Duncan Dwelle  

Poetry of Duncan Dwelle

I am

Jul 1996

I am
- neither wearer of socks nor lover of clocks,
those tyrants of life’s precious hours;

I am
- often sitting on docks watching water on rocks
or face down in dirt counting flowers;

I am
- deeply lost in my dreams and sometimes it seems
my dreams are more real than my life;

I am
- playing with words or watching the birds
but rarely beset by real strife.

So if you might fear that I’m not really here
when you stand very close and shout loud -

Remember I see each bramble and tree
in the forest which covers your cloud.

the Hillside

Apr 2003


trips laughing down the hillside
stones spilled from pockets of pebbles
castles and cottages glowing pink and white
Portofino on the Pacific tickling toes in the Bay

Morning mist
sifts silently down the hillside
blending sharp edged man-made profiles
into feathery fans of soft glowing eucalyptus
lofting lacy light over gulls and seals at breakfast

Mid-day fog
cascades coldly down the hillside
spilling swiftly from ridge to canyon trough
running giant rapids round steeples and steps
rushing out to wrinkled waters waiting for the gust

Evening sun
glows golden down the hillside
racing shadows stretching to the beach
silhouetting shining sails reaching for harbor
setting fires on the Bay soon doused by graying dusk

Midnight rain
lashes liquid down the hillside
sweeping streets of leaves and dust
gurgling, gushing through gutters and drain pipes
filling creeks and flushing fresh streams far out to sea

folds snugly down the hillside
wrapping lanes in blankets of green
rain fed, fog cooled, sun warmed, mist softened
character cast down the hillside glistening by the Bay


Apr-May 2003

geese gone North to nest -
Summer sun smiles high all day
baking my bones brown

subtle swift haiku
bold word mode paints gentle strokes
of a poet's brush

wind howling through trees
I sit snug knowing no boat
swings from my anchor

spring skies blow pregnant
as pillowed clouds promise rain
new green drinks deeply

faint phrase and fragment
of newborn haiku in hand
watching snowflakes melt

why does he smile so
talking head of war each night?
dry leaves fall silent

number seven

Feb 2003

sad man's face reflects
fear on waters uncalmed by
oil filled drums of war


Feb 1986

Birthday coming soon; with it bare
memories of sadness and pain -
Not for time gone by - another year
has brought me joy and friends again.

And not for getting older still.
Age lends windom to my madness.
Not for boredom - learning more till
soul is nearly filled with gladness.

I weep instead for birthdays past
lonely, angry, no celebration -
hoping each one would be the last
in conflict, not veneration.

Looking forward I see clearly
it's not the ending of each year
which revives old feelings dearly.
Make new beginnings without fear.

We Danced

Feb 1986

Last night we danced:
the music flowing round and to us -
our feet on fire - and coursing though us.
Each step enhanced
a bold romance
as if the fates already knew us
and had ambitions.

While others sat
and watched the band play up the crowd
with raucous laughter, clapping loud,
they passed the hat
and made light chat.
We danced on still, musicians proud
of our inhibitions.

Our hands clasp tight
then spinning off in wild gyration,
enraptured in fleet foot elation,
we took to flight.
Alone, the night
is ours, and we the inspiration
of sublime conditions.

We danced how long?
I do not know when came the day.
Pearl gray mist rose from the bay.
Morning birds' clear song
rising in a throng
from floating flocks. The sun's first ray
on love's fruition.

So dance with me again.
Entwine with me in lovers' fashion.
Glide on waves of fragile passion,
bodies moving like a pen
writing poetry, which then
become a fountain without ration
of life's nutrition.

What say you

May 1993

What say you, "work"?
And mean but sport
where minds' at play do turn the world of words
on its ungainly head,
shrieking like the Medusa in a thousand tongues
all cut loose from reason and reality.

Work, say I,
where one lies groveling in the filth of facts,
helplessly pinioned 'neith onerous obligations
to that which IS,
not that which could have been or might yet be.

A Friend

Jan 1986

(to Rita)


A friend from far,
for now unknown,
reached out to me
and withdrew me from the headlong race
toward far horizons.

