Powerful cleaning

ultra-concentrated joy

Who needs Zen when there’s ultra-concentrated Joy? Of course, the claims are lies: it’s a cheap detergent, no more concentrated than any of the competing brands, and a little bit of it doesn’t go very far at all. But at least it doesn’t claim to be “Home-E-Zential,” or (like another one of Trader Joe’s cleaning products) Next to Godliness.

I have to say, though, I think the soap makers are thinking too small. Cleaning needn’t be merely joyful, meditative, or morally improving; it can and probably should be a life-changing experience. I’m sure an Orgasm detergent will be coming soon. But what about Epiphany? What about Jesus?! This is America. If we can expect epiphanies for breakfast, it may take more than mere joy to clean the dishes.


I am not done with this one book, and you want me to try a second? The writing is backwards, and corresponds to nothing I know.
Between one page and the next, they launch the fall line of suicide vests with retarded children as models.
Between one verse and the next, they send a satellite to snap pictures of lakes on a moon of Jupiter.
The words fall softly, like the tolling of bells without clappers. The golden frogs vanish from the green mountain.
The type font bulges at the bottom: tears tattooed on a gang member’s face in remembrance of each his victims.
The letter kills, the Word makes whole, and the whole makes a mishmash of identities.
The Amish bishop says of the communion wine: If one berry remains whole, it has no share in the whole.
Oh War, my War, save us from this quagmire of holiness.

Fox and hounds

coyote tracksDo farm kids still play fox and hounds? I loved being the quarry, with a half-hour head-start to try and make my footprints in the snow lead elsewhere than to me. This was back before the eastern coyote arrived on our mountain, so there were still plenty of red foxes in residence — Reynard was my role model, not Coyote.

It always seemed too easy: with the whole mountain at our disposal, I had hundreds of acres in which to hide my skinny frame and sit out the clock. I learned to walk backwards in my own tracks and to run in huge circles, to keep an eye out for likely vines and south-facing slopes with bare rocks. Places with odd echoes could be used to throw my voice — a taunting yelp.

I’d look for a likely thicket, laden with wild grapes, because if a flock of winter birds settled in around me, it was as good as a spider web across the door. I had to watch my scent, though, because the deer could give me away. A deer snort can be heard a long way off.

After an hour and a half of running, I loved the return to stillness as my heart stopped hammering and I focused on every rustle, listening hard and hoping to hear nothing but the wind. But it was also fun to cut it close, and spy on my brothers the hounds as they panted up the far side of a ravine, the smoke of their breaths signaling zero, zero, zero.

view of Tussey Mountain

Thought-blogging the Democratic debate

The debates have become so scripted now, the only real action takes place in the candidates’ heads. And since that’s pretty much pure speculation, why hold off blogging tonight’s debate until it actually happens? Here’s as good a guess as any at what they’ll be thinking tonight.

B: I’m Bruce Springsteen and I’m reporting for duty! Heh.

H: I don’t get it. After everything Bill and I have done for these people, to drop me for this upstart. Why can’t I get no RESPECT? Now I know how Aretha feels.

B: I can meet with my enemies. I can, I can! Ugh. Diplomacy is a bitch.

H: If I can just get the Bubba vote, I can win this thing. Lotta Bubbas in Texas and Ohio. We’ve done the race-baiting, we’ve stoked anti-Muslim sentiment… I just need to beat a bit more on the “all words, no action” bone. Trailer trash HATE intellectuals!

B: Go ahead, call me “articulate.” I dare you.

H: Now if we could only link him to the French. Anything French. I’ll bet we can find a tape of him refusing to order Freedom Fries…

B: She is so Yale. She fairly reeks of noblesse oblige. Probably shared Dubya’s silver spoon. Go Harvard!

H: Wait! My God — he’s left-handed! Must tell my staff to work on an innuendo about that. “Sinister”? No, Bubba won’t get that. Uh, let’s see… Leftie. Leftist. Left behind. Is America ready for a left-handed president???

B: Is this where she does her skit with the Happy Hands Club?

H: American voters are such pathetic sheep. And now they think they’ve found their perfect shepherd! Jesus Christ. Just once I wish he’d morph into McCain and start frothing at the mouth.

B: I see your “experience” and raise you one “Iraq war vote.” Flush!

