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

The sound of diesel locomotives pulling a hundred cars of coal

I walk into a spiderweb and instantly get a charley horse in my right thigh. As my old friend Crazy Dave used to say, it’s all in your head, but that’s where it counts.

Yesterday I made a new stone seat and this evening I go sit in it, a mile from the house. I pull out the book I’m reading, Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee, and read five more poems. Her poetry is rich, often wild, and reads like a cross between Rumi, Mirabai and Neruda, so is perhaps best consumed in morsels rather than all at once.


Tonight my tiredness is loosely woven from bits of spiderweb and lichen and the sound of diesel locomotives pulling a hundred cars of coal. My tiredness weighs almost nothing and is the color of cold porridge. Why can’t I lay it down by lying down? My tiredness trickles from joint to joint like the opposite of an electric current.

Sucede que me canso de ser hombre… such a magnificent poem. (I really must re-read Residence on Earth. I lost my copy years ago.)


As the sun goes down, daytime mosquitoes begin landing on the phone’s bright screen. I’d better stop typing. I don’t want to keep them up past their bedtimes.


Thirty years after the sudden death of someone I didn’t know terribly well, what remains? Not his name. Not quite his face, but something of his posture and physique. A strong impression of good-natured and thoughtful conviviality, based on possibly no more than half a dozen conversations, always on the periphery of punk shows. The shock and sadness of his death from a brain tumor. Someone who, on rare occasions when he pops into my head, still makes me smile, and shapes my memory of that whole period in my life. Good times. A good dude.

Wish I remembered his name.


fledgling cuckoo
flopping across the road

adoptive parents
nowhere to be found

poor little rain-crow
didn’t mean to be a parasite


opening my umbrella
I spook a bear

in the depths of the hollow
widely spaced raindrops

water still gurgling
under the rocks

and the crashing of something big
in black velvet

upslope through woodferns
and storm-downed timber


a distant cuckoo singing
who are you you you

I know a lullaby
when I hear one


pine (k)not


One interesting residue of my long-ago year in the Kansai region is that humid rainy days in the summer still remind me a bit of Japan, not necessarily in a fully conscious way (which is why I call it a residue). Similarly, a snowy, cold winter day might have an extra charge of excitement and possibility to it from my early childhood years in Maine.


A fast-moving longhorn beetle. I’m beginning to understand why professional insect photographers like to pop their subjects in the freezer for a few minutes to slow them down. This beetle seemed very keen on getting back under cover as quickly as possible.


Just as I’m thinking of turning back to the house, a medium-sized animal clambers down out of an oak tree and stands for a few seconds looking back at me. It’s been years since I’ve seen a gray fox. First time I’ve ever seen one in a tree, which seems odd, considering their reputation as the most cat-like of canines—and how much damn time I spend looking up at trees.

The clouds redden with sunset. Can’t resist a shot, clichés be damned.


Ghost pipes emerging from the ground always remind me of hattifatteners. And as saprophytes, they are a bit transgressive. I have to say I’m almost surprised they don’t make their way down to the river under cover of darkness and set off for the open sea. As with so many truly original artists, Tove Jansson’s creations come to feel like something that ought to exist. She’s close to the common creative source of everything, one could almost say, skating up to the edge of some very thin ice.


One of the things I really like about growing old is learning to feel in my body how time unfolds. This might not be as clear to people who move around a lot, but for example I can see mounds of moss in the woods and remember when they were logs—and before that, when they were trees. I am old enough that if I were a tree, I’d probably already be good for a bit of saw timber.


I always tell myself the same thing when I set out: it’s not about the miles, you don’t have to go far. But I almost always do.

I would never have called myself an athlete when I was younger, and I don’t now. There’s a culture of competitiveness and self-improvement around athleticism that is deeply alien to me. But I remember in high school gym class whenever we played soccer, since we’re Americans and had no idea how to play positions, everyone just ran up and down the field with the ball until one by one they dropped out, panting, and it was just Bonta, this weirdo brainiac with no friends, running idly back and forth with the ball and wondering what the hell was wrong with everyone else.

