i go off looking for / my lost winter glove.
Dave Bonta, “Equinox

I go off looking for my lost winter glove,
prodigal child always wandering off.
I do not have an Emily Dickinson to knit
me another. I think of orphans
in island nations that run
the sweatshops that sew our clothes.

I do not have sympathy for the machines
that sew our clothes, although they are orphans
too. I do not fear
the new AI that comes
for all our jobs. I am tired
of writing in my own voice. Let
the machines do it.

I find a child’s mitten on the sidewalk,
and I put it on the bare branch of a tree
that’s late to bloom. Now it can hold
its own next to the trees festooned
with flowers. Now it offers
its own festivity.

On this first full day of spring,
I return home without my lost glove.
Let it go off to find its fortune.
Maybe it will return by fall.
Maybe I will buy a new pair
at the end of season sales.
Maybe I will move to a new climate,
one without cold seasons
or sweatshops or orphans dispossessed
by alien intelligence coming for us all.

Book of Secrets

…the body, that book
of mysteries and secrets, wins again.
Luisa A. Igloria, “Apocrypha

In my girlhood, I wanted a book of spells,
the kind I might find in a cobwebbed
corner of an attic.
But my newly constructed suburban
house had no attic, no cellar, no secrets
from past generations.

I wanted psychic powers,
ways to bend forces beyond my control.
What spell would I cast?
A snow day perhaps or the ability
to fly, an extra friend or two,
the ability to be alluring.

Now, as I wait for test
results, I divine from a different source
of secrets, books that discuss
the statistics of who lives and who dies,
the treatment options,
how many years of survival, the odds.
But I will never find the secret
worth having: why do some bodies spin
cancerous cells while others destroy
every invader?

The phone call comes with news
from the underworld:
benign but unusual.
I think of the Magic 8 ball
that we used to shake
for answers: Reply hazy
try again later. I remember
the tarot cards that seemed to predict
the answer we wanted to find.
I schedule a follow up appointment,
answers given in six month increments.

Prayer Flags

and our mission to beat a carcass
into a word

Dave Bonta, “Bemused

The neighbor hears
the dishes breaking
and finally understands how to end
the poem she’s been composing
all month, in this time
of tired language and tepid responses.

The neighbor ignores
the news of plagues
and uneasy heads that wear the crowns.
She turns away from the cheap
visions that the vultures try to sell.
She has a freezer full of bones.

The neighbor sets out food
for the kitten who won’t be tamed
and stirs the soup that simmers on the stove.
She hangs the laundry on the line,
prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.

Face It, Her Suffering Makes a Good Story

Beata Beatrix c.1864-70 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882

Sonnenizio with a line from Christina Rossetti

Beata Beatrix c.1864-70 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882
Beata Beatrix: posthumous portrait of Elizabeth Siddall by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1864-70.

One face looks out from all his canvases, Christina writes.
She’s beauty’s face, he says, the only muse he needs,
the face of his Elizabeth, her wild yet delicate solemnity.
Not often shown full-face, her long, pale profile
faces beyond the painting’s frame, her red mane flares.
She looks remote, mysterious, surely faced poverty
before her face became her entrée to the Brotherhood
and faces even in this new life illness and addiction.
Painter and poet, not merely the model, memorable face
of Dante’s visions, Lizzie will meet the face of death –
their stillborn child – then face her own (an overdose…)
He can’t face life without her, casts his manuscript
into her grave but then repents, exhumes her rotting face
which follows him, now facing sorrow, guilt, disgrace.


Inspired by Luisa’s recent sonnenizios on Donne and Hopkins, this takes a line from In An Artist’s Studio by Christina Rossetti, thought to be about her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his partner Elizabeth Siddall.

Triolet: The Weeping of the Glaciers

Temperatures swing from one extreme to another:
Triolet: Climate change by Luisa A. Igloria

What bubbles beneath may destroy us:
the ancients warned about the dangers
of suppression. I think of the underside
of Antartica and the weeping of the glaciers.
What bubbles beneath may destroy us:
my floorboards sit two feet
above the sea level that is rising.
What bubbles beneath may destroy us:
what we bring forth may save us.

