Night from the inside (6)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Night from the Inside


Living here for 50 years in a bend of the railroad’s main line through Pennsylvania, I couldn’t help but become an aficionado of train horns. As they age they grow in dissonance, till they’re making chords straight out of Schoenberg.


cold twilight
of a distant ball game


night valley
the unadorned darkness
of Amish farms


What I thought at first were stars reflected in the forest pool’s nearly still surface turn out, when I look up, to be satellites — a long line of them, easily visible through the half-grown leaves as they file soundlessly overhead. This has the name, I recall, of an almost bird: Starlink. Creepy and unnerving as hell. I guess we should be grateful they don’t spell out DRINK COKE or something, but the long-term plan is even worse: to outnumber the visible stars in the night sky. All so one multinational corporation, SpaceX, can have a monopoly on rural broadband service. I’m reminded of Robinson Jeffers’ misanthropic quote: “Man would shit on the morning star if he could reach it.”


I love the startled barks of raccoons. Even when my presence is the occasion for it.


A small outbreak of fireworks down the valley: a local clusterfuck.


Out in the woods at night, it’s hard to shake the impression that I’m surrounded by tribespeople — I mean the trees. They act as if they own the place. You can see it in their posture, their habit of rarely bowing, their standoffishness. However often we cut them down they keep coming back, as best they can, to this same backward place, clannish, profligate. Prone to annual revivals that quickly devolve into orgies, pollen flying everywhere. Full of exotic music from all the nomads they take in.


My brother Mark’s nocturnal audio recordings show that field sparrows, a supposedly diurnal species, are the most regular nighttime songsters. I wonder if being a light sleeper confers evolutionary advantage to a dweller in open spaces? Mark wrote,

A field sparrow or field sparrows called 42 times on the night of May 14-15, after dusk and dawn choruses were over, over the course of 7hr45min. So that works out to about once every 11 min. I believe it was more than one bird, given the differing volumes–assuming they weren’t flying around.

Other diurnal birds singing at night I’ve encountered so far are the [yellow-billed and black-billed] cuckoos, an apparent chipping sparrow, catbird, and a common yellowthroat.


I’m sitting in the ridgetop forest listening to a dog or coyote in the valley, yipping and howling to the accompaniment of the high school marching band.

The howls are getting closer, the band more distant.

It is almost fully dark, I’m a mile from home, and I’ve just had my second Covid shot.

OK, no, I must be listening to an outdoor rock or country concert. The howls aren’t canine but human, sounding multi vocal when the audience joins in. I can almost make out the melody line.

It’s like I’m in the world’s darkest, deadest bar with a dying jukebox just out of sight around the corner.

But doubtless this is something the town leaders have dreamed up to get people outside and lift their spirits. I’m glad.

And I’m glad that it’s now over, climaxing in a frenzy of colored spotlights. Silence and darkness descend like benedictions from the great velvet Elvis above the bar.

without my glasses
the shapeliness
of night


A genuinely blood-curdling cry from the other side of the spruce grove. It spooked a couple of deer, who just ran past me.


s t r e t c h i n g
into the woods


The crescent moon is the best moon: more stylish than the full moon, and available for moongazers and performers of dark rites twice a month rather than just once. Plus it doesn’t nearly eradicate the darkness as the full moon does.


In one dream I am hunted — or haunted? — by the Polaroid of a fish.


moonlit forest
the sudden crack and roar
of a falling tree

the mouse keeps on
nosing about

Fifteen minutes later, another tree crashes down, twice as close. I take the hint and get out.


first field cricket
through the open window
half a moon


Fifteen minutes past sunset, coyotes strike up a chorus not far from where I sit, on the appropriately named Coyote Bench. They start out sounding plausibly dog-like, but the yipping and wolf-like howling quickly give them away. Like all music that resonates down deep, this is part moan, part jubilation. Closing in on prey, and close to prayer:


First firefly blinking through the half-grown black walnut leaves, all alone going here… here… here…

Rainbow colors in the clouds around the moon — a reminder that even on a sultry evening, ice is less than ten miles away.

First Dance Alone

experimental poem in Hausa and English

Malama Gulley, ta koya ne
before a window in a small
room with her own two sons.
Da ina tunanin wannan lokaci,
memories fade and blur, amma
wannan I remember: Malama
ta koya mani the possibility
da zan iya yi rubutu da karatu
kuma, even when kafofi na suna
compressed by takalma. She was,
dai dai, preparing me to go
to board at school in Jos,
where expectation of malami

would be for me to present
myself daily like some fine
horse prepared for durbar
to amsa the emir when yana
kiran sa, adorned in all
manner of contraptions
with takalma upon my feet.
Malama, how do I admit, after
all the lessons you gave me,
that this girl who you taught
school-behavior, how to raise
hannun dama high to question,
how to zauna, zama at my desk

until given leave to go for
recess, break—and that
having rushed outside to play,
how I would also be expected
by the malami to dawo and take
up my place again with willing
interest? Malama, how do I
confess that the one moment
of the next year, hudu, year
for which you so well prepared
me, the moment that remains
most haske in my memory was
in art class, the discovery

of a large biro with felt tip,
a marker that (if not truly
permanent) would at least dade
several weeks upon a young
girl’s skin. I hid it like
some sin behind my back, asked
permission to relieve myself,
snuck it out to the girls’
toilet. There, I removed my
takalma (at that time, sandals
only) with thin straps, baki,
hooked between the toes like
flip-flops, and a thin sole.

