September 2008

The dark of the moon. In my email inbox a series of photos, forwarded from someone in Texas, of a rattlesnake disappearing head-first into a black snake as if into a tailor-made Gehenna. It was, of course, dead, its molecules about to live again inside a new & sleeker skin, acquired in the opposite manner from the usual reductionism. It must’ve been a long, slow process. In the last snapshot the black snake is alone on the ground, as fat as a dirt-bike tire & unlikely to coil anytime soon.

*

The ceiling is better than the floor. I lie on the couch & gaze longingly at its immaculate meadow, trackless, free of dirt. White as a cloud that will never spill its snow. Good cover for disembodied spirits, which are, if anything, pale and fast-rising as steam. But this isn’t a fantasy about death, it’s a dream of stasis. Halfway to slumber, I watch a question assemble itself in my semi-conscious mind: Do elegance & purpose have anything in common? It startles me back to wakefulness. Of course, I want to say — but if it’s as obvious as that, where did this doubt come from? In Genesis, when things emerge from primordial vapor they are already “good” — the Creator has little or nothing to do with that, other than to see that it is so.

*

Sounds are muffled in the thick fog, & the autumn leaves seem to glow from within. A maple tree across the driveway supports two, competing narratives: the original, candelabra-shaped leaves, and the three-in-one leaves of the poison ivy that has parasitized it. They have turned an identical shade of orange. Fog swallows distance, and for some reason this makes time seem less pressing as well. You travel through it & your pool of awareness travels with you, like a reader through a scroll where every line gives rise to new reams of exegesis. But at some, seemingly arbitrary point, you can’t go on without dropping to your knees and begging forgiveness of the ground, which you have so thoroughly taken in stride. The fog says, you can only walk in circles. You are already home.

Isolated
under our dark umbrellas,
we eye each other up.

*

I still remember
the way she flicked her cigarette
into a puddle.

*

Honey locusts stand
naked in the rain, surrounded
by shed yellow leaves.

*

The hiss of tires,
the slap of curb-surf against fire plug,
the hush.

*

Fountain in a downpour:
a homeless man in a poncho
fishes for change.

*

Wet footprints lead
to every other table
in the coffee shop.

*

A clear plastic sheet
keeps the nude cover girls dry
at the news stand.

*

Sun shining through rain:
umbrellas rise to reveal
astonished faces.

sunflower postcard

I’ve been looking at a lot of old postcards lately. I found my dad’s collection up in the attic: several thousand postcards, going back to the beginning of the 20th century. Turns out that it was once very common to write things on the front, as we encourage people to do for Postal Poetry. Originally, the U.S. Post Office didn’t allow anything besides the address on the back, so the front was the only place where one could add a personal message. Depending on the quality of the sender’s penmanship, sometimes the effect is almost reminiscent of a classic East Asian painting, with calligraphy encroaching on the subject. This practice continued for a while after the advent of postcards with divided backs in 1907. “The Golden Age of American postcards […] lasted until about 1915, when World War I blocked the import of the fine German-printed cards,” according to the Wikipedia.

Here’s a card my Great Great Aunt Mildred Albertson, a Methodist missionary, sent from Japanese-occupied Korea (though it depicts Kobe, Japan) in October 1907.

1908 postcard from Kobe, Japan

The message says, in part, “Every thing seems so different here from home. I feel like a baby in every sense of the word. Have a teacher, and am studying the language. Have not heard from any of home folks yet.”

A woman has seen her own heart on display at a medical exhibition. Scientists have discovered a species of brittle star whose outer skeleton is covered with crystalline lenses that appear to work collectively as an all-seeing eye. In the past few days, researchers have seen areas of sea foaming with gas bubbling up through “methane chimneys” rising from the sea floor. I’m just wondering what the heck is in our water supply, what the heck is in our oxygen supply, of the metallic outside salts that create a rainbow effect in a sprinkler? What is oozing out of our ground that allows this type of effect to happen? It caused me so much pain and turmoil when it was inside me. Seeing it sitting here is extremely bizarre and very strange. Restrictive cardiomyopathy causes the heart muscle to stiffen so the heart cannot relax normally after contraction. As the disease progresses, the heart muscle continues to stiffen and eventually contraction is also affected. Thanks to evolution, they have beautifully designed crystal lenses that are an integral part of their calcite skeleton, said Hendler. Those lenses appear to be acting in concert with chromatophores and photoreceptor tissues. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane. Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface. Not just around our sun and our moon anymore — everywhere we look, the visible spectrum… is rainbows. This cannot be natural. Finally I can see this odd looking lump of muscle that has given me so much upset.
__________

Sources: Woman sees own heart on display; Brittle Star Found Covered With Optically Advanced “Eyes”; The methane time bomb; Sprinkler Rainbow Conspiracy

Wind Turbines Give Bats the “Bends,” Study Finds

Half of the dead bats that lie like jetsam
around the tall masts of wind turbines
appear unharmed, wingbones unbroken,
their ears’ stiff calipers still cocked.
But an autopsy finds their lungs
flooded with blood, as if punctured
by invisible splinters. It seems
each whirling blade grows
a zone of low pressure at its tip,
& the bats, attracted to the motion,
are caught unprepared — for what
in 50 million years of evolution
could’ve prepared them for barotrauma
bursting the web of vessels in their lungs,
so that they drown in the air?
Their dun or silver bodies crumple
like divers with the bends.
Exquisitely tuned sonar systems go silent.
The propellors spin on, as if in service
to some vast, uncaptained ship,
a new Flying Dutchman, yawing
under the glue-eyed moon.
__________

Written in response to a Read Write Poem prompt, according to which I harvested five words, one each from five different poems, and wove a poem around them. Other responses to the prompt may be found here.

