Quite by accident, looking for a recent photo on my phone, I hit the wrong thing and found myself back in September 2019, and this snapshot from Palma de Mallorca’s cathedral museum cried out for re-editing. I opened it in Snapseed, feeling that there might be a haiku in it. There was.
Of course I’m thinking of Proust, but also of ancient Egyptian symbolism about scarab beetles, and the way Japanese use the word 蟲 mushi, commonly translated as bug or insect, to also indicate a kind of second soul, “closer to the depths of one’s being.” All this was brought to mind not only by the photo but also by a real encounter I had the other week with a large black beetle, which was moving too quickly for me to photograph, and chose to escape not by flying but by tunneling into the earth.
un- POSTED sign of a bear I stay out with fewer words
This power pole has always been a major message board for local and visiting black bears, who indicate their size by their claw marks, and also add pheromones to encode other information, e.g. whether a female is in estrus. Naturally, they tend to resent human additions (though when the power company replaced the pole three years ago, they adopted the new one without a fuss). As for the tanka, I decided to try to push ambiguity to the limit. I don’t think it would work on its own, without the image.
A photo of the top of a composter, taken on a whim, seems a good fit for this haiku, which is mostly just an excuse to deploy the phrase “sub-orbital tourism.” Here’s the ad that inspired it. To be honest, if I had money to burn, I’d probably sign up. But I do feel sorry for people who don’t realize how many absolute miracles of evolutionary perfection can be found right in their own backyards.
I should add that “high spring” is a term I made up some years ago, but I think most people from a temperate climate will know what it means: that period just as the forest canopy is filling out when the spring ephemeral wildflowers are at their height, and flowering shrubs such as dogwood and azalea are in bloom.
Plummer’s Hollow Run empties into the Little Juniata River where it flows through Bald Eagle Ridge at Tyrone — a classic Appalachian water gap. There’s a ghost village there, Upper Tyrone Forge: 200-year-old cellar holes from the charcoal iron era. The last two houses were still standing when my family moved here 50 years ago, when I was five. My brothers and I spent many a happy hour digging for old bottles in the woods.
I wondered about leaving the word “hole” out as not entirely necessary, but whenever I’m unsure about word choice I always default to my ear and my ear said keep it.
This rusty iron “flower” at the edge of my friend L.’s yard has always fascinated me. Today it got me thinking about the mechanistic metaphors often used to describe nature, as well as the early pollinators of spring. To paraphrase Philip K. Dick, do iron flowers dream of mechanical bees? But real bees are “engineered” by evolution so ingeniously that humans would have a hard time replicating them:
The major cold weather adaptations of bumblebees in general, and of the arctic bees in particular […] are the mechanisms that allow them to raise their body temperatures and to be active when the weather forces other insects into a deep torpor. The shivering of their flight muscles generates heat in the thorax up to 60 degrees F above the air temperature. Like all other bumblebees so far investigated, arctic bumblebees require a flight muscle temperature of at least 86 degrees F in order to fly. But flight is clumsy at such muscle temperatures, and fast-flying bees need to heat up to at least 95 degrees F. Being able to shiver, to heat up, and to fly so early in the season means being able to go out and bring back nectar and pollen to the colony. This allows colonies to grow during the cold nights as well as during the days.
I love the variety of colors in brown eggs and took this photo just to record that. Then haiku possibilities began to suggest themselves. I remembered the winter aconites blooming through or adjacent to patches of snow in my friend L.’s garden on Wednesday. My first draft had “a sun” rather than “the sun” and I wonder whether that might’ve been the stronger choice. But when I write poetry I tend to go with whatever rolls off the tongue most easily.
Once again the font is one I’ve come to know through the Snapseed app on my phone, Pacifico, but it’s only available for single-line messages; to get three lines of the same size, equally spaced, requires better eyesight and way more touch-screen dexterity than I possess. (I tried!) So I took it to GIMP on the desktop.