Radio alarm clock

Wakened about two o’clock this morning with the noise of thunder, which lasted for an houre, with such continued lightnings, not flashes, but flames, that all the sky and ayre was light; and that for a great while, not a minute’s space between new flames all the time; such a thing as I never did see, nor could have believed had ever been in nature. And being put into a great sweat with it, could not sleep till all was over. And that accompanied with such a storm of rain as I never heard in my life. I expected to find my house in the morning overflowed with the rain breaking in, and that much hurt must needs have been done in the city with this lightning; but I find not one drop of rain in my house, nor any newes of hurt done. But it seems it has been here and all up and down the countrie hereabouts the like tempest, Sir W. Batten saying much of the greatness thereof at Epsum. Up and all the morning at the office. At noon busy at the ‘Change about one business or other, and thence home to dinner, and so to my office all the afternoon very busy, and so to supper anon, and then to my office again a while, collecting observations out of Dr. Power’s booke of Microscopes, and so home to bed, very stormy weather to-night for winde.
This day we had newes that my Lady Pen is landed and coming hither, so that I hope the family will be in better order and more neate than it hath been.

wakened clock
not a minute’s space between
news of hurt

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 16 August 1664.

White hair

Somewhere in NJ

One day someone killed Sam the Mindreader. I found him squashed and dried up. I stayed there for a long time just looking and listening to the creek running across the rocks. Suddenly I was left with a name in the emptiness, a name I didn’t know what to do with.

The mind-reader’s name
seemed hollow after his death —
just me, rambling.


simply wait

That night I dreamed of my first home, of the trees outside the closet-sized room with the pink rose wallpaper where I spent my childhood, and the scent of lilac in the spring. In the next room my parents argued and loved, dreamed and worried. Our lives there, now vanished, seemed as solid and indestructible as those tall oaks and catalpas outside my window.

In a hospital bed
with a view of bare branches,
dreams of long-lost homes.


Feathers of Hope

This creature emerges from decomposing piles. [drawing]

Placed on a white page,
the maggot looks anything
but white.



It grew cold, and the cold grew on all surfaces.

Lovely white hair
that crumples in the sun:
frost on a rose hip.


Burning Silo

We found the remains of dead seabirds and a sea lion, along with bits and pieces of crabs, clam, oysters and fish. The Black Oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) and various species of gulls seemed busy as they poked between rocks and patrolled sandy beaches.

Skull of a seabird
washed up before the sea was half-
finished with it.


the cassandra pages

But something about these little, simple solids delights me: the way a few little flat sheets of paper become something so firm and beautiful.

Fed up with the blank page,
it’s so satisfying to make
a paper airplane!


tasting rhubarb

[photos of ice-skaters]

In a world of ice,
imagine how we would flock
to a walking rink!


Clouded Drab

Some serious lumps of beef on sale at Borough Market.

Red and gold foil,
a glistening side of beef:
Christmas at the butcher’s.

Passing water

Clouded Drab

I thought I’d post a fresh picture for once, so here’s one from my jaunt to Greenwich on Friday: someone walking their dogs near some of the C17th sweet chestnut trees.

Giant mossy boles
of ancient chestnuts. A dog
strains at his leash.


Burning Silo

There’s a hypnotic quality to wave-watching. I find a safe spot to stand or sit, and then let my mind get in synch with the rhythm of the waves. Among my favourites is to find a place where I can watch the seething, frothy riptide as it churns to wash up and away from the shore. The white caps and foam smash together and frequently rise up to form mountainous crests in the surf.

A wild coast–
white peaks of water rise
between the rocks.


Dharma bums

We’ve been distracted by beauty and pain. Stunning sights of sleeping sea otters and stories of rage and murder.

Laid up with pain,
he thinks about the sea otters
sleeping on the waves.


Creature of the Shade

The trees themselves aren’t interesting to photograph, but I had a pleasant half hour looking at lavender blossoms on someone’s dark blue car. It yielded a monochrome effect, with reflected accents of both city and tree.

