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Nutshell poems chronicling the exploits of backwoods gamine Tomboy. Rucksack hardcover, with graphite pencil illustrations.
Nutshell poems chronicling the exploits of backwoods gamine Tomboy. Rucksack hardcover, with graphite pencil illustrations.
62 backers pledged $5,412 to help bring this project to life.

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Kindling (Notes on Cedar Toothpick)


Story about hiking in the forest. It is summer. The sun is up, the sky is blue, chipmunks are anthropomorphically charming, and the clouds are feathery and benign. You put an ear to the breeze and hear: “All is well.” And so you keep following an unfamiliar trail toward an unspecified destination. Boulders are still warm, you reason, not considering the fact that every step away from the trailhead will need to be retraced at some point.

Epilogue is about being in the woods at night, and shivering because your jacket is too thin. But that’s the epilogue. Present tense here is the moment when, emboldened by sun on boulder, you reckon you’ll have plenty of time to double back, and so forge foolishly ahead. It’s when the Old Crone, as shape-shifting zephyr, whispers “All is well.” And you believe her, hook, line, and sinker.


The poems in Cedar are built mostly around nouns: a rock, a spider, a block of soap, a pile of boots, a knife, a fossil, bark, yarn, roasting corn, a violin being tuned, and so on. The diorama scenes are straightforward in that what I say is happening is, in fact, what is happening. There is a man. He is wearing a bear suit. He is picking lice from Tomboy’s hair. Nothing metaphorical here. No hidden meaning. Those are just the facts of that moment in time.

But the scene is enigmatic, of course, not to mention peculiar. Who the heck is the man? Why is he dressed up as a bear? Why in the world is he in charge of delousing Tomboy? Well, the ambiguity is very much on purpose: Cedar is the puppet theatre in your head. I give you some props, some marionettes, and I hope that the combination of nouns, adjectives, and a handful of verbs can inspire their wires to begin twitching. And each time the poems are read, cadences and shadows shift, and the scene is rendered, up in the mind’s eye, from a slightly different angle, with import potentially being attached to different elements each time through.

(There is, too, the fact that the impish nouns are never quite in the same place when you return to a particular page, in the way that a visitor to a natural history museum might become aware of the uncanny feeling that every time he or she turns away from a diorama, the people and animals within spark ever so briefly to life. Look closely, dear reader, at a mannequin’s rigid jaw and cheek muscles, and you will perceive the gentlest of quivers.)


In this way I’d say that Cedar’s influences are more musical than literary. I was most influenced by songs in which the lyrics are impossible for me to analytically interpret; and yet the magic lantern images these Delphic lyrics project onto the inside of my forehead are as vivid as they are shifting/flickering.

The words do something to me, move me deeply—even if I can’t tell you what, specifically, Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife, for example, means when she sings: “I saw her by the organ, she was laughing while pressing the keys; she said my favorite book was dirty and you should not show you can read.” I don’t know who “she” is (she isn’t mentioned again), how she came to be an organist, to which book she is referring, or why she feels the need to issue this unnerving warning. And yet I understand. I do. Somehow. And I shiver.

(This holds absolutely true, too, for music without words; especially the solo guitar recordings of Dean McPhee, whose tracks embrace and embody the spirit of wanderlust and—to borrow a letter from ramble and weld a word that might as well exist—rambulatory reflection.)

And then, in terms of putting each diorama together, twining the scenes . . . well, no two readers are going to end up with the same overarching tapestry-plot. And I’m okay with that, and am interested in the degree to which your “Bland sky and yams in the oven” conjures a whole different mental foreground, landscape, sky, yam-cooking oven, palette of colors, time of day, barometric reading, etc. and does or does not resonate in a completely different or else eerily similar kind of way.


At this point, it occurs to me to refer to a quotation from Philip Pullman’s introduction to his recently published collection of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm (tales whittled and retold):

“The fairy tale,” writes Pullman, “is in a perpetual state of becoming and alteration. To keep to one version or one translation alone is to put a robin redbreast in a cage. If you, the reader, want to tell any of the tales in this book, I hope you will feel free to be no more faithful than you want to be. You are at perfect liberty to invent other details than the ones I’ve passed on, or invented, here. In fact you’re not only at liberty to do so: you have a positive duty to make the story your own.”

