In the Fullness of Time

still from In the Fullness of Time
This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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Six weeks after I planted potatoes, they are finally all up, the latest leaves no bigger than the ears of the mice I was sure had dug up and eaten them, especially after a series of holes appeared in each hill. But it’s been unusually cold this spring, and sprouts were simply taking their time. Our neighbors had urged patience, and they were right.

All this waiting to see what happens with the pandemic would be hard to bear if I didn’t also have something to wait for: a garden growing and changing day by day now, so that time doesn’t merely pass like some lifeless assembly line, but unfolds, ramifies, flourishes, bears fruit.

even as
I pull weeds my beard
keeps on growing

evening garden
a snake has left her skin
beside the lettuce

***

Process notes

Yes, I’ve been shooting videos of my feet propped up on the porch railing since mid-April (the first of the two snowy shots) waiting for an excuse to combine them into a videopoem. I’d love to tell you that I shot them every set number of days, because I’m all organized like that, but actually, I just did it when I thought of it. As followers of my long-running Morning Porch microblog will know, I have a bit of a thing for sitting outside. In fact I sat on the porch while waiting for this video to upload (which took an hour and a half! Ah, country living).

The font I used for the haiku is called Permanent Marker — basically a Comic Sans that doesn’t suck. And it just occurred to me that the most likely reason it struck me as a good fit is because the grid presentation of shots is ultimately derived from the comics — an association very much in the haiku spirit, by the way, given the traditionally high valuation of lightness (karumi).

Someone asked me how long this video haibun series will go on, and honestly I have no idea. The only thing I have in mind to do with them is stitch some or all of them together into a longer film, as I did with the half-hour-long film of videohaiku that I showed at the REELpoetry festival in January, Crossing the Pond (watch it here). The longer this series continues, the more selective I can be when it comes time to make Pandemic Season: The Movie. On the other hand obviously I am fervently hoping for the pandemic to be over as soon as possible, but it looks as if we may be in for the long haul. Good thing I have gardening to distract myself. And there’s a real sense of solidarity with all the other people getting into gardening in a big way this spring — some for the first time, others, like me, with a renewed passion.

***

Here’s a brain fart I posted on Facebook when I shared the previous haibun in this series, for what it’s worth: Ever since Basho came along and turned what had been a parlor game into high art, haiku writers have made a fetish of satori-like moments of awareness. In reality, such moments are rare, even for Zen masters, and a better analogy to what we’re trying to do with haiku is the novice spending days pondering an unsolvable riddle (koan), proposed in this case by the universe. You generally have to discard at least your first half-dozen attempts as too clever and keep going back to the riddle of your original glimpse or inkling. With modern haiku and haibun, the challenge is no different; it’s just that the number of allowable subjects has exploded, and our relationship with nature has changed to acknowledge our complicity in its degradation. (Climate change, for example, is playing hob with traditional seasonal references.) Instead of aha moments I tend to look for WTF moments, and instead of personal insights, I’m more interested in creating a space for the reader/listener to make some connection on their own. Without engaged listening and seeing, there’s no haiku.

Tadpool

This entry is part 12 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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I didn’t go to bars or restaurants all that often, but I still miss them. Longing is all about the unattainable, isn’t it? I often find myself out restlessly walking around the mountain instead.

so much more
than one can hear
hermit thrush

I like walking at dusk because it is then that the buzzing stops. I don’t mind the whine of a mosquito, but as long as I can remember, I’ve been bothered by flies. Too many of them and my nose starts to itch uncontrollably, I don’t know why. And nothing is more horrifying than some dead animal heaving with maggots.

ephemeral pond
raccoon footprints fill in
with tadpoles

In the news, reopening restaurants are seating mannequins at every other table so diners will feel less isolated. Just before waking, I dream that the top-hat wearing skeletons off The Best of the Grateful Dead Live album cover pass me on the street, but they’re no longer dancing. They look disoriented. The skulls have somehow lost their grins.

tadpool
the social distancing
of cannibals

***

Process notes

First came the encounter with a hermit thrush at dusk, recorded (the audio anyway) on my phone as he sang his ethereal song on the other side of the big vernal pond up at the top of the watershed. Hermit thrushes are occasional visitors to the mountain, but they generally prefer higher elevations (or perhaps more accurately: the closely related wood thrushes prefer lower elevations and out-compete them). I’ve featured that pond often in videopoems, so wasn’t sure I’d really be able to use it until I came up with the idea of layering it with footage of a basement club in London shot a year ago, culminating in the ritualistic dissolving of a sugar cube into absinthe (which is probably not obvious in the film, but that’s OK). Because the hermit thrush song is so beautiful, I thought I could get away with some dark and disturbing text by way of contrast. Wood frog tadpoles don’t have a whole lot to eat besides each other, as their natal pool slowly dries up. Will they make it out before the pond disappears completely? Most years, no. Nature is a bitch.

