William Vlach


An Experiment in Haiga

(More about this ancient Japanese form later…)

Up from the ground

Down from the morning sky

Eternal moment

The Sagacity of the Nose: Book Launch!

From the Foreword

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

– Antonio Gramsci

These prose poems emerged from the pandemic lock down that began in San Francisco on March 16, 2020.  My early morning ritual of bicycling to a coffee shop and writing abruptly ended.  I switched to brewing my own coffee and writing in the kitchen.  The initial  writing came from my training and work as a clinical psychologist.  The result was a blog called ‘The Psychology of Difficult Times.”  https://drwilliamvlach182489337.com/. This work was aimed at what Antonio Gramsci defined as “morbid symptoms.”  These were small essays and advice on ways to cope with ‘symptoms.’

Soon I found the psychological approach was correct, but insufficient.   Other things– images, flailing thoughts, and god forbid, an absurd humor– arose.   I began a daily writing regimen.  The writing developed into a series of prose poems.   I soon found that they made the rest  of my day a bit lighter.  Other readers told me the same.  

We are in a transitional state, “liminal” as the anthropologists call it.  It seems we are being attacked by both the  morbid and absurd simultaneously.  I won’t list the obvious causes.  The ancient dual masks of theater, tragedy and comedy, are apt symbols of our lives now.  We live in the extremes of human emotion.  Our species  historically has   grappled with the incredible tensions of tragedy and absurdity with the potent power of of poetry.  Tragedy allows us to deeply feel.  The way to deal with the absurd I’ll leave to Mark Twain– “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”


PS.   The author takes no responsibility for deleterious side effects if these are ingested more than one or two a time.

William Vlach

   March 2021

When I was ten

I asked the bracero 

how to count in Spanish.  

Young, smooth tan skin, 

he smiled, and taught me.  

I laughed when he 

got to eight.  It’s like 

sneezing, I said,

Ocho!  Salud, 

he answered.  

Salad? I asked.

The men were cutting 

wheat, pushing it into 

the baling machine-

Five wire bales

are harder to flip

up onto the truck.

The elixir of hay 

fragrance makes me

giddy to this day.

I hope his grandchildren

are safe on this 


June 18, 2020:

Gracias for the

sneeze and awakening.

What to do While Sheltering-in-Place

I’ve taken to cloud monitoring.  Sad days when there are blue skies.  It’s mainly the movement.  Big old chunks break off from bigger chunks.  Flail here and there in slow motion.  In silence.  The edges are full of detail as they threaten to interact with other edges.  Sometimes they mingle and seem happy.  This goes back and forth.  At times it’s like great superstates battling.  Like the Orwellian Oceana, Eurasia, and Eastasia, the battles are at the edges of empire— Vietnam or Afghanistan.  Other times it’s like a great silent seduction.  Once in a while they take a leak on me.  Other times their orgasms echo though the skies.  None of this is Zeus or Odin.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not gone ‘round the bend mythic or evangelical.  It’s just that they are wonderful and I’ve not noticed since I was a boy on the ranch and had flopped down in the fresh green wheat stalks and looked up.

Sagacity of the Nose

Because of this virus I began to pay close attention to my nose.  I was wrong of course.  It’s not about the nose.  It’s about the cough, fever, etc.  But in times like these, no one is truly rational.  So I was paying close attention to my nose breathing.  That kind of attention is like a microscope.  After a while I could experience every individual nose hair— each wavering in the inhale and exhale.  Once when I was birding, a large biologist in front of me farted.  I thought he’d be embarrassed.  Instead, he just smiled and said, “Good air in, bad air out.”  Words to live by.  But right now it seems like all we’re trying to do is to avoid the reverse.  So the more I paid attention to my nose hairs and their movements, I noticed that they were making interesting sounds, like wheat stalks in the wind.  Like palm trees in a storm.  Then it shifted to a long sad note like from a Japanese flute.  I sneezed and there was Bird blowing bebop.  Now I spend most days nose breathing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  

