ALL FIGURED OUT

Want in on my Master Plan?
Come closer and listen to me.
Because the blueprint of it’s now taking shape
Oh so satisfactorally.

When’s it start, my Master Plan?
Well don’t worry it won’t be long now.
Just know by the end life will be so sweet
We’ll sweat candy bars from our brows.

Before that part, the Master Plan middle
Involves espionage and boats,
Action car chases, exotic horse races,
Fine jewelry, machine guns, fur coats.

What’s the Master Plan Step 1, you ask?
Simple: win the lottery.
Huh?
Well….
…..guess what…
If you’re gonna’ roll on the floor laughing at it,
Then out of the Plan you can be.

Lighting in a Bottle – New Orleans

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WINDING DOWN WINTER: A Steller Story from Hamilton, NJ

The remarkable GROUNDS FOR SCULPTURE is like no place I’ve ever been.  Part museum, part botanical gardens, this indoor/outdoor art gallery contains the realistic and abstract, the sublime and ridiculous.  As remarkable as the space looked during my visit, I left thinking that I could probably enjoy entirely different experiences of it in the spring, summer, or fall ; in the early morning or by the light of the scattered lampposts and landscape lights.  So large and diverse is the installation, that every trip there seems as though it would offer something unique.

On the afternoon I spent at this world class exhibition — tucked into a quiet, central New Jersey town between Trenton and Princeton — the plants on the snow covered landscape were still shivering, but doing so with their leaves turned optimistically toward the sun.  The scenes produced by the intersection of the natural and man-made artwork on that Eve of Spring inspired my latest STELLER STORY, readable by clicking on the photo below.

Click the photo above to view scenes from the Grounds for Sculpture.

THE LOOKS AROUND

There are almost no places
Where there are no faces
Even in the cases
Of in-between spaces

Like the Frowning-Big Tree
His acting has no range
Which isn’t so strange:
Bark expressions don’t change.

Or the Tractor-Wheel Elf
While his view always spins
That strong rubber chin
Won’t let sickness set in.

Perry is the given name
of Snowy-House Face.
While the world to summer always wants to race
He for hot weather forever must brace.

Yes, even while you
sit at work thinking
The-Face-In-The-Drop-Ceiling-Tiles
is blinking.

Take it from me
the Garden-Stone Grump
I may look like a rock-headed chump
But I’ve gathered perspective here from my rump:

Ungaze from the obvious, like Mr. Moon,
Don’t let on the foreground your focus last
And slowly at first but before long fast
Will appear all the faces you used to rush past.

NOTE:  To see this poem with photos in the STELLER STORY format in which it originally appeared, click here.  

WINTORY LAP

On the shortest day of the year
The sun takes an extra long lunch,
So long it doesn’t end until
Almost the next day’s brunch.

Head lights and night lights get lots of action
The day of the year that’s shortest.
While that day more than any other is for
golf clubs and lawn mowers the boredest.

It seems like it should be relaxing and yet
There’s always so much around you,
On the year’s shortest day, falling as it does,
Right about when the holidays do.

Still songs like “Oh, What a Night” or “Thank
the Lord for the Nighttime” spread cheer,
Of how happy folks get after early sunset
On the shortest day of the year.

shortest_edit

Among everything else it is, the shortest day of the year is half a calendar away from its cousin the longest day of the year.

MOON TAKER

As they headed home from Nana’s house
late one clear, dark night,
Fred said to his Mom and Dad,
“See the moon there,
big and bright?

Could I pretty please this once
take it home with me?”
“Why, Fred,” his mother said,
“that idea sure is…….
lovely.

“And maybe you could,” she said,
“But how will you reach and get the moon?”
“How I get the kickball from the garage top shelf,”
Fred said,
“by knocking it down with the broom.”

“That sounds good,” said Fred’s Dad,
“but how’ll you catch it when it falls?”
“Easy,” said Fred,
“in Baby Jane’s old crib
where we keep all her dolls.”

