Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Nora is only three years old but she knows a good poem when she hears one. Especially one that was written for her—that was inspired by her very being. The poem was written by her father, Brad Buchanan, and is titled, “The Bubblegum Baby.”

The Bubblegum Baby

Her cheeks are so full
of themselves, they blow
up to such succulent shapes,
so pink and palpably delicate,
packed with a truculent
sweetness that bursts
when her breath tears its shell,
that we must choose
not to chew her too hard;
meanwhile she gives us
such jowls for our kisses
that it’s deliciously possible
to forget there are any
bones in her at all,
though she gums her own fist
and finds there are limits
to malleability, even in girls.

Brad says, Nora can recite parts of this poem—with prompting. If she gets excited, though, she cuts to the ending. She doesn’t know the difference between “succulent” and “truculent,” and pronounces each her own way, and she loves to say “malleable.” Based on this report, I’d say she’s a true connoisseur of poetry and language. She “gets it.”

Last week, Brad read “The Bubblegum Baby” and other poems at the Book Collector in Sacramento’s Midtown. The reading celebrated the release of Brad’s second book-length collection of poems, Swimming the Mirror. This collection is inspired by Nora, including the prenatal idea of Nora, and is published by Roan Press. Which was the other reason for celebration.

Swimming the Mirror
is the first offering from Roan Press, a small literary press established by Brad and his wife, Kate Washington. Roan Press aims to fill a niche in Sacramento’s vibrant literary community by publishing book-length collections of poetry, as well as fiction, essays, and memoir (contact info: Roan Press, P.O. Box 160406, Sacramento, CA or by email to

The entire event was a real delight. Not only does Brad write good poems, he reads them well, too. He was expressive, emotive, and engaging. There were several poems he didn’t read, though. Poems, he said, “that make me weep openly.” But he did read another of Nora’s favorites before the night was over. A poem, he said, “she gets.” Nora calls it “Eyelashes.” Short for “Her First News of Eyelashes.”

Her First News of Eyelashes

are like brushes
on the outside
of your skin.

They comb the air
before it gets in
close enough
to form a tear.

So if you’re ever
very sad
because a good
friend isn’t there,
just blink your eyes
as fast as you can.

All the breezes
will pass by
without a single sigh,
so pure
that you won’t cry
unless you stare.

Several years ago, my niece invited me to be her third-grade class’s “guest poet.” It was a real challenge to find poems to read and talk about—with a roomful of exceptionally bright kids—that would lend themselves to a basic discussion of poetics, and engage both children and adults. I wish I had “Eyelashes” with me that day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


“I do not lend books to friends. I do not want to lose
my friends, nor my books. E. W.”

Being a book lover, I understood the hand-written sign photographer Edward Weston posted on the bookshelf over his roll-top desk. I was downright curmudgeonly, too, when it came to lending books—yet I managed to lose a book and a friend along the way. The book was Zorba the Greek. My friend (yeah, that’s you, Rich) simply couldn’t comprehend that the hardback edition I’d received as a gift was anything more than just another book. I remember watching both the book and the friend drive away toward Salt Lake City and wondering if I’d ever see either one of them again.

My attitude toward book-lending was adjusted when I met a genuinely generous man named Tom McCord. I met Tom at his home on a rural acreage in the Pine Creek Valley, Halfway, Oregon. He and his wife Nancy were childhood friends of my friend, Bill Baird.

The summer before Bill died, Bill’s son Larry and I took him back to his childhood home for a visit. Larry told me these three friends were a real delight to be around. They were that and more. When they got back together, in their early 90s and in various states of health, they were still the kids they were in the 1920s. Sparkly-eyed high-schoolers.

Tom had an extensive library of World War II books. He served in the artillery and fought at the Battle of the Bulge and beyond. Brutal experiences that made me ache to think about what that fine person endured. Nancy told stories of Army wives following their husbands from base to base during their stateside training. She told of towing a thirty-foot trailer behind their Pontiac, newborn in the front seat, toddler scrambling around in the back. These women established trailer camps to avoid the price gouging opportunistic landlords inflicted on their migrant families. It was a part of the war that people don’t want to talk about, Nancy said. I promised I’d come back and write their story down.

But let’s get back to Tom’s library. Tom had a semi-formal lending system based on index cards and he said that anyone who came to visit left with a book. I couldn’t imagine going back to California with someone else’s book, so I declined as politely as possible. Before we drove away, Tom asked once again if I was sure I didn’t want to borrow a book. “That way,” he said, “I know you’ll come back to visit.” Tom and Nancy died before I had the chance to return to Halfway. How I wish I had borrowed a book and made that trip back.

For more about Halfway and that trip, see my March 2006 posting, "Remembering Halfway, Oregon & Richard Hugo."