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John Caddy
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John Caddy's

Morning Earth Poems

January 2004


Old Year dead, slate clean,
the New Year invites resolve.
Begin in metaphor: the tree
eats barbed wire,
swallows it in dead wood. Yes,
it leaves scars, but once acute
in living tissue, the pain of barbs
cannot now be felt.
Swallow barbwire deep. Be
the tree: Have no tongue
to worry swallowed barbs.
Grow yourself around them.
Scars attest,
scars honor living,
scars are the way.
Let tongue dream song.
Sing of scars.


Perhaps the most foolish advice we offer is “put it behind you.” The cultural fantasy is that we can slip-slide away from the pain of experience, duck it. The denial is of our human strength.



Shadows of the moon
walked the trees all
the compass round last night.

Shadows of the moon
cast magic on the snow
in the still that fifteen below zero brings.

It seems that nothing moves
nor could, but that’s romance.
Through a night this long this cold, birds

shiver in their hollows, deer
roam their turf, browse buds and bark.
In the den foxes curl, keep
plumes to nose, retain life’s heat.

Through a night this long this cold
the old hard cull goes on. The weak
let go and tumble from the tree
into the moon-glowed snow.


I am so glad to be indoors, luxuriant in heat made by burning ancient sunlight Earth stored up for epochs, eons uncountable. In this cold Janus month it’s hard to see both faces of the threshold god. Without the cull, no creatures could have adapted to live here; we know that, but still…


A woodland jumping mouse
graced the driveway in the dark,
left tracks in new snow.
Her long tail cut shallow furrows
between the prints of her enormous feet.
Her tail streamed back from her body
to balance her long leaps.
But what’s she doing out of bed?
She’s supposed to hibernate.
We must read different books.

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,
Drink deep or touch not the Pieran spring”

Alexander Pope


The rabbit flees into dark
when I snap on light, leaving
a glimpse of two bright eyes.
Should I be caught in this spill
of light under the feeder, like
yesterday’s deer, this morning’s rabbit,
what would my eyes reflect
as I startled into night?
And whose would be the eyes
that watch my flight?


There, but for the grace of timeand transformation, go I. This mystery of becoming Other of an instant fits well with the dark of January mornings. So much perception centers on the eyes.


Water wears her winter guises,
Wears all the faces of
the infinite surprises of
each shift of a degree,
in still or scant breeze,
new crystals in
from sheer air,
elaborating hexagons
of ice on all the surfaces of night
to gleam the sunrise eye.

There are few experiences more marvelous than the crystal transformations we call frost. I am water delighting in the phase changes of my element in cold weather, from vapor to liquid to crystal. We are water grown conscious--our brains are 90% water--we are intricately organized.


It’s cold out there, and optimistic.
Any night now, dark will sound
with great horned owls calling to
mates, even on those nights
when they wear caps
of thickly falling snow.
Barred owls soon will spread
five beat hoots, uncanny
whines and whinnies
across still winter night. Unleafed
trees have heard these owl
sonorities since the owl kinds emerged
from time deep beyond our reckoning.
When green tree buds begin leaf-out,
and catkins drop from aspen,
fledgling owls and squirrels will prove
the optimism of the cold and dark.


Many cousins mate now in the cold, for they know in their optic nerves that spring is on the way. Their blood sings with longing daylight.


The redpoll’s crown flashes at the feeder,
first one, then a dozen crowding down from Canada
like a tide of sparks against the winter.
As long as wings can beat,
these little finches will fly south
when food grows scant up north.
Where birch and aspen stand,
and thistles still rise from snow
redpolls dance down from sky
to feed on buds and seeds.
These little sparks
live winter on an edge as sharp
as a missing pension check.


How tough these small lives are, how wonderfully adapted. They can maintain a body temperature of 105 degrees even when the air temperature drops far below zero. These tiny finches can maintain a temperature more than 100 degrees warmer than the air. In daylight they store seeds in a crop which they eat and digest all night. How maladapted are the wingless human homeless.


Sickle moon, bright cold stars,
furnaces implausible
in this utter night, yet
this clear cold gave our Sol
such January light as to inflame
translucent petals and golden anthers
of the Christmas amaryllis
forced upon my windowsill.


The joy of cold is clarity. Amaryllis was a minor divinity, a nymph, who for the sake of an unrequited love, pierced her heart with a golden arrow for each of thirty nights, on the advice of Delphi’s oracle. When the object of her love opened his door finally, he discovered a flower rich with crimson petals which had sprung from her heart’s blood. Amaryllis had bled to death. My advice: Be clear. Avoid Delphi.


Snowflakes fall in morning clusters,
lift here, ease there
in small breeze vagaries.
Toward ground some flakes
hesitate to touch, swirl up as if afraid,
but those that land on wide backs
of horses simply drop and stay,
and somehow do not melt.


Curiosity keeps me going, along with a general sense of mystery. So much I, and we, will never know, and that’s OK. The trick is to fret not about what we don’t know, but to use wisely what we do know.


The cock pheasant slowly walks through trees
to the edge of the pond, stops, looks out
across all that white, looks up, around,
then bolts across the empty snow
below the perilous sky, long strides
roadrunner quick, feathers glorious,
tail high, until he vanishes
in willow brush from all keen eyes.


All who have been prey fear the open. At night rabbits cross the pond in great leaps in fear of owls. In daylight, grouse and pheasant run from hawk and eagle. Humans who have been prey fear the open and being so. But how wonderfully quick we all are.


At last, a strong snow,
already slumping from the trees.
I think of all the tunnels being dug
undersnow, where voles can travel
safe from owl and crow.
Grouse and pheasant capture heat in
snow caves burrowed to fit.

I think of light under ice more dim,
more blue. Uncaring fish just fan
their pectoral fins and stare at
bubbles shining under ice.
The rest of water-life rests asleep.

Squirrels can tunnel now from tree to tree
where leaps won’t do, and excavate
acorns frozen within layered leaves.
Pregnant female squirrels pull fur
from their own pelts to line
the birth rooms in their high leaf-nests,
for the birthing time is soon for all.


Young unpacked snow is a fine insulator, like a down duvet. The old blanket metaphor is true. I wonder if the Inuit use it? Or the Sami in Lapland? Or the Chuchi in Siberia? A cognate of ‘furs’? Words are endless.


Fresh snow, fresh tracks,
cold night wanderers.
Here splay-thumbed opossum
searched for sunflower crumbs.
Two precise lines of pheasant tracks
march up the driveway to feed.
Cardinals leave four lines thin
as January air. Rabbit always crosses
my drive, never follows it. Here
he stopped, poked around.
Small open tunnels of vole
on the surface of snow,
where the vole dared brief cold and dived
back under, between the holes
a wispy filigree of feet.
Out back on the pond, wing tips
mark snow at the end of a line of tracks.
Barred owl found food to build eggs.


Reading sign feels mildly awkward sometimes, like spying on neighbors (not that you ever would!). Thus we gather the gossip of night.



Copyright © 2004 John Caddy