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Over the town-
less Town Center,
over the Commons
& the Pointe,
over Cracker Barrel
& Home Depot,
over Bridgestone Firestone
& Monroe Muffler Brakes,
over Pool City
& Circuit City
& Cabinet World,
over acres of crown vetch
& parking lots
& the motel where
I sit gazing out
a 2nd story window at
another motel,
a crow flies.
It glides.
It flaps.
Its sleek black
plumage glistens
in the humid air.
I twist in
my chair & crane
my neck, hanging
on every wingbeat,
my right hand
creeping up
to my chest.

See also Stars and stripes.


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My fifth entry in the self-portrait marathon

But really, is this the face of an artist? Who am I kidding? Not my wise friends the flies, who rub their forefeet together in a travesty of devotion. En boca cerrada no entran moscas — flies don’t enter a closed mouth, says the Mexican proverb. But when is my mouth ever really closed, except for the fraction of a second that the camera shutter is open? Let the saints train their tongues to lie still as stones & their eyes to gaze modestly at their navels. It’s sheer hypocrisy to praise the open tomb while preparing oneself for the sealed reliquary. And in any case, the crawling faithful prefer the glistening surfaces of breasts or buttocks, with those dark & inviting hollows in between.

“First of all as to the patient’s face,” says Hippocrates: “does it resemble or not the face of persons in good health, and especially does it resemble itself?” This is what I’m wondering, my faithful physicians, health care in this country being as moribund as it is. You can rub your hands together all you want — you won’t get a dime of insurance out of me! Do I look like a rich man to you? Does my face have the unnatural glow of those who frequent health clubs with mirrored walls or fly airplanes into skyscrapers?

What you call dyslexia, I call poetry: an affliction in which nothing resembles itself, ever. A great poet like Eugénio de Andrade exceeds himself at every turn. Esta noite preciso de outro verí£o sobre a boca crescendo nem que seja de rastros, he wrote — “This night I need another summer on my mouth, gathering, even at a crawl.”

Would you recognize your own face if you saw it coming toward you down the street, without the usual soundtrack running through your head? Would you welcome it as an end to exile, or would you get out the flyswatter & the can of Raid? “Mama get your hatchet,” begged the bluesman Furry Lewis, “kill the fly on your baby’s head.” Buddhahood, they say, can be hazardous to your health. Best to go meditate on a corpse.

Man on the street

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Self-Portraits


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My fourth entry in the self-portrait marathon

I’m personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets — but it’s what the people want.

Never read about the Turkmenbashi right before going to bed. While I slept, a bland, doughy face came looking in the window.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Water dripping on a steel roof in the prison yard.

The golden statue revolves on top of its pedestal not in order to follow the sun, as malicious outsiders claim, but in order to keep from falling into shadow. A positive attitude is a powerful potion, chant the people’s deputies.

Tink, tink, tink: spoons on glasses in the golden-domed palace. The blandest of smiles, announcing the abolition of the death penalty. Across the boulevard at the U.S. embassy, it’s like a group orgasm as cellphones in pants pockets all begin to vibrate at once.

I am a bystander in my own dream. Who are all these blue horsemen flourishing their sabers so cinematically? They gallop into the forest in a large, public park just as some demonstrators — Young Turkmens, I guess — lead a mob of military police into the same forest from the other side.

Is it that I have no stomach for gore, or that, fed on a diet of bloodless history, I lack the mental imagery? The trees hide everything. I hear shots and screams, and the winnying of horses.

Half of the horsemen come out, but none of the police. The voice of the omniscient narrator hesitates, then tells the truth. The horsemen were patriotic defenders of Turkmenistan; the police were vile enemies of the people. There will be democratic elections. Tink, tink, tink.

Now I am there in person, and so are you. We bloggers have chosen Ashgabat as our next gathering spot — it’s centrally located, we say. The elections were a smashing success; they have democracy now. The Turkmenbashi’s head smiles blandly from the top of a revolving stake.

The former secret police have new jobs as pimps and pickpockets, thugs and drug runners. They follow us everywhere. Four of them rob us at knifepoint in a crowded restaurant.

