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

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.


amanita half-eaten
by a white fog of mold

what makes me think
i alone can stay dry

we appear to have entered
a monsoon season

and the spongy moths are mating
having prospered during the drought

the dusty-winged males flutter up
at my every step

through an ankle-high
grove of sassafras sprouts

to my seat against an oak
the sassafras in my thermos

and a seethe of traffic
from the interstate below

losing all its teeth
in the rain-fattened moss

a foot away from my right foot
a green stick caterpillar

clings to the end
of a ghost pipe

the way new beliefs
take root in a convert

held up rigidly
against the clouds

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

East of Eden

millipede under
the lip of my rock

curling into a question mark
as i stand to go

among mountain laurel blossoms
their sticky white cups

falling in the drought-stricken woods
with audible ticks

we’ve had a taste of rain
the moss is soft underfoot

the breeze carries the despairing
rage of a pair of birds

watching their children die
in the sunless tunnel of a snake

who is presumably savoring
her only meal of the week

knowledge of good and evil
extracts a terrible toll

while two trains
meet at a crossing

two broken chords disharmonizing
clear to high heaven

the way my two grandmothers
sometimes meet in me

the strident one
and the contemplative one

on bad air days when everyone
else also sees

this achingly beautiful planet
through a veil of ash

and i don’t know how it seems
to extraterrestrial visitors

but on earth the truth is bitter
it’s an acquired taste

Fire Weather Watch

the dead are not like us
they come in simpler shapes

with worm-eaten hearts
hot for fire, whisper the oaks

in the curling litter of their leaves
under yellowing bracken

a weasel out hunting at dawn
sounds as loud as a deer

on the ridgetops a slow dry rain
of caterpillar droppings

as the cloudless sky whitens
with ash from Canada

no wonder so many insects
seem drawn to my sweat

and a hummingbird comes
each morning to drink from the hose

my deep-mulched garden
will die when my well runs low

but not before I’ve been crowned
emperor of toads


sun in the crowns
of the oaks

ringing less
like a church bell

than the beeper on a truck
backing into a quarry pit

coming over top of the mingled
voices of birds

whose throats each mix
two vocal tracks

into a single braid ah
the wood thrush

redstart red-eyed vireo
and that alluring odor

from a bank of dame’s-rocket
trembling in one spot

i thought just as a chipmunk’s
tail was disappearing

into the lilies
of the valley


Natures are close to one another. It is by practice that they become far apart.
Kongzi, Analects 17.2 (tr. Brian W. Van Norden)

High and lonesome

Sam Pepys and me

The King’s birthday.
Busy all the morning writing letters to London, among the rest one to Mr. Chetwind to give me an account of the fees due to the Herald for the Order of the Garter, which my Lord desires to know.
After dinner got all ready and sent away Mr. Cook to London with a letter and token to my wife.
After that abroad to shore with my Lord (which he offered me of himself, saying that I had a great deal of work to do this month, which was very true).
On shore we took horses, my Lord and Mr. Edward, Mr. Hetly and I, and three or four servants, and had a great deal of pleasure in riding. Among other things my Lord showed me a house that cost a great deal of money, and is built in so barren and inconvenient a place that my Lord calls it the fool’s house.
At last we came upon a very high cliff by the sea-side, and rode under it, we having laid great wagers, I and D. Mathews, that it was not so high as Paul’s; my Lord and Mr. Hetly, that it was. But we riding under it, my Lord made a pretty good measure of it with two sticks, and found it to be not above thirty-five yards high, and Paul’s is reckoned to be about ninety. From thence toward the barge again, and in our way found the people at Deal going to make a bonfire for joy of the day, it being the King’s birthday, and had some guns which they did fire at my Lord’s coming by. For which I did give twenty shillings among them to drink.
While we were on the top of the cliffe, we saw and heard our guns in the fleet go off for the same joy. And it being a pretty fair day we could see above twenty miles into France.
Being returned on board, my Lord called for Mr. Sheply’s book of Paul’s, by which we were confirmed in our wager. After that to supper and then to musique, and so to bed.
The pain that I have got last night by cold is not yet gone, but troubles me at the time of pissing.
This day, it is thought, the King do enter the city of London.

wind give me
an account of the road

work is a horse
riding me

and in so inconvenient a place
high in the sticks

no one coming by
for a drink

I turn my book
into a bed

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 29 May 1660.

Bullshit Walks

found in a flower
one beetle’s quota of sleep

longhorned to graze
in pastures of white

Clintonia or Solomon’s plume
and soon the black cohosh

looking up i spot a raccoon’s
wide-eyed mask

returning my gaze from the crotch
of a dying hemlock

every day has its dog
on Thursday for a long moment

i walked with a yearling bear
ahead of me on the trail

whose walk is it then
one can only wander

on the steep slope
above the railroad

i find a patch of jacks-in-the-pulpit
that the deer missed

a train hurtles past with blue
containers of stink

our daily delivery of refuse
from the megalopolis

i climb through century-old quarries
rocks shift underfoot

still settling
where mountain holly blooms

the breeze wafts ambrosia
from some reclusive azalea

i pause for breath
a vireo chirps in alarm

i stop for lunch
a hooded warbler scolds

down-trail a second-generation
mourning cloak butterfly

circles its dappled
patch of sun

territory folks defending
their stake in the sticks

while a distant cuckoo
chants her own name

gorging on tent caterpillars
and spotted lanternfly larvae

letting strangers
foster her offspring

this is the background
i can’t include in my shots

whenever i stop to snap photos
of new or bigger plants

how green is my mountain now
with so much CO2 in the air

my ankles brush against
the Aladdin lamps of pale corydalis

rising through the still-tender
hayscented ferns

and a mosquito sinks her rig
right through my hat

the sun may descend into haze
but the light’s still perfect

the mountain’s shadow stretching
across the farm valley to my east

i watch a manure spreader
ply the rows of a sterile field

growing the dead zone
out of mind in the Chesapeake

until the wind shifts
and i beat a retreat

back from my walk i turn
the garden with a fork

straining out noodley roots
of invasive brome

dry fists of dirt
crumble at the touch