Feast time

locust borer on goldenrod
locust borer on goldenrod

I’m ready to let summer go. But I’m not sure summer is quite ready to let go of us: the forecast calls for a high of 90 (32°C) tomorrow. By the weekend, they’re saying, it will grow cool again — just in time for Labor Day, our version of the holiday which the entire rest of the world celebrates on May 1 in a kind of merger with pagan rites of spring, but which we Americans use to mark the end of summer with one last vacation. Labor Day, like Memorial Day, must always fall on a Monday to give us a three-day weekend, and therefore qualifies as a kind of moveable feast. As for the feasting part, that’s pretty much an everyday thing this time of year, especially for those of us who refuse to buy fresh corn or tomatoes out of season. This is the time to gorge, to spoil ourselves with sliced tomatoes in every sandwich and fresh peaches a half-dozen times a day.

Here’s a recipe adapted from one of the Moosewood cookbooks which I made for lunch today. It uses fresh chopped tomatoes in a kind of unique way.

North African Cauliflower Soup

In a big ol’ soup kettle, saute a large chopped onion in a couple tablespoons of butter. Peel and dice two medium potatoes. Grind one tablespoon each of fennel and cumin seeds. Add potatoes, spices, and five or six cups water to the pot and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, chop up two medium heads or one large head of cauliflower (I did the former. One head was pale yellow and the other was orange). Add that to the pot along with salt to taste, plenty of fresh-ground black pepper and an optional bullion cube (vegetable or chicken).

Reduce heat, cover and simmer for half an hour. Meanwhile, get a lemon out of the fridge and go out to the garden and pick some chives, if you have any. Dice one medium fresh tomato for each soup bowl, unless you’re using really small bowls, which I don’t advise for this soup (it’s a main dish, not an appetizer). When the vegetables in the pot are good and soft, puree the soup in a blender along with two or three tablespoons of lemon juice, return to the heat briefly if you’re a hot-soup fanatic, then ladle it over the tomatoes. It should be thick and creamy. Garnish with chopped chives or scallions.


This entry is part 15 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life


Shameless procrastinator,
ragged tooth unsullied by the dawn.

Full, you went to bed on time;
a quarter empty & you never act your age.

Hasp with no padlock,
no wonder the night got away!

Old flat tire.
As if my poet’s O were set in gothic.

* * *

Note on the series

I’d been aware that a few of the poems I’ve written this spring and summer seem thematically connected, and was thinking that when I had accumulated a half dozen or so, I should put them into a new series called something like “mid-life crisis poems.” Not that I’m having a true crisis, but the unifying theme of these poems seemed to be a pervasive anxiety about aging and the body. Imagine my surprise when, after finishing the above poem this morning, I went through the archive and discovered I’d written 16 poems that fit the theme since May! It’s already almost the length of a chapbook.

So I guess my middle-agedness has been more on my mind than I realized. But as Charles Simic once told an interviewer (I’m paraphrasing from memory), one of the distinguishing features of the poetic mindset is a continual astonishment at the passage of time.

Black cherry: tree of affliction

black cherries

I always think of the wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) as a tree of affliction. Even its fruiting can be a burden to it on years like this, when branches bend low under the weight of the crop and black bears break them in their inexplicable eagerness to feast on the sour, stony fruits. Nor are they alone: as my mother wrote in a column last year,

In addition to cedar waxwings, I saw red-eyed vireos, blue jays, and scarlet tanagers harvesting wild black cherries, but the list of songbirds and other wildlife that feast on them is legion. Thoreau mentioned gray catbirds, brown thrashers, eastern kingbirds, blue jays, red-headed woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds and northern cardinals as the most common birds that eat wild black cherries, in addition to robins and cedar waxwings. Huge piles of bear scat studded with cherry pits on our trails testified to their popularity with bears. And the smaller animals, such as foxes, squirrels, and chipmunks, also ate the fruit.

