A magazine of sound and fury
Nebulae: A Backyard Cosmography
A companion volume to The Other End
of the Driveway that looks up and
outward to the stars and
planets.Download an electronic copy for
only $8.95 or get a paperback for
$20.95 by clicking here.
The youth culture, I'm afraid, has left me behind. Not that I didn't
practice it hard myself. Thirty years ago I bounced around --
indelicately, as it were -- on dance floors and wailed on electric
guitars for dozens, sometimes hundreds of better bouncers than
me, scoffed at organized religion, fell hard for every girl who
smiled at me, and disdained small birds. Like every other kid who
ever lived, I was a May-June slam-dance summer riot creature
with burgeonous wild-madder energy.
Slowly I wised up. Or something. Unfortunately, wising up is a
drawback here in the 21st century because we are obsessed with
spring. If we weren't, the Viagra-Cialis industry would not do as
well as it does. To the youth go the spoils. After that it's all
If you let it, I mean. Take the flora along my driveway, for
example. In May and June comes the youth explosion. Starflowers,
hawkweeds, raspberry, bluets, violets, ground ivy, wild roses,
chokecherry, shadbush and crabapple blossoms, red osier
dogwood umbels, little Canada mayflowers under the trees, wild
strawberry, yarrow, rough-fruited cinquefoil (more perfect yellow
petals do not exist in nature), wood sorrel, speedwell, and
ineradicable outbreaks of dandelion.
About the beginning of July everything seems to lay back a
moment, as if spent. Then it reconstitutes when the wild carrot,
hemlock parsleys (or caraway, or whatever those white-crowned
flowers by the mailbox are), evening primrose, nightshade and
hawkweeds kick into rhythm. By August and September the
youth movement is gone and we stop thinking of flowers and start
noticing fallen leaves. Beautiful, but smelling of winter. Here in the
Western world we do not like to be reminded of winter. Its
But hold on. "Objects are concealed from our view, not so much
because they are out of the course of our visual ray as because we
do not bring our minds to bear on them," Thoreau, a man of no
small wisdom it seems to me, observed of autumn.
Is there life after youth?
As late as the first week of October, the wall hawkweed, while not
exactly in bunches, is nevertheless scattered all over the lawn.
Clusters of New England asters, 3 feet high with gorgeous purple
rays, grow along the driveway right where the cinquefoil
appeared in June. Near the road among the defiant bands of
hemlock parsleys (or whatever they are) are evening primroses 4
feet high with rich, bright-yellow unfurlings. There's late Queen
Anne's lace, the last of the fading goldenrod. Some kind of skullcap
with beechlike leaves and tube-shaped violet flowers grows right
near the gravel. Down the embankment, clutches of pearly
everlasting. Beside the woodpile, butter-and-eggs toadflax, groves
of tiny euphrasia, heal-alls looking deep-purple healthier than
they did in July, and in the grass some little stray wood sorrel, late
This is not the welterous fantasy of May and its single-minded
reproductive roar. But it's a kind of fecundity that sees past its
own growth and even, I have to say, beyond its own winter. There
is, I happen to know from experience, a tiny flower called
shepherd's purse, with little heart-shaped pods, that outlasts
snowfalls too thin to survive the remnants of the sun and thrive
well into November and even December.
In the house, my old Gibson acoustic guitar sits alertly on its
stand, ready to hand when the blues or the urge for goin' strike,
stuff the kids don't recognize. My touch, though unprofessional, is
defter than it was on stage at the Free Street Pub ten thousand
springs ago. The chickadees bouncing around the bird feeder make
me laugh out loud, and my wife, beyond competing with the
cinquefoil, I fall for every time she walks through the kitchen.
The wind today is but a breeze
puffing here then there,
coptering down maple seeds
in sudden fidgety showers.
Up straight we stand
from mucking row by row
to uncrick the back, mop sweat,
and see the wide world
still beaming all green below
and blue above. Ank! Ank!
Ank! a nuthatch somewhere
cranks. Then a song sparrow
sings Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!
and from some safe bower
a yellowthroat lectures
Not answering -- no need
to get poetic here -- and yet
in triadic parallel of sorts.
You know, three-three-three,
meaning any meaning we
might mean it to mean.
A design proving God is love,
perhaps? Or even that a racecar
driver we admire did not die
in vain? For can't any gust
flutter up myriad signs
seen by all in the yellow air
but only one read by one
alone? And that thought done,
we bend back to dirt again.
William Hathaway's recent collection of poems is The Right No.
Living in the Questions
A 21st century talk before the Pennsylvania Poetry Society
By William Hathaway
I’m delighted to talk to the Pennsylvania Poetry Society,
but I can’t call myself a Pennsylvania poet because I’ve
only lived here a little over a year. I like it here. I was
living in Maine which is a very beautiful place, but I’m
having more fun here and there is beauty here as well and
the people are a lot less wintry. Having said that, I’m still
not a Pennsylvania poet. Over the years my poems have
appeared in Montana, New York and Louisiana poetry
anthologies, yet I’ve always felt awkward about being
represented equally with poets whose themes are
passionately regional. Reed Whittemore had a poem I
liked about watching “his bird” in “his tree,” but when
his bird flew away to his neighbor’s tree he was seized
with instant resentment. I was once fulsomely introduced
to a Sheboygan, Wis., audience as a Wisconsin poet, but
when I rose to admit that all I’d done in Wisconsin was
get born there a palpable chill filled the room. If you can
accept me as a guest Pennsylvania poet for the day, I’ll
River in the Snow
By Liu Zong-yuan
Over a thousand mountains the winging birds
Throughout ten thousand paths, no trace of
In a solitary boat,
Straw hat and cape,
An old man fishes alone --
Cold river in the snow.
Translated by Bruce Wilson and Zhang ting-chen.
This text is transcribed from the book 100 Tang Poems,
published in a dual-language edition in China in 1988,
which I bought in the English language book shop in
Shanghai in 2000. In this little book are some of the best
translations of ancient Chinese poetry I've ever seen..
Detritus No. 2