Three Poems from Native Species

cover of Native Species by Todd Davis

My near neighbor Dave Bonta invited me to share some poems from my forthcoming collection Native Species—my sixth book of poetry, due out from Michigan State University Press on January 1, 2019.

The major question that structures Native Species is whether we humans, at this point in the 21st century, are native to any place, when we consider how we change and desecrate our landscapes, radically impacting other species because of our burgeoning population, rampant consumerism, and advancing technology.

This is not to say that Native Species is a book of despair. On the contrary, I think I offer much hope, even celebration, for and of the natural world, sometimes using magically real moments of species-to-species interaction and transformation to suggest new ways of thinking about humanity’s place on earth.

Native Species can be ordered online through Michigan State University Press, on Amazon, or at Barnes & Noble. Or better yet, ask your local independent bookseller to order it! And please visit my website for more information about my other books.

Almanac of Faithful Negotiations

Here, at the edge of heaven,
I inhabit my absence.

Tu Fu

On the first day, we find evidence of elk but not the elk themselves.

On the second, we see the charred and blackened sleeves fire leaves but not a single flame.

By the third day, the oldest trees have already ascended but the microbial mouths buried in the dirt remain.

After four days, our minds flood with rivers and creeks, and we find it hard to speak, except in mud and stone.

On the fifth, ravens decorate a white-oak snag, croaking in the voices of our drunk uncles, reminding us whose house we live in.

Six days gone, a fisher stands on hind legs, stares across the meadow’s expanse, dares us to approach the porcupine-corpse, muzzle red with the body’s sugar.

When the last day comes, only minutes before dawn, susurration of wind, stars moving back into the invisible, all of us wondering when we will join them.

Returning to Earth

…trust in the light that shines through earthly forms.
Czeslaw Milosz

At the bottom of an abandoned well
dug more than a century ago
the moon rises from the center
of the earth, a crust of ice
forming around its edges.

The stand of larch outside
our bedroom window
sways, golden needles
stirring the air
underneath its boughs.

I open the window to hear
the river sailing away, riding
the stone boat of the basin
carved by spring floods.

Beyond the faint light
of a candle, your voice asks
if we might touch and remember
how our children were made,
how the bodies of our parents
were returned to earth.

I want our children’s hands
to hold the river, to watch it spill
through their fingers, back to a source
older than our names
for God.

Beneath a waxing moon
we’ve witnessed animals
dragging their dead into the light.
Tonight we imagine some
suckling their young
who are born blind
in these coldest months.

Soon the river will freeze,
and come morning we’ll break
the ice in the well
so we may drink.

In dark’s shelter I place the words
of a prayer upon your tongue.
You are gracious, saying
the prayer back
into my waiting mouth.

Coltrane Eclogue

You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.
John Coltrane

Where the beak of a pileated opened a row
of holes down the length of a snag
wind blows across each notch,
angles of breathing, like Saint Coltrane
unfastening pearl and brass, exhalation
rushing through the neck of a saxophone,
bending into the sound that envelops
anyone with ears to hear. I’ve started to chant
a love supreme, although I’m alone,
more than four miles into the crease,
trying to pick up the rhythm, how each
lungful glides through hemlock needles,
kestrel slipping out onto the updraft,
with one wing-beat shifting the air
ever so slightly. And yet another woodpecker
drilling the side of a dying tree, a northern
flicker that stays just out of sight, laying down
a percussive line. I feel foolish for saying this,
but it’s like being reborn, a syncopation
that can call down rain, make the bud of a shadbush
unfurl, unwrap the slow, honest tongues
of beaver, and stamp a moose’s enormous
hind-quarter like a bass, all the others silenced,
fingers of that long-dead saint scaling gut-strings,
before a Blackburnian warbler joins in with its thin,
plaintive notes, and a goddamned bluebird,
which should seem trivial but is not, breast puffed,
raising its head toward a God that surrounds us,
who opens our stupid mouths and commands us
to play whatever instrument we’ve got.

In the country of no sleep, we knit

“I don’t know / if love is slower than time, or if happiness…”
In the country of no sleep, I’ll walk by Luisa A. Igloria

In the country of no sleep, we knit

our shrouds for the funerals
we know will come.

We return the buttons
to their countries of origin
or add them to the tin of castaways.

We darn the socks
slipping our great aunt’s marble egg
into the heel to perform this surgery.