“And just where would you keep the Moon,” Dad asked,
“once we got it to our place?”
“No problem,” Fred said,
“I’ll clear out my big wagon,
the red one, to make some space.

Then I can drive the moon around,
and show him our whole street.
The way he’s movin’ above the trees,
makes me think
he thinks seein’ stuff is neat.”

“Well that’s just it,” Fred’s Dad said
as their house came into sight.
“Here we are, back from Nana’s,
and the moon’s still with us,
big and bright.

That makes me think the moon loves traveling
just like you have guessed.”
“So, maybe,” Fred’s Mom said,
“leaving him to roam the sky
would be best.

And the next night that we’re out like this
and see the moon again,
I’ll bet he’ll hang out with us some more,
to prove, once more,
we’re friends.”

Fred gazed up at the sky and thought
about what his Mom and Dad had said.
“Yes, maybe you’re right,” he told them,
“I’m tired.
And the moon doesn’t quite look ready for bed.”

moon_edit

CORNER OF WORD

Not quite as far out as

Where the sidewalk ends

Is where Word Street into

Other Word Street bends.

And at that intersection

Is a Dutch French Horn

And a squirrel swirl

And a torn acorn,

And a Bizarre Bazaar

And a big clinched couch

And Dorian DeLorean

In a crazyman crouch,

Holding over his head

A zydeco xylophone

To play a song for Aunt Cake

Louder than a cyclone,

Or a superbomb blast

From an Arctic typhoon

Howling over the surface

Of a baboon lagoon.

And inevitably when

That sound causes debris,

What acceptable receptacle

Will there possibly be?

Well that stripe of insight

Might be too great an onus

To expect even from

Wizened Old Bonus Jonas.

But there where Word Street bends

To Other Word Street

The junction’s real function’s

Clear as a snare beat:

To be a place friendly

to sound percolation

And weird letter unions,

night, day, and morn,

A magic locale of

twinkling tongue twisters,

the spot on the map

where poems may be born.

painttable_edit

CAN’T BE LICKED

All day I could eat ice cream

Then still have more at night

To say there is a time I can’t eat ice cream

is not right.

That’s why in all my belt loops

I hook on sixteen spoons,

It’s why at my house there’s

Ten freezers in each room

And toppings stashed inside the pocket

Of each coat I own

And why I’m working on a way

To eat ice cream through my phone.

Ice cream may not be perfect

But it’s very very close

So to sundaes, cones, and chipwiches,

Let’s raise an ice cream toast.

licked_edit

STROLLING THE $1 MILLION STAIRCASE: A Steller Story from Albany, NY

Due to the boundaries of conventional photography, it’s necessary to see the Grand Canyon in person if you want to have any real sense of it.  Even then, the limitations of the human eyeball and depth perception make it challenging to compute what exactly it is that’s before you.  The scale. The structure.  The origin story.  They combine to form something like nothing else, and so by definition, laying eyes on it is a moment for which you cannot be prepared.  Even as you’re looking at the Canyon, it’s hard to know where to direct your eyes first, next, or last.  The result can be a sort of dizzying rush of astonishment and adrenaline.

As man made things go, the $1 Million Staircase — located in the New York State Capitol Building in Albany, NY — sent my head into similar spaces.  Capturing a photograph that could successfully illustrate both the massiveness and nuance of the Stairs seemed impossible.  In an effort to instead take a series of mental snapshots, every neck contortion and eye swivel I could muster felt insufficient.  There was simply too much to the space, also referred to in Capitol parlance as The Great Western Staircase, to feel like I’d seen or digested it all.  To try and add it up as I walked it was to be transported into a real-life composite of MC Escher artwork, someplace at once concrete and impossible.

The Staircase is a singular sight with a remarkable story ; for someone interested in art, architecture, or history, it’s an absolute must-see.  And believe it or not, the tour is free ; not a bad deal for a look at something priceless that may just leave you speechless.

For a sneak peek and more on how the $1 Million Staircase came to be, read my Steller Story on it by clicking the photo below.

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 11.21.26 PM

To see The $1 Million Staircase inside the historic New York State Capitol Building via @StellerStories, click on the image above.

