Burlesque

In a forest of headless trees, the one tree with a burl is Pope of Fools.

It’s no accident that burl rhymes with pearl. I mean, it is an accident, but one that makes you think.

If you’re ever in the woods and feel as if you’re being watched, that may be due to the presence of burls. Though to me they have more of a listening air about them.

Brain surgeons could train on them but don’t, as far as I know. Woodworkers could turn them into bowls, and some do.

Such a bowl wouldn’t do for an ordinary salad. It would have few if any practical applications. You’d just want to have it out on display where you and your friends can gather around, standing very still and whispering whenever there’s a wind.

Luna tick

The trees and I are headed in the same direction: nowhere, but with dignity. Look what happens to the clouds. No fixed residence means no stable identity. To be a vagabond or vagrant is to become vague.

***

Even with the return of so-called standard time, it takes the sun until 7:36 to clear the ridgetop and strike me in my eye as I sit on the porch. This year it just so happens that the leaves are already down, except for the scarlet oaks that dot the ridge — a legacy of 19th-century forest fires. There’s a couple opposite the porch that still cling to their leaves, which are turning crimson in the sun. [Update three days later: the scarlet oaks are bare.]

***

*

Night = enchantment, or what? Whenever I try to read my own work critically I hit a wall. And I feel this is a deep failing though i concede that it may also be a strength.

Just running on pure instinct used to worry me. But now i figure it’s ok as long as the writing is clear. Ambiguous but clear. Like black cherry sap.

***

I need to remember my original childhood spirit animals, Bugs Bunny and Bucky Beaver. Later supplemented by Mad magazine’s What-Me-Worry Kid. What deep truths might they reveal about me? I mean i worry a lot. But i do still have an overbite. Well spotted, my former fellow five-year-olds.

Perhaps I need to remember why i decided never to have kids.

*

When I reach my favorite ridgetop seat, I find it’s already taken:

This katydid is clearly on its last legs. I can go sit somewhere else. It needs all the heat from that rock it can get. And then maybe it’ll have enough strength to climb back up the tree, though its leafy green camouflage won’t work anymore.

It seems wrong that katydids don’t turn color before they fall, poor flightless things.

***

open table
the moon takes every seat…

Couplets like that are clearly just two-line haiku.

***

I am trying to get to a place ideologically where there’s no highbrow, middlebrow, or lowbrow anymore – just more refined and less refined approaches. For example, with forms of theater as disparate as WWE, Italian opera, and Japanese Noh, not to see one as inferior or superior to the others, just different arts for vastly different audiences. Basically I’m applying cultural relativism to the arts.

***

Working on a new videopoem for the first time in nearly a year. It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten many of my habits, which can’t hurt.

***

engorged tick—
blood moon
my ass

Rainiac

In the house of rain, all are kin. Consider the toadstool releasing its spores when the rain comes knocking. Many of those spores drift up into the atmosphere, where they become cloud condensation nuclei and give birth to new raindrops—with moisture released by the trees. I recite this true fable to myself as I trudge through the downpour.

that scent
of wet rhododendrons—
Pop-pop’s place

*

I like how the world is textured.

Visually and aurally and in food webs and ecological niches.

The endless intricacy and beauty of it.

It’s utterly entrancing sometimes, like the best rave ever.

*

Whatever i tell myself, it’s never enough. Understanding begins with listening.

Right now what i’m hearing is a mosquito’s singular need, crickets calling for a mate, a truck jake-breaking down a steep grade, and an transcontinental jet’s dull eraser. Plus the steady rhythm of my own steps, descending a different mountain than my own. All this can be music if I let it.

Nuthatch, chickadee. Are the winter flocks already beginning to form?

Thunder. I rummage quickly for the poncho in my pack. The downpour feels like a rather over enthusiastic masseuse.

One-winged wasp

for sale:
wilderness
travel
trailer

wilderness is within you my friend

assuming you have a healthy gut microbiome

*

we live in a time of signs and wonders

known as the present moment. a moment in which a tiger swallowtail might be bugging off but you capture it anyway in a good-enough-for-the-internet photo on your phone

E.T. was prophesy man i mean look at us now we are all extra, extra terrestrial man, just always phoning home. I guess that’s what it means to be terrestrial

a log i’ve stepped over hundreds of times was garnished today with these distinctive-looking cup fungi which i have never seen before in my life

***

it’s interesting to consider how much or how little work the word “natural” does in a phrase such as “natural smoke flavor added”

***

mayapples may not ripen until August it turns out, on extremely rare occasions when the local wildlife doesn’t get to them first

tastes may vary but to me a mayapple tastes less like an apple than something that may or may not be made with apples—like a junk-food version of an apple, with a very different texture in the mouth

not at all bitter, like wild lettuce

but nothing i’m going to make a point of seeking out the way i go after sassafras for example

***

when i last saw her this one-winged wasp had walked all the way up to her nest in the rafters

*

walking up the road after dark to look at the stars, but the road is full of winking glowworms—how can the sky compete?