Then as now, the only thing I did differently was walk a bit every day. By the time I was in high school and stopped taking the bus home (which only got us halfway there), I guess I was walking four miles a day with a fair amount of up and down in it—pretty much the same as now. I didn’t run by choice but seemed able to run more or less indefinitely when needed. Some of that is surely down to genetics. But it’s striking how small a daily time commitment is required to reach this condition. “Year-round training!” I hear the athletes chorus. In your world, sure. If I looked at it that way I’d stop doing it tomorrow.

I just like being outside, walking the land. There’s deep sense of satisfaction I get after a walk of sufficient strenuousness and aesthetic pleasure, and I’m not interested in trying to disentangle the two. You can’t really talk about walking without talking about places and how and why we love them. A good part of the “how” is by walking. Some cultures have local pilgrimage traditions—a bit like that, maybe.


One of the things I dislike about getting older is the way flies will just brazenly walk around on top of my bald head as if they own the place. Be patient, will you?! Someday all this will be yours.


Watching small jets land at a regional airport 40 miles away a half hour past sunset may seem like a pretty minor thrill, but something about that bright, blinking dot descending in total silence gets me every time.

The red and the black

Picking red raspberries up on the Allegheny Front. Quite a switch from the more common black raspberries that Mom and I have been concentrating our berry-picking efforts on for the past week and a half, which signal ripeness by color change. With red raspberries, you have to kind of gently pinch them and see if they’re ready to let go. The dead ripe ones drop at the lightest touch. And they’re even sneakier than the black raspberries, bending canes down as they ripen so the best berries are often well hidden from above. They seem to be expressing an evolutionary preference for dispersal by small, ground-dwelling critters such as toads and turtles. Which makes sense, given their preference for wetter sites.

There’s a common yellowthroat up here with a distinctly different accent from the ones back home—ten miles away. Ours go witchedy-witchedy-witchedy, while this one goes liquidity-liquidity-liquidity. Truly a message for our time.


Many people don’t know this, but round about midsummer, some of the younger sassafras trees dance together at sunset.

What they do after that has not been recorded and is best not inquired into.


Already half-full, the sneaky cup. Already russulas up, with bites taken out of them. Already the first black gum leaves are beginning to turn.

Already half-full, the moon passes through a heart that turns into a tree, then disappears behind a giant grey mouse, re-emerging just below its tail. As Dave Barry used to say, I swear I’m not making this up. Except of course I am. They’re just clouds. The moon has nothing and everything to do with us.

The first true katydids! So early.

Evening porch

A chipmunk on top of the rock wall hears nuthatches scolding a predator 100 feet away and freezes. Only the powerful can afford to be monolingual.


A mature tree can have half a million leaves or more. Little dramas are unfolding on, under or within every leaf. Now multiply that by the number of trees in the forest…

I like thinking about this more than I like actually scrabbling about with a sheet and a magnifying glass, if I’m honest. I’ll leave that to the real naturalists. I’m more what you might call a dilettante naturalist.


The groundhog who lives under my house came up to sit on the stone recently vacated by the chipmunk — quite an upgrade in marmot size. And, to be clear, not an upgrade I specifically requested, though I’m sure I qualify for endless frequent flyer miles here on the porch. It seemed to be just taking in the cool night air and listening to trains until I leaned forward and disturbed it.


The ravens are certainly vocal this evening. They’ve divided forces for some reason and are keeping in touch.


A squirrel has evaded three, widely spaced sorties from a winged predator—probably an accipiter, because I’d see it if it were anything larger. They’re right inside the woods at canopy height.


Why do squirrels keep scolding so long after whatever they had been scolding has fucked off? It feels as if they just need to work the fear and stress out.


I’m glad such a regular singer of a wood thrush is defending a territory right next to my house. About 15 years ago, that stopped being routine. Now it’s infrequent enough to make this seem a lucky year. But the reality is they’re running out of luck. As are we.