YOU CAN’T, LEAF!

You there, leaves,

Back on the trees!

You may NOT yet come down

And blanket the ground!

You must help us stall

The beginning of fall,

Because the end of summer

Would be such a bummer.

So up, up, you go

To those branches you know,

Back up in place,

This isn’t a race!

Then in one month feel free

To LEAP off the trees,

Right now I can’t take

The thought of a rake.

AUTUMNA NON GRATA - (Photo - PaC)

AUTUMNA NON GRATA – (Photo – PaC)

MANTISIZING

For what does the poolside mantis pray?

An umbrella drink,

A chameleon who’ll play?

Some clouds to give shade

From the heat of the day?

The salty breeze

Of a distant bay?

To escape the view

Of the hungry blue jay?

The showers of April

The flowers of May?

The observers’ wonder

But the mantis won’t say

For if anything what

By the poolside he prays.

prayingmantis_pac_edit

(Photo: PaC)

PUDDLE VISION

When storm clouds clear
And Mom lets us outside
There’s just one thing that I see,
I’ll confide:

Not rainbows, although,
They’re certainly pretty.
Not the fresh sunbeams
That are drying the city.

Not the wet worms
Not the drenched cars or trees,
Not the once again buzzing about
Birds or bees.

While all of that stuff
Might make others’ focus muddled,
After rainstorms I only
Have eyes for puddles.

And when I get home
None of me clean or dry
Mom shakes her head
And wonders why,

“Why is it in puddles
You must run with such glee?”
“I can’t help it,” I say,
“They’re all that I see.”

puddlejump_edit2

MERRY LITTLE PUDDLE JUMPER – Ocean City, NJ 2015 (Photo – PaC)

 

PRECISION MATTERS

It could be the space at the back of a car

It could be the spine of a tree,

It could contain a clog of elephant snot

or treasure lost under the sea.

Which proves that descriptions sometimes

Are all we have to not be sunk

Because on highways, in forests, in jungles, ‘neath oceans

A trunk’s not a trunk’s not a trunk.

monstershadow_edit

SO WHICH IS IT: Monster Shadow or Shadow Monster? (Photo – PaC)

SHORT STORY

Dad smiled,
“Summer’s out of mothballs, kids!”
We said,
“What does that even mean?”

He laughed,
“Go check out the clothesline!”
We did,
And this is what we seen:

Parading
Tan, red, and seersucker,
Madras,
Orange, navy, and plaid.

We can’t
Ever recall a sign of
Summer
That made us feel so sad.

shorts_editMAN O’WARDROBE – (Photo: PaC)

ROLLS OF DELIGHT

pt_edit

In the supermarket there is one aisle
That is my favorite by a mile.

It’s not where they sell sugary snacks,
Soda, cereal or have the toy racks.

It’s near the sponges, past the Kleenex,
A cottony wonder from floor to apex:

It’s Toilet Paper Mountain, in all its glory,
Beside Paper Towel Castle,
which everyone must see.

But for me, I’m afraid, seeing’s not enough.
I have to scale these towers of puff.

Mom and Dad don’t like when I climb,
They put me back in the cart every time.

Then soon they’re in the distance, my grocery store friends:
The Paper Towel Castle and Toilet Paper Mountain.

And my thoughts turn to plotting for the next time
That to those absorbent summits I can climb.

tp_edit

 

MYBIRTHFIRSTDAY

Though it sounds spun around
Don’t make the mistake
To waste the good taste
Of a CupsideDownCake.

All frosting on the bottom
Spongy yellow cake on top
So much yummy sweetness in it
Who could care that it’s flip-flopped?

Yes, deserting a dessert
Because it has a scrambled look
Is an eating sin akin
To “Trusting Skinny Cooks.”

cupsidedown_edit

Image

FOURTH OF MEMORIES

Fireworks and chocolate ice cream don’t look alike, don’t sound alike.  My best guess is they don’t taste the same.  But for the way they both possess the ability to delight even on those rare occasions that they’re underwhelming, these smile-inspiring fraternal twins of summer simply must be made of some of the same stuff.

