At first light down by the creek
there sits this early morning
a judge-bird. No. Two, perched low
on the rocks. A third
vulture atop a ghost-pine.
I ease the space
between us. I want a better view,
I want to know
what brought them.
If I step too close, too fast….
One bird lifts off,
settles higher. Five, six
more in ponderosa. Another pair
in an oak that leans across
count. Two more sail in,
dawn shining through their wing-
grassy swale, a departed deer,
spirit-slipped in the night,
and now fifteen undertaker-birds.
to make death clean.
HOW DID IT END?
It’s like a movie I saw once
and mostly forgot as soon as I left
the theater. A sidewalk café,
a table for two; she’s sitting alone
with her tea and its leaves of fortune.
A stranger pauses at the empty
chair, says something in a foreign
lilt I can’t quite catch. The film
moves through the stations
of romance to its conclusion, which
I’ve forgotten. Endings are
unsatisfactory as in any fairytale.
But still, they end; lights
come on, everyone exits. All I
recall of this story is glycerin cake—
something I’d never heard of.
Is it soap, or a confection? Google
leaves the question unsettled.
An empty chair.
The rubble-people stoop against the wind,
gathering stones that once were wall shaken
down by whims of earth. Once a hall
with tall windows serene from its height gazing
out on sky—gone. People as if chastised
for ancient guilt, people in boots or without.
It’s almost winter—a young boy asks
if it will be endless cold, famine, bitter wind
that sings through gaps of wall. His sister,
the one they call a little slow, wails
as if she intuits the answer. And still, stone
by stone the people improvise
rebuilding a wall, knowing, like a paragraph
that keeps repeating in a book, it will
come down again. That whistling—is it wind,
or the piping of their breath, or birds
so close to sky? Maybe echoes rising from
the plain, that has no hills for climbing.
Up here, they keep on climbing
with stones that always come back down.
FROM THE HISTORY OF SILENCE
Getting those chariot horses in harness
was like fitting lightning into a sonnet—
electric tension, a matched pair of blooded
stallions flashing at each other warning-eyes.
The golden cart no cookie-cutter design;
engineers had to research and dream every
detail. Consider weight, balance, deep
weather; how to navigate sand like dry river-
beds. The horizon rises blue-lilac as exhaust,
it rumbles the lungs, beats thunder. Wheels
hum with wind, the horses breathe histories
unknown to the compilation of large
words. This is but a replica, an image;
the horses shoulder to shoulder unrhymed.
THE HAUNTED CELLAR
Here’s a great gathering for the making
of words. Under the funky hanging lamp,
a white-haired gentleman is about
to recite an ode. Above his head, a rumble-
thunk as if spirits were moving
furniture. And why not? Over a century
this house has welcomed receptions,
memorials, tragicomedies, all
the pains and common joys of life—how
could there not be ghosts called back
to remember, and remind? Nary a crumb
forgotten under the deepening
of starless nights and full-moon hauntings.
A young lady sets down her glass;
threads her way to the front of the room,
knocks her head on that lethal hanging
lamp, and bursts into song.
Who’s next in line? Check your clipboard.
The ghost has signed up for the open
mic, and all this is his poem.
Here’s a poem in German about sheep, Schafe.
And just now my small flock, led by Sophie
the con-artist, passes my window, nibbling
grass and forbs. With clever ewe-teeth she takes
a little bite (ein Bisschen, like my bisschen
Deutsch), greens protruding from lips as fluent
as fingers. And here comes Cowboy
my German Shepherd Schäferhund who has no
thought of herding sheep, but only reading
the morning news on a wind that’s just
arrived at the door of our landscape, the Land-
schaft of our outskirts of discovery. This
poem got me thinking about schaf’s small flock
of root-letters. Sophie my Schafe disdains
roots, she goes for the succulent leaves,
the flowers, the poetry—poetry being
a Schaffung, a creation. Just so, I don’t try
to reason such things out. Instead, I’ll
take a walk, and see if a poem like a spring-
lamb dancing comes.
THE NIGHT’S MIND
It comes in the open window
like a brown fox. I’ve never seen a fox
that color. Did it climb a high branch,
then make a leap of faith like a small child
before slipping over the sill to fall
asleep in a corner forgotten by the lamp?
It glows there without a moon.
Impossible to feel alone, with a creature
that exists here as a typing exercise,
the quick brown, like finding
the keys for “eel” and savoring that
repeated feel of “e” before it moves on
as all things do. Even this night-fox
will leave before morning—not angry
but because, in the impermanence
of all things, it must.
DOOR IN THE TREE
There’s a point between late
and forgetting everything, dropping essentials
as you stop to write a poem—
let’s say, to a tree. Imagine it becomes a myth
of something you lost years ago—the land
of childhood slid off your map
as you sat at breakfast, not even seeing
cardinals at the feeder or the young neighbor kid
being drawn up a snow-hill to flash
screaming and sledding down. No more
rider of fairy-steeds. Just look at this framed
photo, you astride a sacred-cow
whose rumen sounds like clock-work.
But back to that poem you wrote, then wedged
in the crevice of a gnarled old tree—wrinkled
just like you are—as if that crevice
might be a door you can’t quite see yet.
As if a poem might know the secret word.
in flight. Dark
on this gray December sky.
A great blue heron
descent. I’m holding
breath, heart wing-
beat to land
with Heron, who now stands thin
in winter stubble,
nib penstroke. It fixes me
with its reedy eye.