Our shouts for help arouse nothing but studied disinterest from the other diners. Then I get an idea. Tap your spoons against your wineglasses, I urge my companions.

Tink. Tink. Tink.

Small change

I wait, cup in hand, for the shiny coins of inspiration — that small change. I sit on the bench at the edge of the spruce grove, watching the sun rise red above the layers of cloud and mountain. Bumblebees are flying overhead, a steady stream of them, heading for the spruce trees and their inconspicuous male flowers. The evening before, when Eva and I were stringing up the tarp we used for a tent, the whole grove had been abuzz, even as the wood thrushes were tuning up. But with nightfall came the more miscellaneous sounds, the kind that invite breathless speculation: the snap of a twig, a high-pitched chittering, an explosive snort.


On Monday, my mother discovered that she’d lost her little pocket notebook: two months of journal notes, which she hadn’t yet typed up. Yesterday, she and Eva retraced their steps from Sunday’s walk, but to no avail. As the day wore on, Mom became increasingly despondent. But this morning, when we get back to the house from our camping adventure, she’s in high spirits. Last night, she says, Mark — Eva’s dad — had called, and while she listened to him talk, she suddenly remembered ironing some clothes on Sunday, right before she missed the notebook. As soon as she hung up the phone, she went down to the basement, and sure enough, there was the notebook on the shelf above the ironing board. The impending arrival of visitors on Sunday afternoon had been enough of a distraction to make her misplace the notebook, so it makes sense that she would need another disruption of routine — Mark’s call — to return to the mental state she’d been in when it went missing.


You may have noticed the small midden of pocket notebooks surrounding my computer monitor in yesterday’s self-portrait. For me, however, these notebooks serve as much more temporary repositories of information and fragments of thoughts; the computer screen is my primary tablet now. This is a big change from my pre-blogging days, when I still used scrap paper for at least the first several drafts of a poem or essay. All that tree flesh — one drawer of my file cabinet is so full, I can barely get it open. I should haul its contents into the recycling center, but its physical presence is somehow comforting. It’s a kind of ballast, I think.

These days I don’t save anything but the final draft, and maybe that’s a mistake. It seems a little like our jerry-rigged tent last night: all roof. Imagine a ship that’s nothing but a sail, or an airplane that’s little more than wing. It might get you where you wanted to go, but with little room for comfort.


Mosquitoes sang me to sleep — a private concert in my ear. When I wake at 5:30, they’re still singing the same tune. We had hoped for coyotes or at least a whippoorwill, though getting to hear wood thrushes from just a few feet away did repay me for my aching hips and shoulders, I guess. But it’s the thin, dogmatic theme of the mosquito that keeps replaying in my head as I sit looking sideways at the sun, an array of copper-colored spots forming on my retina. One always hears about pennies from heaven, as if Providence never trades in anything larger. But perhaps the point is to fine-tune our sense of gratitude, I think, as I drain the last of my coffee and Eva joins me, sleepy-eyed, on the bench.


This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Self-Portraits


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My second entry in the self-portrait marathon

“Microsoft: Zombies most prevalent Windows threat,” says the headline. Zombies? O.K., I’ll bite.

Many Windows PCs have been turned into zombies, but rootkits are not yet widespread, according to a Microsoft security report slated for release Monday.

More than 60 percent of compromised Windows PCs scanned by Microsoft’s Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool between January 2005 and March 2006 were found to be running malicious bot software, the company said. The tool removed at least one version of the remote-control software from about 3.5 million PCs, it added. That’s compared with an overall 5.7 million machines with infections overall.

“Backdoor Trojans”are a significant and tangible threat to Windows users,” Microsoft said in the report.

Let me be your backdoor Trojan, baby.


On Friday evening, my dad spotted something odd next to the veranda and gave me a buzz on the intercom. In the gathering dusk, it was a little difficult to tell exactly what it was, at first. A walnut branch was wearing an upside-down hat about twice the size of a Baltimore oriole’s nest: a swarm of honeybees! It rearranged itself as the branch bobbed in the wind, like no fruit you’ve ever seen. It hummed.

