Separation

Mind the gap they said
and I didn’t. There’s
a storm wind but
no storm. Children
play in the distance

or maybe fight. Don’t
mind me I murmur to a deer
trotting past while I type
this on my phone standing
still as a tree at dusk

just vibrating a little
from a Swainson’s thrush
on his yearly trip north.
I’m mindful that everything
human in this hollow
comes from the gap
between the mountains

but to the birds it’s all
one ridge—a high way
made of wind and forest.
To mind the gap means
to keep going.

April Diary 27: half steam ahead!

This entry is part 27 of 31 in the series April Diary

 

the sky clears a little just before sunset which i watch from the eastern ridge for once, among the oaks. there’s a breeze and the forest is full of voices. yesterday when it was so warm the oak buds got close to bursting but tonight’s gonna be cold so i’m glad they didn’t

one of those breezes that makes every twig tingly

clouds moving in on the sun accompanied by a distant low grinding

the more i write the less i see. but the more i see the more i want to write

shadbush blossom

what is this compulsion to record every thought and observation or it doesn’t count? it’s the guiding superstition of the cult of literacy: that writing things down makes them matter. what it makes of them generally is material, raw material to exploit

what if instead we let them matter on their own merits and in their own incomprehensible tongues. no ideas but in things as the man said

matter, mater, goddess etc

a tree just dropped a branch 100 feet away. the wind is bordering on brisk. given my distance from home and lack of a flashlight i should begin to amble back

you know that was an actual human voice on the wind. might be a PA system at some local sportsball thing

when i said the forest is full of voices i didin’t… hold on…

hermit thrush song just past sunset. i’m 100 feet away. a turkey is gobbling down the ridge. i’m having a ridge experience

except for this towhee. shut the fuck up you idiot. it’s not always about you

just slowly following the thrush

the whippoorwill starts up while the hermit thrush is still singing. there’s a conjunction i’ve never heard before

i guess this phone has a flashlight

when i’m too tired to talk i can actually get some good listening in #manproblems

today i read a number of poems poorly because i am sleep-deprived. what does that say about the quality of insight behind my own writing today – the usual morning porch thing, erasure poem, and a couple of haiku plus this nonsense all produced at half power or less

i feel like the only truly worthwhile things i did today were have a couple of interesting face-to-face conversations and get dad’s car inspected. and go for a walk after supper. glad i pushed myself to do that

i’m not saying it’s not important to be productive just to remember to keep that in perspective. products are in some ways incidental to the making. and it’s through making through doing through participating in larger things with other people or nonhuman others, it’s though all that that we tend to find fulfillment. not through being productive per se. though so many default to that for their measurement of self worth. well who am i to say they’re wrong

we poets need to own our wrongness and revel in it. stay away from the ideologues on all sides and just try to be cleverer fools like Charles Simic or Elaine Equi

i do believe in the ecopoetry project but that’s because i choose to believe that our culture let alone our species and the ecosystem can survive in the long term or even at this point the medium short term. if it can than it makes a great deal of sense to pour our efforts into trying to change the culture because the rule of law likely won’t survive in many places but if local people can be led to value local natural areas and common resources and have the vocabulary and ideas to back it up in what may well be a harsh and brutal time well that’s maybe the best we can hope for honestly

that was the depressing thinky thought i had at the start of my walk which prompted me to give myself a stern talking to and pay more attention to what the trees might have to say

about which i still have no clue of course. i’m not a real nature mystic i just play one on my blog

really what i most want to do right now is listen to the Talking Heads

April Diary 26: where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees

This entry is part 26 of 31 in the series April Diary

 

Dear April i can’t tell you what a thrill it’s been for me to listen from the morning porch to hermit thrush song, that most ethereal sound: imagine a woodwind made of crystal and inhabited by the ghost of a bell and you might get the idea

(i will never fully forgive TS Eliot for mischaracterizing hermit thrush song in “The Wasteland” which i see someone has written a paper on though as a non-academic it’s off limits to me. the quote is

Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

TS Eliot, “The Wasteland,” lines 356-358

which he justifies with a quote from the great ornithologist Frank Chapman in a note:

357. This is Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii, the hermit-thrush which I have heard in Quebec County. Chapman says (Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America) “it is most at home in secluded woodland and thickety retreats… Its notes are not remarkable for variety or volume, but in purity and sweetness of tone and exquisite modulation they are unequalled.” Its “water-dripping song” is justly celebrated.

but nobody but Eliot himself seems to have called it that)

they’ve never nested up here as far as we know despite occasionally attempting to set up territories as this one seems to be doing. the last time it happened, in 2020 up around the vernal ponds, i watched wood thrushes chasing him, and Mark and I thought maybe the limiting factor for us isn’t that we’re too low in elevation (1600 feet) for hermit thrushes but that we’re not high enough to exclude wood thrushes which out-compete their cousins

anyway Mark first heard this one on the 16th so he’s a persistent bugger. if our theory is correct, we may eventually get them nesting up here if wood thrush numbers continue to decline. so i should be careful what i wish for because i love wood thrushes too


putting Ripple Effect back on the shelf this morning i noticed i had another collection by Elaine Equi, 2013’s Sentences and Rain and i have absolutely no idea where it came from. must’ve picked it up secondhand somewhere

well so much for reducing the height of my current reads pile. but that’s a high-quality problem indeed. Ripple Effect was from 2007 and i was just thinking i should get one of her more recent books

i really dig the title poem:

