Independence Day

This entry is part 17 of 17 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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Remembering a time in my life when I still found people interesting and believed in the future. I think I’m happier now that I have no particular expectations.

once again
finding my fly unzipped
Independence Day

The full moon is bright enough that for once, moths aren’t drawn to the light of my phone. Their wings brush against my pale legs as I sit out in the meadow, drinking homebrew and jotting down these notes with one finger.

fireworks done,
the milkweed’s honey-
suckle scent

***

Process notes

the video combines footage from our own little backyard celebration on Friday night with the footage and audio of the full moon on Saturday night, when I did indeed sit outside, as the haibun says, jotting down haiku and senryu as they popped into my head like a sad parody of an aging haijin. Rejects included:

moon on the meadow
the flight paths
of white moths

*

fire
works
hard

*

moon in conjunction
with Jupiter
I blame Putin

*

That “Yee-hah!” during the credits is me. Just in case there’s any doubt whether my misanthropy extends to myself.

Distancing

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and more letters still from Sir W. Coventry about more fire-ships, and so Sir W. Batten and I to the office, where Bruncker come to us, who is just now going to Chatham upon a desire of Commissioner Pett’s, who is in a very fearful stink for fear of the Dutch, and desires help for God and the King and kingdom’s sake. So Bruncker goes down, and Sir J. Minnes also, from Gravesend. This morning Pett writes us word that Sheernesse is lost last night, after two or three hours’ dispute. The enemy hath possessed himself of that place; which is very sad, and puts us into great fears of Chatham. Sir W. Batten and I down by water to Deptford, and there Sir W. Pen and we did consider of several matters relating to the dispatch of the fire-ships, and so W. Batten and I home again, and there to dinner, my wife and father having dined, and after dinner, by W. Hewer’s lucky advice, went to Mr. Fenn, and did get him to pay me above 400l. of my wages, and W. Hewer received it for me, and brought it home this night. Thence I meeting Mr. Moore went toward the other end of the town by coach, and spying Mercer in the street, I took leave of Moore and ’light and followed her, and at Paul’s overtook her and walked with her through the dusty street almost to home, and there in Lombard Street met The. Turner in coach, who had been at my house to see us, being to go out of town to-morrow to the Northward, and so I promised to see her tomorrow, and then home, and there to our business, hiring some fire-ships, and receiving every hour almost letters from Sir W. Coventry, calling for more fire-ships; and an order from Council to enable us to take any man’s ships; and Sir W. Coventry, in his letter to us, says he do not doubt but at this time, under an invasion, as he owns it to be, the King may, by law, take any man’s goods. At this business late, and then home; where a great deal of serious talk with my wife about the sad state we are in, and especially from the beating up of drums this night for the trainbands upon pain of death to appear in arms to-morrow morning with bullet and powder, and money to supply themselves with victuals for a fortnight; which, considering the soldiers drawn out to Chatham and elsewhere, looks as if they had a design to ruin the City and give it up to be undone; which, I hear, makes the sober citizens to think very sadly of things. So to bed after supper, ill in my mind. This afternoon Mrs. Williams sent to me to speak with her, which I did, only about news. I had not spoke with her many a day before by reason of Carcasses business.

that sad hat
at the other end of the coach
night train


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 11 June 1667.

Truncated

still from Truncated showing a rat snake on the ground
This entry is part 16 of 17 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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In the news, there’s a report that COVID-19 antibodies might not persist for more than a few weeks, and therefore that we can expect no herd immunity. Thinking about this, I barely hear the black-and-white warbler wheezing or the wood-pewee’s melancholy melisma. But then, from around the bend, a deer comes bounding straight towards me, doubtless trying to escape her nimbus of flies. I freeze. She stops 50 feet away and stares, moving her head from side to side for a better view. Human, or a tall stump? She makes up her mind to step warily around me. And I am a stump. I barely remember having my head in the clouds.

whose road is this
the tree snake’s
rootless flow

***

Process notes

An experiment in mixing and matching two different recent wildlife encounters, plus some other footage I happened to shoot the other day. For the soundtrack, something nervous and itchy-sounding from the invaluable Freesound.

The snake, by the way, is a black rat snake—very much an arboreal hunter, so I don’t think it’s inaccurate to refer to it as a tree snake, even if here it’s on the ground.

