Tiny tree, regular-sized apple & some poetry.

bonsaiappleFrom “What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison” by Camille T. Dungy:

But now, in spring, the buds
flock our trees.   Ten million exquisite buds,
tiny and loud, flaring their petalled wings,
bellowing from ashen branches vibrant
keys, the chords of spring’s triumph: fisted heart,
dogwood; grail, poplar; wine spray, crab apple.
The song is drink, is color.   Come.   Now.   Taste.

Read the whole beautiful, messy thing here.


Poem for today: “Toward you, I thistle and I climb.”

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Reader unmov’d and Reader unshaken, Reader unseduc’d
and unterrified, through the long-loud and the sweet-still
I creep toward you. Toward you, I thistle and I climb.
I crawl, Reader, servile and cervine, through this blank
season, counting—I sleep and I sleep. I sleep,
Reader, toward you, loud as a cloud and deaf, Reader, deaf
as a leaf. Reader: Why don’t you turn
pale? and, Why don’t you tremble? Jaded, staid
Reader, You—who can read this and not even

Excerpt from the beautiful, strange poem “sweet reader, flanneled and tulled” by Olena Kalytiak Davis, found via an article on The Poetry Foundation, which suggests an alternative reading: swap “reader” for “lover” for a new perspective on this strange and seductive poem. And a word of advice: you really should read it aloud. It rolls around in your mouth, sometimes fluid and smooth, sometimes twisty and thorny, words running together and hard to get out. Reading poetry is the perfect activity for a rainy Sunday. Take a moment and savor it.

Image: Embroidery and drawing by Spanish artist Ana Teresa Barboza. I’ve featured her art on my blog before, but I couldn’t find a better image for this poem—the lion-girl just fits the scary seduction theme so well, I think.

Clouds like poems and poems like clouds.


Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.

What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.

Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.

Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they’re just distant, flighty cousins.

From “Clouds” by Winslawa Szymborska, a Nobel Prize winning Polish poet who writes beautifully about the natural world and the human heart. Read the entire poem in English or in Polish here.

The clouds shown in the image above are mammatus clouds, also known as mammatocumulus. The name comes from the Latin word mamma meaning “mother” or “breast.” Beautiful breast clouds, swinging their udders in the sky.

Also, did you know that the World Meteorological Organization has a section called “Weather reports from the future?” I’m almost afraid to click on it, because I want it so badly to be something oddly magical or slightly silly. I assume it’s about climate change—an important topic! obviously!—but I wish it were stories from a future meteorologist, sending his weather reports back in time to us, boring dispatches about the sky from an unimaginable life form.

By the light of the moon.

Darren Almond Full Moon PhotographyPhotographer Darren Almond uses the full moon to light his landscapes, and the results are otherworldly, frothy and strange, with muted colors and streaks of brightness as stars move across the sky. “With long exposures, you can never see what you are shooting,” said in an interview with The Guardian. “But you are giving the landscape longer to express itself.”Fullmoon-Quatrain700

Moonlight has always felt rather magical; I think it helps reveal things that are normally concealed. It shows the landscape at its softest, most vulnerable. Like people, who undress at night and slip under the covers, turning toward each other in quiet intimacy, the earth slowly disrobes as the moon rises, shedding layers of shadow and light until only the thing itself is left. You have to strain your eyes and open your apertures to see it. You have to wait. Steady, still.  Continue reading

“When I follow the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.”

Friend_A-03Sometimes, I think the stars come out at night because that is when we are tired and worn, when we feel threadbare from the demands of the day. Stars ask for nothing (and most pleasures do ask for something; even flowers beg to be smelled). They are the stalwart companions of the insomniac, steadfast enough to guide a ship. The night sky is the largest, most expansive thing I will ever see with my own eyes. I can look out across an ocean, but as the world curves, it turns and hides itself, coyly holding back a glimpse of my final destination. The night is a gift in that way, a brief time when hidden things become visible, a suitcase turned inside-out and upside-down. Those stars, bone-white and unfathomable, are infinite in a way that nothing in my life will ever be infinite. They are beyond me always; beyond the grasp of my mind, beyond the reach of my arms. And yet, all I need to do is walk outside and I can take part in that silent symphony. Always, I’ll have the stars. And never will I ever have the stars. I find this comforting. I find this to be true.