H: Now with the cursed “mandates” again. I am so sick of these preemptive attacks.

B: So “bitch is the new black,” huh? Good luck with that. Last time I checked, Americans liked bossy women about as much as they liked angry black folks. Hope the unsinkable HMS Hillary packed enough lifeboats.

H: Wait, why did they boo that line? My writers told me it was fool-proof! O.K., time to enter the confessional, I guess. I hate this shit.

B: I could do this in my sleep. In fact, I could use a nap right now. Damn! Did Ms. Weepy Eyes slip something in my water?

H: He’s not the underdog — I’M the underdog! Do you hear me, America? Owooooo!

B: What is up with this woman? Why do we have to keep sniffing each other’s butts?

The claw

snow claw
Click to see larger

Snow annealed by sun
on a tin roof, followed
by a cold night, holds
together the next day
as it slides off
the edge & begins to yaw,
curling under the eaves:
a white claw. I think
of a Siberian tiger
with corrugations for stripes,
hell-bent on breaking
out of its fort. The icicles’
dagger-tips drip with
their own fluid —
saliva of a sort.
A wavy sky always denotes
a clash of dry & wet:
unsettled weather.
An ambiguous threat.

In response to the Read Write Poem prompt, weather. Read other responses here.


grape trellis

Following animal tracks through the former grape trellis & into the woods, I pass between wire & shadows. The crusted snow tugs at my feet, as if to fix me in place like so many others.


I watch the way things surface & think of a snow-shark rearing a hammer head, or some other cryptozoological prodigy. It’s the shadows more than the sun that pull me uphill. The bright, still morning seems just right for a sighting.

Then on an unused game trail, I almost trip over a loop of new wire staked between two bushes. I freeze & stare.


This must be what the game laws call a cable restraint, as if it were simply a fancy kind of leash for recalcitrant canids. No wonder the songdogs here so rarely advertise their presence!

I reach down & pull it out by the roots, then spot the fresh bootprints on the other side. They are enormous.

I will track this creature to its den.


mantid egg case

Praying mantises put all their eggs in one basket — prayerfully, I suppose. I find three mantis egg cases within 20 feet of each other and begin to worry: what if this is representative of the field as a whole? There could be thousands and thousands of mantises hatching this spring! What will they eat? But then I remember they’re creatures of dogmatic devotion to the temple of the body. Some will make the ultimate sacrifice, and this is their strength as a nation of predators: they have each other.

dangling cocoon

Hope takes many forms, some of them perilous — especially for those in suspended animation. Grave robbers are everywhere. But I’ve always thought that the fact that so many tombs in ancient Egypt were found to be empty suggests that at least a few of the occupants shed their wrappings and completed their metamophoses as planned. Imagine those human imagos standing in the thresholds of doors that didn’t exist until they opened them, stretching feelers out into the night of a new millenium, waiting for their wings to expand like the lungs of a newborn taking its first taste of air.


Some recent quotes which have nothing whatsoever to do with politics

Experiments in Dr. Hanlon’s lab have shown that they are color blind. They see a world without color, but their skin changes rapidly to any hue in the rainbow. How is that possible?
Revealed: Secrets of the Camouflage Masters

Sometimes they play the same songs in the same order. Sometimes the same songs in a different order. Sometimes different songs completely. The venue changes and thus the stage configuration, sound, the lighting are new each time.

They can’t escape, these protagonists,
caught between ruby and green,
the dark blue light, all within
the black bars of lead.
Patteran Pages

Foxes begin now to be very rank, & to smell so high that as one rides along of a morning it is easy to distinguish where they have been the night before.
The Natural History of Selborne

They assault him with paws and tongues, licking him as though his face was made of sugar, clearly impressed to find him at their level.
Now’s the time

The poem has nothing
to say right now. The poem
wishes it were somewhere

I keep my kids’ baby teeth in my change purse.
The Rain in My Purse

A ceremony is symbolic; it celebrates something that has happened. (Birthdays happen, with or without a ceremony.) A ritual is theurgic; it creates a new truth.
Velveteen Rabbi

Frost and sun transmute to sequinned lace of fine-spun silver the slug trails thrown over the log pile.

Zoom lens: eyes, then feet float up towards the tree-tops. Cool, dreamy clarity of Winter shapes.
tasting rhubarb

We saw what we believe to be Pelagic Cormorant pairs nesting on these sheer cliffs. An interesting sight, their chosen ledge so narrow that the birds stand with their necks kinked and their beaks pointing upward. They too are waiting for storms to pass, for eggs to hatch, holding an idea about the future for which there are no words.
Dharma Bums

I’ve always liked to think of clouds as aquatic environments suspended in the sky. Yet despite their comfortable white fluffy look, they’re not hospitable places.
The Wild Side

When I’m somewhere else, I experience not just the absence of home, but an absence shaped like home.
Creature of the Shade

seen so many times,
she is north.

She says Not again.
She says I am not
strong, don’t you dare tell me

how strong I am.

After a time of tiny wandering, I begin to grow sad and lonely. Where will I sleep? What can I eat? Exploring a maze of shapes and patterns, amongst mythical animals, seems suddenly not enough. Or perhaps too much.
Smoke and Ash

a pigeon pecks at a pile of puke
a small stone

Sometimes I just want to tell the world to “Shut up.” Noise of the radio, noise of tires on the wet asphalt, the distant whine of all the unhappy people.
The Middlewesterner

If we wait long enough, your plot of snowdrops may meet my patch of lily-of-the-valley, and then our flowers will be neighbors too and we’ll not have to steal glances from one another’s garden any longer.
Somewhere in NJ


eclipsed moon

Coming home from a meeting after dark, I found myself walking up the hollow just as the lunar eclipse was getting underway. When I got up to the top, I stood watching among the pines until it reached totality. The trees’ shadows grew fainter and fainter until they disappeared altogether. Meanwhile, the stars had grown much brighter.

eclipsed moon with Saturn 1

I starting snapping pictures about five minutes later. From my front porch, the moon had just cleared the treetops. Astronomers had said it might turn an interesting shade of orange or red because it would be passing through the outer part of the umbra, and it didn’t disappoint, changing color from minute to minute. There were also some very thin strattus clouds that altered the hue from second to second, as in the following shot. (That’s Saturn in the lower left. Regulus appears above the moon in the last shot.)

eclipsed moon with Saturn 2

Unaware of coming, going,
I turn back alone.
Caught in the midnight sky,
The moon silvering all.
–Eun, 1232-1301
(from Zen Poems of China and Japan, tr. Lucien Stryk and Takahashi Ikemoto)

Where is your Buddhist enlightenment now? MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

eclipsed moon with Saturn and Regulus

Via Negativa!
Via Negativa!
Via Negativa!

(O.K., must cut down on watching political speeches on YouTube.)

UPDATE: See also Shai Gluskin’s great series of eclipse photos.

Announcing the Undiscovery Channel

Undiscovery Channel logo

No, I’m not starting a new blog! Five is enough, thank you. This is a channel. Really, just a fancy name for a place where I group all my videos together on Vimeo. Which I’m mostly just using to host the videos that I embed here, having gotten tired of YouTube. Vimeo has better esthetics, a more sophisticated clientele (at least until I joined), and they encourage uploading higher-resolution videos. And I think they’re popular enough to survive the coming shake-out when the Web 2.0 bubble bursts. (But I’m keeping my YouTube account open in case they aren’t.)

If you’ve been reading Via Negativa for a while, you know I have a thing about porcupines. Actually, that goes back to my pre-blog days: porcupines were a leitmotif of my original website, as well. Like a porcupine, I’m a slow-moving pacifist, I love trees, and I have large front teeth. Also, while we’re not on a first-name basis or anything, I do usually have a porcupine in residence under my house. Just the other morning, I wrote about watching it return after daybreak. What I didn’t mention is that I went inside and grabbed my camera when I saw it coming. Here’s the result.

Subscribers must click through to watch the video, as usual, or go here.

I was in the process of grabbing the embed code for this video this morning when I noticed the link to Vimeo Channels and said, Hey — that looks like a branch I could chew on for a little while. But I assure you, this isn’t going to be like Visual Soma or The Morning Porch; I set up the Undiscovery Channel purely as a lark. I have absolutely no intention of getting into filmmaking yet.

Anyone have a digital video camera they’re looking to get rid of?