Up before dawn with old songs playing in my head and the planet Venus slowly winking in and out of sight through the leaves of an oak. Great-horned and screech owls call off and on above the horizon notes of night insects, that endless braid. The half-light of the half-moon lends an undersea feeling to things, a glimpse almost of how the world might look without six billion bright-eyed humans to dream it awake.

Feeling a little like a refugee, I sit as always, unmoving, in my accustomed spot. If I shifted my chair on the porch by as little as three inches to the right or left, everything would be thrown off-kilter. To call me a creature of habit would be a vast understatement. But without such stillness and fidelity, how could I mark the changes? The safe vantagepoint is the only one that lasts.

I do allow my imagination to run, old hound, sniffing out the day-old narratives of loss and lust. But it comes to heel when I call; it knows how to listen. From the yard, the scrabbling of claws on bark. Up in the woods, a footfall, an explosive snort. A high-pitched quaver suddenly close at hand.

Astarte, I whisper, preferring this older name for the morning star. Instigator of holy desire, giving the topmost leaves the slip at last! This hour I have spent with one eye on her progress was well worth the loss in sleep.

Stillness, fidelity, and the inner ear: the body’s spirit level, from which alone we can know trajectory and motion. Then, too, one could hardly distinguish figure from ground or find a body’s coordinates in space without that slender string we call memory. Half-conscious of it I’m telling the beads of a thousand other such moments, so slowly does the dawn come, so incrementally do outlines and colors emerge – tall goldenrod, the banks of white snakeroot – and so long does it take for that blazing ember to drown in a sea of light.

This is my contribution to the Ecotone wiki topic Making a Safe Space. See also my essay + translation from April 30 called Man doesn’t exist.

Blogging Rule #1: When inspiration eludes you, steal. (One of the few practices that truly unites us as bloggers!)

So this morning in the poetry news blog dumbfoundry – basically, the one-stop shop for all your po’ news needs – I’m reading a rare, non-news entry with an idea so good I’m just going to quote it in its entirety:

I would like to see a magazine Y that publishes only pieces rejected by magazine X. An anti-X magazine. You have to submit a copy of the rejection from X with your poem. If Y chooses to publish your poem, it also publishes the text of the rejection from X. (X could be more than one magazine.)

An excellent idea, I immediately opined, and set myself to thinking of possible titles. However, being still basically uninspired, I’m hoping some of y’all can do a bit better. Here’s what I came up with so far:
Sump Pump
Settling Pond
Sin Offering
Public Flogging


On the last day of summer,
drifting slow as hope through
the thick air of evening

she chances into
the plume of CO2 from
my breath, follows it upstream

to my arm’s telltale heat.
She hovers, then slowly sinks
the last few inches straight

down into my pelt with all
her landing gear extended,
proboscis going into the skin even

as the slight craft of her body
still rides the hairs down,
her feet stretching one

by one down, down,
& I am here.
Lord, I am here.

She is beautiful & blameless
& I in a mood to share
the beer in my veins, watching

as her banded
abdomen turns dark, inflates.
A long minute later

she pulls out, rises unsteadily
& sails off singing
her single note.

Then comes a rapid patter across
the field, the yard, staccato
on the porch roof &

into the woods – suddenly
it’s pouring & the treetops
are bending, swaying under

the weight of it
before the first drops reach
the forest floor.

A wheal rises where
the mosquito took the only
blood supper of her

purposeful life. While I sit
waiting for God knows what
it has fallen to me,

what she no longer needs:
the goad of her saliva.
Her fierce itch.

For a place-based essay on mosquitoes by another central Pennsylvania writer, see here.

A book review (via elck) connects Bruegel, the via negativa, Diogenes and Elck:

The book [Jürgen Müller, Das Paradox als Bildform. Studien zur Ikonologie Pieter Bruegels d. í„. Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1999] proposes that Bruegel was deeply influenced by the German theologian Sebastian Franck (1499-1542), who was quite popular in the Netherlands during the sixteenthth century (pp. 21-27 et passim)….Franck was an unorthodox protestant thinker, who advocated a negative theology that was against all institutionalization of the Christian faith. An important publication was his book Paradoxa, in which he treats the impossibility to describe God. Each of the 280 chapters of Franck’s book starts with a baffling statement like “Deum nemo novit, nisi Deum” (God knows nobody, only himself), which is then explained as an illustration of the impossibility to define God’s essence with the help of scripture or any other source of knowledge except one’s innermost personal experience. Anything said about God must be wrong, since it is not possible to say anything about something that transcends human language. The only way to speak about Him is to speak in a paradoxical way, i.e in a self-referential way, which makes it impossible to decide about truth or falseness of a statement. A main proposal of Müller’s book is that Bruegel shared Franck’s unorthodox religious views and his opposition to depicting God. Thus Bruegel was faced with the problem of realizing pictures of God in his artistic medium, which he was only able to do by showing what God is not. Consequently, Bruegel would have been forced to think about how to make paradoxical pictures, i.e. pictures which are demonstrations of their own impossibility…..

