Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 40

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

I sense a bit of exhaustion in the poetry blogosphere this week, as witnessed by the relative paucity of posts. Among those who did blog, there’s a certain introspection as political outrage gives way to resolve and a quest for pursuits that truly sustain us. Such as poetry, yes, but also photography, gardening, and other “useless things,” to quote Claudia Serea in her ongoing blogging collaboration with photographer Maria Haro, Twoism. “Around me, the world tilts, rocks, spills, / burns, crashes, cooks, / dies, laughs, cries. // And I plant thunderseeds…”

I have a deep weariness. It’s interesting to pay attention to my levels of weariness, which are often only somewhat connected to how much sleep I’m getting. This week’s weariness has to do with last week’s news, and the realization that this level of bad news of our incivility and worse is the new normal–or are we just back to what was always normal? This week’s weariness has to do with the fact that we’re at week 1 of our new quarter, which means longer hours at work. This week’s weariness has to do with the home repairs, which are progressing, but we’re still far from done.

I’m so weary that I can’t even envision what would fill my well. I want to write, but my brain feels dehydrated. It’s been awhile since I had a good meal, but nothing sounds appetizing. I’d like to sleep, but in a room that doesn’t also contain a refrigerator and other items stored there for a home remodel.

I realize that I might sound like I’m depressed, but I’m not depressed so much as I am just bone tired.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Weariness update

*

Trying to teach Robert Hayden on Friday, I had such a mother of a hot flash that my glasses fogged up. I’m not sure my students even noticed. We were discussing Hayden’s complicated elegy for Malcolm X, a small star releasing its own fire, and the seminar is full of canny astronomers with their own strong opinions and expertise. On the whole, it felt like a good space in which to vent the engines–for them, I hope, as well as for me.

I probably won’t blow–my inner Scotty has always been an alarmist–but the past few weeks have certainly been a test. I feel terrible, but not surprised, that after his public temper tantrum of privilege challenged, Kavanaugh is about to join the nation’s highest court. I feel terrible, but not surprised, at how some of my students feel unheard and disrespected on my own campus, which continues to be roiled by arguments over its racist history. And I feel sick about irreparable harms to immigrant children, voting rights, and the more-than-human world that sustains us despite our poisonings. The damage feels so massive–and so gleefully perpetrated–that it’s hard to know where to stand while voicing your own small resistance.

Literature sustains me more than anything else–reading it, teaching it, editing it. Less so writing it, in October, but I’ll get back to drafting someday, and in the meantime I’m trying to keep serving the writing by handling proofs and edits of articles, interviews, and poems in a timely way, plus keeping work under submission. My inner Mr. Spock, that is, keeps the priorities rational and the ship on course, knowing I’m precariously low on fuel. AWP labors dominate this weekend, and I’ll be attending my last AWP board meeting as a trustee next weekend (San Antonio), although I’m on the search committee for a new executive director and that work will continue for months yet. My work for the AWP has felt useful and important, but I’m ready to turn to other modes of literary service. Beth Staples has now appointed me Poetry Editor of Shenandoah, which honestly is a role I don’t feel quite deserving of yet, and hence I’ve been shy about announcing–but I’m working hard and learning a ton from her and also from the great teacher that is the submissions pile, so full speed ahead, I guess, on this little enterprise through which maybe I can help do some good.
Lesley Wheeler, She cannae take any more, cap’n

*

I had some good news this week about my PR for Poets book but the buzz of the good news was hard to celebrate with all the terrible things happening in the news and the slowness of my recovery (always slow with MS, way slower than I like.) Then I got my royalty statement from Moon City Books for Field Guide to the End of the World (thanks, everyone who taught and bought the book) which was a nice boost too. Then I did some research on the new MS drug they want to put me on – Aubagio and that was terrifying.

And I watched five minutes of news recaps which was equally horrifying. It’s not good for the immune system to dwell on the absolutely horrifying things happening in our country (and I went on a little unfriending spree on Facebook because I’m not actually going to be friends with anyone who says hateful things about rape victims and positive things about rapists. (Remember who voted how in 2020, kids! Remember who laughed at Dr. Ford’s pain at Trump’s rally and fist-bumped getting an attempted rapist onto the Supreme Court.) I wrote a really angry poem but I realized I already have a book about what being a rape victim – besides the horrifying physical pain, there’s the mental and psychological damage that lasts…forever – Becoming the Villainess. It’s about how women in every society from ancient Greece to modern America can only choose between the roles of victim (pretty princess) and the villainess (evil witch) and that the rage and brokenness that results from sexual assault has repercussions.

