Epiphan’t

This entry is part 31 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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January 6: Epiphany. I’m not sure what we had in mind when, brainstorming a videopoem for the New Year, Luisa Igloria and I had played around with alternate versions: Epiphony. EpiPhone. Epiphan’t. I don’t think either of us imagined what the angel of history actually had in store. How a morning full of jubilation could be so quickly buried by a 200-year storm.

new Congress
the weight of wet snow
on my umbrella

A white space where history should be: the stolen and destroyed lands, the disappeared peoples. A blank screen where we project our dreams and nightmares, like this vigilante mob older than the republic itself. Rachel and I watch it together on Twitter, doomscrolling, unable to look away. It’s like a B-grade movie come to life, undead legions still loyal to the Lost Cause shambling through the very chambers where 740.5 billion dollars had recently been authorized for our annual “defense” — that Orwellian euphemism. Precious works of art smashed, stolen or defiled, and Donald Rumsfeld laughing: “Stuff happens!” Shit smeared on the walls. A policeman murdered by rioters professing to love the police. Do blue lives matter after all? Will any of us get out of these blues alive?

Twelfth Night
congressmen playing congressmen
in face masks

***

Process notes

I had a completely different haibun ready to envideo on Wednesday afternoon, when I made the mistake of checking Twitter. It was all about the passing of time, the turning of the year, getting older, and the pleasures of wandering around in a snowstorm. The snow had fallen on Sunday, I think (it all seems so long ago now). The first haiku above had been an earlier draft of one in that abortive haibun, which I still think is a bit stronger:

wet snow
the growing weight
on my umbrella

I have lots more footage from that snowstorm, some of it fairly striking, which I tried using in the video, but in the end, a more minimal approach worked best.

The word epiphan’t appears in NEOLOG 2021.0: new words for a new year. The last line of the bun portion is a John Lee Hooker reference.

Smell Pox

still from Smell Pox showing snow falling on wet leaf duff
This entry is part 32 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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I lost my sense of smell for just two days. When it came back, the first odor I noticed was soil, which still surprises me this time of year. When I was a kid, the only time the temperature rose above freezing in January was for a few days of warm weather toward the end of the month, a little false spring we called January Thaw.

white clippings
from my haircut
winter garden

Rachel went back to work after a ten-day self-quarantine. She had what might’ve been the common cold, though five of the other people who looked after the same special-needs person tested positive for Covid. That’s the hell of it, the not knowing whether one might be infectious or immune.

winter
afternoon moon
where’s your shadow

***

Process notes

This went through so. many. drafts. That’s in part because I had several haiku that worked with it, but didn’t have any particularly amazing footage. In the end, yesterday’s moon got me where I needed to go, I think: Absence was my true subject all along. I uploaded it last night, but this morning had one more tweak, that lens-warp fade in. I felt it needed something, but wasn’t sure what until I discovered that effect.

Winter Den

still from Winter Den
This entry is part 33 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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Limbs against the snow, outlined with more snow. Treetops no longer canopies but the bare nets of need. Their no-longer-rare caresses and collisions in the winter wind. The moans of the ice-bound. How tormented they’d be if they hadn’t retreated to the underworld, that silken matrix of rootlets and hyphae, to trade fermented memories of sunlight for the bones of a mouse.

winter den
a slow leak of breath
growing needles

snowy meadow
seedhead bending into
its own pit

We who cannot hibernate, isolated in our boxes of wood or brick, fight the cold any way we can. A poet posts a selfie taken by snowlight. A long-Covid survivor befriends the horse stabled beneath her apartment. The snow plowman dreams of combine harvesters bringing in the crop: a wintry mix. One of his chickens goes gaga over her egg.

cold sun
the fetal curl
of rhododendron leaves

What fever do I still need to break? I take a dose of Vitamin D with my morning outrage. Whose salt-block ignorance or black-ice tongue are we taking offense at today?

crescent moon
a snowflake’s asterisk
in my windpipe

It’s snowing right over there, on the other side of the valley, in soft syllables of Plattdeutsch. Fresh coyote tracks cross my own and I follow them back to a den under an outcrop of Tuscarora quartzite. I walk on, until the last bit of daylight has drained from the sky.

blinking
through the night forest
cell tower

house shaking
from the oil furnace
from the wind

***

Process notes

The longer I delay finishing these things, the longer they get. The delay in this case was due not to procrastination, but indecision about whether to make a haibun or a linked verse sequence with the footage and haiku I had, plus some difficulty in finding the right soundtrack. I’m not completely satisfied with the somewhat canned-sounding piece of music I ended up using here; I just needed to finish up so I could move on.

When I started making haiga with still photos at the beginning of the year, I wondered how it might impact my video-making. What I’m discovering is that, while it does scratch kind of the same itch, it’s given additional impetus to my haiku writing, so that I end up with more than enough material for both projects. The trick is remembering to shoot both video and still photos — if I’m looking for one, I’m not necessarily looking for the other.

