Y’all Qaeda

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

…it being a fine, light, moonshine morning, and so home round the city, and stopped and dropped money at five or six places, which I was the willinger to do, it being Christmas-day, and so home, and there find my wife in bed, and Jane and the maids making pyes, and so I to bed, and slept well, and rose about nine, and to church, and there heard a dull sermon of Mr. Mills, but a great many fine people at church; and so home. Wife and girl and I alone at dinner — a good Christmas dinner, and all the afternoon at home, my wife reading to me “The History of the Drummer of Mr. Mompesson,” which is a strange story of spies, and worth reading indeed. In the evening comes Mr. Pelling, and he sat and supped with us; and very good company, he reciting to us many copies of good verses of Dr. Wilde, who writ “Iter Boreale,” and so to bed, my boy being gone with W. Hewer and Mr. Hater to Mr. Gibson’s in the country to dinner and lie there all night.

moonshine Christ
the dull history
of hate

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 25 December 1667.

Epiphan’t

This entry is part 31 of 38 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.

Mechanic

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Up, and after entering my journal for 2 or 3 days, I to church, where Mr. Mills, a dull sermon: and in our pew there sat a great lady, which I afterwards understood to be my Lady Carlisle, that made her husband a cuckold in Scotland, a very fine woman indeed in person. After sermon home, where W. Hewer dined with us, and after dinner he and I all the afternoon to read over our office letters to see what matters can be got for our advantage or disadvantage therein. In the evening comes Mr. Pelling and the two men that were with him formerly, the little man that sings so good a base (Wallington) and another that understands well, one Pigott, and Betty Turner come and sat and supped with us, and we spent the evening mighty well in good musique, to my great content to see myself in condition to have these and entertain them for my own pleasure only. So they gone, we to bed.

under my car
all afternoon to see
what sings

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 1 December 1667.

Heard on High

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This entry is part 30 of 38 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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In the news: a last-minute Brexit deal, a Covid stimulus bill passing through Congress, and possible signs of intelligent life from Proxima Centauri. Sitting outside around midnight, I watch a deer silhouetted against the snow pick her way to the stream, hooves crunching through the icy snowpack. And the lacework of tree branches: a threadbare garment. It’s one thing to feel as if we’re all connected in some cosmic web, but it’s another matter entirely to share the bleak familiarity of our solitude with strangers, I mutter to myself. Her head goes up, ears pivoting like radio telescopes in my direction.

power outage
all the glowing lights
in the sky

***

Process notes

This all came together rather quickly. There’s nothing like a power outage to remind one of just how dependent we are on the increasingly decrepit and unsustainable infrastructure of a fossil fuel-based civilization. And also how dark and quiet the nights can be. Fortunately, last night’s outage only lasted half an hour. (One year, the power went out for much of Christmas day! That’s life in the country for you.)

I’d been playing around with haiku on the theme of animals walking in human footprints, but for this video just a shot of deer hoofprints in my snowshoe tracks seemed sufficient. I found the music on ccMixter.

High tide

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and all the morning finishing my letter to Sir Robert Brookes, which I did with great content, and yet at noon when I come home to dinner I read it over again after it was sealed and delivered to the messenger, and read it to my clerks who dined with me, and there I did resolve upon some alteration, and caused it to be new writ, and so to the office after dinner, and there all the afternoon mighty busy, and at night did take coach thinking to have gone to Westminster, but it was mighty dark and foul, and my business not great, only to keep my eyes from reading by candle, being weary, but being gone part of my way I turned back, and so home, and there to read, and my wife to read to me out of Sir Robert Cotton’s book about warr, which is very fine, showing how the Kings of England have raised money by the people heretofore upon the people, and how they have played upon the kings also.
So after supper I to bed.
This morning Sir W. Pen tells me that the House was very hot on Saturday last upon the business of liberty of speech in the House, and damned the vote in the beginning of the Long Parliament against it; I so that he fears that there may be some bad thing which they have a mind to broach, which they dare not do without more security than they now have. God keep us, for things look mighty ill!

morning sea
the din of her business
in my ears

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 25 November 1667.

Losing Maizy

still from Losing Maizy
This entry is part 29 of 38 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.

