On Finding an Owl’s Head at the River

Photography is the story I fail to put into words.  — Destin Sparks

great horned owl mother

Once I watched a hawk, what I wanted to write of here first, plummet from a telephone wire above a bicycle path: a conical of wings, a silken hood of air bronzed in the light and tender-necked, too, I think it now, the hawk astride its prey so quickly, a whole raft of wings in the grass tips afloat. I found the owl at the river’s edge, the riparian where cow hooves pocked the sludge, and then the grasses’ feathered thing I toed until I turned it, thinking it a gosling dead. Heavy-lidded were its eyes, dreaming as if it were still drowsy from some fall, its body gone. And to you, I called out then, here, here, only the head for me to cradle home. Don’t ask me why I think this: but how wild, my love, we once were, how blossomed we must have seemed to the wheeling hawks, to those smooth blades of the sky we lift still our faces to, white and dark our flesh. 

Morning Song:

(after seeing a hawk on the anniversary of my mother’s death)

HJ Burt 1929-2020

hawkinflight

By our shed, the spotted knapweed I whacked at the week before nodded beneath the rain’s weight— a storm’s blessing.  I thought the birds, the smallest ones, had caught the air thermals toward the valleys and the great scissor curves of rivers they shadow. Only the raptors left—coopers and red hawks, the bald-faced turkey vulture.  In the golden hour, an elk grazed up the hill past Jan’s old picnic table, and I followed as quietly as I could, gone, I was sure, and then its antlers, staggered as blue penstemon, rose above the grass.  The morning aspens gave me shadows and red-capped russula, milky caps. Yellow birds scattered in the woods, rode the dieback. I had forgotten the names of field grass my mother knew— wildrye and June grass, fox barley and sedge— and then I knew them: the morning lush, end of summer, wind and din of wasp wild. Leonard said he dreamed the dead back and they were smoothed by joy.

3 a.m. and taking the new puppy out to pee beneath a waning moon

one by one flowers open, then fall
Wang Wei, 701-761

moon snail shell

I suppose it was the 3:00 a.m. mewling, the new puppy nudging me into suburban dark and moon milk, that made me think of the moon snail propped on my study window sill between the photos of a moth orchid and the winter’s Wilson’s Snipe I fashioned into postcards. How long now has this moon snail gathered dust there, shifted my afternoon sun from light to richest shadow? I found it, nameless to me, at the edge of tidal spume and broken cockle shells, and carried it from the sea to here— a spiral in my palm perfect of nipple-brown apex and hollow umbilicus where once a foot and seven rows of teeth and feathered gill lay. Leonard keeps asking me why we are here. Why this cup of tea? Why this pen we write with beneath a soda straw width of galaxies uncountable? Nights, the predatory moon snail plows nocturnal shores, drills the shells of clams with holes we’ll string and wear. Or it lays a thousand eggs into collars of sand, shaped, we’ll say,  into ones our priests wear. And now this puppy, everything new to it: the curly cues of dried snail and earthworm it finds beneath the gutter spout. Or the blue bachelor button in sudden fall bloom it chews happy at the driveway’s edge. Once conjured with my camera into dark and shadow, this moon snail pixelated into swirls of pigeon-blue and rose-flesh: somewhere, someplace else, a constant sea rain of tiny moon snail and this moon I blink beneath.

Finding a Cabbage White Butterfly at Castlewood Canyon

unless Soul clap its hands and sing
—William Butler Yeats

Researchers found that the small cabbage white butterfly likely originated in eastern Europe and then spread into Asia and Siberia when trade was increasing along the Silk Road.

from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

I suppose it’s the name, not the butterfly’s, that caught me first, Silk Road. Then the butterfly’s, lowly cabbage-eater I keep imagining clinging, white-winged and green speckle-eyed, to a shining hem or a sleeve woven from a silk cocoon some ancient silk farmer boiled just before the silk worm’s emergence. That strand of silk, kept intact by that farmer’s boiling, spun longer than this walking path in a sunken canyon, itself millions of years old. And that Silk Road? Some seven thousand miles away and gone centuries with ancient dynasties and Ottoman Empires and Xanadu courts. Where was I now? With an ancient farmer eating a boiled silkworm and a cabbage white butterfly stowing itself away across worlds and tall ships and iron horses to be, here, with me. No wonder Leonard calls me from sleep at three a.m., no moon for a poet, to stand groggy and awed on a cabin porch beneath a universe called Observable, despite the billions of galaxies we still can’t see spiraling over the Milky Wayour Scattered Straw, our Silver River, Way of  Birds. And so. It’s the cabbage white butterfly I am thinking of because a Master Birder told me of beautiful birds in a canyon and I went, to catch in singing the White-throated Swift or the Lazuli Bunting or the Plumbeous Vireo I could hang extant in a simple black frame by my kitchen window. But all I could find was a butterfly, plain as a moth and hanging upside down on a purple weed. Instar is a molting, I have read, the cabbage white butterfly’s exoskeleton shed every time for something new. Now the head black. Now the yellow clypeus of the face. Now those tiny green dots I love.

cabbage white butterfly on flower blossom
Pieris rapae

Late Summer Wasps

One by one flowers open, then fall.
Wang Wei

My ears are thick with them, the yellow jackets levitating out of this vole hole to hover through our scarecrows of gold banner and harebell. Murmuration is a word even without the starlings’ imprint above this leaf light. It is almost too beautiful to write: the birds I cannot see clustering at night beneath the Milky Way, river of light, their absence silence, and then the wasps I thought bees vibrating over the wet leaves, the pulpy flies, the destroying angels I’ve walked through. These wasps fly in and out beneath the metal sky into the dark cupboards of earth, thousands, while I plunge my arms through bees snout-deep in late blossom, everything and me until the first glittering frost alive.  

