April Diary 31: in conclusion

This entry is part 31 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April what have we learned from this so-called diary?

  • blogging the way i used to blog is still fun and apparently i still have things to say (not such a surprise since i live alone)
  • it’s possible to create blog posts entirely on the phone by assembling notes, scraps of poems and photos during the course of the day
  • creating this additional daily post did mean i sometimes had to sacrifice a full night’s sleep, so for that reason i’m glad it’s over—finishing the Pepys diary erasure project is a higher priority right now
  • i don’t have a whole lot to say about what i read. i don’t read nearly as much literary criticism as i used to and it shows. sadly (or not) i have no immediate plans to rectify this situation for the simple reason that life is short
  • i’m clearly incapable of separating poetry from other aspects of my life. why i thought i could write a poetry-focused diary is a mystery to me
  • so glad i decided not to try to use the series plugin for the pepys project years ago. it’s still as buggy as ever

today i put in all the cole crop seedings from the nursery. after two years of deep mulching the soil is in much better shape than it was last year, so i have high hopes. i even talked to the seedlings as i tucked them into their little hills

also went for my usual walk but it was work. guess i was tireder than i thought. the best thing i saw was two black-throated green warblers having a sing-off from adjacent trees up on the ridgetop where the canopy is lower so i had pretty good views for once. they’d sing, grab an insect out of the air, sing some more, it was a pretty low-key contest, really

now sitting up in the woods after supper i find that the ethereal beauty of a singing hermit thrush becomes almost unbearable the moment i recall some of the unimaginable human suffering elsewhere on the planet. maybe this is why when i do listen to recorded music it’s something harsh and pounding. it makes the heavy truths of the world a little easier to face

(but most of what i hear in the course of a day is natural sound, by which i mean ambient sound (but a high proportion of that is nonhuman in origin, which is sadly a huge luxury in today’s world (but really what i hear is words. words in my head words on the page words on the screen audible words on videos words on podcasts words with other actual humans words words words. from the time i wake up till the time i fall asleep. not even my dreams are free of them. but when you listen really listen to something without words, whether instrumental music or the soundscape of a complex natural ecosystem, that can feel like you’re accessing a higher consciousness and i suspect that’s because a lifetime of language use has trained us to associate complex patterned sound with communication. to listen to natural sound means to hear everything as if it were a composition – a practice very akin to seeing natural landscapes as if they were wild gardens, something i do nearly every day. the concept of found art and found poetry goes far beyond art and literature proper, for me)))

this dullness in my head all day. i can’t even imagine writing a haiku right now

some say it was poems that drove him mad. some say henbane

“that’s not the wind it’s just old Mr. Thimblesticks out counting catkins”

Known unknower

Up, having lain long, and then by coach with W. Hewer to the Excise Office, and so to Lilly’s, the Varnisher; who is lately dead, and his wife and brother keep up the trade, and there I left my French prints to be put on boards:, and, while I was there, a fire burst out in a chimney of a house over against his house, but it was with a gun quickly put out. So to White Hall, and did a little business there at the Treasury chamber, and so homeward, calling at the laceman’s for some lace for my new suit, and at my tailor’s, and so home, where to dinner, and Mr. Sheres dined, with us, who come hither to-day to teach my wife the rules of perspective; but I think, upon trial, he thinks it too hard to teach her, being ignorant of the principles of lines. After dinner comes one Colonel Macnachan, one that I see often at Court, a Scotchman, but know him not; only he brings me a letter from my Lord Middleton, who, he says, is in great distress for 500l. to relieve my Lord Morton with, but upon, what account I know not; and he would have me advance it without order upon his pay for Tangier, which I was astonished at, but had the grace to deny him with an excuse. And so he went away, leaving me a little troubled that I was thus driven, on a sudden, to do any thing herein; but Creed, coming just now to see me, he approves of what I have done. And then to talk of general matters, and, by and by, Sheres being gone, my wife, and he, and I out, and I set him down at Temple Bar, and myself and wife went down the Temple upon seeming business, only to put him off, and just at the Temple gate I spied Deb. with another gentlewoman, and Deb. winked on me and smiled, but undiscovered, and I was glad to see her. So my wife and I to the ’Change, about things for her; and here, at Mrs. Burnett’s shop, I am told by Betty, who was all undressed, of a great fire happened in Durham-Yard last night, burning the house of one Lady Hungerford, who was to come to town to it this night; and so the house is burned, new furnished, by carelessness of the girl sent to take off a candle from a bunch of candles, which she did by burning it off, and left the rest, as is supposed, on fire. The King and Court were here, it seems, and stopped the fire by blowing up of the next house.
The King and Court went out of town to Newmarket this morning betimes, for a week. So home, and there to my chamber, and got my wife to read to me a little, and so to supper and to bed.
Coming home this night I did call at the coachmaker’s, and do resolve upon having the standards of my coach gilt with this new sort of varnish, which will come but to 40s.; and, contrary to my expectation, the doing of the biggest coach all over comes not to above 6l., which is [not] very much.