Called for reflections -
private thoughts of who I think I am;
some introspection:
why I choose to stand while others ran
to/from unknowns.

A voice like hers -
rare song among a thousand souls -
asks me questions,
reveals my answers fraught with holes,
without saying.

Reading letters,
words unfettered from my heart
she knows me better
though our friendship is just a start
than merely friend.

Gybing Talk

Original Lewis Carroll verse discovered by Tristan Jones in the log of a Thames barge. In19th century Wales "gybing talk" was a form of chanty  carried on during gybes to  distract  the crew from their imminent dousing or demise.


Twas thrilling and the halyard roves
did gybe and gimbal on the ways.
All flimsy were the border drogues
and the nun's gaff out sways.

Beware the staysail blocks, my son!
The sheets that bite, the snaps that catch.
Beware the pelican hook and shun
the dangerous after-hatch.

He took his kevlar cord in hand.
Long time the man's big toe he sought.
So rested he in the mainmast lee
and stood a while in thought.

And as in dampish drought he stood
the spinnaker, with clews the same,
came flying through the dodger hood
and tangled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
the reaching strut went rip-ker-rack!
He left it dead, and with its head
he went galumping back.

"And hast thou dowsed the spinnaker?
Come to my charms, my beamy toy!
O crabjuice day! Far out, fer sure!"
She chortled in her joy.

Twas thrilling and the halyard roves
did gybe and gimbal on the ways.
All flimsy were the border drogues
and the nun's gaff out sways.

I Knew You  

I knew you once,
or so I thought.
Though now I know you not
nor where you ought to be.

I loved you once,
or so I thought.
And while I love you still,
my love is naught to see.

A Ballad of Cats and Rats

Sept 1985

to Marden


By chance we met
not knowing yet
   what cosmic fate in store.
With cheese and wine
and evening fine
   beneath the scull and oar.

Caffeine surfeit
(I’d misjudged it)
         we talked into the night
While parting late
we made a date -
   next week we’d make a flight.

The weather’s fine;
I call your line -
   machines now rule the phone!
You dial back
and leave a track
   on my magnetic drone.

Ah, we’re no jerks!
The system works.
   You say you’re late, but really not.
With neither clock
nor schedule lock,
   you’re prompt right to the dot.

When sails are up,
wine in the cup,
   we reach South to the City.
The hazy morn,
when first was born,
   showed no promises this pretty.

“Oh ‘Cats’” said she.
“I’ll leave the sea
   at five for transformation.”
“Oh rats!” said I.
“I can’t deny
   the prospect’s desolation.”

But leave you did
and thus I bid
   bon soire to jolly crew.
I swept the decks
and trashed the Becks
   and polished up the loo.

Now if you’d like
(no boat or bike)
   to venture out together
I could reveal
urbane appeal
   in linen, silk and leather.

Five days are full
(and that’s no bull)
   with playing the breadwinner
But I can wait
for another date
   till next Monday night for dinner.

Will you join me?
   (or Tues. or Weds. or ...)



"Is there really a difference between a summer cold and a winter one?"
asked Cheryl Cameron,
skeptical of my self-sympathetic adjective


Winter's cold fits like a chapped rough hand
in a chilly mitten -
the discomfort is expected but less than that surrounding.

Summer's cold is a rude interloper
into the midst of warmth and gaiety.

Winter's cold is the not entirely unwelcome excuse
to languish in bed
avoiding the gales which lash the window sill with icy knives.

Summer's cold gives no such compensation
for picnics missed and evenings not in the garden plucking spent blossoms.

Winter's cold is life's reminder of who's in charge,
lest we forget, of weather and whether we survive it;

Summer's cold is a syncopated incongruity -
out of time and out of breath
when every breath should be a sip of summer.

Summer in Words of One Syllable

June 1996

With thanks to Richard Lederer:
The Miracle of Language
Pocket Books, 1991


It is the warmth which greets you first,
wraps you in smooth arms,
charms you with soft breath,
and breaks the news of birth on the dawn.

Now the birds, whose songs alone
had not yet torn through veils of dream,
sweep sleep from mind’s door
and call you to the sharp edge of wake.

