Mayday

the song comes from a long way off
slow as an old man making water

like a sort of sky
with one persistent cloud

the song brings its own weather
to a climate of fear

filling every redbreast
with territorial ambitions

until a brown thrasher
gets a hold of it and shakes

upside upside down down
get rid of it get rid of it

as the trees launch their fleets
unfurl their sails

cells vibrate in concert
each at its own pitch

a music not meant for any ears
this side of eden

where pollen still turns
our jack boots green

White Solstice

sun summoning from a white sky
the ridgetop oaks’ fuzzy shadows

gnomons enough to mark
the summer solstice

in one patch of half-sunlight
a box turtle’s red eye blinks

while a scarlet tanager flutters
in the canopy on dark wings

how cool the ghosts
of burning forests have kept us

it’s late morning and i’m still
in long sleeves

a breeze pages through the oaks
a revelation of caterpillars

and the tanager is a quick study
warbling as he hunts

one tree bears a vertical slit
of sky and leaves

crossed by a wide scar
straight through the heartwood

where two intertwined trunks
failed to fuse

and this cross made by a cross
bears an immense green crown

as it should for standing up
to all our weather

eyelids drooping i walk on
into a summer afternoon

the field has its sparrows
and the eastern wood its pewees

but i am melancholy as a catbird’s
parody of a wood thrush

for true refinement can only
be learned from the masters

which is perhaps why the sun
in firefly season

models itself after
that glowworm the moon

Air Quality Alert

watersnake turning back
into an empty creek bed

does a broom learn
to love the taste of dust

the air is grimy with boreal
ghosts of trees

the lurid sunrise
somehow lasts all day

no-see-ums become visible
wandering in circles

under the towering hair-
trees on my skin

i itch to get going
mountains are beginning to vanish

this haze may have come all the way
from the ming dynasty

beech leaves are losing their green
to the new black

swifts wheel high overhead
the world’s their chimney

a greyhound bus gives birth
to a litter of smokers

Time Travelers

how the hours have fallen
from their early days among monks

now they are uniform
modular
single-use

save for the odd poet or naturalist
taking minutes like medicine

for whom listening might be
the purest form of devotion

at the bottom of the hollow
two migrant waterthrushes

serenade the stream
its blended whiskery gurgles

just before it vanishes
into a culvert under the railroad

and a freight train’s
ground-shaking metal

i climb into the sun
of mourning cloaks

the pale edges of their wings
dazzle like blades

as they chase and battle
over an open patch of ground

crossed by the shadows
of slow vultures

i come to a clearing where all
the oaks have died

paradise
for a pair of bluebirds

whose blink-and-you-miss-it copulation
releases a torrent of song

it is their golden hour
round and endless

here they will ravel detritus
into a nest

Equinox

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

full sun but the sky’s
blue heart stays cold

as i pass the big rockslide
a wind-blown tree calls my name

just once
in my mother’s voice

i follow the ridge another mile
to the ephemeral ponds

frozen wood frog egg masses
glitter like nebulae in the dark water

and just beyond
the trees are raining grackles

with the sound of a vast
and rusty orchestra tuning up

i reach for my gloves
find the left one missing

the blackbirds are on all sides
landing on the ground
jostling in the treetops

lifting as if on a signal
from mob into synchronized flock

a great glossy wheel
here and gone

later at supper
my mother points out a black vulture
with its gray face

looking over my house
from a perch in a walnut tree

just then the spring
equinox arrives

i go off looking for
my lost winter glove

the sun makes its rendezvous
with the compass point

venus emerges
from hiding in plain sight
a barred owl calls

i follow the mountain
until it’s too dark to see

Birds of Passage

“Storytelling of Ravens” by Kenojuak Ashevak

north has lost its allure
to the great unsettling

mist lingers later in the day
storms smell like the tropics

the sun cedes ever more
to thieving ravens

and shimmering on a far shore
that magnetic field

traveling so light
even the songs stay behind

but home has grown
beyond elaboration

mountains don brighter plumage
berries ferment like sunsets

first a mellow burn
then the whole of the night sky

dark and speckled
as the inside of an egg

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.

Wild things

So I’m standing here watering my garden, and a female hummingbird flies in and takes a shower in the spray, three feet away from my hand.

