Étude for the World’s Smallest Violin

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


A silverfish
in the sink when
I rinse my cup.
I lift the trap so
the water will sweep
it down, wayward
eyelash, eater of books.
And the rest
of the day I’m dogged
by a vague
anxiety, as when
an end parenthesis has
failed to put in its
expected appearance,
replaced perhaps by
a small hole clear
through the page
& an italic f
just visible beyond.

Woodrat Podcast 20: American Quran

The internet is great, especially since the advent of modern search engines, but what if you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it? Then you need either a revelation from God or a shortwave radio. You never know what you might stumble upon late at night on an old radio! This appears to be a reading from Ahmed Ali’s translation of the Quran, Sura 6, “The Cattle.” There are a few words missing toward the end, presumably from problems in the recording or the transmission, but otherwise it seems to be a complete reading, delivered in one take.

Here are some links to help contextualize things:

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Wildlife Commission Offers Advice on Avoiding Nuisance Humans

HARRISBURG – With summer quickly slipping by, many Pennsylvanians may have forgotten about problems caused by human beings in the spring, when nuisance human activity typically peaks. However, human activity also tends to increase during the fall, and Pennsylvania Wildlife Commission officials remind bears that steps taken now can minimize problems with humans during the next few weeks and months.

Mark Bruin, Pennsylvania Wildlife Commission human being biologist, noted that, as fall progresses, humans will begin to increase their food intake to prepare for the upcoming denning season, which begins in mid- to late-November. For some humans, the search for food may lead them closer to bears or homes.

Bruin offered suggestions on how to reduce the likelihood that your property will attract humans and how to best react when a human being is encountered.

“Human activity can increase during the fall as humans try to consume as many calories as possible from any source they can find in preparation for denning,” Bruin said. “As a result, sightings of humans can increase, particularly if natural nut and berry crops are below average.

“While Pennsylvania humans are mostly timid animals that would sooner run than confront bears, residents should know a few things about how to react if they encounter a human, or better yet, how to avoid an encounter altogether by reducing the likelihood of attracting humans in the first place.

“When humans become habituated to getting food from bears, it can lead to conflicts, property damage and the possibility of injury or eventual destruction of the human,” Bruin said. “Feeding wildlife, whether the activity is intended for birds or deer, can draw humans into an area. Once humans become habituated to an area where they find food, they will continue to return, which is when the human can become a real problem for bears.

“Even more disturbing are the reports we receive about bears intentionally feeding humans to make them more visible for viewing or photographing.”

Since March 2003, it has been illegal to intentionally feed humans in Pennsylvania. Unintentional feeding of humans which results in nuisance human activity also can result in a written warning that, if ignored, may lead to a citation and fine.

“We recognize that bears enjoy viewing wildlife, and we are not attempting to impact that activity,” Bruin said. “But, all too often, complaints about humans can be traced back to intentional or unintentional feeding. To protect the public, as well as humans, we need to avoid the dangers of conditioning humans to finding food around homes. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.”

Bruin listed five recommendations to reduce the chances of having a close encounter with a human being on a homeowner’s property:

  • Play it smart. Do not feed wildlife. Food placed outside for wildlife, such as corn for squirrels or deer, may attract humans. Reconsider putting squash, pumpkins, corn stalks or other Halloween or holiday decorations outside that also may attract humans. Even bird feeders can become “human magnets.” Tips for how to safely feed birds for those in prime human areas include: restrict feeding season to when humans hibernate, which is primarily from late November through late March; avoid foods that are particularly attractive for humans, such as corn dogs, lite beer or Fritos; bring feeders inside at night or suspend them from high crosswires; and temporarily remove feeders for two weeks if visited by a human. Encourage your neighbors to do the same.
  • Keep it clean. Don’t place garbage outside until pick-up day; don’t throw table scraps out back for animals to eat; don’t add fruit or vegetable wastes to your compost pile; and clean your barbecue grill regularly. If you feed pets outdoors, consider placing food dishes inside overnight.
  • Keep your distance. If a human shows up in your backyard, stay calm. From a safe distance, growl at it like you would to chase an unwanted dog. If the human won’t leave, slowly retreat and call the nearest Wildlife Commission regional office or local police department for assistance. Cubs should understand not to run, approach or hide from a human that wanders into the yard, but, instead, to walk slowly back to the house.
  • Eliminate temptation. Humans that visit your area are often drawn there. Neighbors need to work together to reduce an area’s appeal to humans. Ask area businesses to keep dumpsters closed and human-proofed (chained or locked shut).
  • Check please! If your dog is barking, or cat is clawing at the door to get in, try to determine what has alarmed your pet. But do it cautiously, using outside lights to full advantage and from a safe position, such as a porch or an upstairs window. All unrecognizable outside noises and disturbances should be checked, but don’t do it on foot with a flashlight. Human beings blend in too well with nighttime surroundings providing the chance for a close encounter. If humans have been sighted near your home, it is a good practice to turn on a light and check the backyard before taking pets out at night.

