Call and response

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In early April woods, what you notice above all is the moss: how much of it there is, how green, how gold. Every morning when I sit down to write, it might as well be that elusive first day of spring, high clear notes like those Stravinsky heard, scratching, gnawing, wriggling. A bassoon played at the very top of its register. What if, after all, I don’t have anything new to say? Worse: what if I do?


I’m sitting in my usual spot, in my usual chair. When the pileated woodpecker calls, it sounds like the answer to something I had just been thinking.

A second pileated appears to have the very same reaction.

Half an hour later, I encounter another echo in the closing stanza of a poem by Christopher Reid:

Book shut, light out –
then in the gap
before real sleep
you feel the hill
looming closer,
then closer still,
a dreamlike imposture
that brings the trees’
lulling furor
right up to your ear,
and the monologue
of a distant dog
who more or less agrees
with what you have always thought.

– “Caretakeing,” Mermaids Explained


The eastern phoebe always answers his own question. No one but a phoebe could say whether it’s always the very same question & answer, but they do seem to have a high degree of consistency. Fortunately, the air is alive with variable rests. And from time to time the phoebe stutters, as if something just swallowed still beats its wings in his throat.


A bright but windy afternoon. Seven wood frogs float in the tiny pond, silent, motionless except for the reflections of fast-moving clouds in their great round eyes.


Two days ago I woke to howling wind & two inches of wet snow plastered to the sides of trees, bushes, my front porch, everything. I went for a walk. Facing into the wind, the woods were brown. In the other direction: white as January. Some places on the ridgetops, the ground was almost bare. Turning & turning, in the space of a mile I must’ve walked three, half of it backwards.

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Beyond the crocuses, the old outhouse sinks deeper into the pit that was dug for it on the day of its birth.


Coltsfoot blooms at the edge of the gravel road, many-spoked wheels without rims. Only after the flowers die back will the eponymous leaves emerge, rampant hooves spreading larger than life for the want of a horseshoe nail.


In what sense is spring a return, in what sense is it new? The answer seems obvious, but it isn’t. Alone in an eight-by-eight foot room in his apartment in Clarens, Switzerland in 1911, Stravinsky saw the Chosen One dancing herself to death. Remembering his piano, the other tenants in his building would later say, Monsieur Stravinsky played nothing but the wrong notes.


“They were the wrong notes for them,” said the composer, “but the right notes for me.”


The last scrap of snow in the hollow has finally melted, leaving a dark, shiny patch on the leaves that will dry by evening. Among the gray & brown & red-tinged hills we go on living absent-mindedly in our high, white houses.

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