We treat the stains
that will lift from the fabric
and the stains that will leave a ghostly presence.

In our flannel sleepwear, we’ll salvage
what we can, patch the knees
and seats worn through but beloved.

We’ll piece together a quilt
from what can’t be saved.
We will remember the salvation in a sewn seam.

Still blogging after all these years

Buried Temple, by Natalie D’Arbeloff. Acrylic on paper, 37cm x 37 cm.

It feels like I’ve known Rachel Barenblat, AKA the Velveteen Rabbi, forever… but actually it’s only been since 2003, when she and I and a bunch of other people got bit by the blogging bug. She recently got in touch with a few of us who, like her, have kept it up all these years, wondering if we’d like to participate in some kind of celebration of (at least) 15 years of blogging. We used a Google document to share some thoughts in response to an initial question, “Why the hell am I still blogging?” Here are some excerpts from our discussion, jointly blogged here and at Blaugustine, the cassandra pages, Hoarded Ordinaries, mole, and of course Velveteen Rabbi.

Buried Temple, by Natalie D’Arbeloff. Acrylic on paper, 37cm x 37 cm.
NdA. Buried Temple. 2018. Acrylic on paper 37 x 37 cms.

Rachel: Writing is one of the fundamental ways I experience and explore the world, both the external world and my own internal world. I think it was EM Forster who wrote, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Blogging as I’ve come to understand it is living one’s life in the open, with spiritual authenticity and intellectual curiosity, ideally in conversation or relationship with others who are doing the same.

Dave: At some level, it’s easier to keep blogging at Via Negativa, the Morning Porch, and Moving Poems than it is to stop. Basically I’m an addict. Writing poetry is fun for me — entering that meditative head-space required for immersion in writing. As for the social aspect, I’ve been in, or on the periphery of, several distinct blogging communities over the years, and at one time, we all commented on each other’s sites, but with the rise of social media, most blog commenting went away — and I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. Writing and responding to comments did take up a lot of my time ten years ago, and now that I can scratch that conversational itch on Twitter, or in real life with my partner, I’m OK with most interactions on my blogs being limited to pings. But I must immediately qualify that and admit that Via Negativa is a special case, because for well over half its existence now I’ve enjoyed the virtual companionship of a co-blogger, the brilliant and prolific poet Luisa Igloria, and a small number of occasional guest bloggers as well. I wouldn’t say I’m competitive, but Luisa’s commitment to a daily poetry practice has definitely forced me to up my game. Then there’s Mr. Pepys. My Pepys Diary erasure project grew directly from sociability: my partner and I wanted to read the online version of the diary together, and I worried I might eventually get bored with it if I weren’t mining it for blog fodder.

Lorianne: I am not attached to the medium, but I am attached to the message, and the process of creating/sharing that message.  There has been a lot of hand-wringing among bloggers over the “death of the blog,” with long-time (and former) bloggers worried about attention divides between blogs and social media.  Where do “I” live if I post in multiple places: on blog, in a paper notebook, on social media? For those of us who do all three, the result can be confusing, distracting, and frazzling…or it can be creative, collaborative, and synergistic.

DaleI didn’t really expect ever to have readers, so in a way, having readership dwindle is a return to the early days… I’ve outlived some of my personas — I’m no longer recognizeably very Buddhist, and my politics have morphed in some odd ways. I don’t think I’m as salable an item as I used to be :-) But the inertia, as Dave said. When I do have something to say and my censor doesn’t step in, the blog is still where I go. It’s been home for fifteen years: my strand of the web… The community that was established way back when is still important to me, and still a large part of my life. And there’s still a lot of value in having a public space. The act of making something public changes it, changes how I look at. I become the viewers and the potential viewers. It helps me get out of myself. It helps me work through my favorite game of “what if I’m wrong about all these things?”

Natalie: Why the hell still blogging? Not sure I am still blogging. I put something up on Facebook whenever I feel like saying hey, listen, or hey, look at this. Then I copy/paste the post to Blogger where I keep Blaugustine going, mainly out of a sense of imaginary duty. The idea that there are some real people out there who may be actually interested in some of my thoughts and/or artwork is undoubtedly attractive, even necessary. I live a mostly hermit life and don’t get much feedback of any kind. But my interior life is very active, all the time, and having a tiny public platform online where I can put stuff is really helpful. To be perfectly honest I think that’s about it for me and blogging at present. I don’t do any other social media, it would all take too much time which I’d rather devote to artwork.

