Over a period of several months in 2020 most of us lived through a slowing and restriction of movements, unprecedented in global scale, as we complied with extreme ‘social distancing’ measures in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Some referred to this period as the Great Pause: empirically measured in the 17% drop in daily global CO₂ emissions from last year’s mean. How did we take its qualitative measure?
Emissions are on the rise again, and people have once more been on the move, if more locally, while economies have ‘reopened’—though falteringly, as Europe now enters a second wave of lockdowns (and Melbourne has only just now exited a second, strict lockdown). The experience of the Great Pause was uneven, to be sure: the pandemic tended to expose if not exacerbate existing socioeconomic inequalities. Some of us (‘key workers’) kept commuting to the frontline, while for many there was no ‘pause,’ only a shift to working ‘remotely,’ an accelerated digitisation of labour eroding boundaries between work and home. Many have been furloughed or laid off, with or without some form of taxpayer support; for many it was a season of fear and isolation. And for some: illness, suffering, death, grief, without the solace of communal rituals or even the proximity of one’s closest kin. The immiseration of millions under lockdown with no home to call a home went largely unreported, as did the weaponisation of the virus at sites of Indigenous resistance, a form of violence with long precedent. For most of us, the Great Pause disrupted usual movements.
What in this disruption did we learn, about where we live and who and how and what we are? What differences lay exposed, and what common ground? How did we mourn in the absence of gathering? What have we come to celebrate? What would we like to remember, as we accelerate again towards capital’s limits accumulating in the atmosphere? This feature invited submissions of writing in the pause.
At one level, I was interested in the renewed attention to place and to community the ‘lockdown’ enforced: writing on, in and around attention to the local, the neighbourhood, what can be reached on foot or observed in one’s backyard or even in one’s home—along with changed observations of and interactions with neighbours, of whatever kind (for many, this was a time of seasonal transition, for others an initiation to mutual aid). Did new kindnesses emerge out of previously fixed relations? Were old injustices newly audible? Were interactions reduced? At another level, any distance on what was considered ‘normal’ only months before could prompt breakthroughs in perception and writing.
Writing in the Pause called specifically for writing connected to the change in our mobility. What would happen when we took the travel out of ecopoetics? This was not to privilege the local over the planetary, simple ideas of home over global complexities, nor the descriptive over the conceptual, but to prompt writing that listens in the pause.
Seismologists observed a 30-50% reduction in anthropogenic ground noise. In this temporary drop in vibration, what did it become possible to hear, as if for the first time? What keening or ode to joy was now audible in the ground between us? I invited listening in the broadest possible sense, below and beyond the bird song we might first notice, once the roar of vehicles and airliners and the distraction of our own speed was turned down. To paraphrase Pauline Oliveros, did we now find our ears in our feet?
Formally adventurous submissions would catch my attention, writing that tarried with an ecotone (or ‘edge effect,’ however that boundary be construed). I was less interested in the ego than in the eco poetics of the Great Pause—writing vulnerable to its own falsifiability in and through contact in the field. Crossings of genre and media (including work with sound) was encouraged. I read for irony and humour as well as sincerity. Decolonial perspectives were especially welcomed.
The call was ambitious and so were many of the submissions. I was not prepared for the number of submissions written expressly in answer, or so it seemed, to the terms of the call. Having to choose between so many pieces composed thoughtfully from a place, space and time of active listening, within uncommon hearings of self, made for an unexpected—and pleasurable, albeit challenging—task. To listen for listening often meant reading beneath surfaces, bracketing what one thinks to know. One detail I did not know was the authors’ names, as I read the majority of these pieces anonymously. About two thirds of the final selection came from general submissions, one third I was able to commission. It was gratifying to be able to discover so many new (to me) writers. There are many (more) from either category that I would love to have included. I am immensely grateful to all who submitted.
Inevitably, the throw falls short of the aim, as I feel the issue just begins to lock in the transmissions that might carry us through the coming ‘normal.’ Goddess help us if we return to ‘normal’—my hope is that the pause enabled many to step a step back in space and time (those with the luxury to pause), enough to witness how extreme, mindless and hellbent the ‘normal’ was and is. It has been disheartening to witness the onward march of the construction industry, deterred not a whit by the pandemic, its massive infrastructure projects (already made obsolete by the flip to ‘remote’ working) propelled by the momentum of sunk costs and demands of the banking sector. The predictable structural adjustments of disaster capitalism are already making themselves felt across every sector, not least that of higher education on which many contributors to this issue depend for their livelihoods. What will return and what changes will remain? Will we Zoom more and fly less? Can and will we ally with resurgence—e.g. the record number of olive ridley sea turtles (from nests thriving in the pause of tourists pressuring these beaches) released into the sea just yesterday off the coast of Sonora by Indigenous Seri people? What modes of listening in these poems are made to persist?