Prisoner

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and with Mr. Kenaston by coach to White Hall to the Commissioners of the Treasury about getting money for Tangier, and did come to, after long waiting, speak with them, and there I find them all sat; and, among the rest, Duncomb lolling, with his heels upon another chair, by that, that he sat upon, and had an answer good enough, and then away home, and (it being a most windy day, and hath been so all night, South West, and we have great hopes that it may have done the Dutch or French fleets some hurt) having got some papers in order, I back to St. James’s, where we all met at Sir W. Coventry’s chamber, and dined and talked of our business, he being a most excellent man, and indeed, with all his business, hath more of his employed upon the good of the service of the Navy, than all of us, that makes me ashamed of it. This noon Captain Perriman brings us word how the Happy Returne’s below in the Hope, ordered to carry the Portugal Ambassador to Holland (and the Embassador, I think, on board), refuse to go till paid; and by their example two or three more ships are in a mutiny: which is a sad consideration, while so many of the enemy’s ships are at this day triumphing in the sea. Here a very good and neat dinner, after the French manner, and good discourse, and then up after dinner to the Duke of York and did our usual business, and are put in hopes by Sir W. Coventry that we shall have money, and so away, Sir G. Carteret and I to my Lord Crew to advise about Sir G. Carteret’s carrying his accounts to-morrow to the Commissioners appointed to examine them and all other accounts since the war, who at last by the King’s calling them to him yesterday and chiding them will sit, but Littleton and Garraway much against their wills. The truth of it is, it is a ridiculous thing, for it will come to nothing, nor do the King nor kingdom good in any manner, I think. Here they talked of my Lord Hinchingbroke’s match with Lord Burlington’s daughter, which is now gone a pretty way forward, and to great content, which I am infinitely glad of. So from hence to White Hall, and in the streete Sir G. Carteret showed me a gentleman coming by in his coach, who hath been sent for up out of Lincolneshire, I think he says he is a justice of peace there, that the Council have laid by the heels here, and here lies in a messenger’s hands, for saying that a man and his wife are but one person, and so ought to pay but 12d. for both to the Poll Bill; by which others were led to do the like: and so here he lies prisoner. To White Hall, and there I attended to speak with Sir W. Coventry about Lanyon’s business, to get him some money out of the Prize Office from my Lord Ashly, and so home, and there to the office a little, and thence to my chamber to read, and supper, and to bed. My father, blessed be God! finds great ease by his new steel trusse, which he put on yesterday. So to bed. The Duke of Cambridge past hopes of living still.

wind all night
against the prison steel
I am still


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 5 June 1667.

Robber Fly

This entry is part 15 of 17 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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All around the world, jubilant crowds are pulling down statues or, barring that, smashing off their heads. Confederate generals must be relieved not to continue in a pantomime of victory they never knew. And imagine the ecstasy of a slaver thrown in the sea, which erases all debts!

I find a key in my sleep, but it’s not clear what it opens. An ornamental, patriotic heart? The moon’s blue twin? I was born without language, but somehow I already had a name—one so heavy I couldn’t stand up for more than a year. Those I inherited it from once ran a plantation on stolen labor, brutalized bodies, shattered lives. I imagine us all joined like knots in one net.

robber fly
too many legs
to walk

***

Process notes

This was hard to make, and to be honest, I’m still not sure it works. But finding public-domain music I could use for a soundtrack, and editing to that, really helped give the words and images the space they needed… while also hiding the less-than-satisfactory aspects of my vocal delivery. Thank you, pseudonymous Cuban anarchist musician on SoundCloud!

I considered grabbing some news footage of protests, which is generally permitted under Fair Use, but decided that for this haibun series I needed to maintain the connection with my own lived (and hermit-like) experience by relying on the shots that—in the case of the robber fly and the hollow snag—actually prompted the haibun in the first place. And I wanted to focus ultimately on my own discomfort at and complicity in our white supremacist heritage—a follow-up to an earlier haibun in the series, Flag of Hate.

Including the flopped-over peony was an idea that only occurred to me late in the process. I hope it isn’t too cartoonish a connection with the text.

It’s interesting that while I was working on this, my co-blogger Luisa posted poems first about the toppling of statues and then about peonies, which was completely unplanned and uncoordinated but I guess demonstrates as well as anything that the sidebar description of this blog as “an experiment in daily, poetic conversation” isn’t just empty blather.

The wall in the left side of the split screen, by the way, is something I shot last summer: London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison. I suppose I could’ve driven to one of the two local maximum-security state prisons here, which are of course much more forbidding looking, with razor wire and what-not, but there’s no way I would’ve been able to get anywhere near that close to the walls. And I like the connection with the UK, given how transatlantic this iconoclastic phase of the Black Lives Matter protests has become.

