Solstice

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

The men with their leaf-blowers
come to clear the lawns: dry
needles of pine, all the fallen
leaves that flourished in summer.

Now the moon appears, ornament
of beaten silver, gleaming
thumbprint on a darkening sheet.
And the arms of trees reach

in their own stripped silence
toward what you yearn for: to be
gathered in again, your fragments
cradled by what sees you.

At the club

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up betimes, my wife having a mind to have gone abroad with me, but I had not because of troubling me, and so left her, though against my will, to go and see her father and mother by herself, and I straight to my Lord Sandwich’s, and there I had a pretty kind salute from my Lord, and went on to the Duke’s, where my fellow officers by and by came, and so in with him to his closet, and did our business, and so broke up, and I with Sir W. Batten by coach to Salisbury Court, and there spoke with Clerk our Solicitor about Field’s business, and so parted, and I to Mrs. Turner’s, and there saw the achievement pretty well set up, and it is well done. Thence I on foot to Charing Crosse to the ordinary, and there, dined, meeting Mr. Gauden and Creed. Here variety of talk but to no great purpose. After dinner won a wager of a payre of gloves of a crowne of Mr. Gauden upon some words in his contract for victualling.
There parted in the street with them, and I to my Lord’s, but he not being within, took coach, and, being directed by sight of bills upon the walls, I did go to Shoe Lane to see a cocke-fighting at a new pit there, a sport I was never at in my life; but, Lord! to see the strange variety of people, from Parliament-man (by name Wildes, that was Deputy Governor of the Tower when Robinson was Lord Mayor) to the poorest ‘prentices, bakers, brewers, butchers, draymen, and what not; and all these fellows one with another in swearing, cursing, and betting. I soon had enough of it, and yet I would not but have seen it once, it being strange to observe the nature of these poor creatures, how they will fight till they drop down dead upon the table, and strike after they are ready to give up the ghost, not offering to run away when they are weary or wounded past doing further, whereas where a dunghill brood comes he will, after a sharp stroke that pricks him, run off the stage, and then they wring off his neck without more ado, whereas the other they preserve, though their eyes be both out, for breed only of a true cock of the game.
Sometimes a cock that has had ten to one against him will by chance give an unlucky blow, will strike the other starke dead in a moment, that he never stirs more; but the common rule is, that though a cock neither runs nor dies, yet if any man will bet 10l. to a crowne, and nobody take the bet, the game is given over, and not sooner. One thing more it is strange to see how people of this poor rank, that look as if they had not bread to put in their mouths, shall bet three or four pounds at one bet, and lose it, and yet bet as much the next battle (so they call every match of two cocks), so that one of them will lose 10l. or 20l. at a meeting.
Thence, having enough of it, by coach to my Lord Sandwich’s, where I find him within with Captain Cooke and his boys, Dr. Childe, Mr. Madge, and Mallard, playing and singing over my Lord’s anthem which he hath made to sing in the King’s Chappell: my Lord saluted me kindly and took me into the withdrawing-room, to hear it at a distance, and indeed it sounds very finely, and is a good thing, I believe, to be made by him, and they all commend it. And after that was done Captain Cooke and his two boys did sing some Italian songs, which I must in a word say I think was fully the best musique that I ever yet heard in all my life, and it was to me a very great pleasure to hear them.
After all musique ended, my Lord going to White Hall, I went along with him, and made a desire for to have his coach to go along with my cozen Edward Pepys’s hearse through the City on Wednesday next, which he granted me presently, though he cannot yet come to speak to me in the familiar stile that he did use to do, nor can I expect it. But I was the willinger of this occasion to see whether he would deny me or no, which he would I believe had he been at open defyance against me.
Being not a little pleased with all this, though I yet see my Lord is not right yet, I thanked his Lordship and parted with him in White Hall. I back to my Lord’s, and there took up W. Howe in a coach, and carried him as far as the Half Moone, and there set him down. By the way, talking of my Lord, who is come another and a better man than he was lately, and God be praised for it, and he says that I shall find my Lord as he used to be to me, of which I have good hopes, but I shall beware of him, I mean W. Howe, how I trust him, for I perceive he is not so discreet as I took him for, for he has told Captain Ferrers (as Mr. Moore tells me) of my letter to my Lord, which troubles me, for fear my Lord should think that I might have told him.
So called with my coach at my wife’s brother’s lodging, but she was gone newly in a coach homewards, and so I drove hard and overtook her at Temple Bar, and there paid off mine, and went home with her in her coach. She tells me how there is a sad house among her friends. Her brother’s wife proves very unquiet, and so her mother is, gone back to be with her husband and leave the young couple to themselves, and great trouble, and I fear great want, will be among them, I pray keep me from being troubled with them.
At home to put on my gowne and to my office, and there set down this day’s Journall, and by and by comes Mrs. Owen, Captain Allen’s daughter, and causes me to stay while the papers relating to her husband’s place, bought of his father, be copied out because of her going by this morning’s tide home to Chatham. Which vexes me, but there is no help for it. I home to supper while a young [man] that she brought with her did copy out the things, and then I to the office again and dispatched her, and so home to bed.