Equi is certainly in that age-old tradition of the wise jester


well i just lost a fuck-ton of writing here because the WordPress iPhone app froze. i guess if i want to keep composing on my phone i’d better compose in Notes and paste it into the app when it’s done (i have been doing that to some extent already but not today obviously)


i stopped the car in Sinking Valley today on my way back from the Amish garden center to take a photo of our not-so-impressive mountain and captured what appears to be a UFO


putting up a deer fence, you do need to think like a deer. where they can push in, where they might be tempted to leap. if i were ever to move out west where they have mule deer instead of whitetails i’d have to start learning that stuff all over again. this is the kind of local knowledge one gathers over time. to the extent that old people can be said to be wise it’s because of stuff like this (not generally because of their politics, lord knows)

working in the garden after supper i can hear our neighbors out in theirs, a quarter mile away. well mainly the shrieks of their twin grandchildren, who are four years old and love living in the woods

there’s something really special about not only living where you grew up, but seeing and hearing other kids grow up there too. to use an old-fashioned phrase, it gladdens the heart

so i got the fence all moved and patched together and well as they say, a thing of beauty is a joy forever

also today i shot a brief video of a black rat snake pretending to be a rattlesnake which took me back to the first time i saw that, also on the powerline right-of-way, at the age of 12 or so and i thought it was a rattler ran all the way back to the house and either Mom or my older brother Steve went back with me and it was just a black snake being a jerk:

watch on Vimeo

The Hollow (34)

This entry is part 34 of 48 in the series The Hollow

 

25 years
since the snow that brought it down
measured in moss

 

after the chainsaw
the silence
big as ever

 

windthrow
ice storm
blizzard

where are the canopy gaps of yesteryear

 

one small bird
to salvage all those logs

winter wren song

This Cold Ache

for Dave and Mark Bonta

This cold ache, this longing
to belong — orangutans have
already begun to step into
our filthy shoes, have bred
until their habitat is stressed;
recently, two of them turned
against another, ganged up

and beat and killed her, our
first occasion of witnessing
their females commit murder,
so now we aren’t unique in
this respect, the earth does
not need us to manifest this
option, does not need us as

a repository for the bloody-
minded string of X-genes. Our
services may no longer be
required. This cold ache, this
longing to belong — and now,
your brother and another well-
versed in Australian aboriginal
territory and ceremony have

unraveled the old Prometheus
myth — we’d thought that fire
was ours uniquely, a secret
cleverly hidden in a stalk of
fennel, stolen from the gods.
But fifteen observations of
brown falcons and black kites

lifting and relocating burning
twigs of brush to other places
to smoke out their prey —
and this behavior may well
predate our own successes
with such flames, our own
discovery of the handiness

of lightning strikes, the trial
and errors with which we
learned to wrap the embers
from a smoldering tree up in
shag-bark and green leaves,
carry them to where they’d
be useful in preparing food.

So we are not unique in this
thing either, and may not have
even been the first; the gods
from which we stole that fire
may well have been birds;
clearly, the earth does not
need us to manifest this option,

does not need our bodies to
preserve the DNA of pyro-
mania. Our services may no
longer be required. This cold
ache, this longing to belong —
and now —


Inspired by/in response to “February idyll” by Dave Bonta, and two articles: “The Dark Side of the Red Ape” and “Crafty Australian birds may be resorting to arson to smoke out their prey.”

Announcing the Audubon and Igloria pileated woodpecker mug

Audubon's full-color print of pileated woodpeckers paired with a poem by Luisa A. Igloria on a large mug (left side)

In commemoration of Luisa A. Igloria’s first five years of writing a poem a day at Via Negativa, this mug pairs her first poem in the series, about a pileated woodpecker, with John James Audubon’s print of pileateds from Birds of North America. This is the 15-oz. mug from CafePress, ideal for any hot beverage on a cold winter’s morning. Originally made as a one-off gift for Luisa on reaching her five-year milestone, I thought I might as well add it to Via Negativa’s CafePress store. I’ve kept the mark-up as low as possible; I just wanted to provide Luisa A. Igloria fans, John James Audubon fans, or anyone who might be looking for a stylish mug the opportunity to buy it. Click here to order.