Continue reading “Black cherry: tree of affliction”

Turtle words

The box turtle had mistaken a fallen knit cap for a burrow and was busy trying to enlarge it when I found him. I lay down on the lawn beside the small tortoise and informed him that he had made a mistake. He backed out of the hat and fixed his gaze on me. Rather than retreating into his shell, he clawed his way up onto my chest and touched his snout to mine in what seemed like a fairly aggressive gesture, and began to vocalize. What seemed at first a meaningless series of grunts gradually resolved into speech — and English, at that.

I was just beginning to make out the words when the alarm jolted me awake. Later, when I mentioned to my mother, the naturalist, that I’d dreamed about a talking turtle, she said, “I think you need to get out more.”

That evening, I did get out in a matter of speaking when my poem about the loggerhead turtle appeared in Poets for Living Waters. This caught me by surprise, since I’d submitted it a couple months earlier and never heard back, but I gather that the curators, Heidi Lynn Staples and Amy King, have been deluged with submissions. The latest issue of Poets & Writers has an article on the project, “Poets Act on Oil Spill.”

“People talk about poets as a tribe,” Staples says, “and I think [creating the site] was as if we were calling out, saying, ‘This is happening! What can we do? Let’s gather!’ — as if the screen were the fire we’re now all gathered around.” […]

King and Staples modeled their group after Poets Against War, a popular Web site established in January 2003 that solicits and anthologizes poems protesting war, though Staples and King wanted Poets for Living Waters to be “for” something, rather than “against.” Yet “people are sending in a lot of work reflecting anger and grief about what’s happened,” Staples says. Even so, the two poets believe such emotion is simply part of the process of mobilizing the community. “It’s something we need to do,” King says. “This is why we have ceremonies, this is why we have funerals. If you don’t have that moment when you’re articulating horror and grief and anger, how can you begin to respond?”

Regular readers of this blog will recognize both the poem and the statement on poetics. Publications that consider previously blogged work are unfortunately so rare that I hardly bother sending things out these days, which is a shame: the pressure to spruce up “Loggerhead” for publication elsewhere did improve the poem, I think. Whether it also made me more likely to dream about talking turtles, I’m not sure.



Foxconn, a Taipei-based manufacturer of high-tech goods like Apple iPads and iPhones, installed safety nets around the building earlier this year after more than ten employees jumped to their deaths. But some of the nets have been removed in conjunction with rallies the company hosted today to boost employee morale. Because nothing makes you love your job more than being forced to attend a public spectacle to show the world you don’t want to die. […] Foxconn, whose name has been mentioned with regards to rumors of a seven-inch iPad by Christmas, also announced plans to hire 400,000 additional workers this year.
Chinese iPad and iPhone Manufacturer Rallies On, Despite Worker Suicides (New York Magazine)


A friend sends me an email with the subject line Beauty and a photo showing a pile of rotting tomatoes, watermelon rinds and sweet-corn shuckings. “Except for a June bride, there is nothing more beautiful than an August compost pile,” he writes.

A bunch of other friends in a private listserv are having an intense discussion replete with highly personal confessions. Because I have nothing to confess, I eat half a jar of pickled jalapeño slices, which makes me sweat profusely and blow my nose five times, like summer and winter in the same jar. Afterwards, I feel wonderfully purged.

I pass the compost pile on a moonlit walk — that too-sweet smell of fermentation. A mid-sized animal goes crashing off into the weeds. We are not doing compost right; I know that. But there are just too many rewards for doing it wrong.

Return to The Hook

turtlehead at The Hook

The last time I visited The Hook, the hobblebush and painted trilliums were in bloom. It was mid-May. My hiking buddy L. and I parked on the south edge of the 5,119-acre watershed and scrambled down a steep ravine as the shadows lengthened, and we began to worry about the long drive home. Greenish-yellow pollen coated our boots.

