Luna tick

The trees and I are headed in the same direction: nowhere, but with dignity. Look what happens to the clouds. No fixed residence means no stable identity. To be a vagabond or vagrant is to become vague.

***

Even with the return of so-called standard time, it takes the sun until 7:36 to clear the ridgetop and strike me in my eye as I sit on the porch. This year it just so happens that the leaves are already down, except for the scarlet oaks that dot the ridge — a legacy of 19th-century forest fires. There’s a couple opposite the porch that still cling to their leaves, which are turning crimson in the sun. [Update three days later: the scarlet oaks are bare.]

***

*

Night = enchantment, or what? Whenever I try to read my own work critically I hit a wall. And I feel this is a deep failing though i concede that it may also be a strength.

Just running on pure instinct used to worry me. But now i figure it’s ok as long as the writing is clear. Ambiguous but clear. Like black cherry sap.

***

I need to remember my original childhood spirit animals, Bugs Bunny and Bucky Beaver. Later supplemented by Mad magazine’s What-Me-Worry Kid. What deep truths might they reveal about me? I mean i worry a lot. But i do still have an overbite. Well spotted, my former fellow five-year-olds.

Perhaps I need to remember why i decided never to have kids.

*

When I reach my favorite ridgetop seat, I find it’s already taken:

This katydid is clearly on its last legs. I can go sit somewhere else. It needs all the heat from that rock it can get. And then maybe it’ll have enough strength to climb back up the tree, though its leafy green camouflage won’t work anymore.

It seems wrong that katydids don’t turn color before they fall, poor flightless things.

***

open table
the moon takes every seat…

Couplets like that are clearly just two-line haiku.

***

I am trying to get to a place ideologically where there’s no highbrow, middlebrow, or lowbrow anymore – just more refined and less refined approaches. For example, with forms of theater as disparate as WWE, Italian opera, and Japanese Noh, not to see one as inferior or superior to the others, just different arts for vastly different audiences. Basically I’m applying cultural relativism to the arts.

***

Working on a new videopoem for the first time in nearly a year. It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten many of my habits, which can’t hurt.

***

engorged tick—
blood moon
my ass

The Remains of the Night

the moon falling into a well
and not coming out

an 18-wheeler on an exit ramp
gargling with compressed air

the owl’s open eye
the owl’s closed eye

the hypothetical fact of a fox
a rumor of a coyote

the skillet under two eggs
sunny side up

familiar recorded music
the bits that still surprise

my heel where i landed hard
on a sharp stone yesterday

snag of a hemlock
its roots becoming tunnels

groundwater feeding the stream
feeding the sewage plant

a patched railroad track’s
bright seam of weld

my attempt to see contrails too
as kintsugi

giving each other side-eye
at the polling place

the basket of black
ballpoint pens

hand-colored cards
feeding the machine

afterwards a storm drain cover’s
iron mandala

the condemned building
its quartzitic foundation stones

the shallow pits
where they were quarried

high on the mountainside
traffic roaring below

my lungs laboring
non-stop for 56 years

sap congealed in globs
on black cherry bark

seeming to have a taste
in the way good water does

remembering nothing of my dreams
i chew and chew

Future Tense

a nameless fear approaches
the crickets fall silent

i hear thin things
like teeth chattering

a heart thudding against
its slaughterhouse pen

my caught breath
turns tenuous as a frayed rope

i hear myself saying go on
you don’t exist yet

oh future
voracious as a vacuum

my own appetites have changed
i can count my ribs

what else would you have
me consume

Three Miles, Uphill in Both Directions

the sun was a letter
of the alphabet then

my stomach could pronounce it
better than my mouth

on the walk to school through
two centuries of wreckage

past a ghost village
and the end of town eaten
by the interstate

along train tracks we knew
to get off of when
they started to hum

up over the wooded hill
in the center of town
with its water tank and cemetery

past hidden rooms
with walls of wild grapevines
whispering truancy

down into the industrial classroom
a prison of numbers

where zero seemed to hold
all the keys

Stargaze

Never having believed in happiness, it occurs to me, might have had something to do with why i never actively pursued it. If it showed up regardless, well and good, but in general, day-to-day contentment seemed enough. And you know, maybe it is. For far too many around the world, it’s an unattainable dream.

