Night from the inside (2)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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

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

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.

Exclusive

This entry is part 37 of 37 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.

Animist

still from Animist
This entry is part 36 of 37 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!

Unforgetting

still from unforgetting
This entry is part 35 of 37 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

55

still from "55" showing a junker car in the middle of a snowy field
This entry is part 34 of 37 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

Smell Pox

still from Smell Pox showing snow falling on wet leaf duff
This entry is part 32 of 37 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.

Epiphan’t

This entry is part 31 of 37 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.

Losing Maizy

still from Losing Maizy
This entry is part 29 of 37 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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Maizy the terrier had always traveled in circles — around the park, around the block, around the garden — but toward the end her circles tightened drastically till they occupied no more than a corner of the kitchen. She no longer recognized her own front door and became utterly lost. Except, it seems, on the lap of her life-long companion, my partner Rachel. Her fits become more frequent and prolonged, each time leaving her a bit more impaired. Finally Rachel made the agonizing decision to have her euthanized. She found a vet who made house calls, and when the time came, held Maizy as if she were an infant while the drugs kicked in. Rachel said she felt her relax all over, and then, a few seconds later, simply stop breathing.

windy sidewalk
a spiral of leaves lying down
at my feet

It was hard not to be there with them in London. We’ve been crying a lot over Zoom. How strange it is, Rachel says, to wake up and walk around without Maizy. “Death is the only thing we know to be true,” says my 70-year-old friend L. We’ve been walking through an oak-hickory forest on a mostly unmarked trail for a couple of miles, and we’ve come to a T-intersection with a sign that points left to “Beach – 1 mile” and right to “Dead End – 1 mile.” We turn right. And after a mile we find ourselves in a large clearing filled with reindeer lichen. There are certainly worse places to end up.

curled
in a maze of roots
another life

***

Process notes

I hope it’s obvious what I was trying to do here. I did take quite a bit more time with this than usual, in part because I wasn’t there for Maizy’s death and burial (in the back garden). I wasn’t willing to write a haiku solely based on second-hand experience.

It might be worth sharing some of my alternate attempts at a closing haiku. For a placeholder while I worked on the video, I had something based on a morning porch observation several days ago:

mid-morning moon
the only cloud dissolving
into blue

which seemed Buddhist in a way I’m not, and didn’t bring it back to Maizy and circling, aside from the cyclical phases of the moon, which I continued to play with:

nestled
into a box
daytime moon

garden burial
the daytime moon’s
thinning tooth

maze of roots
for a cardboard coffin
another life

It occurred to me last night, while gazing at the edge of the woods where tree trunks were faintly visible, that it’s entirely accurate to consider trees (and plants in general) as beings of light, however New Agey that may sound.

For what it’s worth, I believe this is the first I’ve ever included a post-credits scene in a videopoem. But surely the dead deserve a secret ending.

Presence

still from Presence
This entry is part 28 of 37 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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A tree seems like the very embodiment of presence, but this time of year it is mostly absent, at least aboveground. It’s real in the same way that a life-size cardboard cutout of a politician is real. You can project anything onto it. It’s another blank space on your mental map.

sleeping it off
on a park bench
fallen leaves

In her poem “Come Into Animal Presence,” Denise Levertov celebrated the rare privilege of being ignored by wild animals. Lately I’ve experienced this to an unusual degree: with a doe that barely stepped aside for me, a beaver that went about its business fifty feet away, flocks of turkeys that walk right past, and small creatures foraging all around me in the night woods. I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve it, but I’m humbled and grateful to be allowed to fade into the woodwork.

hole
between the stars
flying squirrel

*

Process notes

This was a rare instance where the filming and writing happened nearly simultaneously, on or near a convenient bench in the forest. It occurs to me that it’s the first I’ve made a black-and-white film in a year and a half—and the last time I did so was also to focus attention on shadows. I’m a simple man.

This is one of those times I really could’ve used a tripod. I tried speeding up the entire five-minute clip of the tree shadow eclipsing the hand shadow, for a time-lapse effect, but the shaking became too distracting, even after I applied an image-stabilization effect. On the other hand, keeping the whole film in real time might’ve been the best approach anyway.

The drone music in the soundtrack (thank you, pseudonymous Freesound user) might or might not be a necessary addition to the natural sound, which does include some distant raven croaks and lots of falling leaf noises. I worry perhaps a bit too much about taxing viewers’ attention spans.