The Moths of Poetry

They are lighter than ravens or any bird, I suppose, pelting at the windows where sometimes they spin out when I half close the night window frames. Tonight, the homestead neighbors have washed the dark trees we share to nudes, their security lights unblinking beneath Orion’s belt in the faded ether. Such a long silence we sometimes share through the winter glaze and I wonder what will bring rescue, pour succor over our bowed heads. The ravens swung past early this morning, hooked themselves to long sheaves of wind that bore them past the hill brow.  Roland Barthes, the semiologist, who wanted to understand the “newness” of photography and its prick at the soul (my words), asked, how does meaning get into image and where does it end? I don’t know those answers, but, sometimes, I catch moths in a clear bell of glass or in my fists where I can feel their little heart-thumps before I shake them out into the night air—what moves within me, frayed and jittering down to my broken steps.  Barthes, when he wrote Camera Lucida, grieved for his dead mother and looked into photographs of her “for the truth of the face [he]had loved.” In the morning, I’ll again sweep these shattered things into the world, images or not, “resurrection,” as Barthes said, or not, and then rescue the bird feeders something overnight has flung to the ground.  I repair what I can, hook the feeders to the trees I love like a map of the day I keep drawing, one bird call after another. 

western tanager at cabin
kestrel at south platte river

Catching Light for the New Year

What We’ve Lost: The Species Declared Extinct.

                        —Scientific American

elk near cabin

I’ve learned some are so lost that there is no common name to list for them, like the beautifully named have, like Dusty Sea Snake or Long-Spine Bream or Lily-of-the-Valley-Tree. I walked out one morning into the sodden grass, name-less to me still and heavy from the night’s rain, the golden light I’d come with my camera to shoot fractured and paling. All summer, before my half-stepping there, through the fields, the grasshopper sparrows darted white-tailed in front of me, floating just beneath my hand’s reach, just out of the dark canopies of grass I draped back, what I learned to do so carefully, fearful for their newly-born, their freckled eggs broken into frog-mouthed nestlings, yellow-beaked and gone now, but for these words.

Golden Mole or Sheetweb Weaver or Tall Thimbleweed:  what have I mourned that’s lost? A mother’s life? A child’s love? 

The roar and whistle of a bull elk zippered over the spiraling trees through the golden light. Somewhere, my hunting neighbors were haunting their little acres of woods as if the gods had turned them from men to trees, to camouflage and coyote urine, to blue metal rifles and muzzle-loaders. Again and again, I heard the bull elk calling, and so I blew, as I once had as a child, past a blade of grass I held tightly between my thumbs, the sound like broken glass when it silences the squalling jays or sometimes like yearning. 

I kept holding my eye against the camera’s eye, waiting, crouched there I don’t know how long beneath the long-limbed aprons of these trees. But then, the bull elk wandered in from the east, what I wanted to save, and it gazed to the north, all lazy torpor amid the sun spill, its rack of years I could count and count lit up.

So beautiful and named is this elk I am finding again in the heartbreak of firing leaves, in this list of the lost I keep carrying—Flame Tetra and Golden Toad, Mystic Leaf-Roller. Cold and metal-smooth was the air the elk and I breathed that day and then I opened the camera’s shutter to fix the shadows, the “most transitory of things,” Talbot said, with light.

A NOTE:

from Henry Fox Talbot (1839) who invented ‘photogenic drawings’ in which nitrate of silver is brushed over paper and the paper is then placed in sunlight, with the shadow of an object cast over it. The light blackens the paper except for where it is shadowed:

“Now, since nothing prevents him from simultaneously disposing, in different positions, any number of these little camerae, it is evident that their collective results, when examined afterwards, may furnish him with a large body of interesting memorials, and with numerous details which he had not had himself time either to note down or delineate.”

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.