Audubon's full-color print of pileated woodpeckers paired with a poem by Luisa A. Igloria on a large mug (right side)

Skylark

To my office for 20l. to carry to Mr. Downing, which I did and back again. Then came Mr. Frost to pay Mr. Downing his 500l., and I went to him for the warrant and brought it Mr. Frost. Called for some papers at Whitehall for Mr. Downing, one of which was an Order of the Council for 1800l. per annum, to be paid monthly; and the other two, Orders to the Commissioners of Customs, to let his goods pass free. Home from my office to my Lord’s lodgings where my wife had got ready a very fine dinner — viz. a dish of marrow bones; a leg of mutton; a loin of veal; a dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks all in a dish; a great tart, a neat’s tongue, a dish of anchovies; a dish of prawns and cheese.
My company was my father, my uncle Fenner, his two sons, Mr. Pierce, and all their wives, and my brother Tom. We were as merry as I could frame myself to be in the company, W. Joyce talking after the old rate and drinking hard, vexed his father and mother and wife. And I did perceive that Mrs. Pierce her coming so gallant, that it put the two young women quite out of courage. When it became dark they all went away but Mr. Pierce, and W. Joyce, and their wives and Tom, and drank a bottle of wine afterwards, so that Will did heartily vex his father and mother by staying. At which I and my wife were much pleased. Then they all went and I fell to writing of two characters for Mr. Downing, and carried them to him at nine o’clock at night, and he did not like them but corrected them, so that to-morrow I am to do them anew.
To my Lord’s lodging again and sat by the great log, it being now a very good fire, with my wife, and ate a bit and so home.
The news this day is a letter that speaks absolutely Monk’s concurrence with this Parliament, and nothing else, which yet I hardly believe.
After dinner to-day my father showed me a letter from my Uncle Robert, in answer to my last, concerning my money which I would have out of my Coz. Beck’s hand, wherein Beck desires it four months longer, which I know not how to spare.

in the customs of larks
joy is all the rage

they pierce the heart
afire with a news in which
I hardly believe


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 January 1659/60. (See the original erasure.)

Society Rag

Black mustaches, black cravats,
suits patterned after leopard-skin
and lined in golden silk. When
the Northern flickers fledge, they
dress in flashy uniforms, band
performance and they all play
drums, take deep-sweep bows
mid-flight, shout wacka-wacka!

The pileated’s a traditionalist,
still wears a scarlet cap with
matching chin-strap, formal
suit in black with gleaming white
lapels. Grand and grandiose,
but filled with noblesse oblige,
he leaves his older dwelling to be
leased by lady wood duck, she
needs the lofty safety to incubate
her clutch, but doesn’t have
the beak for excavation.

She has a yellow-bellied neighbor,
but he rarely disturbs her with his
intermittent mews. His work’s
sporadic, an arrhythmia induced
by breaks for sips, he’s always
in his cups, so much he wears a bib —
and also a red cap, but beyond
that, he doesn’t match: checked
coat atop a khaki-yellow shirt.

For fashion trends, you have
to look to red-heads — him or her,
they are identical in style, same
haut designer fond of high-gloss
color-block. Or, for a bit of modern
flare that’s such a daring statement
it’s hard to tell if it is fashion or
rebellion: check out the red-bellied,
rose tattoo bare beneath slick
zebra jacket, Manic Panic hair.

And finally, there’s those cousins —
brothers? — Hairy, Downy, not so
flashy, not quite twins. Hard to tell
who’s who among them, they have
costumed up, them and their ladies,
as Pierrot and Pirouette, the men show
but a single patch of red upon their
heads, and even that is in the back:
if you should surprise one playing
the catalpa, it will turn to face you,
freeze — and if you blink, without that
red as evidence of its existence, it
blends in and vanishes completely.

All you have left is speculation as
to if it’s gone or present. Just like
the legendary uncle of his pileated
nibs, the ivory-billed enigma, holy
grail of ornithology, rumored, sought,
and sightings not believed. But still
remains the inconclusiveness,
the hope, the lurking question:

Is absence of evidence
evidence of absence?


In response to, and ending with a line from, The Morning Porch.

Night singer

mitrewort

Every time I go outside to look at the moon, I hear a ghostly twittering in the treetops. Birds, or flying squirrels? I shine a flashlight all around, but don’t catch a reflection from any mammalian eyes. I switch it off. My brother’s silver truck glows like the belly of a fish.

When I wake up in the wee hours, the catbird is singing voluably, lustily — as if it were broad daylight. Mockingbirds do this too, I know, but catbirds? Perhaps this one has a bit of actual cat in him. I shut the window and put my earplugs in.

In the morning, the new leaves on the trees seem twice as large as they did yesterday. But why shouldn’t they? Given how warm it was last night, they surely didn’t stop growing just because the sun went down.

Could it be that the catbird’s singing is somehow necessary to the growth of the leaves — that he sings them into being? I play with this idea just long enough for it to pass from absurdity into possibility.

But to listen to a catbird — or one of its cousins, the brown thrasher or the mockingbird — is to realize that spring itself is fundamentally improvisational. The trees, too, are making it up as they go along.

tulip trees with new leaves

Midday storm

This entry is part 91 of 91 in the series Toward Noon: 3verses

 

Goldfinches gad about
in the blossoming crowns of the oaks,
brassy as advertising.

The clouds draw in.
Wood thrushes begin
their evening songs at noon.

Long feathers of rain
on the breeze—a plumage
the exact color of the world.


This ends the series. Thanks for reading.