And I would encourage Cedar’s reader to apply this very logic and license to the tale of Tomboy and the meandering hiker.



I wrote the poems to be read out loud, almost as a chant, or skipping-rope incantation. The poems themselves are cyclical (you can begin more or less anywhere you want), and I hope they’re, well, fun to read over and over again, till the echoes of previous readings begin layering like a polyphonic chant.

Fun is the right word, too, in the same way that skipping from rock to rock across a shallow brook is fun. The words are meant to be those rocks.


Bored Wolf, Bored Wolf:
Who do you see?

Swinging from the branches
of her coniferous tree?

A dear, dear Tomboy
swinging from the tree,

now balanced on a bough
drinking ceremony tea.

Now balanced on her head
with her feet up in the air,

and knives between toes,
(nails polished dark as crows).

And Dear, Dear Tomboy,
swinging from her tree,

dips those knives into hives,
spreads honey cross her thighs.

And Dear, Dear Tomboy
swings down from the tree,

(in buckskin fanny pack: knife, wrapped in cloth;
around neck: talismanic Emperor moth),

and sets off, on a dare,
through witch-mumble wood,

her flaxen hair tucked
into red homespun hood.

With Bored Wolf’s eyes
pinned to her back,

she sets off down path
to Grandmother’s shack.

Bored Wolf, Bored Wolf:
Who do you crave?

The girl whose cut lip
makes you feel brave.

. . .

Story Circle

(A sizeable chunk of you are New Yorkers, and so I'll leave this note here for the moment.)

Dear all,

I'll be leading something of a troglodytic story circle in a Brooklyn bookshop two weeks from now.

Reading and discussion of Cedar Toothpick at the estimable (and scrappily independent) Community Bookstore of Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York.

Thursday, March 7 at 8 p.m.

Having decided that the inner polog of Community's late-winter yaranga—which is to say its cozy back room—is the best of all possible cocoon-spaces in which to incant stories, I will be carrying the remainder of Cedar's first edition across the ocean in my steamer trunk.

Cedar will be read by candlelight, after which I'll trundle on for a bit about creating books collaboratively and from scratch—and getting (happily) cut in the process.

And so:

A book. A story. A story about a book. Some shrew beer, dandelion wine. Maybe, if we're lucky, a wickedly grinning Cheshire Cat perched atop the brick wall bordering Community's garden, and lion-to-lamb zephyrs allowing us to swing open the back doors, invite in the toads.

Until then,


Community Bookstore, by the way, is at 143 7th Avenue, between Carroll and Garfield. B/Q to 7th Avenue, F to other 7th Avenue, 2/3 to Grand Army, or M/R to Union Street. Unless the lines have changed since I moved to Poland thirty-three months ago.

(Photographs by Johan Österholm.)

In Old Biscuit Tin

(The Last Update)


In Brooklyn farmhouse, up in attic, in old biscuit tin, in moldering photo album held together by butcher’s twine:

Portrait of the author and his protagonist. A glimpse of Tomboy! Was not easy to get her to stand still; she particularly resented the notion that any chemical process could catch up with her. She has, you see, fast feet.

Look closely, dear villager, and you will notice—from the lycanthropic protrusion of oversized incisors, the pitch of his left shoulder, and the pelt on his left forearm—that our mild-mannered author (cradling his copy of Cedar) is here in the earliest stages of becoming a werewolf. Revealing snapshot, this. Damningly so!

Gather your stones, citizen; uncrate your silver bullets.

(Drawing of Stefan Bored Wolf and Tomboy is by alchemist-illustrator Joanna Concejo, with whom I am collaborating on a picture book entitled The Ocean Tamer.)

One more note, dear reader, before this Dziupla account, like the Moomintroll clan, fills its stomach with a meal of pine needles, and beds down for the winter:

“I have finished a book,” wrote Tomi Ungerer, once upon a time before I was born, “and will take it to Zurich myself.”

I happened upon this quotation a year ago, while knee-deep in the vicarious tidal muck of Ungerer’s reissued Nova Scotia diary. I was with Johan, in the living room of his ancestral Finnish summer home (house on rock in bay—yellow room diorama by Johan), and it was maybe 4 o’clock in the afternoon, in late November, and pitch dark and cold out, and we had eight or so hours left of book and board game cocooning before bedtime.