Interstatement

junkyard toilets

I mean I think it’s a junkyard, but what if it’s really an art installation?

Quercus alba

On the other side of the interstate, there’s a mountain. The highway department puts up a chain-link fence to keep it at bay.

Ragged claws

On a day of incomparable beauty the past wells up within me and I am grateful for the kindness of shadows. The sun is bright but not hot; it feels like autumn. An indigo bunting lets spill its usual headlong song, but this late in the season and up in the woods, most likely it’s already on the move.

using the phone
as a mirror — how little
sky it holds

*

where the oak split off from its lost half open mouthed

***

Re-reading Prufrock, as one does. The line “There will be time, there will be time” catches me right in the feels. Also “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” is excellent. The whole poem strikes just the right balance between repetition and surprise. Still fun on the tongue. Five stars, would read again.

***

The literature is riddled with absences.
David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything

***

The difference between what you tell yourself about what you’re doing and your true motivations can be a fruitful place to explore, but too much self knowledge isn’t always advantageous. Lying to myself about my true motivations was absolutely key to quitting tobacco back when I was in my mid 30s, for example. I didn’t admit to myself that I’d actually quit for years.

moon-eyed—
one cloud
at a time

Bluesy outsider chaotic spider trip

This morning on my walk I was pondering the question of why, when I was going through my first heartbreak back in my early 20s, I burrowed so deep into blues music to the almost complete exclusion of country western. Unlike most of my contemporaries I didn’t grow up listening to rock; my parents were into classical and a bit of folk (The Weavers, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives), and my older brother played old-time banjo. So the first time I heard Delta blues guitar, I didn’t think “Wow, that sounds just like the Rolling Stones!” but “Wow, that sounds just like a clawhammer tune in a modal key!” Which, as I discovered years later when a friend lent me a Smithsonian Folkways compilation of very early recordings of Black string bands, is pretty much how that music evolved.

So that’s why I was prepared to like the country blues, but doesn’t explain why I ignored country western. Too schmaltzy, I always said, but that wasn’t fair to many country singers who avoid the schmaltz. Really, I think it was just that I preferred the more stoic and tough-minded approach to the expression of emotion in blues lyrics compared to the typical display of emotional vulnerability in country music.

And that too reflects how I was raised: in a loving but somewhat emotionally repressed family where it was exceedingly uncommon for anyone to ever talk about their feelings.

Also, virtually every traditional bluesman or woman I’ve ever read an interview with, when asked to define the blues, included in their answer the contention that blues is medicine. I can personally vouch for that. For a young person, at any rate, it was a mighty salve. In part I’m sure that was because so much of how we relate to each other, sexually and otherwise, has been fundamentally shaped by Black culture, with blues and rock lyrics as a major conduit. Blues and jazz changed the entire tenor of our civilization, made us freer and I believe also happier. Or at least a lot less sad.

These days though I don’t listen to much blues, and I’m not sure why. Music isn’t the all-powerful drug it was in my 20s and 30s. I’ve spent too many years listening to “the music of what happens.” John Cage was on to something. There’s music pretty much everywhere if you choose to hear it that way. I doubt it has the healing power of the blues in and of itself, but the physical effort required to go outside and explore such music will keep you on your feet long after most other concert-goers have checked out.

***

I love the fact that one of the most important American poets for actually understanding America was half Japanese: Ai. Another had an English father and a Puerto Rican mother: William Carlos Williams. Maybe you have to be half outside, half inside to see a thing for what it is.

***

I’m watching a small, black wasp flying from leaf to leaf and walking in circles with her antennae down, a female ninja seeking her target: a caterpillar of just the right species to act as unwilling nursery and food source for her progeny.

There’s not much to say about this that hasn’t already been said, by Darwin among others appalled by this apparent refutation of any notion of a just or benign cosmic order: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars,” Darwin wrote in a letter to Asa Gray.

For me it’s horrifying—but also mentally liberating, because I find the idea of a benign cosmic order deeply oppressive. We are not all inside anything, or at least nothing we’ll ever be able to fully comprehend. Order is just another name for chaos. And chaos, as the example of ichneumon wasps shows, can be a real bitch.

But I’m charmed to see there’s a serious attempt underway to get people to refer to the Ichneumonidae as Darwin wasps.

*

Walking through a Pennsylvania forest in August is a great incentive to cultivate mindfulness: one moment of inattention and you’re wiping another spiderweb off your face. I bow to the spiders; they are my true teachers. The deer flies circling my head will do for an offering.

*

The thing I admire about birding is the regular reminder to look up. The waking at 5 am and squinting at things through binoculars, not so much. But treetops are just kind of inherently trippy to stare into. I think it has something to do with the shortage of oxygen associated with craning one’s neck.