a pretty pair of gloves
on the Parliament-man
that was cursing the poor

how they fight till they drop
though their eyes be unlucky
as if they had no bread

the white hearse of a moon
set over a sad house
down into the morning tide


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 21 December 1663.

Losing Eden

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

~ “Adam and Eve in the Garden,” Lucas Cranach the Elder (1533)

Seven apples suspend in the tree
around whose forked limb the serpent

twines like a grey rubber prop, its head
extending like the head of an adjustable

lamp over the couple beneath. So this
is what it means to have lost Eden—

the man with his arm draped casually
over the woman, their shoulders

slumped in lassitude as if they’ve bought
tickets to a matinee screening of a movie

they’re not particularly excited to see.
He’s looking at her, but her expression

is like whatever. The blue at the edge
of the sky is the tint from a vintage

postcard, and the beasts that flank them
are awkward as children not quite out

of their teens: the deer with its knock-
kneed joints, the lion with its underbite

and limp, flat locks. Only her body has
a kind of bleached sheen, but even that

is flat as everything: dark vegetation
more brown than green, not even a hint

of some flame of forbidden desire
to redden the fruit they share.

Zennish

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Up and alone to church, where a common sermon of Mr. Mills, and so home to dinner in our parler, my wife being clean, and the first time we have dined here a great while together, and in the afternoon went to church with me also, and there begun to take her place above Mrs. Pen, which heretofore out of a humour she was wont to give her as an affront to my Lady Batten. After a dull sermon of the Scotchman, home, and there I found my brother Tom and my two cozens Scotts, he and she, the first time they were ever here. And by and by in comes my uncle Wight and Mr. Norbury, and they sat with us a while drinking, of wine, of which I did give them plenty. But the two would not stay supper, but the other two did. And we were as merry as I could be with people that I do wish well to, but know not what discourse either to give them or find from them. We showed them our house from top to bottom, and had a good Turkey roasted for our supper, and store of wine, and after supper sent them home on foot, and so we to prayers and to bed.

alone together
the afternoon and I

my Zen comes with wine
but is sent home on foot


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 20 December 1663.

Developer

Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and I laboured hard at Deering’s business of his deals more than I would if I did not think to get something, though I do really believe that I did what is to the King’s advantage in it, and yet, God knows, the expectation of profit will have its force and make a man the more earnest. Dined at home, and then with Mr. Bland to another meeting upon his arbitration, and seeing we were likely to do no good I even put them upon it, and they chose Sir W. Rider alone to end the matter, and so I am rid of it. Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas. To Mrs. Turner’s, whom I find busy with Sir W. Turner, about advising upon going down to Norfolke with the corpse, and I find him in talke a sober, considering man. So home to my office late, and then home to supper and to bed. My head full of business, but pretty good content.

a deer is more than ink
something real

yet the expectation of profit
will make a man bland

like a lone shoe
or the corpse I find in my head


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 19 December 1663.

Dream sequence

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

I had a heart once

It flew at the slightest

hint of air

It loved the taste

of roasted chestnuts

The way a mouthful of cold

water spreads through each

branch of the body

It stood in line yet

never struck

a perfect score

but wept to see

a shriveled globe

of fruit turn into

an expensive version

of itself— It walked

the aisles touching

the tissue folds

of things that no one

wanted to take home

 

In response to Via Negativa: Inscrutable.

The Ice Mountain cometh

facing down a porcupine

Ice Mountain coverIce Mountain by Dave Bonta
132 pgs, 6″ x 9″, paperback, publication date January 25, 2016
Pre-order at $13.50 (reg. $14.95)

10% of all proceeds will benefit local and regional conservation efforts in central Pennsylvania.

