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.

On the Rocks

the way boulders come together
to make a mountaintop trail

like a puzzle with missing pieces
into which a foot might fit

or a yellow birch root
or a plush runner of moss

it becomes a sanctuary
from the sicknesses borne by ticks

the rashes fevers and nausea
fatigue and brain fog

all the gordian knot holes
untied by death

just off-trail where the fallen
collapse into themselves

and an alarm call passes
from red squirrel to red squirrel

among conifers where the wind
can’t stay still

but the trail rejoins the road
there’s no escape

the bumblebee at my feet
has a fling with some wild basil

dance partners in a small hell
of roadside weeds

the ecological consequence
of a war of each against all

hermit thrushes conjure
a melancholy sweetness

in one key after another
a sob catches in my throat

overhead a vulture banks
on heat rising from the gravel

blue stone gouged out
of adjacent valleys

where the pits someday go back
to shallow seas

wave upon wave of blue ridges
vanishing into the haze

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

Peaceful Societies: Alternatives to Violence and War by Bruce D. Bonta

cover of Peaceful Societies, featuring an image of San rock art

Might it be possible to build a more peaceful world by studying other societies that are already peaceful? It seems logical, right?

I’m grateful to the Global Center for Nonkilling for undertaking the publication of my Dad’s last book, Peaceful Societies: Alternatives to Violence and War, which we discovered in his papers after he died – even Mom hadn’t known about it! It’s his attempt to distill everything he’d learned from 25 years of deep immersion in the anthropological literature about peaceful societies around the world. It’s available as a free download (PDF) or a $15 paperback.

Is it possible to draw conclusions about the possibilities of building a more peaceful world by studying peaceful societies? In response, this book attempts to demonstrate that peaceful societies are inspiring and that they frequently shed light on difficult aspects of the paths to peacefulness; but there are no good, easy, or obvious answers. These groups of people provide inspiration about possibilities, however. The careful reader should be inspired to look for ways forward on many different issues related to building a more peaceful world by studying societies featured in this book: Lepchas, Ifaluk, Semai, Piaroa, Batek, Buid, Ladakh, Kadar, Chewong, Paliyan and others.

Failing to mention that he’d been working on this was typical of Dad, a deeply private person with an unusually low need for external validation. I’ve also been reflecting lately on his boundless faith in human beings to do the right thing – faith not always repaid, of course, but somehow still undaunted. I don’t think he ever really understood why his work documenting peaceful societies never got a whole lot of traction in activist circles, let alone with policy-makers. He just didn’t understand ethnocentrism and parochialism, and how much even supposedly open-minded people are really not interested in learning from non-Western societies, or even from groups like the Amish or Hutterites. But as I think Dad tries to suggest with his opening story of conversing about peacefulness at a local Audubon Society event, true open-mindedness is often more common among people who are not experts in a field and don’t already have their minds made up. Perhaps over time the message will spread. I’m cautiously optimistic that this publication will reach faith leaders, community organizers, and other grassroots leaders for whom alternatives to violence and competition seem less like an ideological challenge than an urgent, practical need.

For more on the book, here’s the Center’s press release. Please share widely. Thank you.

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


At the rest pit I blogged my life out, one oodle per screen. It worked until it didn’t. Until the cows came home, because of course they do, and you toggle on poetry mode thinking to escape into some timeless present. With a present like this, who needs birthdays, amiright? The nerds have learned how to summon demons, and put them straight to work in the search engines that drive our data-mind economy. The demons will be parsing everything I’ve ever written. I write for them now. Though they possess neither organic life nor the capacity to feel, they are my most attentive readers.

in a snow squall
sitting it out

Weather or Not

cloud made of snow
the swirl and twirl of it

at night in a flashlight’s beam
like a swarm of souls

i’ve taken a break from breaking
news of bank runs

to stand on the porch and gaze
up into a well of darkness

cold little dagger-kisses
die on my cheek

the wind has come hissing
down from the ridgetops

and is getting into everything
i can hear it rummaging about

refusing to settle
as the snow does

or the dust indoors that clings
to my canted mirror

slowly burying
my image alive

The Idea of Wallace Stevens in Plummer’s Hollow

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

reading in the woods
book open to the sky

wandering snowflakes
vanish into the text

which is after all
mostly white space

something like a cloud
downloading more cloud

a woodpecker taps
a dead tree creaks in the wind

a hunter’s trail camera
wears a cap of snow

i practice solitude
one day at a time

for how in the holy
hell of other people

could grief still surface
its ancient ice

where in the limbo
of this floating world

could a bear blank as death
still find footing

how in god’s name
is anyone not yet numb

i close the book to preserve
its idea of order

from all these freelance
asterisks and daggers

untamed annotation leading
nowhere but here

Season’s greeting

Snowy scene with a white sun shining through clouds used as the third O in the text: HO HO OH.

All reasons for the season are part of the seasoning—none more so than that ancient lineage the gymnosperms. And, you know, being on a bit of a tilt with one of our two main dance partners in the sky. I feel both these elements are pretty high up in the mix. And Jesus.

I hope you’re feeling as merry as I am right now, even—or especially—if you’re huddled somewhere in a community shelter and/or somebody is shelling your neighbourhood. Let’s take care of each other, and never become inured to the world’s horror — nor to its wonder. Now more than ever we so desperately need peace, love and understanding. Maybe it begins with healing, with learning to walk on the earth like lovers rather than dominators.

Good lord, have I really been such a total hippie all this time?! Yes. Thanks for visiting Via Negativa this year, or reading us in email or in a feed reader—it’s all the same to me. I deeply appreciate anyone who still takes the time for poetry. Joyeux Noel.

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