Can't count how many times people have said they can't believe you don't know how to swim— An island girl like you? How to explain that ringed by water didn't mean ticket to the local country club, the only place then where one could join groups of chlorinated children in their summer rituals: as guest, not born to, no silver pacifier in the mouth. Though you're still afraid of water anytime it rises above your chin, you learn other versions of treading— resistance against indifference to your subjectivity, your speech, your body and manner of cleaving a path one arrow, one stroke at a time.
on my glasses
name that tune
Animals can disperse plant seeds in several ways, all named zoochory. Seeds can be transported on the outside of vertebrate animals (mostly mammals), a process known as epizoochory.
enchanter’s nightshade burs
in its ears
of black cohosh
an insomniac firefly
waterfall that only sings
when the stream’s a trickle
the holiday sky empty
but for a vulture
an old quarry road
where deer bed down
of a bobcat
a wood pewee’s beak
snapping on a moth
the sky never runs out
fresh bear markings
on the power pole
dancing in the wind
(See illustrated version of this linked-verse sequence at Woodrat photohaiku)
When my brothers and I were kids, on the 4th of July we got to run around with sparklers until the box was empty and then collapse on the lawn and watch fireflies. That’s genius-level parenting, I now recognize.
Sometimes Dad drove us all up to the top of the field so we could watch Penn State fireworks 25 miles away, following a late picnic supper. Sure, we needed binoculars to really appreciate them, but it was “so much better without all the people!” Mom would exclaim. And it was, I suppose.
I still like nothing better than sitting out in the meadow watching the firefly show, and on the Fourth, there’s a soundtrack. At the moment, that includes sirens. The family of barred owls starts making monkey sounds up on the ridge. The barrage continues.
Were you born alone or did you grow up with others? As soon as you gained some sense of discernment, could spell your name and recite the alphabet, read books (what is a chapter book anyway?), were you taught to run your fingers down the roster of words in both dictionary and telephone directory? In an emergency, were you capable of calling the family doctor's number and summoning him, through tears? Come quickly, I think someone here may be dying. You knew the smell of fruit pinched too soon off the branch, of blood bundled into rags and tossed in the trash; the look of skins palpated for fulness or its lack. When you became more shy and introverted, you could understand why others found you strange for preferring prisms blown from soap and the sap of pounded hibiscus leaves. You didn't always remember the distinction between latrine and labyrinth, cold brew and plain iced coffee. But it pleased you when your tongue could unlock the undertones: vanilla, five spice, orange peel, extra anise.
- after "When the Universe granted my prayer I didn't want it anymore," Natalie d'Arbeloff; acrylic on canvas board, 10 x 14 inches After the multiplexes and carnivals closed for good, I learned to build little rafts out of brittle waffle cones patched together with leftover sunscreen and saltwater taffy. If some dudes managed to rig wire and feathers to their arms with honey and beeswax, why couldn't I use my own native resources? But looking out over the lip of my wobbly Ferris wheel saucer, I realized water might be the only way left to go. No one wanted to get on a plane anymore since runways and airport terminals were littered with the bones of negative pressure room tents. Sometimes, streaked by moonlight, they looked like giant blue cocoons whose flaps were shredded in a gale. The air inside had long left the building— perhaps, also the ghosts that once curled up on cots. I'd prayed for a destination that wasn't here, yet not too far in the there, there of ambiguous reassurance. I remembered some of the things we used to say to each other—like the one about the world being your oyster; or how the endless horizon means beyond imagining or don't look back.
why do people make it sound like their sufferings are caused by the whims of the majority why should we call them hate crimes when there aren't any joy or sadness crimes how long do you want to keep chewing on the same bone what's wrong with wanting to make money why can't you just move on and get over it why don't you look for the good in things for a change
Reading The Galloping Hour: French Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Patricio Ferrari and Forrest Gander — stuff she wrote in Paris, in between the searing micropoems in Arbol de Diana that made her reputation. And it’s curious how much more verbose she was in French. Choosing to record her thoughts in a language not native to her strikes me as incredibly gutsy. That doesn’t always make the results as readable as her Spanish translations or condensations might have been (the project was incomplete when she died). But without all the blank space of her micropoetry, her genius still dazzles but in almost an oppressive way—there’s such a feeling of claustrophobia and desperation.
Speaking of claustrophobia and desperation, I spent an interesting hour at an urgent care center in Altoona today getting my earwax situation taken care of. I’m someone who rarely interacts with the medical system, so I’ve been struck by just how many times I have had to tell my story to one medical professional after another, always starting with my date of birth, each time getting a bit more expansive as the situation seems to demand.
The narrative is bigger than me now; I am merely its avatar. I am currently sitting alone in a small, pale-green room with an enormous framed photo of a flower on the wall opposite. It has a certain watchfulness about it. The air conditioning is a little too cold but it keeps me awake.
Another nurse; another recitation of the story. I am to be irrigated. The nurse agrees it’s much too cold. I get a hospital gown to wrap around my bare arms. A nap may be in order.