Holiday Note: We don’t expect to be able to ship books until mid- to late January, but if you’d like to give this book as a gift, we’ll send you a file with a printable card of the book cover to give the recipient.

Some text from the book’s page at Phoenicia Publishing, where you can order if you have a mind to. Want to read a selection before you make up your mind? Here you go. And if a printed card doesn’t seem quite enough to constitute a Christmas present, you could combine it with one of the already-published books from Phoenicia Publishing as long as you’re quick about it.

But you all know how much I favor web publication. Why pursue publication of a print book at all in this digital age? Well, as you probably gathered from Wednesday’s crowd-sourced list of poetry books, many of us poetry lovers still fetishize dead-tree media. In my case, that’s not an affection that extends to magazines, which are essentially disposable and should all be electronic in my opinion. But a good book is something designed to be kept forever — and barring fire, flood, insects, and high-acid paper, books can survive almost indefinitely if properly cared for. Not only that, a printed book is highly portable and hard to beat technologically for random access to content and general ease of user interface.

And let’s face it, digital-only publication fuels a certain reductionist mindset. A book is much more than just its textual content. When Beth Adams asked me last spring if I might have a manuscript she could look at, it came at a very opportune time: I had just finished a complete re-write of a collection of poems originally published here as a poetic diary from January to May 2014. After a further month of editing, I sent it off and was thrilled when she said she wanted to publish it, because Beth is a true artist and a gifted designer of print publications, and I knew she’d be able to add real value to the collection — to make it something that even people who don’t normally buy new books of poetry might want to own. (And frankly, because of the local content, including the use of a local toponym for the title, Ice Mountain will likely sell some copies outside the usual poetry circles.)

So the book isn’t just mine anymore; it’s Beth’s, too. I am always willing to meet an audience part-way, and I didn’t think it really compromised the purity of my vision too much to break up the text with original linocut illustrations when Beth offered that as a possibility. “Sure! Why not use linocuts as dividers between months?” I said. And a couple of weeks later, she produced this lovely linocut of a wood frog to show me the sort of thing she had in mind.

Then one of the two people I asked to read the manuscript and consider writing some promotional copy for it, the environmental activist Laura Jackson, wondered why I couldn’t turn the afterword into a foreword, and Beth agreed that this would make the book more user-friendly, so again I thought, why the heck not? My own preference to read the poems in a book on their own first is certainly not everyone’s, and besides, it has never bothered me to have to skip a foreword, preface or introduction in order to do so.

facing down a porcupine
A free and frank exchange of views

The compromise went both ways. Beth has agreed to let me keep my standard Creative Commons license for all my text, though her illustrations and the book as a product will remain under standard copyright protection. This will allow anyone to translate or remix poems into music, film, dance, etc., which I see as a net gain for the poems even if the interpretations aren’t to my personal liking. It is, among other things, free distribution. But more than that, poetry,  like code, wants to be free — free as in speech, not as in beer.

Which brings up economic considerations. There will be a digital version of the book, but don’t assume that’s going to provide a super low-cost option for those too cheap to buy the print version. Beth has poured many, many hours into this project, and it’s not fair to expect her to just donate her time to the cause. I bring this up because I think it encapsulates the peculiar situation of poetry under capitalism: on the one hand, sales of poetry books continue to decline, and virtually no one is able to make a living from it. On the other hand, giant corporations like Levi’s, Volvo, and HSBC love to incorporate poetry into advertising, precisely because (as I wrote in an essay at Moving Poems Magazine) they crave the authenticity of something that is seen as so completely outside the marketplace. Meanwhile, among da yoot, I’m told that poetry has more caché than ever. Go figure.

If poetry in Anglo-American culture every becomes as popular as it is in, say, Arabic countries, the whole dynamic will change. But I think we’re safe from such a scenario for at least another generation. We’re also not seeing the wholesale replacement of print books by digital, something that’s been predicted many times but has yet to happen. What’s more likely, I fear, is that as attention spans continue to shrink and fracture, fewer and fewer people will read books in any form, and only poets who are able to make the transition to audio or video will have a chance at being heard. But even then, I’m sure there will be a small market for beautifully made books, just as the small number of vinyl records that are still produced these days are more lust-worthy than ever.

the porcupine treeAnd what about the trees? Paper really doesn’t need to be make from tree pulp at all, of course. But I want to say a few words about the tree that inspired Beth’s linocut for the cover of Ice Mountain, which she titled “Porcupine Tree.” It’s an ancient, ridge-top chestnut oak that stands just over the property line with one of our neighbors. A series of porcupines have denned in it over the years, and their regular snacking on its twigs during winter months gave it a semi-pollarded appearance. Beth knew of my fondness for porcupines — I kind of identify with them as largely solitary, prickly, toothy tree-huggers — and I assume that influenced her choice of cover art, together with the tree’s mournful appearance, so fitting for a book-length elegy to winter.