dead ignorant
I see only what I know not

astonished at the grace
in undiscovered things

all undressed
for the fur of fire

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 26 April 1669.

In Morro Bay (1587)

     "Industry comforts us, hard work with no respite,
provided only that the elements do not rage while
we are at work."
                                       ~ M.C. Escher, "Beehive," from
                                           XXIV Emblemata, 1931

Hardwood from our forests, then knuckle-
bruised years of hewing and planing. We knew 
how to lash thousands of trees into a vessel 
that would sail half the year to carry silver 
and gold, porcelain, teak and tea, silks 
and cinnabar to worlds most of us 
would not see. Those of us who did
sail endured hunger and sickness, maggots 
in our food, poisonous water. We swung
our bloated bellies in hammocks, the hold
made more humid by our pummeling
despair. Tragedy and mutinies; slow
death. Bleeding gums, teeth fallen
out of our mouths. In Morro Bay,
touching land again for the first time:
shadow of its rock on water a portal
through which we passed. 

April Diary 30: aging in place

This entry is part 30 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April today i feel old in a way i haven’t before. old in my bones. the soil’s discourse seems nearly intelligible

this mountain soil has especially hard consonants

i wasn’t working hard i was hardly working playing is more like it messing around in the dirt

tonight i found a new-to-me footpath through our woods which may seem unusual but it is a square mile property and it’s not surprising at all that one of our hunter friends should create an informal path and i not stumble across it for a while. that’s all the boring background to how i had the exciting experience of exploring a new trail in my literal backyard — which i only found because i decided to go off-trail on a whim, tempted by an opening between the trees

going off-trail is actually impossible. how does that Machado poem go?

Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

wherever you walk creates a path and you step in the easier places which is where other things have stepped and pretty soon you’re drawn into the network of animal trails

this is a path

although i suppose some people might have a hard time recognizing trails if they’re from some highly urbanized environment. those enviable souls get to see the forest with fresh eyes as an adult

which of course is the allure of travel. but seeing the very familiar in a new way is always a worthwhile challenge i believe. it’s the challenge of any marriage or any relationship with a place. most Americans move more often than they change romantic partners. i don’t know if that’s true but it supports my argument so let’s pretend that it is. my contention is that maintaining one’s relationship with a place, or places, is as core to one’s sense of well-being as maintaining human friendships and marriages

i suppose that’s a minority opinion in the country as a whole but in this corner of Appalachia i’d say it’s the norm


on the porch listening to a barred owl as i type this. i forgot to tell you of my owl sighting last night: one flew ahead of me repeatedly as i walked back from the far field at dusk. i think i got on its nerves because the last perch it took off from snapped under it and crashed down onto the trail

tonight i was up at Dad’s grave as it was getting dark and i just… felt uneasy. not afraid per se but increasingly uneasy. like i didn’t belong there. so of course i skedaddled

earlier in the kitchen i was remembering something someone had said about Bernie Sanders and the Vicente Aleixandre poem Como Moisés es el viejo popped into my head

Y él agita los brazos y proclama la vida,
desde su muerte a solas.