I used to share the general view of wood thrush song—that it was melancholy. Tonight it sounds full of exuberance. It helps I’m sure that he has a rival over by the powerline—his real audience. And it sure doesn’t sound like they’re having a sad-off.

I think this one has figured out that if he comes right to the edge of the yard and sings loudly toward the house, he can get a bit of an echo. Top that, you powerline-loving bastard!


The small hawk, or whatever it was, just broke cover, sending the squirrels into a brief panic before they retreat to their dreys for the night.

Maybe THAT’S why they kept on scolding—they knew it hadn’t really left! And me presuming I understand the situation better than they do is sheer anthropocentric arrogance.


It’s funny, I thought by sitting on my porch I’d be less of a nuisance to wildlife than if I were sitting up in the woods, but I’m not sure that’s true now. First a groundhog and now a Carolina wren also have given strong signals that I am interrupting their evening rituals. And the wrens are not subtle about expressing displeasure, loudly, from several feet away.


One squirrel is still scolding in a half-hearted fashion as the fireflies start up. The whippoorwill calls from its usual spot just inside the woods. Random small explosions of fireworks start up in the farm valley to our east. Soon the other valley joins in.

Now it sounds like war. But the whippoorwill has worked up a good head of steam and will not be dissuaded. The squirrel still makes an occasional, querulous whine.


The 9:30ish twin-prop cargo plane goes over. I remember how Dad calculated its flight path years ago and decided it went from Johnstown to State College or something. He was nerdy like that. Curious about the world around him.


I hear the siren call of sleep. But also fireworks, I hear fireworks. And a motorcycle roaring through the gap. It’s summer in America. Nights and penises are short.

Hairy bad things in the woods

When I open the book I was reading last night, the lifeless corpse of a deer fly falls out. It was pretty dark when I closed the book. Perhaps she had intended to spend the night on a nice, clean sheet of paper, but was instead crushed between two poems.


Temporarily deaf in my right ear during a course of treatment for excessive earwax buildup—a huge impediment to being able to enjoy the day. Or so I thought, until I realized I only hear mosquitoes in one ear now, which feels like almost half the problem solved. Which is not to joke about hearing loss (and thereby tempt Fate) but I can see it might have a few upsides.


Howard Stern thinking he could run for president is hardly surprising. Every comedian in the world is probably looking at Zelenskiy in Ukraine and thinking, you know, having half your population driven into exile and being locked in brutal internecine conflict for years may seem less than ideal, but 90% approval rating from his people! Who does that?! He is KILLING it!

I am fearful of what comes next. New NATO bases in Poland and Romania at the same time that Turkey drops its objections to admitting Finland and Sweden will be seen as provocations—potentially intolerable ones. It’s scary the way the hegemonic war machine now seems to have a mind of its own.

The problem with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is that it wasn’t nearly bleak enough. But it’s a very Christian song, and Christians tend to be optimists—unlike, say, the Vikings or the Aztecs. They make war into something grand if terrible—something with a potentially righteous purpose. That’s true even for many liberal Christians, I think, let alone those who actively pray for the world to end and Christ return in glory. It’s just very American to believe that violence can solve problems. It’s part of our cultural DNA and quite likely more pagan in origin.

It may seem hard to believe, for anyone who hasn’t studied anthropology, that not all religions are obsessed with life after death and with meting out punishments and rewards. Which is to say, not all religions are death cults. And those that are: let’s look at the role of early state oppression in that. The need to give an utterly ground-down people some reason to live.

But nationalism remains the biggest death cult of all. It is literally just the worship of power, of idols—the very thing that the Abrahamic religions all say God is opposed to. It destroys other ideologies like a cancer, from within. It’s no accident that the most powerless people are often the most patriotic: it gives them access to a simulacrum of power, that warm and fuzzy feeling that we’re part of something bigger. Also, the military is one of the last more or less responsible large employers. Sure, you may die on the job or come back severely injured and with PTSD, but the benefits and pay are still pretty good.

