Green man

green man

Bandage yourself in green: the color of a wound that has festered beyond healing. Sink into the moss, that peaceful mob. A 17-year cicada chants Pharoah, pharoah but no one else joins in, because this is in fact the 18th year — it missed the party. The pharoah has gone back under the ground. His colorless green ideas sleep furiously: an ignis fatuus, born of decomposition. Moss spreads soft as velvet over all the burned and barren parts of the earth.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

31 Comments


  1. Luminous photo, quite remarkable. Hard to know what the nature of the visitation is at the time it’s happening – I like the double nature of the verse.

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  2. Cool! That is one of the coolest green men ever! Just awesome! I love it!

    A fluke detail brings me up short. The shirt sleave. Green man is wearing a baggy tee shirt? Not for long, he isn’t. Moss overrides reason and it becomes plain that the tee shirt is a moss tee shirt.

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    1. Well, these days I think the green man most likely wears a “Save the Whales” t-shirt. Or one that says “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic script.

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  3. A planetary poultice of moss is the conclusion that I hoped to find in The World Without Us. Alas not.

    Meanwhile, the rotten egg cicada might join the evangelical religious organization with which I (secularly) partner. A favorite sing-along video for the kids features the tune “Louie Louie,” with alternate lyrics: “Pharoah Pharoah/Ohh ohh/Let my people go!/Oh oh oh oh.”

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    1. Does anyone know the original lyrics for “Louie Louie”? I always figured they were intended to be a bit of a cipher. I didn’t make that up about the cicada though: that really is the usual onomatopoeia for the most common Magicicada species, and I really did hear one yesterday. I figure that’s how new broods must get started — a few miss the right year, and manage to find each other and reproduce.

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  4. Great Green Man. I’ve always loved those. The oak leaf could have been up there near or on your head, though, and I am glad you did not do that.
    I don’t know what the hell is going on with the cicadas hereabouts. We typically hear a wall of sound shuddering in the woods by now, but nuttin really at this point. I’m starting to think I misremembered the time they start up. I did hear some crickets more distinctly than usual, though, tonight.

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    1. Glad you liked the photo. Annual cicadas don’t start up here until well into July, but I realize things are a lot earlier down there. The early crickets are chirping, but August is when they really get going.

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  5. Ahhhh, the oak leaf is where it should be. at his heart. Great image and perfect words to go with it Dave. We have no cicadas here in Wales, but the crickets are singing in the midday sun, and they scatter like fleas when I walk through our paddock. Your Green Man musings bring to mind a Causley poem I once knew by heart.

    Green Man In The Garden

    Green man in the Garden
    Staring from the tree,
    Why do you look so long and hard
    Through the pane at me?

    Your eyes are dark as holly,
    Of sycamores your horns,
    Your bones are made of elder branches,
    Your teeth are made of thorns.

    Your hat is made of ivy-leaf,
    Of bark your dancing shoes,
    And evergreen and green and green
    Your jacket and shirt and trews.

    Leave your house and leave you land
    And throw away the key,
    And never look behind, he creaked,
    And come and live with me.

    I bolted the window,
    I bolted the door,
    I drew the blind that I should find
    The green man never more.

    But when I softly turned the stair
    As I went up to bed,
    I saw the green man standing there,
    Sleep well my friend, he said.

    ~Charles Causley~

    Strange to come to your blog today and see the reference to ‘sleep furiously’. We went to the arts centre in Aberystwyth to watch Gideon Koppel’s film again last night. It repaid a second viewing. Hope you can catch it one day. I think there’s much in it that would strike chords for you.

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    1. Hi Clive – That’s a great poem; thanks for sharing it. I’d never heard of it or its author. I did have the feeling that the Green Man and the Wild Man figures were kind of on the same continuum, and this poem seems to bear that out. As for “sleep furiously,” I was a little abashed to find from my Related Posts listing that this wasn’t the first time I’d exploited that Chomskian line in a blog post. Well, at least I’m consistent.

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  6. You have an intricate and strong artistic mind. I love your green man and the words which accompany your photo. Excellent. Have a great day.

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    1. You too. I actually didn’t feel this post was terribly original, but it seems to have given pleasure to a few people, and some days that’s good enough for me.

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  7. “Pharaoh” for Magicicada! Poor guys: pilloried yet for the plaguey sins of Acrididae. No doubt you’ve already written poems sparked by call transcriptions.

    I’m worried, however, over the chance mating of the off-beat cicada survivors. Hardly enhances species strength, does it. Imagine successive generations of those without cadence. Or the lugubrious drummer for the Go-Gos.