all that gesturing. “proclaiming the way to live from his death all alone”

apparently i have spanish poets on my mind though it was Zang Di and Shanna Compton that i was reading today. Eleanor Goodman finished up her selection of Zang Di poems with several he’d written in Vermont, which were a great deal of fun—seeing how a major contemporary chinese poet describes iconic american landscapes

so many important poems about america these days are being written by first-generation immigrants it’s easy to forget that shorter-term visitors such as students, lecturers, or tourists may have profound observations as well

today i thought a lot about bears but i’m guessing most bears spent as little time as possible thinking about humans

See no evil

(Lord’s day). Up, and to my Office awhile, and thither comes Lead with my vizard, with a tube fastened within both eyes; which, with the help which he prompts me to, of a glass in the tube, do content me mightily. So to church, where a stranger made a dull sermon, but I mightily pleased to look upon Mr. Buckworth’s little pretty daughters, and so home to dinner, where W. Howe come and dined with us; and then I to my Office, he being gone, to write down my journal for the last twelve days: and did it with the help of my vizard and tube fixed to it, and do find it mighty manageable, but how helpfull to my eyes this trial will shew me.
So abroad with my wife, in the afternoon, to the Park, where very much company, and the weather very pleasant. I carried my wife to the Lodge, the first time this year, and there in our coach eat a cheese-cake and drank a tankard of milk. I showed her this day also first the Prince of Tuscany, who was in the Park, and many very fine ladies, and so home, and after supper to bed.

within both eyes
a dull look

little daughters
of the last days

how is the weather
in a tankard of milk

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 25 April 1669.

Not Infinity But Only a Fragment

            "Inwardly I am hard and cold, there is no glow
or fire in me, but if I am struck by fate, the
sparks fly everywhere." ~ M.C. Escher, "Flint,"
from XXIV Emblemata, 1931

When it rains the world is inked and grainy 
           as a woodcut. I'm trying to figure out 
where ghosts come from and what they might 
           be trying to remember, now that they're 
from a different world curved at the center, 
           flaring outward then inward like a looping 
dream. So long ago, a woman, a friend of my mother's, 
            took her life at our kitchen table. I don't know
what they might have been to each  other. Only 
            the smallest thread of story remains, 
though I try to imagine the coffee cup, 
            what it held of poison; what kind of night 
it might have been when it wasn't enough to strike 
            one stone against another, use up match 
after match. I consider the porousness of borders—
           a fringed shawl of cold you can wear 
in the middle of a heated room; an inside-out 
           glove where a love note was written.  
On a table, an orb inside another orb 
           reflecting objects in the street but tilted 
sideways, as if each were taking its leave.        

April Diary 29: wildflowery

This entry is part 29 of 31 in the series April Diary


the air is always clearest on the day after a cold front blows in so my mom and i went down to Trough Creek State Park to see what sorts of spring wildflowers they might have

the redbud was at its height all along the little back roads and in the park too. always a treat to see it. we’re so lucky to live right at the northern edge of its range—it’s one of those shrubs that defines Appalachia, along with pawpaw and shadbush/serviceberry. (didn’t stop the car to snap any photos though, sorry)

native bee pollinating a spring beauty

after poking around the park’s usual medley of eccentric geological offerings we headed off along a trail through the adjacent state forest which had many of the same wildflower species we have in Plummer’s Hollow but some different ones as well, including bluets, early meadow rue, pussytoes, and yellow corydalis—a new one for both of us

yellow corydalis

after a mile we reached an area where the spring beauties carpeted the ground for acres. Mom commented she hadn’t seen it like that since she was a child in the 1940s, visiting relatives in Pottstown. it’s difficult to convey this in a photo of course—they’re small flowers

they also had no shortage of rue anemone:

i was taken by this sphagnum container garden:

and for sheer visual interest, rattlesnake weed is always worth a stop:

back home i went for an after-supper walk along the crest of the western ridge toward sunset. the cherries, maples and witch hazels that have just burst their buds added pointillist splashes of color to the landscape that weren’t there two days ago

just after sunset i had a short sit by the vernal pools—the smallest two of which have nearly dried up, the water that remains heaving with desperate tadpoles—to read a few poems from (CREATURE SOUNDS FADE) by Shanna Compton and they were a pretty good fit. it’s experimental poetry meaning inevitably some results will be more exciting than others but if the experiment is well conducted we can learn from it regardless

