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THE URBAN MYTHOS
The Zen Lunatic sits at the center of the garden and pulls at the mugwort. His motions are deliberate and fluid demonstrating how he is one with his surroundings. This little patch of Earth amidst the concrete chaos surrounding it. Attentive to detail, over the years he has carved out this niche for the concrete to rewild.
As he pulls at the roots, he talks about the herbs and medicinals and wildflowers that surround him that most people would consider weeds. He talks about the dead nettle and the red clover and spring mint and of course the mugwort.
“Last year, I really whacked away at the red clover and I don’t think it was too happy with me. It just didn’t flower that much, even where I wanted it to.”
“But I thought we gathered the red clover last year.”
“No. That was two years ago.”
“Oh, I thought that was last year.”
“No. That was two years ago.”
“This year I’m just going to let it do what it wants to do. And I think we’ll both be happier”.
He motions me over to where he’s standing and points at the pathway in front of us.
“I think the plants have finally figured out where they’re supposed to grow. They’re growing in these borders around pathways and then where people walk there’s more of this groundcover type stuff that lays low to the surface.”
He kicks at the ground to show how low lying the plants are where there is a pathway from people consistently walking on it over the years. Then he shows how the ground is sinking in some places.
“I want to build a multi-level terrace around here leading down to where this tree is growing. But I might need a team for that. I could probably do it myself, but it would take a while.
“That’s something that always impressed me about this land. It has so many interesting contours and subtle slopes for the plants to navigate.”
I snap a photo of a pair of red Air Jordans hanging from the telephone wire glowing orange in the golden hour of the setting sun. It’s interesting to me how the background of the photo is what makes the photo. The shoes alone describe the setting, but they need pieces of the setting like the one-liner tags sprayed on the concrete wall in the lot across the street and the water tower a few blocks away beside the back sides of several dilapidated rowhomes to describe perfectly what the shoes represent.
I snap another photo of the new Comcast tower downtown framed by two abandoned row homes and a whole bunch of wild space from where we stand. I talk about how I could post these photos on Instagram but I don’t think the audience there understands the language they work in.
“It’s like an old language that I was used to when I first moved to Philly that you could find all over the place in publications like Megawords, but I don’t know if anyone pays attention or knows how to read that language anymore.
“Like the language is saying this is blight and that is the ivory tower of corporate powers that profit off the poverty here. But there’s also beauty here. Like the land is rewilding out here. It’s free. It’s a jungle. It’s a type of landscape the people that live over there have no understanding for.”
He leads me over to the mugwort border wall near the entrance in front of the Aztec sculptures that greet all who enter.
“Look at this pathway here. The garden grew this one all on its own.”
It’s a natural zig zag in the clover and mugwort. It’s like a giant snake slithered and sidewinded through the garden recently. I look at the dragon sculpture next to me glowing red and orange with a beard made of flames.
“Hey, man! I think it’s that dragon. He came to life and slithered through the grass.”
“Yeah, man. It’s like the garden grew a tail.”
POETS FOR PEACE
Tour no. 8
Day 2 – Blacksburg, VA: recap
on the road with Marian McLaughlin (@marianmclaughlin) and Erin White (@movedtomove)
Morning ceremonies at the James River in Richmond. Reflecting on all the generations present at the reading the previous evening. Everyone from Erin’s parents and her father’s bandmates to the youthful presence of a 6 month old, wailing along to the Appalachian chords of his father playing the banjo.
We offer several marigolds to the James. A decree of peace to meet these tidal waters’ flow. Spring warmth at our shoulders. The future ahead of us.
The drive to Blacksburg is long, but gorgeous. Blue mountains. Green gables. Magenta redbud blossoms. Gradients of ecology expressing ecstasy. Virginia is for lovers.
The Hahn Horticultural Garden offers a backdrop of tulips and crocus. Coy pond trickling by. Lights and magic as the sun begins to fall behind the horizon line. There’s a report from the front lines of a movement stewarding the land in opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. We hear the statistics of climate change. There are natural made scents passed around to go along with the poems. Poems about personal experience and bouts of sadness. About maintaining the sovereignty of the body. About a love so passionate it makes all the woes of modern society go away. The birds singing to the sun’s retreat. Collaborations between poets and nature.
At a certain point, the midsummer night’s dream is awaking. Marian McLaughlin providing the chorus. This is the type of place where magic is upon the eve. We like sprites glow purple and pink, as the moon rises above to light the scene.
POETS FOR PEACE
Tour no. 8
Day 1 – Richmond, VA: recap
on the road with Marian McLaughlin (@marianmclaughlin) and Erin White (@movedtomove)
An ease of being settles upon the car as we leave the congestion of DC and enter the South. We write haikus into the car register, noticing the redbud tree blooms and the state mantra, Virginia Is For Lovers. Romance is on the horizon with the fabric of nature waking interweaving with the road.