Light comes next in one strong thrust
which makes its sole aim known:
this day can not wait to primp or plan.

You must get up and face the sun,
your task to fill the cask of life
with not a drop to waste.

Hymn to Tomales

November 1986


Have you walked here?
And if so, where
that makes your eyes
so blue and fair?

Have you dreamed here?
And if so, what,
to open wide
while others shut?

Have you looked here?
And if so, why?
To taste the blueing
of the sky?

Have you loved here?
And if so, who?
A nameless face
whom you once knew?

I've walked these hills
from here to there
to see the lions
in their lair.

I've dreamed such clouds -
they're formed like that:
ostrich feathers
in Tomales' hat.

I've looked in vain,
discovering why
life's fine treasures
you cannot buy.

I'll love with one
whose soul is here.
Tide is rising,
time is near.

A Friend is Gone



A friend is gone; I mourn his passing
Fleetingly, as memories massing
Put in focus the fact that death
Is hardly more than life's last breath,
While life itself is what we knew.

He was a man, like you and me,
With flaws and secrets all could see
Who's eyes returned that liquid gaze
Transmitting equal scorn and praise
Wrapped in a crust of love askew.

As seven blind men who touched the beast,
Having made their observations, ceased
Discovery of the creature's true being,
So we knew him, barely seeing
More than fragments without plan.

Yet it was the whole of him,
What we might call the soul of him,
Which each of us and all
On due reflection now recall
To be the nature of the man.

What made him so? Irascible and short;
Attentive, patient, yet ready with retort
For any proffered theory, scheme, or thought.
Contradicting his world view swiftly brought
Down upon one the wrath of godless dogma.

Yet should one need the tender affection
Of a loyal friend, absent all connection
To reason, right, or rationale
His love abiding and unconditional
Flowed forth as from some inner Buddha.

Such contradiction no one man can hold
Unless he be dramatic, strong, and bold,
Yet tender, compassionate, and aware
Of joy and suffering, ecstasy and care
In all things around him, obvious and unseen.

So ought we be surprised by his rebuff
Of things trivial, shallow, and fluff?
Is it not fitting that such a friend rejected
The superficialities of life and expected
The painful truth from us come clean?

I miss him now, and will six hundred days.
But time will come when memories fade to haze.
What then I keep, if choice is mine to make from here
Will be those things which made him to me dear
And cannot fade with time, nor ever need us mend:

His warming smile, his loving heart beneath a shell of thorn;
His ready wit, of all excuses shorn;
His evening toast as glasses rise together;
His clasping hand so warm and worn with weather;
These are the memories by which I'll keep my friend.


Feb 1986 Geneva


I might have sent candy
or dozens if flowers
or choirs of musicians
to serenade you for hours.

I might have sent telegrams
by singing gorilla
or a slinky fur coat
(real fox, not chinchilla).

I might have sent tickets
to the symphony, ballet;
or tickets quite different
to a place far away.

I might have sent silk
that I saw passing by,
with Gauguin colored jungle
on a blue like the sky.

I might have sent artworks -
old porcelain and jade,
hand knotted rugs
of a sort seldom made.

I might have sent fragrance -
the rarest perfume -
to sprinkle you gently
and waft round the room.

I might have sent jewelry -
topaz and turquoise,
gold-mounted diamonds,
pearls for your choice.

Next year I might send you
all these in a bunch,
dress you up fancy,
invite you to lunch.

But Valentine’s Day
has a message quite plain.
In hopes you’ll remember
I’ll say it again:

Rather than send you
all the fine gifts above,
the thing that I send you
is all of my love.

Can't find Peter:
A Saga
in Several Parts

chronicling my futile attempts to communicate with a friend in Hong Kong regarding an administrative opening at the College of Marin

Jan 1993


A word, one lonely word across the storm tossed ether
    writhing in the mists of endless oceanic fog,
    confirming or denying what mysterious trail
    ensued past the signing of the driver's log.

One word, one's all I crave though one is insufficient
    to convey the complex thoughts and theories
    of a consignee so stupendously learned as yourself
    merely signaling receipt of C.O.M's inquiries.

