Unnatural History Museum

pressed under glass
the last goldfinch whistle

slowly solidifies
into earwax

untroubled by looters
who choose flashier artifacts

from this dilapidated museum
close to closing time

in one diorama the leaves
are already withering

in another, farmers turn played-out
soil toward the sun

which is kept in a separate
display case on the mezzanine

right above the blowhole
of a great blue whale

***

This is similar in concept to a haibun in Failed State, though that imagined a domestic space. Because of that redundancy, I wasn’t going to share it, until I noticed that it ended on a somewhat more positive note, with a nod toward the cosmic, and decided I rather like that. Though I did flirt with the idea of continuing in a more cynical vein:

“and in the gift shop they carry
disposable vape pens of petrichor…”

Star attraction

If I ran a movie review site, nothing would get more than one star. Movies would compete for fractions of a star.

Times are lean. We could run out of stars.

No one could afford to live under such a dark sky. They’d go mad with loneliness.

I saw another fireball the other night. Spend time under the stars and you see things: fish, a bull, a hunter, you name it. It’s so liberating to realize thanks to modern astronomy that the universe isn’t about us.

That said, there is a gas giant in my guest bedroom. My older brother can’t help his stature or intestinal difficulties. In his religion, everyone gets their own universe someday—a classic Ponzi scheme if you ask me. But what if it’s true?

I think the opposite is more likely the case: everything is drifting farther and farther apart, into an ever emptier void. You can already see it happening. People have that distance in their eyes.

the high inhuman
shriek of a dying rabbit
4th quarter moon

(via Twitter)

***

Finally got a good look at the pair of red-breasted nuthatches who’ve been hanging out in the spruce grove all year, according to my younger brother, and presumably nesting. Like the red squirrel i got a good look at yesterday, they were right near Dad’s grave. The spot is beginning to feel a bit magical, I have to say. Currently there’s a bit of fresh rain-water in the reflecting rock. I’m sitting on the bench listening to the stuttering calls of Linne’s cicadas, “a steady pulsating rattle sounding like a saltshaker” as the Songs of Insects website puts it. They outnumber dog-day cicadas now, of which I’m hearing just two—that buzz-saw whine. I’m also hearing what sound like falling acorns, a very hopeful sign.

***

In my poetry i want to write about nature without breathlessness. Don’t know whether i always succeed. Sharing new poetry on social media is an essential part of my probably Quixotic quest to normalize talking about wildflower sightings and wildlife encounters in the same way people post about the latest books or movies they’ve consumed.

I suppose in time I’ll end up creating a personal iconography of favourite species and other natural phenomena, licensed by the ubiquity of the smart phone and modern search engines—hardly any reference is too obscure anymore. For all that the internet has diminished attention spans, it does still expand access to layers of context that previously would’ve escaped all but the most knowledgeable of readers.

***

Successful ideologies are those that promise more than they can deliver. That way their adherents are never forced to answer for their beliefs. Evangelical conservatism may soon be dead as a political force because its adherents actually achieved one of their main goals, and everyone else is horrified.

***

Somewhere in the world right now a 90-pound weakling is sitting beside a hotel pool writing an epic novel and a 300-pound man in a tiny basement apartment is sweating over a haiku.

Fog walker

“Oh hey, buddy, how’s it going?”

“Oh, it’s GOING!”

Uproarious laughter. Two old friends at the small-town deli. I resist the temptation to turn around and look, but they seem genuinely surprised and impressed to find themselves still in the land of the living, still doing everyday things.

“I was just coming back from Surplus City, and I thought I’d STOP IN and PICK SOME THINGS UP!” Laughter.

“OH yeah! Good IDEA!” More laughter.

They’re probably no more than 15 years older than me, if that: a glimpse into my own future, perhaps. If I’m lucky. Artists and writers court amazement all day long with less evident success than these geezers at the store.

