Privation

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

In that chilly apartment
the cat found the warmest spot
on top of the refrigerator

the refrigerator would cycle off
with a violent shiver
the cat’s tail would twitch

in the silence that followed
we would lower our voices
& move closer together

the walls were thin as takeout menus
the ceiling had a stain
in the shape of Antarctica

we each had bruises
on our hips from
the other’s hipbones.

Wrong-Gone Wolf

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

The wrong-gone wolf trails
a flag that won’t stop waving,
not even when the forest has
been flattened & abstracted
into a panel of sea-green glass,
or when traps gape like tooth-
less ancestors who built
their reputation on raising
wayward human children,
pulling the moon from the sky,
that kind of thing.
The wrong-gone wolf can lie
down & sleep beside a fire.
Rabbits graze unperturbed
in the margins of her dreams,
where she goes to hunt for
the howl in her throat
& finds nothing but clipped
syllables of command. Released
once more into her native habitat,
she laps rainwater from
the parallel tracks of a creature
whose feet never lose contact
with its enemy, the earth.

Night Watch

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Risk is the fact that you have to go
not only farther, but deeper; or higher—

often only a tendril of scent to go on, or
whatever it was that woke you from sleep

so you could not return to its arms—
Impossible to do anything else but

discard old skins; to give yourself
to the flickering pulse in the lilac,

some dark eye in the leaves
that watches, and does not blink.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Memo from the CEO of Little Prince, Inc.

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 4 of 29 in the series Conversari

 

The inhabitants of my planet whistle in unison — I hear them through the airlock. It is their first & only dawn, & they emerge with joyful shovels & shadows. When they dance it looks like walking & when they walk it looks like the swaying of a drowned woman’s hair. Pennies from heaven fall into their pockets until, weighed down, they drop to their knees. Or so I imagine. They are too small to see, these natives, most of whom didn’t even exist at the beginning of this sentence. They subsist on a diet of pure sugar spun from sunlight & a few other ingredients (which are proprietary information & therefore may not not be listed). Despite their complete immersion in what passes for primordial soup, they have no time to bathe. It’s already noon. The metronome by which they breathe has slowed enough to permit the formation of a thought: I AM, or some such absurdity. Soon there will be letters of fire where before only lightning had graffitoed the clouds. They will look for ways to reproduce that don’t involve budding, which is frankly beginning to seem backward & provincial. They will discover the others who have been there all along, & what big teeth they have. They will head for the exits.

*

See Rachel’s photographic response: “Bottle of dreams.”

In the chapel of perpetual adoration,

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 47 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011

 

an angel stands behind the entrance,
water in her cupped hands made of marble.
And in the nave, two by two, hour by hour,
nuns prostrate in prayer. Now they kneel,
though you are told that in the old days
they used to lie face-down on the stone
tiles, a strip of carpet beneath them.
Imagine the floor gradually warming
under their cheeks, the sides of their
foreheads. Hours pass. Shadows move
across the window. The only cloud in the sky
finds the sun, and still they don’t move.
In the atrium, the signs instruct: write
your petition on any of the strips of yellow
legal paper. Lay it on the plate. Drop
some coins and hear their muffled clink
in the collection box. Strike a match along
the iron votive holder. Hope that this isn’t all
improvisation, even as the choir begins a hymn.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Unbelievable Ends

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 46 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011

 

On the edge of winter, every branch and twig
will soon grow white with rime; and every feeble
plant go under. Not one voice of protest

will we hear when sheets of snow and ice descend,
imperial in their judgment. Which makes me wonder,
in 258 when Emperor Valerian ordered the execution

of the deacon we know as St. Lawrence, what sounds
did the martyr make, roasted alive on a gridiron?
And how far beyond the olive orchards did the smell

of his charred flesh travel? What end?- asks a famous
poem: choose ice, or fire. In most cases it really
isn’t a matter of choice, even when sufficient

will’s involved. Take the graceful Isadora, who danced
barefoot, loved improvisation, and led a troupe of
young pupils called Isadorables— she died

of a broken neck when her long silk scarf
caught in the wheel of a car. What I didn’t know
was that her two young children drowned in the river

with their nanny, when their French driver forgot
to set the parking brake and the car rolled down
the Boulevard Bordon. I doubt any of them

thought this was curtains, fini, the end—
Not even the Kabuki actor who claimed immunity
to puffer-fish poison and asked the fugu chef

for four; or the American statesman who expired
from sticking a piece of whale bone through
his urinary tract to remove a blockage.

Not poor Franz Reichelt, the tailor excited to test
his brilliant invention of an overcoat parachute
(like a cloak with voluminous folds and a hood)

from the first deck of the Tour Eiffel in 1912—
captured on grainy film falling to his death below.