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It hung there all day Saturday while the scouts searched for a suitable home. Consensus decision-making is never swift.

Now I thought of a thick tongue, and remembering the old saw —

A swarm of bees in June
is worth a silver spoon

— I thought of a rich person born with a swarming appetite for sweets.

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Mid-afternoon on Sunday, as I was starting lasagna sauce for supper, I heard a shout from the veranda. The swarm had made up its mind. “It looked like a loaf of bread just crumbling to pieces,” said Eva, who witnessed the breakup — “the weirdest thing I ever saw.” In less than a second, the quiet hum had turned into a roar. We all rushed out to watch as the bees rose above the treetops and streamed away toward the east. I ran after them, but they traveled in a loose cloud that was hard to see against the blue sky, and I lost them when they entered the woods.

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The only other time I’ve seen a swarm on the move, it was much more compact, and traveled only about fifteen feet off the ground — a hair-raising apparition. This one flew at least twice as high. It had probably split off from one of the honeybee colonies in the walls of a derelict house a quarter mile away; that might explain its initial attraction to my parents’ house. But its ultimate destination was probably some hollow tree, of which we have plenty on the mountain.

We used to keep bees back in the late 70s and early 80s, before the bears became too numerous, and twice I watched as my dad captured feral swarms and put them into waiting hive boxes. The first time he got all suited up and carried the smoker along, but the second time, he used nothing but a pair of pruners and a burlap sack, as I recall. Putting a hive of bees into a clean, white box full of frames seems a little like trying to lure a god into a shrine — or typing poems into a humming computer. Go forth and pollinate, says the maker to himself.

Speaking of swarms, be sure to check out today’s post at The Middlewesterner, where Tom describes his visit to Plummer’s Hollow, our road trip to Montreal, and the blogger swarm that followed.


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J is my middle initial. What about it?


In other news, I am haunted by the story of a woman who married a cobra.

A woman who fell in love with a snake has married the reptile at a traditional Hindu wedding celebrated by 2,000 guests in India’s Orissa state, reports said.

Bimbala Das wore a silk saree for the ceremony Wednesday at Atala village near the Orissa state capital Bhubaneswar. […]

Villagers welcomed the wedding in the belief it would bring good fortune and laid on a feast for the big day.

Snakes and particularly the King Cobra are venerated in India as religious symbols worn by Lord Shiva, the god of destruction.

Das, from a lower caste, converted to the animal-loving vegetarian Vaishnav sect whose local elders gave her permission to marry the cobra, the world’s largest venomous snake that can grow up to five metres.

“I am happy,” said her mother Dyuti Bhoi, who has two other daughters and two sons to marry off.

“Bimbala was ill,” Bhoi told local OTV channel. “We had no money to treat her. Then she started offering milk to the snake … she was cured. That made her fall in love.”

Das has moved into a hut built close to the ant hill since the wedding.

Earlier this year, a tribal girl was married off to a dog on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.


I’m not very competitive, but I couldn’t resist joining Crack Skull Bob’s Self-Portrait Marathon (found via Blaugustine). Check out the marathon portrait gallery, complete with thumbnails. Sparky Donatello himself is a terrific sketch artist, and I’ve become an instant fan of his blog.

White Woman

Genesee River falls

En route to Montreal on June 1, my friends and I camped at Letchworth State Park on the Genesee River in western New York. We only had a couple of hours to look around before dark, but we took in the Lower Falls in the so-called Grand Canyon of the East. Huge red oaks lined the canyon’s rim, and the stone walls built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews in the 1930s stretched for miles. We followed the rather poorly signed stone steps down to the bridge below the falls — the crowning achievement of the CCC boys.

Letchworth SP bridge

We were entranced by the patterns of foam in the river, and hung out there for close to an hour. Though much of the park was severely over-browsed by deer, the steep-sided gorge provided a refuge for hobblebush, mountain maple and other uncommon plants. We watched rock doves flying in and out of holes in the cliffs — a different bird entirely from their urban cousins. We spotted a female common merganser swimming upstream, followed by four chicks. They headed for a submerged shelf of rock about a hundred feet below the falls, where the chicks attempted to imitate their mother as she dove repeatedly under the roiling water in search of fish.

