Gacela of Unforeseen Love (videopoem)

Video link.

I’ll be sharing this at Moving Poems in a couple of weeks, but here’s a sneak peek. For the Spanish text (or my translation), see “Federico Garcí­a Lorca: two translations,” my post from 2005.

“Gacela” means “ghazal,” but I decided to keep the Spanish word this time to avoid confusion, since Lorca’s notion of what constitutes a ghazal differs so much from the practice of contemporary English-language poets (to say nothing of Arabic poets). This was part of Lorca’s 23-poem cycle Divan del Tamarit, an homage to the great Moorish civilization of his native Andalusia.

Lorca’s free adaptations of the ghazal and qasida reflected the influence of the anthology Poemas Arábigoandaluces translated by Emilio García Gómez, which created a minor sensation among Spanish readers and intellectuals when it was published in 1930. Poets of the renowned Generation of 27, which included Lorca, found it especially revelatory. Rafael Albertí later told an interviewer, “That book opened our eyes to all that Andalusian past, and brought it so close to us that it left me with a great preoccupation for those writers, those Andalusian writers, Arabs and Jews, born in Spain… If one studies Arab-Andalusian poetry carefully, so full of metaphors and miniaturism, we will see that there is a continuity with the later poetry, of Góngora, Soto de Rojas, and centuries later, with our own.” (I’m quoting from the introduction to an English translation of the anthology, Poems of Arab Andalusia, by Cola Franzen.)

The music, as noted in the credits, is by Antony Raijekov. It’s from his collection Jazz U, to which he applied a liberal Creative Commons license that allows for remixes.

Pete Seeger and Majora Carter: “Don’t say it can’t be done”

You can also watch this video on its page at This Brave Nation.

A wonderful conversation between two environmental activists. I love that Pete gets the whole film crew singing along at the end. Good ol’ Pete. The only wince-worthy moment for me was when Pete repeated the tired and ubiquitous quote from Margaret Mead about a small number of thoughtful, committed people making a difference.

Here’s an interesting fact about that quote, though: my dad is actually the one who originally discovered it and put it into circulation. Back in the late 80s, my parents were very active in our local Audubon chapter, heading up an International Issues Committee to bring attention to the destruction of the rainforests in the global South. I am not sure how much credit we can take for bringing that issue into the mainstream consciousness, but National Audubon leaders took a great interest in the committee and sought to replicate it in other chapters. We collected second-hand binoculars to send to environmentalists in Central America, Peru and the Philippines, among various and sundry other good deeds, and we prepared educational materials to share with schools and civic groups around here: slideshows, exhibits, pamphlets and the like.

It was in one of those pamphlets that Dad first deployed the now-famous quote. He had been reading a great deal of classic anthropological works at the time, including the works of Margaret Mead. The trouble is that he quite uncharacteristically (for a reference librarian) failed to include a proper citation for the quote — and no amount of searching since has ever turned it up. Which Mead book is it from? He says he says no idea. And really, we only have his word for it that he didn’t just make the quote up himself. In any event, someone at National Audubon liked it well enough to put it in their own propaganda, and it took off from there, spreading like a contagion through environmentalist and activist circles. Small groups of citizens, thoughtful and committed or otherwise, have been using it to bolster their self-esteem ever since.

Beech grotesquerie

multiple selves

The smoothness of their bark makes beech trees, both American and European, among the sexiest and also the most grotesque of trees. Branch scars and other markings that would virtually disappear on trees with more bark-like bark are hard to miss on a beech.

neurotic beech

Some beech trees look downright neurotic. But who can blame them? The great beech forests of North America are gone, clearcut two centuries ago to make way for farms, to such an extant that most people who spend anytime outdoors assume that beeches actually prefer the mountainsides and ravines in which they’ve made their last stand. The passenger pigeon, which once visited beech forests the way hurricanes visit Florida, has been extinct for a hundred years. And now a non-native scale insect is helping beech bark disease decimate the remnant stands, though thankfully it hasn’t appeared in Plummer’s Hollow just yet.

beech holes

It was the trees’ abundant mast that accounted for their popularity with passenger pigeons, of course, and beechnuts still feed many species today. But the grotesqueness of beech trees has wildlife value, too: the frequent hollows in older trees can provide den sites for a wide variety of birds and mammals. Many trees rot out as they age, but beeches seem to get started on it early.

the ring tree

Nor does the grotesquerie end with weird, vaguely human scars and orifices. The self-grafting ability of beech limbs can produce some bizarre effects, as in the above specimen, which grows right next to the Plummer’s Hollow Road.

ring tree closeup

I am kind of at a loss to explain how this happened… or why it took me so many years to notice it. I don’t know how many more years we’ll have canopy-height beeches in the hollow — not too far north of here, all the big beeches are dead — so I figure I’d better start paying more attention to them now.


Beech bark disease won’t wipe them out completely, but it will probably kill almost all the mature beeches and keep new root sprouts from getting very big, just as the chestnut blight has done for American chestnuts. The grotesquerie will be all but lost, and the tree from which the word “book” is derived may become little more than an asterisk and a footnote.

Watch the full slideshow (13 photos in all) or browse the set (easier for people with slow connections).


Don’t forget to submit tree-related blog posts to the Festival of the Trees. The deadline for the next edition, at The Voltage Gate, is Friday, February 26. See the call for submissions for details on how to participate.

Banjo Proverbs

This entry is part 23 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


A banjo is clamorous:
it is simple, & knows nothing.

Banjos make a mock at sin,
but among the righteous there is favor.

It is sport to a banjo to do mischief,
but a man of understanding has wisdom.

He that begets a banjo does so to his sorrow,
& the father of a banjo has no joy.

He that troubles his own house shall inherit the wind,
& the banjo shall be servant to the wise of heart.