Sky-colored blossoms
on the hood of a sky-colored car
float on their shadows.


Two Dishes But to One Table

Rivers in the desert are open for business intermittently. The rest of the time they are tempting trails.

at the bend of a dry river:
sinuous lines.

Windshield frost


We crawled cautiously, semi-sighted, across junctions and around corners until, on the slope by the park, we turned head on toward the sun. That first lick of low light was enough to temper the ice which now slid softly sideways under the rhythm of the blades.

The first touch of sun
and the windshield frost is gone —
so clear a view!


Light Verse for a Heavy Universe

Most of the numbers in the world are wrong and always have been. Government agencies ceaselessly and shamelessly revise their figures. Scientists and engineers “refine” theirs. Economists “massage” their data and finally turn the charts upside-down or sideways to make the numbers match reality.

Counting to 10 can help prevent a row —
is having a number better than having a cow?
Our days are numbered, we think, but we don’t know how.
Clocks make us forget that every moment is now.


Twitter [note on login page, 11/16]

You’ll be able to access Twitter again in just a second. We’re just shuffling a few things around. Just hang tight… [emphasis added]

an adjustment, but so un-


One Word

I didn’t write today. I cleaned.

Last week sucked mightily.

I have the next three days off.

This is not a poem. This is how my brain is working now.

I want D to be happy. I want Moby to be happy.

Moby is easier. He got to lie in the sun on a curl of red wool today.

This is not a poem.
This is how my brain is working now.
I want D to be happy.


bird by bird

Here’s the Cordelia resident snowy egret, which perches on pens and pools and knows how to get free food…

At feeding time
for the de-oiled waterfowl,
a snowy egret.



I am twenty, walking home from work in Billings. A man in a car calls me over to ask directions. When I get to the car, I see that he is exposed, masturbating. I turn away, thinking this did not happen. I hear the words: this did not happen. I even see the words pass by my eyes, like the ticker on the bottom of the CNN screen (cable news, which hasn’t yet been invented): THIS … DID … NOT … HAPPEN.

Penis in hand,
he calls a woman over
to ask directions.


box elder

…and, of course, button-eyed frogs. I say of course, because, in truth, my sister is a frog phobic (and I will leave it to you to find out the correct Greek-rooted word for that), and as so often happens with phobias, the object has become something of a motif in her life and work!

Buttons for eyes
on the bestiary quilt —
you’ll find them at night.


{ Never Neutral }

I spend long hours staring at the computer. Autism redefined. Suddenly, an eyelid starts to twitch, then the biceps, or the triceps sometimes, starts to pulse, like a heart, like a rabbit inside a magician’s hat, like saying, take me out of here, “remember me”. The ghost is not in the machine, but in the body enslaved by the machine.

There on the glass
when the monitor goes dark,
my own sad face.

Junk shop

oak leaf under chestnut bark

Not all falling leaves go to the same place. Trapped under the peeling skin of a dead chestnut, the oak leaf fades from blood red to bloodstain brown,

maple leaf under oak bark

while an orange and scarlet maple leaf peeks like an insurrectionary flag from a crevasse next to a bulge of scar tissue on an ancient oak.

chestnut oak leaves

The November woods are a little like a junk shop, full of discarded treasures.

Be sure to send your tree-related links to Larry Ayers — larry (dot) ayers (at) gmail (dot) com — by November 29 for the next Festival of the Trees, this time at Riverside Rambles.




Outside a junk shop,
a quilt, the bars of a gate —
wandering shadows.


the cassandra pages

Behind the plate glass, behind the empty outside baskets and washed blackboard, tomatoes shine in red pyramids and leeks stand at attention like sailors. White mattresses in dormitory rows already sleep under all-night lights while men in black suits discuss the day’s receipts. Outside the Intermarché the man with the tattooed face eats something rapidly, seated on his blanket […]

Empty sandwich board.
The man with the tattooed face
wolfs down his supper.