***

My favourite ridgetop tea-drinking spot is quieter each time I visit. Gone (or hiding while they molt) are the nesting tanagers and warblers. A wood pewee still calls, and a blue-headed vireo interjects at one point, but that’s about it. A nearby black gum has begun to color up, anticipating early migration and the need for signal flags saying FREE LUNCH.

fog walker
the millipede’s carpet
of legs

I take it back: both the black-throated green warbler and the robin who nested nearby are still around, just rarely singing. Sit here long enough and you’ll hear everything—or at least everything audible over the trains and traffic sounds from the valley. Now it’s an annual cicada calling just once and falling silent again. The sun comes half out. I see from my shadow it must be nearly eleven.

closed book
in my lap
a square of sunlight

***

The biggest change in literary blogging over the past 20 years has been the demographic shift from relatively younger to relatively older poets. In part of course that’s because some of the same contingent of people who were blogging in the aughts still dominate the literary blogging space. But there have been many more late adopters for whom blogging was a good fit, because as older writers, they’re not necessarily as ambitious. Meanwhile, today’s young poets are not blogging because that’s no longer seen as hip, and also because they are focusing all their efforts on writing for publication elsewhere. If they blog, it is purely to share writing or publishing news. I don’t write for a living and i’ve never been very ambitious, so blogging is an easy, nearly frictionless way to get my writing out there—especially these experiments in sorts of writing that very few publishers are interested in: absurdly long erasure poetry projects, weird tone-shifting hodgepodges masquerading as zuihitsu, that sort of thing.

The Xerox era was fun, and I’m glad I got to participate in the tail end of it, even publishing my first three chapbooks that way under the imprint Free Lunch Press (which I’m sure wasn’t original, but we didn’t have the web, much less Google yet, just small press directories that only included people organized enough to submit their info—not half-assed schmucks like us).

But this is better.

***

I found a black cherry tree dotted with congealed sap (above)—the original chewing gum. Though actually they dissolve fairly quickly. They’re rubbery and gelatinous and nearly tasteless. Which to me makes them highly attractive for extreme culinary purposes, should I ever be called upon to produce an Appalachian delicacy. Ya know, marinate in sassafras root bark infusion, drizzle with maple syrup and boom, you’ve got an appetiser to go with your mountain mint julep.

***

The biggest sign that Anglo-American civilization is doomed: the precipitous decline in shared mealtimes. If we can’t break bread together even as families, meaningful dialogue is clearly at an end. And what is culture about if not dialogue? Even the most solitary artist is still in dialogue with the greats.

Trickle of a creek

I looked up from digging potatoes this morning and saw this:

rising sun shining on raindrops beaded on a wire fence, with one pole bean tendril looping up

The world can really take your breath away sometimes.

***

I’ve been picking a lot of berries lately, including two trips to a highbush blueberry bog, regular pickings of the blackberries in our old fields, and fistfuls of trailside lowbush blueberries and huckleberries on the ridgetop. There’s a strange intimacy to the act of picking berries, which I tried to bring out in a short series of haiku. (See Woodrat Photohaiku for the accompanying photos.)

*

swamp forest
hugging the bucket
of blueberries

*

blackberry patch
the secret beds
made by deer

*

blueberry woods
a five-legged beetle
takes to the air

*

snagged by thorns
the closeness required
to get free

***

The tiny ants that eat ripe blueberries and the tiny spiders that pray upon them might make a good haiku in more skilled hands than mine. Or even by me on another day. For now, it’s the one that got away. (It was this short, honest!)

*

spiderantiberry

*

crowzaic

***

chance of light
rain in the next hour
glass house

***

The one that doesn’t look like the others: treasured or thought lucky in some cultures, hated and feared in others. It’s all so arbitrary.

***

the
asp
i
ration
bites
me
back

***

“You went for a walk in the rain?”

I never quite know how to answer these questions. But how about this: Any walk is better than no walk, and I own a sturdy umbrella. And since the umbrella keeps off midges and mosquitoes better than anything else, in many ways a walk down the hollow on a humid evening is far more relaxing in the rain.