And certainly not the nine people killed in the London
Beer Flood of 1814, when 323,000 imperial gallons
of beer burst out of their vats at the Meux

& Company Brewery. That sudden amber sea,
flecked with foam, gushed into the streets of St.
Giles Parish: destroying homes, knocking down walls,

filling the basements where poor families lived. And they
took the brewery to court, but as in the case of hurricanes
that whirl overhead and ice that hails from the sky,

the jury simply ruled that this was an act of God.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Farewell, Festival of the Trees. Hello, Treeblogging.com.

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Treeblogging.com screenshotOn Thursday I had the melancholy task of compiling and posting the final edition (#66) of the Festival of the Trees, a monthly blog carnival I co-founded back in June 2006; the first edition appeared right here at Via Negativa. I hosted it four more times over the years, and each time it felt like a bit of a homecoming. So why didn’t the final edition appear here? Because it was just not an end but a beginning: the beginning of a successor effort called simply Treeblogging.com.

As I explained at the end of Festival of the Trees 66, my co-conspirator Jade Blackwell and I felt that too much energy has gone out of blogging for blog carnivals to work very well any more, at least not without a greater expenditure of energy by the organizers than we were willing to put into it. Fewer and fewer people stepped forward to volunteer, and since the idea of blog carnivals never spread very far beyond the political blogosphere, we continually had to explain it to potential participants. Gone are the days when bloggers enthusiastically left comments on each others’ posts; much of the conversation seems to have moved to Twitter and Facebook now.

So we decided to turn the FOTT coordinating blog into a community aggregator site for people who love trees. No more big link-dumps to challenge readers’ increasingly fragmented attention spans; now the links will appear continually, as soon as people submit them. The blog carnival has become a blog. We’ve launched a Facebook page in addition to the Twitter feed, have commenced auto-posting to both, and are encouraging people to subscribe by email.

As I wrote today, though, the most important thing is for everyone who blogs about trees to get in the habit of sending us links. It’s only been a couple of days, but the response has already been pretty encouraging. We’ll see what happens.

*

I don’t think blogging is going away — quite the opposite, really. It’s become the dominant way to share content on the open web. And to the extent that Facebook and Twitter are bringing more people online, they’re indirectly helping bloggers by growing the audience. After all, links to content outside Facebook’s walled garden makes up a sizable proportion of most people’s feeds.

But there’s no doubt that the social aspect of blogging was one of the things that made it vibrant and exciting back in 2006, when online social networks had barely begun to go mainstream, and I’m not certain blogs will ever see that level of engagement again. In a way, I think it’s good that people who only ever wanted to chat and share photos have places where they can do that now without feeling pressured to post something more substantial. But it does mean that web publishers — and even blog carnival coordinators — can’t keep doing things the same way forever.

Letter to One Seeking Flight

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 45 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011

 

The soul’s wilderness is ringed by pine and rugged cliffs above which birds with wings stronger than mine circle and circle the primed canvas sky. They give me their surplus of feathers— dress remnants of silky black, ink grey, satiny pearl. I find them strewn carelessly in the discount racks and rush to gather them up. I study them closely to make adjustments— ah what I wouldn’t give right now for even a jar of Gorilla Glue or a hot glue gun, in lieu of a crossbar and wires, battens, a keel. Something that noses into the wind and lofts quick with the changeable currents, to take me away from here. It’s cold at sunrise: that time of day when the honey and the wax need most prodding (I’ve come across tiny striped bodies, asleep in their padded cells). My arthritic hands need warming too. They hurt intermittently, as though these fingers were carving labyrinths from stone. It’s always more difficult at night, or in the long winter months when the light slants, elusive, in the cave. And yes, that crazed bull likes to sit in the mother of all mazes, making frightful noises: uncombed, unwashed, unkempt. But, surprise— it unravels too. All it takes is one skinny thread, one end of yarn poking up from the corner of your brightest red sweater. It works something like a ripcord. Pull on it. Or wear it and see what happens.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Crossing Wales

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 3 of 29 in the series Conversari

 

Facing backwards on the train
like a waxing moon, hidden wheel
of my belly a little wobbly,
I watch the hills pile up, blueing
as the gulf between us grows.
Who knows when or if I’ll pass
this way again? And then
I focus on the close-at-hand,
& realize all this time
I’ve been staring straight through
the reflection of a girl
who faces forward, pale
& attentive, hair the color
of autumn fields. We slow
down. The intercom crackles.
A station platform assembles itself
around us & stops, & the doors
slide open. What place is this
whose name requires two
clearings of the throat?

*

See the photographic response by Rachel Rawlins, “eye.”