And so the myth of the righteous war of liberation staggers on like the undead. Which is how I think of so many of us now anyway: undead. Voracious but somehow hardly able to savor anything. Not in good shape and rarely seeming to sleep.

Well, of course I’d think that. Both “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” were filmed in western Pennsylvania…


Kept hearing a weird squeaking noise while I was typing that last bit. Turned my good ear fully toward it and realized it’s the juvenile barred owls again.

This is good to know, because I’m about to walk a half mile back through the darkness without a flashlight—because the fireflies are spectacular right now—and that’s one fewer spooky noise I need to worry about.

Though part of me does long for a simpler time when monsters too were more basic: hairy toothy bad things in the woods.

Which, I mean, yes, I am rather hairy and toothy…


Coyote chorus. Can’t really tell in what direction. I fear I might become tonight’s hairy bad thing for some impressionable pups.

A large animal in the field moves off more slowly than I might’ve expected. Another example of how much even a little hearing loss can disrupt one’s ability to gather basic information: I know almost every sound a white-tailed deer makes—but I know them with two ears, not with one.

Bad Snufkin, butterfly battle, saved by the privy

mourning cloak butterflies facing off

My interior monologue: I don’t get why people still need mythic archetypes. Are we really so shallow?

Five minutes later: Let’s be honest, you’re still just a Moomintroll who longs to be Snufkin.

And that felt like a pretty solid insight, you know?

The moral of the story: Be sure to expose your children to the Moomin books—they’re pretty great.

There’s much more I could say on all of this but I’m currently (evening of June 28) chasing the sunset up a steep hillside. Which is absolutely not a metaphor for anything.


I understand the need for sacred theatre, i.e. ritual, around major life events—especially death, when the survivors are the most earnest in their need to behave as if a truer but less tangible reality exists in which total annihilation can be overcome or evaded somehow.


hot tub
laid bare in the woods
a junkie’s pale face

(via Woodrat photohaiku)


My interior monologue is heavily laced with sarcasm. I suppose that’s a Gen X thing. (Yes, of course you do. That’s the kind of sophisticated analysis you’re known for.)

Perfectly healthy, I’m sure.


“If everyone just thought like me, the world would be a better place” is a hallmark of both imperialism and fanaticism — in fact, they summon each other up, I think.

This is not idle philosophical speculation. Most left-wing revolutions turn repressive because fundamentally the revolutionaries are either too fanatical to accept that there will always be dissent, or too callous to care.


The forest is full of mourning cloak butterflies with pristine-looking wings: the new generation has just turned into adults. They will likely be aestivating soon, but in the meantime they’re defending territories in the woods.

I watched two mourning cloaks battling for several minutes on the side of an oak this afternoon. Since tree sap is their main source of food, perhaps this tree is especially good tasting. They used front and middle feet to bat at each other; mouthparts didn’t seem to be involved, and wings only a little. Here’s a brief video of the very end of the fight:

watch on Vimeo


Bushwhacking through a Pennsylvania state forest, it’s impossible to stay lost for long. My first sign that a road was near, this morning, was a hunting camp privy. As is so often the case.

At one scenic overlook, a memorial to someone who leapt to his death. I actually remember this. I was a Penn State undergrad at the time.

Someone had spray-painted “no fear” on the retaining wall-like structure:


I remember my parents pointing out a “lovers’ leap” place on some family trip when I was a little kid, and how baffled I was. If romance made people jump to their deaths, it struck me as something best avoided.


Some trails are notional—made through bushwhacking.

Some trails are roads.

Some trails are the spines of mountains.

And some Snufkins go for a wander primarily to get a new perspective on where they live.

Rurality bites

Thinking about why I prefer living in a conservative rural area so much more than a liberal university town. Partly of course because I grew up out here and it’s what I’m used to. Partly because places dominated by transients struggle to retain any real community feeling. And partly because I’d rather be teased, taken seriously or ignored than condescended to. Which is to say, I suppose, that I’m more comfortable with normie discourse than with discourse discourse.