Well, down into my notepad went this quotation. “I will finish this book,” I mumbled out loud, in reference to Cedar, “and will take it home to Krakow myself.” Although, of course, “myself” eventually came to include an artist, a graphic designer, a printing coordinator (slash wife!), an image preparation specialist, a dozen printers and binders, a van driver, and more than sixty friends and supporters.

And so here’s to making books, finishing them, and leaving literal and metaphorical fingerprints all over them throughout the process.

Here’s to support, too.

Last word goes to the slingshot.



Dear Backer,

Your copy of Cedar Toothpick is somewhere between Here and There (and quite possibly up in the air). All Cedars have been packed, stamped, stamped again, and again, and again—Polish post office likes to stamp things, with vigor—and shipped.

And so Tomboy is hitching: she has hopped into motorcycle sidecars bound for Warsaw; charmed her way up into the cabs of tankers (with their trinket-laden dashboards) rumbling over the border into Germany, or over two borders into France and Austria; and curled up catlike into the basket of a balloon aiming for England. She has bribed the captains of Baltic ferries chugging north to Finland and Sweden; and stowed herself away into rowboats lashed to the backs of big oceangoing ships with courses set for the ports of the New World, or else Japan, or else New Zealand (which may or may not exist, and may or may not be there, bobbing in the southwestern Pacific, when Tomboy arrives).

And then there is the copy of Cedar journeying up into the Accursed Mountains of Albania (yes, that is indeed what they are called). I mailed this rucksack hardback to a specific patch of planet, and that’s about it, because addresses in northern Albania do not contain numbers. Address: First Name c/o Family, Valley, Region, Albania. Good luck, Tomboy! And be careful: there are wolves in those mountains. To quote Angela Carter: “Here, take your father’s hunting knife; you know how to use it.”

Speaking of wolves: one of two Cedar tracks, created by Jack Wolf and a choir of midsummer crickets, is available for download here. The track is entitled Last Corn, and can be played while one reads Cedar’s coda (The Hiker). Track, crickets, and Wolf’s playing overlap with the steps of the hiker venturing deeper and deeper into the forest—under blue skies, yes, but also under the influence of eldritch bewitchment. A second Cedar track, entitled Warm Boulder, is still in the process of being shaped, and so I’ve decided to wait a bit before sharing. Some things take time: bread, for example, and boulders.

Lastly, a note on scale:

Cedar is indeed a little book! The red sweater, in the previous update, is for a child. It is not a lumberjack’s post-supper sweater, and Cedar is not the size of a North American road atlas.

Here is Cedar on a shelf, befriending some ancestors and distant cousins. Cedar, as you can see from this picture, is small, though also, somewhat confusingly, twice as tall as a house.

First Shiver

Cedar Toothpick smells like the chest of drawers in the back bedroom in the cabin by the creek, in Upstate New York, where I’ve spent most of the Christmases of my life. Smells like the top drawer’s evergreen interior. I almost expect to find a dead moth inside Cedar when I crack it open, or else evidence of bewhiskered rummaging. This is, please believe me, a very good thing!

Cedar is, in other words, what it was meant to be. I thank you, dear backers, for springtime support and, more recently, for patience, as October became November and November nearly became December.

The first edition of Cedar Toothpick has been printed:

Rucksack hardback; 96 pages; 500 copies (up from 400, though it was important to us that the edition remain essentially thimble-sized); offset-printed on Munken Print Cream (thank you, Arctic, for having milled this fine book paper). Internally, you’ll find good thread (my single favorite material on this planet) looping round the book’s bones. Externally: foxes foxing—across spine, across centuries.

A book does not, of course, build itself. I’d therefore like to dedicate an entire paragraph of thanks to the men and women at Drukarnia Skleniarz, with whom we’ve worked this month. The printers and binders were grizzled pros: smart, patient, precise, and, early in the morning, endearingly dyspeptic (think of Melville’s pre-noon Nippers). Felt good to have Cedar in the best and most experienced of all possible hands.

Felt especially good to be in the printing house ourselves, as Cedar became a physical book over the course of these past weeks. In my head, the whole time, I could hear the dear vigorous ghost of Maurice Sendak chanting: “A book is a book is a book.”

And so, dear backer, your signed and numbered copy of this particular book will be in the mail later this week.