Morning river

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Slept but ill all the last part of the night, for fear of this day’s success in Parliament: therefore up, and all of us all the morning close, till almost two o’clock, collecting all we had to say and had done from the beginning, touching the safety of the River Medway and Chatham. And, having done this, and put it into order, we away, I not having time to eat my dinner; and so all in my Lord Bruncker’s coach, that is to say, Bruncker, W. Pen, T. Harvy, and myself, talking of the other great matter with which they charge us, that is, of discharging men by ticket, in order to our defence in case that should be asked. We come to the Parliament-door, and there, after a little waiting till the Committee was sat, we were, the House being very full, called in: Sir W. Pen went in and sat as a Member; and my Lord Bruncker would not at first go in, expecting to have a chair set for him, and his brother had bid him not go in, till he was called for; but, after a few words, I had occasion to mention him, and so he was called in, but without any more chair or respect paid him than myself: and so Bruncker, and T. Harvy, and I, were there to answer: and I had a chair brought me to lean my books upon: and so did give them such an account, in a series of the whole business that had passed the Office touching the matter, and so answered all questions given me about it, that I did not perceive but they were fully satisfied with me and the business as to our Office: and then Commissioner Pett (who was by at all my discourse, and this held till within an hour after candlelight, for I had candles brought in to read my papers by) was to answer for himself, we having lodged all matters with him for execution. But, Lord! what a tumultuous thing this Committee is, for all the reputation they have of a great council, is a strange consideration; there being as impertinent questions, and as disorderly proposed, as any man could make. But Commissioner Pett, of all men living, did make the weakest defence for himself: nothing to the purpose, nor to satisfaction, nor certain; but sometimes one thing and sometimes another, sometimes for himself and sometimes against him; and his greatest failure was, that I observed, from his [not] considering whether the question propounded was his part to answer or no, and the thing to be done was his work to do: the want of which distinction will overthrow him; for he concerns himself in giving an account of the disposal of the boats, which he had no reason at all to do, or take any blame upon him for them. He charged the not carrying up of “The Charles” upon the Tuesday, to the Duke of Albemarle; but I see the House is mighty favourable to the Duke of Albemarle, and would give little weight to it. And something of want of armes he spoke, which Sir J. Duncomb answered with great imperiousness and earnestness; but, for all that, I do see the House is resolved to be better satisfied in the business of the unreadiness of Sherenesse, and want of armes and ammunition there and every where: and all their officers were here to-day attending, but only one called in, about armes for boats, to answer Commissioner Pett. None of my brethren said anything but me there, but only two or three silly words my Lord Bruncker gave, in answer to one question about the number of men there were in the King’s Yard at the time.
At last, the House dismissed us, and shortly after did adjourne the debate till Friday next: and my cozen Pepys did come out and joy me in my acquitting myself so well, and so did several others, and my fellow-officers all very brisk to see themselves so well acquitted; which makes me a little proud, but yet not secure but we may yet meet with a back-blow which we see not.
So, with our hearts very light, Sir W. Pen and I in his coach home, it being now near eight o’clock, and so to the office, and did a little business by the post, and so home, hungry, and eat a good supper, and so, with my mind well at ease, to bed. My wife not very well of those.

morning river
the word ouch from a boat
in answer to the light

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 22 October 1667.

Presence

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This entry is part 28 of 38 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.

Antennae

still from Antennae
This entry is part 27 of 38 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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Seeing the almost bare trees as antennae—intelligence-gathering stations for an alien umwelt, the rococo feelers of moths.

lonesome hollow
speaking softly so the void
doesn’t reply

What I miss most of all in the colder months: beetles and butterflies, crickets at night, and those delicate ninjas the ichneumon wasps. The way they tap the ground with paired canes, sniffing, listening.

unmarked path
a stick leaning on a tree
for the next hiker

*

Process notes

This was born of the simple desire to film the brown and gray colors of a November forest, on a hike in another hollow nearby. Standing in the same place, I did two slow pans from opposite directions, then thought about combining them with a horizontally split screen. When I tried that in editing, though, it wasn’t as satisfying as simply using two halves of the same shot, one of them reversed.

That hike was yesterday. Today, a hike on my home ground shook loose the text.

It seems as if the Pandemic Season series won’t be ending any time soon. I will probably end up re-naming it Plague Year, echoing Defoe, or something similar.

Undivided

still from Undivided
This entry is part 26 of 38 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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1. Amazing Grace

I mistook dysphoria for euphoria once on purpose, and it almost worked. When you live in the forest, winter—not summer—is the season of light. And so an empty plate became the full moon, and the mouse in my filing cabinet was a companion animal. I could sometimes hear her late at night, shredding my old poems for nesting material. I meanwhile was building a cenotaph out of cigarette butts. My disemboweled television watched over me while I slept.

last cigarette
as long as grass grows
or rivers run

2. Song Dogs

Three days before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, my friend L. and I get lost on a hike above a dammed-up river, too busy arguing about politics to notice that we’ve branched off onto the wrong logging road. The sun is going down. On the ridge above us, coyotes start singing. Their melismatic solos intertwine in a way that can’t be called dissonant, though Lord knows it’s nothing as simple as harmony.

no longer lost
that hole in the clouds
far upslope