in an oak forest whispery
with caterpillar droppings

an ovenbird steps out
on her pink feet

as i drink my pink tea
of sassafras and milk

the sun slides down
a silk thread

whose absent abseiler tracks
a shadow back to its tree

a caterpillar with whiskers
as bristly as a streetcleaner

entering a dark valley
in the bark of a chestnut oak

follows it up the trunk
propelled by its gut pulsing

in sync with the prolegs
from hump to hump

driven almost literally by hunger
a body within the body

that one day will crawl out
with wings and gonads

an overwhelming urge to mate
and no mouth

the female so full of eggs
she will not be able to fly

i finish my lunch
the male ovenbird is singing

a carpenter ant goes past
carrying a splinter

Lonesome Holler

Sometimes I think the loneliness would be unbearable if I weren’t surrounded by ghosts. But seeing fireflies this early in May gives me an eerie feeling. The crescent moon is nearly alone in the sky, glimmering through a scrim of clouds. The aurora got rained out, and now the night is loud with all the voices of water as it runs off a mountain.

It occurred to me recently that in hilly country, those who are afraid of heights like me might often end up on mountaintops, because going straight up a steep hillside usually feels safest. Going sideways is scary, and downhill too perilous to contemplate. So onward means upward simply to avoid the abyss.

making the stars quake mountaintop peeper


the green of moss on an oak
three years dead

the green of greenbriar
on which a deer has grazed

the green of a bench in the woods
where vows were once exchanged

the green of garlic mustard
before it becomes too bitter

the green of ferns that have borne
the weight of snow

the green of winter wheat in the distance
when the sun comes out

the green of lichen on a rock
finding everything it needs

the green of leaves that won’t return
to a toppled witness tree

the old green of trailing arbutus
rushing into bloom for a few cold flies

Plummer’s Hollow, PA
March 17, 2024

Mourning Cloak

moss like sadness
hiding old wounds

a mourning cloak butterfly
touches down

accompanied by a hydraulic drill
hammering at the quarry

and the screech of steel
from a passing coal train

the butterfly’s dark wings
edged in white look immaculate

after months secluded under
some loose flap of bark

all systems shut down
cells flooded with antifreeze

now come miraculously back
to green unshaded moss

waiting for the sun to open
her bluest wings
of pure grief

Garter Snake

what i had taken for a path
you knew to be home

your long striped road of a body
coiled in last year’s leaves

poised for whatever the first
day of spring might bring

to a hill scarred and scoured
by centuries of exploitation

i study your legless stance
you gaze off to the north

your tongue flickering
i hold out marshmallow hands

show me how to inhabit
one thought at a time

even if i cannot simply
crawl out of an old skin

i could hone my cravings
till they’re small and sharp

January Blues

shadows on the snow
stretched out as if in prayer

the sound made by a spring
as ice smothers it

news that breaks and breaks
on slow snowshoes left right

here the urgent leaps
of a white-footed mouse

there a coyote pair
taking turns breaking trail

squirrels in heat
their labyrinthine urges

skeletal feathers of frost
where a vole is breathing

all just uphill from the interstate
a thing shown on maps

and a town in the mountains
taken over by mountains of snow

in every parking lot
another white peak

the pigeons rise
become a flock of rock doves

revolving in the blue
like a stuck tire

The Hollow After Christmas

where a buck rubbed
the felt from his crown

fog drifts through the trees
without getting snagged

the day after Christmas
it’s not accurate to say the ground is bare

it hosts a 10-million-piece puzzle
of the fallen in brown and gray

a hickory nut still in its hull
is riding out the rain

like my last lost idea
nestled among roots

a red flourish of surveyor’s paint
flakes from a dead oak

while a power pole marked up by bears
is turning green

who knows what markings
might outlive us

stay too long in one place
and all the faces change

the once-vernal pools
now hold water year-round

which means we’re witnessing
the birth of a bog

it fattens on raindrops
each one a bull’s eye

the water seems murky
but it’s only the fog’s reflection

down below this cloud ceiling
a train blows its horn three times

instead of the usual six
i keep listening for the rest

my fingers grow cold
daylight begins to fade

shadows flit through the woods
heading for their roosts

at a crossroads of trails
traffic is light

just the clouds and me and then
just the clouds

Winter Bells

high above the town
a tree rests on a black stone of sap

like an exclamation mark
for a life sentence

or the old hearth and chimney
that i found yesterday

standing alone
deep in the state forest

we are confronted by the absent
the deciduous undead

drained of sap
immune to the provocations of sunlight

their pantomimes of desire
reduced to mere architecture

while stones dance
through freeze and thaw

all winter long now
rocking in their cradles of leaves

the day after the solstice
the sun reappears

in the dark ice-free end
of a woodland pool

for a long moment just after noon
amid the clamor of bells

The Turn

it starts with a zipper in the rain
that soft syllable

an oak leaning into
its impending death

you can shelter under it
as open as a book

it starts red and wrong
as an oak apple

old sapsucker holes bleeding
pale sap down a spruce

rain collecting in a hollow
atop an exposed birch root

so the tree can mainline it
like an autumn addict

mushrooms glory
in their fruiting bodies

as black drupes swell on maple-
leafed viburnum

and beechdrops’ self-fertilized flowers
hide under a twiggy bouquet

it’s a kind of spring
buried in the heart of autumn

just before antlers turn
from trees into weapons

and every leaf in the forest
goes off-script

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