Image by photographer Amy Friend. More here.

Lost, dead, underused, untranslatable, and under-appreciated words: Part 1, M.

Greenland Drawing by Zaria FormanI don’t often start at the beginning, primarily because I rarely know where to find the beginning. As a writer, this is probably a bad habit, but I don’t care too much. Usually, it works out for the best—I find that starting at the beginning is the swiftest route to reader-boredom. I admit sometimes have trouble finding the end or figuring out how to wrap up an article, though I never have much trouble finding the punchline. I should probably just not write serious things and focus on telling jokes, but I am getting ahead of (behind? I’m not sure?) myself.

Anyway, the point is this: I am starting a new series of my blog of words that are lost, dead, underused, untranslatable, or under-appreciated. Basically, it’s going to be a bunch of cool words that I like and think others might enjoy.

I’m starting near the middle, because that’s what feels right (and because alphabetical order is great for glossaries, but not all that crucial for rambling bloggers). So today, I found three words that begin with M. Here ya go:

Montivagant (Noun, English)
This English word was used most often during the 17th Century and although it is considered a “dead” word, it’s not entirely forgotten. It describes a person who wanders over mountains and hills, a particularly ambitious vagabond. It’s someone who gains and loses altitude as they put one foot in front of the other, up and down, up and down. It’s a rambling man, a roadie without a band. In short, it’s how I want to live my life.

Mångata (Noun, Swedish)
This is a Swedish word that has no exact equivalent in English. It describes the “road-like reflection of the moon on water.” It’s that stairway to heaven that happens when you’re lakeside on a summer night and the moon rises big and slow and lazy.

Merrythought (Noun, English)
This word for the wishbone of a bird is extremely dated and sounds it (“Would you like to pull my merrythought?” asked no one ever). The first known appearance of “Merrythought” was in 1607. I’m squirreling this information away for use at Thanksgiving. When the dinner table talk inevitably and uncomfortably turns to politics, I plan to bust this one out to distract the quibblers.

Image: “Greenland” by Brooklyn-based artist Zaria Forman from her series “Chasing the Light,” which focuses on the interplay between light and water. I’ve blogged about her before, and I’m a huge fan of her work. See more here. 

Baring it all, body and soul. (Or, why poets are the bravest people on the planet.)

patti smith
Found today: “Poets Without Clothes.” It’s a website of—you guessed it!—poets without clothing. Some are half-naked. Some are nude. Some are showing their bare toes. Some cover their breasts. But they’re all vulnerable and rather sweet. The Tumblr was inspired, naturally, by Walt Whitman, he who wrote:

   Let us all, without missing one, be exposed in public, naked,
monthly, at the peril of our lives! let our bodies be freely
handled and examined by whoever chooses!
Let nothing but copies at second hand be permitted to exist
upon the earth!

I wonder, which feels more raw: stripping off your clothing for a photograph, or stripping bare your soul for a poem? Which tears at the fabric of your being more? Which induces more shame, which brings more joy? They’re similar acts, but not the same.

Here’s a good would-you-rather for your next party:  Would you rather bare your body in public, warts and all, or publish your most jagged and painful personal thoughts? Personally, I’d rather take my top off.

Above: Patti Smith in the nude. More here.

Sylvia Plath draws bulls and bull thistles.

bull sylvia plath“It gives me such a sense of peace to draw; more than prayer, walks, anything. I can close myself completely in the line, lose myself in it,” wrote 24-year-old Sylvia Plath in a letter to her mother. She describes coming upon a bull in a field (at least, she thought they were bulls for “they seemed to have no utters”) and sitting down on a river bank to draw those cows—”my first cows.” sylvia-plath-purple-thistle-drawingHer drawings aren’t perfect or particularly noteworthy. But Sylvia Plath is one of those writers who I admire reflexively. When I was younger, before I knew better, I admired her for her tragedy, for her sadness and her bitter bleak world. Now, I admire her language. She writes with the same sparsity with which she draws: simple, bold, present.