Akan kafofi na, I then drew
in those cords of bondage,
filled the paler skin not
quite as browned on the top
of each foot. Kuma na duba
the underside of each with
care, found eight barefoot
years had left them not so
different from the still-new
tan bottoms of my sandals.
Yauwa. I put the shoes back
on my feet, returned to class,
returned the borrowed ink.

Until then, I had not (in my
own assessment) sinned, only
made a loan of an implement,
promptly returned it, and had
also made an exploration, an
experiment, a drawing. Amma,
amma, sannu da rana, I strayed
from the straight path, wrapped
each of my takalmi into an
extra dankwali and hid them
both beneath my bed, gathered
my litafi, set out with intention
to deceive. And for almost two

weeks, my kafofi were free, had
escaped for an extended recess,
stayed on break. When I was
caught — of course, because
the marks began to fade—I
was caned (but briefly) by the
Malam teaching Maths, who
struggled, when he caught me,
not to laugh, who could not
keep himself from showing
juyayi to one small girl
from the jeji who preferred
to wear her own familiar feet.

In response to “What’s Poetry Got to Do with It? Musings by José Angel Araguz, Episode 1: Shoes” at
The Cincinnati Review.

Ajedrez / Chess by Jorge Luis Borges

This entry is part 14 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Jorge Luis Borges in 1951by Grete SternJorge Luis Borges probably needs no introduction to most readers. Though best known for his short stories, he also wrote poetry throughout his life.

Thanks to Luis Andrade for the challenge! Borges is so literary (I don’t mean that in a bad sense) that a very literal translation I think works quite well; that is, “homerico” translates perfectly directly to “homeric,” etc. I felt that something had to be done to slow the gallop of the quatrains, which in English have a distressing tendency to come out in four beats, like Hiawatha; hence the five-line stanzas in the place of quatrains.



In their serious corner the players
rule their slow pieces. The board
delays them till dawn
in their strict ambit,
where two colors hate each other.

Within, magical severities infuse
the figures: homeric tower, light
horse, armed queen,
last king, oblique
bishop and assailant pawns.

When the players have gone,
when time has eaten them,
the rite has certainly not stopped.

This war was lit in the East,
whose amphitheater today is all the world.
And as the other, this game is infinite.


Weak king, biased bishop, embittered
queen, straight tower and wily pawn,
over the black
and white of the road
they seek and wage armed battle.

They do not know that the appointed hand
of the player governs their fate,
they do not know
that an adamantine rigor
subjects their will and their journey.

The player too is prisoner
(the sentence is Omar’s) of that other board,
the black nights and the white days.

God moves the player and the player moves the piece
What God behind God began the weaving
of dust and time and dream and the throes of death?




En su grave rincón, los jugadores
rigen las lentas piezas. El tablero
los demora hasta el alba en su severo
ámbito en que se odian dos colores.

Adentro irradian mágicos rigores
las formas: torre homérica, ligero
caballo, armada reina, rey postrero,
oblicuo alfil y peones agresores.

Cuando los jugadores se hayan ido,
cuando el tiempo los haya consumido,
ciertamente no habrá cesado el rito.

En el Oriente se encendió esta guerra
cuyo anfiteatro es hoy toda la tierra.
Como el otro, este juego es infinito.


Tenue rey, sesgo alfil, encarnizada
reina, torre directa y peón ladino
sobre lo negro y blanco del camino
buscan y libran su batalla armada.

No saben que la mano señalada
del jugador gobierna su destino,
no saben que un rigor adamantino
sujeta su albedrío y su jornada.

También el jugador es prisionero
(la sentencia es de Omar) de otro tablero
de negras noches y blancos días.

Dios mueve al jugador, y éste, la pieza.
¿Qué Dios detrás de Dios la trama empieza
de polvo y tiempo y sueño y agonías?

