Morning Earth Poems
When last week our snow was still alive.
It painted contours of the land,
drew the steep of hill and flat of pond.
Dark ranks of tree trunks rose from the white sweep
to shape terrain for eyes.
Now the snow is pools on ponds,
water stands on ice,
and hills unshaped in eyes,
the uniform browns of fallen leaves
shallow hills and flatten vision's reach.
Still, when I kick leaves aside
the wet green moss brightens
my eye, expands my pupils in a small rebirth.
Transformation is a major aspect of Earth, and it doesn't matter whether we like it or not. Change never asks permission. Notice the results of transformations that can lead you toward acceptance. Consider the ability to accept (and even cherish) transformations as a survival skill.
Up late, the crescent moon blushes
low this morning in the eastern sky.
Through cold air stars burn bright.
Soon this tall world will vanish into light.
After sun had bathed dry leaves for hours
beneath leafless oaks
the turkey flock settled on their breasts
to bathe in sun themselves
and catch the warm from leaves—
mounds of oriental tapestry
sprinkled through the trunks of trees.
Think about how words do their work. Communicating what you see in writing requires 'painting' with words. These 'word paintings' then enter others through the eyes and ears and become visible inside other minds.
Seven geese last evening arrowed over me,
bugles and quick-beats strong and low, breasts
and underwings all golden in the falling sun:
the voice and surge of risen earth
Think of making art as Celebration, whether written, drawn, painted, danced or sung. When we learn these potent ways to express our joy in life, we learn survival skills.
Small Things Springing
Beneath blushed bud-scales,
maple flowers swell toward light,
Beneath black pond ice
minnows fan their fins, waiting
Under woodland leaves, fungi
wake and thread the soil,
the heads of earthworms gleam.
Deeper underground, toads dig
upward through dark
as they have for all uncounted time.
Write and think about what is not obvious, what is going on behind the scenes. Go a little deeper than the surface of sight. Encourage in every way your sense of Deep Time, the almost forever nature of Earth's cycles. This helps develop an earth-centered consciousness, rather than a strictly human-centered way of seeing, and being.
The female harrier
across pure sky
and over and over
cries her mystery.
Back of the marsh
in the old redtail nest
the horned owl hatchlings
hear her cry and blink
their large new eyes.
Yesterday sweet noise all around:
buzz and trill and chip,
drum roll on the trunk,
chortle of the red-belly,
cardinals' whistle and song.
Now in wind and snow and sleet
and last night's freezing rain
the day sprawls stunned
small birds sit in feather balls,
no song is sung.
until the pileated woodpecker comes
to laugh it off—
he rides the swinging feeder
in blowing snow,
red cap loud as laughter,
and now the crows sail in,
sweet noise all around.
Ten degrees cold.
Geese fly over frozen ponds.
Redwinged blackbirds have
flocked up again, surrendered
to the safety of the quiet crowd
that fills the pond-edge elm,
two hundred blackbirds
sprinkled down every branch
no longer flashing orange wing bars
so they will not provoke the flock
which suddenly leaps into sky
like whirling smoke
that dances as one black being
born to wheel and turn and counterturn
and sprinkle down upon the elm again.
If we pay attention, nature provides us with the images that heal. Look beyond the obvious. Often, that simply means looking awhile longer.
This dawn, redpoll finches feed
as the east burns gold—
the great living globe of fire ignites
the red caps and ripe beaks
of these little fires
as they fuel the travel north again
to the place of birth
to pass the fire on.
Little/Big or Microcosm/Macrocosm is one of our oldest tools for thinking. Discover the stream of similarities that flows between the large and the small. Earth teaches us that everything really is connected; one job of the poet is to find and celebrate those connections.
Gray sky, gray day.
frost on the roof and
ice on the ponds, flat gray.
Ghost-leaves on the ironwoods, though,
As light climbs sky it's seeping blue.
Colors wash bark, lichen oranges, lichen greens,
and moss all
thank the eye for seeing,
and the flower bud of maples insists on red.
Outside wind blows
old curled leaves across the frozen pond,
and I shiver
Before dawn in bed
when wind howled the eaves,
I burrowed low
only my nose showed, so
our kitten Beau
walked up my chest
(which he knows he owns)
and licked my nose
until it glowed
against the cold.
Sun for a longer time
from a higher place
turns snow to vapor,
even in this zero cold.
This longer higher sun
yesterday let the ponds
wink and laugh in light
as flat ice fell away,
even in this zero cold.
Today the ponds are flat again,
but wrinkles in the ice preserve
the winks of yesterday.
The sky is clear, and today this
sun for a longer time
from a higher place
will thin the ice until wild geese
break it with their throats
even in this zero cold.
Compare and contrast yesterday and today—this thought pattern is as old as our kind. In any writing, "Then and Now" create a simple pattern for words to fill.
On crisp mornings when we were small
as earth rolled around the sun
and winter fled the light of day,
but froze the puddled snowmelt overnight,
as we walked to school we crunched delight,
we stepped on all that final puddle ice
to prove that we could banish winter.
