I’ve been thinking about the fluidity of genre: poetry to prose to poetry. Sometimes when I write prose, I feel myself skimming the edges of poetry–sounds, the phrasing and movement of line, the juxtaposition of images. And, now, there is the visual image itself, weaving itself into everything. Shanti Arts–Nature Art Spiritjust published this “proem” in their quarterly and I am taken by the eye of the editor, Christine Brooks Cote, for layout and image.
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.
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.
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.”
Photography is the story I fail to put into words. — Destin Sparks
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.
(after seeing a hawk on the anniversary of my mother’s death)
HJ Burt 1929-2020
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.
one by one flowers open, then fall Wang Wei, 701-761
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.
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.
[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.
I found this on a flowering weed in Castlewood Park on a day I was looking for birds. Butterfly? Moth? To be honest, I didn’t know. And then I learned that the butterfly has a bulb at the end of its antenna, unlike the moth and its feathered one, and a hooked tip called the “apiculus.” The name of this butterfly? Such beautiful names to wander through: Swallowtails and Hairstreaks, Elfins and Metalmarks and Gossamer-winged. Just the names begin to find a poem. This little guy is part of the Grass Skippers Family, perhaps a Least Skipper, weak in the wings, or an Orange Skipperling, its eggs orange-ringed and its larva rolling up in a single blade of grass. I don’t really care which butterfly it is: I woke up and couldn’t sleep and now a coyote has wandered down the suburban drainage ditch a block from our house to sing and I’ve been thinking about poetry and found this poem by Pavel Friedmann, who wrote this one day in 1942 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp beneath a white chestnut and gave it to me, tonight, and now me to you:
He was the last. Truly the last. Such yellowness was bitter and blinding Like the sun’s tear shattered on stone. That was his true colour. And how easily he climbed, and how high, Certainly, climbing, he wanted To kiss the last of my world.
I have been here for seven weeks, ‘Ghettoized’. Who loved me have found me, Daisies call to me, And the branches also of the white chestnut in the yard. But I haven’t seen a butterfly here. That last one was the last one. There are no butterflies, here, in the ghetto.
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 . . .