Bee in Blossom
bee in blossom

On Beauty and Finding a Dead Flicker

[Beauty] compels awe, and awe
Is well known for its capacity to silence.

Louise Glück

       

I’ve been thinking about beauty and how these blue birds ahead of me keep throwing themselves off the aspen snags.  Like a hinge, the mind already calling them ‘beautiful” and “sky,” though I don’t know really what beauty is or how to make it so in a poem about a gravel lane I keep writing. Leonard never sees the bluebirds, though he wants to, but, every day, I walk into them, little chips of sky I might touch. When Leonard was a boy, his mother taught him to sing a song about pockets and falling stars and he sings it to me now, when we are happiest. In just this hour, fall has towed in its clouds like blue barges. Beautiful. And I am remembering the earliest summer morning, not in this here, not in this now: tree swallows flushed above the sedge and a guttering of flickers. And now this perfect silhouette in the dirt I thought to photograph at my feet because there was light and there were wings and nothing to grieve, door nor earth.

flicker impression in the dirt made of feathers

White-Eyes by Mary Oliver for the Holiday

gulls over the reservoir

In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
             where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
             Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
    but he’s restless—
         he has an idea,
             and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
    as long as he stays awake.
         But his big, round music, after all,
             is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
    In the pine-crown
         he makes his nest,
             he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
    I only imagine his glittering beak
         tucked in a white wing
             while the clouds—

which he has summoned
    from the north—
         which he has taught
             to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
    into the world below
         like stars, or the feathers
               of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
    that is asleep now, and silent—
         that has turned itself
             into snow.

Poem from Poetry Foundation

Octopus on a Sea Dock: New Poem at Split Rock Review

this lovely image popped up from Split Rock Review on Facebook
with the link to my poem

So another prompt-inspired poem, this one from an April 2021 National Poetry Prompt at NaPoWriMO:

“Go to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and choose a word to work with.” I chose “onism”: awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience, which seemed apropos for that past year’s solitude. And then I thought about imagination and memory and went places I never expected, certainly one of the joys of writing poetry.

Octopus on a Sea Dock

It floated out from a sea bucket
into the silver spilt water
of the sea dock we’d come to visit,
so quiet at our feet
that the fishermen nearby were oblivious,
their fishing poles . . .

Read the rest here at Split Rock Review


Pre-orders for Flying Beneath the Dog Star: Poems from a Pandemic are open until November 29. Flying Beneath the Dog Star was a semi-finalist for the Finishing Line Press 2020 Open Chapbook Contest. The chapbook, fingers-crossed for a lightening of the shipping boat snafus, comes out at the end of January 2022.

My book, my book, my beautiful book!

Am I allowed to say I love it? I’m going to (:

I wrote the poems for Flying Beneath the Dog Star: Poems from a pandemic during National Poetry Month during such a terrible time and found such peace in my search for some kind of faith in a shaken world where my only “knowns” were a cabin porch, a spill of morning sun, and a nuthatch at the feeder. And I wrote it in honor of my sister. And then it was picked up by Finishing Line Press as a semi-finalist for FLP’s 2020 Open Chapbook competition.

And now it’s pre-publication sale time until November 20th and the sales determine the press run. If you think you want to order this book, please! do so through this direct link at Finishing Line Press: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/…/flying-beneath…/

“…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” ― Vincent Willem van Gogh

book cover and author

To the Swallow This Spring at the Nest Box

I own nothing of you
nor this leaf that shivers
into a half-bud above
the phlox and blue flax
that burrow with me
into this old winter grass.
Yet how much I yearn
for your blue-struck wing
like an arrow over a sun-
struck river, as if it were some
prayer to fit between
my strange and lonely palm,
so hollow its feathers,
so frail I could breathe through them,
so iridescent the sky
you harbor down that
whoever hammered this wood
together did so
in such hurry, in such
love, that even the nails
were left unflattened. And now
your nestling waits
at this world someone
cored into the box for it
to see: a little
knot of light,
a song
to dip and break against.

                        published by Tiny Seed Literary Journal

Morning on the Cabin Porch

My beautiful visiting bee this morning reminded me of this poem I wrote last spring. It will be part of my chapbook, Flying Beneath the Dog Star: Poems from a Pandemic, to be published this January by Finishing Line Press.

The hummingbird mistakes
me for a flower: something
half-wan and camouflaged
in a wild iris shirt.
The aspens riddle my slant
of sun like snakes of shade.
Far off,  past the pines,
a meadowlark trills
from the draw where, yesterday,
I found bear scat fresh,
flies swarming it.
I walked, clapping my hands
at the dark of woods
until they hurt.
Now the air stirs.
A hummingbird zips
past the porch, circles,
hovers, a tiny god at my face.
I am all blossom and sepal,
sweet petal and wing dust.
And at my feet, a tiny bee
crawls for the first time.