Somewhere in NJ

I don’t think I could ever tire of watching sanderlings and was glad to see such a large group huddled together against the wind. Have you ever seen sanderlings hop on one foot before the surf, rather than running like they normally do? Funny – that sight was my delight this morning!

A windy beach.
Sanderlings hop on one foot
when the surf comes in.

Like Kyogen’s stone

small change

She made her way down the steps and as she took her first step on the path, conk, she felt something hitting her head fast and hard. Just about where her right frontal lobe area might be residing, a big nut from a tree (which she can’t identify botanically just now), knocked, as if trying to remind her of the sense of the day she spent.

Like Kyogen’s stone,
that falling nut made contact
with something pliable.


feathers of hope

Went back to Cordelia this afternoon. I saw people looking in pools as I arrived. I went up and there, in the first pool I got to, were about twenty surf scoters. Swimming. Clean, washed, waterproof, and swimming. I sketched one quickly. Have you seen the grebes, I was asked.

Free of oil,
the surf scoters swim in circles
around the pool.


The Middlewesterner

The red tail hawk just north of Fairwater is the color of absence today. Everything changes in the somberness.

Hawk in the rain
darkens to match her perch
above the highway.


Roundrock Journal

The stump has rotted away. Only the part protected by the mailbox is still there, and I won’t be surprised when we find the box on the ground beside a spongy stump.

Birdhouse on a tree,
mailbox on a rotting stump:
a lonely campsite.


Hoarded Ordinaries

Yes, the bear’s mouth is wide open in the front, and that’s where your face sticks out. So it kind of looks like you’ve been swallowed by the bear & are looking out of its mouth, I guess.

The hockey fan’s face
half-swallowed by a foam bear,
roaring drunk.




The cut stem hardens,
taking a firmer grip
on the big pumpkin.


box elder

Then it seemed as though everyone in the northern hemisphere was photographing misty morning spiders’ webs, which was no reason not to do it myself, but I didn’t get around to it anyway. Now I’m wondering about blogging out of season, as it were, when the moment has passed, posting things after their ‘sell by’ date… I’m not sure.

The month-old photos
of dew on spiderwebs —
cobwebby now.


Eye in a bell

..waar komen ze vandaan? Reflecties van de ramen, of van de letters op de paarse vlag? Zijn ze een teken? Moet ik een staatslot kopen eindigend op 8? De 8ste trede van de trap overslaan als ik morgenochtend het perron opren?

Reflected light:
mysterious numeral 8s
on a shaded street.

Stick figures

red maple tree in snow

It snowed most of yesterday, small, wet flakes that stuck to everything, and this morning the water from my too-shallow well was faintly pink. On my way up to my parents’ house, a pair of small insects — caddisflies, or something similar — somehow found their way onto the toe of my right boot. They must have been mating in the snow when I picked them up. They were joined back to back, and walked in either direction quite ably, like the pushmi-pullyu in Doctor Doolittle.

snowroad 2

I’ve written a couple new posts for the Plummer’s Hollow blog: Clash of the seasons today, and First snow two days ago.

I’ve also started a new writing exercise using the micro-blogging tool Twitter, which is designed mostly for people with mobile phones or Blackberries (I have neither) to post periodic updates on their activities. I won’t be doing that. Instead, I’m taking advantage of Twitter’s strict, 140-character limit, challenging myself once a day to answer the question, “What can I see or hear from my front porch while I drink my morning coffee?”

The results appear on my Twitter page, Morning Porch; in a feed that you can subscribe to, if you wish (you don’t have to join Twitter); and in the sidebar of Via Negativa’s home page, down below the blogroll feed, where I’ll limit the display to the ten most recent of these tweets, as they’re called.

Yeah, I know, the terminology is a little silly, but trust me: tweets and twitters make up the bulk of what I hear each morning.

It’s surprisingly difficult to condense a half-hour of observation into just 140 characters. My inspiration in this effort is Tom Montag, who kept a Morning Drive Journal about his daily commute for many years, though he was never quite that brief. Long-time readers might also remember that back in November 2004 I blogged the results of a front-porch journal I’d kept five years earlier. That effort ran out of inspiration after only a few weeks; I’m hoping to keep this up for a year.


