Night from the inside

mountaintop forest pool at dusk with a band of sunset light still on the horizon
This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Night from the Inside

 

mountaintop forest pool at dusk with a band of sunset light still on the horizon

The more time I spend outside at night, the more fearful I become. You’d think it would be the opposite. But daytime rules don’t always apply. For example, it’s possible during the day to pretend there’s a hard and fast line between reality and imagination.

*

flickering
through skeletal trees
the bat’s back story

*

sunset
lava
on all screens

*

swamp tree
parodied by
its reflection

holding it
under

*

fire trucks
one after another
into the sunset

*

porcupine
grazing at dark
unreadable weeds

*

right at dusk
that old coyote-
shaped hole

nosing wild
onions

*

ruffed grouse
the split second
before LAUNCH

*

The angel with a flaming sword as a middle-aged gardener, standing astride the cosmos going whack whack whack at every planet unfortunate enough to have been parasitized by intelligent life.

*

your pale face
brushed by moth wings
without moon

*

barn swallows night nesting nesting

*

a glow
from the quarry
jacklighting deer

*

stars among clouds
I feel for
my missing teeth

*

sleeping
with the sky
for a quilt

the heat
of my sunburn

*

What does it mean to be a chaser of oblivion? Will the stars throw down their spears?

*

off alone
in the cosmos
forest pool

ripples left by
a bat’s swift drink


Process notes

Is this a haibun, a linked verse sequence, or just a bunch of haiku with some tanka and random thoughts thrown in? All of the above. What it really is is a bunch of things written at dusk or after dark on my Notes app. Since my phone doesn’t shoot good video in low-light conditions, though, it may or may not end up in a videopoem. It could also be the start of a new series. Time will tell.

Night from the inside (2)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Night from the Inside

 

pond the size
of a table for four
spring peepers

the distant cry
of a migrant gull

*

frantic wings
against the window’s
good night moon

*

I remember how I talked myself out of my fear of the dark at age eight. Or did I? I’ve never been able to watch horror movies — I don’t want those sorts of monsters running loose in my imagination. There are enough real monsters in the news, I say to myself.

But fear isn’t rational, and evolutionarily speaking, it’s not without purpose: e.g. keeping sensible people the hell out of the woods after dark, when all manner of crepuscular and nocturnal creatures come out, and when it’s easy to lose one’s way. Being able to sit outside at night without fear is something that would’ve been inconceivable for almost all of human history, and is still not an option for people in many parts of the world, especially women.

*

the owl whose name
sounds like bard
sounds like she’s laughing

*

petrichor
the Mesozoic trill
of a toad

*

But spending time outside at night without a fire, whatever atavistic fear I may feel is nothing compared to the apprehension my presence must spark in other animals. I hear the alarm-snorts of deer, the wickering of raccoons, the surprised barks of weasels. I am trespassing on their realm and disturbing their nightly patterns. And for what? Just some bogus, Romantic feeling of oneness or awe? What is awe, anyway, if not a sort of denatured terror?

*

my scent
in its midnight nostrils
black bear

*

whatever you are
I know
that discontent

*

hour of the wolf
a percolator’s
last gargle

*

cut flowers
with the corpse
changing color

*

Why is being afraid of one’s own shadow considered the essence of cowardice? It’s not an unreasonable fear. If you’ve been alive for a while, you know what you’re capable of. At night you escape your specific gravity only to be immersed in a more universal displacement. The anyone you could be in your dreams is never not you. From this perspective, death could not be more different. For then at last you do become not-you.

*

drunk
the slow off and on
of glow worms

*

stargazing
in the fog
we’re going nowhere

Night from the inside (3)

mountaintop forest pool at dusk with a band of sunset light still on the horizon
This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Night from the Inside

 

Dark enough to see in each black space between the stars a haze of light, soft as the fur of a cat.

*

dark of the moon
if anything is going
to go bump

*

Vividly imagining every kind of death has become my mental background noise. It’s not as if I’m even slightly suicidal. So why do I do it? Self-loathing? A deep need to keep my ego in check? This is the kind of everyday, ordinary darkness that fascinates me.

Is it even correct to call negative feelings dark? I almost feel they stem from darkness deprivation.

*

the twilight
of animals
under my house

*

night rain
on the roof
my greed for poems

*

What if there were an ancient, possibly immortal, protector of the hollow? Or more than one? It certainly wouldn’t hurt to pour out an offering now and then, just to let them know we acknowledge their sovereignty. But otherwise don’t speak or even really think of them. Because that’s doubtless how they would prefer it, should they actually exist. They have their work and you have yours. They are of the dark. They loathe worship.

*

trees of fog
a train horn’s
dissonant chord

*

Every time you walk through an older forest, remember: you are surrounded by beings that could crush you at any moment, but for some reason have not done so yet.