Richmond is a green city with trees growing out of ruined mills and the James River flowing through providing relief for the 80 degree temperatures. Our host for the evening @earthfolkrva is a giant farm in the middle of a residential area of Southside. The residents are out working the land and already the land is rich with herbs and produce. We have several stages to choose from between an old farmhouse built in the late 1700s or the backdrop of a vintage camper. We decide to use the white facade of the garage for projections as the sun goes down.
Fellow Earth Folk arrive, and soon the night kicks off with a special charm. The White family is there and Erin’s father has brought his bluegrass band to set the mood for the get together. Appalachian lilts that set the spark to light the bonfire, as golden light reaches the trees from the sunset and all the birds above cry out from their roost sharing an excitement towards the evening’s warmth.
Erin and I perform haikus with accompanying movements and behind us a pack of Coydogs start to howl and wail their approval. This little patch of forest. Maintained by noble stewards. There is talk of the land and its original inhabitants. Meeting grounds between the Powhatan and Algonquin. The exchange is scored by Marian McLaughlin’s odes to the change we are seeing to the planet in our lifetime. Receding wilderness and extinction of species.
The open mic begins and in the voices I hear how synchronous it is the folks who have gathered here. True Earth Folk. Fellow Earth Lovers. Truth Seekers and Fairy Kin. Their words describe the experience to be one with nature. Wild Folk fearless before Late Stage Capitalism. The spirit they offer to the land is enough to save it for future generations.
The next Poets For Peace tour begins today in Richmond and will travel around Virginia before finishing out in Washington DC. I’ll be accompanied by singer-songwriter Marian McLaughlin, whose recent album speaks to the impacts of climate change and the experience of living during the Anthropocene extinction of the majority of species on this planet, and dancer, Erin White, who uses movement to bring attention to the oppressive forces placed on the femme form in our current society. We will be on tour all week and hope to see you at one of our stops!
11: DAY OFF in Charlottesville, VA
12: at 1605 Commune in Washington DC
[email me for details]
Poets For Peace is a collective movement of bringing hope and inspiration onto the road to combat the negative impacts of the Western war machine through dialogue and storytelling. This installment will be fronted by three performers: Marian McLaughlin, Erin White, and Marshall James Kavanaugh. Multi-instrumentalist Marian McLaughlin crafts lyrically-driven songs that stem from her stream-of-consciousness about humanity’s multifaceted relationship with our planet. With improvised movements, Erin White offers a grounded expression of the oppressive forces placed upon the femme form as it is forced to conform to roles outside its comfort. Together their poetic musings will direct the audience towards a sense of inner peace that will shine a beacon of light onto the darkness of the outer world.
upcoming solo performance:
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New moon, next chapter. What goes up, must come down. These chapters about Yosemite are expansive, and yet I still don’t think I’m able to capture everything in my prose about that sacred place tucked away in the Sierra Nevadas. Still, I don’t think that’s the point, though. I think the point is to capture the Deerfield character of wild-eyed awe seeing for the first time such impossible beauty. It’s later in his legend that he becomes an expert in a place of such extremes.
Become a patron by following the link above and gain access to the chapters of my novel as I write them. Different tiers with different rewards. Excerpt below to encourage you to want to read more.
There, there, I pat my wounded ego reflecting on how I’m not one for small talk in front of something so holy anyway, so I give a little wave to the falls and continue my journey, smiling a sad-happy joy to have been spared a few minutes alone with the madness of all there is in the world that’ll outlast us. Another apple and few handfuls of trail mix and I’m up and over that life stream again keeping my eye on the sun’s passage between cloud and mountain, feeling light in my stride, though conscious there’s a rush to beat out night setting in.
Following cairn after cairn in this bare boulder back of a giant, I’m given preview to what true wilderness is, one wrong step and I’m food for the roaming mountain lion, but then I begin again to descend, and with every footfall I understand how those faces going down while I was going up looked so jolly and meditated. It doesn’t take much to bring back down, from the heights above, one’s own personal heaven. All you got to do is climb until there is no more climbing to do and from there take the time to take it all in, both heart and soul nourished upon its glory.
One challenge I find myself encountering while I attempt to write these chapters about Marshall Deerfield’s first trek into Yosemite National Park is balancing layered poetic soliloquies declaring existential intangibilities with descriptions of the necessary action to take this wild-eyed protagonist through such sheer expansiveness of wilderness. The steps he takes to climb each boulder are in essence just as important as the infinite sound of his destination, the peak of a three thousand foot tall waterfall. The poetry of Yosemite is endless, and yet I’m trying to be a modern beatnik or zen lunatic as I write it and really capture its essence with as few words as possible narrowing in on the uncertain truths that make it such an unparalleled natural wonder.
