—Taylor Graham, Placerville
Somewhere between technology
and wishing on a star—between computer
glitches on bill-pay and the misty
call of mourning doves from the field—
some mornings I just don’t have
a grasp on life.
And out the window, a mother towhee
with her full-grown chick,
both of them peck-pecking seeds
dropped from the feeder; she picks a single
seed and places it in her baby’s
mouth, mothering still, weeks after he fledged.
middle of June, I meant to clean out
the nestbox where a month ago
five new bluebirds discovered they had wings;
atop the old whitewashed nest
I found a pulsing
miniature pipe-organ: six long necks stretched
skyward, bills wide open,
pumping their voices in a feed-me song—
a second, unexpected
brood of blue grasping at life.
Northwind scrapes crevices of rock,
humiliates the laggard, the far from home;
wrings from the landmark cedar-snag
tatters of sound, a quizzical hoot
that fades like distant tires on gravel;
stills; returns. Small creatures
freeze or scatter for cover.
When the owl calls, everything listens.
ON A RAINY DAY
I expected to clean off my desk but,
instead of heaps of old files, it was covered
with pots full of flowers. Paper-clutter space
transformed to garden. Imagine
a cakewalk through every shade of crimson
verging pink purple, saffron orange
and lemon-meringue; as if a goddess mother-
planet set up shop here as she made
her plans for spring. Lavender snowmelt
swirling down window-glass. Snapdragons
aloft and underfoot. At least nine
kinds of flowers, enough to break a curse.
Where did all these blooming pots
come from? What am I supposed to do
with so much singing life,
bravos of blossoms flinging color
all over a rainy day?
From this spot on the rim,
what a view of the over- and under-
worlds. Peaks and canyons,
plumes of smoke to north and south—
wildfires sparked by lightning-strike.
Far to the west, over the valley, clouds
the color of treacle-stew. Trail-crew
is off fighting fire, I’ve got this
bit of mountain to myself, its winds. Hint
of ions in the air. From trailhead
we’re buoyed, my dog and I, past
summer cabins, dry meadow, above
the last lodgepole. Up here,
the winds rule. Brusque from the east,
then a coy pirouette to northwest;
shoosh of siphon-wind—dark twist
of cloud, stamen of storm-flower.
To south, smoke-plume’s
building to pyrocumulus, boiling
its own weather. Flash!
to the east, thunder follows lightning
too quick for countdown. Time
to bow thanks to the overworld gods,
hike to lower ground.
Our rocky hilltop admits no owner.
Before we came, a hawk made a stick-nest
in the high crotch of an oak, where she
inculcated her fuzzy-headed hawklet
with the metal-saline taste of songbird blood.
Towhees kept to their dark and private
brushpiles. From nest’s edge, her chick
observed the world and fledged. Songbirds
returned to daylight. I learned
the names of winds here, but they don’t
come to my call, any more
than that low-flying scream which
sometimes drones our woods, a quick
shadow wingswept as small death,
tracing paths left by the flight of birds.
At dusk I surprised my hawk
among rocks—so close! She rose
and red-eye glared, then sailed away.
I’m no more to her than I am to the wind.
You say karma used to come in little boxes.
I thought, maybe, preserved in glass jars.
But then I discovered an empty Mason jar
left behind outside the shed—filled with rain
and a dozen drowned lizards trapped inside.
It wrecked my day. Months later, I feel
an itch like tiny claws scrolling across the back
of my neck. Could it be the overworld
of retribution? No, a live fence-lizard twining
itself in my hair. I find a place safe for lizards:
no jar, no match-box—a sunny spot
in the woodpile. Is this my chance
to mend my karma, my lack of attention
to every living creature?