Vulpes vulpes

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and by coach to St. James’s, where I find Sir W. Coventry, and he desirous to have spoke with me. It was to read over a draught of a letter which he hath made for his brother Commissioners and him to sign to us, demanding an account of the whole business of the Navy accounts; and I perceive, by the way he goes about it, that they will do admirable things. He tells me they have chosen Sir G. Downing their Secretary, who will be as fit a man as any in the world; and said, by the by, speaking of the bankers being fearful of Sir G. Downing’s being Secretary, he being their enemy, that they did not intend to be ruled by their Secretary, but do the business themselves. My heart is glad to see so great hopes of good to the nation as will be by these men; and it do me good to see Sir W. Coventry so cheerfull as he now is on the same score. Thence home, and there fell to seeing my office and closet there made soundly clean, and the windows cleaned. At which all the morning, and so at noon to dinner. After dinner my wife away down with Jane and W. Hewer to Woolwich, in order to a little ayre and to lie there to-night, and so to gather May-dew to-morrow morning, which Mrs. Turner hath taught her as the only thing in the world to wash her face with; and I am contented with it. Presently comes Creed, and he and I by water to Fox-hall, and there walked in Spring Garden. A great deal of company, and the weather and garden pleasant: that it is very pleasant and cheap going thither, for a man may go to spend what he will, or nothing, all is one. But to hear the nightingale and other birds, and here fiddles, and there a harp, and here a Jew’s trump, and here laughing, and there fine people walking, is mighty divertising. Among others, there were two pretty women alone, that walked a great while, which being discovered by some idle gentlemen, they would needs take them up; but to see the poor ladies how they were put to it to run from them, and they after them, and sometimes the ladies put themselves along with other company, then the other drew back; at last, the last did get off out of the house, and took boat and away. I was troubled to see them abused so; and could have found in my heart, as little desire of fighting as I have, to have protected the ladies.
So by water, set Creed down at White Hall, and I to the Old Swan, and so home. My father gone to bed, and wife abroad at Woolwich, I to Sir W. Pen, where he and his Lady and Pegg and pretty Mrs. Lowther her sister-in-law at supper, where I sat and talked, and Sir W. Pen, half drunk, did talk like a fool and vex his wife, that I was half pleased and half vexed to see so much folly and rudeness from him, and so late home to bed.

dew
to wash her face
fox in the garden


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 28 May 1667.

Late frost

Up, and to the office, where all the morning upon some accounts of Mr. Gawden’s, and at noon to the Three Tuns to dinner with Lord Bruncker, Sir J. Minnes, W. Batten, W. Pen, and T. Harvy, where very merry, and my Lord Bruncker in appearance as good friends as ever, though I know he has a hatred to me in heart. After dinner to my house, where Mr. Sheply dined, and we drank and talked together. He, poor man, hath had his arm broke the late frost, slipping in going over Huntingdon Bridge. He tells me that Jasper Trice and Lewes Phillips and Mr. Ashfield are gone from Brampton, and he thinks chiefly from the height of Sir J. Bernard’s carriage, who carries all things before him there, which they cannot bear with, and so leave the town, and this is a great instance of the advantage a man of the law hath over all other people, which would make a man to study it a little. Sheply being gone, there come the flageolet master, who having had a bad bargain of teaching my wife by the year, she not practising so much as she should do, I did think that the man did deserve some more consideration, and so will give him an opportunity of 20s. a month more, and he shall teach me, and this afternoon I begun, and I think it will be a few shillings well spent. Then to Sir R. Viner’s with 600 pieces of gold to turn into silver, for the enabling me to answer Sir G. Carteret’s 3000l.; which he now draws all out of my hand towards the paying for a purchase he hath made for his son and my Lady Jemimah, in Northamptonshire, of Sir Samuel Luke, in a good place; a good house, and near all her friends; which is a very happy thing. Thence to St. James’s, and there spoke with Sir W. Coventry, and give him some account of some things, but had little discourse with him, there being company with him, and so directly home again and then to my office, doing some business, and so to my house, and with my wife to practice on the flageolet a little, and with great pleasure I see she can readily hit her notes, but only want of practice makes her she cannot go through a whole tune readily. So to supper and to bed.

a late frost
all things gold
turn silver


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 17 May 1667.

Unrest

This entry is part 14 of 17 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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Humid middle of the night. It’s stuffy in the bedroom, hard to sleep. I get up and sit outside, waiting for a storm to clear the air, but nothing—just a flicker on the horizon now and then.

frost-struck oaks
slowly recovering
a rash of stars

I check Twitter on my phone and holy shit, the uprising in response to police violence is spreading across the country. The precinct building for the part of Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered is in flames. Goddamn. Under the porch I hear a porcupine clacking its teeth to ward off an enemy. Then gnawing, gnawing, gnawing on the foundation beam.

that near shriek
in the last note
whip-poor-WILL

Process notes

Written two nights ago. Since this series has the flavor of a diary or vlog, I worry about current events-related pieces getting stale, so I tried to finish the video up last night. But nothing seemed quite right so I held off, and I’m glad I did. The necessary changes weren’t too extreme, and in fact I ended up sticking with the footage I’d initially chosen. Too bad it’s beech and not oak leaves, but otherwise I liked the vibe — especially combined with some public-domain audio of the scratchy silent part of an old vinyl record, which had just the unsettling, obsessive quality the video needed, I thought. After the last three videos playing around with more complex combinations of images, I wanted to get back to the basics here.

As is often the case, the haiku I really struggled with, the first one, isn’t as good as the one that came easily. One alternate to “a rash of stars” that I flirted with was “the glabrous sky,” but I decided that would be entirely too clever and obscure. But I’m sure my fellow botany nerds would’ve enjoyed it.

This feels like a totally inadequate response to the severity and sadness of current events, but in my experience it’s better to be understated in poetry than to try to say everything and end up spinning off into abstraction or didacticism. Besides, I AM a fairly clueless old white guy living in the boonies, there’s no use pretending otherwise. Poets in the streets right now will write the essential poems about this possibly pivotal moment in the decline and fall of the American empire.

In the Fullness of Time

still from In the Fullness of Time
This entry is part 13 of 17 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 17 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.