I just uploaded two chapters that I think do a good job at taking on this balance between action and setting. Below is an excerpt from one of the chapters. You can read the rest of it by subscribing at the link above. Any support is greatly appreciated while I continue to trek deeper into this novel. For small amounts a month you’ll be able to preview it as I work on it, as well as read my other published works. Please take a look and thanks!
It’s a sound I hear long before I have completed the trek, a dull roar that replaces the sound of the raindrops giving stillness to the mind with all its immense power of movement so that I am lured closer by the way it cuts away at the air with all that potential.
A group of Japanese tourists stand at its base holding up binoculars to admire its grace and some of them pose for photographs while laughing wildly along to all its ripples. The falls sleek like a needle sewing two faces of rock into one and scattering a cloud of perspiration while the work is done. The tops of those peaks lost to the fog so that the illusion is set that maybe their heights are infinite and that waterfall comes straight from an overturned chalice of mother’s milk exposed to us temperate heathens.
There’s a bench perfectly placed and I have a seat while I try to take in the entire scene, a totally awesome one, tourists dancing by in red and yellow rain jackets like little swans, giggling when some increase in volume causes the whole waterfall to pause and then rupture sending a splash of condensation out into the crowds looking into it. Something strange about the experience even calls for the clown within to do something truly foolish and go swimming beneath that endless power as if a thousand foot drop of water wouldn’t be enough to paralyze even the most graceful of swimmers, but then again maybe that’s the point. This waterfall’s song is so much more than that of its smaller siblings, with each breath of renewed force it causes paralysis freezing the nerves and subduing the mind from thinking. A powerful nothing as big as anything could possibly be.
Writing a novel has been really good for all of my other chores. I find a million and one excuses to keep me from actually sitting down and writing it. Today it was folding my laundry, fixing my bike, shoveling snow, taking a shower, and oh wow! now it’s already time for dinner. Yesterday and the day before I rearranged my room and set up my bookshelf. I even went to a Walt Whitman-inspired open mic and ended up winning runner up in a competition for $100 to see who had the best Whitman-inspired piece of poetry.
That piece was written on the same road trip that this novel is about. We started the trip reciting passages from Leaves Of Grass in the voices that Kerouac and Cassady must have used when they were traveling on the road together back in the days when the Beats were still learning how to rhyme. Eventually we were writing pieces in the same style and one of them that I read last night was judged as second best in a room of Whitman scholars.
The piece is a list of all the cows I saw on the road from here in Philadelphia all the way to San Francisco and back again. A play on the pastoral, set in every type of landscape both urban and otherworldly you can see in this country. Using this nation’s top industry to describe the beauty that these bovine often cause environmental havoc upon.
I guess for me, what stuck out about Walt Whitman is the sense that he’s always making lists. Listing the tiniest details about an odd assortment of working class people and their environment to create a collage of the industrial revolution he witnessed in his lifetime in America. He talked about both the positives and the negatives but let them speak for themselves. And in a sense there was romance in all of the things that he saw, even if some of them were terrible.
The cow piece was a fun piece to write. I had fun having a chance to let it be heard out loud. Didn’t expect much in the way of competition so was happily surprised with its reception.
Anyway, back to the novel…I think it’s a good one. I want to share it with you before it’s published. Open it up to a dialogue. Let you read the pages I’m really proud of.
Like the chapter I wrote last week about Yosemite Valley. I just read it again this afternoon. About ten or fifteen times. That’s another thing I do while writing this novel. Get hung up on chapters that I’m really proud of and then second guess myself that I’ll ever be able to write something as good again. Forget that there’s been plenty of bad novels published that have still been enjoyed by someone. The trick is to just finish them.
So yeah, I’m still writing. Today I’m starting a little later than I would’ve liked to and that’s okay because it’s a miserable winter day outside and I took care of all my other errands that were bogging me down. I’ll keep sharing my progress as it comes.
If you’d like to read the poetry about cows or that chapter about Yosemite Valley go take a look at my Patreon. You can throw me some doll hairs and read my writing. The support will motivate me to keep going on it. Maybe I can even finish it by the end of next month and get started on the next one. There are two novels in my head that have been sitting patiently while I finish writing this one. Anyway, I’d love you to see its pieces and to hear what y’all think. I have a feeling the campaign will be constantly evolving as well, so expect more announcements and other rewards to develop.
Thanks for everyone who’s taken a peek over there. I know there’s plenty of other things to support right now. Travel made me more humble and I’m content with however it all turns out, but think it’s fun to share the process.
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