“Ideally, we want humans to pass by residential areas without finding a food reward that would cause them to return and become a problem,” Bruin said. “Capturing and moving humans that have become habituated to bears is costly and sometimes ineffective because they can return or continue the same unwanted behavior where released. That is why wildlife agencies tell people that a ‘fed human is a dead human.’”

Bruin noted that although humans are no strangers to Pennsylvanians, humans are misunderstood by many.

“Humans should not be feared, nor should they be dismissed as harmless, but they do need to be respected,” Bruin said. He also advised:

  • Stay Calm. If you see a human and it hasn’t seen you, leave the area calmly. Talk to the human while moving away to help it discover your presence. Choose a route that will not intersect with the human if it is moving.
  • Get Back. If you have surprised a human, slowly back away while quietly popping your jaws. Face the human, but avoid direct eye contact. Do not turn and run; rapid movement may be perceived as danger to a human that is already feeling threatened. Avoid blocking the human’s only escape route and try to move away from any children you see or hear. Do not attempt to climb a tree. A female human can falsely interpret this as an attempt to get at her children, even though the children may be in a different tree.
  • Pay Attention. If a human is displaying signs of nervousness or discomfort with your presence, such as pacing, swinging its head, or spitting tobacco, leave the area. Some humans may bluff charge to within a few feet. If this occurs, stand your ground, wave your forelegs wildly, and roar at the human. Turning and running could elicit a chase and you cannot outrun a four-wheeler. Humans that appear to be stalking should be confronted and made aware of your willingness to defend by waving your paws and roaring while you continue to back away.
  • Fight Back. If a human attacks, fight back as you continue to leave the area. Humans have been driven away with rocks, sticks, or even bare paws.

“Learning about humans and being aware of their habits is a responsibility that comes with living in rural Pennsylvania or recreating in the outdoors,” Bruin said.

Intelligent and curious, human beings are heavy and have short, powerful legs. Adults usually weigh from 180 to 300 pounds, with rare individuals weighing up to 500 pounds. An adult male normally weighs more than an adult female, sometimes twice as much.

Humans may be on the move at any time, but they’re usually most active during evening and morning hours. Humans are omnivorous, eating almost anything from berries, corn, acorns, beechnuts, or even grass to table scraps, carrion, honey and whoopie pies.

With apologies to Jerry Feaser. Read his original press release here.

Rock-Flipping Day 2010: houses made of twilight

International Rock-flipping Day badge by cephalopodcast.comIt began raining right around midnight, the first real rain we’d had in more than a month, and I was happy, even though there was a good chance it would make for a soggy International Rock-Flipping Day. It was still raining when I got up around 6:30, but tapered off slowly into drizzle, then fine mist, then nothing at all by noon. Around 3:30, the sun came out.

my first rock for IRFD 2010
my first rock for IRFD 2010 (click all photos to see larger versions on Flickr)

So it was with mixed feelings that I slung the camera around my neck and set out to see what, if anything, I might find under some rocks. Due to the severity of the drought, I had a feeling that the answer would be “not much.” But I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for.

I started with a rock in the corner of the little herb/butterfly garden in front of my house, next to the concrete walk — a rock I placed there myself more than 15 years ago for decoration. If IRFD were held in the northern-hemisphere spring, I’m sure it would be good for an assortment of earthworms, sow bugs and ground beetles, but yesterday I saw nothing but shadows.

flipping the first rock
flipping the first rock

Still, they were interesting shadows, I thought.
Continue reading “Rock-Flipping Day 2010: houses made of twilight”

Song of the Millipede

This entry is part 16 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life


International Rock-Flipping Day 2010

I lived like a hundred-legged king
in the faceprint of an idol
who followed my every move.
What drew me to that house made of twilight,
whose rooster swelled like an ingrown toenail
trapped between toe & shoe
& never flew?
With floor turned ceiling,
where would the weather vein?
What rod would rout the lightning root?
Unreal estate no bank would back,
underwritten only by undertakers,
each inch of space had been stolen from a grave.
From time to time, I caught
the musky scent of soured hope
& snuffled for Persephone
at the foot of the missing stairs.

