it.

Yes, I’m only a second-rate poet, but I’m still rather proud of the sonnet below which was included in my preface to the book. Isabel de Sena is the poet’s daughter and my friend and collaborator. She had planned a reception during spring break for some of us Berkeleyites to meet her father and mother, but the event had to be abruptly canceled after her father’s diagnosis.
To Jorge de Sena
I almost shook your hand one Eastertide.
1 thought to meet you, father of my friend,

- a hope to which your illness put an end-
nor had I read your poems before you died.

For fifteen years and more since then I’ve tried

to feel with your emotions and to lend

to you my eyes, my ears, my skin - to bend

my tongue to Portuguese, to live inside

your mind, your nerves, your passions, and to seek

freedom from tyrants with your indignation,

the sad deep vein of rage with which you wrought

tenderness and a voice for who can’t speak.

Through dark mirrors of inexact translation

I strive to resurrect your living thought.

Phyllis Sterling Smith

Monday, October 20, 2008

N is for Novelty

Denise Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday round 3
and ABC Wednesday Anthology have progressed to N.
For other N views click on the above links.

Every time that Otto and I go to the Monterey Market we encounter something new in the way of fruits or vegetables. On our Friday shopping trip, we saw the following:

This photo of Otto is no trick shot. He is crouched so that the children climbing on the pumpkin pile behind him (beyond the wire mesh) can be seen. This was the largest pumpkin I have ever seen outside of a newspaper or magazine photo.

These are a few of the children in the background the previous photo.

These were labeled as Swan Pumpkins, but I think they are actually gourds as there was a warning of "For decorative use only". They certainly qualify as novel!

These decorative gourds aren't exactly a novelty, although there are always a few with which I am unfamiliar when they appear each autumn. I love them as a centerpiece for Thanksgiving dinner, but is there anything sadder than a gourd that's still around during the December holidays?

And there was this strange broccoli that I purchased, then, after I brought it home and had worlds of time, photographed it out of focus! No excuse. I had never seen this variety. I haven't cooked it yet, but can aver that it smells like broccoli.

And lastly I can't resist adding this photo of the huge pumpkin pile and one exhausted little shopper. Picking the pumpkin for one's Jack-o'-lantern is such hard work!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Speking and Spelling

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is My Style.

Du u prefur fonetics?

Since I'm no fashion plate when it comes to clothes, I choose to write about another kind of style.

My father used to tell this story:

There was once a college in the middle west that had a winning football team for the first time in many years. It was in contention for the the regional conference title. This had so pleased the alumni that there had been an unusual numbers of large grants and directed funds to the university. The president of the university was beside himself with joy. And if the Big Game was won on the coming Saturday, cinching the title, much more money could be expected.

The football coach also was delighted. He was making a real reputation for himself. Much of it was due to the brilliant player, Joth Anon, the most essential player in every game.

There was also in this university a young English instructor who didn’t follow the fortunes of the team, nor would he have changed his standards of grading even if he had. Joth Anon was enrolled in one of his classes. And Joth Anon was flunking. The instructor issued the usual warning. This warning meant that Joth Anon was barred from athletic teams until he made a passing grade in the class.

Joth came to his coach, almost in tears, and explained the situation.

His coach, almost in tears, went to the university president, and explained the situation. The president and the coach, almost in tears, went to the English instructor and explained the situation.

The instuctor didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation. “I had to flunk Joth; he has never turned in a single paper, nor has he taken any tests. I’m not sure that I even know who he is or whether he has ever attended the class.”

The president reminded him that he was soon up for tenure.

“Well,” the instructor compromised, “I’ll pass him if he turns in one perfect paper of, say, a thousand words. I would insist that the composition be done in my presence so that I know it is his own work.”

“One thousand words? Isn’t that excessive?”

“Five hundred?” the instructor ventured.

“One hundred?”

“Too much!”

Finally, in desperation, the instructor suggessted, “One twelve letter word, perfectly spelled?”

“Make it a six letter word, and you can’t really demand perfect spelling. How about one correct letter in it?”

The instructor agreed, and they called Joth to the office and explained what he would have to do to get a passing grade.

