April Diary 28: failing upward, tumbleweed, new beasts

This entry is part 28 of 31 in the series April Diary

 

failure i love you
i suckle you on my bile
and on my melancholy

i see the above-ground hollow in the roots turned trunk of a black birch – that space where a rotting stump had stood — as a magnificent monument to failure

as i suppose we all are, safe perches for new sprouts, new rivers flowing upstream with sweet sap

but that stump had been an oak where now there are only birches and our failures outnumber the trees

our oceangoing freight outweighs the estimated mass of all living organisms in every ocean

the sickly sweet fumes of our failure have driven out all but the severest of angels in heaven

those with the fire
and the brimstone


hiking for three hours before i sit down and take out my tea. i can’t have covered more than five miles in all that time, but who cares. it’s been a good ramble in the gloom


graupel starts falling as i walk the last mile back to the house

thinking a lot about likely ecological futures this afternoon. it occurs to me that one advantage native species have over generalist invaders is in many cases much more genetic variation — essential in a world where drought is followed by a flood year, freak storms become common and last and first frost dates vary wildly. if global trade significantly declines that will give native ecosystems a bit more breathing room, and the invaders will inevitably begin to decline as pests and diseases catch up with them

Japanese stiltgrass

or so i’d like to think

near the bottom of the hollow today, rolling up the road in the wind i spotted an actual tumbleweed, i think

another invasive species coming in via the railroad. i love trains, but.

further up the hollow in a side ravine i spotted what looked like a recent scent marking on a beech: scratch marks and i’m guessing urine.

bobcat?

and from a little further up, at the end of the last logger in Plummer’s Hollow‘s last skid trail before my parents finally got him stopped (as detailed in Mom’s book Appalachian Autumn) here are the only two sycamore trees in the hollow, growing about 50 feet apart, both sprouted right after the logging so around 1990

seeing that second one as a single individual and not conjoined twins so to speak

anyway that’s where my head was today and also by sheer coincidence my feet

i liked this stanza today from Zang Di:

Language lives secretly. It lives out life’s
other flavors. Language waits for you to appear
and permits other lives under the sun.

Zang Di, “Secret Linguistics Series” (tr. Eleanor Goodman)

he’s got a point. without storytelling, without narratives, without song and poetry, we’d be forsaken in a way we can hardly imagine. our lives would shrink to the present moment in all its terrifying immediacy. but we take language so for granted, like fish take the sea for granted. who knows what other fantastic beasts this language of ours may yet harbor

that’s why i write poems: to discover new beasts

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 19: onion snow

This entry is part 19 of 31 in the series April Diary

 

Dear April forget drunken sailors, what shall we do with a poet who can barely use a pen?

trying to write bananas on a shopping list my hand gets lost in some kind of 70s folk-rock song going na na, na na na na. i add an s and squint at the result: it might be right. fortunately it’s a nearly illegible scrawl so who can tell

weird to lose that muscle memory though

(again with the muscle memory)

(i do keep a pocket notebook in my pack for when my phone poops out)


an email from Black Lawrence Press with the subject line 50% Off All Poetry Titles! got my attention pretty quick. i wish more publishers would put their money where their mouth is about poetry month. shared the good news on Twitter and ordered three books including two i’d been meaning to get for a while, Shanna Compton’s Creature Sounds Fade and Kristy Bowen’s sex & violence, plus [ G A T E S ] by Sahir Muradi


got a notice that a book i was really excited about had arrived at the post office box (no we don’t get delivery up here) so i thought i’d walk in town for it. it was sleeting but the forecast said snow. i can dress for snow i thought

don’t know why i don’t walk into town more often, it’s a little over two miles away and Tyrone is nothing if not photogenic. i don’t even mean that ironically

the I-99 overpasses are something of a feature. LIFE’S A BLUR says the graffiti. especially from the interstate, yes

i don’t have to go to the big city for a dose of urban bleakness

i was a bit shocked to see some graffiti promoting a website that preaches violent fascist revolution. a sign of the times?

i don’t know what they did to the surface of the sidewalk on the 10th Street bridge but i think i got a contact high

it started snowing pretty hard while i was in the post office

you might think given my usual snobbishness about cliched images that i would resist the temptation to take lots of photos of blossoming trees in the snow

you’d be wrong

snow on cherry blossoms beside Reliance Bank

but the snow wasn’t the only thing making the town seem a bit surreal…

as long as we have public librarians who do quietly subversive things like commission a painting of the Lorax on the sidewalk, i tend to think we’ll be OK as a society

the new country core shop at the end of the street has slightly terrifying window displays

then there’s the salvage yard…

honesty compels me to admit that i removed some racist graffiti from this image in processing — not to try to whitewash the town’s image but because if i left an n-word in, that’s all the photo would be about, inevitably, and i just wanted to focus on the aesthetic contrast here. that said i did keep a version of the photo with the hateful word intact for documentary purposes. like, this is America. Childish Gambino got it right

