Ramifications

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Crossposted to The Clade

The bottle is the message
the river sends to the sea:
Aquafina.

*

Since the leaves came out,
the tree’s shadow no longer
resembles a tree.

*

Sunrise catches
a rabbit in the tall grass,
the veins in its ears.

*

A second set of lines
in the palm I rested on:
more leaves in my future.

*

Bobbing in the wind,
the moccasin flower’s
red-threaded net.

*

Seventeen times sadder
than fallen cherry blossoms:
cicada wings.

*

Under the bark,
that locust log was wearing
white fishnet hose.

*

Tree-shaped print
in the sand where the tide went out —
its shining trunk.

Harusame ya / Spring rain

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

harusame ya

Ranko (student of Basho, fl. 17th c.)

Harusame ya yane no ogusa ni hana sakinu

Spring rain:
flowers opening
on the thatched roof.

*

Taniguchi Buson (1715-1783)

Harusame ya kawazu no hara no mada nurezu

Spring rain:
not enough yet to moisten
the frog’s belly.

*

Harusame ya monogatari yuku mino to kasa

Spring rain:
a patter of gossip
from raincoat & umbrella.

*

Harusame ya dôsha no kimi no sasamegoto

Spring rain:
my lover’s low whisper
in a shared carriage.

*

Harusame ni nuretsutsu yane no temari kana

Spring rain:
a rag ball on the roof
is getting soaked.

*

Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826)

Harusame ya ai ni aioi no matsu no koe

Spring rain:
the voices of a pair of pines
growing side by side.

*

Harusame ya yabu ni fukaruru sute tegami

Spring rain:
a discarded letter blows
into the bushes.

*

Harusame ya uo oi-nogasu ura no inu

Spring rain:
a dog on the shore
chases the fish.

*

Harusame ya na wo tsumi ni yuku ko andon

Spring rain:
going out with a small lantern
to pick vegetables.

*

Harusame ya kuware-nokori no kamo ga naku

Spring rain:
the lusty quacking of ducks
that haven’t been eaten.

*

Harusame ni ôakubi suru bijin kana

Spring rain:
a pretty woman
yawns.

*

Harusame ya imo ga tamoto ni zeni no oto

Spring rain:
in my wife’s sleeve,
the sound of coins.

*

Harusame ya neko ni odori oshieru ko

Spring rain:
a child is teaching the cat
how to dance.

*

Harusame ya hara wo herashi ni yu ni tsukaru

Spring rain:
I draw a hot bath
to settle my stomach.

***

Translated with the help of a dictionary and some imagination.

Ga

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

In response to the poem “moth,” by Ivy Alvarez.

The fact that I still remember the word for moth in Japanese is a bit of a fluke — I’ve forgotten so much else. But it was etched in my mind because I used to crash on the couch of a guy who had a phobia about moths, of which there were plenty on muggy summer nights in Osaka. We’d be sitting around drinking, and suddenly he’d leap up yelling “Ga! Gaaaaa!” and waving his arms about, as if trying to take flight. Order would only be restored when the intruder was killed or managed to escape.

It happens that he and I were both mooning over the same woman then, though we’d made our peace with each other. There was a certain amount of comfort, in fact, in getting drunk with someone who shared your predicament down to the smallest detail: being in love with someone who had slept with another man — even if, as in our case, we were each other’s other man. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that heterosexual male bonding can’t be a beautiful thing.

The moths were small, pale, dusty creatures, not unlike the majority of moths here in the northeastern United States. Perhaps like our moths, they represented diverse species, some of them quite rare, and distinguishable one from another sometimes only by a careful examination of their genitalia. I don’t know. I wasn’t really thinking about biodiversity back then, and I was years away from reading Fabre’s classic studies that showed how moths’ acute sensitivity to pheromones makes them capable of detecting female moths from miles away. It is this capacity that allows some species to persist at very low population densities, as long as individuals of the opposite sex can still find each other on the far side of a forest, or a city — and can manage to escape moth-phobics with wildly waving arms.