To crush thin ice was crackling joy
and proved our morning lives.
Write from memory at times. What event or observation of today reminds you of when you were small. Remember that people of any age accurately perceive their lives as a whole long lifetime that stretches back into the mists of beginnings.
Like Big/Small, and Near/Far, Then/Now is another "built-in" language and thinking pattern that enables writing.
On this first official day of Spring
I am wakened by the laughing bird
who each year migrates through:
A bold cascade of five repeated notes
sung from somewhere close,
pond's edge, marsh or woods.
I don't know how we've named this bird,
but it makes no difference to the truth.
Clear as the bright cascade he sings
that wakes this sleepy brain,
his name is Spring.
The advent of spring and its rebirth are always worth celebrating. However, do not "write about Spring." That will yield bland stereotyped poems with all the personality of an Easter bunny. Instead, write about a specific moment of personal experience that spoke to you of Spring. Strong writing springs not from ideas, but from direct experience.
Geese are bowing in the pond,
each to each, bowing low,
asking with their curved necks.
Behind them wood ducks pose
in the splendor of their feathers, all
reflected in the morning mirror where
for the millionth year
geese are bowing in the pond.
A sense of deep time is a gift. Think about how long the actions you observe have been repeating themselves on this Earth where we belong. The goal, again, is to know something of what life is, what we are, to what and whom we are connected, and where we've been.
Nuthatch Gets It Right
That bird is walking
upside-down the basswood tree:
he lifts his black-capped head,
peers down his beak at me,
performs two nasal "beeps,"
and walks a sideways wheel
around the tree, and finally
he turns himself around,
and downside-up he walks
up the basswood tree
the way it's supposed to be.
When other creatures make you smile, play with the moment. Share the smile by casting it into words. Encourage silly writing sometimes, but ask writers to ground it in real experiences. Earth offers laughs enough.
Two mallards arrow down
upon the mirror pond,
the water rolls the arrow-wake
in liquid silver for a moment,
smoothes reflected birches.
Ice is three days gone,
and six feet under silver,
painted turtles start to blink.
Learn to 'see' beyond the surface of your observations. You will discover that you already know more than you are aware you know. So much of teaching in ecology and art is not about "new" knowledge, but rather a process of bringing to awareness how very much you already know.
As the pheasant flies onto the feeder
bluejays squawk and flee.
Above them in the trees,
crows bounce on their branches
with each delicious chorus of their caws.
Just before dawn the morning song
is strong from all directions
the loud hoarse horns of wild geese
loving this nesting,
the staccato rattle of woodpecker
loving this old dead breakfast tree,
The sudden Quark-Quark of the pheasant
loving his beauty and his hens,
while under all this loud,
the piercing songs of cardinal and chickadee,
of redpoll and of song sparrow
of finches turning gold
and melody of redwing flashing orange,
all loving life's fire,
all being life's fire
burning in song for dawn.
As ponds warm in the day, woodfrogs have begun. Spring has sprung. It is not possible to ignore such blessing; it must be celebrated. Observe with more than your eyes. Sit outdoors and simply listen, eyes shut. Active listening requires some stilling of the internal yammer. Dawn and dusk are best times. Mid-day is poor.
In open woods on fallen leaves
unhidden by long grasses,
a pheasant hen tests her mate.
When he gets too close she strolls away,
when she gets too far he races after her,
twinkling his legs like a sanderling
running up the beach from waves.
She plays it cool, he plays the fool
lost in the surge of spring
Hold the mirror of nature to the human face. Our animal cousins are not humans, though, and we should not impose human values and attributes upon them ala Disney. However, our kinship is often clear in their behavior. When we observe carefully, we ruefully recognize ourselves in others and shake our heads with a smile.
clatters through the marsh.
It's woodfrog time.
Now that sun warms the shallow ponds
are clacking to the girls again,
a serenade of rattling castanets
that gives hope to every lover
who tries to sing in spring, but croaks.
Days, she swims silent on the pond
where the pair she completed
bowed to each other and
mated in spring for years.
Nights now, as I lie in bed,
this desolate goose flies over the house
and through my heart in darkness,
calling forlorn, forlorn.
The essential problems of living beings are shared. This is not attributing human personality to other animals. Wild geese mate for life, and when one dies, the bond remains. To learn empathy for the others is to enter a richer humanity.
Night is thick again with song.
The single cries of peepers
pierce the serried trills
of chorus frogs while wood frogs punctuate.
So rich their need below such distant stars.
All right, small friends,
Who ate the crocus down,
leaf and flower all,
who ate the crocus right to ground?
What nibbler in the night
has such a taste for beauty?
such a tooth so sweet for spring?
Listening to night is an essential observation skill and joy. We are too often unaware of the richness of night life, when many lives are busy. Watch and listen in the daily dark of earth.
Keeping a sense of perspective is crucial to our relationships with other lives. If a mouse pregnant with her first litter after winter decides my crocus are delicious, should I rant and rave? Or should I enjoy the fact that beauty can feed us different ways?