We launch this issue on the eve of an (to use another word from the pandemic lexicon) ‘unprecedented’ US General Election, whose outcome in ‘normal’ times should be certain but in the ‘actual’ times we live is far from being so. The outcome of the vote counting that begins in three days could signal at least a bit of breathing space, a knee off the neck of Democracy, if not a clawing back from the abyss of a theocratic and populist authoritarianism, and biocidal administration like no other (except perhaps the current Australian government), the likes of which have rarely if ever been seen inside US borders. Or it could initiate judicial dispute and, pending outcome from a Supreme Court with a now solid (6-3) conservative majority, a decision that plunges the divided country into chaos and civil unrest. All at a time when nations need desperately to be finding ways to cooperate to combat not only a global health emergency but an ecocidal rush to four degrees Celsius global warming. No way to know if we are just off the backside of this sickeningly giant wave, or beneath a still breaking crest.
The element that most marks this issue, however, is fire, crackling and hissing through and between the lines of the poems, from Australia’s Black Summer of truly apocalyptic “bushfires” that inaugurated the year and, as one poem in the issue notes, killed “over 1,000,000,000 animals/ a conservative estimate” (Goetz), to the Uttarakhand Forest Fires in Srinagar, to (most worrying) wildfires well inside the Siberian Arctic Circle, to (also worrying) fires accelerating the Brazilian Amazon toward its “Tipping Point” (toward becoming savannah), to the Delta del Paraná and Córdoba wildfires in Argentina, to unprecedented wildfires across the Western US, especially the “Lightning Complex” fires in California, and even to fires inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Perhaps the call for work should have been for Writing in the Fire. Nevertheless, all the contributions (for me at least) can be read as so many ways of bringing oxygen to a collective body in the grips of the political and ecological equivalent of a cytokine storm.
Just as significantly, another kind of fire—or perhaps the same fire, the fire next time: “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” asks James Baldwin—flickers at the edges of this issue: flames consuming the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct in the USA, as riots and protests consumed cities across the US in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, one of a string of black men murdered in cold blood by white (and often uniformed) men, murders caught on cellphone and broadcast across the world’s social media. Floyd’s state sanctioned murder sparked a summer of protests, occupations of city centres, toppling of symbols of racism, falls from political grace, and a general reckoning of the white supremacism at the heart of Western democracies (and especially of the American project), but also at the heart of every group or individual agenda, however liberal, well informed or intentioned. The ‘unprecedented’ events and results of this conflagration are too numerous to list here, but they have helped shape the imminent election and will be legible in the result. And they guided many of the editorial decisions I made in assembling the feature. I did not receive many submissions directly addressing this context (or perhaps it was the main event) of the pause, despite the call’s angle for social contexts— “what differences lay exposed, and what common ground?” —yet the reckoning brought on by the murder of George Floyd (murdered the very day we put out our call for work) echoes throughout.
Despite these fires, I find no single overarching theme to the “pause” as explored in this issue, and I would not want to prefigure in my introduction what this gathering of work from more than forty writers spread across three different continents (and one Pacific archipelago) manifests, singly and in relation. Since the formatting of an online issue forecloses the editorial composition of sequencing and spreads, we have gone with an alphabetic table of contents. It is my hope that some of the perspectives, positions and themes I sought to balance with my selections, as well as a kind dialogue across borders and geographical antipodes, will become audible to readers who spend time with the issue. A good number of visual, audio and audio-visual contributions remind us that writing at the site of ecopoetics often pushes at alphabetic boundaries. The superb translators of the couple of bilingual contributions (look for links to the original language versions) have my gratitude for working on tight deadlines—there is still too much English in this measure of the pause, but consistent regard, I hope, for what might answer the lack. My heartfelt thanks goes to Anne Elvey, who prompted this issue and has done the bulk of the real editorial labour, including the careful layout, and to all the contributors for their inspiring and seriously playful work.
