Lines for a wet summer

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

gravel piles

A wet summer.
At the entrance to the hollow,
twin peaks of gravel.

*

Storm-carved ruts
on the gravel driveway
fill up with hailstones.

*

damselfly

Blue damselflies
patrol the slow-moving waters
of the blueberry bog.

*

Done berry picking,
I wash the bog mud off my legs
with brown bog water.

*

Morning thunder,
then rain. “It’s just getting it out
of its system, right?”

*

An indoor picnic.
The child climbs the steep stairs
to the green room.

*

shirt window

In lieu of a curtain,
a checkered shirt catches
the evening sun.

In a Month of Sundays

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

All this time without the sight of you
has been bright, quiet, sweat-free,
with only the distant tolling of bells
morning after morning to remind me
that somewhere people might
be rising & kneeling together,
intertwining the fingers
of their left & right hands
& bowing their heads over them,
intoning the joyful syllables of reunion.
The moon has rounded its full cycle
from dark to dark all the while
this single day has kept replaying,
like a peppy song on heavy rotation,
& I have set the noontime table
as well as a guy who lives alone
can do. It’s been so long! Here,
have a seat. Join me in my vigil
for that stranger, the Monday blues.

On beyond paper

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Snow fog at dawn

Several years ago I went on a fungus-writing spree, scouring the mountain for the shelf fungi with creamy white undersides known as artist’s conks. I used a sharp nut pick about half the diameter of a pencil to scratch poems into the surface. The first result of my experimenting is above. The illustrations were simply copied from pen-and-ink sketches I found in back issues of Pennsylvania Game News magazine. I got successively fancier with the calligraphy on each one, culminating with this:

January Thaw

It occurs to me that many of my Morning Porch pieces are just the right length for fungal inscriptions; it might be an interesting way to make a collection of them (with photos posted to the web, of course). The trouble is, I don’t think we have too many more good shelf fungi in the woods. They are actually somewhat scarcer than one might expect.

Birch bark might be another option, though we don’t have too many paper birches on the property, either. My only experiment along those lines was with some inner bark from a dead yellow birch, picked up off the forest floor in an old-growth forest in the Adirondacks years ago. I used it for one of my favorite quotes about poetry, and had it hanging on the wall beside my writing table for a long time.

Mina Loy on poetry

Writing on natural surfaces is something that’s always interested me, though I admit I find it hard to like spraypaint on boulders. The particular attraction of a hornets’ nest, of course, is that it is literally paper, manufactured by insects out of the same material that we (unfortunately) still use for most of our own paper: wood. Indeed, it was from watching paper wasps that 18th-century scientists first got the idea of switching from rags to wood fibers as the primary source for pulp.

It’s worth remembering, though, that the original paper (etymologically speaking) was papyrus — a woven mat of flattened reeds. The word “bible” derives from a Greek word for the inner bark of papyrus. The early Chinese wrote on long slivers of bamboo before they invented the first true paper, while in ancient and medieval Europe, animal skins proved to be durable, reusable writing surfaces. One explanation for the flowering of literature in rural medieval Iceland, aside from the long winters when public readings were a major form of diversion, is that there was a glut of calfskin from all the dairies. (I love this example, by the way, because it proves that you don’t need urban civilization for a literary culture to flourish. Human settlement in medieval Iceland consisted entirely of scattered farms; there wasn’t even a single village.)

But one of the earliest writing media has proved to be the most durable of all: the clay tablet, favored for cuneiform inscriptions in ancient Sumeria. Burn a library of clay tablets, and you only make them harder. I also find a lot of appeal in the idea of clay as a writing medium. So my ultimate fantasy publishing project involves working with a potter to devise some sort of letter press for wet clay, and grinding out limited edition poetry tablets that way. Attractively glazed and fitted with wall hangers, I suspect they’d sell much better than chapbooks or broadsheets. And barring a lot of guys with sledgehammers, they’d probably survive the collapse of our civilization. I doubt the same could be said for texts on the internet.

Limited Issue

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall


If you can’t see the slideshow, or if you’re on dial-up, go here.

For what it’s worth, this was not drafted in advance. The materials suggested the arrangement of words as well as the text itself. A few “pages” did tear mid-write and had to be re-written. I used almost every scrap of hornets’ nest I had on hand.

Heat Lightning

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Among the living, I would be pelagic, a petrel teetering on fixed wings above a fleet of sailfish. Among the petrels, I would be a fulmar, & ward off threats to my one-egg hoard with deadly projectile vomit. I am held here by a morass of trivial recollections, like Rachel pinned to her camel-hump stool by the guilty pile of gods hidden beneath it. I remember a line in a novel I read decades ago that sparked an enduring self-consciousness about the crescents of dirt under my fingernails. I remember as a kid discovering a lone raspberry cane out in the field that was dotted with dried & shrunken fruit — that feeling of sadness at a minor treasure even the sparrows overlooked. I remember hearing a Chopin piano sonata once when I was so sleep-deprived that the mere effort of listening made my chest ache. The black and the white keys were equally painful. I’ve forgotten most insults & humiliations except for those I perpetrated, which fill me with a baleful light, like an all-night laundromat. I remember, because it’s still embarassing, how old I was when I finally realized that heat lightning was nothing but ordinary lightning, too far to hear & hidden by the curve of the earth.