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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning EarthPoems
April 2000

 


4.3.2000

  In evening rain
the spread branches of the butternut
wear pearls
 

Around the rain-danced pond
wild turkeys wind in file through wintered grass
toward the roost.
One is far behind and flies across,
tail feathers dipping in the pond.
On the far side two toms circle,
flap their wings and spread their fans.

  As the soft rain tapers down
birches paint themselves
against dark glass again.
 

Write directly and quickly from experience at times; it enables those who struggle and get stuck when asked to write from memory. Wordsworth said his poems were "emotion recollected in tranquility," but his is not the only way.

Basho, the haiku master, said, "When you are composing, let there not be a hair's breadth separating your mind from what you write. Quickly say what is in your mind; never hesitate a moment." "Composition must occur in an instant; …it is like taking a large bite of a pear."

Here are more fine words from Basho, circa 1680:

Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo. Don't follow in the footsteps of the old poets, seek what they sought.

The basis of art is change in the universe. What is still has changeless form. Moving things change, and because we cannot put a stop to time, it continues unarrested. To stop a thing would be to halve a sight or sound in our heart.; Cherry blossoms whirl, leaves fall, and the wind flits them both along the ground. We cannot arrest with our eyes or ears what lies in such things. Were we to gain mastery over them, we would find that the life of each thing had van-ished without a trace.

Make the universe your companion, always bearing in mind the true nature of things—mountains and rivers, trees and grasses, and humanity—and enjoy the falling blossoms and the scattering leaves.


4.4.2000


1.
Last fall,
plucked by a picker from the pod,
these peas were prepared and packaged
to be seed, to promise food to me.
Three days past
I planted those peas,
hard wrinkled peas
dry as pockmarked pebbles.
Now under soil, away from light,
in the moisture-swelling night,
the peas discover round again,
proclaim the purpose and the promise of the pea.

2.
Yesterday
Cold wind chased wavelets
across the pond,
played in all directions.
Leafless treetops swayed their nets
against scudding clouds.
Today wood duck pairs write arrows on still water.
One unmated drake ducks his head,
stands on his tail to beat his wings
splashes sparks of light
into growing day.

 

How can peas be corn-y? Easy. Alliteration is enjoyed by every human tongue and ear. It's fun. Pushed like this, it's awful. But if you're young at heart, it's still fun.
Time sets our patterns. Notice language patterns such as "Last fall." "Three days past," and "Now." Using such a pattern connects writing with everyday speech, and helps anxious writers toward fluency.

 

4.5.2000

Nibbling duckweed,
A pair of blue-winged teal
float the sunrise pond.
Before each eye the drake
swims a crescent moon toward day.

 

4.6.2000

(1)
It's cold this dawn, no breakfast bugs today,
black-capped phoebe sits a pondside branch
and flicks his tail,
he calls his name again, again,
with buzzy voice he marks his space, decides,
"as long as breakfast's late today
I'll just say my name again, again, again."


(2)
Painted turtles have risen now
to the interface of pond and air,
the ancient resurrection from the mud to sun.

In these first reborn days they float,
their green heads poked into the breathing place,
and paddle round the pond
to see who else is lazing there
in surface water warmed by sun.

On lifted heads their eyes catch light.

We inevitably interpret our cousins in terms of human life. While we must remember that they have no human motivations, what's important is that connections are being created between ourselves and other lives. These bonds are infinitely more crucial to our humanity than reductionists' strident fretting about anthropomorphism.

There is no end to all the ways to celebrate the spring. As earth transforms itself, notice and note all the little changes you can find. Simple description is enough, but as appropriate, push farther and question what you see: 'Why is this particular transformation happening?' 'How long has this been going on?' and so forth—context building.

 

4.7.2000

The morning ponds are sheets of gray
calmed from winds of yesterday
that scattered wavetips into spray.

But closer to the ponds of gray
I see a hundred rippled circles play
out from lips of minnows touching air
to say “Today is spawning day.”

Transforming our narrow perceptions, teaching us what's really going on, is one of nature's favorite games. The rules are two: Be wakeful and Look carefully.

All poems have glue that holds the parts together. The main glue here appears to be the rhyme, but it's really the rhythm. Say it out loud. Forgive me all the end rhymes. The minnows made me smile and I just had to play.