The porcupine tree now looks even more mournful. It was close to death when the neighbor did some logging around it three years ago, exposing it to the full force of the winds. In October, it had its rendezvous with death when a storm brought powerful gusts through the area in the wake of torrential rains. Our neighbor Paula was driving down the hollow at the time, and her truck’s windshield was smashed by a falling limb, while my brother Mark’s car was nearly blown off the highway. And up on the ridgetop, the entire crown of the porcupine tree snapped off.

hollow oak with all its limbs snapped offOr so I am guessing. I hadn’t been over there for a while, so I just discovered the damage the other day. Regardless of how or when it happened, though, this tree has gone the way of most of its species: succumbing to bole-snap rather than a full uprooting, which means that it will probably have several more decades of service to wildlife, as a den tree as well as a food source. (My beetle-collecting brother Steve once told me that rotting oaks are the best, most nutritious food for larvae and thus support more biodiversity than any other group of trees on the mountain, especially when you factor in all the mast crops they produce while still alive.)

But it may or may not continue to be a den for porcupines. Since I wrote the poems that became Ice Mountain in 2014, the number of porcupines on the mountain has continued to decline, and we’re assuming that’s related to the fact that one of their few natural predators, the large weasel relatives known as fishers, are becoming ever more common. Two of our hunter friends saw fishers from their tree stands earlier this month, in fact, and my mother saw fisher tracks and scat at the Far Field — 100 yards away from the porcupine tree.

This is probably good news for the trees, though at a low population level I don’t think porcupines cause any more damage than any other natural disturbance, including high winds. I’m not saying I won’t still write elegies about porcupines — indeed, a dead one appears in Ice Mountain — but my sorrow won’t rise to the level of my despair at the anthropogenic extinction crisis, or global warming. Or the political direction of this country, which I think would be better served by a porcupine as president than the soon-to-be huckster-in-chief. But that probably goes without saying.

Cards

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

It is the eve
of another portentous day.
It is the eve of the day everything
could change. Haven’t we said
such things before? Didn’t we
go to bed convinced it was the end?
Sometimes I can no longer
bear to listen to the news.
And then I wonder what I’ve missed.
Tonight, my same child who woke
with tears the morning after November 8
is making hand-made holiday cards.
With a sure hand, she cuts out
shapes directly out of paper—
trees adorned with stars, wires
strung with colored lights;
a frieze of falling snowflakes.
What the mind thought, the gut
relayed. Here are all the cards
laid out on the table,
their insides waiting
to be inscribed.

Inscrutable

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and after being ready and done several businesses with people, I took water (taking a dram of the bottle at the waterside) with a gally, the first that ever I had yet, and down to Woolwich, calling at Ham Creeke, where I met Mr. Deane, and had a great deal of talke with him about business, and so to the Ropeyarde and Docke, discoursing several things, and so back again and did the like at Deptford, and I find that it is absolutely necessary for me to do thus once a weeke at least all the yeare round, which will do me great good, and so home with great ease and content, especially out of the content which I met with in a book I bought yesterday, being a discourse of the state of Rome under the present Pope, Alexander the 7th, it being a very excellent piece. After eating something at home, then to my office, where till night about business to dispatch. Among other people came Mr. Primate, the leather seller, in Fleete Streete, to see me, he says, coming this way; and he tells me that he is upon a proposal to the King, whereby, by a law already in being, he will supply the King, without wrong to any man, or charge to the people in general, so much as it is now, above 200,000l. per annum, and God knows what, and that the King do like the proposal, and hath directed that the Duke of Monmouth, with their consent, be made privy, and go along with him and his fellow proposer in the business, God knows what it is; for I neither can guess nor believe there is any such thing in his head. At night made an end of the discourse I read this morning, and so home to supper and to bed.

the bottle or a book
eating at the night

like a god I neither can guess
nor believe in


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 18 December 1663.