The book is well written, the author is original, risk-taking and witty, and his criticism of other interpretations is clear and fair. Unfortunately his interpretations are often not fully convincing. One reason for this is the tendency to find more and more allusions and layers of meaning instead of an interpretation which covers all parts of a representation in an uncontradictory way. Elck is linked not only to the iconography of Nobody but also to Diogenes, the Wandering Jew and to the false pharisees.

“More and more allusions and layers of meaning”: sounds like a man after my own heart! False pharisees of the world, unite!


If anyone’s been wondering how a street person like our friend Diogenes can be blogging the Republican National Convention, I would draw your attention to the fact that he has occupied his current post outside the 34th Street Station for over five months now. Thus, he is right outside Madison Square Garden and knows it like the hairy palm of his hand.

Yesterday afternoon, the unique possibilities of Diogenes’ position impressed themselves upon the imagination of my buddy Elck, he of the vernacular body – a Manhattan resident and sometime journalist of the gonzo/magical realist school. Elck grabbed pen and notepad and hied himself down to the 34th Street Station, where, by sidling through the crowd like a pickpocket, he was able to approach our convention blogonaut unawares and transcribe a few specimens of his live commentary. Whence this Via Negativa exclusive, permitting the bum to hold forth at somewhat greater length than the pauper’s portion usually allotted him in this blog. Elck claims the following exchange was recorded “almost verbatim.”

The New Out: A Madison Square Garden Exchange

Diogenes: Come right in.

Passerby #1: Huh? You’re outside, how can I “come in” outside?

Diogenes: In that case stay in.

Passerby #1: Don’t you mean stay out?

Diogenes: Nope. The ones inside are the ones out.

Passerby #1: Outside? Wha..?

Diogenes: Out. Of. Their. Minds.

Passerby #1: Oh! You mean in there! (points to the building behind Diogenes). Oh, I get it . . .

Diogenes: Yes. Out there. Out of line. Out on a limb. Out of sorts.

Passerby #1: I’ll stay out here then, I guess.

Diogenes: No, vato. You stay in. It’s dangerous out there. In is in. It’s the new out.

(passerby starts to walk away)

Diogenes: Hey! Spare any change?

When I informed Diogenes about this surreptitious “outerview,” he grew indignant and insisted that I balance it with the following exchange, which he maintains is not only “almost verbatim” but also fair and well-balanced. Whatever.

No Shadows

Diogenes: Good morning, sir. Would you mind stepping a little to the left? You’re blocking my sun.

Passerby #2: Ah! Dr. Diogenes, I presume?

Diogenes: At your disservice.

Passerby #2: Shouldn’t you be busy polishing your tub, or something?

Diogenes: Nah, I ditched the thing. Shopping carts are way more practical. If the Persians are gonna launch a terrorist attack, I’ll need the extra mobility and security that only a modern Safeway cart can provide.

Passerby #2: Ah yes, those impertinent Persians! (chuckling) What’s your take on the convention?

(Diogenes barks and growls like an angry cur)

Passerby #2: Oh, come now! No stories?

Diogenes: Well, O.K. Last night, I sat here holding my big, strong flashlight (mimes obscene gesture). As each gaggle of conventioneers emerged, I shone it full on them like a spotlight, acting like I was Billy Crystal at the Grammies. I had a blast.

Passerby #2: Any honest men?

Diogenes: Honesty is the least of their worries. Two out of three didn’t cast a shadow.

Passerby #2: (laughing nervously, edging away) Well, you take care, now . . .

Diogenes: Thanks. How about some spare change, then?

Passerby #2: (sanctimoniously) Change must come from within, my friend.

Diogenes: Exactly. Now cough up some dough, oh purveyor of facile friendship, or I shall announce to this fine crowd of New Yorkers that you are an undercover Republican.

Passerby #2: No! Wait! I left my wallet inside . . .

Update: Beware of Elck’s own spin. Wheels within wheels. The masked man emerges from the inky shadows . . .

