Sunday, January 31, 2010


Milestones can be happy or sad, personal or universal. The one I choose today, as a response to the Sunday scribblings prompt of Milestone, is a distant echo of the time when my brother's death left me the sole survivor of my family. I had mourned the deaths of father, mother, grandmother's, uncles and aunts. But I thought that my younger brother would always be there to share my memories of our experiences together.

Allen Sterling Jr.
Graduation from high school photo.

Berkeley is cool today
fog drifting through the redwood branches
and dimming far trees.
They have the subtle look of Japanese prints.
I hug my soft warm robe about me;
I’ve worn it now for more than twenty years,
this gift from you, my brother.
When long ago I undid its glittery Christmas wrappings
I saw it through my tears
Your generous heart had stopped
before you could bring my gift to the Christmas feast.
The long folds of the robe felt then
- and still feel now -
like your warm embrace.
The velvet plush is worn in spots,
embroidery designs on sleeve-ends almost gone.
I cuddle in it on this cool day
and think of you.

I remember not the man
you grew to be but you, my little brother:
with me in the back seat of the Chrysler,
our heads together as we slept away
the hot desert night,
motor hum our lullaby;
playing in the Tuolomne river at summer camp,
flirting with the dangerous rapids
with our swimming lesson over and lifeguard gone;
in the backyard with pierced-lid jars
to catch the bees that buzzed the blackberry bushes
- one point for each honeybee, five points for a bumblebee;
standing in the long line for the Saturday matinee
at the Oaks Theater - then -
the cartoon
the serial
Fox Movietone news
the sing-along with its little bouncing ball
and finally Tom Mix
- and you beside me, hardly noticed.

I thought you would always be there,
my younger brother
with whom I could remember.

Now I tightly wrap my plushy robe around me.

It keeps me warm.

Phyllis Sterling Smith

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Good Old Days

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is The Good Old Days. Click on link or logo to see how other bloggers responded to this prompt.

"Good Old Days" lasted through more or less 70 years of my life with Otto before his accidental death last May. That 70 years includes the years I knew him at Stanford as well as the 68 years we were married. But in deference to the prompt, I submit this re-created memory of a morning in 1940. I can find no pictures of Otto and me together in our college years. With no digital cameras in the "good old days", college students were stingy with their film. So here are two separate pictures of us to show how young we were at the time to which I refer in this poem, recently written (not even in my computer yet. I'll have to sidetrack this post while I write it into my file of poems).

Otto, spring of 1940

Phyllis, spring of 1940


Last night you held me
as raindrops pattered.

This morning
every puddle on the muddy path
reflects sky
shoots glints of sunlight
from its ripples.

Drops of last night’s rain
still cling to trees,
refract rainbows,

and every atom in me dances.

Phyllis Sterling Smith

I don't think I miss "the good old days" in most ways. I love computers, talking face to face (on Skype) with grandchildren in Brasil or Asia, designing with my graphics programs, and, of course, posting on this blog. What I do miss is Otto - and I wouldn't mind being young again. But, as one of our not-too-bright governors of California once said, "I look forward to the future with anticipation."

If you would like to see a few more of poems, go to my newly restored website Dragonhaven.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


The Sunday Scribblings prompt is "Extreme". This is a "walk" (quotation marks because I was in a wheelchair and others did the walking) last Thursday.

Our walk led to the extreme end of a little lost peninsula that extends into the bay. There are no roads there, and access to the start of its paths is difficult by auto unless one knows the way.

Otto pushes, Candace observes, I enjoy -
and keep camera on hand.

The peninsula has become a junk yard for discarded building materials. Here one can see evidences of extreme poverty, where the homeless have constructed their domiciles of abandoned culverts and pieces of junk lumber. On this blog you will see no photos of their structures, since we felt they deserved whatever privacy they could find in such circumstances. And, much to our surprise, we found evidence of humankind's extreme need for artistic expression.

Here are some of the materials the artists had at hand.

The first inkling of folk art appeared when we ("we" being son Otto, daughter Candace and her daughter, Myrtle, and me) had gone only a short distance along the shoreline path.

I like the yellow butterfly.

Next this colorful hillside of blocks and rocks appeared. Paint seemed to be available to the artists whether it was bought, found, or "liberated". All of our first encounters with art involved paint. The scuptures would come later.

This decorated rock was right around the corner
from the yellow faces.


Increased sophistication
the bumpier the path becomes!

Sculpture. Cute, but not exactly great art.

But then, because Otto was curious and wanted to see, before darkness fell and forced us to return to the trailhead, the end of a steep path leading down from the summit of the hill, this figure appeared over the crest.

Myrtle's approach to the kneeling figure gives one a sense of its scale.

Detail of hand.

Imploring what? A home, perhaps,
as condominium high-rises on the mainland
form a background to his plea?

And then we looked around us, here at land's end, and found a whole colony of clever sculptures constructed entirely of "junk". Here are a few of them.

The artist wields a piece of pampus grass as brush.

Dragon Rider.

Daughter Candace enjoying sculptures.

And the end of a delightful day, as dusk and gathering clouds accompany our retreat to where our car is parked. This is a tiny sampling of the found art that we encountered. I didn't scribble much for Sunday Scribblings, did I? I guess I have been thinking that the photos themselves speak of a universal extreme desire for self expression.