***

sun atop
the tall tulip polar
trickle of a creek

***

where is the bear?
the bear is any
where a bear can
bear to be
which is every
where you ain’t

***

A well-done parody is also an homage.

The reverse may also be true: an homage that goes all in can become indistinguishable from parody.

***

8:35 PM. Just went to retrieve my cap and put my hand on a Carolina wren already settled in to roost. The alarm was mutual.

Hairy bad things in the woods

When I open the book I was reading last night, the lifeless corpse of a deer fly falls out. It was pretty dark when I closed the book. Perhaps she had intended to spend the night on a nice, clean sheet of paper, but was instead crushed between two poems.

***

Temporarily deaf in my right ear during a course of treatment for excessive earwax buildup—a huge impediment to being able to enjoy the day. Or so I thought, until I realized I only hear mosquitoes in one ear now, which feels like almost half the problem solved. Which is not to joke about hearing loss (and thereby tempt Fate) but I can see it might have a few upsides.

***

Howard Stern thinking he could run for president is hardly surprising. Every comedian in the world is probably looking at Zelenskiy in Ukraine and thinking, you know, having half your population driven into exile and being locked in brutal internecine conflict for years may seem less than ideal, but 90% approval rating from his people! Who does that?! He is KILLING it!

I am fearful of what comes next. New NATO bases in Poland and Romania at the same time that Turkey drops its objections to admitting Finland and Sweden will be seen as provocations—potentially intolerable ones. It’s scary the way the hegemonic war machine now seems to have a mind of its own.

The problem with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is that it wasn’t nearly bleak enough. But it’s a very Christian song, and Christians tend to be optimists—unlike, say, the Vikings or the Aztecs. They make war into something grand if terrible—something with a potentially righteous purpose. That’s true even for many liberal Christians, I think, let alone those who actively pray for the world to end and Christ return in glory. It’s just very American to believe that violence can solve problems. It’s part of our cultural DNA and quite likely more pagan in origin.

It may seem hard to believe, for anyone who hasn’t studied anthropology, that not all religions are obsessed with life after death and with meting out punishments and rewards. Which is to say, not all religions are death cults. And those that are: let’s look at the role of early state oppression in that. The need to give an utterly ground-down people some reason to live.

But nationalism remains the biggest death cult of all. It is literally just the worship of power, of idols—the very thing that the Abrahamic religions all say God is opposed to. It destroys other ideologies like a cancer, from within. It’s no accident that the most powerless people are often the most patriotic: it gives them access to a simulacrum of power, that warm and fuzzy feeling that we’re part of something bigger. Also, the military is one of the last more or less responsible large employers. Sure, you may die on the job or come back severely injured and with PTSD, but the benefits and pay are still pretty good.

And so the myth of the righteous war of liberation staggers on like the undead. Which is how I think of so many of us now anyway: undead. Voracious but somehow hardly able to savor anything. Not in good shape and rarely seeming to sleep.

Well, of course I’d think that. Both “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” were filmed in western Pennsylvania…

***

Kept hearing a weird squeaking noise while I was typing that last bit. Turned my good ear fully toward it and realized it’s the juvenile barred owls again.

This is good to know, because I’m about to walk a half mile back through the darkness without a flashlight—because the fireflies are spectacular right now—and that’s one fewer spooky noise I need to worry about.

Though part of me does long for a simpler time when monsters too were more basic: hairy toothy bad things in the woods.

Which, I mean, yes, I am rather hairy and toothy…

*

Coyote chorus. Can’t really tell in what direction. I fear I might become tonight’s hairy bad thing for some impressionable pups.

A large animal in the field moves off more slowly than I might’ve expected. Another example of how much even a little hearing loss can disrupt one’s ability to gather basic information: I know almost every sound a white-tailed deer makes—but I know them with two ears, not with one.

