New videohaiku: the future…

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

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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.

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


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)

Some Facts About Paradise

paradise never sticks
it’s too purpose-driven

the first wings lacked feathers
the first feathers lacked wings

i used to love the idea of giving
my body to medicine

now i’d rather go back to dirt
and grow mushrooms

paradise in the sticks
may require some assembly

the first godhead went nova
the second is a donut hole

i used to be content
as a content creator

now the cold creeps in
through my hobo coat

paradise on a stick
would taste of oppression

the forest pool in new ice
is a thing with feathers

it goes away in the autumn
a blessing for the frogs

whose eggs would be eaten
if it had year-round residents

wood frogs are wise
and live under rocks

paradise sticks
to the script

Reasons for the season

can seem threadbare
down-right holey

a door opening in a tree
nothing coming out

nights when frost gets lost
in drawing ferns

a fly on the windowsill
rubbing the dust from its eyes

a feral cat hunting voles
the fear in their fur

a joy glossy as bitumen
playing for small change

on one roof two dishes
set out for the same satellite

above the hospital
a cemetery angel

stone wings growing
a new green coat


what do the eyes know
about touching

or the ears about this precipice
of a yawn

whose designer feet
elude the water

you squeaky cleaners
fighting for your lives

even your signatures twist
into moth or rust

my electric heater
may be possessed by demons

but inside my lungs
there’s a city of light

even at the edge of the forest
limbs reach out

such is the hunger
for god’s own sun

i hold the holy book
against my chest

it sits between my nipples
like a little black dog


burning some old barn
beams for fuel

the 19th-century knots
pop like pistols

and my train of thought
goes off the rails

forlornly blowing
its figurative whistle

into a night bright
with fallen snow

we’re all fugitives
from the present moment

in our distracted states
of america

no wonder it takes gunshots
to wake us up

i hear footsteps
in the kitchen

and find myself
in the bathroom mirror

happy to dwell
in this icy stillness

it’s the future
i’d like to escape

a choose-your-own-
doom story

we picture as a shining city
on a hill which once

might have been more
like a mountain

Beyond Belief

ravens have come to out-
number crows here

so we have fewer murders
but more odd cries and gurgling

the October sun glows
in a dull white institutional sky

but in the small hours
how the stars had glittered

Taurus’ V was no bovine face
but a wolf sharp with purpose

clear antagonist
to the well-hung hunter

while Astarte the morning star
had gone over to the morning—

stories to convert a sky
into the heavens

even beyond belief
to be at home in it

this cold milk
curdling overhead

On Pilgrimage

a morning-fresh aroma
from the compost
steaming in the cool air

i descend the mountain
just so i can climb it
yet again

through fog
as soft as the moss
acorns clattering down

the sun’s already out
in the valley for
the annual farm show

and above the gap
the first broad-winged
hawks of the day

spiral high around
a column of rising heat
then hurtle south

while a long rumbling
line of tractors
snakes through the fields

they used to say
rogation was good
for the crops

even bullshit walks
on six legs
bit by bit into the earth


Another day, another poem. Thanks to my brother Mark for the bird info and the Sinking Valley Facebook page for the farm show info. Rogation was/is a Catholic ritual with parallels in folk religions around the world, a form of annual pilgrimage in which a priest leads a procession of local residents in a circuit of the fields.

Basket Case

No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light.
Luke 11:33


night forest restless with autumn
and insect chants

the sound of distant drums
from band practice

overhead the dark canopy
glittering with stars

a train horn’s one-of-a-kind chord
returns me to myself

under an old mother oak
wind paging through the leaves

before moonrise in a woods
as dark as a womb


look what the moon has done
with borrowed light

recycled from that workhorse
with its quotidian round

a light that savors
instead of swallowing whole

oh little white pill
what visions will you precipitate

so this tendril of wakefulness
can corkscrew inward

a reverse heliotropism toward
whatever resists illumination

the unexamined life
like volcanic glass

lightweight and porous
a stone that floats