A Bigfoot poem

would have nothing whatsoever
to do with, you know — those interlopers.
It would have, I suppose,
a cold mountain stream in it,
a rock shifting in the current,
the too-loud splash of a trout.
It would have loose bark
ticking in the wind
& a saw-whet owl’s discrete
requests for clarification —
that kind of persistence.
It would have the hush
when the crickets suddenly stop
& your pulse makes such a racket
you’re sure it will give you away,
you whose knees
are incapable of bending,
whose feet grip as much of the ground
as they can still lay claim to.
It would cry, that poem,
possibly for joy.
It would hiss.


Yule log

Today is the tenth anniversary of the coining of the term “weblog.” Happy Blog Day!

I was disappointed, though, to see that the guy who coined it has such a narrow and dogmatic view of its application:

1. A true weblog is a log of all the URLs you want to save or share. (So del.icio.us is actually better for blogging than blogger.com.)

2. You can certainly include links to your original thoughts, posted elsewhere … but if you have more original posts than links, you probably need to learn some humility.

3. If you spend a little time searching before you post, you can probably find your idea well articulated elsewhere already.

But “log” sounds so much more masculine than “journal,” doesn’t it? Captains keep logs; journals are for wimpy writers. People who are arrogant and presumptuous enough to think they have something new to say, and that the world might care if they do.

As it happened, I started the day by cutting up a white pine tree that had blown down across the driveway. I was singing the log song the whole time! O.K., not really. But I did enjoy my walk back up the hollow through three and a half inches of new powder. And with close to two inches of packed sleet underneath that, the sledding was excellent, as I discovered this afternoon.

tree mouth

Coincidentally, it’s also Via Negativa’s own fourth birthday. That’s a lot of water under the, um, log.

RSS and email subscribers: Please click through to view the Log video.


Splendour of snow blown sideways
through the penitentiary yard,
plastering the brown scissor-blade legs
of cattails in the ditch, filling keyholes
& every available crack,
razor-wire softening into white ropes

when the bang of an unfastened corncrib door
brings everyone — the guards
& the guarded — to a full stop.
This was once an ordinary farm
with ordinary livestock.
Ghostly pigeons arrive
from a blurred-out depth of field.

For the birds

Today was our local Audubon chapter’s Christmas Bird Count, and while Mom and Steve scoured the mountain, I hung out in my mother’s kitchen watching the feeders. I had bread to bake, as well as a casserole for the evening potluck. (Click on the photos to view at a larger size.)

house finch

To pass the time, I thought I’d try taking some pictures. For several days now I’ve been meaning to photograph the black raspberry canes below the back steps. They make really terrific patterns, especially against a white and brown bokeh. But the birds must’ve known it was their day — they kept landing right in the middle of my shot.

cardinal 2

I mean, what did they take me for, some kind of wildlife photographer? I don’t even wear a floppy hat! I’m trying to be an artist here, you know?

tufted titmouse

They particularly seemed to like perching on the cross-stroke of a thorny “A.” Anarchists!


I tried shifting the camera to another part of the patch, but it was no use. The birds insisting on critterizing my every attempt at an artsy abstract composition.

My only unique contribution to the Plummer’s Hollow count, by the way, was a pine siskin (which I did take a photo of, purely for documentary purposes). Overall, it was a rather poor count for our property, but Juniata Valley Audubon’s preliminary tally was just short of our all-time record, owing to a large number of unusual waterfowl species elsewhere in the count circle.

For a related post from the archives, see Christmas bird count: the wild and the quiet.
(Update) See also Christmas Bird Count 2007 at the Plummer’s Hollow blog.

After the sleet storm


“Greensleeves was all my joy…” A song that seems to fit the season, wronged as so many feel by the inclement weather, the cold, the diminishing light.

That’s not snow on the hillside, by the way; it’s sleet — close to an inch of it. We’ve gotten far greater accumulations of pellet ice here in the past. A couple times, so much sleet rolled down the steep slopes that our road was almost completely filled in and erased, briefly restoring the mountain to a semblance of its pre-settlement appearance. But even a small amount of ice changes the whole purlieu.

sleet ferns

Christmas ferns sit with their oars at the ready, like Viking longships trapped in a sudden freeze-up. Various other plants and leaves expose their extremities, as if testing the air, or brandishing weapons from a simpler age.

microlandscape with sleet

A chestnut oak leaf curls possessively around its hoard of incidental light. Wait till my lady Greensleeves sees this! Even after the pellets fuse, the ground remains granular, faceted like the eye of an insect.

microlandscape with sleet 2

Strange thoughts, to be sure. But this is not the same dull world I am used to finding under my feet.

White hair

Somewhere in NJ

One day someone killed Sam the Mindreader. I found him squashed and dried up. I stayed there for a long time just looking and listening to the creek running across the rocks. Suddenly I was left with a name in the emptiness, a name I didn’t know what to do with.

The mind-reader’s name
seemed hollow after his death —
just me, rambling.


simply wait

That night I dreamed of my first home, of the trees outside the closet-sized room with the pink rose wallpaper where I spent my childhood, and the scent of lilac in the spring. In the next room my parents argued and loved, dreamed and worried. Our lives there, now vanished, seemed as solid and indestructible as those tall oaks and catalpas outside my window.