Some word - if one's too few, send me dozens, paragraphs, pages;
    fill to flooding and beyond my FAX in-basket,
   clarify for me the local Hong Kong reputation
    of Airborne or Fed Ex versus 1st class in a casket.

The word: "Unknown", impatient with anxiety,
    all excitement now carelessly deflated.
    "Received!", bursting with joy and gratitude,
    announcing anticipation of new fates awaited.

I've not yet heard - please send word!

Yet in my absence, pursuing I the crass demands of commerce and employment,
you place a call into my office - thus depriving me of slight enjoyment

Which, had I been here, I might have gained in extricating the answer:
Have you yet received my letter (sent last Monday) or have you died of cancer?

The verdant hills browned over till recent rains by six long years of drought
have ceased their singing lest during their chorus your answer be drowned out.

Bridge traffic's stopped, schools recessed, ferries holding at the dock -
and old folks hard of hearing have gone severely into hock

To purchase stronger hearing aids, assuring accurate reception
of the most momentous communiqué since the immaculate conception.

For all the county's keenly alerted to the coming of an august dignitary
who'll elevate our Marin college to higher than a Kentfield cemetery.

Vainly, though, the hushed and humbled masses wait for Peter's news,
idly sifting through FM, Trib, and CNN in fruitless quest of clues.

Have you absconded with the provost's concubine, chase out by raging wife,
harried to the Chinese border, bleeding from her slashing knife

Have you lost all feeling in limbs and fingers, gone hoarse in croaking frenzy,
(don't you only wish you'd said "Yes, sir" to McKinsey)?

Is that the only reason why you spite me with denial?
Must I sue you in Federal court and seek a speedy trial?

Is there neither law nor courtesy in Hong Kong or Macau
where each man sniffs amongst the weeds as would a rooting sow?

(Cable & Wireless, I've read today, is now defunct; its assets have been sold
to copper salvors and computer nerds eating stale sandwiches and mold.)

Perhaps in enthusiastically embracing your mainland neighbors' austere plight
you imagine that another copy could not be expressed to you overnight.

Or your environmental conscience - shame of feckless consumption and paper waste -
conflicts with circumstances and external schedules demanding urgent haste.

No more excuses - what e'r I dreamed I've used them up anticipating your rebuttal.
Call me, FAX me, or see me a week from Saturday at the airport shuttle.

Peter, Peter - are you there?
I’ve been looking everywhere!
In the closet, on the stair -
Not since seen no hide nor hair.

Peter, Peter - are you lax?
I’ve tried both Xmas card and fax.
Scanned the sky for ET attacks
But no one’s seen poor Peter’s tracks.

Peter, Peter - are you lazy??
Maybe senile so memory’s hazy -
Spending days just planting daisies.
Or Karen’s finally made you crazy.

Peter, Peter - where’s your tongue?
So many epics yet unsung,
So many casks not freed of bungs.
Hold your nose and squeeze your lungs!

Peter, Peter - have you died?
When last here, perhaps you lied.
For a Cuban passport you’ve applied -
Old party urges long denied.

Peter, Peter - have you forgotten?
Friends here miss and see a lot in
You, dim sum eating misbegotten
Giant ghost with heart of cotton.

Peter, Peter - are you there?
Do you know and do you care
We think of you and wonder where...
Peter, Peter - are you there?

Woke up this morning, jumped out of bed.
Ran down to the FAX to see what it said.

FAX basket was empty, paper was plain.
No message from Peter! Won't you explain -

Why my missives unanswered, my poems unseen
should not give the impression that you've never been

Farther East than Milwaukee, farther West than Ohio,
and everything's lies on your fancy bio.

So if you're really out there, at the bottom of Earth,
tell why I'm writing this madness and mirth

To a creature so silent and invisibly hidden
when all I done did was what you was biddin'.

The Author

When you go after
verse in a balloon,
the great thing
is not to let the words
know you are coming!

With thanks to A. A. Milne



Duncan Dwelle

1001 Bridgeway, #301
Sausalito, CA 94965