One certainly finds an inward turn, a solitary note and a quiet to many of the contributions—entirely in keeping with the pause—but to open rather than mask our hearing. If there is a ‘school of quietude’ here, it is one that studies how “Everything makes a sound/ in the moment of its destruction” (Bach). It is a “coalescing eclipse pattern” (Alexander), where we “take [our] bod[ies]// to the margins” (Burnett). “You, not I, are produced in the margins,” writes Dorantes (trans. Myers). “The street breathes us, we breathe the street” (Capildeo). Parents are “waiting to wrap arms around [their] children again” (Clarke), in a “world still to be woven” (Clarkson). “[I]n the inverted lake of insomnia” (D’Aquino, trans. Gander), “[c]row humour or philosophy makes it through the walls” (Farrell). As we pick apples in plague time (Ladd), “[c]itizenship makes moral and ethical claims upon our bodies” (Kuppers). Suddenly we are “making some day somewhere,” focused on “the observance of the object and its indentation on the space, the redirecting of one’s gaze onto the minuscule details of the object, the incidence of light on that space” (Guerreiro). I could go on, weaving a cento of my favorite lines from the contributions, but it’s time to let readers wander . . . watch out for the nettles!
so tired and full of tears,
said the threadbare cloth of gold.
Beaten hands, beaters’ hands
rock the monsoon-baby’s crib.
so wakeful and full of fears,
said the fountain in the square.
Visitors, thirsty, put
chapstick lips to dirty pipes.
so mended and full of cracks,
said the walkway to the house;
so careful, so old, so planned
to give support. Say no more.
For a never-to-be-finished farewell
In memory in false memory
The rain tree stood the saman
Canopied us the vast dome
Had not been cut down
was it cut down?
Tearing the drive with amber
Dropping pods akin to figs
Dried and gummy
It ploughed up
the concrete into furrows,
a rough sea greyed to a halt;
would not have stopped there;
In true fact
would’ve tapped into,
hooked, root-shaken foundations,
Small leaves up above
Small-twigged memory spread
What kept us back
Hooked and shaken
to drop a branch,
hit a child
As we were
hit the roof
Only going to say
hit the T.V. aerial
BANG! e x p l o s i o n
why was it cut down?
the house to fall down?
There was another reason.
Tree wake and sleep
Tell me why
Live and die with me
it was cut down?
Tree wake and live
Strangers would park up
Sleep and die with me
to have sex
by our gate;
the tree had to go,
it hid them.
Tree live and sleep
Die and wake with me
I solved the problem of composting during the cold seasons by maintaining an indoor worm bin all year long. They, my breeders digest, live in the living room among a stand of ferns and various other houseplants. One gigabyte, gaggle, murder or bin of. Been since Genesis. At least.
They run for cover, dash into corners as if shocked. Light. Light. Light! As a penetrating bullet when I come to change their bedding, diaper of newspaper, and organic matter. They leap from their tiers like Olympic divers. Plop on the floor then scoop across the floor: like babies . . . A way from mother’s looming shadow. They become getaway car and driver. Red Wigglers. Unlike European Night Crawlers who are “strong enough to break the earth. No frigid waters or heat [or even distant continents]” are ever enough to keep them from get’n on or get’n it on. As I learned from friend and fellow greenie, Maurice Smalls, a giant of love for natural processes, vermicomposting, food security and all things nourishing for the earth: “All they do is eat, have sex all day and poop.”
I am reminded. A memory lesson. Faded version. From grade school days. Enough recall for my purposes here:
Even though worms may destroy my body; yet in my flesh shall I see God whom I shall behold and not another . . .
Something of this tone or spell I could easily “google” ( a way of worming, oogling through digital holes) but don’t bother. It is. A memory. Lesson. So let the break in such fabric, momentum of time. Be. Sufficient. As
scrawl crawl . . .
On the surface of things, scoop’d or coop’d up
One dash at a time they race me (or my shadow), tickle me trying to escape between my fingers, or out of the strainer I use to keep them from drowning in their own urine. Poop poop poop . . . They are always in an uprising. Some even take a knee. I’m surprised some enterprising rump of a human hasn’t raced to exploit them, put up a finish line and make them race across it and against each other. For applau$e. Or run them out of the White House lawn. Because they brown, black or red.
