Psalm 2.0

in response to an Instagram clip by Janet Lees (janetlees2.0)

we meet ourselves between
two thrown stones

how can ripples not reach
the edge of each other

a mirror dancing with itself
grows boneless flesh

translucent skin meant
for an angel of onions

how can ramification not lead
to a kind of godhead

dwelling in absurdity
like the invasive species we are

a tree-of-heaven nursing
its litter of lanternflies

we become monumental
in our blind trust

rust blooming
in the rain

oh holy ghost pipe
let creation somehow survive us

cancer root

let our names break down
into a tilth

The Turn

it starts with a zipper in the rain
that soft syllable

an oak leaning into
its impending death

you can shelter under it
as open as a book

it starts red and wrong
as an oak apple

old sapsucker holes bleeding
pale sap down a spruce

rain collecting in a hollow
atop an exposed birch root

so the tree can mainline it
like an autumn addict

mushrooms glory
in their fruiting bodies

as black drupes swell on maple-
leafed viburnum

and beechdrops’ self-fertilized flowers
hide under a twiggy bouquet

it’s a kind of spring
buried in the heart of autumn

just before antlers turn
from trees into weapons

and every leaf in the forest
goes off-script

September Ghosts

fog forms in the meadow
at first light

rising from the mop-
topped goldenrod

as if it were the conjoined breaths
of a shadowy golden horde

massed against the bald
white fact of the barn

its credible rooflines

in the same dark green as
the ridges that flank the field

the barn’s ridgeline broken
by a slatted cupola

to draw air through
whether for hay or horses

or once a hundred years ago
a circus elephant

who spent the summer tethered
on the threshing floor

no one can remember why
only that it was here and lonely

like the young lady
a generation later

who came to the hollow to hide
an unplanned pregnancy

one winter shuttered up
in the summer house

with a church organ
they heard her playing Bach

for years after she and the child
died together at birth

every Appalachian hollow
has its share of ghosts

but the sun tops the ridge
and the fog shapes vanish

catching in spiderwebs
glistening on the breast of a wren

Facing North

turkey-tail polypore
eavesdropping on dead air

a turtle has left its shell
for the autumn rain

a cloud forms just below me
on the rocky slope between the trees

moves without moving
ceasing to be here and re-forming there

and i am seeing ghosts again
it’s a question of distance

a galleon of vague regrets
drifting toward the horizon

or the fine spine and spool of her
unwinding in a wind of fingers

the air is cool but close
acorns fall with muffled thumps

on the north side of the mountain
the moss grows deep

a mosquito swells and darkens
on the back of my hand

Epistemology on Jack’s Mountain

you might think you know
but that’s never what knowing means

a light last seen in winter
with sharp-edged shadows

two high hanging valleys
filled with forest

where the only fields
are boulder fields

this is the complex head
of an Appalachian dragon

that the locals have been led
to believe is a mountain

all you see from the river
is the stone snout

thoroughly domesticated
with a Mohawk of crosses

flags for each of the armed forces
snap above the veterans’ memorial bridge

but up a seldom-followed trail
past the reservoir

the trees are beginning
to swallow boulders whole

engulfing them with tight-
grained lips

as the earth extends
a single small black trumpet

in the middle of the trail
just as it starts to climb

and that silence becomes
an immediate ear-worm

in silence you drop to your knees
for a bright purple coral mushroom

in silence the cedar
waxwings whistle

the sassafras trees invent
a new choreography

you pass a white oak grove
carpeted with reindeer lichen

table mountain pines
parcel out the views

a fallen cone makes
a spiny souvenir

armed with hooks so it doesn’t
roll off the mountain

you station yourself among
other more durable fragments

of the paleozoic as
it has come down to us

collected works from the most widely
distributed of shallow seas

now habitat for rock tripe
lined in the tackiest black velvet

this is the glittery spine of a mountain
like a snake with two heads

the stream cuts through one
to climb the other

from the vista you see
little that isn’t wild

for a small town
that values sacrifice

this is where you’d come
to give up your sense of what’s normal

maybe you’d bring a rifle
or a sixpack and a date

as a visitor from elsewhere
you allow yourself to be charmed

like a newt turning back into an eft
when its pool-for-life goes dry

you like to think you could leave it all
and take to the trail again

become a youthful
avatar of yourself

if only you knew the way
to such rebirth

as the trail turns back
into a street

descending through town
you think you get the three crosses now

facing the mountain across the river
that lost its top to quarrymen

who prized the sand itself
from those ancient seabeds

to line the furnaces that once
smelted all our steel

the mountain on this side
got to keep its head

as a Golgotha
a place of the skull

and crossing the memorial bridge
you spot a family out fishing

lined up in chairs on the bank
watching the water

through the mountain’s reflection
waiting for something to emerge

Standing Stone Trail south of Mapleton
August 31, 2023

A Walk in the Park

dead tree green
with poison ivy

sugar maples self-grafting
like circus freaks

a black birch wearing
a hollow locust tree like a coat

these are among
the unsettling attractions

at the Allegheny Portage Railroad
National Historic Site

a monument to the great unsettling