 

4.10.2000

(1)
Wood drake wings beat water into white
all over morning's pond, all splash and dash
and sudden rushes at the rivals, much
ducking of heads and wing display
as new arrivals arrow down, all
to catch the lovely eye of the single hen
who chastely swims the edge.

The lonely wild goose
surrounded by such frenzied spring
will have no part of it, and snakes her head
at ducks who dare to rush too close.

(2)
Fox sparrows
dive to ground and disappear.
Sharpshinned hawk
flexes talons on the branch,
rests a moment from the hunt
concealed in bright red maple flowers.

Trust the stream of images our senses receive from earth. If you observe closely, you will find that the images surrounding an experience contain everything you need to transform raw experience into art.

For example, in (2), the red of maple flowers is the transformed red of the prey's blood that the sharpshin must, for survival, shed. But you don't need to explain the images this way. Trust them to enter the reader and make connections resonate within.

 

4.11.2000

The rotting upright trunk is full of holes
the pileated woodpecker cut with his long beak,
holes carved wide and chiseled deep.
In the trunk I find a refuge, a hollowed place
where one small tough bird,
a chickadee or junco, put its back to winter wind
and long winter night after winter night, leaving
droppings to tell the story now, in spring.
It left one gray feather there.

This little refuge gives me one:
that the woodpecker in its hunger
saved a life it neither knows about nor cares:
We live together here, and at times
we help without trying
by Earth's design.

Reading the signs of life through time is a result of close observation that enlarges us. Ask yourself, "What happened here?" "Who was here? Doing what?" "Was it sitting in this tree?" "Who rubbed this bark off this sapling?" "Are these tooth marks?" Reading sign opens up a question box that ties us into other lives, and that sense of connection and interliving is the goal.

We find evidence everywhere in nature that communities of living beings cooperate for mutual benefit. This Interliving in Earth's Household is fundamental to the ways life works.

To write this entry, I had to discover through the writing why this refuge niche moved me so. It was not just the survival struggle of one small bird, although that was sufficient. You discover what you're going to say as you are saying it, and not until then. (This is why we don't outline poems in advance.)

 

4.12.2000

Sublimations

Just after sun up, four horses
stand in glittered cold,
heads down, hoping to heat
huge bodies still winter-furred,
tack buckles crystaled still, all quiet
as frost on wintered grass.

Unfooled by April snow
the painted turtle hauls out on a log,
stretches out a cold-blooded neck
and shows me how to wait.

Every morning now in wrongtime cold, frost crystals grown by night sublime from ice to vapor, a transformation invisible to our eyes. They do not turn to water and evaporate; they change directly from solid into gas. "Sublime" is a wonderful verb; it also means to change into an exalted, superior form. Explore the other meanings of the words we use in science; many make wonderful connections with other aspects of our lives.

Observing nature closely often means long periods when nothing much appears to be happening. A close observer becomes highly conscious of the quality of stillness. This patient willingness to be calm and still is still alive in our frenetic lives; if we can emulate the basking turtle and the warming horse, we learn survival skills. Everything really is connected.

 

4.13.2000

In cold high air last morning,
a rainbow made of crystal ice and light
played ring around the sun
a diadem of every color circling gold
a halo without end.
The disk enclosed was cold and strangely gray
within the sky-bowl blue.
In this game of ring the sun
the rainbow's always open, always closed.

We all have more inside us than we know. Writing is a fine way to discover some of what we know that we didn't know we knew. When you write from nature observation, you find questions more often than answers, and those questions pull us into our existence.

When we write, we name. Powerful names create resonances inside us that reverberate for hours or days or lifetimes. For example, the name "Ring Around the Sun" bounces all over in my mind, evoking: childhood's games; the macabre 'all fall down' mirroring ancient plague; our wide associations with both "ring" and "sun;" our awe at enormous natural beauty too large for us to emulate.

 

4.14.2000

(1) 5:00 AM

Morning loud and dark
Geese play brasses overhead,
off to feeding grounds,
Pheasant struts his two-beat “Quark!
Loud and bouncing on their branches
Crows caw lovely in the dark.

(2) Later

Blue Heron sails in,
circles and banks
on huge scooped wings,
unwinds his neck and lands
on mats of pond–edge grass.
he wears the crest of spring.
Quiet he stands a long time,
unmoving. Is he looking?
Dreaming frogs?
What is in his boney mind?