House without walls: two poems by Vinicius de Moraes

This entry is part 13 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Vinicius De MoraesMarcus Vinicius da Cruz e Mello Moraes (October 19, 1913 – July 9, 1980), also known as Vinícius de Moraes and nicknamed O Poetinha (“The little poet”), was a Brazilian poet, lyricist, essayist and playwright who wrote the lyrics for many now-classic Brazilian songs and became a seminal figure in contemporary Brazilian music. He also wrote a number of plays, served as a national diplomat, composed his own bossa nova music and, as an interpreter of his own lyrics, recorded several significant albums. (Thanks, Wikipedia. Read the rest.)

These two poems appeal to me for their quirkiness. I took liberties with “The House” so that I might approximate the rhymes; I’ve added “Heroes” to the penultimate line so it could rhyme with “Zero” (actually makes sense in the context).


Virgin! Daughter of mine
Where have you been
You’re all dirty
You smell of jasmine
Your skirt’s stained carmine
And your earrings are clinking
Mother dear
I’ve been in the garden
I went to look at the sky
And I fell asleep.
When I awoke
I smelled of jasmine
An angel was scattering petals
Over me….

A Annunciaçāo
(Rio de Janeiro 1962)

Virgen! filha minha
De onde vens assim
Tão suja de terra
Cheirando a jasmim
A saia com mancha
De flor carmesim
E os brincos da orelha
Fazendo tlintlin?
Minha mãe querida
Venho do jardim
Onde a olhar o céu
Fui, adormeci.
Quando despertei
Cheirava a jasmin
Que um anjo esfolhava
Por cima de mim…


The House

There was a house
A very funny house
No roof
No nothing
No one
Could go in
Because there was no door
Because there was no floor
No one
Could sleep in the hammock
In the hall
Because there was no wall
No one
Could do pipi
Because a chamberpot
There was not
But the house was built
With great care
In the Street of Fools and Heroes
Number Zero.

A Casa
(Rio de Janeiro 1970)

Era uma casa
Muito engraçada
Não tinha telo
Nāo tinha nada
Ninguém podia
Entrar nela não
Porque na casa
Não tinha chão
Ninguém podia
Dormir na rede
Porque a casa
Não tinha parede
Ninguém podia
Fazer pipi
Porque penico
Não tinha ali
Mas era feita
Com muito esmero
Na Rua dos Bobos
Numero Zero.

How to recognize the road: three more poems by Cecília Meireles

Cecília Meireles
This entry is part 9 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas



A small gesture would be enough,
made lightly and from a distance
for you to come with me
and for me to hold you forever…

Basta-me um pequeno gesto
feito de longe e de leve
para que venhas comigo
e eu para sempre te leve…



For me, and for you, and for the others
wherever the others are,
I’m leaving the raging sea and the quiet sky:
I want solitude.

My road is without a sign and without a landscape.
So how do you recognise it? — they ask.
— By the absence of words, the absence of images.
Not a single enemy and not a single friend.

What do you need? — Everything. What do you want? — Nothing.
I travel alone with my heart.
I’m not wandering lost, merely un-met.
I carry my course in my hand.

Memory has flown from my head.
Flown my love, my imagination…
Maybe I’ll fade before the horizon.
Memory, love and all the rest, where are they?

Here I leave my body, between earth and sky.
(I kiss you, my body, all disillusioned!
Sad flag of a strange war…)

I want solitude.


Por mim, e por vós, e por mais aquilo
que está onde as outras coisas nunca estão,
deixo o mar bravo e o céu tranqüilo:
quero solidão.
Meu caminho é sem marcos nem paisagens.
E como o conheces? — me perguntarão.
— Por não ter palavras, por não ter imagens.
Nenhum inimigo e nenhum irmão.

Que procuras? — Tudo. Que desejas? — Nada.
Viajo sozinha com o meu coração.
Não ando perdida, mas desencontrada.
Levo o meu rumo na minha mão.

A memória voou da minha fronte.
Voou meu amor, minha imaginação…
Talvez eu morra antes do horizonte.
Memória, amor e o resto onde estarão?

Deixo aqui meu corpo, entre o sol e a terra.
(Beijo-te, corpo meu, todo desilusão!
Estandarte triste de uma estranha guerra…)

Quero solidão.

Film by Swoon (Marc Neys) in memory of his mother, using the above translation and reading. Read Marc’s process notes on his blog.



Allow me to close my eyes,
I’m so far away and it’s so late!
I thought you were merely delayed,
and I began to wait for you, singing.
Allow me to change now:
adapt myself to being alone.
There’s a soft light in the silence, and the pain is of divine origin.
Allow me to turn my face towards a sky bigger than this world,
and let me learn to be as docile in dreams as the stars in their wandering.


Permita que eu feche os meus olhos,
pois é muito longe e tão tarde!
Pensei que era apenas demora,
e cantando pus-me a esperar-te.
Permita que agora emudeça:
que me conforme em ser sozinha.
Há uma doce luz no silencio, e a dor é de origem divina.
Permita que eu volte o meu rosto para um céu maior que este mundo,
e aprenda a ser dócil no sonho como as estrelas no seu rumo.