The meek shall inherit the Earth, have the last word, the counsel of living and dying language
porous secrets. Secreted inside my palm worms don’t arm and hand
guns. the skin of the world
mouth death munch attention
scrounge into dirt
a worm body years long long long
I take counsel from humble origins, “theirs”
below the surface, or on
out of life
cut a section
seeds ovaries half flowers
heads buried in wombs
break the woody bread
snake around the waist of the cross the edges burrow
the shadows name bulbs pale green hurry our footsteps into dawn
through the rushes unit small families
straw-colored demands against the furry gray
buildings perennial overtake our place little parts in their aquatic habitats
swim against the current onto our plates
suction digestion planes carry their boxes sell unto us
slice us with a rudimentary blade
fjords tree-like mountains rock-like
weep us with wheat barley maize and rice
divided like sticks of sugar canes
rotting like cavities in teeth
petrol prices rise and fall like the tussock grasses
wind! do you not blow across countries?
pushing classifying grating demystifying elated enthusiastic
stamen bisexual sometimes unisexual or sterile
spike and make
amenity humanity amending repenting
torn or eroded
harvest a berry or capsule
the black seeds of civilization
the lilies forming clumps overcrowd the streets or parks
ornamental in their whorl hasty in their pattern
please help us forget—
how good how precious how sad
a sickness brings
veins marbled on the margins
lights lobed in their printed forms
friendliness perhaps unwise to have cultivated
loneliness the leafless wandering without roots
join hands in apples pears and quinces
the husk of an almond morn
swarm basils thyme sage and parsley over common graves
let the whole of circular life circle
let the panflower prick
petals paper eyes
arms of the dandelion
let scatter all the ears
all directed towards the bloom
when the night rhombic
scatters the oblong feather
but towards death
After The Book of Songs ‘Seventh Moon’
Fifth moon, bunny orchids come like comets, ears upwards,
bonfire rages in the light rain
breeze comes slowly the whole day
and red tails gather to pepper,
abalone grows fat and sizzle hits the pan,
the crays have gone away.
By seventh moon, we do not know barefoot,
it’s cold to the face without bitterness
no emu sighted, gone to lay,
boots with wool blessing the toes as frost bites the roots and
stew becomes curry becomes stock becomes soup
becomes stew again stew, rassam that we knew,
night calls to load the wood basket as fog comes in against blame
elders in the photo frame, jarrah ablaze.
Then, eleventh moon, all memory fades,
and, in sun, we burn the colour of bottlebrush flowers,
the fields like dun anticipating the dust,
the saltbush pushing up, and we walk towards the granite outcrop
to hear the buzzing of the hive
ready for honey to be ripe.
Fifth moon, we forget the first
when we went without wetsuits
and dived in the hole of the reef,
saw the whole of the world
like a song increasing as we knelt on the path,
pigfaced the northern star.
By sixth moon, the weather has come in
and grey skies speak of the ball they kicked to heaven
to wake the gods from their slumber
to watch us play,
and when they conclude in ninth moon,
we will say, the wind here hasn’t dropped today,
crays are on their way,
the farmers will be back at market soon
and the blow-ins coming too
from eastward and northward looking for a truth.
Fifth moon, we say comes after eighth
if we were from a place
that had belts for saucepans and bowed before the violent
who wore crowns of stolen gold and stolen diamonds at ceremonies starched white
for lack of sun and refinement.
Fifth moon comes again, but this time after fourth
when karri strips itself into pink,
salmon running with dolphins rounding in the bay
and their presence teaches us how the cycle goes on,
bleeding the fish headfirst in the sand
like the others who are casting here, wading in thongs.
They’ll recall those days in ten when the breeze switches place
and the squid sucks away the night sky
forgetting the ballot and the tennis and the games that don’t belong,
when cicadas have their way
and offshore makes the spray,
and the possum comes to look through the early moon
and the potaroo and the quenda do too, boobook hoot.
Between twelve and one moon, two and three moon,
the fever starts and pitches up
the whiskey flows and the patches of seaweed bring maggots
for freezing when the herring and the whiting and the mulloway
come back for more, labouring close to the shore.
Now though, fifth moon,
it is ham and cheese toasties on rising
and the crays come to this place
as they have done, always,
when better people than us, giants, wake at dawn
and the stars that are the ancestors are still at play.
This never was, never will be
but we like it here anyway, do what we can.