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    1. It’s O.K. My mother confirmed that this is the thinking among scientists about how new broods get started. What’s weird is that many broods are made up of two or three different species, and some species are part of both 13- and 17-year broods. So periodical cicadas as an epiphenomenon are greater than the sum of their species, or something like that.

      (For more on last year’s cicada experience on the mountain, by the way, be sure to check out the latest column over at my Mom’s website.)

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  8. The green man’s big in England……..I love the last line of this.

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    1. Thanks, Jo. That last line does deserve better, doesn’t it?

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  9. Dave, this is the green poem AND the green phot I was trying to write and photograph all last week! Thanks for doing my work for me! And I love it!

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    1. Thanks for your enthusiasm, but really, I don’t think this comes close to some of your poems on the theme of green.

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  10. great photo, great post. and I like how you riff on Chomsky there. it’s wonderful to see someone’s finally found a good use for that line. (and what a world for a Cicada to wake up to?!)

    ..also really liking this “motherless” and “no contest”!

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    1. Hey, thanks. I have been keeping up with “fish without faces” too, by the way, though I guess i rarely comment. You know how it is: too many feeds in the reader.

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  11. My mother confirmed that this is the thinking among scientists about how new broods get started.

    Yup — more precisely, it’s how broods repopulate

    Effectively, the various cyclic cicadas are “time-sharing” a given territory among several distinct populations (I’ve heard of 3, 7, 13, 17, and 21-year types), so that each brood is only exposed and vulnerable for one year out of their cycle, and also doesn’t compete with the other years in their cycle.(*) Mostly, each population waxes and wanes according to the hazards or opportunities it finds in it’s own “active year”. But if a given year’s brood gets completely wiped out by one hazard or another (weather, predators, etc.), that “timeslot” eventually gets reseeded by the handful of insects who come out a year early or late. Building up a decent population may take a few cycles, but they can also have “good years”….

    (*) The “Dayworld Trilogy” by Philip Jose Farmer, describes a futuristic human society built along similar lines — people in the Dayworld spent six days a week in stasis chambers, with a different contingent emerging each day. Seven parallel societies sharing the same cities, down to individual homes….

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    1. Thanks for the extra info. The Dayworld Trilogy sounds interesting. (SciFi is a major weakness of mine.)

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  12. Verde que te quiero verde! (Lorca said it nicely, too.) This is lovely, Dave, thank you. I’ve been stubbornly drawn to the color green since the age of 2 or so (photographic evidence is compelling on this count) and am intrigued at how many people share that instinctive attachment.

    Also, I don’t know which lyrics are the original ones, but in the mid-1980s Louie Louie almost became the official WA state song; there is now a state “Louie Louie Day” instead.

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    1. I’d be surprised if it weren’t instinctive, actually. And I find the Islamic use of green one of the most appealing things about that religion. I decided not to quote that line from Lorca this time since I’ve done so too many times before, I think.

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      1. Definitely instinctive — it’s the color of a hospitable environment, not to mention being smack in the middle of our visual range.

        Just to note, the Dayworld trilogy seems to be out of print (it was published from 1985 to 1990), but there are used copies available from the usual sources. Despite his status and ability, I suspect his later books (and the Riverworld bibliolith) may have shoved some of his earlier work off the shelves. (The dude was quite prolific! Sadly, he died early this year.)

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        1. I may be able to get it from my favorite (only) local used bookstore, which specializes in sci-fi as well as poetry. it does ring a bell.

          I think of hospital rooms being more light blue than green. If they were green, I think they’d seem a lot more, uh, hospitable. Good point about our visual range.

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  13. It is an extraordinary photo, Dave. Very much a 21st century representation of the Green Man made from the earth.

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  14. Thanks to David for that satisfying further explanation, and another book to read. Time-shares not niches, isolates jumping into an abandoned double-dutch rhythm : amazing.

    And Elizabeth, I use poetry with groups of kids containing both Spanish and English speakers to demonstrate that the right word often is found in another language. We specifically use Lorca for the green/verde debate. The vote is never close. In comparison, green sounds shallow, hard, inorganic – a 3M product.

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    1. That’s interesting. What do the kids make of the fact that verde rhymes with merde, though?

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  15. None spoke French, and no one suggested mierda. Of course, one infantile adult let it drop. The same fool whose college French has spread like vinca throughout her brain’s language center, blocking the urgently-necessary acquisition of Spanish.

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