Freestyle

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.


Epizoochory

spiderweb
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.
Wikipedia

lost dog
enchanter’s nightshade burs
in its ears

tick-trefoil reversing
in mid-air

white spears
of black cohosh
an insomniac firefly

waterfall that only sings
when the stream’s a trickle

children’s cries
the holiday sky empty
but for a vulture

an old quarry road
where deer bed down

snarl
of a bobcat
traffic whine

a wood pewee’s beak
snapping on a moth

gnarled oaks
the sky never runs out
of lightning

fresh bear markings
on the power pole

waist-high ferns
dancing in the wind
such release

(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.

Ode to Interior Life

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.  

Portrait of Late 21st Century Bricoleur

- 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.
 

The universal reader asks:

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


 

Urgent care

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.

*

Urgent Care

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
empty themselves

if my ears conspire
to keep me thick-headed

tonight their little begging bowls
have returned to primal condition

let me dream too
in surround-sound

not of waiting rooms but fireflies
on all sides flashing

and the tireless councils
of the crickets

And Then

 
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.

Fire Tree

"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. 

To Scale

(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. 

In the Glass Museum

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?