Just before dusk, we drove to the gravesite of Mary Jemison, or Dehgawanus, “the White Woman of the Genesee,” whose autobiography was one of the most popular Indian captive narratives in the 19th century. The grave was capped by a bronze sculpture of her in full Indian dress, and flanked by two, reconstructed log houses: the cabin of one of her daughters, and a small Seneca council house. A nearly tame doe grazed about twenty feet away as we circled the shrine. Much of what is now Letchworth Park once belonged to Jemison; she lived about five miles downstream from the Lower Falls.

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Mary Jemison at the age of 90, from an old postcard (source)

“In stature she is very short, and considerably under the middle size, and stands tolerably erect, with her head bent forward, apparently from her having for a long time been accustomed to carrying heavy burdens in a strap placed across her forehead. Her complexion is very white for a woman of her age, and although the wrinkles of fourscore years are deeply indented in her cheeks, yet the crimson of youth is distinctly visible. Her eyes are light blue, a little faded by age, and naturally brilliant and sparkling. Her sight is quite dim, though she is able to perform her necessary labor without the assistance of glasses. Her cheek bones are high, and rather prominent, and her front teeth, in the lower jaw, are sound and good. When she looks up and is engaged in conversation her countenance is very expressive; but from her long residence with the Indians, she has acquired the habit of peeping from under eye-brows as they do with the head inclined downwards. Formerly her hair was of a light chestnut brown–it is now quite grey, a little curled, of middling length and tied in a bunch behind. She informed me that she had never worn a cap nor a comb.

“She speaks English plainly and distinctly, with a little of the Irish emphasis, and has the use of words so well as to render herself intelligible on any subject with which she is acquainted. Her recollection and memory exceeded my expectation. It cannot be reasonably supposed, that a person of her age has kept the events of seventy years in so complete a chain as to be able to assign to each its proper time and place; she, however, made her recital with as few obvious mistakes as might be found in that of a person of fifty.

“She walks with a quick step without a staff, and I was informed by Mr. Clute, that she could yet cross a stream on a log or pole as steadily as any other person.

“Her passions are easily excited. At a number of periods in her narration, tears trickled down her grief worn cheek, and at the same time, a rising sigh would stop her utterance.

“Industry is a virtue which she has uniformly practised from the day of her adoption to the present. She pounds her samp, cooks for herself, gathers and chops wood, feeds her cattle and poultry, and performs other laborious services. Last season she planted, tended and gathered corn–in short she is always busy.”

–James E. Seaver, A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (1824)

Genesee River falls closeup

The Jemisons were Scotch-Irish settlers on the Pennsylvania frontier during the French and Indian Wars. Captured by a raiding party of Shawnee, they were all killed and scalped except for the twelve-year-old Mary, who was given to a Seneca family to adopt in place of a dead son — a common practice among Indians of the Eastern forest.

“On a pleasant day in the spring of 1755, when my father was sowing flax-seed, and my brothers driving the teams, I was sent to a neighbor’s house, a distance of perhaps a mile, to procure a horse and return with it the next morning. I went as I was directed. I was out of the house in the beginning of the evening, and saw a sheet wide spread approaching towards me, in which I was caught (as I have ever since believed) and deprived of my senses! The family soon found me on the ground, almost lifeless, (as they said,) took me in, and made use of every remedy in their power for my recovery, but without effect till day-break, when my senses returned, and I soon found myself in good health, so that I went home with the horse very early in the morning.

“The appearance of that sheet, I have ever considered as a forerunner of the melancholy catastrophe that so soon afterwards happened to our family: and my being caught in it I believe, was ominous of my preservation from death at the time we were captured.”

–Mary Jemison, according to Seaver (ibid.)

