Earth, darkening

Hello bright readers, it is November now.

The sun rises and sets here on the peninsula behind a line of maples holding just a few copper leaves in the crown. It may seem bright at midday, but this season is only legible just after dawn and before dusk. It is November after all: the work darkens further.

This month we continue our consideration of the element earth.

An oil painting of the Finnish coast seen from a hill at sunset. Low sun lights the trees and fishing boats cluster in a calm bay. A first-quarter moon hangs in the clear sky.

View over Haikko by Albert Edelfelt, 1899

Since last month, I have started to cut and split firewood for next winter, often working after the day’s other obligations until sunset. The first wood was a truckload of red oak cut at a friend’s house, heavy and green. Then a tall white ash fallen across the road, big around as my waist, bucked and piled in the trailer. There’s a rhythm to splitting, a kinesis between the axe and the arms that is heavy on the body, a heavy impact followed by heavy iron into dark soil when the log opens. It’s a good rhythm. The darkness inside the wood feels exactly like iron hitting earth, an instant of darkness behind the eyes as it strikes. I stack the splits neatly, working around the pile. The work progressively darkens as the pile grows.

Toward the solstice: this year’s wood is already stacked dense and dry in the shed, but the light hidden inside will not dawn until then. November is a book still closed, leaves pressed together between boards, moist soil traced with centipedes under wet bark. The canopy has fallen and all the earth is open to sky. For now, darkening progress.

In November, the sun sets early. When the day’s work is finished, light falls delicately behind the maples; I take off my gloves and drink the last of the water, tired. A poem by Miyazawa comes to mind:

And oh, when I stand alone on the lithosphere,
beneath a blue sky like this,
I feel a mysterious, helpless
love for our land.1

That mysterious, helpless love is keeping me going at the moment. It’s a subterranean flow, some kind of gift in the dark that I’m still working out how to reciprocate. Maybe you know what I mean? Here’s to the book opening soon, dry wood flaring up in the stove to warm the space, a golden gift received.

A little announcement: on December 14, I will be joining Holly Wren Spaulding over Zoom for an early winter gathering of her pop-up Poetry as Consolation workshop. I’ll read a few of my poems and Holly will guide participants though a writing experiment. It promises to be a rich solstitial exchange. I’ll send a note when registration opens — I’d love to see some of you there.

Between now and then, I hope to have a publication date to share for Drift Gestures, so keep an eye out for that as well.

There we are. Thanks for reading along with this November installment of Polylith. Until next month, steady work, darkening.


  1. Miyazawa Kenji, from Spring & Asura, 1924. Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato.