Ode to a House Jack

This entry is part 13 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


This time, there are no magic beans.
Every man-jack turns into
an acme-threaded beanstalk.

The hound under the porch
noses at the growing
hoard of sunlight

as the old house
climbs groaning
into the sky.

Ode to a Measuring Tape

This entry is part 14 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


Tape that doesn’t stick, reliable as the pronouncements of some close-lipped neighbor who never goes beyond the corner of the block. Tape that bends to follow the flank of a fish. Vacuuming dried begonia petals from a window ledge, I accidentally suck up a snail shell, one of three I’d had on display. It rattles briefly down the long hose & is gone. Shall I open the Shop-Vac’s fat belly & dig for it in the slag heap of dust & dead beetles? No, I’ll look for another. Snails in the woods are subject to continual Rapture — their empty shells are legion. Ditto for the ladybugs that litter every corner now that winter is past.

In an old house like this, nothing is square. The yellow blade of the contractor’s measuring tape was out of its case more often than it was in, checking the height of the ceiling every few feet. Either come in or stay outside, our exasperated parents used to tell us. On rainy days we’d spiral from the basement to the attic, leaving half-finished sketches to go try on costumes from a huge carton of old clothes.

Tape that doesn’t stick, like the tongue of snake. I had a friend in grade school who particularly enjoyed this game of dress-up. We’d switch between oversized suits & oversized gowns without a second thought. One time we even dressed as a newlywed couple & paraded downstairs to show my mom. I don’t recall her sharing our enthusiasm. As far as I was concerned, it was adulthood we were parodying, not gender roles per se. We laughed to think what kind of fop such clothes would actually fit. But now I can’t fit into my own jeans from five years ago, & as for my erstwhile friend, some neighbor said he came out of the closet as a homosexual & moved to Florida with his lover, not necessarily in that order. I know if I were gay, I’d leave this area and never look back.

Tape that doesn’t stick. Yesterday morning I wrote 25 lines, dense with slant rhymes & alliteration, & in the evening I retracted them & left just two words on the page, a fragment of an ode:


Carbon credit accounting

Science is beginning to confirm what many of us have long suspected: that older forests are better at sequestering carbon than younger ones, contrary to what some foresters would have us believe. My father has been wondering lately whether our own few hundred acres of forest are enough to offset the carbon we produce as a family. If you know my dad, you won’t be surprised to hear he’s got it all more or less figured out.

We are coming under intense pressure here in the Appalachians to clear every ridgetop forest for wind turbines, but I suspect that we can make the biggest difference simply by leaving the forests the hell alone. Certainly the best thing we could do for the forests themselves would be to end all extractive uses and employ foresters and loggers to conduct taxonomic surveys and ecological monitoring instead. Considering how much we still don’t know about Appalachian biodiversity, and how much we stand to lose as a result of global climate change, those are the kind of “green jobs” most desperately needed right now.



Yesterday I finally paid a visit to the Rhoneymeade Arboretum, Sculpture Garden, and Labyrinth, which is about 35 miles northeast of here, right out in the middle of a farm valley. The only other sculpture gardens I’ve visited have been those attached to major urban museums, so I was interested to see what difference, if any, the rural location might make.

blue atlas cedar

Well, for one thing, not all sculptures here are made by humans. Also, trees both native and exotic take pride of place in the garden and in the nearby labyrinth, a refreshing shift in emphasis from most modern presentations of Art, where nature plays a supporting role at best.


Nor were all the human sculptures either anthropomorphic or completely abstract, though the majority did fit into one of those two categories. “Flight” was one of a half-dozen or so that seemed to take its surroundings fully into account.

Brown Man 2

The birds here do what birds always do to public statuary. This plaster and resin sculpture is identified as “Brown Man” on the website, but “Thoughtful Man” on the laminated directory in the studio at Rhoneymeade itself. One way or another, it’s obviously getting lots of attention from the local birds.

Brown Man 1

The plaster was beginning to fall off in a couple of places, and the grass had been left to grow long around it. Given its manner of composition — a life cast from a living model, according to the owner — I imagine that the artist fully anticipated its slow return to nature.

Complete set of Rhoneymeade photos (9) / Slideshow

Trees, water

fly with wild yam

A new edition of the Festival of the Trees is up at 10,000 Birds. I was somewhat embarassed to find my own entry (the Rickett’s Glen post) first in line, but aside from that, it’s a great edition. Also, relating to what I was saying in that post about Pennsylvania’s endangered brook trout streams, my friend Alan Gregory has a good column up today: How not to care for a state’s official fish. Despite the Pennsylvania focus, this is an issue affecting much of the eastern United States.

What’s so great about wild trout?

Eric Palmer, the state of Vermont’s director of fisheries, summarizes the uniqueness of wild fish on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s Web site:

When you catch a wild fish “you have living proof that the water they came from has suitable habitat for all of the life-stages of that species. It is like holding an intact ecosystem in your hand.”

Which brings us to qarrtsiluni and the new call for submissions to the May-June theme, edited by Lucy Kempton and Katherine Durham Oldmixon: Water.

Water is the moving skin of our planet, the most part by far of our bodies; we drink it, we bathe in it, we waste it and taint it, we may yet again wage wars for it.

Submissions of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short film, spoken word, art, photography, and any combination thereof are welcome through May 31.

Ode to a Plumb Bob

This entry is part 12 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools


Brass doorknocker
for a house without a door

downward dog
always on point over the same
obvious quarry

flightless rocket
leaded with failure

pendulum made
to mark eternity
one still moment at a time.