And the lights, the lights. What explained the moths’ perennial and often fatal attraction to light? Centuries of tradition and the analogy with our own hormone- and alcohol-addled brains suggested that it was desire. That’s certainly how it looks. But to a moth, desire is signaled by chemicals — pheromones — picked up through the antennae. It turns out that a moth spirals into a light not out of desire but from sheer confusion. The only nighttime light of any brightness in their evolutionary history was the moon, and because the moon appears at optical infinity — far enough away that its rays are nearly parallel — it makes an excellent navigational aid. A moth can fly in a straight line simply by triangulating off the moon.

I seem to recall steadying myself by gazing at the moon on a drunken walk home more than once myself. Earlier that spring, there had been a full lunar eclipse, and I made a point of staying sober enough to appreciate it. I’ve seen three or four lunar eclipses since, and the only reason why I remember that one so vividly is because of my surprise at the aforementioned woman when, the next morning, she admitted she didn’t know the moon had been eclipsed. She had gone out with someone else, they’d had too much to drink, and when she caught sight of the blood-red moon she’d assumed the alcohol had affected her vision somehow, she said.

I wonder if she’d been with that other fellow, about whom I was still clueless at that point. How he must have danced when the moths lost their bright compass in the sky and came zeroing in, kamikaze-style, on the nearest substitute! When I think back on that time now, I really can’t recall, except in a very abstract sense, the desire I felt — only the confusion. Those lips and eyes I thought I’d never forget are indistinguishable now from dozens of others in my memory. But that soft rattle against rice paper, a small pale form turned suddenly into a figure of menace: that I can recall as clear as day. Ga!

Shortcut through the fields—
a brush of wings against
my moonlit face.

Aceldama

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

bloodroot (1)

A few feet from the busy highway, next to the Advance Auto Parts store on the outskirts of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, two carloads of wildflower enthusiasts piled out and feasted their eyes on bloodroot, Dutchman’s-breeches, and the first purple trillium.

It might seem strange that so many delicate-seeming native perennials would flourish in what we like to think of waste places. But steep, rocky hillsides along roads and highways are among the few places where the over-abundant white-tailed deer don’t linger. Trash-strewn, noisy, polluted, and excessively vulnerable to weedy invasives though they may be, such places have become de facto wildflower preserves. You can walk for miles through the deer-haunted back-of-beyond and see little but brown from last year’s hayscented fern.

cutleaf toothwort

In a poem by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton, the “Outskirts” are “an intermediate place, stalemate, neither city nor country,” and include “auto body repair shops in former barns.”

The stones throw their shadows abruptly like objects on the surface of the moon.
And these places just multiply.
Like what they bought with Judas’s money: “the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.”

hepatica (4)

But any place where trees are allowed to sprout and grow however they want, free from overzealous homeowners and unchecked herds of grazing animals alike, still offers the possibility of a sabbath — the return of balance to the earth’s economy. Profit and toil have not yet completely wrested it from the shyer and more indigent inhabitants of the earth. It still has the capacity to give more than it receives.

bloodroot (4)

The land bought with blood money in Matthew 27:6-8, or fertilized with blood according to Acts 1:18-20, became a kind of sanctuary too. What had been an economically exploited piece of ground — a source of potter’s clay — was converted into a refuge, with the author of Acts quoting from Psalms: Let no man dwell therein… In similar fashion, the best display we wildflower hunters found last Saturday was a few miles farther to the southeast along the same highway, at the base of what had once been a very active quarry for ganister stone: the Thousand Steps, now publicly owned and managed as a Pennsylvania state gameland. The mountainside has recovered remarkably well in just a few decades, and indeed, now serves as a refuge for a state-threatened species, the Allegheny woodrat. On a beautiful, warm spring day, the parking area along the highway was crowded with visitors intent on climbing the eponymous steps and taking in the view from the top. We seemed to be the only ones there to peer at the ground.

After the long winter,
the flowers too are eager
to face the sun.

*

A lull in traffic.
The wildflowers grow still
on their thin stalks.

*

View the complete slideshow from Saturday’s outing, or (for those with slower connections) browse the photoset.

First warm day

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

First warm day.
I sit in the shade closing one eye
then the other.

