If a primate wore an expression like this eagle
seems to wear, I would back up and check the exits.
But I look up another branch, and see the crow
perched there caw-caw-caw
in pure compulsion of its instincts.
If an eagle could wear an expression, I would
understand, but an eagle can’t. My primate mind
filters what I see through screens as old as those of crow:
interpretation of the face is wired,
a survival skill, so
I see an immobile beak and eye,
hear the caws, and think I know,
even as I also see I have no entry
to that fierce and far more ancient mind.
We are contradictory; we are quite content to ignore what we know, if what we see encourages our anthropomorphic bias.
Orwell called it double think; how about double see?
A red pine needle pair soaks up sunlight
to sink into snow,
while the crystalline snow bouncing photons
reflects all it can.
Say the needles want soil, to rejoin the circle.
Say snow wants form, to stay hard.
Sol does not care. I do.
I’m with the needles, aimed toward soil,
a spread finger victory sign.
Even dead needles have their role in life’s yearning for Spring.
It is that February winter when memory tries
Two new black swallowtails dance
through a patch of Indian paintbrush—
they do not land, they flutter-hover, unreel
tongues to taste, no nectar, fly to the next bright red.
Mind’s eye strobes stiff red flower,
blurred orange eye where beating hind wings join,
rows of yellow crescent moons edge four wings,
white dots walk the abdomen, all this
texture shifting, opalescent, as light
rebounds from tiny colored scales.
Black swallowtails are a dream of summer revisited. Their wings never stop beating as they visit paintbrush, like the wings of all young beings.
At 20 degrees below zero, the house is chill.
Spirit the color of old bone, I play a CD
of Morning Songbirds, an hour of dawn chorus
sliding toward high sun, meadowlark, robin,
the stereo swoop of a passing bee
over calls of chickadees feeding.
It is persuasive—I begin to be warmed.
Over the laptop’s screen, something slowly moves
to catch my eye. It is the undulating tail tip
of our Burmese cat lifted high,
waving in his dream of birds
like a charmed cobra weaving from its basket,
as the little cat dozes on the oak radiator top.
I am fooled, the cat hunts, we together
warmed by the chorale of remembered dawn.
Jem’s tail would not engage the camera in the moment I celebrate today. Forgive. Few of us are in complete charge of our tails.
Night snow carried on a light wind shapes
new the corrugations of red oak bark.
Black crevasses where sleep insects
nuthatch beaks have not winkled out,
surface plates that nurse gray lichens.
The plates curve up at edges,
waiting to be pried,
angled this way and that
off the trunk’s lean.
My hands want this texture,
rich with hard bark edges, soft cusps of snow.
But as soon restore the mayfly
spread-winged on water to the sky.
Beauty is so often ephemeral and does not bear being touched.
Hoarfrost reveals each quaking aspen twig
against red oaks themselves costumed
in dense coats of young crystals about to
wake to sunlight and discover how to melt
their angled facets back into breeze and sky,
again enthralled by the sublime.
Water magic creates crystal snowflakes
countless times every spin of Earth,
but they are essence of ephemeral.
Most instantly break as they collide
with other flakes or twigs or a sweater,
like this six point star with burly tines
that shape with every microweather shift:
Say a breath from human lungs,
say a fingertip too radiantly close,
a slight rise in the angle of the sun,
and a drop of water gleams cabochon
upon the sweater ground.
So the moment passes, but
this water magic is alive in me
as long as mind keeps memory
crisp as today’s snowflakes
falling through my eyes.
On the last October day, a leaf slides
to the silent mirror pond.
As it touches, things change.
The small impact ripples outward,
lively as leaf in breeze.
The ripples perturb a host
of floating lives, spin spheres
of one-cell algae, roll minute
ostracod shells round twice,
thrash a moment the antennae
of little cyclops and daphnia, roil
free bacteria all topsy-turvey.
Expanding ripples strum the drum ears
of frogs trying to become torpid,
and tap lightly the membranes
of the great mother snapper
buried in mud six feet down.
They are ignored by the green heron
crouched on the floating log
as ripples damp down and vanish
into time, except in my mind,
and for now, in yours.
Across a surface of fresh snow
a vole last night plowed a furrow
body deep through sub-zero cold.
A small body can’t long survive such air,
so such trails quickly dive below,
snuggle through insulating snow where
the furrow becomes tunnel dug by nose.
Throughout the biosphere, males learn again, again, that females do the choosing.
Recycled from Valentines 2007.
A redtailed hawk sits in an oak,
looks from side to side.
Her mate perches a few feet below.
Say she’s fed well, and is not hunting.
Suppose her sharp eyes see what I see,
swollen buds responding to light, all about,
ready to break from hard bud sheaths.