The Second Wave

None of us wanted it, some denied it would happen, a few knew it would and prepared.     It came in a rage.  The last second wave that hit took out my grandfather when my father was in utero and I don’t think he, my father, ever recovered though recovery means you have had something before.  That’s why I was afraid of this second wave.  Things were quiet through the summer.  Some went back to the nearby pub, others had dinner parties; restaurants slowly opened.  Folks went to work.  I didn’t.  I knew.  I stayed in, washed my hands and wore a mask while I watched old noirs on the telly, occasionally switching over to the news, then quickly back to submerging myself into the flickering black and white light.  I’ll admit it.  I had become paralyzed with fear.  That first sign was a slight cough, then a fever, then no smell, then fatigue, massive fatigue.  I resigned myself to the end.  It was not going to be pretty.  But, as they say— serenity to accept what I cannot change… As I lay dying on the couch, TV off,  waiting, hypervigilent for the next symptom, I noticed the big toe on my right foot began twitching.  It wouldn’t stop.  I hadn’t read of this symptom.  I checked mayo.com and nothing like that was listed under Covid 19.  The twitching began on my left big toe.  Then both little toes.  I quickly contacted my doctor for a telehealth appointment.  By the time she got on line, all my toes were twitching and moving like Vlaidimir Horowitz fingers playing Rimsky Korsakov’s Fight of the Bumblebee.  I started to explain my symptoms, but my laptop flew off my lap as my knees began shake.  She ended up in corner in a clump.  My thighs slammed together, my butt jerked back and forth so hard I thought it best to stand up.  My chest heaved in a great breath, my arms spread and swung around in the air.  “Covid 19’s got me,” I yelled as my legs began to jump up and down.  My body twisted and turned.  My ears  rang and I began singing.  I quickly looked down and saw I was tap dancing.  My body was swinging and swaying.  I danced to the front window to look for help, looked out and saw the street full of gyrating, tap dancing, sashaying up and down the street proud bodies.  I joined them.



for Helen Ernst née Julius

There were many Helens:
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, niece, cousin, friend, educator, leader

One Helen, the earliest—
Her name—Eléni
Granddaughter of
the bringer of fire— Prometheus.
[Chorus] parakalo

There were many Helens—
Another one: beautiful Helen of Sparta,
absconded to Troy.
Many Helens…
[Chorus] parakalo

Our Helen—
Who watched her father
through the door window
as he lay dying
on the hospital bed-
The Great Flu pandemic.

Our Helen-
Who touched the bumps
on her Mani born
grandfather’s neck—
Bullets from The Balkan Wars.

Our Helen—
Who listened to Greek
music in the Napa orchard.
[Chorus] parakalo

Who held her baby brother
Who flirted as a Bobby Soxer

Who watched her brother
blow dandelions out over
The Carquinez Straights—
Missing his mother.
[Chorus] parakalo

Who studied at Cal
Who joined the service
Who fell in love
With a son of Cambridge
Who tried to rescue her baby brother
from violent war.
[Chorus] parakalo

Who proudly studied at Stanford.
Who wrapped packages
for the Greek children of war
[Chorus] parakalo

Who wanted to make things right,
at times intensely,
because she knew
what Chaos looks like,
feels like.

Who watched over her family
Who lost the man she loved
Who lost the brother she loved
Who welcomed a lost nephew
on Greek Easter.
[Chorus] parakalo

If we allow…

These Helens
are here, are now,
in this place, at this time.
There were many Helens
And yes, there are many Helens…
Here, now-

-efcharistó, Auntie Helen, theía mou, efcharistó
[Chorus] parakalo

#Elegy #poem #GreekAmerican #poetry

The California fiery sky.

The picture above is the Autumn twilight sky in the California Valley as the San Hill Cranes descend. Mount Diablo in the background, like Mount Fuji, is a perfect backdrop for the landing cranes. The first Western novel I wrote, The Guns of Revenge, used the theme of fire as both destruction and transformation. Fire, twilight, and transformation are mythological foundations of California.
#Western #WesternNovel #Californiafires

Reading from Father Coffee at Folio Books—

Great fun!

Reading from Father Coffee Monday, 11/13 in Noe Valley!

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