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.

Redemption Songs

Is it my body
I inhabit, or do I only haunt
a country whose maps have grown
unreadable?
Luisa A. Igloria, “On Suffering

This body, a box of paints with a broken brush,
a violin with a bow
of exploded horsehair.
But the maker of mosaics knows the value
of shattered glass. The collage artist
pieces the picture together out of fragments.

My body, a swamp to shelter
runaway slaves, a garden run wild.
Some months, the land
produces enough to keep us fed.
Other months, the crops wither
from harshness.
The soil resurrects
itself by consuming every dead
creature back to basic elements
and recycling all our dreams.

We are cameras with vast
digital files and no efficient way of archiving
them. Some days, we can find what we need
in this filing cabinet of doom; some years, we search
with increasing desperation for the lost
material. The best afternoons develop
when we take unplanned rambles
through the weedy, winding paths
so far from home.

Once, I was an athlete, running
long distances in the pre-dawn haze
of summer. Now I set the kettle
on to boil as I plot
the day ahead. Once I breakfasted
on the freshest fruit. Now I bake
muffins, close cousins to cupcakes.
I adorn each one with a quilt
of my homemade lemon curd
and the preserved and sugared rinds
of citrus from the trees that stoop
with gifts for those with eyes to see.

Bridal Path, Part V: Proofing

Friday evening drive up and away
from the city. Mile after mile
of highway, mile after mile
of dirt-road washboards, mile
after blissful mile of silence.

Bucket seat and pillow worked.
I left the window open to the cold.
And the stars had not forgotten
me, nor had I them. Then out of
the cab of the truck at first
light, off behind a stand of trees

to pee, then back to sit on
a log and warm up by the fire
before going down to explore
a strange lake whose perimeter
is almost perfectly circular.

Dawn by the fire, and only six words
said over those two days of being
out at home again. Three each. He
held up an enamel-on-steel Coleman
cup and asked me: Beer or coffee?
Those were his three. Mine were:

Coffee always. Thanks.


See Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Bridal March, Part IV: Kneading

So we’re gathered, the three of us,
around a tiny table with our choices
of soup, salad, fresh-baked bread.

I’m less uncomfortable than I’d
expected, actually. Or it could be
discomfort is becoming so familiar

after three and a half weeks stuck
in the city that a little bit more
awkwardness doesn’t even register.

My mind drifts, counting off how
much longer before I can drive
again, how long till I can trust

my shoulder enough to pitch a tent
and build a fire, how many more
nights I have to sleep upright,

how long until the stars the stars
the stars again unhazed by light
pollution. I’ve drifted, missed

something matchmaker colleague
said, pull myself back into present
company and moment, then realize:

I’m not just imagining the sense
of reassurance, I’m being comforted
by scent, something more than that

of coffee and fresh bread. I inhale
deeply, catch another taste of it:
just a hint of campfire fragrance

hovering like mist from the cuff
of the flannel shirt-sleeve nearest
to me. I close my eyes, breathe in

again, sweet sweet smoky freedom.
Open my eyes, join in the conversation,
just in time, because the man I’m

here to meet is asking me: Have you
ever been to Stoneman Lake? No, not
yet. I haven’t. Haven’t been out

for a few weeks. Maybe next time I
am able to leave the city I will go.
Matchmaker decides he has to explain

me: Her doctor told her no driving
until she heals from her injuries.
She was in a climbing accident.

Not an accident, exactly. (I correct
him, don’t want to leave the wrong
impression.) Not an accident, exactly.

More a decision, with a consequence.
That’s harsh. How long have you been
down? Four weeks. A little less.

Eleven days left. Counting. A spell
of quiet around the table, then an
invitation: I’m already planning on

driving up to Stoneman this weekend
if you’d like a ride that way. My ribs
begin to ache, my lungs get tight,

all of me with longing to escape
the city suffocation, population.
But what I say is not quite yes,

but rather: Kind of you to offer.
But I’m not quite back to where I’m
fit for camping. For eleven more

days I’m supposed to be sleeping
mostly upright in a chair. He offers:
My truck has bucket seats. You could

have the cab of the truck to yourself,
bucket seat and pillow do? And I
can’t help but open to the possibility,

but then: It probably would, but
still, I shouldn’t. Even if I were
to go, and managed to build a fire,

I’m not certain I could cover
it to dead-out with a shovel after,
and I’m not sure that I’d be able

to be useful or even be good company.
If you can make the seat and pillow
work for you, the rest’s no problem.

I’ll just pretend that you’re not there
at all. And matchmaker boy-scout ever-
ready hands him a piece of paper:

That’s PERFECT! Here’s her number.


See Part I, Part II and Part III.

Bridal March, Part III: Grinding

Back at the office, he keeps going
on about it, coming to my cubicle,
insistent: You have to meet him.

No. I don’t. Please go away and let
me be. He disappears, comes back
just a little later. With a daisy which

he’s decided to liberate from a bouquet
which someone left late yesterday
for someone else at the reception

desk. He hands it to me, and he
says: Just do it. Go on, just for fun.
Just pull of the petals and say it.

I beg your pardon? Are you asking
me to decapitate the daisy? And what’s
the “it” you’re wanting me to say?

You’re kidding! You’ve never asked
a daisy about the status of your love
life? Never pulled off petals one

by one while saying “He loves me…He
love me not…” one phrase for each
petal, to see where you wind up?

No. Never. Sorry. And it’s not likely
I’ll be amending that deficit in my
experience this morning. Thank you. Bye.

Oh, come on. Just this once. If not
for you, for me. If you do it, I’ll buy
you all your coffees, all next week.

I pull the first two petals off, but
improv on my lines and say: “He needs
me not…I need him not…” and then

the daisy’s rescued from me and my
evident lack of appreciation of other
possibilities. You just don’t get it,

he accuses. You are missing the point
entirely. It’s not about needing
anyone, not him, not you, not anyone.

The point is that this is an opportunity
you may never get again, once-in-a-life-time
chance to meet somebody you can stand.

I’m fatigued. I’m tired. Okay, whatever,
fine. Give me the daisy, if it will make
you happy enough to go away. Give me

the daisy, and tell me again what it is
I am supposed to say. He hands it to me,
and in my weakened state, extracts one

more agreement: if the daisy says “He loves
me” then I will, just one time and only
briefly, consent to meet the man in question.

I pull the petals. And Fibonacci’s judgment
in the matter doesn’t please me. But I
don’t generally back out of bets, dares,

or agreements. I sign off my machine, pick
up my things to catch the early bus back
home, unwilling but committed. We agree

to make it simple, lunch on a daytime
work-day, the three of us at some place
that has soup, salad, bread, and coffee.

I punch the security code in the panel
to exit the building, and he calls out after
me in parting: Don’t look so sulky. Trust

the daisy. It isn’t about need. It’s about
possibility. Just think: maybe, you’ll get
along okay. Maybe you could fall off rocks

together.


After Dave Bonta’s “Bean counter.” See Part I and Part II.