More here. Or buy it here.

Language is awesome: On thieves cant, glymmering, and “limber, lasting, fierce words.”

Crow_peopleYou’ve probably heard of cockney slang, where rhyme and word association comes together to create some seriously weird linguistic substitutions. The classic example is using “apples” for “stairs.” See, stairs rhymes with pears, and apples and pears are associated words, thus stairs becomes apples. Similarly, eyes are sometimes referred to as “mincers” (eyes -> mince pieces -> mincers) and wives become “trouble” (wife -> strife -> trouble and strife -> trouble). It’s confusing, but it’s meant to be. It creates a system of insiders who understand the slang, and outsiders who do not. Some people believe that cockney slang sprung up as a way for criminals to confuse police and better achieve their nefarious goals (though that’s not an entirely accepted theory).

Anyway, I was researching cockney slang when I came across “thieves cant,” a language of thieves that has this truly incredible Wikipedia entry: “It was claimed by Samuel Rid that thieves’ cant was devised around 1530 ‘to the end that their cozeningsknaveries and villainies might not so easily be perceived and known’, by Cock Lorel and the King of the Gypsies at The Devils Arse, a cave in Derbyshire.” Sadly, Wikipedia goes on to inform me that, while thieves cant most likely “originated in this period, the story is almost certainly a myth.” Bummer, right? But at least we got to read about the fantastically named Cock Lorel and his cozenings and knaveries and villainies (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!).

As it turns out, English isn’t the only language with a thieves cant. The Germans had Rotwelsch, which pulls in words from Yiddish and Romany languages to create a verbal hodgepodge. But it’s also a highly literal language without abstractions, so instead of calling winter by an arbitrary name, it’s called “Blibberling,” which is the word for “shivering.” (Also, how great is it that both shivering and blibberling feel incredibly onomatopoeic? Just imagine trying to stammer out blibberling between chattering teeth.) Similar, criminals in Yugoslavia once spoke in Šatrovački to hide their knaveries. Šatrovački seems a little like a Slavic pig-latin, in which words are distorted by changing around the order of the syllables. (For example: trava—grass, often used for marijuana—becomes vutra instead of vatra, meaning fire and pivo—beer—becomes vopi.)

It’s amazing how, while these languages were created for mendacious purposes, they’re still so damn beautiful. Another great word from thieves cant is “glymmer,” which means fire. Glymmer! How utterly lovely. I’m also struck by how poetic slang words can be, how vibrant and bold. This happens with American slang, too. Just think of all the words that are being coined on Snapchat right now by the youths! It’s pretty mind-boggling.

Plus, it’s extra cool because American English is basically just a big ol’ melting pot filled with pilfered phrase and made-up words. I’m going to quote this article at length, so click through…  Continue reading

Two nice things: a poem by Colleen McElroy and the fantastical photography of Cig Harvey.


Sometimes the Way It Rains Reminds Me of You
Colleen J. McElroy

these days I speak of myself in the past tense
writing about yesterday knowing tomorrow
is no more than mist crawling toward violet mountains
I think of days when this weather meant you
were not so far away   the light changing
so fast I believe I can see you turning a corner
the rain comes in smelling of pine and moss
a kind of brazen intrusion on the careful seeds of spring
I pay more attention to details these days
saving the most trivial until I sort them for trash
or recycle   a luxury I’ve come to know only recently
you have never been too far from my thoughts
despite the newborn birds and their erratic songs
the way they tilt their heads as if dowsing for the sun
the way they repeat their singular songs
over and over as if wishing for a different outcome

Read that poem aloud. It is so beautiful—both in the lyrical language and the subject matter (I would like my life to smell like rain and pine and moss, please and thank you). Then, go look at these stunning images by Maine photographer Cig Harvey. Although we live in the same state, and have contributed to the same publications, I’ve never worked with Harvey. So far, I’ve just admired her work from a distance. Her photographs are rich with surreal, subtle magic. I dig it.