In darkness,

the eye always works harder, as its photoreceptors
face the back of the head where there's no light.

He opens a book and misreads Snack for stack,
shelf for self, lesion for session. The doctor said

the speed of light, like recovery, is relative: 
many years span the distance before its arrival

at the eye of its beholder. Though we always treat it
like such a rarity only to be handled with white

cotton gloves, it is everywhere. It nestles 
even in the darkness which likes  to think  

itself a sponge, a mouth swallowing everything 
in its path; a gatekeeper, always greedy for tribute.

 

Going

Why do you keep putting basi in a shot
glass; sweets and bread, meat and fish

on a plate for the dead? Isn't that 
like keeping the porch light on at night, 

hoping they'll find their way back home?
It's been more than thirty years. Perhaps

they want to move on now. Perhaps it's only
our attachments that keep them haunted.

The older we get, the more we remember:
they didn't even like noodles or alcohol or cake.


Mission creep

i watch from under
my umbrella

the complexly bladed ferns
dancing erratically in the rain

my feet and their forever
war on stasis

the ruts reasserting themselves
through fresh stone

i was only going
for a walk and now

i’m pondering the obligations of ferns
the prerogatives of feet

and the way a green tongue
snakes through everything

as if wisdom grew on trees
as if it were made of gray paper

a head-sized tumor
emitting hornets

or the way rain beads
on a jewelweed leaf

unable to find purchase
on such a smooth skin

it rolls and gathers
into the veins

microcosms
in capsule form

my pace slows
to a creep

Demystifying

 

A sentence is not always a consequence waiting to happen. 
What you don't see you will never see.

What of a body is finally exhausted after it's turned inside out? 
I would like to be subaltern to the possible.

You step on a scale the day you realize not all wounds are yours to bear.
In river shallows, minnows freely eat what glistens there. 

When a good wind arrives to shuffle the cloudy dark,  
multitudes will swell. 

Never underestimate either strength or fragility. 
Like anyone, of course I find it hard not to feel alone. 

No creature's exempt from thirst and desire.
Falling as prelude to sleep, as memory skinned— 

True north, true home, fixed. 
It’s not that life lived alone, in solitude, could bring no grace. 


Dry, high

dry high
the crisp new air
filling my lungs

*

Haiku says start with what’s in front of you in the real world, however you define that. Of course haiku are born of the literary imagination like any other poetry, but they tend not to be found by staring at the blank page or screen. They’re small enough for all but the most memory-challenged people to carry in their heads, so they’re best when composed in the head. That’s why haiku as a practice goes so well with walking.

I have a very strong feeling I’ve said all this before. It’s got that pre-masticated texture…

dust hanging
above the gravel road
leaves gone gray

***

It’s a spectacular evening in Plummer’s Hollow. The katydids are doing their contrapuntal thing against a background of tree crickets and field crickets of all kinds. This is one of my favourite natural soundscapes in the world; something that truly makes living here special. Having spent time in urban and suburban areas that lack this, I know not to take it for granted. I’m in such a good mood, I deleted half my haiku output from this morning.

There’s certainly a frisson of pleasure in uncreating bad poems. But it’s nothing like the sheer joy of knowing—or at least strongly suspecting—that you’ve just written something true and original and quite possibly even good. That’s like a hit you keep going back for.

***

warm wind coming from
where the crescent moon
wearing a very small halo
sinks into a bed of trees

a screech owl quavers
down the scale three times
and trills in concert with the insects
their intricate variations
on a theme of throb

in the dark bulk of the barn
some small thing stirs
makes a clatter and all the hair
on the back of my neck
stands at attention

a meteor draws a brief line
under Cassiopeia
my bare arms are somehow
irresistible to moths
tube-tongues palpating my skin
in the darkness
a sensation i’ll remember
on my death bed

The Myth of Self-Sustainment

It’s not that life lived alone, in solitude, could bring no grace.
But in every dream I have of the end (or versions of the end), 

always there are multitudes massed on broken highways, 
trekking through sandstorms or huddled together in a field. 