*

twilight pond
a porcupine puts
one foot in

*

As the crescent moon ripples and breaks apart, the mountaintop pool suddenly seems cavernous, its tree reflections trailing into the abyss. I stand to leave and the illusion passes. A bat nearly the same shade of darkness as the forest careens in and out of vision. The short path to the woods’ edge seems to have doubled in length, but this of course is another illusion. As is the bobcat quality of that snarl I just heard from the spruce grove.

The night makes everything grow: half-seen, fuzzy outlines dissolve, and the darkness itself becomes the only upward limit on size. Names and identities we wear by day become as loose-fitting as nightgowns or pajamas.

*

beyond the jet
a meteor’s
utter silence

*

The odd kinds of noises that various random songbirds make in the middle of the night, possibly without waking up: what a rare privilege to hear them, and imagine that you’ve just gotten an inkling of a wild creature’s unconscious mind.

*

pre-dawn creek
raccoon lifting a rock
lowers the pitch

Night from the inside (4)

Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights - Hell - detail from bottom
This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Night from the Inside

 

Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights - Hell - detail from top

Moonlight in the kitchen is a sign of God.
Anne Carson

Does the moon ever shine in my kitchen with its northeast window? Maybe only in January, on the full moon known as Wolf, or Popping Trees, or Absence of Bears.

*

night train
and the rattling wind
in one bed

*

2:00 a.m. road
without cars the tarmac’s
own carcass

*

smeared
into mere roadkill
so many stars

*

future fossil
all these travels written
in my teeth

*

One set of keys for the day and one for the night. But if the locks fill with rain they will drown and our souls will devolve like cetaceans, returning to the deep and its sunless music, now with microplastic.

*

Nautical twilight. A distant, non-human wail from one of the farms in the valley. Microdrops of rain on my face.

The pleasure of watching headlights move through a forest ten miles away.

*

Through the bottom of my mug, my other hand shrinks into an insect: seat of my soul, dung beetle. Scarab sacred only to a little world of shit.

Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights - Hell - detail from middle

When you sit or lie1 on the forest floor, in a strong wind you may feel slight movements beneath you: tree roots working the night shift.

*

It’s too cold for the bat. Now the moon is recalling all shadows.

Do trees feel the moonlight? If so, it must be the lightest caress.

*

Gazing directly at the moon for too long feels disrespectful, especially when it’s just beginning the monthly molt.

*

A voice off in the forest calls You and after several seconds the response: Yah.

*

That lone window still lit at 4:00 in the morning. The patch of dim light it inflicts on the edge of the forest.

*

nocturne
every hidden hammer
hitting its string

nocturne
the pianist’s fingers
not her own

nocturne
I can’t stop fantasizing
about soup

*

With their frog mouths and weird nocturnal calls, the nightjars wouldn’t seem out of place in one of Hieronymous Bosch’s teeming tableaux.2 One North American species, the common poorwill, is the only bird known to go into a prolonged state of torpor very like hibernation.

every time
I go out to take a leak
whip-poor-will

*

lunar
landscapes of my childhood
aglow with bleakness

*

cedar tree
knocking at my house
must be sleepless too

*

The first hint of dawn in the sky and in the forest the first hint of gray. It begins its daily dwindling into mere woods.


1 Due to the threat of Lyme disease, this is of course best done in a tent.

2 I do a web search and sure enough, Bosch gave Lucifer the head of a nightjar:

Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights - Hell - detail from bottom

Night from the inside (5)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Night from the Inside

 

To go for a walk in the woods during the day is to participate in a fantasy of knowing through seeing. The mysterious unknown is pushed back, engendering the desire to keep walking just to see what’s around the next bend. At night, all such illusions fall away. The forest we’ve just walked through retains its essential unknowability. Without darkness, the very possibility of the wild becomes endangered.

*

From off in the darkness, the sound of a porcupine clacking its teeth. Against what threat, I wonder?

It goes on and on. Somebody doesn’t have much sense.

*

I sit on a bench in the moonlight, put down my hand, and find the pen I didn’t know I’d lost. A small moment of grace, like so many over the years that have allowed me to see myself as deeply fortunate, despite the fact that I’m broke.

*

The absolute silence of an owl’s flight. If I hadn’t been gazing in the right direction, I wouldn’t have known it was there. Even the moonlight makes more noise.

*

In a moonlit forest there are far more beasts. I have had to get out my flashlight three times in the course of a mile to verify that dark shapes were merely logs or root balls. But of course in reality, too, more animals are able to forage or to hunt when the moon is bright.

*

Trees don’t need heads because they have the sun. At night, all that remains are their gestures of ardent worship silhouetted against the sky.

*

Angels with the jaws of lions, these clouds trying to swallow the full moon. A bat less seen than felt — a ripple through the still air currently bearing the monotonous hectoring of a whip-poor-will.

*

Full moon through the trees: the last I’ll see it like that, with so few leaves, until November. I watch it inching along through the branches.

*

Sitting in the middle of a mowed path through the meadow, I feel something bump into the back of my canvas chair, followed by the sound of running feet. Didn’t turn around in time to see what it was. Too small for a deer, too fast for a porcupine. A near-sighted fox? A not-so-wily coyote?

