TOO EARLY FOR FIELD MARKS
At dawn, a bird call
from near or farther distance.
Sharp, insistent, monotone.
Alarm or warning?
repeated and repeated.
Then, at last, an answer-call.
Three dark birds flying
high over oaks. A morning
summons to congregation
or a call to arms?
Every other bird silent.
There’s a faint streak of sunrise—
clouds. No other outward sign.
Crows diagnosing the day
by poll and survey
of their peers? Silence. I’ve missed
the better part of mystery,
passage of unnamed
birds from unknown lands, omen
of very early morning.
Step out the door, first light,
and everyone’s chattering chipping chirping
tip-of-a-twig-a-second as dark undims
and dawn makes our world decipherable
to the eye. But not to my ear.
So many birds—over there, and then
right here—joining in all at once, I can’t
tell what they’re saying or who says what.
I’ve heard, some birds are hard-wired to song,
the rest must acquire it with their feathers,
in the nest. Patience, and practice. Some
humans learn bird-language from long study.
I know the spotted towhee by her flick
of movement in the brush, and think
of bird-song as a silver sound-rush water-
falling out of night’s dark hush.
Who writes ballads anymore of pillage and plunder, and saving the most precious life? Here’s no city wasted by war, just remnants—ancestral channels of Earth’s commerce diverted, waters sprung from seeps and rushing down snowmelt from much higher, water seeking its way to sea. After a week of downpour I’ve laced up my Sorels in case of swamp. We’re marching across this field where miners gouged out ditches, chaos through watershed. Not much topsoil left but still it’s come green again, mid-March. Buttercups and popcorn flowers, shooting-stars. In spite of man’s pragmatic sophistries and summer’s inevitable burn, the surge of soft green fire.
raw stone, disengaged
from ancient earth, now grows its
That preacher I greeted from above—
he was walking barefoot so I did a double-take.
Seemed a gentle sort, not to deal in wiles
and sophistry. He stopped; looked up—keen
eyes he had, like a bird’s—and saw me.
Me all in black, night-shade among shadow.
He spoke, so I talked back. We crows appreciate
a respectful conversation, He didn’t presume
humanity has a corner on brains. He praised
the sleek, inky blackness of my coat, how
it reflects God’s sunlight. I took a liking to him;
might have gifted him with a bit of treasure—
shard of creek-polished glass, a bright pebble.
But I could tell he had quite a long trail to go,
with a downpour on the way, tho he didn’t seem
to mind the weather. Not an easy path for
a creature that goes on foot, barefoot. A man
who tries to see good in the most sullen
of his species—that’s a heavy load!
The lift of sky he had, but just in his eyes.
If wings, not yet feathered for flight.
SEARCHING FOR DENNY
At the saddle, worlds open up
before cloud-wings gather and bunch,
confounding blue. Shadows draw
dark faces on lava cliffs. The lost boy—
five days gone and counting. Not a clue
grounds us. We scour
heaps of granite, retrace the same trails.
In a tip of lodgepole, Raven
joker-bird discusses the weather,
keeps the mountain’s secret.
Lookouts posted at the edge: Devil’s
Matchbox strikes no signal-fire.
No clues. Switchbacks repeat themselves.
Over the meadow, a maze of
paths joining, rejoining. Call his name.
Quiet. Not even
rattle of a snake—too high.
Somewhere in landscape is a boy
trying to find his way.
Voices call his name to silence
while the river runs too far to hear.
X-ray vision? The great
yonder’s pared down to elements:
Zinc-white, bone-white stone, cloud.
This dawn-light dark of trees is no labyrinth
with Minotaur. You’ll find our native
fox and deer in any field guide; they leave
their sign if we can read it. This early morning,
through the mist magnifying sound,
already I can hear our neighbor—clapping,
slashing, making useful what he’s scrounged
at the bone-yard. It’s louder than bird-
song tuning up on every side, if we would
listen. That hum overhead, an airplane
finding its way through unencumbered sky
high above the tangles of these woods.
Everything can be explained.
Here, imprinted grand as on brass plate,
foot of the bear who rules here.
We need no mythic beast.
TO ONE WHO WAITS
The brown mare—
standing foursquare on bare ground
across the two-lane road—
mare standing as she has stood for as long
as I can remember walking here
how patiently she watches
as I walk my
dogs on our side of road
with traffic speeding too fast to attend
to a horse beside her trailer
anywhere: Does she dream of
fields without roads
or fences? or does she
just wait for whatever might be given
to a horse who keeps on waiting?
Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.
—Percy Bysshe Shelley
Our thanks to Taylor Graham for today’s poetry and photos about the Dawn Chorus and spring in the foothills!
Today’s poetry events in our area include the Kings and Queens of Poetry in Old Sacramento at Laughs Unlimited, 8pm; readers Richard Robbins and John Dooley plus open mic at Poetry in Davis, 8pm; and Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento, also at 8pm, with featured readers and open mic. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.
Celebrate the poetry of renewal!
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