Grievance Machine

let me brand myself
he-who-is-different

let me howl around
in lieu of feedback

then unwind
in a hot bath of outrage

feed the twist in my gut
that feels like hunger

we discriminating consumers
who like what we like

we must be sure to bark up
all the right trees

The 10 best best-of lists of 2016

  1. Best and Worst Ads of 2016: The Things We Can’t Unsee (Wall Street Journal)
    Weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin has been targeting children with propaganda, and the WSJ thinks that’s just great.
  2. The best and biggest memes of 2016 (The Daily Dot)
    The Romans had bread and circuses; we have pizza and memes.
  3. Top 10 Food and Restaurant Trends of 2016 (Forbes)
    Not bullshit hipster fads like food trucks and artisanal salt, but actual trends.
  4. Best in Beer 2016: Readers’ Choice & Editors’ Picks (Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine)
    Holy hell, people. It’s just beer.
  5. The 20 games you shouldn’t miss in 2016 (Boing Boing)
    I don’t like playing video games, but I love reading about them.
  6. The Listening Chaos: Year-End Chaos, Part V (Indy Metal Vault)
    The five best metal albums of 2016 as chosen by a poet and English professor in Indianapolis.
  7. Best Books of 2016 (Goodreads)
    Some best-of lists stop at 25 or 100. Wimps! Here are the 1,154 best books published in 2016.
  8. The 11 Best Viral Videos of 2016 Out of the 12 I Knew About (Paste)
    “One thing that can be said about 2016 is: It had some viral videos in it.”
  9. The Best (and Worst) New Yorkers of 2016 (Village Voice)
    Subway Dog would’ve made such a great president. Sigh.
  10. Favorite poetry books of 2016: a crowd-sourced compendium (Via Negativa)
    Poetry lovers. We’re here, we’re sincere, get used to it.

The Canela tweets

fearless tracker

I use Twitter for a bit more than just Morning Porch updates these days. Three weeks of dog-sitting — and especially dog-walking — yielded a few insights, which I shared on Twitter because they weren’t really long enough for blog posts. Canela is an eight- or nine-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever with a very easy-going disposition, boundless energy and an insatiable curiosity. We walked three to four miles every day. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve been writing. (The first and last of these also appeared on The Morning Porch.)

Jan. 2
Dozens of juncos flit through the bushes. The old brown retriever that I’m dog-sitting watches from the porch, her nose quivering.

Jan. 12
Trying to teach sarcasm to the dog.

Before I can stop her, the dog wolfs down a frozen coyote turd.

Just back from a three-mile walk full of fascinating scats and urine samples, the dog falls asleep on her Dora the Explorer blanket.

Before I started dog-sitting, I had no idea how much I talk to myself.

The dog’s sleep is punctuated with sighs and episodes of labored breathing. She snores. She smacks her lips.

She rumbles like an appliance with a bad motor.

Her jaws move as if around recalcitrant syllables of human speech. Then she dry-retches and falls silent.

Jan. 13
I just complimented a dog for taking a dump. This pet thing is insidious.

Jan. 14
The dog appears to have two modes: full-on excitement and sleep. I of course am an Eeyore and an insomniac. What a disappointment I must be.

On a walk in the thawing woods, the dog smells everything. All I smell is dog.

Going out to pee in the moonlight, the dog stands gazing into the shadows.

Jan. 15
Having just circled the field, more than anything the dog want to circle the field.

You can’t circle the same field twice, as Heraclitus might’ve said.

Like a suburban kid getting a “tribal” tattoo, the dog wants desperately to roll in coyote scent.

Straining against the leash that won’t let her catch up to a porcupine, the dog whines and whimpers like a creature in pain.

Jan. 16
Ten minutes after telling our neighbor that the dog never barks, I hear her bark, left alone in the house.

So the dog doesn’t bark at people, other dogs, deer, ruffed grouse, rabbits or porcupines. She barks at the absence of all those things.

Jan. 18
Last night, I gave the dog back to her family. In the morning, two inches of wind-blown snow, and the yard unmarred by a single track.