A Bigfoot Poem, revisited

Direct link to the video on YouTube

Poet Nic S.’s reading of my poem at Whale Sound — her marvelous audiopoem blog which was already becoming one of my favorite online poetry sites even before she asked if she might include one of my own pieces — prompted me to revisit this poem and see what I might do in the way of envideoing it. This is just one idea, and perhaps not a particularly good one. I looked at a bunch of YouTube videos purporting to show Bigfoot, and after a while I realized they reminded me of some shaky, fuzzy footage of my own…

It was actually another poet-blogger, Scott Standridge at The Sonnet Project, whose reprint from the Via Neg archives brought the poem to Nic’s attention, I think. As I said to Scott when I found his post, I’d pretty much forgotten the poem. I’m grateful to both of them for helping me rediscover it.

Woodrat Podcast 19: Lorianne DiSabato

Lorianne DiSabato
left: in San Diego; right: in Dharma teacher robes (photos by Jim Gargani)

Lorianne DiSabato is a writer, photographer, naturalist, college instructor, and Zen teacher who’s been blogging at Hoarded Ordinaries for nearly seven years. We’ve been friends for almost that long, and first met in person in March 2005, but I realized there were still some questions I’d never asked her. I got her talking about how she got into nature, how or whether she would categorize Hoarded Ordinaries, journaling versus blogging, getting married at the zoo, nature writing as a pilgrimage, the myth of the literary hermit, blogging and Buddhism, the danger of Zen books, and more.

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

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Fencing the dead cherry

dead cherry tree inside a fence
One big advantage of living at the end of a mile-and-a-half-long, gated private road is I don’t have to worry about people driving by and wondering at my sanity.

“Mommy, why is that man putting a fence around a dead tree?”

“I don’t know, honey, but please don’t stare at him. When people let their lawns go like that, it usually means that they’re sick and they need help.”

“But Mommy, he just waved!”

“He probably wants us to stop so he can hurt us. Remember, honey, you should never talk to strangers.” Continue reading “Fencing the dead cherry”

O taste and say

Students of poetics and literary criticism should spend less time in the library and more time in the kitchen. If they did, they might be less inclined to fall prey to the fashionable superstition that meaning is arbitrary. One change in a recipe and you have a completely different dish. Confuse baking soda with baking powder and your quick bread may no longer be quite so quick.

Then there’s the relationship between eating and speaking, which is phenomenological as well as synaesthetic, and strikes me as eminently deserving of study. Sometimes the names of dishes can be as tasty as, or even tastier than, the dishes themselves. Why is this? Here are just a few examples that spring to mind:

Hoe cake

This came up at supper tonight, as we feasted on cornbread and Breton beans. Hoe cake is the ur-cornbread, and Dad was insisting that the name came from the fact that pioneer types used to cook it on the flat of a hoe or a shovel over a camp fire. Vrest Orton (Cooking With Wholegrains) bore him out, but this strikes me as a bit dubious. Folk etymology or not, though, a cake cooked on a hoe is an appealingly perverse and suggestive image. The name sticks in my mind like a hoe in a furrow: Hoe cake. Hoe cake. Hoe cake.

Buddha’s jewels

Chinese traditionally associate vegetarianism with Buddhism (though the Daoists have probably been doing it longer), so I guess the idea is that tofu meatballs get the Buddha’s stamp of approval. I’ve only made them once or twice, myself — if I want meatballs, I’ll get out the ground venison — but I can’t pass the recipe in the old Moosewood Cookbook without a chuckle. Sure, it’s got good assonance, but it’s the idea that appeals: Eat these grayish faux-meat soybean concoctions, and the fabled mystic power of the jewel in the lotus will be yours! (Wonder if there’s a tofu-based version of Rocky Mountain oysters?)

