September Ghosts

fog forms in the meadow
at first light

rising from the mop-
topped goldenrod

as if it were the conjoined breaths
of a shadowy golden horde

massed against the bald
white fact of the barn

its credible rooflines

in the same dark green as
the ridges that flank the field

the barn’s ridgeline broken
by a slatted cupola

to draw air through
whether for hay or horses

or once a hundred years ago
a circus elephant

who spent the summer tethered
on the threshing floor

no one can remember why
only that it was here and lonely

like the young lady
a generation later

who came to the hollow to hide
an unplanned pregnancy

one winter shuttered up
in the summer house

with a church organ
they heard her playing Bach

for years after she and the child
died together at birth

every Appalachian hollow
has its share of ghosts

but the sun tops the ridge
and the fog shapes vanish

catching in spiderwebs
glistening on the breast of a wren

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

A Walk in the Park

dead tree green
with poison ivy

sugar maples self-grafting
like circus freaks

a black birch wearing
a hollow locust tree like a coat

these are among
the unsettling attractions

at the Allegheny Portage Railroad
National Historic Site

a monument to the great unsettling
of the American West

but what’s bitter in the morning
may be sweet by afternoon

i drink hot tea from a thermos mug
like an offering to the heat

staying one pace ahead
of my cloud of insects

though i stop for everything:
the man-made cliffs

dripping with native plants
the detours to peer

at old stone culverts
the interpretive signs

slowly being reinterpreted
by age and weather

preservation and transformation
are dance partners here

foundations are buried
for their protection says a sign

with a photo of the little we’re missing
in black and white

meanwhile the bumblebees
are making love to yellow touch-me-nots

Bombylius major pokes his pointy snout
deep into a lobelia

and a mother leads two teenagers
on a sullen walk for their health

now we are beginning
to get somewhere i think

as an alarmed pickerel frog
disappears into his puddle

and although one might wish
for less proximity to a highway

the trees are old and strange
and i am in my element

no longer on the way to elsewhere
people choose to live here in the hills

our journeys are local
our histories are brief

a sign exhorts us to leave
no trace

August 25, 2023

Doom Loop

just past the last internet tower
a rattlesnake’s elegant S

slipping through the crushed stone
almost makes you
want its skin

and divining this
its terminal bones
buzz in your direction:

down-ridge over the rocks’
stormwater eyes

which let you pass through them
as easily as the vultures

or the common mullein
at the first overlook

from a seed planted
by a hiker’s boot

on a well-loved trail
a raccoon’s footprint

might spell hard luck
for endangered wood rats

and yes most of the old trees
have fallen to new blights or pests

that travel the same
pilgrimage route

hemlock woolly adelgids
hitching rides on birds’ feet

spongy moth caterpillars
ballooning in each June

but the vistas are glorious
one can still dream wilderness dreams

ignoring recent clearcutting
in the swampy woods below

the old oaks that remain up here
are still so extravagant

seeming to gesture
seeming to conjure up

you can find forests two inches tall
made of gray-green lichen

stop to watch a slug
cross a jagged rock

a study in single-mindedness
gliding on his/her orange foot

or a sharp-shinned hawk
might speak to you

from atop a snag
your eyes meet

you notice how the branch
keeps swaying after he flies

launching into the green-
feathered wind

descent is difficult
who wouldn’t rather stay high

on a mountain stretching
half-way across the state

low as a wrinkle
in the earth’s hide

this would-be spine where pines
grow old and empty

and you peer into the largest one
and find another snake

this time no wilderness creature
but a black rat snake

coiled and sleeping like
the climber’s rope that it is

nearby a tussock caterpillar
yo-yos in mid-air

white and bristly
as a lost eyebrow

and charmed you decide
to walk all afternoon

looping back
in the long shadows
to your car

Jackson Trail, Rothrock State Forest
August 11, 2023

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

Dog Days

linked-verse sequence

small talk…
the enormity
of the heat

dog day cicadas
in and out of sync

calling once
for old times’ sake
wood pewee

a hay rake at rest
with its teeth turned up

distant shot
or just the ice settling
in a glass

the old picnic blanket
attracting hornets

swimming hole
the low drone
of an incoming horsefly

blades of deer tongue grass
parsing out the shade

dolls’ eyes
clustered on a stalk
daddy longlegs

her schizophrenic brother
searching the sky

the sudden press of bodies
under a roof


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

Extra Terrestrial


hiding out is hard
you get mistaken for a hermit

beaches are retreating inland
water is retreating to the sea

i continue to dwindle
like an old seed potato

giving all i have
to my wandering eye


i’ve taken to sleeping
in a sleek reflective coffin

i’m trying to trick the planet
into swallowing me


reverse engineers
reinvent the wheel as a halo

sugar too was once
a rare gift

then some sold others
into slavery for it

far away they said
in a new world


everywhere more alone
in an expanding universe

dark are the matters
preoccupying the stars

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