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John Caddy
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John Caddy's

Morning Earth Poems

January 2003


Halfway up a narrow maple trunk,
where a branch died and fell away,
a knothole slowly grows.
It is a circle, deep black,
embraced by rounded lips
of woundheal, a mouthed "O!"
of surprise. The hole grows
from thin chisels of nuthatches
and chickadees who warm there
winter nights and peck a chip or two,
which fall to earth below.

Today a young black squirrel
looks into the mouth and ducks inside,
curls to fit his tail. Now just inside
the knothole, black eyes
from black fur gleam
and my "O" is wide.

How plush the fur of these sable squirrels. How right it looks inside the tree. We living beings accommodate each other in so many ways. Each of us large organisms are homes and shelters, will we, nil we, and as often food. This is interliving. This is life's root form.



As I pour my second coffee
the ringneck cock picks driveway grit,
small metates to grind
kernels of flint corn stubble gleaned.

His crop will muscle and roll
each tooth of corn against pebbles
ground small and smooth by glaciers
in their milky hidden streams.


Every bit of earth tells itself an infinitely expanding story. If you can be still, you can overhear bits and pieces.



Five hen pheasants fill the feeder
with secret colors, globes
of fluffed feathers. They peck-peck
and swallow in haste
from eons of fast and feast.
The cat on the ground,
fluff furred and round,
looks up, swallows and dreams
from eons of famine and feast.

We all share the same problems. Gluttony makes perfect sense for lives whose chance to eat is occasional. No hunter-gatherers would imagine any form of eating to be a deadly sin.



Small under stars
I lift wintered eyes,
puzzling half patterns
in the vault of night sky
where none exist.

Hard by the door
the corpse of a vole
lies on its back,
pink feet lifted and curled,
triangular jaw just open,
gifted by cat to the household.

One time when small
I thumped a mattress
left in a farm field.
It exploded with voles.
I ran a few steps, lost balance
and fell into grasses teeming with fear.

Small under stars
I look up too long,
think I've found Draco
and stagger the deck,
dizzy in the spectrum of night.

"As above, so below" is an ancient pattern of thought-magic, questionable, but at times demanding. As you know, in the Wheel of Animals or Zodiac, Draco is the dragon.



January sun arcs low
in the southern sky, so
all day sunlight slants in
like October afternoons.
The cattail marsh lifts dun spears
sidelit with gold,
red osier dogwood's
burgundy bark sideways aflame.
I can't see it, but I know
in this light askance,
I must acutely glow.


The qualities of light are endless. Only actors and beauties think much about their lighting. But I am startled to realize that when the earth glows, I am lighted well.




A whirling of leaves in headlights
as a cold front blows in,
a stirring
a circling
gusts up into
wind-devil spiraling
bitter brown leaves with air
suddenly acute
and sculpting
that patch of light
before headlights while
beyond light everywhere
in dark a rush
of leaf dancing in night.


Nature continually creates ephemeral art. Night driving in winter is special for what wind makes of leaves and of snow. Brown leaves recapitulating their autumn twirl to ground has such odd poignance.



Strong north wind hurls
small-grained snow
flat across the land,
grayout, gray skies.
Across the road, half-seen
horses turn foal and embrace
snow bite with
rolling heads and
extravagant hooves.


Horses have a natural, worthy response to snow. Even in a bitter wind, years fall away and heels kick up. They make me want to make snow angels.



Windless cold stars last night,
all the salt colors of their fires.
Morning's low-slung sun
burns from the south
through air calmly frozen.
From somewhere high
in a sky clear blue
drift, smaller than snowflakes,
tiny lattices of ice. Everywhere
these ice motes unseen sift
between the sun and my eyes.
The air, the perfect air entire,
sparks crystal bright.

Ephemeral beauty is Gaia's specialty. Awe is one of ours.



Cold wind today through cattail leaves
and long field grass unsnowed,
the sound that "rush" should name.

  a red oak rustles
rusted leaves
as icy air soughs through.

The pileated woodpecker
at my window looks in
cocks his head, and leaves.
Found wanting again.

  The red squirrel pauses
on the way up the oak.
A white ring rounds his eye
as if surprised.
He stares at the feeder where
chickadees drop in to
race out with a prize
to crack between their toes.

From my feet
the pheasant bursts,
my arm flies up in shock
as if to hail.
I keep it up.

  After a walk
the tops of my ears
numb white.
Soon they'll throb
hot red.


Walking and watching, little image collections happen. Small poems that re-create one moment are a great practice. Write directly from experience.



Out the window, three degrees
below. On the oilseed feeder
Three magisterial crows. Then
three pileated woodpeckers
knock my eyes wide.
One's at the suet, two
hitch up and down
the basswood right outside,
flashing red around the trunk.
On the maples by the suet
small woodpeckers wait.
Suddenly all three flash black/white
wings to grandfather oak,
get to hammering.

Slept in. What a wonderfilled waking at three below! Numbers are strange felicitous things.



Look at bare ice,
without its dress of snow,
odd naked ice
bare bold sun-shone
even under overcast.
Almost clear, but frosted
fossil bubbles interfere.
Three feet down, a treetrunk
hulks and slides down into old dark

The old dark of waters is where it all began. It’s scary.



Between sun and eyes
a crow lilts by,
the strokes of his wings
dark water.

Some poems are built, some are given. The earth offers us a continual flow of images. We grasp the ones we need, and pass them on. It's communal from the get-go.


At last, a little snow.
Fresh tracks written cold:
Squirrel tracks spoke out
from tree boles,
close together leaving,
widespread racing home.
Here juncos hopped,
or chickadees,
feet close, parallel,
each thin foot
four shivery lines.


Whether migrants or year round residents, each winter small birds suffer 60 to 80 % mortality. They are tough, though, and enough make it through to hearten us with their sweet noise.



The squirrel dashes down, abruptly
hangs high on the trunk
by hind claws in the bark,
head down, and there dangles.

His head and tail arch up
as if to see who sees his grace
in self-arrest. Does she watch,
the one who smelled so
suddenly worth chasing through
bare crowns of trees?

Nonchalant he lifts his claws,
then pell mells down the trunk just
a hair ahead of her
and off they race, young loves

making time in snow
at ten degrees below.


A few northern animals show great faith that spring will come; they mate in midwinter. Squirrels are everywhere chasing through bare trees to find their nuptial partners; the pure acrobatics are amazing. Takes me back.



I walk under stars
on an inch of new snow.
The Great Wheel afire
I look up long and long,
lose my eyes
and reel across earth below.

To fall into the galaxy is a lovely way to lose your self. Stars through cold air, in winter or in mountains, have glorious and immediate presence. It's possible to fall up.



The temperature of snow
is the wisdom of the ear,
the sole's sound as it
squeezes snow down.
The squeak in the teens:
flashback to buckle overshoes
and warm enough to play outside.
That soft-texture sound in the twenties
cries snowballs and snowmen.
Below zero the pitch sings
to the edge of a knife
and the sole curls away from
the pure clear sound of cold.


Snow is a strange business for a unadapted creature from tropical Africa, but it is lovely. The clarity of cold can be scary. It gives me enormous admiration for the adapted cousins who live outdoors around me. Chickadee is much tougher than me.



In dark,
earth turned herself white
rimmed each branch
and trunk with snow
which now falls twice
as wind and squirrel chase
surprise it from the trees.
Black caws prepare
the coming of the crows.
Across the pond lopes
a squirrel furred in jet,
tail fluffed round with spring.


The chiraroscuro of bark and snow, crow and white sky, black squirrel on the white expanse of pond--all bless my eyes with winter.


Copyright © 2004 John Caddy