By the way, you will never be “nice” enough to protect yourself from the men that want to violate you without any consequences. So, maybe stop being nice. The men in charge right now definitely don’t deserve nice. Anyone who victim-blames doesn’t deserve nice, either. My nice energy will be reserved for the victims, not the perpetrators.

Friday was a rainfest so we retreated to our local gardening center (Mobak’s) to celebrate the Harvest Festival and also goof around their Harvest Festival photo ops. I listened to the rain on the greenhouse roof and looked at flowers and then we came home and planted 40 daffodil and tulips and hyacinths bulbs. A sign of hope. I thought, we can make the world a slightly better place – we can donate money and vote and be kind to those that deserve it and we can plant growing things and adopt animals and believe women and we can meet and talk about ways to make things better. It is awfully hard to not lose hope. I am a creative type so doing creative things and being out with plants is a way for me to not lose my mind. Go do something that brings you joy and then take a step, then another step. I am counting my steps.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Rough Week, Harvest Festivals and Pumpkin Patches, and Poets Managing Good and Bad News

*

Just a short post today to link to a poem I read this morning, “Sunday Morning in the Church of Air” by Catherine Abbey Hodges in Swwim Lit Mag. It’s a beautiful poem that felt like a breath of fresh air after way too many days in pollution. Lately, I feel like I’m surrounded by toxic energy because of the dirty politics in our country, the finger-pointing, the screaming, the anger. I feel like so many are filled with hate and retribution and I don’t think they realize how it’s poisoning them and our country. Social Media has given everyone a voice and most of those voices, lately, are used to tear down, bully, ridicule. The intolerance is crushing.

I’m taking steps to severely limit toxic, angry voices in my online and television time. Yes, there are reasons to be angry but not.all.the.time. Don’t let it take over your life. It’s bad mental health. And, remember, everyone is entitled to their opinions and no one is right all the time.

Thank goodness for Poets who write about the beautiful in life, the good, the light. I’ll always choose the road to light over darkness. I will not allow anger, violence, and hate to change who I am. I have that power and so do you.

And none of this depends

on me, though I see now that somehow

I depend on it—the river, the stooped

heron and the one rising on great wings

above its reflection

**Steps off soap box.*

Have a beautiful day, friends.
Charlotte Hamrick, On Beauty and Poison

*

I’ve been waking up with my jaw already clenched, too many days in a row now, in dread of each day’s news. Sometimes really fantastic things happen–the MacArthur “genius” grant recipients for this year include Natalie Diaz and Kelly Link–and sometimes someone shows me a video of a basket of baby sloths or a baby flamingo taking it’s first steps, and sometimes it’s just enough to be in the same space as a friend, laughing. Sometimes solace lasts for the length of a poem. But it’s all a bulwark against the sense that our checks and balances no longer operate as they should. Perhaps they never did. The calls of “Remember all this on November 6!” ring a bit hollow when you’re a resident of Washington, D.C.–almost 700,000 of us, and not one seat in the Senate. Imagine how differently the last few weeks might have gone, had we had voting representation.

Teju Cole visited American University this past week. My undergraduate students for “Writers in Print and Person” read Blind Spot, photographs juxtaposed with flash nonfiction texts. The book is physically gorgeous as an artifact and gave us means to discuss Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, “studium” and “punctum.” Barthes developed this vocabulary to talk primarily about portraiture; in moving the approach to landscape photography, which Cole does–and largely devoid of people’s faces–I’d argue that the explicit text teases a “punctum” to the surface that would otherwise stay invisible, but inherent to the impulse of the photographer. His lecture did the thing great art does, selfishly, which was that it made me want to hole up and think and write.
Sandra Beasley, Holding Space

*

Somewhere recently–was it the Sunday New York Times?–I read an opinion essay about how recent surveys of US citizens indicate that we have fewer hobbies than we have had in years past. The columnist wondered whether that lack is due to a zeal to be the best at whatever we engage in–the best jogger we can be, the most avid cyclist, the best collector, knitter, paper-crafter, woodworker, violinist, what-have-you. She suggested we’ve somehow lost the joys of being hobbyists: amateurs who do or create something because it is fun or relaxing, or because trying to learn a new skill makes us feel good. A true hobby is something we don’t have to be perfect at, because that is not the point.