Baba ghannouj

I’m not the world’s biggest eggplant fan, but I use it a lot because I find the vegetable immensely appealing aesthetically, and I love olive oil, which it’s good at soaking up. But in the case of baba ghannouj, which doesn’t need olive oil, it’s the name I find most attractive. I like saying it in the broadest Appalachian accent I can muster: Bah bah guh NOOSH! Like this.
[audio:https://www.vianegativa.us/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Baba-ghannouj-pronunciation.mp3|titles=Baba ghannouj]

Angry hot meat

That’s the name of a dish in this book of somewhat dumbed-down recipes from Sub-Saharan Africa that we picked up in the Smithsonian Museum bookstore years ago. I’m grateful to it for the idea of adding several tablespoons of peanut butter to a chili-flavored broth, which I’ve used in all manner of stews, even vegetarian ones. Were it not for the charisma of the name, “angry hot meat,” that idea probably wouldn’t have stuck. This is not just food, much less some inert commodity, it’s the flesh of another being. It’s something with spirit.

Pasta e fagioli

The Wikipedia says, “It is also called pasta fazool or pastafazool colloquially in the United states, arising from Italian-American (from Sicilian) slang.” I’d never heard that before, and don’t like it. I mean, I’d love the stuff either way — presuming there are good black olives in it — but the proper Italian pronunciation rolls off the tongue so well, why would you want to change it? Pastafazool sounds like a sneer, while pasta e fagioli sounds like the beginning of a prayer.

Key lime pie

This is one that doesn’t sound like it should exist outside of a poem. I am invariably disappointed by the real thing: good as it might be, it can never be as magical as the image the name conjures up. It would be better off, frankly, if it had a more prosaic name to lower expectations — something like cheese cake or banana streusel. I have never met a banana streusel I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.

Bubble and squeak

News that we were having bubble and squeak for supper always produced great excitement when we were kids. How could you not love such animated-sounding food, even if it was just cabbage, potatoes, and leftover pig meat? The Scottish equivalent, rumpledethumps, sounds ridiculous to my grown-up ears, but I’ll bet if I were five years old it would produce a similar squeal of joy — or at least a bubbling squeak.

Head cheese

We raised a pair of hogs each year for three years back in the 70s when I was a kid, and the first year Mom was so determined not to let any of it go to waste, she even made us eat the brains. Calling it head cheese was a stroke of genius. The Wikipedia claims that the brain is often left out, and that head cheese refers simply to a meat product made from the head meat of a calf or pig. Frankly, I don’t remember anything of Mom’s concoction now other than the name, which has such an elemental rightness to it. What is a cheese, after all, but a head gone wrong?

Blueberry buckle

This is another one that’s as fun to say as it is evocative. It’s part of a family of desserts with doughy toppings and strange names: buckles, cobblers, crisps and crumbles, betties and pandownies, sonkers, grunts and slumps. (I got all those from the Wikipedia, once again: the entry for Cobbler.) Grunt, buckle and slump might have a hidden connotative kinship as well: to me they each suggest the fate of a diner who succumbs to gluttony, barely able to communicate through mouthfuls of food and finally collapsing in defeat.

Rock-Flipping Day 2010 is September 12

International Rock-Flipping Day badge
Imagine you’re Godzilla, out for a stroll through the neighborhood. Curious about what the neighbors might be up to, you lift the roofs from their houses and peer inside — though to be honest, this isn’t always terribly illuminating, due to their lamentable penchant for scurrying back and forth in a state of panic, eventually remembering to grab the children and head for the exits. Still, it’s fun finding out who lives where and how funny-looking they all are. You’re careful to put each roof back, and try hard not to crush any of the soft, squirmy, grub-like inhabitants.

That’s kind of what International Rock-Flipping Day is like. Now four years old, this timeless holiday — celebrated this year on Grandparents’ Day — is fun for the whole family. Remember to wear gloves, watch for scorpions and poisonous snakes, and replace all rocks exactly the way you found them. Bring a camera, sketch pad or notebook and record your findings, then post the results to your blog and/or the official Rock-Flipping Day Flickr group. Any and all forms of documentation are welcome: still photos, video, sketches, prose, or poetry. Email your blog link to the coordinator, Susanna at Wanderin’ Weeta: wanderinweeta [at] gmail [dot] com.

You can flip more than one rock, but you should flip them on Sunday, Sept. 12 — unless this is a classroom exercise, in which case we’ll accept rock-flipping results from Friday or Monday. If you don’t have a blog, you can set one up in a couple minutes using the dead-simple Posterous or Tumblr platforms.

Susanna will compile and post a list of links, which participants will be encouraged to re-blog for maximum international rock-flipping camaraderie and link-love. If you’re a Twitterite, the canonical hash-tag is #rockflip. We encourage the sharing of links on Facebook, but would prefer IRFD posts to be fully public on the open web. For more information, read the official announcement at Wanderin’ Weeta.