In a hospital bed
with a view of bare branches,
dreams of long-lost homes.


Feathers of Hope

This creature emerges from decomposing piles. [drawing]

Placed on a white page,
the maggot looks anything
but white.



It grew cold, and the cold grew on all surfaces.

Lovely white hair
that crumples in the sun:
frost on a rose hip.


Burning Silo

We found the remains of dead seabirds and a sea lion, along with bits and pieces of crabs, clam, oysters and fish. The Black Oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) and various species of gulls seemed busy as they poked between rocks and patrolled sandy beaches.

Skull of a seabird
washed up before the sea was half-
finished with it.


the cassandra pages

But something about these little, simple solids delights me: the way a few little flat sheets of paper become something so firm and beautiful.

Fed up with the blank page,
it’s so satisfying to make
a paper airplane!


tasting rhubarb

[photos of ice-skaters]

In a world of ice,
imagine how we would flock
to a walking rink!


Clouded Drab

Some serious lumps of beef on sale at Borough Market.

Red and gold foil,
a glistening side of beef:
Christmas at the butcher’s.

Dossaa dossaa

moss footprints

Butuki stopped by and left a comment on The sound of snow, as I’d hoped he might.

Hey Dave, a good way to reach the end of a long, heavy day (dossaa dossaa! sound of huge, heavy footsteps, like those of a work horse). Outside today a cold rain patters against the office window (pata pata), while my fingers are tingling from having been out in the cold and now sit in a heated room (piri piri), but my cheeks are still soft like a baby’s bottom (puyo puyo). Too many hours staring at the computer my eyes feel like prunes (chika chika, also the feeling of itching, dry skin) and since the store is closed downstairs I’m thirsty (kara kara). I have to head home soon on my bicycle but I’m pretty exhausted (hero hero) so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to ride in a straight line (yura yura). It’s raining pretty hard so I’ll most likely be splashing through puddles along the way (dzubaaa! goshi goshi) and the sound of the cars booming along the highway nearby (GOH GOH!) will make it hard to listen to the gravelly crunching (gara gara) of the dirt path around the potholes in the dark so that I fall into them (dzut’ton), and maybe go flying over my handlebars (buwaaa!), and break my arm (pohkih! said very quickly). That may or may not bring the screaming police cars (pii pohhh pii pohhh!), but will surely give me time to lie there in a muddy rice paddy to contemplate the existence in the universe (DOH DOH DOH DOHHHHH!).

See also Soen Joon’s comment for some examples of Korean onomatopoeia, such as:

“bbusool-bbusool,” a kind of soft rain that’s more than a fog and less than the kind of rain that falls in steady plops, which goes “chulok-chulok”

We’ve been hearing bbusool-bbusool a lot here over the last few days.

Gift economy

Qarrtsiluni, the online literary magazine I help curate, has created a cache.

Get instant street cred with a qarrtsiluni t-shirt, hoodie, or ballcap! Impress your colleagues or office-mates with a qarrtsiluni coffee mug! Barely in time for the 2007 holiday season, we’ve just opened a goods cache at CafePress.com.

Why “cache,” and not store? Everything we offer is sold at cost and printed on demand — we’re not making a penny off it. And after all, why should you pay us? You’re helping to spread our logo!

For bloggers, we also have some free sidebar bling.

Had we gotten around to this sooner, you’d be able to order stuff and get it by Christmas. But if you hurry, you can still get it by Epiphany (Jan. 6) — which is really much more in keeping with the spirit of qarrtsiluni anyway.


If you’re in the habit of making charitable donations this time of year, I have a suggestion for a worthy recipient. Chris Clarke, former editor of Earth Island Journal, writes one of the best nature blogs in all blogdom, Creek Running North. But his unpaid generosity with his day-to-day writing isn’t getting him any closer to finishing his magnum opus: a book on Joshua trees, those charismatic and imperilled denizens of the Mohave desert. So he has asked his readers for help, especially with gas money, to finish the research. You’ll find not only a link to his Amazon account, but also a detailed accounting of how he plans to spend the funds. In his original post containing the plea, Chris wrote:

If you’re unfamiliar with the kind of writing I do on desert issues, you can look in the “desert” category and browse around. Of recent posts, this one on piñon-juniper forests, or this one on a bit of eccentric desert lore, or this first-person narrative provide good examples of my related writing.

I’ve been reading Chris for four years, and I feel confident not only in the quality of his workmanship, but also in his moral character — this is not some slick scheme to sucker people out of their money so he can take a vacation to Hawaii! And Creek Running North has a large, loyal, and formidably intelligent community of regular commenters whose interest and participation will help ensure that he gets the damn book written. So if you have any interest in raising public consciousness about the plight of the Joshua tree, or in supporting a genuinely great nature writer, go and give till it hurts.

“El son de las hojas”: Five tree poems from Renaissance Spain

De los álamos vengo, madre,
de ver cómo los menea el aire.

De los álamos de Sevilla,
de ver a mi linda amiga.