I’ve never actually owned the referenced album (or any other Grateful Dead) so I’m not entirely sure where my unconscious mind got that from, other than a more generalized interest in memento mori iconography. In any case, it was fortuitous, since it’s much more likely to be familiar to the average person than the death metal I actually listen to.

This is nearly twice as long as the other videos in the series, in part because the text was longer and in part because the thrush’s slow delivery set the pace. So I had to drop down to a lower frame rate and smaller aspect ratio than usual so it wouldn’t take forever to upload on my sluggish rural internet. I don’t think the difference will be too noticeable, though.

Out of Whack

screenshot from Out of Whack
This entry is part 11 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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It’s not every year we get snow in dogwood season. This particular year, the wild weather simply adds to the impression that the world is completely out of whack.

spiderweb
catching snowflakes
their little spikes

Marooned in our homes, tempers fray. We wonder how long this will go on, worry about finances and food shortages. I watch a pair of scarlet tanagers—treetop birds—reduced to feeding near the ground and foraging for invertebrates in the creek.

redder
than our open mouths
tanager

But spring is always a puzzle: the innumerable ways that spikiness blossoms and leaves us.

***

Process notes

I’ve been trying hard to take my time with the videos in this series, and not rush them out as is my wont. Quite often this has led to some unexpected last-minute changes, as with the concluding line of prose here. I simply felt that the idea of spikiness hadn’t yet been adequately explored. And I have felt especially strongly this year just what a strange, perilous and miraculous thing a northern-hemisphere spring really is, even in normal circumstances.

The video has gone through three major drafts—about the same as the text, though largely unrelated to the changes there. I’m always a bit uncomfortable with too tight a fit between text and imagery in a videopoem, but I thought I might ameliorate the effect of mere illustration here with a split-screen suggesting outer vs. inner landscapes, using some old footage from (I think) the Tate Modern, altered enough to where I don’t think I’m simply ripping off the artist, whom I can’t credit because I failed to make a note of her name.

Obviously this entire videopoem is, in part, an exercise in obliqueness. It’s interesting to note that independently produced videos referencing COVID-19 or coronavirus explicitly on YouTube will be suppressed in search results in order to limit the spread of unofficial information. That’s not why I left out any reference to the virus here, though; at this point, it’s simply unnecessary to call it out. It permeates our thoughts… and soon enough, perhaps, our bodies as well.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that although the haibun in this series are nonfiction, the “we” in this case is pretty general; tempers aren’t actually fraying much where I’m staying, I’m happy to say. Which is not to say some of us aren’t still a bit spiky before we get our morning coffee…

Public Relations

still from Public Relations
This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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I dreamed we were in a pandemic, but nobody knew what to do because the official pronouncements were too verbose and contradictory. I discovered that if they were re-written as ultra-short haiku, everyone grasped them at once. This became my new job.

the and
in pandemic
unmasked

Then I was in the lounge of a nearly deserted hotel, trying to buy a Belgian lambic with some form of local, antisanal currency. It didn’t add up. All the billboards were in Japanese. My phone dropped a call from my wife on the other side of the city, which had engulfed the earth.

your O face
a grounded
outlet

***

Process notes

The prose portion in this describes two related dreams I had the night before last, remembered because each time I awoke immediately afterwards. I hasten to add however that the haiku did not come to me in the dream (I wish!) and as usual were the hardest part of all this to get right.

It’s always harder to start with a text and find images to match, rather than work ekphrastically, but I realized I still have a lot of unused footage from last spring and summer when I was in London, and I thought some of that might work. At the end, I thought I’d better add a shot of an American grounded outlet so international viewers with different electrics would get the haiku — a rare instance of me using a baldly illustrative approach in a videopoem.

As for the music, I wasn’t actually searching for music at all, just something suitably atmospheric for the soundtrack, but the search terms I was using on freesound were sufficiently vague to turn up a goofy, glitchy track that really tied it all together for me — and licensed Creative Commons 0, i.e. public domain, to boot! Which means of course that I wouldn’t have had to attribute it in the credits, but on the other hand I don’t want to leave people with the impression that I’ve developed electronic composer skills.