But what about love, Dave?

And you call yourself a poet!

Pleiades
syncopating
crickets

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.

Hot Planet Summer

Realizing that one of the things I really like about Facebook and Instagram is the mundanity of much of the content. As far outside the mainstream as I am in how I occupy my time and what I like to read and think about, it’s useful to be reminded of normal things that people do, such as attend sporting events, cook on backyard grills, dance to music that nobody loves but almost everyone can tolerate, go on family vacations, etc. Especially at this point in my life, when I know that everyone else is just winging it, too, and that some of the most organized-seeming people are also the most terrified. (And considering the state of the world, if you’re not terrified, I don’t know what to tell you.)

Normality seems precious, now. Many actively debate its existence. I want to commit as much as of it as possible to memory. What we were like. How beautiful the planet still was.

***

mosquito wading
through my arm hair
her caress

stump water
a jake-braking truck’s
thunderous stutter

roadside diner
a vulture walks the last
few feet

stick insect
the wings you can’t grow
would be so green

mossy log
an old lightning strike’s
glossy char

***

How many times can an axis mundi be destroyed before the concept of the sacred becomes completely nonsensical? In the book of death all will be unwritten, but in the name of Life. Those who pray for the end of time and champion the destruction of the planet claim to speak for the unborn. For whom do you claim to speak?

The smell of smoke

I used to love watching Londoners watch the moonrise. At such times, a metropolis can feel like a village; strangers may actually find themselves having spontaneous conversations in one of the most uptight places on earth. The famous views become even more instagrammable: Let no one drink alone with the moon ever again! And the dogs running off-lead in the park, rolling ecstatically in the grass wherever a vixen had sprayed her scent.

open moon—
someone’s fingertip making
a wine glass sing

***

lyrics for an imaginary pop song

eyes on
her wing bones
hot tattoo summer

the voyeur finds
his gaze thwarted
by skin turned screen

close your eyes
and see more
with augmented reality

pay no attention
to the smell of smoke
behind the curtain

***

Ridgetop cellar hole for a collier’s hut. Two hundred years ago, this mountain was a smoking ruin.

An oak that started growing about that time.

Another oak that started growing about that time. Not too long ago, it seemed sturdy enough to get married under. Sic transit gloria mundi.

The charcoal fed the forge in the gap; the forgeman might’ve seen the mountain before it was entirely denuded. It was he and his family who settled it when clearcutting made it affordable. I suspect it had been a place of wet meadows and rhododendron thickets where forge workers liked to go on picnics, gather ginseng and sassafras, go hunting, etc.—a backyard wilderness even as devastated as it was.

***

A click beetle lands in my lap and seems unable to escape, given its strategy of trying to, I guess, freak predators out by snapping its body several inches in the air—and landing right back in the same spot. I take pity on it after six or seven clicks and give it a flick.

Whippoorwill, crickets, an occasional katydid. The moon isn’t due up for… a while. As for me, I’m going down to the house and up to bed.

Bodily

Ghost pipes emerging from the ground always remind me of hattifatteners. And as saprophytes, they are a bit transgressive. I have to say I’m almost surprised they don’t make their way down to the river under cover of darkness and set off for the open sea. As with so many truly original artists, Tove Jansson’s creations come to feel like something that ought to exist. She’s close to the common creative source of everything, one could almost say, skating up to the edge of some very thin ice.

***

One of the things I really like about growing old is learning to feel in my body how time unfolds. This might not be as clear to people who move around a lot, but for example I can see mounds of moss in the woods and remember when they were logs—and before that, when they were trees. I am old enough that if I were a tree, I’d probably already be good for a bit of saw timber.

***

I always tell myself the same thing when I set out: it’s not about the miles, you don’t have to go far. But I almost always do.