That was in 2005. How did we let five years go by without returning to this spot less than two hours from home? But better late than never, as they say. Many of our favorite spots in northern Pennsylvania have probably been marred if not ruined by deep gas drilling in the Marcellus shale formation, and we’ll never get another chance to see them as they were, while many of the old-growth stands around the state that we visited in the early aughts have been decimated by the alien invasive hemlock woolly adelgid and/or beech bark disease. Continue reading “Return to The Hook”

The Yes Men Fix “Inception”

I was swimming through the air in my dream, popping in and out of television screens, the coolest talking head since David Byrne. Then all of a sudden, holy shit — things blowing up for no apparent reason, car chases, gunfire, clouds of poison gas choking people in their beds. Nobody who isn’t a psychopath has dreams like this! Except, right, you’re dreaming in service to a corporate titan in order to take down his rival, and we know from The Corporation that corporations behave exactly like psychopaths.

But wouldn’t this movie have been a lot cooler if you were using your idea-implanting superpowers for good rather than for evil, and targeting, say, Dow Chemical on behalf of the victims of Bhopal? Shouldn’t you really have contacted the Yes Men? After all, they share your fondness for abandoned warehouses and scenes with lots of floating and flailing about. They are masters at assuming new identities and making lies seem more attractive than the debilitating truth.

They dream big, too. They had hundreds of oil and gas executives lighting candles ostensibly made from human flesh, and convinced a conference hall full of New Orleans building contractors that doing the right thing was more important than maximizing profits. They embarassed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce into reversing its position on global warming. They led an effort at mass inception in Manhattan that involved printing and distributing an edition of the New York Times from six months in the future, which got over 100,000 people contemplating a world without war and hunger, and how really doable and ordinary that could be.

But you professional dreamers — what do you do? In your matroyshka-doll world of a dream within a dream within a dream, where was the green space among all those brutal modernist highrises? I didn’t spot a single park, not even a tree. You grew old together in the company of phantasms, living only for each other, as self-centered and cut off from the real world as the plutocrats whose yes-men you later became. And then to die without dying — what a fix!

Such an interesting word, fix. It’s what a junkie craves. When the fix is on in a movie about the mob, you know things are about to go horribly awry. A fix is a fundamental alteration, but not necessarily for the better — just ask a dog that’s been fixed. The Yes Men might be out to mend the world themselves, but when they interview a gaggle of free-market economists to see if they’ll say anything revealing on camera, they choose this more ambiguous word: How would you fix the world? And then, more mischievously: How would you like the world to appear on the blue screen behind your head? Which is tantamount to saying: Show us your dreams.

The Yes Men Fix the World was, to my mind, everything that Inception was not: droll, witty, thought-provoking and inspiring. Inception, a movie about the possibility of planting ideas in another person’s imagination, was really rather dull. There wasn’t any laughter in it. Where in the one movie, mud and grunge and empty suits are a source of comic relief, in the other they are mere fixtures, signifiers of seriousness for the director’s fundamentally unserious and impoverished imagination.

If you haven’t seen Inception yet, save your money. If you haven’t seen The Yes Men Fix the World, it’s available for free online. Go watch. And then, if you like, join up. This is one effort at collective imagination that doesn’t need to stop when the theater lights go up.


field cricketI caught him at last, that cricket, the enemy of my sleep! He was hiding behind my shrine, throwing his chirp so it sounded like it came from the black mirror or the bowl of artificial fruit. I caught him first in the beam of my flashlight, then in my hand, then in a drinking glass just long enough to snap a photo before banishing him to the outer darkness.

They say a cricket in the house is good luck, but I think a cricket outside is even better luck — for the cricket, at least. It’s not very likely to get lucky if it stays in here — take it from me. Besides, this house isn’t big enough for the two of us. Last night, after having kept quiet all evening, it started up just as I was drifting off, and I had to retreat upstairs and shut the door.

Why do field crickets come indoors every year, I wonder? I suppose they like the acoustics, and not unlike some poets I know, it doesn’t bother them if they’re performing for an audience of zero. Which wouldn’t be such a problem, I suppose, if their refrain were a little more varied and a little less shrill.

Just as I finish typing that last sentence, I glance over toward the wall next to the file cabinet and there’s another cricket! Or maybe it’s the same one — I only took him a hundred feet from the house. I dive for him, but he leaps away and scuttles under the moulding. Crap. I guess I’ll be sleeping upstairs for a while.