My words came from Lia Purpura’s wonderful and quirky new book King Baby: slat, calipers, splinter, dun, and glue-eyed. All five words were present in the first draft of this poem, in the order in which I pulled them from a bag, but “thin slats of their wingbones” didn’t survive the edit.

The walking
stick picks
its way
upside down
along the
underside
of the meadow’s
flowering surface —
goldenrod,
asters,
snakeroot —
a stem
among stems,
stalking just
the right
leaf. When
it reaches
a gap
in the canopy,
it stops
to sway —
a rhythmic
rocking. Then
one spined
twig reaches
for the nearest
likely toehold
& the rest
of it follows,
stretched like
the shadow
of a tree
in winter
across
the glaring
moment of
the sky.

Sparked by Natalie’s postcard, “blinding light.”

The first time they outlined their hands with blown pigment, it was a holy thing. With the help of the sacrament they had shifted over, and placing their palms against the stone flank they felt warmth and movement, the charge of spirit. Through this thinnest of membranes they were making contact: the Others’ hands or forepaws were right there. Quick, get the paint!

Each time after that, though, it became a little more routine. The dried prints did not open into new passageways as they’d hoped. They made more prints, but it wasn’t quite the same. The rock began to feel like rock, instead of the living animal they knew it to be. Someone grew violent after ingesting the sacrament and split a boy’s head open before they could subdue him, so they decided to try the ceremony without it.

While most people just sat in the darkness feeling their bladders fill or resisting the urge to scratch certain itches, a couple of men claimed that it was better this way — they had a more direct access now, and if others did not, it must mean that they had violated some previously unknown taboo. Fortunately, their improved access privileged them with detailed knowledge of such things, and they began to speak the beginningless Law.

Now when they outlined a hand, it was to bear witness to one or another revelation. The steadiness of the rock was the whole point. Some things — perhaps most things — eluded contact, except in dreams. Those who knew could teach the rest how to become better dreamers, but it would come at a price, because don’t we have to kill in order to live? The Others were hungry for visions, so it was decided that the acolytes would stay underground and paint the pictures in their heads. They would give up sun- and moonlight for the welfare of the tribe.

The longer they stayed in the bowels of the earth-animal, the better and more vivid their visions became. Children were born down there and grew up by torchlight, clothed in thick pelts from the game they learned to draw without ever seeing it. Their parents marveled at their facility with the increasingly complex tools of animation, but grew alarmed at the obesity brought on by their sedentary habits. Come out into the other chambers, they pleaded. Explore the maze of passageways! That’s what we did when we were your age. But the kids wouldn’t listen.

The old shamans also felt lost. This new generation didn’t sit passively and wait for messages from the other side; they often began by sending messages of their own. The vision room became fully interactive. Those who lived aboveground only visited it four times a year, now, and the cavemen and -women regarded them with a condescension befitting their status as child-like primitives. You are living in a world of dreams, they would intone, eyes bulging, their corpse-white skin bared for effect. Be sure to keep bringing us fruit and game, so we can keep dreaming these dreams for you. A priest would lead them to the frieze of hand prints. Here are the ones who wouldn’t listen. See them reaching. See them trying to be born.

Dear reader,

I am yesterday’s news, brittle & sepia’d
by over-exposure. My vivid blues
have turned Gray-Lady gray
& my yellow journaling has curdled
along with the leaves.
It’s the silly season of the soul.
I look for a late daisy to petal-pluck
but find only asters, blue rays
too numerous & disorderly for any kind
of in-depth, katydid-or-didn’t analysis.
The government thunders the fee
fie foe
of socialized risk
so gods can go on living in the sky,
go on disemboweling the mountains
for coal to run their air conditioners
& turn their sunlit mansions back
into caves. You don’t need a haruspex
to tell which way the blood flows.
When I came up from the cutting-room floor
last Sunday, my hands were red as lipstick
& stank of the other white meat.

Our clients

We’ve launched our first monthly contest at Postal Poetry — a sort of high-brow version of that blog staple, the caption contest, but with a choice of ten stunning images to pair your poems with. Rampant nudity is involved.

By the way, for a naked, unpoemed version of the above photo, see Visual Soma.

Escape to the MountainMy mother’s very first book, Escape to the Mountain, is back in print, 30 years after the crash-and-burn of its original publisher, the once-venerable A.S. Barnes, led to the speedy remaindering of the first edition. It’s in the country-nature genre (think Gladys Taber and Noel Perrin), and describes our first six years in Plummer’s Hollow, when I was between the ages of five and ten. From the publisher’s blurb:

During their first year at the farm, Marcia and her family survived a blizzard, a flood, and a drought. Her book is a hymn of joy to sledding on moonlit nights in winter, to the arrival of the birds in spring, and to harvesting garden crops in the autumn. She relates the discovery of a family of wild puppies in the barn, a porcupine in the apple tree, a shrew in the laundry bucket, mudpuppies in the well, and opossums on the back porch.

See my mom’s post about it here.