Read the earlier post: “Contrary Moon: three poems by Cecília Meireles

Warrior poets, shape-shifters and other unlikely characters: a year of reading aloud

Woodrot Padcost 47: books read aloud in 2013 [MP3, 25 MB]
Duration: 27:50

‘Tis the season for literary bloggers to write about the best things they read this year. But in my case, much of my most interesting reading is out loud, in nightly Skype calls with Rachel Rawlins. Usually I’m the reader, but sometimes she is able to get an electronic version of whatever it is we’re reading and we take turns. I thought it might be fun to record us talking about what we liked and didn’t like this year (though Rachel had her doubts that anyone else would care). Here are the main books we talked about:

Other books mentioned in passing:

How Jefferson Heard Banjar (videopoem)

This entry is part 6 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


“The instrument proper to them is the Banjar, which they brought hither from Africa.” Thomas Jefferson, 1781. It would’ve been hard not to write a poem responding to that quote. It’s one of my personal favorites from the collection.

The clawhammer banjo here is played by my brother Steve, an old modal tune whose name neither of us can remember. I don’t strive for authenticity in these videos, but Jefferson’s “banjar” might’ve been played in a not dissimilar style, though it would’ve been made from a gourd and thus would’ve had a somewhat softer sound. It’s worth remembering that a little later, escaped slaves were told to “follow the drinking gourd” (the big dipper) to find their way north to Canada. A nightjar, of course, is any bird in the goatsucker family, including the whip-poor-Will (which has the delightful Latin name Caprimulgus vociferus).

Additional sounds are from user Meffy Ellis, a recording of a swamp in Virginia. The images come from an old, hagiographic educational film in the Prelinger Archives, Jefferson and Monroe, directed by Stan Barnett. I don’t know if non-Americans will immediately recognize Monticello, the plantation house that Thomas Jefferson designed himself, but it’s a fairly iconic building, and shares the white domed roof with Jefferson’s other famous building, the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

I recorded Steve playing a half-dozen banjo tunes in my living room on Friday evening. My voice-over is stitched together from several different readings. Sometimes I mess up one stanza and sometimes another, but I find if I read a poem four or five times in succession, I can pick and choose the best parts from each.

Update: I made an alternate version of the audio track including the quote from Jefferson (which appears on-screen in the video). It’s on SoundCloud.

I and I

Download the MP3

In my last dream before waking
I meet a version of myself
from an alternate universe.
We greet each other cautiously.
There’s a slight class difference:
while I flipped burgers at the diner
my alter-ego went to graduate school
& now teaches cultural studies
at the university. He takes me back
to his apartment, which he shares
with two housemates & a dozen cats.
I watch in wonder as
he gives a good-night kiss
to a woman black as coffee.
I gave up poetry years ago, he says.
He asks what I’ve done
to make my beard turn white.

How to fit in

This entry is part 29 of 39 in the series Manual


Download the MP3

Learn the stars. Everyone around here knows them by their first names.

Drink gin mixed with tears from the visitation room of a state penitentiary.

Who doesn’t enjoy the suffering of the despicable?

Tell jokes in which cats come to a violent end.

Communicate solely through IM and extemporized qasidas.

Wear clothes.

Start an office betting pool for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Stockpile dill pickles, ammunition and expurgated bibles.

Paint by the numbers.

When stopping to see a young lady who is not at home, the gentleman caller should leave a handsomely printed card.

Do things in groups that you would never do by yourself, e.g. burning a cross or playing Parcheesi.

Avoid unprocessed foods.

Have a conversion experience, but don’t let it stop you from being the same old asshole.

Read bestselling books, such as Business Secrets of the Zombies and The Joy Luck Sisterhood of the Traveling Hunger Games.

Two words: hand jive.

Two more words: accordion dirge.

When you meet the Buddha, capture the moment on your cellphone.

How to teem

This entry is part 28 of 39 in the series Manual


Download the MP3

When you go outside, bring the inside with you—a book, a magazine, a mobile phone—until the sky becomes the lid on a petri dish.

Let the Rapture play out in reverse: let everything you own ascend to a heaven of pure abstraction, leaving you only your solid bodies and the close proximity in which you find yourselves.

Alternatively, give all you have to the rich, who will know what to do with it so much better than you do.

It’s essential to be as poor as possible.

Surrender your personal space but not your personal agendas. You’re going for chaos, not collective action.

Avoid engagement with the natural world, to the extent that it persists in flaunting its pollen and its noisy card-shuffles of wings.

Pullulate. Flocculate. Agglomerate.

Whenever someone from another world appears among you, searching for proofs of his superiority, be sure to swarm in your best Brownian motion.