that sphagnum bottle has a haiku in it i’ll bet

Personal protective equipment

Up, and to the office, where all the morning, and at noon home to dinner, Mr. Sheres dining with us by agreement; and my wife, which troubled me, mighty careful to have a handsome dinner for him; but yet I see no reason to be troubled at it, he being a very civil and worthy man, I think; but only it do seem to imply some little neglect of me.
After dinner to the King’s house, and there saw “The General” revived — a good play, that pleases me well, and thence, our coach coming for us, we parted and home, and I busy late at the office, and then home to supper and to bed. Well pleased to-night to have Lead, the vizard-maker, bring me home my vizard, with a tube fastened in it, which, I think, will do my business, at least in a great measure, for the easing of my eyes.

where my hands bled ink
little house of lead

bring me my vizard
my tin eyes

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 24 April 1669.

Oda al libélula


Common darter, horse-stinger, 

                                          black-tailed skimmer tinged purple 
and green—you and your keen-sighted clouds 

                                          of armies can make swift work of marauding 

monkeys. Remember, in prehistoric times, 
                                          you were the largest flying insect, ever. 

Old tales warn: don't fall asleep 

                                           on a damp riverbank, lest the devil's
darning needles sew your human

                                           eyes shut. Free-moving, water-dwelling

nymph, you live underwater more than
                                          a day, until it's time to moult— that

process when the skin splits 

                                          and we wriggle, flimsy, into what
                                          we've been given as wings.

April Diary 28: failing upward, tumbleweed, new beasts

This entry is part 28 of 31 in the series April Diary


failure i love you
i suckle you on my bile
and on my melancholy

i see the above-ground hollow in the roots turned trunk of a black birch – that space where a rotting stump had stood — as a magnificent monument to failure

as i suppose we all are, safe perches for new sprouts, new rivers flowing upstream with sweet sap

but that stump had been an oak where now there are only birches and our failures outnumber the trees

our oceangoing freight outweighs the estimated mass of all living organisms in every ocean

the sickly sweet fumes of our failure have driven out all but the severest of angels in heaven

those with the fire
and the brimstone

hiking for three hours before i sit down and take out my tea. i can’t have covered more than five miles in all that time, but who cares. it’s been a good ramble in the gloom

graupel starts falling as i walk the last mile back to the house

thinking a lot about likely ecological futures this afternoon. it occurs to me that one advantage native species have over generalist invaders is in many cases much more genetic variation — essential in a world where drought is followed by a flood year, freak storms become common and last and first frost dates vary wildly. if global trade significantly declines that will give native ecosystems a bit more breathing room, and the invaders will inevitably begin to decline as pests and diseases catch up with them

Japanese stiltgrass

or so i’d like to think

near the bottom of the hollow today, rolling up the road in the wind i spotted an actual tumbleweed, i think

another invasive species coming in via the railroad. i love trains, but.

further up the hollow in a side ravine i spotted what looked like a recent scent marking on a beech: scratch marks and i’m guessing urine.


and from a little further up, at the end of the last logger in Plummer’s Hollow‘s last skid trail before my parents finally got him stopped (as detailed in Mom’s book Appalachian Autumn) here are the only two sycamore trees in the hollow, growing about 50 feet apart, both sprouted right after the logging so around 1990

seeing that second one as a single individual and not conjoined twins so to speak

anyway that’s where my head was today and also by sheer coincidence my feet

i liked this stanza today from Zang Di:

Language lives secretly. It lives out life’s
other flavors. Language waits for you to appear
and permits other lives under the sun.

Zang Di, “Secret Linguistics Series” (tr. Eleanor Goodman)

he’s got a point. without storytelling, without narratives, without song and poetry, we’d be forsaken in a way we can hardly imagine. our lives would shrink to the present moment in all its terrifying immediacy. but we take language so for granted, like fish take the sea for granted. who knows what other fantastic beasts this language of ours may yet harbor

that’s why i write poems: to discover new beasts