The irrigation worked. I can hear again! The nurse who flushed it out said it looked as if my home treatments had helped soften things up, so probably had I kept it up for another week, I would’ve saved myself a drive to Altoona, and I’m guessing a small mountain of paperwork in the mail. Thanks, Obama! The important thing is to protect the profits of the insurance racket.
But it gives me a personally satisfying conclusion to my narrative, which now no longer feels suspect. I should’ve grabbed a photo of one of the plugs of earwax, but it all happened too quickly.
And now a new narrative intrudes: just as the doctor enters, a phone call from Mom: a violent thunderstorm took out our electricity. I’m sorry to have missed it.
Just two close lightning strikes, but one of them hit the transformer. That’s life on a mountaintop for you. The repair guy was here in less than an hour, as opposed to the usual, more widespread outages in which we often wait half a day or more (because towns and villages get restored first). So Mom and I felt figuratively as well as literally empowered. And the repairman seemed to enjoy the drive up the hollow.
So that makes two easy, satisfying conclusions to dire-sounding situations. Meanwhile it’s crushingly hot and humid and I have not had my walk.
My medical history is on file as of today with two dates: my birth in 1966, and today’s visit. I have a BMI, blood pressure, respiratory rate, etc. — all the vital signs of a modern medical subject. I logged into my Secure Patient Portal to read today’s Clinical Summary and was delighted by this:
CHIEF COMPLAINT AND REASON FOR VISIT NARRATIVE
Patient Reports: Hearing loss [Onset: 7 Day(s); Location: Reports R > L, Bilateral; Free text: OTC treatment not helping; Quality: Reports Muffled sounds, Silence; Timing: Reports Constant; Context: Reports Hx of similar Sx’s in past, Hx of cerumen impaction].
A sunset walk. A few freshly downed trees to scramble through. Fewer midges and mosquitoes, despite the increasing humidity.
Listening to a wood thrush song battle at close range through recently irrigated ears is a great pleasure. Nuances of tone I’d been missing. The physical feeling of wind in my ear hairs at the same time, like a simultaneous translation.
The thrushes end as abruptly as they began and go their separate ways. Black cherries—small, stony fruits—are falling in the breeze, but it took me a little while to work that out. They sound like random footfalls in the darkening woods.
There are easily three times more fireflies tonight than there were last weekend. Descending through the meadow, I feel like I’m walking through someone else’s acid trip.
I’ve never understood poets who need to go to cities to feel energized or inspired. I have lived in Osaka, Taipei, and London, and they were each fascinating in their way, but Plummer’s Hollow is where I feel most often moved to write. Having frequent social interactions with lots of my fellow human beings was vital in my twenties and a bit into my thirties, but one never quite gets over habits of isolation bred during one’s formative years. And I used to take such long walks then, with zero preparation or planning.
wind in my ears as if
a wood thrush could whisper
i hear someone taking
improbably far-apart steps
in the sound of black cherry trees
putting their pieces into play
those who like certainty
have the solace of mathematics
those who love the wild
if my ears conspire
to keep me thick-headed
tonight their little begging bowls
have returned to primal condition
let me dream too
not of waiting rooms but fireflies
on all sides flashing
and the tireless councils
of the crickets
We were living inside one unending elegy— tunnel beaded with concertina wire, spattered with graffiti: with words like worker for slave, involuntary relocation for slavery, pacification for war. Controlled intake, recalibrate: the long arms of disinformation reached with stump- bristled brushes, relentless battering, a bent to normalize the condition of wounding. Ceilings still hummed with the echo of machines from a million T-shirt and gym shoe factories around the world, with live looping reels of caged animals eating cutely from our hands. Ditches filled with oil- slicked birds. Sadly, we participated. And so what was coming had mostly come. This is what happened. We were so sure we could see it coming until we couldn't. It all happened so fast.
"I often think there is a tree inside me." ~ Sean Thomas Dougherty Along the walk to the building where I teach, towering magnolias are putting forth blossoms, though blossom doesn't seem to be the right word for the large, ivory-skirted cup that opens so you can smell its dense musk before you see the clutch of spent matchsticks at its center. In childhood, we learned proverbs about the bamboo: how its thickets quickly surround you and are difficult to cut down, because they know how to bend and let the winds have their way. Is that what I'm supposed to be? If I were a tree or if there was a tree growing inside me, I'd want it to catch the last light every day before the world darkens. I'd want that light to hold inside me even when the wood crackles from drought, even when flames erupt out of every limb leathered from the effort to keep flowering, rooting.
(Ithaca, NY) The distance between planets multiplied by the factors of human space plus detritus of time. The obelisk of the sun and its round window without glass— What the markers don't say is you can't tether a galaxy to your wrist the way you loop the ribbon of a grocery store balloon around the hand of a child.
Lenses stacked on lenses are supposed to make a clearer field for the eye to see, to make a beam from a lighthouse carry through fog and rain. There is a village of little red glass houses with slate blue roofs, above which is gathered and poised a storm of daggers. By the side of a road, a dark flock of carrion birds tears at flesh and drinks ruby shards of blood. In an atrium flooded with celadon light, a string of blown glass beads hangs from the ceiling's invisible neck. What else of our broken or breakable lives enters into this archive, without our consent?