Out Loud to the Caterpillars
I began to write Cedar Toothpick while hiking.
There were long and sedentary stretches of table-bound revising, to be sure, in Brooklyn and Kraków. But seeds for the diorama poems, and for Cedar’s scenes and atmospheres, were planted while I was on the trail, talking out loud to the caterpillars—that most ruminatively respectful of captive audiences.
Walking (by myself) and talking (essentially to myself) along one trail in particular: the Główny Szlak Beskidzki, or Main Beskid Trail, which runs itself up, over and across the recumbent spines of southern Polish dragons for more than 500 kilometers.
The GSB, or Red Trail—for it is marked with red blazes—is a border trail at times, tracing ridges that double as a meandering demarcation line between Poland and (from west to east) the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
Trail logic and geopolitical logic don’t always overlap. Sometimes the border weaves one way while the trail weaves the other. The border says “Do not cross me!” but the trail says “Hush! You are only an imaginary line” to the border and “Trust me” to the hiker, and the hiker ends up seesawing back and forth between two republics.
If you are hiking, for example, in a westerly direction through Beskid Żywiecki, then you will at times be walking in Slovakia with your left foot and in Poland with your right foot. If your shoelace comes untied and you trip on this shoelace and tumble off the ridge, then and only then will you have unambiguously crossed the border.
The caterpillars will take note, but they will not care a fig if your stamps are in order or not.
I like to think of Tomboy as not caring a fig either. About the demarcation line between genres, for example. Cedar is a book of nutshell poetry. It is an artist’s book. Maybe a bit of both. It weaves.
Genre? I’m not sure. Books about warm boulders maybe. Or corn on coals. Books about blueberries in a pail, or beetles in a can. Or else a book about when you are in the forest at night, and you shiver because your jacket is too thin.
When I hike, I carry a pocket notebook, two 6B pencils rubber-banded together, and a sharpener. Every so often an acorn of a thought thunks my skull, and so I stop, requisition a log, and begin marking up the pages of my notebook.
Eventually I return to the city and attempt to decipher these runic scribbles. (6B pencils smudge, and yet I remain stubbornly attached to their soft tips and clayish impressions.) More often than not, these notes don’t become anything at all; but sometimes a summertime “ridge scribble” becomes a wintertime diorama, when I am back in my Dziupla workspace, and once more table-bound.
(Excerpted pencil notes from rucksack notebook.)
Solo hike along the natural mountain border between southern Poland and northern Slovakia. Five days on the trail, in the mountains—alone but never lonely. In my pack a book—The Island of Horses—and in my head thoughts of Swallows and Amazons and Ach, jak cudowna jest Panama.
Fox. Deer. Fire salamander in shamanistic black-and-gold robe.
A June hail storm on the summit of Babia Góra—windswept redoubt of a meteorologically capricious Slavic witch.
Dawn on a Slovakian summit, under a new sun and vanishing moon.
Signpost marking the northernmost point of Slovakia. Cobweb between post and sign—and the northernmost Slovakian spider.
A lovely plank outhouse across the yard and up against the fence, with a view between the slats of rolling hills and waving bushes. No sound of plumbing from other apartments—just the wind, and smack-scratch-scuffle of leaves brushing the boards.
One night, hillside of long grass became a sea of motion & up above an astral Saucepan ladled out the Milky Way.
(Top: Dziupla worktable and Pasmo Babiogórskie map, by Johan Österholm.)