of the American West

but what’s bitter in the morning
may be sweet by afternoon

i drink hot tea from a thermos mug
like an offering to the heat

staying one pace ahead
of my cloud of insects

though i stop for everything:
the man-made cliffs

dripping with native plants
the detours to peer

at old stone culverts
the interpretive signs

slowly being reinterpreted
by age and weather

preservation and transformation
are dance partners here

foundations are buried
for their protection says a sign

with a photo of the little we’re missing
in black and white

meanwhile the bumblebees
are making love to yellow touch-me-nots

Bombylius major pokes his pointy snout
deep into a lobelia

and a mother leads two teenagers
on a sullen walk for their health

now we are beginning
to get somewhere i think

as an alarmed pickerel frog
disappears into his puddle

and although one might wish
for less proximity to a highway

the trees are old and strange
and i am in my element

no longer on the way to elsewhere
people choose to live here in the hills

our journeys are local
our histories are brief

a sign exhorts us to leave
no trace

August 25, 2023

Doom Loop

just past the last internet tower
a rattlesnake’s elegant S

slipping through the crushed stone
almost makes you
want its skin

and divining this
its terminal bones
buzz in your direction:

down-ridge over the rocks’
stormwater eyes

which let you pass through them
as easily as the vultures

or the common mullein
at the first overlook

from a seed planted
by a hiker’s boot

on a well-loved trail
a raccoon’s footprint

might spell hard luck
for endangered wood rats

and yes most of the old trees
have fallen to new blights or pests

that travel the same
pilgrimage route

hemlock woolly adelgids
hitching rides on birds’ feet

spongy moth caterpillars
ballooning in each June

but the vistas are glorious
one can still dream wilderness dreams

ignoring recent clearcutting
in the swampy woods below

the old oaks that remain up here
are still so extravagant

seeming to gesture
seeming to conjure up

you can find forests two inches tall
made of gray-green lichen

stop to watch a slug
cross a jagged rock

a study in single-mindedness
gliding on his/her orange foot

or a sharp-shinned hawk
might speak to you

from atop a snag
your eyes meet

you notice how the branch
keeps swaying after he flies

launching into the green-
feathered wind

descent is difficult
who wouldn’t rather stay high

on a mountain stretching
half-way across the state

low as a wrinkle
in the earth’s hide

this would-be spine where pines
grow old and empty

and you peer into the largest one
and find another snake

this time no wilderness creature
but a black rat snake

coiled and sleeping like
the climber’s rope that it is

nearby a tussock caterpillar
yo-yos in mid-air

white and bristly
as a lost eyebrow

and charmed you decide
to walk all afternoon

looping back
in the long shadows
to your car

Jackson Trail, Rothrock State Forest
August 11, 2023

Brain Fog

awoken by a dying rabbit
its shrieks in the night

i dream a cleaver-shaped moon
rain soft as fur

in the small hours even
the mosquitoes are sleeping

i listen to the surf of blood
pulsing in my temples

a cloud has come down for us
we don’t need to rise

New videohaiku: the future…

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

Watch on Vimeo

What does it mean to look forward to something any more, in a world hurtling toward ecological collapse if not thermonuclear destruction? There was a bestseller back in the 1970s called Future Shock about the social and psychological damage incurred by modern society’s relentless drive toward progress… or so I imagine, having never actually read it. But it’s been on my mind lately despite that minor detail. I’ve also been thinking a lot about ignorance, both in epistemological and sociological terms, and not coming to any firm conclusions because I rarely do. That’s a poet thing, I suppose. Not knowing the future, though, seems essential to mere survival, let along progress, as the Rene Char quote in the sidebar here says: “How can we live without the unknown before us?”

This has been a horrific summer in many parts of North America, but here in central Pennsylvania we went from a severe spring drought to a very wet but relatively cool summer. Trees went from nearly dropping their leaves at the beginning of June to massive growth spurts in July—aided, I’m sure, by all the extra CO2 in the atmosphere. And part of what kept things cool for us was the haze from burning forests elsewhere, as I’ve mentioned in various poems. But one of the pleasures of haiku is being liberated from having to explain things. They can just lurk in the background, mostly inaudible to the reader. Distant flashes that can mean whatever you want them to.

The fireflies, who had been scarce early on, had their highest numbers toward the end of the season. I shot this 30-second clip of them on my phone at dusk last week, just as the weather was turning from muggy to cool. Three nights ago the katydids started up; in a week or so, their throb will be all we hear. I look forward to weeks of good sleep.

Dog Days

linked-verse sequence

small talk…
the enormity
of the heat

dog day cicadas
in and out of sync

calling once
for old times’ sake
wood pewee

a hay rake at rest
with its teeth turned up

distant shot
or just the ice settling
in a glass

the old picnic blanket
attracting hornets

swimming hole
the low drone
of an incoming horsefly

blades of deer tongue grass
parsing out the shade

dolls’ eyes
clustered on a stalk
daddy longlegs

her schizophrenic brother
searching the sky

the sudden press of bodies
under a roof