My Gorgeous Somewhere

My magnetic poetry set promises lots of boring poems.


Guy on the elevator tells me to have a nice day, so I do.

Not enough options
among the magnetic words,
I have a nice day.


under the fire star

You can buy firecracker chains of 10,000 crackers — you unroll them down the length of the street, and they seem to go on exploding forever. I have been told that chains of 100,000 crackers are available too, but fortunately we’ve missed out on them so far. Big bangs and flowers of light rise above the popping crackers.

Lights can only be
so bright: hence the too-many bangs,
the too-sweet sweets.


bird by bird

This is what a surf scoter looks like, oiled. It doesn’t smell good either. This female is waiting in a warm pen till she’s stable enough to wash, probably tomorrow.

The thing with feathers
barely recognizable
under the oil.


Ah, to be stick figures
so nothing could cling for long,
neither snow nor tar.

Some good news, ending in cat vomit

That new anthology of poet-bloggers I mentioned two weeks ago is out, from the new, Montreal-based Phoenicia Publishing.

Writers and artists have always formed groups for mutual support, commentary, and encouragement, sometimes collaborating on public projects from group shows to hand-printed literary magazines. But while one tends to think of local writers hanging out in Paris cafés in the 1930s, or on the lower East side of New York in the 1950s, how does that desire for communication and creative inspiration translate into today’s online world?

You can browse the Table of Contents and read sample poems (including two of mine that you might recognize) at the Phoenicia site, then follow the link to order a copy or two. It’s a beautifully designed book, and should make a classy (and very affordable) Christmas, Hanukkah, or Solstice present.

UPDATE: Rachel Barenblat, one of the two co-editors, does a much better job of describing the book.


I’m guest-blogging at Blogging Blog (say that three times fast!) on Blogs as a medium for online literary magazines: lessons from qarrtsiluni. And yes, I committed what I always thought was a cardinal sin for bloggers: using a colon in a title. Ack!


Last night, I got some very exciting news from a blogging friend of mine, the multi-talented Natalie d’Arbeloff (also included in the aforementioned anthology, by the way) whose Blaugustine I have linked to so many times. Natalie was one of six finalists in a huge competition sponsored by the Guardian newspaper to win the right to edit their women’s pages for a week. Natalie didn’t learn until she attended the party last night that she had won! Be sure to stop by (November 8 entry – no permalink) and congratulate her.


If I were serious about getting more readers and links for Via Negativa, I guess I’d be leaving these comment haiku far and wide. But that’s not the point of the exercise; I simply want to respond more thoughtfully to the blogs I already read. Sometimes I can’t think of a haiku, but the effort translates into a more substantial prose comment than I might’ve come up with otherwise. And lots of times, still, I nod in silent appreciation and move on.


stained glass of
rusty red and yellow
birch leaves on wet skylight

Leaves on wet skylight:
this must be what a snail sees
from inside its shell.


Dr. Omed

In this series of nude photographs of the frankly obese-and-proud-of-it women of the Big Burlesque and Big Bottom Revue, he fights the good fight against the ‘tyranny of slenderness.’

The yin-yang tattoo
on the fat woman’s back has grown
as big as an apple.



cold walk in the dark
dog in circle of flashlight
home a distant light

First snowfall melts
on contact with the ground. Only
the fallen leaves turn white.



It’s always been difficult to describe the colour of the carpet that runs along the corridor, up the stairs and along the upper corridor of this house. Not mustard, not buttercup. Sunrise? no. Baby-shit comes close. But now, thanks to Cat, I know the exact hue. It is cat-sick-bile coloured.

A mixed blessing:
the color of the cat’s vomit
matches the carpet.

False spring

Meanwhile, back in the holler

So there are lilacs blooming in the dooryard, and it is November.

I also saw peaches, pears and hickories in bloom on the way home from Gallatin the other day.