We cannot stay
for our place is out there, on the waves,
guests till the end of days,
in the pages of history down Kerala way in god’s own country,
eating appam and idli and rava thosai
avial, prawn curry and beef fry
putu and polichattu and roti
giving thanks in the coconut shade for sovereign territory
back home again with the fisherfolk and the family and the ghosts of Puthucurichy,
unfolding with grace
letting fifth moon turn into sixth moon into seventh moon into infinity
far from Redgate knowing our place as Malayalis.
In the old math
of Base Lumber
the square root
of a two-by-four
of sawn timber
from a flood-
plain nee wood-
following a tangent
to a point
on a curved
for all the world
Now the dispensation
of a specious
nom de plume
as the blue-
wink at palimpsests.
bird night. areola. a little beer.
of something metallic
seamed shocked ringing
a week of rush:
dresses on CindeRear in my feed
Derrida’s “death wanders between letters”
desire responds to commodity
in the beginning was the mouth
Flaubert’s perfect capsule
the interval is what is
day of the farmers market
day of grading
day of walking
day of bleeding
day of take-out
of the beauty of the word grisaille
day of losses around us
day of A’s birth
day of knees
of ends seen forthcoming
of the very thick
day of the delayed
of this breach the present
day of awash
of dialectical reasoning
day of antimonies
of more confederate and other racist
day of manifest disparities
of latent narratives
of the flight of white-throated swifts
of the migration of images
of country convulsed
day of artificial confirmation
of breaks in temporal unity
of monuments fallen
of ardent circling
day of scattered phenomena
of autonomous free and temporary
day of reparations
day of over & over
day of any way
of rubber bullets
day of the gospel’s account
of tear gas & milk
of christ’s ultima verba
day of an irregular galaxy
of the revenances
of I am lost unto this world
day of slack channels
of exam wrappers
of the death of social forms
day of Bruce’s the universe is a joy machine for itself
day of brugmansia solanaceae, night blooming
day of desiring and rebuffing
of cloud and
day of observation
day of would she and anyone
day of aufblitz
of unseasonable rains
of finches and parrots
of the skies above
of the threshold
of mundus in gutta
of M80 booms
of desire according to minutiae
of the interval
of the body is not an apology
of being thus
Tips of spears, pottery shards, how bones lay
Shell’s beach of origin, which way stones point
Mounds not clear to the eyes at first, rising
Kinda mushy (by now) generations
Of grass, of ceaseless rain, blurring the lines
Of forethought, persistence, endurance, wit
Rendering the scene (truth be told) vacant
To eyes and ears tethered to blinking screens
Superstructures driving your sex by bits
You think it was different back the in the day?
Smokey campfires, come gather round, listen
Hear those that came before, left all this junk
As we fast ditch our junk, dreaming deep space
Always deep space is sex as skulls retrieved
Destinations of Things
Consumables, ponder them briefly, breathe
Circuit board mound, forty meters in height
Jakarta slum, pickers climb high to pluck
Teeny, tiny chips, there, there’s a one, breathe
Exhale, what’s stirring behind the curtain?
What’s rattling there? Bring on the chronicler!
Eighty ten kilo buckets in a row
The clunking’s increasing, now fading – gone
Shsh…is that a one? It’s back! Supply line
Tankards! tankards! bring on the sorcerer!
Oh you mother plucker son of a bit!
