Night from the inside (5)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Night from the Inside

 

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?

*

moon dog
taking off my glasses
to make sure it’s real

moon dog
sprouting a cloudy tail
time to plant

*

supermoonlight
the old anthill’s
shaggy look

*

moon bathing
that elusive piece
of soap

*

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.

Night from the inside (4)

Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights - Hell - detail from bottom
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Night from the Inside

 

Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights - Hell - detail from top

Moonlight in the kitchen is a sign of God.
Anne Carson

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.

*

night train
and the rattling wind
in one bed

*

2:00 a.m. road
without cars the tarmac’s
own carcass

*

smeared
into mere roadkill
so many stars

*

future fossil
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.

Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights - Hell - detail from middle

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.

*

nocturne
every hidden hammer
hitting its string

nocturne
the pianist’s fingers
not her own

nocturne
I can’t stop fantasizing
about soup

*

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.

every time
I go out to take a leak
whip-poor-will

*

lunar
landscapes of my childhood
aglow with bleakness

*

cedar tree
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:

Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights - Hell - detail from bottom

Ephemeroptera

still from Ephemeroptera
This entry is part 38 of 38 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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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.

spring again
scheduling my first
Covid shot


Process notes

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.

Night from the inside (3)

mountaintop forest pool at dusk with a band of sunset light still on the horizon
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Night from the Inside

 

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.

*

the twilight
of animals
under my house

*

night rain
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
dissonant chord

*

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.

*

twilight pond
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
a meteor’s
utter silence

*

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.

*

pre-dawn creek
raccoon lifting a rock
lowers the pitch

Night from the inside (2)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Night from the Inside

 

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
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Night from the Inside

 

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.

GloPoWriMo note

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

It’s that time of year again,

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour

Although, of course,

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Quite. Or as Dickinson says,

Pink — small — and punctual —
Aromatic — low —
Covert — in April —
Candid — in May —

Since Luisa and I each write (at least) a poem a day year-round, Na/GloPoWriMo isn’t as big a deal here as it might be elsewhere. But I thought it worth mentioning some other poetic dailiness that I don’t think we mean to be covert about. Via Negativa readers might want to follow along with Luisa’s daily curation of poems by Virginia poets on Norfolk’s Slover Library website.

poem-a-day Virginia banner

As for me, I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I revived my micropoetry blog Woodrat photohaiku at the beginning of the year, with a new photo haiga almost every day. There’s a form in the sidebar there that you can fill out to get new posts in your inbox (though the quality of the emailed photos isn’t as high as on the site), and/or you can simply follow me on Instagram or Facebook and see the photos there. I’ve taken to adding a few additional thoughts or process notes on the blog.

Here’s today’s offering, followed by a couple of other favorites. Click on the photos to read the original posts.

April woods the sun and I on the same path

*

behind the swamp with its skunk cabbages an empty airport

*

spring fling one look back and we’ve both grown old

Exclusive

This entry is part 37 of 38 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 38 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 38 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