Tuesday, January 24, 2017

When I Was a Crane

—Poems by Joyce Odam, Sacramento, CA
—Original Art by Joyce


the swans are crying unto the northwest
in bright sunlight
the ragged V of them
pointing the way through winter

you hear them see them first call me out
to say See! and we stand watching
turning like figures of a wind-vane
our hands in salute to shade our eyes

the swans stretching out their long bodies
are making such strange little cries
my innermost Oh! leaps up in sadness for them

the wind has glitters of ice in it
the swans have found their way over
morning is sharp as glass upon us

(first pub. in New Salt Creek Reader)

               “Your own shadow sits in silent study”
                                     —Charles Simic

You sit in your yellow shadow in brazen sunlight,
haunted by the dark eyes of my watching. You
glow for me, now that you are aware of
my staring. You almost burn with the
shimmer of blindness—how can I
turn away?—I have yet to love
you. The light forms around
you with such fierceness.
I must penetrate the light
with my possessive eyes.
You emanate and draw me
in. Now I am in the blaze with
you—the web of sunlight holding
us together till I am merely a vibration and
you are a stunning presence waiting to absorb me.



Somehow the dream does not hold past the dreamer.
Her relinquished sleep is in shreds.

Morning is acute with gray light through which
a dark invisible bird is somehow singing.

The trees quiver apart and shadows flutter out . . .
nothing is as certain as such astonishment.

A black cat walks across the pavement,
avoiding the lines. Perhaps it is a superstitious cat.

The dogs from next door begin their tedious barking;
there are no more roosters in the neighborhood.

In the kitchen, the windowsill figurines
begin their daily routine of watching her.

A telephone rings from so far away
it takes one ring too few for her to reach it.


stories of love
that’s what they are

and the
readers and watchers
believe the stories and
fall into their spell

changing their expectation
to the plot direction
of the stories



she is nude
in the open window of her life
making a face at the world
laughing at its outrage
shouting obscenities at it
when it dares to presume upon her
with its eyes

she is older each morning
watching herself grow heavy
before the daily mirrors
watching herself
the way life watches art

her sensitivities are wound
like wings in web
she flails and struggles
she stays calm
she thinks her way out of
her predicament

each day she admires another layer
her laughter shines like
dew upon the web
her clever escapes
are what she sings about

(first pub. in Dusty Dog, 1991) 

After Georgia O’Keefe (blue woman)

There are many like you :
woman without strings,
woman estranged
from the old notions of ownership.

You move in feather-light
and blaze of color,
twisting yourself into a dance
free of metric direction.

Color swirls around you,
alive with your power.
You are becoming new shape
and song—your own.

Stillness waits,
watching your intensity
like a mirror waiting to catch you.
though you are beyond mirrors.



When I was that crane, stand-
ing in my perfect balance, in
a shallow field-lake, and the
stillness held me—forever,
that long moment—as long
as a glance, and a gray wind
ruffled against me as I stood
watching my ruffling shadow,
and I let myself be taken by
the admiration of others watch-
ing me—I knew I was doomed.
I knew I would have to lift,
suddenly and alone, into time’s
sad distance, would have to
leave my perfectly balanced
shadow behind and never return
to this one last field of
swayed and deciphering grasses,
that I would startle and feel
my own life hollowing-out
as the small field disappeared—
where would I go?  How would I
not grieve for this?  For all
my life, I had been taken ser-
iously as a thing of beauty—
to view from afar—in passing.
Is that not still true, oh, van-
ishing small fields?  Is that
not still true?

(first pub. in In the Grove, 1999)


It’s bird in flight
we marvel at—
not bird on ground,

in hop,
in strut,
in awkward walk—

the pecking motion
of the head—but bird in
sky—on wing—outspread



In the painting, the children are asleep in the quiet
afternoon. They lie across each other like tossed dolls—
two rumpled girls, having worn themselves out talking
and giggling. And now the hour loosens its light around
them and they stir; they realize I am watching them,
though I have been sitting here, drowsily, making sketches.
It is as if they knew I would come and find them there. It is
how they look at me. They rise from their sweaty pillows
and move, dream-like, toward me, their eyes holding my
eyes, their faces strangely serious, and when they reach me,
they take my hands and draw me back with them toward
the shaded porch. But we must hurry, for a border is closing
in around us—a feeling only, for the yard stretches clear to
the formless and spacious end of itself. I do not speak to
them for I do not want to break the curious spell of their ac-
ceptance of me. They pull on my hands to get me to go
faster—the day’s light is changing and they seem alarmed.
Insistently tugging, they keep looking up at me, and I realize
they are pulling me from a familiar distance that has separ-
ated us until now. I move without sensation. For a moment I
wonder if I should be afraid of them. Now we have reached
the house—still not having spoken—where they pull me in-
side the old screened porch where we lie down together—
three time-blessed children, asleep in the quiet afternoon.


Fragmentary. This old light out of older light. Repetitions.
Believe in it. Let it lead you into its farther self. You can
go as deep as you dare. Its name is night. It has many stars.
Count them. Take forever. A child sits watching you, blow-
ing soap bubbles into planets. Wings without angels fly
everywhere. Oh, this is such a night. Go with joy, that old
foe of sorrow. Tell the child not to cry. The child does not
listen. The child rubs an old tear into its eye, watching you
for pity. You are both lost and at home in this night-city
which has opened up its wing for you. Do not try to under-
stand this—you are not here. The child has dreamed you.
Hold the child until you die.

(first pub. in Blue Violin, 1999)


Today’s LittleNip:


—Joyce Odam

two sleepers
          by owl-edge        
                        eye between

watching the night
         move through them        
                        like dreams


Many thanks to Joyce Odam for today’s fine poems and pix! Her swans, her crane and her crow (and is that an owl in the LittleNip?) triggered thoughts about the meaning of wings, so our new Seed of the Week is Wings. The more you list, the more you can think of: birds, butterflies, bugs, airplanes, angels. Icarus. Zeus. The Internet (cyberwings). Paul McCartney’s group. Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song”. Surely you can think of more!—though of course your mind will leap out of this boring daily concrete into the soaring metaphoric. Send your poems, photos and artwork about this (or any other) subject to kathykieth@hotmail.com. No deadline on SOWs, though, and for a peek at our past ones, click on “Calliope’s Closet”, the link at the top of this column, for plenty to choose from.


Celebrate your poetry!

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