De los álamos vengo, madre,
de ver cómo los menea el aire.


I come from the aspens, Mother,
from watching them tremble in the breeze.

From the aspen trees of Seville,
where I saw my beautiful lover.

I come from the aspens, Mother,
from seeing how they tremble in the breeze.


Tres morillas me enamoran
en Jaén:
Axa y Fátima y Marién.

Tres morillas tan garridas
iban a coger olivas,
y hallábanse cogidas
en Jaén:
Axa y Fátima y Marién.

Y hallábanse cogidas
y tornaban desmaí­das
y las colores perdidas
en Jaén:
Axa y Fátima y Marién.

Tres moricas tan lozanas,
tres moricas tan lozanas
iban a coger manzanas
en Jaén:
Axa y Fátima y Marién.


Three Moorish girls caught my eye
in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

Three fine-looking Moorish girls
went out to pluck olives from the tree
and got themselves plucked
in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

Got themselves plucked
and returned in a tizzy,
all their color gone
in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

Three very lively Moorish girls,
Three very lively Moorish girls
went out to pick apples
in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.


Las mis penas, madre,
de amores son.

Salid, mi señora,
de s’ol naranjale,
que sois tan fermosa
quemarvos ha el aire
de amores, sí­.


These troubles I’m having, Mother,
are all from love.

Come out, my lady,
from under the orange grove,
for you are so beautiful
that the very air, I swear,
will ignite with love.


So ell encina, encina,
so ell encina.

Yo me iba, mi madre,
a la romerí­a;
por ir más devota
fui sin compañí­a:
so ell encina.

Por ir más devota
fui sin compañí­a.
Tomé otro camino
dejé el que tení­a:
so ell encina.

Halléme perdida
en una montaña,
echéme a dormir
al pie dell encina:
so ell encina.

A la media noche
recordé, mezquina;
halléme en los brazos
del que más querí­a:
so ell encina.

Pesóme cuitada
de que amanecí­a,
porque yo gozaba
del que más querí­a:
so ell encina.

Muy bendita sí­a
la tal romerí­a:
so ell encina.


Beneath the holly oak, the holly oak,
beneath the holly oak.

I was going around
on pilgrimage, Mother,
and to show my full devotion,
I went alone,
beneath the holly oak.

To show my full devotion,
I went alone.
I took another road,
and left the one I was on,
beneath the holly oak.

I found I had lost my way
on the mountainside,
so I lay down to sleep
at the foot of a holly oak,
beneath the holly oak.

In the middle of the night,
I woke up, all miserable,
and found myself in the arms
of the one I love the best,
beneath the holly oak.

Poor me! I was so sorry
when morning came,
because I’d been enjoying
the one I love the best,
beneath the holly oak.

Oh blessed be
that pilgrimage
beneath the holly oak.


Con el viento murmuran,
madre, las hojas;
y al sonido me duermo
bajo su sombra.

Sopla un manso viento
alegre y suave,
que mueve la nave
de mi pensamiento;
dame tal contento
que me parece
que el cielo me ofrece
bien a deshora;
y al sonido me duermo
bajo su sombra.

Si acaso recuerdo
me hallo entre las flores,
y de mis dolores
apenas me acuerdo;
de vista las pierdo
del sueño vencida,
y dame la vida
el son de las hojas;
y al sonido me duermo
bajo su sombra.


The leaves murmur
in the wind, Mother,
and lull me to sleep
in their shade.

A breeze blows
soft and light,
moving the ship
of my thoughts.
It makes me feel
so content, it’s as if
I’ve been given
an advance taste
of heaven,
lulled to sleep
in their shade.

If I happen to wake,
I find myself
among flowers,
scarce able to recall
my cares —
lost to sight,
vanquished by dreaming —
and the sound of the leaves
brings me to life,
lulled to sleep
in their shade.



These are all anonymous lyrics from the 15th and 16th centuries, translated with the help of a dictionary. I’m no scholar, but based on Cola Franzen’s translations in Poems of Arab Andalusia (City Lights, 1989), among other lines of evidence, I can only suppose that the vivid natural imagery in the Castillian cancioneros reflects strong Mozarabic influence. The association of trees with paradise and seduction seems especially Arab to me.

Tres morillas / Three Moorish girls

I resisted the urge to translate “tan lozanas” as “hot and spicy,” but somehow the racist stereotype of the vivacious, sexually available, brown-skinned southerner feels all too familiar.

So ell encina / Beneath the holly oaks

This song is in a woman’s voice.

The holly oak, or holm oak, Quercus ilex, sports leathery, evergreen leaves and “forms a picturesque rounded head, with pendulous low-hanging branches.” The Wikipedia article also says it’s one of the three best trees under which to grow truffles.

Romerí­as were annual pilgrimages to local or regional shrines associated with saints or the Virgin Mary, and were often quite festive events — a tradition that continues to this day.

Con el viento murmuran / The leaves murmur
This could be in the voice of either sex.

The next edition of the Festival of the Trees will be at Hoarded Ordinaries on January 1. Send your tree-related links to zenmama (at) gmail (dot) com with “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line by December 30.