Red oak buds begin to transform
from brown drab to the brilliant red
of its emerging leaves. Life swells,
the redtail feels her insides stir.
Wind has swept this pool snow-free,
but where ice bares an edge, snow stays.
Through the length of ice, snow has drawn arcs,
or ice drew arcs and snow painted them.
It’s a puzzle. Why a hundred yards of curves?
Why not? The cattail fruit is a cylinder,
the seed stalk of grass a straw,
grass blades curve to snow,
the very ice and snow are phases
of Earth’s circle around the sun.
Do ice and snow recall being raindrops
cycling endlessly, or human tears, the same?
Why not? As Black Elk reminded us,“Everything wants to be round.”
Cold, yes. Snow, yes.
Light makes all the difference.
It falls from the west this afternoon
with hints of sunset in its eyes.
It falls on the tangle of osier brush
whose bark already shines burgundy,
even through snow.
Such an exuberant joy this tangle of stems
that can’t be seen without snow,
each branch pushing,
stretching to light for its leaves,
light that rounds out leaf buds,
light that is growing our days.
A woodpecker hole in a long dead trunk
is common enough here, where many trees
died when the wetland grew—one of those
long narrow marshes that runs north and south,
nothing to break the wind. A little snow already
swirls around the old trunk’s feet.
This hole was a nest, padded with wood chips
on the floor for the woodpecker’s white eggs,
protection from the beaks and jaws of predators.
This winter night it will be full of small birds
again, saving their heat from a windchill of fifty below.
Chickadees for sure, maybe a nuthatch, tree swallows,
whoever fits through the hole and can handle a crowd.
And just maybe a woodpecker or two.
A branch of sumac, dead, bark off.
In winter air this wood presents
memories of mandibles in shadow galleries.
Small white larvae ate them, white and ringed
with dark button heads.
Some were loose and fancy-free,
a few were students of geometry.
One cut a sweeping curve,
stopped each day to hollow arches
on the north side of its groove.
The frass that blocked the passages
behind them has entered wind and soil,
found even smaller flesh to wander through.
Our human eyes find sign and pattern here,
and if scant meaning, a renewed awe.
Mother Nature has something to say,
and she’s equipped herself to say it.
I walk up to her tongue in a cold wind,
uncover my ears, and listen
with total attention.
I hear wind rattling stubborn oak leaves,
try to find meaning there—rain stick?—but
she wouldn’t say that.
I hear wind blowing over hollow tops
of burned birches--low chords
hummed like an old cook fixing food—that
eludes me too. She doesn’t speak to me.
I am cold. I am not chosen.
It’s just what I feared:
She’s sticking her tongue out at me,
maybe you too.
Nuthatch twinkle-toes up and down
the corrugated oak and spirals round,
winkles out from under bark
insects, spiders and their eggs
with her tilted pry bar beak.
If snow coats the surface of a branch,
she runs upside-down along its bottom.
She runs headfirst down the butternut,
squirrels see her beak, and leap.
Nuthatch bends her neck in ways
that make mine wince, but
the corners of my smile lift
and linger on her lively toes.
A young brown pelican cups wind
to leap from water to sky, an abrupt bird, huge
but hollow-boned, light, fisher-in-training
who courses low over surf in a family queue
and plunge-dives to scoop up running fish
with beak wide. Pouch drained, fish slid down,
she cups wind, a sudden force, to leap again to sky.
A walking deer carves a dance into snow,
with each step drags one hoof point
just enough to cut an arc shadow deep.
This trail has a sashay feel; these curves
carry me to Chile, where women walking
curve lovely arcs like these into air,
and onto watchers’ mouths.
Many deer drag their feet a little, often bucks, but usually in straight lines, not curves. Every kin has its dancers.
Aspen catkins have begun to break
from gleaming bud scales.
The furry flower tip swells out
like a baby rabbit’s first tentative
look from out the dark den mouth.
Twigs with glowing buds
shape lumpy figures against blue sky.
Buds form an open spray,
their twigs show history.
Years of circle leaf scars
punctuate the bark, each
thickened loss a cost to symmetry.
Some twig scars are flower scars--
for us, a concept of ambivalence,
we do sometimes regret our flowerings--
but scars as irrelevant to the large-toothed aspen
as stretch marks to mature women.
Both go on leafing green, and in spring wind,
fling sun in all directions.
Wind is winter’s matchmaker.
For long hours of dark, two drifts yearned
toward the other, felt wind
catch crystal on crystal,
stretch drift edges into lips
that grew slowly closer all night
until finally two drifts kissed, and wind
spun a crystal spiral into dawn.
Wind is only allowed to play matchmaker in leap years.
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