Breathe, it’s calling out, tankards, supply lines
Bring on the rhapsodist! Buckets, exhale
This micro play of words as chips in play
WE FIND WAYS TO PAUSE
to sleep of anxiety
we find ways to dream of anxiety while sleeping through it
to dream of the relentless pounding of anxiety
we find ways to declare anxiety as a replacement for sleep
to darken anxiety by sleep of it
we find ways to achieve darkness
to close our eyes in a darkened anxiety
to be reminded of anxiety during sleep
to achieve a darkened anxiety while closing our eyes in the being of anxiety
we find ways to know that we are sleeping
to sleep in the knowing
to describe to a lesser being the hierarchy of darkness
to the being of a room lessened by becoming darkness
to the lesser being lessened by being
to assume hierarchy by being lesser than
we find ways to achieve status by stating anxiety in the realm of sleeplessness
to sleep in a darkened knowing of a lesser darkness
to know there is another darkness
to drop one for the other
to one being the other’s opening
to encompass the lessons of concentration as a guise for meditation
to spell differently the idea of quiet using meditation as a lark
to leave this
to become the one reading this instead of the one sleeping
we find ways
what is there to remember
waiting deep in the folds
of pixelated grey matter
what lies beyond the new day
an alarm that doesn’t want to sleep
in my house steady as a breeze
a sound on a waking world
ready so not for change the orange sky
falls through my pockets and I think
it’s not me it’s the world
unrest at an easy juncture I step
on a long night and nowhere
was there a manual for keeping sane
in the middle of the street heart sterilized
in the back of a throat what is there
WE FIND WAYS TO ISOLATE
we find ways to isolate truth
to isolate power
by calling on the shapes that save us
the shapes that survive us
out of brain into body
we call on our instincts
to isolate hurt
away from emotion
to protect our power
we call on our truth
to attempt deflection out of heart
we call on our hurt
to isolate deflection
away from the shapes that save us
the ones that define us
are the ones we call on
to survive our truth
we call on our finding
out of knowing
away from doing
we find ways
to isolate truth
with grateful thanks to the people of the Fitties, particularly Caroline Carr and Katie Teakle who gave words here
going down through
we’ve been very lucky here – had very few cases
i expect it’s the sea air
sandy grassland bright trefoils, patternings of whites –
stitchwort, queen ann’s lace, and milkwort
bracted pink through green swathing
i don’t have the energy I did – it’s been so silent, no traffic
how it would have been, the sky bluer –
you re-look, re-visit
past sea buckthorns holding dunes with their roots
old papery webs wound around spines and spikes
before bud, before leaf, before berry
my life is really small now, small and quiet – the day is the day
it’s comforting to me thinking that everybody else is
doing the same thing
looking out over the sands bright cord grass colonising
sand under water out of water setting roots setting
mud flat wedges into marsh flagging up
the coastguard were saying don’t come
it’s treacherous here at the best of times and
the water fowl are breeding, all the birds and amphibians
pale early white-pink thrift flowers within flower
out of bronze sheath under singing lark sky
they miss their family, they’re a really close family
you know – we hear him singing to
his grandchildren on the phone
sea arrowgrass clumps pools wet edges, stalks spiking out of
leaf-curves into the wind, just making early purples
tiny separate globes under strong sun
this place has been rolled over because people
are tender and they’re not knowing
and they’ve been rolled over
into the marsh heart of golden creek & pool
shielding, staying put – but he’s still doing
his 6000 steps round the garden
every day the same
points of white, english sea scurvygrass angelica with a catch
and a tapering, single serration distinguishes
separation from self
she was hardly eating but I’m cooking anyway
so I’m bullying her into it – it’s just a matter
of sorting out what she can’t eat
deep green ovals of sea lavender’s broad lush leaves –
not even a bud yet – up through grey-green mosaic of purslane’s
spread rosettes, soft-sharp elliptical leaves sending salt out, dropping colour
we’re more vulnerable because more remote but
I’ve never been a hot house flower –
yes I stayed
the further out in the open you – tide low – samphire just surfacing
among last year’s skeletons, pushing wet pink-brown up
globular not yet branching
you’ve still got the air here
even if you can’t get
to the sea
across mud flats, salt pans, creek’s edges
according to light & tide
just like last year
I’m guessing the rabbits
were always here, but the one-eyed dog
in the windowed hallway was
Now that he is gone,
the rabbits are rampant.
I’m guessing the corn stalks/stover
were always dagger-like at midday
before evening’s cool release.
But homebound I see them doubly.
I see because I’ve been double–sensed
the mole above my beloved’s
shallow navel. It has always been there.
How rarely and careful
we see one another now.
And when he leaves, there is
the sound glass bowls make
when one is nested inside the other.
I too make this sound, when
waking alone in the middle of the night
I slide back into myself.
what century are we in? What time is it?
From across the closed world you tell me
you imagine your bookshelf as a row of edible leaves.
I order my days as a Vermeer woman in an apron—
baking bread, taking time to make the bed, the one I lie on
drowning in white noise I call the Hum.
The other day, I don’t know which one, I heard a call.
It was new to my garden.
I wanted to understand how Time had lodged itself
in that black-capped turn
of a curious head. It had one eye cocked
giving me the time of day
before setting off on some miraculous migration.
Or was it, like me, here to stay?
In some loose part of me I hoped it would never end—
this day, this reckoning sky
now open to conversations with small things
climbing stairs an hour each day
my solo trek to the top of the mountain
enough oxygen to make my way down
28 MARCH 2020 (EUGENE, OREGON)
AFTER A DAY OF FUTILE FACEBATTLING ABOUT BIDEN & BERNIE, THE INSTITUTE OF LOAFING OFFERS A RESPITE FROM THE TRENCHES OF SELF-ISOLATIONISM. WISHING Y’ALL PEACE & LOVE IN THE TIME OF C0-V.