Insurgent, portentative

I’m walking past ranks of even-aged red pines with a native broadleaf forest rising in the understory to a height of some thirty feet now: a visually striking natural insurgency against the industrial monoculture. Molting birds skulk through the dense foliage while a hermit thrush still sings just up the hill. A very small brown and white feather floats down.

*

If i didn’t know that these mushrooms were poisonous, would I still find them repulsive? Yeah, probably. The death angel looks delicious — which apparently it is. Then it dissolves your liver.

*

One of those days when even the rocks sweat and the biting insects form clouds dense enough to block the sun, and here I am circling a bog. My addiction to walking is beginning to seem nearly pathological, even to myself. But here’s the thing: I’m having a blast.

Oh what a lovely breeze!

Say, are those storm clouds?

hemlock sapling
bound in red surveyor’s tape
how hot it is

*

Why would I slog through a buggy bog, you ask? That’s where the prettiest mud is.

***

Portentative

sky face says meh
to the white noise

of our anti
bodies of work

squeezing whole lives
into a few hours before sleep

while six-legged leaves
chant half the night

sky face acquires
a round cloud mouth

the moonlight denies
ever knowing the moon

the lives we’re missing bloat like corpses
as species dwindle

sky face is just the void
with better branding

Fog walker

“Oh hey, buddy, how’s it going?”

“Oh, it’s GOING!”

Uproarious laughter. Two old friends at the small-town deli. I resist the temptation to turn around and look, but they seem genuinely surprised and impressed to find themselves still in the land of the living, still doing everyday things.

“I was just coming back from Surplus City, and I thought I’d STOP IN and PICK SOME THINGS UP!” Laughter.

“OH yeah! Good IDEA!” More laughter.

They’re probably no more than 15 years older than me, if that: a glimpse into my own future, perhaps. If I’m lucky. Artists and writers court amazement all day long with less evident success than these geezers at the store.

***

My favourite ridgetop tea-drinking spot is quieter each time I visit. Gone (or hiding while they molt) are the nesting tanagers and warblers. A wood pewee still calls, and a blue-headed vireo interjects at one point, but that’s about it. A nearby black gum has begun to color up, anticipating early migration and the need for signal flags saying FREE LUNCH.

fog walker
the millipede’s carpet
of legs

I take it back: both the black-throated green warbler and the robin who nested nearby are still around, just rarely singing. Sit here long enough and you’ll hear everything—or at least everything audible over the trains and traffic sounds from the valley. Now it’s an annual cicada calling just once and falling silent again. The sun comes half out. I see from my shadow it must be nearly eleven.

closed book
in my lap
a square of sunlight

***

The biggest change in literary blogging over the past 20 years has been the demographic shift from relatively younger to relatively older poets. In part of course that’s because some of the same contingent of people who were blogging in the aughts still dominate the literary blogging space. But there have been many more late adopters for whom blogging was a good fit, because as older writers, they’re not necessarily as ambitious. Meanwhile, today’s young poets are not blogging because that’s no longer seen as hip, and also because they are focusing all their efforts on writing for publication elsewhere. If they blog, it is purely to share writing or publishing news. I don’t write for a living and i’ve never been very ambitious, so blogging is an easy, nearly frictionless way to get my writing out there—especially these experiments in sorts of writing that very few publishers are interested in: absurdly long erasure poetry projects, weird tone-shifting hodgepodges masquerading as zuihitsu, that sort of thing.

The Xerox era was fun, and I’m glad I got to participate in the tail end of it, even publishing my first three chapbooks that way under the imprint Free Lunch Press (which I’m sure wasn’t original, but we didn’t have the web, much less Google yet, just small press directories that only included people organized enough to submit their info—not half-assed schmucks like us).

But this is better.

***

I found a black cherry tree dotted with congealed sap (above)—the original chewing gum. Though actually they dissolve fairly quickly. They’re rubbery and gelatinous and nearly tasteless. Which to me makes them highly attractive for extreme culinary purposes, should I ever be called upon to produce an Appalachian delicacy. Ya know, marinate in sassafras root bark infusion, drizzle with maple syrup and boom, you’ve got an appetiser to go with your mountain mint julep.

***

The biggest sign that Anglo-American civilization is doomed: the precipitous decline in shared mealtimes. If we can’t break bread together even as families, meaningful dialogue is clearly at an end. And what is culture about if not dialogue? Even the most solitary artist is still in dialogue with the greats.

Unmasquerade

a mask needs eyes but not too many

the night sky for example has far too many eyeholes while an ampersand may not have enough

the best masks have growth rings and crows’ feet and need to be read to every night before bed

a mask is alive the way a dead stump is alive: teeming with transients

it’s there for you the way god or a cat is: for as long as you keep filling its bowl

its first word will take the shape of a silverfish