As my students wrestle with the tasks of college and their concerns about their futures, the concept of vocation arises often. What to do with a life? Earn enough money to live reasonably comfortably, even if the job is not a passion? What if it’s not even satisfying? Should people choose a bearable career and find enjoyment in avocations? Or persist at what they love even if society doesn’t always reward the path they’ve chosen? Or–the options are legion.

~

I believe in vocation as passion, and I also practice hobbies. My career is in higher education, and I enjoy and learn from my job. My vocation is writing, particularly writing poetry; my passion lies in that direction more than any other, but poetry has not been a career path in my case.

~

My hobbies have evolved over the years. For decades, gardening has kept me happily occupied out of doors–but I have no need to become a Master Gardener, and my gardens are often minor failures in one respect or another. The garden, however, soothes me, distracts me from anxieties, helps me to become a better observer, teaches me much. When learning about plants, I got interested in botany and wild flower identification, so I am a more informed hiker and nature-saunterer than I used to be.

Photography’s also a hobby I pursue, an interest of mine since my late teen years (back before digital). The view through the frame has always intrigued me, as well as the opportunities that different lens lengths offer the photographer as to framing and focus. I especially enjoy macro lenses. It’s fun to zoom in closely on insects, flowers, and small areas of everyday objects. Photography encourages different types of observation.
Ann E. Michael, Vocation, avocation

*

Let’s invent useless things,
the ultimate freedom.

I’ll make marble eggs,
headless dolls,
and stringless violins.

I’ll write poems
that don’t put food on the table
with words no one understands:

paperheart,
mailpill,
painstain,
bloodfence.
Claudia Serea, Useless things

*

Forty years ago I proposed a research project to answer this question: Do chipmunks follow set paths as they go about their nut gathering? This was high school senior year research bio class. I have no recollection of trying to justify the significance of that research question. I have no idea how I’d answer that. But Monsieurs Rehm and Cederstrom (R.I.P., lovely man) okayed the project.

I then spent very little time actually gathering data — which required sitting endlessly, motionlessly, in the park noting the movements of chipmunks I could in no way tell apart. I then, unsurprisingly with such little data, wrote a paper concluding there were no set patterns.

Now I find myself sitting in this chair (with the pleasure of having little else to do at the moment) almost every morning for the past two weeks out in this yard, with, as it happens, this chipmunk going about its business. From the hole in the brush behind me, it generally moves roughly south, pauses at a chair in front of the house, then disappears into the brush in front of that. Eventually, it returns, roughly from that direction, crosses the yard generally from the south, sometimes right along the edge of the house, or at least within five feet of it. It has many other paths, I know, as I’ve seen it rustling around across the road, or slipping into the outdoor shower and into the hole under that. But its return to this particular hole seems to follow a particular path. So lo and behold, I do think it has a general set pattern. Hunh.

I don’t know that I have much point here. Except that, you know, isn’t life funny?

In spite of my lazy approach to gathering data for that project, I have always been an observer. I had wanted to be a detective when I was a kid. Then a research biologist. Then I studied anthropology. Then public policy, which in a way is, if policy is well thought out, a combination of all those things. Then I studied poetry, which also, at least the poetry I write, is a combination of all those things: whodunit, and why, and what do we as a culture understand about it, how do we talk about it, and what can we make of it all.

If the chipmunk has a pattern then, as a predator, I could catch it. Or as a rival for its acorns, I could follow the chipmunk to its source and plunder. Or I can just notice. Maybe that’s what my role is here.

If human beings could be said to have some kind of unique role in life, maybe this is all it is — observe, note patterns, make art. And try not to kill too many things while we’re here.
Marilyn McCabe, No Straight Lines; or, What’s a Human For?

*

Maybe there’s been so much going on that when it stops you’re mildly disorientated. That must be it. I remind myself of the episode in John Hillaby’s book Journey through Britain. In the early sixties he walked from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, using, as far as was feasible, only footpaths and drovers’ roads and bridleways. Arriving in Bristol tired and jaded he seeks the advice of a boxing trainer who examines his legs, looks up, and says: what you need, sir, is exercise. Which turns out to be sound advice. When in doubt, just do it. So I shall.