CAPTION: THE NEIGHBOR’S LATE LAZING TREE, LEANING ON A FRIEND (SHED) FOR SUPPORT (HUGS). SAYS DOUGLAS FIR: “HEY, SHED, CAN YOU SPARE ME SOME HUGS.”
SOUNDTRACK TO FOLLOW, TO BE LISTENED TO WHILST GAZING AT TODAY’S BEAUTIFUL UPDATE:
THUNDERCAT, “A MESSAGE FOR AUSTIN / PRAISE THE LORD / ENTER THE VOID.”
1 APRIL 2020 (EUGENE, OREGON)
ANOTHER WORK DAY, TO BE DISTINGUISHED FROM A DAY OF LABOR (FOR
THE MAN, OR MANKIND), AT THE INSTITUTE OF LOAFING.
TITLE: NO GLAZED CHICKENS
NOTHING DEPENDS UPON
CAPTURING AND POSTING
BESIDE THE PLASTIC
MUSIC (BELOW): HIGH LLAMAS, “LITERATURE IS FLUFF” –FIRST LINES: “TAKE CARE TO AVOID THE HEAVY STUFF. / I GIVE UP, THIS LITERATURE IS FLUFF.”
MARYROSE LARKIN: YES BUT THAT IS A CAMELLIA
SUE DEANE: AND SINCE YOU’RE BEING CORRECT AND CORRECTING THAT IS A WAGON. THIS IS A WHEELBARROW
15 MAY 2020 (EUGENE, OREGON)
FRESH OFF THE PRESS, THE INSTITUTE OF LOAFING IS PLEASED TO
ANNOUNCE ITS LATEST INSTALLMENT (WITH SOUNDTRACK TO FOLLOW):
TITLE: NO MOW MAY (FOR LINDA RUSSO)
MOWER STRIPPED OF
USE VALUE NOW
DE-HANDLED, REDUNDANT, MO IS EAGER
TO RETURN TO WORK AND HIS PROTESTANT WAYS,
BUT THE FLOWERS ARE JUST BEE-ING THEMSELVES AND
THE EVIL WEEDS ARE HAPPY DANDIES AT LAST. SO, WHY
RUIN A GOOD THING, MO, JUST CAUSE YOU GOT NO MONEY
AND CAN’T RELAX? THERE ARE TINS IN THE BASEMENT, AND
THE PIZZA IS FIGHTING OFF FREEZER BURN, JUST WAITING
FOR YOUR FINGERS TO PUNCH IN THE CODE.
SOUNDTRACK: YOUTUBE.COM: 3 HOURS OF LEAF BLOWER SOUND EFFECTS
20 MAY 2020 (EUGENE, OREGON)
MORE FROM THE IOL’S “NO MOW MAY” WAY:
TITLE: NO MOW MAY COLLAGE (WITH ICONS)
NATURE IS NOT NATURE
AND THIS LAWN’S NO LAWN.
GRASSES OF ALL MINDS
GROW HERE, THERE’S NO
UNIFORMITY, IT JUST LOOKS
THAT WAY WHEN MOWN.
His heart wearing out its desire for action,
at one hundred he stumbles on this childhood deck
pushing my hand away, stubborn for independence.
I am back from the top of the globe to care for him
but it has been a hard day. Humour seeped away.
And so much has slipped from me, been left.
It’s confusing, love and a kind of anger, a kind of pain.
I sit the required personal distance from my
childhood friend, eating chocolate Easter eggs,
drinking hot coffee, letting it all go into the
mild dusk, into this autumnal softness
with its scatter of camellia blossom.
I’m unused to it in April, my home another
world, boxed somewhere on an ocean crossing.
When it settles next to me on the railing –
this Rainbow Lorikeet – I think it won’t stay long
but babble to it anyway as if it might listen.
Curious, it cocks that indigo-blue head,
red beak opening in song, not squawking at all,
but a squeaking, burbling tune, its mate hidden
in the grevillea tree returning single staccato notes.
So stunning in brightness, there’s a hurt
in its perfection, a sweet disbelief.