As snow in summer & as rain in harvest,
so honor & a banjo don’t mix.

A dream comes from a crowd of troubles
& a banjo’s melody comes from a crowd of notes.

For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the music of the banjo.

A banjo’s strings enter into contention
& its head invites a beating.

A stone is heavy, a sandbag strains your arms,
but a banjo’s wrath is heavier than them both.

It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise
than for a man to hear the music of banjos.

Go from the presence of a banjo
when you perceive not the notes of knowledge in it.

As a dog returns to his vomit,
so a banjo player returns to his banjo.

Forsake the banjo & live,
& go in the way of understanding.

Glass Frog

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Bestiary



The glass frog
is a master magician:
he bares not only his heart
but his digestive tract, too,
puts his guts on display
without spilling them,
as luminous & orderly
as a Joseph Cornell box.
His call is pure crystal,
& he can produce
a full chorus
from his single throat.
Day & night he squats
by his clutch of eggs,
darting the parasitic flies
before they can inject
their own dangerous eggs,
as the tadpoles grow visible
through the clearing albumen.
One night they wriggle free,
slide off their natal leaf
& drop into the jungle stream
far below, there to burrow
into the sandy bed.
Living in a cloud forest,
is it ever possible
to stop dreaming?
Trees bloom in lurid colors
that are not their own
& anything that wants to hide
can simply sit still
& learn how to be transparent
from gas & fog.

Woodrat Podcast 7: Chris Bolgiano and Marcia Bonta Share Tales from the Nature-Writing Trenches

A conversation with Chris Bolgiano and Marcia Bonta (Part 1 of 2)

Chris Bolgiano and Marcia Bonta
Chris Bolgiano and Marcia Bonta

Two Appalachian-based authors of mid-list nonfiction books about ecology and natural history share their experiences with publishers, editors, Eastern cougars and other dangerous beasts. Today’s show focuses mainly on writing; next week’s show will be devoted to environmental issues facing the region.


Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence)

Podcast feed | Subscribe in iTunes

Walking on water

Video link.

Walking on water, I forgot about the fish
in their white gardens of coral.

Walking on the snow, I forgot about spring,
though others knew to dig for it.

My snowshoes kept me from sinking
& I glided over the drifts
almost as lightly as the shadows of the trees.

And watching those shadows,
I even managed to forget about the trees themselves.

This is what’s wrong with that dreamy kind of faith
that depends on miracles. We don’t need
one more way to keep our distance.


oak shadows

Odes to Tools available for barter

My weekly podcast is proving more expensive than I’d originally thought. Not only have I bought a new microphone (and am contemplating the purchase of a mobile digital recorder) but I’m having to buy more books, too, so I can interview their authors on the show. I believe in buying books and supporting authors, of course; it’s just that my income is extremely limited. I’ve actually thought about trying to get some underwriting support — that’s how desperate I am.

But this morning I got an email from John Miedema offering to barter his book Slow Reading — something I’ve been meaning to read for a while — for my Odes to Tools, and a lightbulb went off in my head. Why didn’t I think of this before? I lost no time in adding a note to the Via Negativa Contact page about the option of bartering with other authors (or musicians who have CDs out). It doesn’t have to be poetry, but obviously it does have to be something I want to read (or listen to). Self-published material is as eligible as anything else, but what will really help me decide is if you can point me to some of the content online. (For Odes to Tools, you can look at the first few pages on the publisher’s website, or even browse all the poems here.)

Now, if you’re shy, or otherwise uninclined to be a guest on the Woodrat Podcast, that’s fine — we can still barter. If you’ve already ordered Odes to Tools and would like to send me a review copy of your book for podcast consideration, that of course would be fine, too. My postal address — also on the Contact page — is PO Box 68, Tyrone, PA 16686 U.S.A.

Luck (2)

This is the story
of the banjo jubilee:
the pregnant woman
lays her hand on a banjo
for good luck.
The burglar flees
at the sight of a banjo
over his left shoulder.
A dog sees a banjo
go yellow in alpenglow
& begins to howl.

The coyotes answer
with a yip & a yelp
& an ai-ai-ai.
The locksmith pauses
to listen on his way
to the music store.
Just then
the baby kicks
& she jerks her hand back.
It will be a girl
at first, & later
a girl who plays banjo.
There are so many ways
to be lucky
& all of them are round.

Snow Flea

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Bestiary


Hypogastrura nivicola

The snow flea is rarely found alone.
Though if it were, who but another snow flea
would notice it against the snow,
a single speck of pepper, a mote of ash?
Come March & they move en masse,
transhumant across their blue-shadowed host.
Approach too close & they start to rocket about
like acrobats in a mad flea circus.
There’s safety in numbers, & in
the unpredictability of a random launch —
the wingless springtail’s main defense.
True, one sometimes goes straight up
& returns to the same, dangerous spot,
but what bird wants to mess with such
unquiet seeds?

The snow flea is as self-reliant
as its cousin the true flea is dependent.
It absorbs moisture through
a feeding tube in its abdomen
& breathes directly through its thick skin.
Its blood contains a protein
that prevents it from ever freezing
& hardening into knives.

The snow flea never stops molting, even
after becoming an adult.
Life alternates between two phases,
mating & eating, with a complete
change of skin after each.
Nor does the fastidiousness end there:
all reproduction is by post.
The male deposits a tidy packet of sperm
at some convenient location
& the female stops by later & picks it up.
To everything its season.
And when the snow melts?
The snow flea walks on water if it must,
& returns at last — recalcitrant seasoning —
to the soil’s dark goulash.

This is a complete re-working of a poem that first appeared here back in December 2008, “Like a Snow Flea.” For more on snow fleas and springtails generally, see Bug Girl’s Blog and especially the Marvelous in nature.