I have no excuse; last Monday was a day I’d looked forward to for months. The guest poets at Puzzle Poets Live were two of my inspirations. Kim Moore and Clare Shaw. What a double bill! Poets whose reading makes you more alive, who electrify and excite you. One of the folk in the audience was David Spencer (cobweb guest in July) who had cycled from Huddersfield to Sowerby Bridge to be there. Valley to valley over a big Pennine hill with the M62 at its top. And then had to cycle back. That’s how good they are. It was a brilliant night. Along with their new work, Kim read Train from Barrow to Sheffield and In that year ; Clare read This baby and I do not believe in silence, and I could not have been happier. This week I found a warm review of my pamphlet Advice to a traveller in Indigo Dreams’ Reach Poetry 241 (thank you, Lynn Woollacott, and then…..

I’ve had a summer of doing stuff, pretty well non-stop; brickwork, woodwork, paintwork, garden work. I looked forward to it all being done, and then it was and suddenly I’d nothing to do. Except that I have…a review that should have been sent off months ago and which I keep rewriting and scrapping; feedback on lots of poems for two special friends. Why don’t I just do it? I’ve a horror of not being busy. I always have. It’s that Conradian thing, the need to work and work to avoid reality, or something. I dreaded retirement …and it was destabilising when it came, that lack of imposed obligations. What I’m not so good at is dealing with self-imposed obligations. A bit like the feeling that most teachers know, the Sunday afternoon feeling, the knowledge that there’s a pile of marking that must be done for Monday, that’s grown because you didn’t do it when you could have done, because you’ve put it off.

What saved me was finding poetry and writing. I have a fear of unemployment and silence. Like Clare Shaw, I do not believe in silence. I cannot sit still. I cannot be quiet.
John Foggin, The return of Polished Gems Revisited : with Laura Potts

Seven (very) short stories about drones

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Read the whole series on Storify (and be sure to check out the Pro Publica report Cole links to at the end, which is both thorough and non-ideological).

Teju Cole has gotten big on Twitter the right way (in my humble view): using Twitter as a creative medium. His growing follower count is an indication that there’s a real hunger for this kind of thing; I do hope more writers will follow his lead. While I’ve personally grown a little weary of his relentlessly grim small fates, there’s no denying their literary quality and inventiveness. And I do love his occasional Twitter essays (or whatever you want to call the above, which is less polemic but more devastating than its predecessors). A just-published essay, “Twitter>The Novel? @tejucole>Teju Cole?” by Sam Twyford-Moore cites and quotes from a couple of Cole’s other Twitter essays, in case you missed them.

Teju Cole on Instagram

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Double Take:

But the rise of social photography means that we are now seeing images all the time, millions of them, billions, many of which are manipulated with the same easy algorithms, the same tiresome vignetting, the same dank green wash. So the problem is not that images are being altered—I remember the thrill I felt the first few times I saw Hipstamatic images, and I shot a few myself buoyed by that thrill—it’s that they’re all being altered in the same way: high contrasts, dewy focus, over-saturation, a skewing of the RGB curve in fairly predictable ways. Correspondingly, the range of subjects is also peculiarly narrow: pets, pretty girlfriends, sunsets, lunch. In other words, the photographic function, which should properly be the domain of the eye and the mind, is being outsourced to the camera and to an algorithm.

Link roundup: Dingles, thunder thighs, and a journey through a poet’s brain

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

The Awl: “Being Female
I know I’m a little late with this, but the issue of discrimination against women in publishing and reviewing isn’t going anywhere, and Eileen Myles’ response to the troubling data released by VIDA last month really cuts to the chase.

So I wrote five pages of pussy wallpaper and gave it to the editors at VICE who did publish it but confided in me that the money people really had to be convinced that it was not entirely disgusting. With all the dirty and violent and racist things that VICE has done, this was um a little troubling. Do we really want to send that kind of message to our readers. What kind of message is that. I guess a wet hairy soft female one. I mean a big giant female hole you might fall into never to be heard from again.

Wicktionary: “dingle

A small, narrow or enclosed, usually wooded valley.

How can I have lived in a dingle for 40 years and not known it? “Plummer’s Dingle.” Hmm.

