At the small cattail marsh eight
red-winged blackbirds announce
pride of place from cattail stalks
pecked clean. First sings the bird
nearest the road, then another,
and so on all the way back
to where the hayfield greens. They
sing each round in shifting sequence.
A last male flies in haste to his little
place in back, lands sideways on the stem,
opens bill and breaks wide three ok-a-lees
In quick succession. Must be new to epaulets.
The rest respond with one call
and sing the marsh whole. In the dusk
another black bird flies in low
from the horse pasture full of bugs,
disappears into her nest below the first singer.
She chucks once from the nest, and
Sudden female voices chuck and check from
every mass of cattails topped by a male
swaying on a stem.
Redwings are polygynous. Males arrive weeks before the females and stake out territories. The males sing the females to them, flash epaulets and spread their tails, show off their territories. If a female is pleased by potential nest sites, she stays. If not, off she goes to another’s epaulets and cattail patch.
The pond earns the bright arrows of morning,
first the tip where the wood duck points,
then twin wakes of water churned to light,
as ripples expand and gently
collide and damp each other down.
Two drakes swim a stiff circle round each other
next to shore, strike off across water
to where wind pushed the young duckweed.
Pond earns sharp beauty, wood ducks feed.
How charismatic are the small unattended
lives of forest floor where little things spring up
from fallen leaves. Meadow rue is opening now,
pink stems push water into buds, into veins of tiny leaves,
each opening the first and always time like wings
of small green butterflies held to dry in sun, still hold
translucent hints of red, as chloroplasts multiply their green
to grow the earth and feed again her open mouths.
These small leaves bud-folded, packed like dancers’ silks on tour, now unfold onstage. Meadow rue is a rich gift and reliable, for the scallop shapes of leaves, the way they gather light, and especially for the dance they do in slightest breeze. Charismatic miniflora.
In sudden warm again,
how the wasps and bees flicker
through chalices of nectar
created just for them. How
the voices of running children
float upon the southern breeze,
pitched as golden in their sound
as the pollen-laden legs of wasps
and bees are to our spring eyes.
After a week of freezing nights, we are redeemed. Love the bells of synesthesia in kids’ voices.
All this pushing up and out into the light,
flower buds, infant leaves, sumac shrubs, red oak trees.
These vegetable births are all fuzzed,
white fuzz of the calyx,
of the backs of emerging leaves.
This fuzz must ease the journey into light,
hold close day’s heat against Spring nights.
We animals are born slippery, our passage eased
the old wet way whether we are born in den in dark,
break out of eggs, wet pin-feathers spiked,
push hooves through membrane,
or just pop out of seahorse papa’s pouch,
all wet, all slick, sometimes a slime.
I think I’ll opt for fuzz next time.
How different we are, flora and fauna. How much the same. Chloroplasts make all the difference. I know, let’s make ourselves some photosynthetic symbionts and bring the Green Man back.
I have met a fungus with a smile, not
my smile, the puffball’s smile. At first
I saw a crack, a slash across the sphere.
As I bent to where it lay on grass,
we smiled each to each.
Say it is a smile, and why not?
This ball is pregnant with six jillion spores
about to waft through breeze
to guarantee the puffball tribe.
This puffball labored through long Winter
to reach this dry pinnacle of purpose,
this crack of smile so well-deserved.
Smile and the Earth smiles with you. Nature is ever the mirror held up to the human face. Even fungi get to be a bit silly in the Spring. Puffballs are mycorrhizal symbionts of trees. I’d smile too.
Today a green treefrog sang
from high in a maple over my head.
A cousin sang first from pond edge,
and the tree frog above me swells
his throat balloon and plays it out
as his suction-cup fingertips
hold him to the bark.
Sounds of evening:
Across the marsh, wild turkeys bark
like feisty dogs, the next-door rooster
joins in, a red-bellied woodpecker
raps staccato on a naked trunk,
a cascade of laughter peals
from the pileated woodpecker,
phoebes announce between flies, and over
my head this inventor of song,
this little green treefrog sings for love.
Frogs sang long before the dinosaurs, eons before birds. The photo is from summer, of course. I don’t climb.
Now merrybells ring-in yellow
as if they just invented it. What catches in me
is the sweet green curve of stem
from which the bell depends, catches me
with a life’s pantheon of curves in stone,
in fur and feather, scale and skin.
The merrybell curve pierces a green leaf
as it heads earthward, and the leaf enjoys.
Yellow petals twirl a bit, like a dancer’s skirts.
The curve the bell sings from is not tense
like an deer’s, not gymnast muscular,
but is cousin to the curves air-drawn
by dancers’ hands,
and that relaxed although full-charged.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks have returned, and orioles. Any day now hummingbirds—it’s been cold for them. Warblers flick through perception like something caught in your eye, and vanish. And on the forest floor, merrybells!
Phoebe sings eponymously,
but his song is not euphonious,
too much of a buzzy rasp,
as if all the insects phoebe
catches have left chitin in his throat.
Over and over phoebe names
his song. You could say
that very early in the day
phoebe sings monotonously,
Where would we be without Latinate words? Long words that are their own academic reason for existence, words that beg the question, words that obscure while they tie the tongue. Hoity-toity words not for the hoi polloi. I hear that Phoebe sang mornings from the flagpole on Huck’s raft.
A goose leaves the hummock grass, steps
back into the pond. Lazy, sunny
part of day. No one feels like work.
The goose lifts each large black foot,
stretches, and tucks each up under feathers.
Her body is sail, her keel the deep
goose breastbone. I smile
as the small breeze blows
the unmoored boat
she has become
Every day I see what I’ve never noticed before. Her mate in the grass watched her drift downwind for a time, honked once, stepped into the pond and swam after.