It undoubtedly helps that I’m in Appalachia, where loners and weirdos tend to be more accepted than elsewhere. Ocasionally even celebrated if you’re weird enough. People around here still talk about Bicycle Harry 30 years after his death. He was rarely parted from his bicycle, they say.


There is a difference between a walk and a hike. A lot of people don’t know this. But if you have to pack a meal, it’s a hike.


If there’s one thing I’ve learned about dinosaurs from watching trailers to “Jurassic” movies, it’s that they had many gleaming teeth and enjoyed showing them off. Not unlike Hollywood executives.



If we keep having wet years it won’t be long before Pennsylvania and the whole mid-Atlantic region turns into rainforest. Trees are already growing faster due to all the extra CO2. State parks in Pennsylvania now routinely spray BT for black flies. But if the trade-off for more biting insects is more trees and more lushness, I guess I’ll take it. There’s a distinct possibility that if I live another three decades, which seems eminently doable, I’ll get to see the equivalent of another half-century of growth… on whatever trees, shrubs and vines survive the extinction and climate change gauntlet.


Revisting an Elaine Equi poem I screenshot and tweeted back in May called “Phantom Anthem,” I do a web search [no, I’m not being coy; I don’t actually use Google anymore, and it’s too hard to verb Duck Duck Go] and find a metalcore album of the same name by a band I hadn’t heard of, August Burns Red. Very different from the poem, but so far very good. (For the uninitiated, metalcore = metal + hardcore. Which basically means that the lyrics are shouty rather than growly or screechy.)


Listening to Sepultura’s classic album Beneath the Remains and trying to remember how extreme and cutting-edge it sounded back in 1989. Now it’s pretty much the Beach Boys for me, warm nostalgic glow, head bobbing mostly in homage to lost energy and outrage. (May 23)


I refuse to watch another movie or TV show about Vikings until someone does an adaptation of Egil’s Saga. What the hell is wrong with Hollywood? Who doesn’t want to watch a movie about an ugly, drunken poet who was also a warrior/mass-murderer and possibly part-werewolf?

It would be the ultimate poetry film, if one could figure out how to convey the complexities of skaldic verse in English without a ton of footnotes. (Maybe there could be an interactive version of the movie with footnotes! LOL)


I’m 56 and have lived in the woods nearly all my life. This was my first good bobcat sighting. Even the hunters’ trail cams rarely pick them up—that’s how stealthy they are. Been hearing occasional bobcat screams, though, so we knew they were around.

Of course I went for my phone, as stealthily as I could. And of course the cat saw the movement immediately, turned and ran back up into the woods. The fact that it was a juvenile was especially welcome news: they’re actually raising families in Plummer’s Hollow! Or at least within a few miles of it. (Bobcat territories are not small.)


I still remember being SO EXCITED about the release of WordPress 3.0, poring over all the new features, digging into the code. 6.0 was released this morning [May 25] and I can barely be arsed to read the summary screen after I update. Sigh.

“Select text across multiple blocks and edit it all at once” is a feature I’ve been jonesing for, though. And sure enough, the blog digest is much easier to compile now (because you can’t paste more than one paragraph into a quote without converting it into an ordinary text block, which then needed to be converted into quotation paragraph by paragraph, until this latest update). Thank you, WordPress volunteers.


What might’ve been a haiku moment—a dog catching a frisbee at the park—becomes instead a page-long, William Carlos Williams-influenced lyric poem. Which is fine, of course, but reflects a very different view of the audience—passive recipients rather than co-creators of a vision—plus the standard, post-Romantic centering of the poet’s own experience rather than focusing on whatever is at hand. I’d argue further that William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker, and the other Objectivists were actually closer to the spirit of Japanese versifying in that regard (focusing on the world in front of them), though still continuing to compose as solitary individuals rather than as co-collaborators.