I would never have called myself an athlete when I was younger, and I don’t now. There’s a culture of competitiveness and self-improvement around athleticism that is deeply alien to me. But I remember in high school gym class whenever we played soccer, since we’re Americans and had no idea how to play positions, everyone just ran up and down the field with the ball until one by one they dropped out, panting, and it was just Bonta, this weirdo brainiac with no friends, running idly back and forth with the ball and wondering what the hell was wrong with everyone else.

Then as now, the only thing I did differently was walk a bit every day. By the time I was in high school and stopped taking the bus home (which only got us halfway there), I guess I was walking four miles a day with a fair amount of up and down in it—pretty much the same as now. I didn’t run by choice but seemed able to run more or less indefinitely when needed. Some of that is surely down to genetics. But it’s striking how small a daily time commitment is required to reach this condition. “Year-round training!” I hear the athletes chorus. In your world, sure. If I looked at it that way I’d stop doing it tomorrow.

I just like being outside, walking the land. There’s deep sense of satisfaction I get after a walk of sufficient strenuousness and aesthetic pleasure, and I’m not interested in trying to disentangle the two. You can’t really talk about walking without talking about places and how and why we love them. A good part of the “how” is by walking. Some cultures have local pilgrimage traditions—a bit like that, maybe.

***

One of the things I dislike about getting older is the way flies will just brazenly walk around on top of my bald head as if they own the place. Be patient, will you?! Someday all this will be yours.

***

Watching small jets land at a regional airport 40 miles away a half hour past sunset may seem like a pretty minor thrill, but something about that bright, blinking dot descending in total silence gets me every time.

Hyper locals

I think I heard a bear flipping rocks, about a hundred yards downslope from my usual ridgetop reading spot. I never actually saw it, and my first thought was that it was people, but clearly it was the sound of rocks clattering against rocks. I went halfway down for a closer look and saw nothing — but heard two more clacks.

What else could it be? I have seen sections of trails where every other medium-sized rock has been flipped over from one day to the next, presumably either by one very doggedly hungry bear or by a mother with cubs. Black bears love ant larvae and other grubs, and why not? They’re these little soft meat nuggets, and they’re really easy to forage for.

As a straight white guy in my 50s, I just feel this strange compulsion to share random survivalist tips from time to time.

*

Earlier, leaving my house to go up to Mom’s house and start supper, I saw what I thought at first were two funny-looking gray squirrels, except they were brown and the ends of their tails were black, and they ran a little differently… long-tailed weasels! The birds were all sounding alarms. One of the weasels had something small and dark in its mouth.

I couldn’t tell whether they were fighting or just in high spirits, but clearly I had just interrupted something interesting… which had been going on less than ten feet from where I sat inside watching some news bulletin on YouTube. And thereby nearly missing this excellent piece of hyper-local news: we are up to our necks in cottontail rabbits these days.

Weasels aren’t particularly rare, but are highly nocturnal, so we rarely see them.

***

Fireflies against the dark woods. A thin, high, hissing kind of whistle: weasels again?

***

10:51 a.m. and I’m sitting on the other ridgetop enjoying the breeze. The shadows of vultures pass over me as I suckle a series of medium-sized brown moths with the sweat of my arms. A coven of moths circling something in the forest.

***

8:01 pm. A live band somewhere in Sinking Valley, I’m guessing as part of a music festival at the fairgrounds, has just finished a cover of “Surfing USA.” I’m looking at a healthy stand of scrub oak with dread: some time this month, a contractor for the power company is going to broadcast herbicide along the powerline right of way, right up to our property line, which goes down the middle of each ridge.

*

Wood thrush singing behind me, rockabilly in the distance, mosquito in my ear.

*

And now the crickets that sound like maracas as I sit on the bench at the top of the hollow looking out toward a darkening vista lit up here and there by little ejaculations of fireworks.

From closer by, but hidden by the spruce behind me, one of the Sinking Valley farmers is playing local big man with an impressive-sounding barrage. It all echoes off the side of the ridge to my left for an overall interesting if unpleasant sonic experience. It ends as all such displays do with the loudest and I’m guessing most spectacular blasts.

You’d think the existence of Viagra would make such displays less necessary somehow.