How to Care

This entry is part 9 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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On the last day of April, Facebook gives us a new way to react: a care emoji. Yellow generic-person hugs a disembodied heart, perhaps the heart that absence makes fonder. But to older eyes, unless you squint, it looks like someone clutching an open wound.

taking shelter
under my umbrella
mosquito

Such a long, cold, rainy April we’ve had. The death toll continues to climb, just as the scientists foretold. Already more Americans have died from COVID-19 than in the Vietnam War, they say — a comparison which has the unfortunate side-effect of making our imperial adventures seem like natural disasters. But it’s always hard to turn the dead into mere statistics. Picture instead a large stadium where the entire crowd has just perished. Or all the stumps in a 300-acre forest that’s just been clear-cut.

soil
too wet to plant
fresh graves

***

Process notes

One of the few haibun in this series where the title didn’t come from the first line of a haiku. In fact, settling on the present title really helped me see the sort of haiku I needed for this. As is often the case, the haiku came to me on walks, both the two I used and three more I rejected, and I’ve managed to make the switch from a pocket notebook to my phone (the Notes app) for jotting down haiku ideas. I still do use the notebook a lot as well, especially for drafting the prose portion of a haibun while sitting out on the front porch. Haiku are short enough that the awkwardness of typing on a tiny screen isn’t much of an impediment.

I shot the footage a week ago and have just been waiting for it to summon something up.

Brachiate

still from Brachiate
This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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I don’t remember the dream that woke me, just that it seemed suddenly very important to breathe, and to go on breathing. To go on, despite fear, loneliness or depression. I thought of a stone I’d found on a walk that was too charismatic to just toss aside but which I knew I had no reason to keep, since I’m in the process of moving out (or was, before the pandemic hit). I put it in my pocket, and a moment later took it out again and set it down beside the trail for some child to find, with its red mineral heart outlined in yellow. I thought of Charles Simic’s definition of a stone as a mirror that works poorly.

brachiate
as if my lungs too
might leaf out

***

Process notes

I tend not to do much with text animation, but some sort of zoom effect seemed essential, given the strange footage—which I suppose I should explain for anyone who’s completely baffled by it. It’s on the shore of one of the small, seasonal, woodland pools at the top of the watershed. What was happening I think was that this little puddle happened to be situated right beside or on top of a root, or possibly two intertwined roots of adjacent trees. As the wind blew and the trees swayed, the roots were raised and lowered, causing the puddle to grow and shrink.

Either that, it was just haunted.

They say that the pandemic is causing people all over the world to have unusually vivid, frightening dreams. My dreams have always been pretty vivid, so I can’t say I’ve really noticed a difference.

Spring Evening

still from Pandemic Time - distant lights in the darkness
This entry is part 7 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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For anyone in the rural U.S., power outages are a way of life, so one of the most surprising things about the pandemic so far is that the lights have stayed on. I stand on the ridgetop as darkness falls, gazing at a very bright Venus high in the sky; below that, a sliver of moon, the black bulk of the Allegheny Front, and then the usual display of interstate exit lights, street lights and house lights. And in a town of 5000, however Appalachian, there must be at least a few Muslim families breaking their Ramadan fast.

spring evening
scent
of a backyard grill

8:30 and already most traffic has stopped. Way off down the ridge I hear the first whip-poor-will.

night forest
a glowworm’s
slow blink

***

Process notes

Written three or four nights ago (time is a blur these days). I thought I could use other, more oblique footage, but ultimately it just didn’t work, so I went back to the same ridgetop spot tonight to shoot what I could of the valley (the iPhone video camera is not great in low light) as well as to grab some audio with my trusty Zoom H2 microphone. I was worried about it resembling too closely my earlier haibun in this series, Quarantine Walk, which also used a single, slow panning shot at dusk, but oh well. I take a lot of night-time walks; what can I say?

If you’ve missed any of the other haibun in this on-going series, there’s now an archive page for them here under the ad hoc name Pandemic Time: Haibun, as well as a showcase on Vimeo.