This post has had a brief but troubled history. The first time I tried to post it last night, I lost my intranet connection and it disappeared – and for once, I hadn’t saved a copy first. Lesson learned. So, I reconstructed it from memory and posted again. This time, the post appeared, but every other post I’d ever made to Via Negativa, all my archives, disappeared. “Whose moods these are” sat alone on the screen, grinning at me like the goddamned Cheshire Cat. I hit the “edit posts” page: nothing else there. Archives: blank. But all was not lost – my “High points” links all still worked! I clicked around frantically. Finally I went back to the “edit posts” page, hit “display last 300 posts,” and waited. Success! The house of Via Negativa was back to normal (?) again – no sign of that lousy cat in the stovepipe hat! So I clicked on the next-to-most-recent post, “Quiddity,” and hit publish. Long, deep sigh of relief. Off to bed and a night of stress-free dreams. Or so I thought.

This morning, when I published “Words on the street” (“The zombies ate my homework”), the Blogger zombies returned. Oh no! They killed Henry!

Needless to say, I have no idea what’s going on. But here’s the text of that post again. What bums me out is that it had a couple of good comments, and I don’t know how to reattach them at the bottom. But here’s the link. You can continue to use this thread, if you wish. Haloscan notifies me of every new comment, regardless of where it’s posted.

Rearranging some wise words from The Blog of Henry David Thoreau:

The poet is a man who lives at last
By watching his moods. An old poet comes
At last to watch his moods as narrowly as
A cat does a mouse.

The entry, originally written on August 28, 1851, continues with a paean to “the ordinary,” by which Thoreau means, ultimately, “the eyes to see the things which you possess.”

Ah, was that your mouse I had for supper?

Tom Montag is busy putting together a course on nonfiction writing – his first time behind the lectern in a college classroom. Meanwhile, Fred First comes back from the undead as a reincarnated professor of biology. Some of the other bloggers I read faithfully, such as Lorianne and Elck, teach college more-or-less full time, as I understand it. With all this in my head, I guess, I had one of those “back to college” dreams last night: you know, it’s final exam week, and you just realize that you completely forgot that you had signed up for Physics 666, and now you have to read and understand the entire textbook in a few hours. If you don’t pass the 8:00 a.m. exam you’ll have to return to high school. Where everyone will laugh at you, because in these “back to the future” dreams you are always your present age – a spry 38, in my case.

“NO! I’m too old for thees boollsheet nightmare! I will slay the dragons of anxiety and insecurity the only way possible – by becoming a professor myself!”

Ha. In your dreams, buddy. Or: in your blog . . .

Herewith, then, my proposed syllabus for a ten-week course in poetry. I’ve given this lots and lots of careful thought, as you can imagine. Please note that everyone who signs up will get an “A” automatically. If you don’t want to do the work, god bless you. Cash up front.

1. Welcome to Poetry (De-)Composition 101. Mina Loy said, “Poetry is prose bewitched; a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.” Class dismissed.

The rest of the week: play with your words. Play with other people’s words. Mix and match, but no alcohol.

2. You know enough, already.

Get shit-faced every night, and blow off all your classes – including this one.

3. William Carlos Williams was right. An abstraction in the middle of the poem tends to turn into one more object. It can make the whole poem. So, devote your energies to proving Williams wrong. Read Basho and the King James Bible in tandem until your eyeballs bleed.

4. Never carry an umbrella when you leave the house. If it rains, you’ll get wet. But don’t count on that, either. Forget a life, will ya?

5. Stand on one foot: easy, right? Now close your eyes and try to keep your balance.

Think about this for a while, then write a poem about storks.

It would probably help if you’ve actually seen a stork. But without “the stork” you wouldn’t be here, now, would you? Write about that stork.

6. That lamppost where you stand to catch the bus – notice everything about it that seems strange. When you get on the bus, do the same thing with the bus, then with everyone who gets on the bus, then with everything that you can see from the bus.

Practice being a stranger to yourself.

And always take public transportation.

7. Never write as if your life depended on it. This is a grotesque self-indulgence. Writing exists of necessity on the periphery, in the margins. Poetry is superfluous and therefore full of grace.

Construct a life-size natural history museum using nothing but scissors, paper and stones.

8. Always write as if your life depended on it. Because it does, you know. Without grace, you are mere consumer, taxpayer, chipped tooth aspiring to the level of cog.

Take everything you’ve written so far this semester with you on a three-day backpacking trip. Every night, use your poems to start the fire you cook your suppers over. Cook everything you eat from scratch.

9. When you start, be sure to have no clear idea of where you’ll end up. Or, have an idea, but don’t think about it for longer than a heartbeat without saying inshallah, “God willing” – even (or especially) if you don’t believe in God.

Learn how to draw.

10. Everything you have learned is wrong. I am partly to blame for that, of course. As your teacher, it has been my solemn and sacred duty to confuse, bewilder, lie, cheat, cajole and hoodwink.

As Blind Willie McTell said to his future wife the first time they met: “Take me until you can do better!”