 

How easy it is to hear ‘noise’ where you can hear resurgent life and joy. Learn that perceptions are often choices.

Earth is full of mysteries the human mind will never solve, nor should . Its the questions that we need, not the answers. Here are two quotes I like:

“Were I to hold the truth in my hand, I would let it go for the positive joy of seeking.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

"When the chimpanzee, Sultan, discovered how to put two sticks together to reach a banana (thus re-defining tool use, and humanity), he was so pleased he repeated the trick over and over and forgot to eat the banana." —Arthur Koestler

Applaud people, esp. kids, who forget to eat the banana.

 

4.17.2000

The pheasant in the feeder fluffs feathers
round against the cold
that crusts her world with frozen rain.
The rue anemone is closed
within the ice that gleams its petals—

two kittens on the deck crouch low
on cold and slippery paws:
they learn today as we all must
that some days earth puts on her claws.

 

4.24.2000

Evensong of Light

Arrows of light widen across the darkening water
as the wood ducks swim toward me
where I float in my frog-drenched daze,
ears engulfed with spring peepers and chorus frogs,
plus a guttural cousin who starts up now and again
and one early hesitant triller
whose voice rides solo on the soundsurf of peepers.
The frogs are all invisible, improbable as angels.

Above me dozens of silhouetted warblers
hawk for flies from every pondside tree,
golden feathers as unseen as their prey
in this dim light, but the netted branches
they fly from etch themselves against a pale sky.
After each strike they choose a new tree.

On the water below, light washes across
turtle heads poking up like thumbs
which sink back in as duck-brightened water spreads.

 

4.25.2000

As the first leaves of shrubs
unfold like green squirrel ears,
in dry leaves all around there's a rustle,
a bustle of small brown birds whose
feet leap to kick away leaves, uncover tidbit bugs,
who quick-quick hustle for more across the forest floor,
whose bright headstripes focus light,
whose white bibs flash as they hold a moment on a stem
to open beaks and pipe the pure thin song of spring,
and we know that the whitethroated sparrow
is on its way north, gracing our day.

Small migrating birds are hungry and must fuel up fast to prepare for that night's continuing flight to nesting grounds. They are all movement, nonstop. Describe the actions of animals. It's tempting to describe living beings as if they were static photographs holding still for the writer, but we are all processes more than we are objects. We literally flow through our lives.

 

4.26.2000

In the quiet cool of dawn
three loud Canada geese fly over
and circle the pond, see me and seek
other open water. Between
the hoarse brasses of their calls I hear
their strong wings whirr against cold air.

 

Basho once said, "Is it any use to say everything"? Knowing when you have said enough is always a guess. I am thrilled by the subtle sound of beating wings, but in strong writing we want to suggest feeling by showing (providing the reader the sensory detail that evoked our own emotion) and less by telling. Don't tell the reader how to feel; let the reader 'get it' or not. Some won't, and that's OK.

Back to Basho's question: Multiple things are always happening in the natural world; the artist/naturalist's job is to select from the richness. As these three geese flew over, a pileated woodpecker was deep drumming a hollow oak, a red-bellied woodpecker was drumming a higher note on a smaller trunk, and jays were hollering in their own repeated rhythm. I could have tried to link all these rhythms into something, but chose to focus on a smaller, more closely focused moment of feathers against air. 'Keep it simple' is good advice.

 

4.27.2000

Two young cats are learning bugs and flies,
Yearning after everything that moves outside
They hunt beetles in the grass, and whatever flies,
High they leap to swat them from the sky.

But in the house in dark of night
When small white moths are pulled toward inside lights,
imagine unheard tiny insect screams
while kitty claws are shredding window screens.

 

Probably the best place for rhyme is humor. When you have little to say, you can always play.

 

4.28.2000

On either end of night
the beauty of their cries:

  long after sundown two loons flew home to nest,
plaited sky with the pleasure of their voices,
 

and now in morning dark a hopeful snipe
already winnows sky, warms
the females in the marsh with the pleasure
of the voice of his wind in diving wings.

 

Be alert to synchronicity (the coincidental occurrence of events that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality). We all experience this, but are taught to dismiss it as "just coincidence." But they are fun to share, with or without theory.