Flag of Hate

still from Flag of Hate - setting fire to a confederate flag
This entry is part 6 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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My brother comes back from a walk to report that someone has nailed a confederate flag to a tree at the end of the mountain. This far north of Dixie, that’s an unmistakable sign of hard-core racism. Our neighbors in the hollow have biracial grandchildren; perhaps it was aimed at them? Who knows. Hatred is a disease that can only be cured by love, but its carriers must be isolated and the symbols it infects destroyed.

flag of hate
hissing as
it burns

Fire breaks the hydrocarbon chains in polyester with a thousand fingers at once. We gaze at the flag’s charred outline on the road as if it were a map to some disaster area: a nuclear test site, a strip mine, the tar sands of Alberta.

fake stars
learning what it means
to shine

***

Process notes

My sister-in-law Paola was kind enough to film this for me. I had been playing with the text ever since Mark first reported his discovery, but burning the thing really helped me see that I had to lose all digressions and just focus in on the flag and our disposal of it. I had originally gone off on a tangent about a dream I’d had, brought in an incursion onto our property by off-road vehicles, and wandered off into a discussion of racism that was much too didactic for a haibun, where even the prose is supposed to be lyrical. I’m finding the one-minute approximate limit I’ve set myself for these videos immensely useful.

The Creative Commons-licensed music was surprisingly easy to find on Soundcloud. Through a complex procedure I don’t quite understand, the composer turns passages of James Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake into music. There I was looking for an off-kilter version of “Dixie” and I found something brilliant.

Face Masks

still from Face Masks
This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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Face masks, that curiously redundant name—perhaps because it’s only partial, and the mask becomes part of the face… or vice versa. Last week I forgot a mask on a trip to the supermarket in Liberal College Town, and the other shoppers stared and glared. Curled lips were hidden, but I could read their thoughts: “He must be one of them.”

essential
workers behind plexiglass
Easter lilies

This week, a quick trip to a deli in Blue-Collar Republican Town, and this time I remember my mask. Again I get stared at—and now I can see their mouths, too. The smirks. “He must be one of them.” It’s a relief to retreat to the mountain, where the blue-headed vireos are back with their chant that means I am here and This is my spot.

snow on shadbush blossoms
the governor’s
new order

Process notes

A videopoem in the classic style, remixing home movies of unknown provenance and an old commercial from the Prelinger Archives. I did a first draft of this using my own footage of blossoming shadbush and such, but found the result too boring. A second draft sourced footage from a different film for the first half, and I found the contrast with the text a little too jarring. I finally got the idea of searching Prelinger for films tagged “mannequin” and got some footage that seemed to work.

All that farting around, however, meant that the information here got a bit out of date. As of today, I’m told that many more residents of Blue-Collar Republican Town are wearing masks in public.

Putting a Garden In

still from the video - close-up of a baby bunny
This entry is part 4 of 13 in the series Pandemic Season

 

Be sure to watch with the sound on. Vimeo link.

Putting a garden in so often entails putting wildlife out. You develop an adversarial relationship with nature, fencing, trapping, shooting, poisoning, getting a guard dog… It’s this sad reality that many years ago turned me against what had been the reigning passion of my youth.

onion bed
pulling out
wild onions

But my wife suggested from her bunker in London that as long as I am stuck in Pennsylvania for at least half the summer due to the pandemic, I might as well grow some vegetables. Great idea, I said, already relishing the thought of getting my fingers in the dirt again. But just planting fence posts, I displaced three adorable baby bunnies from the long grass, and when our neighbor plowed the site up, a meadow vole rushed out, all fur and panic.

wire fence
the wind’s
new whistle

***

Process notes

In contrast to my usual one-shot approach, I had plenty of footage to work with this time. Serendipity, as usual, played the strongest role; my planned shots were the least interesting. I realized during editing that I could even use a few seconds of accidental video recorded by the iPhone when a strong gust of wind blew it off the well cover where I’d had it propped up, and make it look as if it’s my reaction to the feint of a milk snake. To me, haibun is all about balance between different registers: prose and poetry (obviously), but also in this case humor and seriousness, attraction (the bunny) and repulsion (the snake). I tried turning it black-and-white to see how that would work, but it pushed it too far in the direction of serious, high-brow art.

As with my previous haibun, the haiku took the longest to get into their final (I hope!) form. It helped me to remember to go back to the original moment of inspiration for each one, and not get too abstract or clever (such as “now the wind has somewhere to whistle”). I displayed them as one-liners in the video and three lines above, and this inconsistency doesn’t bother me in the least, though many modern haiku people seem to obsess about such things. (One has to wonder whether their energies might be better spent learning to make videopoems!)

I am worried about the video seeming a bit rushed, and wonder whether it makes sense to continue to restrict myself to a one-minute duration. Regardless, this video haibun thing appears to be turning into a proper series. Yay!