I don’t mean to dump on this poet; just using his fine poem as a springboard for some thoughts, as one does. I’d best be careful, though: a friend on Facebook complained about the shoddy print job and cheap paper on a 2006 book of poetry from Penguin and a couple of commenters jumped down his throat for possibly making the poet feel bad, if/when he discovers the post. Yes, poets can be fragile creatures, but jesus.

This, incidentally, is why I moved away from doing poetry reviews: I would like to be critical when I feel that’s warranted, but there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for that among the small-but-possibly-growing contingent of people who read poetry for pleasure. So for example I won’t be saying much more than this about Victoria Chang’s new book, The Trees Witness Everything, although I actually love the poetry in it, because I think her framing of it as Japanese verse forms is unfortunate. (Though it’s very cool that that was a jumping-off point for her.)


I seem to have caught up to the point at which I began recycling tweets into blog posts at the end of May, so this concludes my encore presentations (to borrow a favorite phrase from NPR’s late, lamented show Car Talk).


A cerulean warbler and an American redstart in adjacent trees sound like a couple arguing.

“Are you really sure?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

And from time to time a black-and-white warbler interjects from the witch hazel: “Cool it cool it cool it!”


As a poet I will never not be irritated by the fact that the birds who actually warble aren’t warblers. I’m on the ridgetop now listening to an American robin and a scarlet tanager having a warble-off. (May 10)

About a week later, climbing the same ridge, I hear a warbling vireo. Now there’s a bird who lives up to his name!


The Richard Siken bot is one of a number of Twitter bots that make my life better. I’ll be pissed if they do away with all automated accounts, just because elites think ordinary people are stupid and should only ingest an anodyne information diet free of wrongthink.


We’ve removed the video you posted at 9:33 AM on September 28, 2019 because it included the following content:

Seagulls by Iridis

If you have permission to share everything in the video including the audio, like the soundtrack or music, you can appeal the removal and have your video re-posted. Remember that people should only post videos they have the right to share.

Edited by robot—an increasingly common experience for content creators. (Amazon warehouse employees can even be fired by a bot. I order books from eBay or Bookshop.org now.) This is a case where I used a recording of seagull that someone had released to the public domain, a musician appears to have incorporated the same audio into a musical track, which eventually caused my video to get flagged for copyright infringement. I appealed it, but there was nowhere to actually submit an explanation, so if any human does ever look at the situation, they’ll be clueless.

It’s a useful reminder to never put all of one’s eggs in one basket. A friend who relied solely on Facebook and never had a blog lost thousands of posts and photo galleries when they decided to terminate his account and ignored his appeal until the deadline for appeal had expired, then erroneously told him he’d missed the deadline and there was nothing further he could do.


Just as the Dept of Agriculture pays farmers to not grow crops on land they don’t want cultivated, the Disinformation Governance Board should pay content creators they don’t like to not create content.

Just to be clear, I would absolutely jump on that gravy train. Poets are quite used to getting recognition for writing that nobody actually reads. Getting paid for it yet would be awesome!


Just watched an Acadian flycatcher perform a little dance—hopping sideways down a branch while the female looked on from the branch above (and me from ten feet away).

And now a winter wren is singing over a wood thrush. Think jazz saxophone meets Gregorian chant. (May 16)


Pausing Monk to listen to a brown thrasher. The way the thrasher’s jazzy inventiveness slowly becomes subsumed in the larger soundscape (which he partially mimics) as he moves farther away. (May 16)


Hearing a sound from the valley I can’t identify and realizing how rare it is that I hear any sound I can’t immediately identify. That’s what it means to be a local, I guess.
Hearing new and exotic soundscapes was always one of the main attractions of travel for me. Wonder if I’ll ever get to do any more of it. (May 17)
When I got back from my walk, the Carolina wren who nests behind the fuse box was sitting next to a half-grown cottontail rabbit. WHAT ARE THEY PLOTTING? (May 17)
From the calypso superstar known as the Mighty Sparrow, here’s the most cheerful-sounding song about the ravages of neocolonialist capitalism I’ve ever heard: