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.
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.
of a distant ball game
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
A genuinely blood-curdling cry from the other side of the spruce grove. It spooked a couple of deer, who just ran past me.
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.
the sudden crack and roar
of a falling tree
the mouse keeps on
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.
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?
taking off my glasses
to make sure it’s real
sprouting a cloudy tail
time to plant
the old anthill’s
that elusive piece
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.
Moonlight in the kitchen is a sign of God.
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.
and the rattling wind
in one bed
2:00 a.m. road
without cars the tarmac’s
into mere roadkill
so many stars
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.
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.
every hidden hammer
hitting its string
the pianist’s fingers
not her own
I can’t stop fantasizing
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.
I go out to take a leak
landscapes of my childhood
aglow with bleakness
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:
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.
scheduling my first
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.
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.
under my house
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
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.
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
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.
raccoon lifting a rock
lowers the pitch
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
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?
in its midnight nostrils
whatever you are
hour of the wolf
with the corpse
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.
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.
through skeletal trees
the bat’s back story
on all screens
one after another
into the sunset
grazing at dark
right at dusk
that old coyote-
the split second
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
barn swallows night nesting nesting
from the quarry
stars among clouds
I feel for
my missing teeth
with the sky
for a quilt
of my sunburn
What does it mean to be a chaser of oblivion? Will the stars throw down their spears?
in the cosmos
ripples left by
a bat’s swift drink
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.
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
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.
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…
trees retrieving their reflections
from the ice
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!