Plummer’s Hollow blog: “Fisher caught on video in Plummer’s Hollow
More great trail cam footage from our neighbors, Paula and Troy Scott, this time of a fisher, which is a once-extirpated and still rare species of large mustelid, bigger than a pine marten but smaller than an otter.

O.K., I know some of you don’t want to click through and read my deathless prose, so here’s the video:

Watch on YouTube.

Wordyard: “Another misleading story reports that blogs ‘r’ dead
The New York Times had a kind of half-baked article last week titled “Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter.” This has become a persistent meme on the part of the old media, and probably represents wishful thinking, because the data don’t bear out the contention. Scott Rosenberg’s response was right on the money:

Maybe we’ll end up with roughly ten percent of the online population (Pew’s consistent finding) keeping a blog. As the online population becomes closer to universal, that is an extraordinary thing: One in ten people writing in public. Our civilization has never seen anything like it.

So you can keep your “waning” headlines, and I’ll keep my amazement and enthusiasm.

The New Yorker: “The Arrival of Enigmas: Teju Cole’s prismatic debut novel, ‘Open City’
To say that James Wood loved Open City might be an understatement. “Teju Cole has made his novel as close to a diary as a novel can get, and his narrator is both spectator and flâneur.” (As close to a diary? Don’t you mean blog?) Also, if you’re a reader of the Sunday Times, I think you’ll find a glowing review of Open City there, too.

BBC: “Dinosaur named ‘thunder-thighs’
More like karate thighs. (The artist’s conception is great!)

Yale Environment 360: “Alien Species Reconsidered: Finding a Value in Non-Natives
Science writer Carl Zimmer examines some new studies suggesting that total eradition of invasive species might not always be the best idea: for example, “Introduced cats were eradicated from Maquarie Island off the coast of Australia, after having driven two of the island’s bird species extinct. But with the cats gone, an introduced population of rabbits exploded, devouring the native plants.” Read the comments too, though. (via Chris Clarke on Twitter)

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: “Interviewe wyth Margarethe Atte-Woode
Advyce for beginninge makeres of ficcion and poesie. Ful heartily Ich LOLd. (via Nic S., who incidentally is also guest-blogging at Best American Poetry this week)


Watch on Vimeo.
Hannah Stephenson did a screen-capture video of the composition process for one of the poems she blogged last week, then speeded it up by about ten times. Be sure to expand it to full screen by clicking the four-arrows icon on the lower right, so you can read the poem as it grows and mutates. This is more or less how I work, too, except that I can’t listen to music while I’m writing. In her blog post about it, Hannah says, “It feels a bit like I’m inviting you into my brain…welcome! Come on in.”

Link roundup: Tenrecs, monostiches, kale and other wonders

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

The New York Times:When Democracy Weakens
Bob Herbert wishes Americans would take a cue from the Egyptians.

NPR: “An Immigrant’s Quest For Identity In The ‘Open City’
I have been reading the glowing reviews for Teju Cole’s new novel with great pleasure, but it was especially fun to hear this interview come on the radio while I was kneading bread this morning. I was all like, “Hey, I know that guy! I’ve published his stuff at Via Negativa and qarrtsiluni!” So good to see a member of the old blog neighborhood make it big.

Grant Hackett: Monostich Poet blog
I don’t link Grant’s poems in the Smorgasblog because they’re too short to excerpt — a monostich is a one-line poem and he excels at them. I don’t know anyone who packs more mystery and suggestiveness into such a small space. He used to blog at Falling Off the Mountain, but took that site offline late last year. On the new site, he seems to post at the rate of about one or two poems a day.

Moving Poems forum: “What comes first, the video or the poem?
Check out the variety of responses to my question from videopoets at all skill levels. I am going to have to remember to throw out questions to the community like this more often.

Voice Alpha:To read or to recite? Dramatic versus Epic
Dick Jones — poet, musician and retired drama teacher — wades into the debate about how best to present one’s poems to a crowd. Surprisingly, perhaps, given his background, he comes down rather decisively on the side of reading.

Call for Submissions: Festival of the Trees 57 with Rebecca in the Woods
Rebecca is one of the best young naturalist-bloggers out there, so we are very lucky to have her as host of the next Festival of the Trees.

Linebreak: “To Failure:” by Christopher Ankney
My first reading for Linebreak, a magazine I admire. Don’t know the poet from Adam, but I know the subject all too well! It was fun to learn the poem this way, over a series of half a dozen takes, even if I was a bit too tired to give it as good a reading as it deserves.

BBC Earth News: “Madagascar’s elusive shell-squatting spider filmed
Speaking of failure, check out the first spider in this clip from the redoubtable David Attenborough & co. (a win for photography and evolution). Then there’s…
Bizarre mammals filmed calling using their quills
Tenrecs! Stridulating!


(Watch on YouTube)
In a rare trip off the mountain, a chance remark at the coffee shop led me to discover that I was surrounded by fellow kale afficionados, and one of them later sent me the link to this video. What used to be an obscure vegetable back when we started growing it in the garden in the early 70s has now apparently achieved cult status. Who’d have thunk it?

Among the conquistadors

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Photos and text by Teju Cole

foggy park-like area in Savanna, Georgia

In Savannah, a homeless man, quite drunk, came out of the fog. “I am homeless,” he announced. He began to fulminate about the statues in front of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. They were of famous artists, but he took them to be conquistadors. “This one,” he said, pointing to Raphael, “was a mass murderer. And that one over there” — Phidias — “was a child abuser.”

I gave him money. He reached into his coat and handed me a flower.

hand holding flower

Haruspex Blues

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Another poem from Teju Cole, in response to this.

Living in the body of a seal,
diffident as a crippled hound
stealing some shut-eye in the belly,
night office of the soul.

Enfolding not the future,
no gland of hope or glory,
the lobes will only testify
in favor of the shadowed now.

Solemn a temple of deception
as bird flight or other sign:
staves scattered across desert,
dowsing through text-terrain.

Wolf call hints at augury,
unfurls like lifting fog,
antenna pitched at gods who
are much too fond of sleeping.

© Teju Cole 2008

Into a Rightness

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Another poem from Teju Cole, in response to this.

For you shall be in league with the stones of the field
and the wild animals shall be at peace with you.
—Job 5:23

The hand emerges
from the pocket
on its own, its splodge
of low brown hills
a keloid map of how
I’d failed to heal.

Gnarled, tidal wind:
a leaf storm hassles the air.
Argumentative clouds.
This hand is strange to me.

I’d stretched it out
as makeshift landing gear,
like one reaching out
for help, or to bless,
and badged it instead
with dirt and blood,
red archipelago
from base of thumb to wrist.

The dog had stopped
and looked at me
with his mangy face,
and slowly turned away.
I left a part of myself there;
the road rehearsed itself in me.

“They can smell
your fear, you know.”
Yes, I’d thought of that.
This gift of theirs
was what I feared,
dull humanity unmoored
from the strangeness of a dog.

Cousin, I’ll go chasing trees,
wade ankle deep
in the soft coin they mint,
spend hours tailing memory,
a dog on scent,

a child in the creek
of full human being,
trampling prodigal bounty:
hand-sized leaves
—burlap, silk, damask—
weeping off the branch like sails,

blush-hued, wine-hued, gold:
healing scars that
protect the stones,
eyelids for their perfect eyes.

Let us agree to pray
for each other:
that the tidal wind
settle us into a rightness

and recreate from these faults
and fears, fitter selves,
as lean years follow fat.

© Teju Cole 2008

Download the MP3

In league with the stones

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.
Job 5:23

Dear Teju,

Rocks are the roofs of a city
we barely know. On a dry ridgetop
at the end of a dry month,
I find little under them but burrows
leading deeper into the earth,
a colony of ants frantic
at the sudden inversion,
and on the talus slope, more rocks:
a puzzle that was put together wrong
8,000 years ago, but over the millenia
has settled into its own kind
of rightness. I follow a bear’s trail
through the woods, marked by black
cherry-pitted cairns of bear shit,
& note the series of overturned rocks,
flipped by an expert claw.
Only a human, uneasy at the way
our grotesque bodies no longer
quite fit into the matrix,
would ever return a flipped rock
to its bed. Birds have nests,
foxes have holes; culture
is not a thing unique to humans.
The song that makes the songbird
must be taught. Instinct borrows
always from improvisation —
the true two-step. But watch
a human child, too young
to hunger for our made world’s
humdrum El Dorados, playing
in the creek with a stick —
how she projects her dreams
into the teeming, pulsing flow,
how she punctuates
& fabricates — & tell me
this is not more wondrous
than any gold, this human
being!