Across its belly plumped on nectar,
swathes of orange, yellow and blue sashes,
and I remember after my cancer really seeing them,
as if for the first time. In a new awe for life
I understood, nature likes to colour extremely.
Long tail splayed with emerald feathers,
it goes and returns, chattering to me
strangely sure of safety, hanging finally
upside-down from the house gutter above me,
relaxed in connection, unafraid. I smile so.
There is a dusk inside and out here, yes,
and a long day ending, but brightly.
“Mimicked song elements within the lyrebird’s display [have] been used as evidence that the song is culturally transmitted … a population of superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) introduced to Tasmania continued for several decades to imitate model species that were no longer present”
— Putland, Nicholls, Noad and Goldizen, “Imitating the Neighbours”
Who bears witness.
The once-green furrows.
Sunlight filters through vulnerable tree ferns.
Mountain streams ventilate and turn the soil.
Grey mountain ash rise from auburn skins.
Lyrebirds mount their U shaped lute and archive song.
The lyre fans in a corsage of white fronds.
Remembrance is a corpse of trees and glaucous bloom.
An enclosed theatre of towering ferns.
It will be kept among us.
When petioles die they leave hexagonal scars on the trunk.
Whose characteristic shadowy forms combine relic verdure.
Birds and trees in broken silences.
Nature builds a vista.
Chanting a thunder-psalm.
The peculiar note of the lyre.
It holds the eye.
There’s a robin nest on top of the lamp, under the roof. It’s been there for years. I enjoy watching them and hearing their chirps. My Native brother told me it’s good luck to have a robin’s nest. But that’s all I know about robins.
This morning, I poured a bucket of dish water around my rhododendron. We’re having a drought in Minnesota. So I’ve been collecting used water for plants.
A robin came out of the nest and started pecking the wet ground.
There was rice and vegetables in the water. She must be hungry to pick up the food from mud.
“Oh, you poor thing,” I cooed. “It’s so dirty. You’ll get sick.”
I took out some quinoas seeds, and spread them evenly on the dry ground, thinking the robin would be so grateful for my good heart.
But she ignored it, just kept pecking into the wet mud, her beak and breast covered with black earth, then she flew back to her nest, and spread the disgusting dirt in the nest, then sat down, looking smug-happy.
Hmmm, what’s going on?
“Kiddy kiddy kiddy,” I called, “come and eat the quinoas. It has all the 8 essential proteins.”
But the robin ignored me. She fluffed her feathers, moved around, scratched around, sat down, looked down at me with an even more smug smile.
“Stupid robin,” I muttered, “why won’t you eat the delicious nutritious seeds? Why do you prefer the dirty wet mud? It’s full of virus and bacteria that might kill you!”
She looked down at me with her bright round eyes. Her beak was clean. Her red breast was clean. She chirped and moved about, then aimed her butt at me.
She was MOCKING me!
It suddenly occurred to me that she was using the mud to build her nest. The sticky wet dirty disgusting bacteria ridden mud serves as concrete for her nest, to add weight, to glue the light dry grass, feathers and twigs together, to prevent the wind from blowing it away.
Now I remember growing up building my chicken coop like the mother robin. I remember living in a mud house when I was a farmer in China, when I visited Africa last year…They are cool in the summer, warm in the winter, easy and cheap and fast to build…all we need is a pair of hands, a bucket of water, a pile of mud and straw, and the knowledge passed onto us from thousands of years ago, the knowledge mocked and abandoned and replaced with wood, concrete, glass, steel, oil…all returned to me by a mother robin.
We think we are above nature, we can conquer nature, we are master of nature.
But today I learned, no, I remembered, through an American Robin, that we’re only a beakful of mud away from nature.
What did you learn? (Avoid singular first-person pronouns)
How to tack cardboard to the bottom of doors to prevent draught
Was the ocean in the distance?
Folded-up chicken wire can be inserted between gutter and roofing iron to prevent rodents
Did you experience fragmentation?
Use a tarp to drag a heavy piece of furniture from the basement up a narrow path to your study
Which muscle group did you use?
The fear was always that it would spread to the refugee camps
Were you scorched?
What can [ ] ask of the other?
Did you exist between carrying and being carried?
In the beginning it felt unsafe to touch ferns on neighbourhood walks
Was there an alignment between inner and outer layers?
The yellow of the sun intensified the yellow of the leaves
Did you cut your hair?
Yes, but this is normal
Would you like to add anything?
A mouse had ossified in the hot water cupboard