BUT a single (? let’s hope) hate-filled individual not only doesn’t represent Tyrone, s/he doesn’t even represent local street artists as the adjacent overpass demonstrates. shout out to these kids whoever they are

one appears to be a fan of Gardner’s ice cream parlor

a freight came along

the advice to be sic [sic] is certainly intriguing. are there pro-Covid radicals or is this just an old-school Satanist i wonder

the fun thing about walking up the mountain while it’s snowing hard is that it gets prettier as you climb. which does kind of seem like what should happen when you climb a mountain doesn’t it

i do worry about all the wildflowers and especially the flowering fruit trees of course. above is part of our trillium patch

these are not supposed to be white trilliums, they’re wake-robins. who probably wish they could go back to sleep

i never get tired of looking at snow on hemlocks though

there was one hepatica blossom still just visible, one exposed purple petal like an outstretched tongue

some black cohosh sprouts weren’t looking too happy

but damn the hollow was purty

the witch hazels are probably feeling pretty smug about their whole blooming-in-November deal

i tried drinking my tea on the one bench along the hollow road but my umbrella wasn’t really up to the task and my primary mission was to get the mail home dry and in one piece

as long a winter as we had, there weren’t more than half a dozen snows this pretty

so i’m not entirely crazy to celebrate the beauty of it, destructive as it is

a hen turkey trotted across the road in front of me and all i got was this lousy photo

i tend to forget this forsythia is here even though it’s right across from my house—when not in bloom it just kind of blends into the woods’ edge

a photo so obligatory i sighed as i took it. poor downcast daffodils

all in all a classic onion snow. and not a surprise because the poetry bloggers i follow who live out west got it last week. looks as if we’ve gotten about five inches now

if i’d brought a larger umbrella and worn my snow boots i could’ve stayed out longer but i was happy to get home and start the book i’d hiked in town for

Italian poet Elisa Biagini’s first collection translated in full

it’s a trip


at around four in the afternoon i sometimes feel a rush of happiness and i think that’s because four o’clock was when we got home from school after walking up the mountain

today i was happy like that so i made some decaf coffee and processed all these photos because why waste a good mood on just feeling good and i admit i’m not as free of the American obsession with productivity as i might like to think


after supper i finished the erasure poem i’d been working on. the second stanza is distinctly Simic-esque. wasn’t quite sure what tied the three stanzas together until i hit on the post title: Unseasonable


my Moving Poems co-blogger Marie Craven just reminded me of this video featuring the wonderful Australian spoken-word poet Caroline Reid

Reid calls it

A playful fusion of poetry, visual art and film in which a reflective middle-aged poet discovers that life’s interruptions to writing poetry are the very substance from which poems emerge.

exactly.

(Marie is planning to share more of Reid’s work on Moving Poems so keep an eye out for that)

Hunting mushrooms

View on Vimeo.

A videohaiku shot yesterday on Hampstead Heath, where various autumn mushrooms are appearing in the leaf duff and meadows. I’ll admit, though, I had eyes mainly for the trees, as usual, and came home empty-handed except for some pretty images.

The vignetting effect is beginning to feel a bit cheesy to me, but I used it without hesitation here, perhaps because the subject of the second half of the video is the essence of cheesiness. The same thinking guided my choice of font. But it’s fine, because as I’ve said before, haiku are supposed to be somewhat light-hearted.

field mushroom, Hampstead Heath

Winter trees

A new videopoem using footage that Rachel shot from the Amtrak back in December. Do read her blog post about that journey, which includes a different clip from the same footage. I particularly liked this observation:

Trees! So many trees, their leaf-free branches strobing the setting sun when it was behind them, turning pink gold when it shone on them, revealing the geological contours through their branches of the land on which they grow.

Landscape scenes shot from moving trains or cars are so common in videopoetry, they’re almost a cliche, but this is a new variation on that theme, I think.

The Hollow (45)

This entry is part 45 of 48 in the series The Hollow

 

in this foreign land
Norway maple leaves turn
ugly

 

upside-down somehow
in my phone’s photo

false Solomon’s-seal

 

backwater

stream-blurred trees come into
sharper focus

 

Keep Your Dog on a Leash

the notice board co-signed
by porcupine teeth

The Hollow (44)

This entry is part 44 of 48 in the series The Hollow

 

tall hemlock
nearly dead from adelgids

unfeathered

 

every year more rain

railroad noise burrows
into the ferns

 

that ice avalanche

my brother’s mark on a tree
lost to moss

 

two faces
on the side of a beech

one has no mouth

The Hollow (43)

This entry is part 43 of 48 in the series The Hollow

 

200 years old
or ten thousand

former road/streambed

 

rhododendron trunk

bare as high as a starving deer’s
neck can stretch

 

elevation measured
by the number of unripe
spikenard berries

 

slow-creeping slope

all the tree boles curved
to keep their balance

The Hollow (42)

This entry is part 42 of 48 in the series The Hollow

 

whispering against
the road from both sides

endless water

 

backhoe toothmarks

our complicated relationship
with the mountain

 

gabion wall

the quarried stones softening
with moss at last

 

a beech log’s pale skin
beginning to rupture

that rich ferment

The Hollow (41)

This entry is part 41 of 48 in the series The Hollow

 

38 years old

the one-acre blowdown
is all grown up

 

how big was that wind

twin basswood trunks
still stretch wide

 

one beech limb
has grown back into the tree

the storm was too much

 

they heard the wind
a half mile away

the hollow’s own howl