BethI think a lot of it has to do with a sense of place. My blog is like a garden or a living room that I’ve put energy and thought and care into as a place that’s a reflection of myself and is hopefully welcoming for others.. The discipline of gathering work and talking about it coherently has been extremely good for me and for my art practice. And I’ve also really appreciated and been inspired by other people who do the same, whatever their means of expression. There’s something deeply meaningful about following someone’s body of work, and their struggles, over not just months but years. In today’s climate of too-muchness and attention-seeking and short attention spans, I feel so encouraged and supported by the quiet, serious doggedness of other people like me!

On the Banks of the Marne by Anna de Noailles

Painting: Bords de la Marne by Camille Pissarro, 1866

The slow and yielding River Marne
slips past an open, spacious and exhausted land
where sleeping villages hatch from the grass
like stars appearing in the sky.

Here, nature has resumed her careless dreaming,
a white workhorse labours at the plough
while old folk wander through a mottled view of vines,
roses still bloom on an autumnal bush,
a greedy goat is tangled in a bramble patch,
the grapes have been gathered in, the hillside sleeps.

Nothing now bears witness to that inhuman business
except a mound that may hide the shape of a body.
This silent soil embraces all the heroes, broken
by fatigue and hunger, who, knowing they would never
see its end, gave their all in the Battle of the Marne.

The land has covered them. We do not know their names.
They have only the grass and the wind to talk to.
They have entered our dreams.

Beyond these hills and hollows, the muffled,
swooning sound of cannon-fire sinks into the ether.
Night begins to fall. The now infamous river,
forever heedless of what happened here,
soaks up the languor of twilight and falls asleep.

Dazed by the shock of fate, my eyes absorb
the indelible glory and calm possessed by things,
even when men are dead.

October 1916


Les bords de la Marne

La Marne, lente et molle, en glissant accompagne
Un paysage ouvert, éventé, spacieux.
On voit dans l’herbe éclore, ainsi qu’un astre aux cieux,
Les villages légers et dormants de Champagne.

La Nature a repris son rêve négligent,
Attaché à la herse un blanc cheval travaille.
Les vignobles jaspés ont des teintes d’écaille
A travers quo l’on voit rôder de vieilles gens.

Un automnal buisson porte encore quelques roses.
Une chèvre s’enlace au roncier qu’elle mord.
Les raisins sont cueillis, le coteau se repose,
Rien ne témoigne plus d’un surhumain effort
Qu’un tertre soulevé par la forme d’un corps.

– Dans ce sol, sans éclat et sans écho, s’incarnent
Les héros qui, rompus de fatigue et de faim,
Connaissant que jamais ils ne sauront la fin
De l’épique bataille à laquelle ils s’acharnent,
Ont livré hardiment les combats de la Marne.

La terre les recouvre. On ne sait pas leur nom.
Ils ont l’herbe et le vent avec lesquels ils causent.
Nous songeons.

Par delà les vallons et les monts
On entend le bruit sourd et pâmé du canon
S’écrouler dans l’éther entre deux longues pauses.
Et puis le soir descend. Le fleuve au grand renom,
A jamais ignorant de son apothéose,
S’emplit de la langueur du crépuscule, et dort.
Je regarde, les yeux hébétés par le sort,
La gloire indélébile et calme qu’ont les choses
         Alors que les hommes sont morts.

Octobre 1916


Painting: Bords de la Marne by Camille Pissarro, 1866

Hairline Cracks

…every poem
is actually elegy…
Luisa A. Igloria, “The Subject

This summer I finally threw
away the pens with dried
out inks, the art projects half
done, never to be completed.
I weigh every book, examine
every piece of china for the hairline
crack that presages doom.

We choose a different stain
for the floors in our quest
to bring light to a dark house
The roots of the gumbo limbo trees continue
their quiet domination, buckling
the concrete and brick.

We rebuild everything the hurricane
destroyed while keeping our eyes
on the weather systems which may sow
the first seeds of what could be salvation
or devastation. I water
the petunias even though the heat
has turned them into spindles
of their former glory.