*

moon dog
taking off my glasses
to make sure it’s real

moon dog
sprouting a cloudy tail
time to plant

*

supermoonlight
the old anthill’s
shaggy look

*

moon bathing
that elusive piece
of soap

*

Sólo la luna sospecha la verdad.
Y es que el hombre no existe.
(Only the moon suspects the truth.
And that is that Man doesn’t exist.)
Vicente Aleixandre

*

The night’s doors opening all at once. Flickers of lightning on the horizon. The false thunder of a jet.

*

The sounds of my digestion startle me — and perhaps others off in the darkness. Wouldn’t this have given our hunter-gatherer ancestors an adaptive advantage? I like the idea of the wild within — our gut microflora — helping to safeguard us against the wild without.

Night from the inside (6)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Night from the Inside

 

Living here for 50 years in a bend of the railroad’s main line through Pennsylvania, I couldn’t help but become an aficionado of train horns. As they age they grow in dissonance, till they’re making chords straight out of Schoenberg.

*

cold twilight
fragments
of a distant ball game

*

night valley
the unadorned darkness
of Amish farms

*

What I thought at first were stars reflected in the forest pool’s nearly still surface turn out, when I look up, to be satellites — a long line of them, easily visible through the half-grown leaves as they file soundlessly overhead. This has the name, I recall, of an almost bird: Starlink. Creepy and unnerving as hell. I guess we should be grateful they don’t spell out DRINK COKE or something, but the long-term plan is even worse: to outnumber the visible stars in the night sky. All so one multinational corporation, SpaceX, can have a monopoly on rural broadband service. I’m reminded of Robinson Jeffers’ misanthropic quote: “Man would shit on the morning star if he could reach it.”

*

I love the startled barks of raccoons. Even when my presence is the occasion for it.

*

A small outbreak of fireworks down the valley: a local clusterfuck.

*

Out in the woods at night, it’s hard to shake the impression that I’m surrounded by tribespeople — I mean the trees. They act as if they own the place. You can see it in their posture, their habit of rarely bowing, their standoffishness. However often we cut them down they keep coming back, as best they can, to this same backward place, clannish, profligate. Prone to annual revivals that quickly devolve into orgies, pollen flying everywhere. Full of exotic music from all the nomads they take in.

*

My brother Mark’s nocturnal audio recordings show that field sparrows, a supposedly diurnal species, are the most regular nighttime songsters. I wonder if being a light sleeper confers evolutionary advantage to a dweller in open spaces? Mark wrote,

A field sparrow or field sparrows called 42 times on the night of May 14-15, after dusk and dawn choruses were over, over the course of 7hr45min. So that works out to about once every 11 min. I believe it was more than one bird, given the differing volumes–assuming they weren’t flying around.

Other diurnal birds singing at night I’ve encountered so far are the [yellow-billed and black-billed] cuckoos, an apparent chipping sparrow, catbird, and a common yellowthroat.

*

I’m sitting in the ridgetop forest listening to a dog or coyote in the valley, yipping and howling to the accompaniment of the high school marching band.

The howls are getting closer, the band more distant.

It is almost fully dark, I’m a mile from home, and I’ve just had my second Covid shot.

OK, no, I must be listening to an outdoor rock or country concert. The howls aren’t canine but human, sounding multi vocal when the audience joins in. I can almost make out the melody line.

It’s like I’m in the world’s darkest, deadest bar with a dying jukebox just out of sight around the corner.

But doubtless this is something the town leaders have dreamed up to get people outside and lift their spirits. I’m glad.

And I’m glad that it’s now over, climaxing in a frenzy of colored spotlights. Silence and darkness descend like benedictions from the great velvet Elvis above the bar.

without my glasses
the shapeliness
of night

*

A genuinely blood-curdling cry from the other side of the spruce grove. It spooked a couple of deer, who just ran past me.

*

nightcrawler
s t r e t c h i n g
into the woods

*

The crescent moon is the best moon: more stylish than the full moon, and available for moongazers and performers of dark rites twice a month rather than just once. Plus it doesn’t nearly eradicate the darkness as the full moon does.

*

In one dream I am hunted — or haunted? — by the Polaroid of a fish.

*

moonlit forest
the sudden crack and roar
of a falling tree

the mouse keeps on
nosing about

Fifteen minutes later, another tree crashes down, twice as close. I take the hint and get out.

*

first field cricket
through the open window
half a moon

*

Fifteen minutes past sunset, coyotes strike up a chorus not far from where I sit, on the appropriately named Coyote Bench. They start out sounding plausibly dog-like, but the yipping and wolf-like howling quickly give them away. Like all music that resonates down deep, this is part moan, part jubilation. Closing in on prey, and close to prayer:

*

First firefly blinking through the half-grown black walnut leaves, all alone going here… here… here…

Rainbow colors in the clouds around the moon — a reminder that even on a sultry evening, ice is less than ten miles away.