55

still from "55" showing a junker car in the middle of a snowy field
This entry is part 34 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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I turned 55 on the first spring-like day in late February, which felt like a cosmic mixed message. For weeks I’ve been fighting low-level depression about getting older and being a failure as a husband — and by fighting I mean going for long walks, mostly on snowshoes.

bone-tired
ogling the snow-free
strips of field

My birthday was shopping day, though, and when I got back to my parents’ house with their groceries, just past noon, Mom surprised me with a cake. And it was warm enough to sit out on their veranda and talk. It took me back.

When I think about my childhood now, it seems to me that I spent an inordinate amount of time just kind of poking at things with a stick. I suppose that must sound absurd to anyone who grew up with video games and the internet.

decades
after the last train
tree-of-heaven

I’m consoled by the thought that this sort of arm’s-length but intent preoccupation with whatever was in front of me may have been the perfect preparation for being a haiku poet. Though of course predilection doesn’t necessarily imply a gift. It would be presumptuous to assume that nature works like that.

growing
a thicker exoskeleton
rock tripe

Unforgetting

still from unforgetting
This entry is part 35 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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A year into the pandemic, do I still remember how to kiss, or even to hug? Is it a muscle-memory thing, like riding a bicycle? I’ve forgotten whole languages, one lonely drink at a time. I barely remember what it’s like to be in a room full of strangers. Will we ever pretend that’s normal again?

last year’s pod
still holding on
to next year’s milkweed

I walk to the end of the mountain above the gap. To the east, the giant gray steps of the limestone quarry. To the north, the paper plant with its white flag of vapor. The railroad following the river and the interstate following the ridge. Snow has taken its blank eraser and retreated to higher ground, but the bare earth offers nothing new in its place. Not yet.

noon whistle
I pause to eat a handful
of old snow

Animist

still from Animist
This entry is part 36 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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I don’t know whether I am really an animist or simply play one in my poems. Does it matter? The poems represent reality as best as I can intuit it: every object a subject, every subject sovereign. Relationships of mutual regard.

The main thing is I like to go for long walks and write short things. And occasionally I come part-way out of myself to take a look around, like an emerging cicada stuck in its larval exoskeleton. Failed ecdysis: this is the sad state of human consciousness these days. Perhaps if we each had a spirit guide…

spring thaw
trees retrieving their reflections
from the ice

***

Process notes

I had just finished drafting the prose portion of this haibun when I shot the video, which then prompted the haiku immediately afterwards. The vulture drifting through my shot was pure serendipity.

Considering what a simple, haiga-style videopoem I had in mind, I flirted with the idea of making the whole thing on my phone before I got back from my walk, but decided it wasn’t worth sacrificing audio quality for. Also, it turns out the way I’d been pronouncing “ecdysis” was completely wrong. Good thing I thought to check an online dictionary before recording!

Exclusive

This entry is part 37 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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I’m beginning to resent the camera for what it excludes. If I had money, I could get one of those fancy 360° cameras and greatly expand the frontiers of my frustration. If I were rich, I could give up on photography altogether and turn my poems into place-specific holograms. The words could hang in the air like contrails and brew their own bad weather.

for the maples’
flaming sexual parts
this breeze

***

Process notes

After I drafted this I remembered I had an AR app on my phone called Weird Type. Good to finally have a use for it. Also, I’m not sure whether filming that rock pile directly influenced what I wrote a little later, but it was fun to juxtapose two products of the same walk and ultimately the same train of thought.

I’m not sure how many people are aware of what flowers are, or even that trees are flowering plants, so I suppose the haiku might just seem weird and creepy. Oh well. Maples are wind-pollinated, which from a human perspective seems slightly less perverse than relying on insects to get off.

Ephemeroptera

still from Ephemeroptera
This entry is part 38 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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Driving home along the river, I have to turn on the windshield wipers every mile or two because of all the mayflies, the off-white inkblots of their anonymous deaths. Imagine living one’s life in a state of arrested development, and only on your last day undergoing not one, but two radical transformations, one after the other: growing wings, breathing air, and mating just once, having gained reproductive parts in exchange for the loss of a mouth.

spring again
scheduling my first
Covid shot


Process notes

Placing two things in close proximity: that’s a poem. The shadbush and hepatica footage here came from a single walk down the hollow and back. But if only I’d had a dash cam on that drive home…

Will this be the final post in the Pandemic Year series? Probably not, but it feels as if it could be.

Pedants may think that COVID should still be written in all caps but that doesn’t seem to be how common usage has gone. In time, even the initial capital letter will come to seem too much, and it’ll end up like scuba or ok, just another word.

Song Dogs

white blossoms of blavk locust floating on a stream
This entry is part 39 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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It’s not that you’re chasing a white moth through the forest; it’s just that she happens to be flying ahead of you, right? It’s just that things come to you when you’re walking. And you to them.

An ephemeral forest pool, fed by spring rains. Here at the top of the watershed the rain doesn’t quite know where to go, so it sits for a while. Ripples on the surface show how any point can be the center of an expanding universe. I love watching them intersect and cancel each other out.

song dogs
on the trail of some
ripe panic