Among all the stunning pyrotechnic displays made in the American skies each 4th of July, there is none better than the show over the waters of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Give it a look some time, especially if you can do so from a boat anchored in the Chesapeake.  For the full effect, pack your own Stars and Stripes to help set a mood like the one pictured below.

OL' GLORY and the OLD LINE STATE - Fourth of July fireworks over Chesapeake Bay, as seen from the middle of Chesapeake Bay. (Photo: PaC)

OL’ GLORY in the OL’ LINE STATE – Fourth of July fireworks over Chesapeake Bay, as seen from the middle of Chesapeake Bay. (Photo: PaC)

America’s Birthday, 2014 is now in the rear view, but here’s the best flag-centric reading this weekend had to offer:  a story from The Atlantic on The O.S.S.B, aka, The Original Star Spangled Banner, and via FastCompanyDesign, an illustrated biography of the American flag.

LUCKY DAD

I know my Dad just loves
to put my toys away
because I see him do it
at the end of every day.

I can’t think why he’d do it
If he wasn’t having fun
Bending down and picking up
every ball block car doll clay clock truck bike book bell and drum
under the sun.

Yes, I’m sure there’s nothing better
For dear old dad each night
Than to find and file and shelve
Every last plaything left in sight.

DOGPILE OF FUN - One peak in the mountain chain of Dad's nightly handiwork, that lucky dog. (Photo: PaC)

DOGPILE OF FUN – One peak in the mountain chain of Dad’s nightly handiwork, that lucky dog. (Photo: PaC)

WHAT THE HEEL

Wherever I go
However I feel
My head spins like a wheel
‘Cause I got a heel.

Take my well rested feet
They both got a heel,
Or my new socks and shoes
That all got a heel.

My dog on each scampering paw’s
Got a heel
My friend’s horse’s happy hooves
All got a heel.

Lady Liberty’s big toe
Isn’t concealed,
But behind it in green,
She’s got a heel.

Mom’s heel has a spike
Dad’s spike’s got a heel,
And while I can’t walk on’em,
Both my hands got a heel.

Far from Africa’s horn
And Wrigley Field,
Jolly Louisiana’n’Italy
Both got a heel.

My golf clubs and ball gloves
All got a heel,
My brother’s ice skates
Got a heel made-a-steel.

So again I will say it,
This time with more zeal,
No matter how good I feel
I got a heel.

HEART SHAPED HEELS (Photo by PaC)

HEART SHAPED HEELS (Photo by PaC)

HOOT TO BLAME

Jimmy blames the neighbor’s dog
Janie blames her sore toe
Billy blames the creaky floors
Brenda blames El Niño.
Katie blames tectonic plates
Kurt blames daylight savings
Paul blames operator error
Pam blames riboflavin.

Who knows for sure which blame is real
and which is full of fizz,
or why so many folks get kicks
from the finger pointing biz.

DUTCHFINGER - A very close look at a hand on one of the statues that depict in three dimensions Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" - Rembrandt Square, Amsterdam (PHOTO: PaC)

DUTCHFINGER – A very close look at a hand on one of the statues that depict in three dimensions Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” – Rembrandt Square: Amsterdam, The Netherlands (PHOTO: PaC)

A BASKET CASE

UPDATED 3-26-16: To read this poem as a STELLER STORY, click on the photo below.

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 11.18.07 PM

Last year’s Easter egg hunt
was in the old cornfield.
Now it seems that day
not every egg was revealed

and that from those left back
are this year being born
acres and acres of stalks
sprouting tiny eggcorns.

Nature’s packaged each one
in a shell in a husk,
so cracking the eggcorns
is a rusty padlock fuss.

But once their outer layers
are opened up and clean
the cob yolks deep inside
are like nothing that you’ve seen:

Purple, pink, and yellow,
orange, blue, and jade,
all the prettiest pastels,
every springtime shade.

Just how nature made this magic
Science is still figuring,
but one thing learned so far:
is mighty omelets
from the tiny eggcorns spring.