Wherever they were from, they only know they can’t go back. 
Days and nights are cinematic with signs and wonders— 

a bear’s pelt at the edge of a wood, as if the animal had merely 
stepped clean out of a sleek jumpsuit; small bones linked together 

like hands. Cricket and stag beetle mandibles like masks 
discarded after a costume ball. And everywhere, notched 

shadows on stone and iron marking the last fire, last flood. 
I used to think I wouldn’t mind finishing out the days 

tending my own quiet. But now I know I’d want to feel 
something pressing back against my touch, saying I’m here. 





  

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

The Myth of Reward in the Afterward

True north, true home, fixed 
star of our multiple orientations—

that toward which we'll nudge
the nose of our ship, point the tip

of a walking cane, guide the beams of 
a torch or lantern. When we die, 

how will we know which key will fit into
which lock, which door will open, what 

jetway leads to a field where dragonflies 
are taking off in brilliant groups of silver?  

Once, I might have fallen for the old catechism 
about how all we love will be our reward in the after. 

But that's not a heaven I want— Instead, I just want 
to not have to work through this life alone, on my own. 

Trickle of a creek

I looked up from digging potatoes this morning and saw this:

rising sun shining on raindrops beaded on a wire fence, with one pole bean tendril looping up

The world can really take your breath away sometimes.

***

I’ve been picking a lot of berries lately, including two trips to a highbush blueberry bog, regular pickings of the blackberries in our old fields, and fistfuls of trailside lowbush blueberries and huckleberries on the ridgetop. There’s a strange intimacy to the act of picking berries, which I tried to bring out in a short series of haiku. (See Woodrat Photohaiku for the accompanying photos.)

*

swamp forest
hugging the bucket
of blueberries

*

blackberry patch
the secret beds
made by deer

*

blueberry woods
a five-legged beetle
takes to the air

*

snagged by thorns
the closeness required
to get free

***

The tiny ants that eat ripe blueberries and the tiny spiders that pray upon them might make a good haiku in more skilled hands than mine. Or even by me on another day. For now, it’s the one that got away. (It was this short, honest!)

*

spiderantiberry

*

crowzaic

***

chance of light
rain in the next hour
glass house

***

The one that doesn’t look like the others: treasured or thought lucky in some cultures, hated and feared in others. It’s all so arbitrary.

***

the
asp
i
ration
bites
me
back

***

“You went for a walk in the rain?”

I never quite know how to answer these questions. But how about this: Any walk is better than no walk, and I own a sturdy umbrella. And since the umbrella keeps off midges and mosquitoes better than anything else, in many ways a walk down the hollow on a humid evening is far more relaxing in the rain.

***

sun atop
the tall tulip polar
trickle of a creek

***

where is the bear?
the bear is any
where a bear can
bear to be
which is every
where you ain’t

***

A well-done parody is also an homage.

The reverse may also be true: an homage that goes all in can become indistinguishable from parody.

***

8:35 PM. Just went to retrieve my cap and put my hand on a Carolina wren already settled in to roost. The alarm was mutual.

The Myth of Singular Origin

Falling as prelude to sleep, as memory of skinned 

elbows and knees; or farther back, as memory 

of permanent exile from whatever first eden 

we were taught to call home, until we messed 

with the topiary and orchards. Falling as failure, until

we remember: original is really that from which anything

is first derived. Lift each bottle out of the spice drawer 

and turn it around in the light: every exhale of Aleppo 

pepper, wild Malabar cinnamon; aromatic clove from 

the Moluccas, Kampot peppercorns to crush with lime 

leaf. Turmeric, curry, cardamom—meaning all these suns 

first harvested from our gardens. The question isn't

why we were banished, but why it shouldn't then be 

natural for us to want our true homes returned.