Feeling utterly defeated, the instructor said, “Spell ‘coffee’.”

Joth scratched his head thoughtfully for quite a while. Then he started. “K--A--W...” He thought a little longer; then his face brightened and he finished, “P-H-Y.”

More than one of my four children, those who were not brilliant at spelling, became early proponents of simplified English spelling. Now I’ll admit that when I am in a hurry to write an urgent message that I’ll sometimes use thru and tho, although (there’s another one I sometimes use--altho), but I also correct them if I am, say, sending out a manuscript. In general, though, I find myself an opponent of any tampering with the English language. Our heritage of words from different roots makes for a clarity of meaning that could be easily lost by simplification.

In other words, I believe in a wordw-r-i-g-h-t’s r-i-g-h-t to w-r-i-t-e about any strange r-i-t-e that catches her fancy. One of my sons solved the problem of spelling these same-sounding words by using w-r-i-g-h-t-e for any one of them, undoubtedly with the hope that by covering all bases he would please his teacher.

Now, it might be possible to discern the meaning of a phrase with this spelling--a wordrite’s rite to rite about any strange rite. Even so, I don’t know how the spelling simplifier would manage the a-n-g-e sound in s-t-r-a-n-ge, which is hardly a simple phonetic pronunciation.

There are many other words that would have ambiguous meanings if spelled phonetically--site and sight, for instance. “The Sierras are a wonderful s-i-t-e.” Does this mean that you should take your camera there or that it’s a good place to build your summer cabin? (The simplified spelling purist would probably write that as “thu Sieras ar a wundurful site”)

If one goes to the s-e-e, is he at the ocean or visiting the bishop?

“That second-hand store specializes in r-u-f-f clothing.” Does this mean rough canvas jeans for scrambling over rocks, or does it mean formal clothes with a ruff on the tuxedo shirt?

And what about those two words, error and errer which most of us, rightly or wrongly, pronounce alike? How does one distinguish the mistake from the person who makes the mistake?

And if foot is simplified to fut, would boot be distinguishable from but or butt?

Yes, I know that it’s hard for an elementary school student to master the tough lessons of spelling rough, cough, though, through, thought and bough.

I’ll still stick to my precise, multi-faceted, expressive English language.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

M is for Mountain

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday round 3
and ABC Wednesday Anthology
have progressed to the letter M.

As we flew along the Cascade Range through the states of Washington, Oregon and (Northern) California, my camera was in constant use. My problem, when I later looked at my shots, is that I am not sure which mountain is which. I'll try to guess in some labels!

Mt. Rainier.


I'm pretty sure that this is Mount St. Helens,
showing the devastation of the eruption.

Could this be Mount Shasta
in Northern Cakifornia?

This picture of grandson Byron Shock in the Swiss Alps
was snapped by one of his parents.

And this should be a lesson to me keep better files!

Monday, October 6, 2008

L is for lilies

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday Round 3
has progressed to the letter L.
Here you will find links to many other L posts.
L entries without comments can be seen on
ABC Wednesday Anthology.

These spectacular stargazer lilies are ones I bought rather than growing.

This is my favorite fragrant Oriental lily

A simple day lily

Peace lily, one of my house plants,
given to me by Sue Taylor more than 30 years ago.

Even this buck enjoys smelling the lilies.
This is the same buck I showed you 3 weeks ago
but is a different photo of him.

Friday, October 3, 2008


The above is a tapestry by Lucas Cranach the Elder

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is forbidden.

Eve's Lament For Eden

It's not the perfumed flowers that I miss,
juice-heavy fruits
to pluck from every tree.
No, I miss Wolf, his head upon my knee
and brush of wings as Sparrow pecked a kiss.

Remember Lion beside us, purring bliss?
Hyena on her back, paws waving free?
The friendly bleats and growls surrounded me.
For one forbidden sweet I lost all this.

Even the sneaky snake would deign to speak.
He lied, but then he didn't cut us dead
- a metaphor - not as the beasts now do
in bloody fact. Hoof-slash and rending beak
they rip each other's flesh; their fangs drip red.
I sinned; but, God, must they be banished too?

Phyllis Sterling Smith
(Granny Smith)