Leaving the house to drive Mom to the lawyers’ to sign papers yesterday, I stepped on a six-foot-long black rat snake stretched across my front stoop. they are lovely people these lawyers, but sometimes life throws you a potent metaphor (i’m not gonna say sign).
There are at least two snakes of this size in and around my house, which as an *ahem* historical building, slapped together by farmers in 1865, is very much a semipermeable membrane open to all manner of wildlife. so the snakes while predatory on nesting birds—haven’t heard a peep from the Carolina wrens behind the fuse box in about a week—are still a better deal with the devil than a free-roaming cat would be
At the lawyers’ we got into a brief exchange about the way legalese while seemingly anodyne and boring actually represents a nonviolent distillation of conflict and confrontation. I said something to the effect of anyone who’s ever read the Icelandic sagas knows this and the head lawyer smiled sweetly and said not everyone understands that about us. it amuses me to think that the most Viking-like people in State College PA aren’t the fire fighters or even the violent drunken partiers after a Penn State game but a firm of property lawyers, expert at avoiding feuds between neighbors and keeping families from dissolving into open warfare.
the snake was fine by the way. or seemed to be—immediately drew itself into a tight coil with as much dignity as it could muster, then slithered at top speed toward its hole in the laundry room wall
Between sleep deprivation in the morning, the lawyers in the early afternoon, a rare late-afternoon nap and thunderstorms in the evening i never had time for a proper walk let alone the abbreviated three-mile version of it i was trying to squeeze in before dark (a great way to keep up daily walking during a heat wave). so it didn’t feel like a real day.
funny how whatever we do becomes how we define ourselves. it’s as if this has become my real job now. (because, thank Whomever, my mom is still in a robust state of health)
I haven’t read Stephen King which is probably good because i do sometimes find myself murmuring lines from the title track to Anthrax’ 1987 classic Among the Living:
I am the walking dude
I can see all the world
Cartoonish lyrics for the most part—Anthrax were never what you’d call sophisticated—but i still find this part vaguely interesting:
Good versus evil
The stand to vanquish evil
Man can only live one way
That place right in the middle
—a less Manichean worldview than, say, Black Sabbath in “War Pigs”
i had forgotten that Anthrax was with Metallica during the fateful tour for Master of Puppets on which Cliff Burton, their genius bassist and the working-class conscience of the band, was killed in his sleep when their tour bus went off the road.
His death profoundly impacted the thrash-metal community in which he was a highly regarded figure, and the members of Anthrax dedicated their new album Among the Living to his memory. In 2012, Ian said in an interview that part of the reason ‘… the album sounds so angry is because Cliff died. We’d lost our friend and it was so wrong and unfair.’Wikipedia, “Among the Living“
with Cliff out of the way, the remaining assholes in Metallica were free to sell out and became the most famous thrash metal band in the world. Anthrax remained much more of a niche band, sounding like a cross between Dio, Exodus, and the Beastie Boys (who were part of the same NY hardcore/skater scene from which Anthrax emerged)
I am honestly not sure who i am blogging for at this point. the Venn diagram of metal heads and poetry heads has very little overlap i’ve found. astonishing that there’s any really. it involves mental toggling between the delicacy of perception required to appreciate (let alone compose) a haiku or a sonnet, and a much more blunt-instrument approach to language, with value placed on shock effect and sometimes deliberate obscurity. often metal lyrics are just flat-out bad writing. but there are three points I’d make about that:
- most popular music lyrics aren’t very good either. even a lot of Nobel laureate Bob Dylan’s lyrics are pretentious twaddle. let alone Puccini or Nat King Cole.