Genesee River foam 1

“As I have before observed, the family to which I belonged was part of a tribe of Seneca Indians, who lived, at that time, at a place called Genishau, from the name of the tribe, that was situated on a river of the same name which is now called Genesee. The word Genishau signifies a shining, clear or open place.”

Genesee River foam 2

“No people can live more happy than the Indians did in times of peace, before the introduction of spirituous liquors amongst them. Their lives were a continual round of pleasures. Their wants were few, and easily satisfied; and their cares were only for to-day; the bounds of their calculations for future comfort not extending to the incalculable uncertainties of to-morrow. If peace ever dwelt with men, it was in former times, in the recesses from war, amongst what are now termed barbarians. The moral character of the Indians was (if I may be allowed the expression) uncontaminated. Their fidelity was perfect, and became proverbial; they were strictly honest; they despised deception and falsehood; and chastity was held in high veneration, and a violation of it was considered sacrilege. They were temperate in their desires, moderate in their passions, and candid and honorable in the expression of their sentiments on every subject of importance.”

Trek of the Dead

“Poor Boyd was stripped of his clothing, and then tied to a sapling, where the Indians menaced his life by throwing their tomahawks at the tree, directly over his head, brandishing their scalping knives around him in the most frightful manner, and accompanying their ceremonies with terrific shouts of joy. Having punished him sufficiently in this way, they made a small opening in his abdomen, took out an intestine, which they tied to the sapling, and then unbound him from the tree, and drove him round it till he had drawn out the whole of his intestines. He was then beheaded, his head was stuck upon a pole, and his body left on the ground unburied. […]

“This tragedy being finished, our Indians again held a short council on the expediency of giving Sullivan battle, if he should continue to advance, and finally came to the conclusion that they were not strong enough to drive him, nor to prevent his taking possession of their fields: but that if it was possible they would escape with their own lives, preserve their families, and leave their possessions to be overrun by the invading army.

“The women and children were then sent on still further towards Buffalo, to a large creek that was called by the Indians Catawba, accompanied by a part of the Indians, while the remainder secreted themselves in the woods back of Beard’s Town, to watch the movements of the army.

“At that time I had three children who went with me on foot, one who rode on horse back, and one whom I carried on my back.

“Our corn was good that year; a part of which we had gathered and secured for winter.

“In one or two days after the skirmish at Connissius lake, Sullivan and his army arrived at Genesee river, where they destroyed every article of the food kind that they could lay their hands on. A pan of our corn they burnt, and threw the remainder into the river. They burnt our houses, killed what few cattle and horses they could find, destroyed our fruit trees, and left nothing but the bare soil and timber. But the Indians had eloped and were not to be found.”

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“For provisions I have never suffered since I came upon the flats; nor have I ever been in debt to any other hands than my own for the plenty that I have shared.

“My vices, that have been suspected, have been but few. It was believed for a long time, by some of our people, that I was a great witch; but they were unable to prove my guilt, and consequently I escaped the certain doom of those who are convicted of that crime, which, by Indians, is considered as heinous as murder. Some of my children had light brown hair, and tolerable fair skin, which used to make some say that I stole them; yet as I was ever conscious of my own constancy, I never thought that any one really believed that I was guilty of adultery.

“I have been the mother of eight children; three of whom are now living, and I have at this time thirty-nine grand children, and fourteen great-grand children, all living in the neighborhood of Genesee River, and at Buffalo.

“I live in my own house, and on my own land with my youngest daughter, Polly, who is married to George Chongo, and has three children.

“My daughter Nancy, who is married to Billy Green, lives about 80 rods south of my house, and has seven children.

“My other, daughter, Betsey, is married to John Green, has seven children, and resides 80 rods north of my house.

“Thus situated in the midst of my children, I expect I shall soon leave the world, and make room for the rising generation. I feel the weight of years with which I am loaded, and am sensible of my daily failure in seeing, hearing and strength; but my only anxiety is for my family. If my family will live happily, and I can be exempted from trouble while I have to stay, I feel as though I could lay down in peace a life that has been checked in almost every hour, with troubles of a deeper dye, than are commonly experienced by mortals.”

Many Jemison memorial