Great egret frogs this morning,
carefully lifts and places back-hinged legs,
looks below the surface chop to aim his sudden
strike! He flips his catch, opens up and takes it
all the way down that long, hinged neck, a small
swelling traveling a feathered chute. For
chicks are in the nest, and frog will regurge
into their spiky-feathered squall. How
golden is this beak in sunlight, how black
these legs and eyes.
Predators are beautiful and terrifying in their clarity.
They stir us up in ancient ways.
In those moments when sun flashes out from clouds,
I see that leaves have grown enough to dapple
light and spatter it on the forest floor,
ever shifting, now gleams a spidersilk
stretched between young leaves half-grown,
now sparks a raindrop caught in moss, very
air dances light and leaf-small pats of shade
until clouds snuff sudden-sun again. And such
is the promise of the greening, this
dapple tossed by the surfaces of leaves
unfurled from buds grown just after leaf-fall.
Say “dapple” out loud. Again, please. What a fine experience of voice, this word, this spill of light and shade it names. Mouth it.
This small bud carries
the history of a star, they say,
that one day burst open like a firework
for gargantuans in a cosmos
long before time. But to this bud’s surprise
and mine, no deer plucked it from its cold stem
December last, and when days warm,
the bracts will relax, and an orange
azalea flower will open to our sun
like a slice of that timeless one.
The azalea flower is such a slice, of course, as is our sun. Why is it, do you suppose, that beauty is the insistent emergent property of the universe at every scale?
Troubles and gods come in threes,
and so does trillium--three petals,
three sepals, three leaves, three seeds,
trillium triune. Trillium grandiflorum is
a lady elegant and wise. She knows
that rain has spattered her petals with
a bit of soil, but chooses not to notice,
lifts her head. No troubles with these threes.
She knows what counts. The bees won’t care.
To germinate, these three seeds need to be a hand-span under soil. Trillium worked the planting out with ants, at first with three bright queens, but as coevolution waltzed down eons,
every daughter ant piled on. Trillium learned to grow a fragrant ant-snack (elaiosome) attached to each seed, so the seduced ants carry seeds into the nest, eat the treat, discard the seed underground, where it sprouts and seeks light.
The hollow drainpipe moans all night with rainflow,
the song of a long tubular drum
with some quality of drone like
a digeridoo of metal, not wood.
Beneath the jolt of light through sleeper’s eyes,
Beneath the rolls of thunder,
a steady undertone, a hum
of water falling down a drum.
But as the storm recedes, the dark is blessed
with the sweet sudden trilling of tree frogs and toads
who have just hopped into ponds,
ballooned their throats, and hope
the females hopped as fast
and will swim to them where they release true song.
Night intertwines the natural and the man-created worlds. The result is often more interesting than sad.
A small dead tree. A hole, a hollow ten feet up.
Tree swallows have made it theirs, this spring.
Mother clings to bark at nest entrance, her
mate sits a nearby twig. They are splendid
metal blue, head and back, wings and swallowtail,
chin and breast pure white.
Once I watched a pair play Feather.
She begins, for she is finder of feathers
and nest architect. She flies high, a feather in beak,
lets go. He swoops in from sunlight to catch it,
circles high, drops it, and repeat, until they tire.
Today I watch them feed
in eye-spinning arabesques of wings.
I watch them breast-bathe upon the pond.
They race across silver, just touch wet
and rise to sky, shaking off bright drops.
Soon their bright breasts will wear gray from all their rubbing of the nest-hole edges as they make endless trips in and out to feed insistent nestlings.
This is the green with
a thousand new names,
This is the green after
blessings of rain,
This is the green
against bark wet dark,
This is the green of
the beetle that jewels your hand,
This is the verdure of
lichens old as the oaks,
These are the greens linked
by spidersilk gleams,
This green is the foliate face
that laughs out of time,
This is the burnished
green heron's back
as it shadows a moment
the emerald pond,
These are the greens
breathing here now
in west light falling toward down.
This time of leafing is the green epiphany. These greens of rebirth in late afternoon light are right now wondrous, and so sensual. The Green Man is irrepressible.
There are no words for the power of this night-song
spilling music of the elders from the pond.
There were no words so strong,
there were no words at all the first
hundred million years frogs and toads
sang in spring, filled bagpipe throats
and slowly trilled out song.
But once upon a night way down the backalong a furry mammal
man leaped around a campfire and sang the story
of small singers hopping to the ponds, with
his ululating voice alone. The clan cried out
and let night air touch teeth.
Then when words arrived in human kind,
once upon a night a shaman spoke of frog and song,
tried to catch in words the power of their elder music
that had always spilled across the night
and thrummed the hearts of man becoming man.
He couldn’t catch it. No more can I, for
this power of the elder throats
that has always brightened night is mystery
we can perform but cannot net.
I do sleep well borne up by this doubled song. Current singers are mostly toad and treefrog, elders all.
Wild columbine has hung her bells out to rain,
her gold-topped fools-cap bells
that ring the child inside
who woke with them in forest clearings
in his true spring lost in time
who remembers wanting them to ring,
and knows now that they did.
Wild columbine in bloom is a kind of coming home for a Northwoods boy. The wild is inside.
When the darker velvet pattern
on the petal of azalea
emerges into sight, bangs open
my mind soars.
Have I stumbled to a pattern meant for bees?
The figure is a vase of mystery,
a fountain springing
from the center of the flower.
The figure is a map for different eyes,
“Here be pollen gold.”
At times privileges are extended to those with limited sight, such as myself. If I had not seen this pattern on a enlarged digital image, I probably would never have noticed it. I think I’ve stumbled on a phrase of the true language of the flowers.
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