- prioritizing catchiness leads to very different lyrical choices than prioritizing subtlety and insights. and as impenetrable as thrash may sound to the uninitiated it is all about the riffs. bands learn how to write in such a way as to practically compel moshing and, um, extremely emphatic nodding along
- alternating between registers is something that traditional audiences all over the world seem to have loved, whether you’re talking about West African or O’odham epic recitations, comedic Kyogen performances in between the high seriousness of Noh, or, you know, Ben Johnson, Marlowe and them
the ancient peonies are in bloom in my disreputable front garden, which with the irises open as well looks about as good as it ever gets:
i transplanted the peonies from the front yard of our former neighbor Margaret McHugh, a descendant of the original settlers in Plummer’s Hollow. they were getting overwhelmed by wisteria (the peonies not the settlers, unless someone was buried in front of her house). i find their soapy smell interesting though not as much as Mom does—she dove nose-first into a big peony bush outside the lawyers’ office yesterday. sadly i failed to snap a photo in time.
the peonies’ timing is always excellent: just before a big rainstorm. assuming their goal is to flop over and return their ants’ delicate handiwork to the earth as quickly as possible. Alternating registers, innit. Buson once likened a rotten peony bloom to a hell mouth:
Enma-Ô no kuchi ya botan o hakan to su
the King of Hell’s mouth:与謝蕪村 Yosa Buson
peony petals ready
to be spat out
Hiking in the rain again. I’m dry above and soaked from the knees down, which is wonderfully cooling. The rain comes with a breeze—the edge of a storm no doubt.
the foot to its footprint
Here’s a life hack to spend less time on social media: post about hiking until the algorithm starts showing you outdoors-related gear, then click on some of those ads. if you’re suggestible like me you do run the risk of spending money, but you probably needed new shoes or ultralight trousers anyway. the flip side is that every time you log into instagroan or facebonk you’ll be reminded to go for a walk instead
placing my phone in my shirt’s left pocket to keep it dry and feeling the warmth of its processor against my heart, this small computer many times more powerful than the room-sized supercomputers which our high school computer class assumed were the future…
(yes, my rural Appalachian school system had a computer room from the late 70s on. the Tyrone Area School District is legitimately progressive in many respects being run by basically liberal Republicans, though i suspect they would not appreciate that label. they work hard to not only graduate but also educate poor and working class kids: still not nearly enough, but better than any other school in the area including State College, if the results of universal, standardized tests are any indication)
(i remember those tests, or at least an early version called I believe the California Achievement Tests, which we not only didn’t study for but weren’t informed about in advance, just like an IQ test. I had aced the latter because of my upbringing: i knew how to talk like an adult, use big words and charm the tester. it was very subjective. i felt guilty about my placement in the gifted program knowing that everyone is gifted more or less the same and that the way we decide whose gifts matter is deeply unfair to people without either the gift of gab or an analytical mind. the CAT which we took in the 8th grade was a much more humbling experience, showing me to be as off-the-charts bad with some mental skills as i was off-the-charts good at others. they handed the results out in art class, for some reason, so kids from all tracks got to compare results, which ended up being extremely educational. I remember the kid across the table from me, a quiet, really genuine kid named Mark whom i’d gotten to know fairly well by then, showing me the bar chart of his results and asking me in a troubled voice, “Dave, does this mean I’m stupid?” and me with my gift of gab showing him mine, an almost perfect opposite to his: No Mark, i said, it means you’re really smart at these absolutely critical skills that well-spoken idiots like me sometimes like to pretend aren’t as important, just because we are so bad at them. [i forget exactly how they broke down intelligence but what Mark was brilliant at and i sucked at were mechanical/engineering-type stuff, and the reverse was like creativity and communication])
…and taking my phone right out of my shirt pocket again to type all that. Oh look, it’s stopped raining already!
a red eft hurries back
under the leaves
Dear diary reader, today after i got back from my walk i felt a sudden pang—i wanted to be making an erasure poem! going on a treasure hunt for fragments of fossil poetry in a coalface of prose. I miss it.
also when i took my sodden trousers off two ants tumbled out. that’s taking closeness to nature a little too far! i said to myself—then remembered my trousers had been doused with Permethrin. Poor ants.
Later, sitting on the porch, i was struck by how closed-off the forest edge looks now that all the leaves are out. Once inside, sure, it’s all green mansions, but from the outside, it’s a wall. so radically different from the view the other five months of the year when the leaves are down and it’s so open—more welcoming on the one hand but less inviting on the other. Talk about shifts in register.