AN EASTER EGG RAINBOW

Eggcorns are the kernel of a colorful Easter breakfast. (Photo: PaC)  

SEA-SONA-NON-GRATA

Be gone Old Man Winter,
You’ve had your prance.
I’ve already put away
all my corduroy pants.

April is half gone now,
the green grass is showing,
so much that I can hear
folks down the street mowing.

Baseball has returned,
we’re all thinking spring
nobody has interest
in one last icy fling.

You’re in this year’s rear view
as we head forward,
away from you Winter,
and the hot summer toward.

After the long, drab winter, popped lilacs are like purple pyrotechnics. (Photo: PaC)

After the long, drab winter, popped lilacs are like purple pyrotechnics. (Photo: PaC)

MY NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN PHOTOS OF SOME GUY NAMED BUBBA WATSON

BUBBA WATCHERS

Four days after this practice swing, Bubba Watson would don his first green jacket before uttering, with beautiful humility, “I never got this far in my dreams.”

Just after 8am on the morning of Wednesday, April 4, 2012, I stood on the edge of the 14th tee box at Augusta National Golf Course, a trigger happy shutterbug.  Getting in position early had afforded me a clear view of the hopeful pros making their way through the final practice round before the start of that week’s Masters.  Ignorance of the etiquette for where and when I could snap photos gave me the nerve to capture several action sequences of guys teeing off.  So I shot first and asked questions later, questions like, “Who was that guy with the pink driver?”

I now know that the 14th at Augusta is called “Chinese Fir”, and that the Man in White that morning was named Bubba Watson.  He’d go on to win his first green jacket four days after I watched him practice ; his second two years and nine days later.  Yes, I got shots of Tiger on the tee that morning, and I like them, too.  But none more than these images of Bubba just before takeoff, lightning as accidentally bottled as it’s ever been.

 

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(All Photos: PaC)

THE BRIEFS HAVE IT

In the Great Big Bucket of Tips for Better Writing, perhaps no advice occupies more space than that stuffed under the heading of “Brevity.”  Take your pick: Shakespeare, Pascal, Emerson, Twain, Strunk & White.  They’ve all rung in on the value of staying succinct.

The most memorable thoughts on this topic I ever received with my own ears came from award winning sports and film writer Ray Didinger.  Quoting one of his former editors in the newspaper business, Ray advised, “Keep it light, keep it tight, keep it bright, and get it right.”  Simple, concise, and comprehensive, the suggestion has remained with me — even when my work has not reflected it.

Though 140-character limits and the spread of text-ese continue to truncate our communication, when they surface, new good words on the topic of keeping it brief will always be worth a look. Here’s some from Danny Heitman in this week’s New York Times Opinionator.  Enjoy.

 

Mark Twain - shown here in Bermuda Bronze - is one of several authors credited with saying in some way, "I'm sorry for sending such a long letter, but I didn't have time to write a short one."  Click above on Ol' Samuel L. Statue for a history of that famous Short Thought. (Photo: PaC)

Mark Twain – shown here in Bermuda Bronze – is one of several authors credited with saying, “If I’d had more time I would have written a shorter letter.”  Click above on Ol’ Samuel L. Statue for a history of the line, including the position that Twain did not in fact author that famous Short Thought. (Photo: PaC)

 

THE DOOR TO NOWHERE

Today I will be busy
Though I have no to-do list,
Just lots of stuff ahead of me
That nobody should miss.

All of it is out there
In one easy to find place
That has no walls or ceiling
But endless open space.

The directions there are simple:
Walk right out the Door
To the magic land of Nowhere,
It’s the greatest to explore.

All it takes is curiosity
And every trip Nowhere will prove
That no matter what you’ve heard
Nowhere is someplace too.

A view from the beneath the roof over the Door to Nowhere

The view from beneath the roof over the Door to Nowhere (Photo: PaC)

See Timothy Egan’s column in The Old Gray Lady for more on the value of minds that go Nowhere — John Lennon’s, for instance.