*

Many hours later, I flush two ruffed grouse. Together. For the first time in years—since West Nile Virus began decimating them about 15 years ago. Last winter I thought it likely that there were only two grouse on our entire, two-and-a-half mile long end of the mountain. Now there seem to be at least five. Perhaps they’re staging a comeback.

Two unusual wildlife sightings in one day! I’m a lucky man.

***

As long as I live, I’ll never forget the sight of hundreds of university students walking past a low-hanging oak limb on which an adult male red-tailed hawk was ripping apart a gray squirrel, and not one of them so much as slowing down to watch. And that was at least ten years before the rise of smart phones. It was around that time I realized that nothing I would recognise as poetry will ever reach a mass audience in this distracted age.

***

What if my next poetry collection included all my voices, not just a few of them? Perhaps it would be an unreadable mishmash. But if there’s a uniform focus or addressee, it might work. Hmm.

Maybe I should also be a little less concerned about what an audience might prefer until closer to the end of the project? Behave less like a craftsman or entertainer and more like an artist? I don’t know about that. It challenges my populist instincts.

But you’re talking about wild words. The wild is not and will never be popular. See above.

***

Suspense

You are waiting for the next thing to be popular so you can admit how much you’ve come to loathe the last thing. But with this economy, who knows whether there will even be a next thing? That last thing might be the last thing ever, in which case you will someday come to miss it with all the fervent conviction of nostalgia.

tea for two
the ant holding a crumb
above her head

Insurgent, portentative

I’m walking past ranks of even-aged red pines with a native broadleaf forest rising in the understory to a height of some thirty feet now: a visually striking natural insurgency against the industrial monoculture. Molting birds skulk through the dense foliage while a hermit thrush still sings just up the hill. A very small brown and white feather floats down.

*

If i didn’t know that these mushrooms were poisonous, would I still find them repulsive? Yeah, probably. The death angel looks delicious — which apparently it is. Then it dissolves your liver.

*

One of those days when even the rocks sweat and the biting insects form clouds dense enough to block the sun, and here I am circling a bog. My addiction to walking is beginning to seem nearly pathological, even to myself. But here’s the thing: I’m having a blast.

Oh what a lovely breeze!

Say, are those storm clouds?

hemlock sapling
bound in red surveyor’s tape
how hot it is

*

Why would I slog through a buggy bog, you ask? That’s where the prettiest mud is.

***

Portentative

sky face says meh
to the white noise

of our anti
bodies of work

squeezing whole lives
into a few hours before sleep

while six-legged leaves
chant half the night

sky face acquires
a round cloud mouth

the moonlight denies
ever knowing the moon

the lives we’re missing bloat like corpses
as species dwindle

sky face is just the void
with better branding

Residual

Thirty years after the sudden death of someone I didn’t know terribly well, what remains? Not his name. Not quite his face, but something of his posture and physique. A strong impression of good-natured and thoughtful conviviality, based on possibly no more than half a dozen conversations, always on the periphery of punk shows. The shock and sadness of his death from a brain tumor. Someone who, on rare occasions when he pops into my head, still makes me smile, and shapes my memory of that whole period in my life. Good times. A good dude.

Wish I remembered his name.

***

fledgling cuckoo
flopping across the road

adoptive parents
nowhere to be found

poor little rain-crow
didn’t mean to be a parasite

*

opening my umbrella
I spook a bear

in the depths of the hollow
widely spaced raindrops

water still gurgling
under the rocks

and the crashing of something big
in black velvet

upslope through woodferns
and storm-downed timber

*

a distant cuckoo singing
who are you you you

I know a lullaby
when I hear one

***

pine (k)not

***

One interesting residue of my long-ago year in the Kansai region is that humid rainy days in the summer still remind me a bit of Japan, not necessarily in a fully conscious way (which is why I call it a residue). Similarly, a snowy, cold winter day might have an extra charge of excitement and possibility to it from my early childhood years in Maine.

***

A fast-moving longhorn beetle. I’m beginning to understand why professional insect photographers like to pop their subjects in the freezer for a few minutes to slow them down. This beetle seemed very keen on getting back under cover as quickly as possible.

*

Just as I’m thinking of turning back to the house, a medium-sized animal clambers down out of an oak tree and stands for a few seconds looking back at me. It’s been years since I’ve seen a gray fox. First time I’ve ever seen one in a tree, which seems odd, considering their reputation as the most cat-like of canines—and how much damn time I spend looking up at trees.

The clouds redden with sunset. Can’t resist a shot, clichés be damned.