an old brown leaf; last summer’s brittle straw,
and fine green grass that sprouted under oaks’
lichened limbs; forest litter she carried here,
piece by tiny piece in her bill; this titmouse
builds her nest of castoffs in the broken bird-
box you left on the deck, thinking you might
get around to mending it someday. The day
is now, tag-end of February. Titmouse knows
Time flies, as Hawk cries hunger and Crow
casts a dark shadow overhead. Yesterday
you saw this titmouse dive into bird-box hole
and fly back out again. It wasn’t fit. You fixed
the box, mounted it on a deck-support; watched
her hour by hour, flying back and forth. Now
her nest is almost finished, safe from Hawk
and Crow. She tidies moss and leaf. Will she
comfort the nest with undercoat shed by our
dog as cushioning for her eggs? The whole
construction a craft of camouflage in a plain
pine box. Morning sun shines aslant through
the entrance hole. It’s almost spring.
The sheep are gone,
coyotes famished for lamb.
It forms a wilderness of want
from rimrock to creek
to the very gate of garden.
One old oak has grown an eye
wide enough to look through,
to watch its unthrifty kin
twine themselves in honeysuckle,
fresh new green in a landscape
growing wild with grasses
no sheep will eat.
A WOMAN’S PLACE
for Elihu Burritt, the Learned Blacksmith, 1876
So, Elihu, you taught those school-
girls Sanskrit. Was it on a dare?
That zing of learning’s on the air,
unzips the fingers, rips the rule
of age-old precepts. Who’s to blame?
There’s power in the word, the mind
awakened—in the book. A kind
of virtue, calling things by name;
translating Dante with a niece.
Past all the hate- or fear-words hurled
against learning, and grumble sounds
of ancient custom, calls for peace
in homely silence—she astounds.
Now what can keep her from the world?
WOMAN WITH FORCEPS
This is how he’d paint her, lifting the shiny
stainless wishbone to perform everyday magic;
ageless in faded shirtwaist, walking a Friday
sidewalk past the bail bondsman’s window,
eyes probing till she finds a living vein,
till he steps out his door to feed the blackbirds
jousting for crumbs. Or maybe he’d paint her
pausing in the park to grasp blue spring air,
an instant released from gravity of a squirrel’s
leap between branches. He’d paint her holding
silver forceps to birth another morning.
Last night the moon was a full
circle dollar sailing from spindrift
of cloud, a full silver moon for my dogs
to spendthrift-run the tensile glint
of fence-wire, oak woods to swale,
creek and rimrock flint and shale.
I called and called, and the owl
called back, each hoot a chip
in the moon’s shimmer-disk.
At last past bedtime
my dogs came back, lolling
their tongues with the hint
of risk, with gone,
tales of the wild silver glide
of moon on its waning
way to dawn.
This moon I squander
by staying inside.
ANGELS OF LIGHT
Last night you dreamed
disintegration, all the ways of dying.
You woke in the dark calling
on angels. Your dog answered first,
thumping his tail against door-
jamb. It’s time, he said in Dog.
Next came a small bird singing
its pewter tune outside the window,
its same old song that chips
away the dim so sun can rise yellow.
There may have been other
angels you couldn’t see or hear—
the ones who praise clean laundry
waving in brisk February air;
the ones who sent the bird,
the sun, the just-awaking hive;
your dog ready to run
through thistle and wild mustard,
to sing his plain-as-morning
I thought my hen stopped laying.
But here in a sunny spot of hen-yard
she’s rummaged in the dirt to hollow out
a morning nest. And look, an egg.
A very small one, brown as ancestral
memory of farm rich soil. I roust
her out, pick it gently up. It’s not an egg.
From compost pile she’s scrounged
an avocado pit. I give it back. Might
it trigger an instinct for laying?
But look, here in the hen-house,
in her nest of shreds, an egg. A warm
brown egg. It feels like farm.
It seems my hen prefers avocado.
Many thanks to Taylor Graham for today’s poems and pix, including the on-going story of the brief lives of the mushrooms/toadstools on her property. She reports that her new book, Uplift, is out (coldriverpress.org), and that she will be reading at The Other Voice in Davis on March 18, at Nello Olivo Wine Cellar March 20, and at Sacramento Voices April 16. Congratulations, TG!