Trees blossoming
even as their leaves turn yellow:
it hurts to look.


box elder

And this is a picture of my left big toe, getting over familiar with a sea anemone. Mostly because I just posted this today on our family blog, where the subject of feet has come up, and it was all shrunk and ready to go. (The photo, not my foot).

Toe to tentacle
with a sea anemone,
what nacreous nails!


Burning Silo

The first morning after arriving, we found many Pelicans gathered on the wharf in a section of the harbour. By the next morning, the numbers had multiplied to the point that almost every square foot of wharf was occupied by these birds.

Pelicans on the wharf
waiting out the storm all face
the same direction.



Beyond the glass, two white-tails head downstream;
one walks the north bank, the other the south.

Dead deer in the creek:
a vulture rises from its perch
between the antlers.


tasting rhubarb

The ‘cells’ were my favourites: intricate, enclosing, troubling dolls’ houses for grown-ups where I could have lingered, playing mind-games, for hours.

In the bush by my door
it’s the second winter now
for that cocoon.

Oddly enough, a WordPress “child” category can only have a single parent. So I guess I’ll place this new category for comment haiku under Poems & poem-like things, though it could just as easily go under Blogs and blogging.

Cow tool

cow tool

Do you ever get the feeling, after waking up in the morning, that you’ve just been dreaming somebody else’s dream? I found this metal implement, or piece thereof, in the corner of the field this afternoon, and suddenly remembered that I had been acting as an informal advisor to President Bush sometime around 6:30 this morning. I had been trying to get him to shelve an anti-evolution statement he was preparing to make at an upcoming press conference, and feeling some considerable disgust at myself for the tact with which I chose my words. “You must understand, Mr. President,” I said as gently as I could, “that if you express your true feelings about this, right or wrong, that will forever color history’s perception of you as a leader. You will be subjected to derision and ridicule at home and abroad.” His eyes darted back and forth as I spoke, and it was clear he wasn’t listening.

What’s truly bizarre is that in the dream, I felt pity and even affection for the man. Well, I suppose it’s possible: emotions do have the property of changing shape according to the space they’re trying to fill. And later that day, as I turned the rusty piece of metal over in my hands, I was reminded of Gary Larson’s famously misunderstood cartoon picturing a row of amorphous objects — Cow Tools.

The “cow tools” were supposed to be just meaningless artifacts — only the cow or a cowthropologist is supposed to know what they are used for.

The first mistake I made was in thinking this was funny. The second was making one of the tools resemble a crude handsaw — which made already confused people decide that their only hope in understanding the cartoon meant deciphering what the other tools were as well. Of course, they didn’t have a chance in hell.

on the veranda

When I got back, my parents were sitting out on the veranda with my brother Steve. The amorphous pink object on his chest and shoulder is my niece Elanor. They were watching birds of prey migrate south along the ridge — redtails, a turkey vulture, and a golden eagle — along with enormous white sailplanes, which whistled as they flew. Elanor slept for three hours, passed from shoulder to shoulder. In the middle of supper (spaghetti with venison marinara sauce), the phone rang, and Mom said, “I’ll bet that’s Trish calling to say she’s caught an eagle.” It was.

More on that tomorrow, perhaps.


Marja-Leena Rathje

More hands, maybe? Textured paper?

Cracks in the concrete:
now the black snake has somewhere
to trap his loose skin.



The big (huge) spider sculpture which was commissioned for the opening of the Tate and dominated the Turbine Hall is back, straddling a substantial area outside the building. It is, of course, called Maman (mother). This spider is small, about the size of my camera, but was something I could relate to powerfully nonetheless.

The blessed virgin
traded in her arms for eight
flying buttresses.


Philosophical Rabbit


A baby shark
& a cat in a bathysphere
exchange a longing glance.


bean activist

Simply pour your favorite stout into a large glass and then pour in some cooled coffee. Experiment until you discover a proportion that suits your taste. I like a ratio of about one to one.

Served coffee with beer.
Now the grass below my porch
is turning brown.

(Back to grass again!)