*

This phoebeing—
even the pants on the line
seem to get the rhythm.

*

Vicious groundhog fight.
The victor stands still & lets the flies
land on his face.

*

Fur in the air—
the cattails
are shedding.

*

As slow as spring
on the half-naked dead elm,
a fox squirrel’s tail.

*

The vulture’s shadow
travels four times farther—
up & down each tree.

*

This morning
in its vase on the table,
the forsythia bloomed.

Spring ahead

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Yesterday I watched a gray squirrel out the kitchen window of my parents’ house as it excavated a black walnut. After retrieving its prize, which had been buried at a depth of about ten inches, the squirrel sat back on its haunches and scraped all the dirt off it with its incisors, turning it rapidly around and around in its mouth. Then gripping the walnut firmly in its teeth, it trotted about three feet, dug another hole, and reburied it.

The whole thing happened so quickly, I’m not sure I registered all the relevant details. Had there been, perhaps, a nascent sprout on the walnut that needed to be removed along with the dirt in order to keep it viable as food? Had the squirrel seen or heard something that caused it to change its mind about making the hundred-foot dash back to the woods with the walnut?

Or, given that squirrels retrieve nuts based on memory rather than smell, was I witnessing an act of theft? Had this squirrel witnessed another squirrel burying the walnut, and returned later to move it to a new spot? I don’t know. But one thing’s certain: it would’ve made a damn funny video.

Its nut reburied,
the squirrel moves quickly away
& pretends to forage.

*

Half of the turkeys
run one way & half the other.
I turn in circles.

*

On the night we have to set
the clocks ahead,
the rustle of earthworms.

*

We search the sky
for the whistling woodcock.
Nothing but the moon.

*

In the bathtub this morning,
it’s the first wolf spider
of spring!

Anything but white

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

ditch

Screech owl at dawn
& a great-horned owl at dusk.
All day long, just words.

*

Skid marks where a rabbit
slid into the ditch at dawn—
no shadows then.

*

Marooned in the snow,
the old whitewashed springhouse
is anything but white.

*

Where deer once stepped,
dinner-plate-sized craters
brimming with new snow.

 

old footprints

Haiku for a day in January

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

magic oak

I wake at 4:00
but my right thumb keeps twitching
as if in its own dream.

*

On the plowed driveway’s
hard-packed snow, three dark cigars:
Coyote was here.

*

Winter palimpsest:
inside each white-tailed deer track,
a coyote print.

*

Rabbit tracks
go into the laurel thicket
& don’t come out.

*

A rubbing sound
on the underside of the floor
as something turns over.

*

Hurtling down the hill
while seated on a sled —
I feel so sedate.

*

“Transparency.” “The rule of law.”
Never before have I wept
at such dull words.

*

Nothing has disturbed
the snow on the old statue
of a setter at point.

Plummer’s Hollow by sled

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall


Video link.

It’s cold. Nothing to do but pull on a thick balaclava, grab the sled, and go steaming up the hill to the top of what we call the amphitheatre, in the field opposite the main house. We have never actually staged anything there, by the way — it’s a little too boggy at the bottom where a stage would go. The only real drama occurs when the feral cat tangles with the opossum in the compost heap above the barn… or when a 42-year-old sledder comes careening down the path, camcorder in one hand.

It’s funny that sledding has such a stigma as being only for children. I’ve been sledding for most of the past 40 winters, at least 30 of them with the same sled, and I’m not about to switch to skiing or snowboarding, which I suspect are seen as adult sports primarily because they require lots of expensive gear. For one thing, I have a terrible sense of balance. Also, I wear glasses: when a friend lent me a pair of cross-country skis for a couple of years, I found myself unable to enjoy them because my glasses kept steaming up and freezing. I decided I prefer slow walking to running/gliding. And the great thing about sledding, after the hurtling, bone-rattling descent, is the peaceful walk back. Ravens flush from the top of a hemlock, filling the hollow with their harsh cries. The snow squeaks — such a satisfying sound — under my boots.

Long after I get back,
my frozen breath is still dripping
from my beard.