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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning Earth Poems
July 2004



Barn swallows everywhere
bewilder air and eye.
One plays “Can’t catch me!”
Fledglings chase heroically,
but Mom more swiftly
swoops and jinks, something
carried in her beak. There!
She drops it. Cottonwood fluff.
She banks wide, scoops it up,
resumes the game. Tired
fledglings dart into the nests
and back out again into the melee
of fluid bodies drawing currents
and cross-currents through sky,
swooping for the prize.


Many creatures do play. Many, even some with masters degrees, are smart enough to make learning into a game.


Her shell's moss still water-dark,
she is green-black
save for yellow
on the insides of her legs
toward the plastron.

She's come to dig a hole
with strong and stubborn legs.
The thick scales of her knees
flex out as she walks
her articulated armor from
the bottom of the pond
to nose the length of my garage door.

She's come to lay soft eggs
in sand sunwarmed
in a place raccoons won't find.

Her feet all reptile knuckles,
as she folds them large scales flare,
her long claws flex,
her alligator tail scuffs behind

As she comes near I see one
long strand of waterweed stuck to her shell.
Her eyes swivel to track my
movements on the deck
where she now heads.

Close up, her eyes are orange-spoked
wheels around the pupil
which almost spin as
she introduces me to time.


When a mossback snapping turtle travels, she moves with the absolute authority of a female who has always been here, as if she were an avatar of the Goddess.


Like a white sail lost to wind the great egret
lifts from the summer green pond,
neck unkinked, and flies to the top
of a pondside birch dense in leaf.
Great wings fold as toes close upon thin branches.
Leaves flutter as if bird were wild gust.
The birch sways down, wings open, balance,
fold poised. Arched down, leaves upended,
the sapling birch reveals white bark
while the tall bird rides thin branches.
The egret twice flaps to other thin toeholds
to ride down and up and down, and cut loose
I swing cloud white and green and birch bending.


“Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better…
… One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”
--Robert Frost


This arch of fern frond
springs direct from black soil,
abrupt as Athena’s leap from the brow of Zeus,
or the swordsmen sprung from dragon teeth.
The gopher mound with springing frond
recapitulates antiquity: all beings live on
each other’s discards, what other lives can’t use;
the piled mound was a tunnel shape
soil could not imagine until
a pocket gopher showed it how
and roots found breath;
the air we breathe, transformed by plants;
the air plants breathe, transformed by animals;
countless symbioses that flow within the
interlocking families of life.


This fern of exquisite design is called Woodsia.
Its imperative is to grow through whatever life
heaps on it. A good plan.


Overwhelmed with green and growth
I taste this time like honey in the throat.
Summer swells so lush—
Green rushes toward sun.
Cast a bean, tomorrow it twines root, leaves,
and flowers white.
Let Jack climb,
I will sit and fear the Goddess here.


It is difficult to act when you are in a state of awe.



On stalks of little bluestem,
a foot below the seed, hang large
dragonflies whose wings
run half-black, half-clear.
They watch, zoom to catch flies,
return to vertical on the same stem, stiff
halftone wings like spread bats
sprinkled on grass stems through the field.

Roadside grasses nod
panicles of gold and rust,
timothy in gray cylinders, all
stirred from below by leaping
grasshopper nymphs perfect
in fresh green skeletons.

Mullein spears
are crowned with dragonflies
whose four still wings
are black, thistle blue, mica.
They sit flat and watch
with geodesic eyes.


In these dragonfly days, every pond is edged with plants hung with husks left by emerging dragons and damsels, all transformed in changing lovely colors, all with vast new eyes. These predators, this heat, evoke immense carboniferous swamps of giant horsetails and tree ferns which captured the sunlight our culture lives on.



Mist surrounds each being this dawn.
Sun soon will make an end,
but for the moment, mist is luminous,
a pearl of space that encloses
like the oyster mantles tenderly
its speck of irritant
until in the dark it rolls
itself into a source of light, this same
loveliness that now vanishes
in sun’s radiance.
As Earth unblurs I grasp again
how mayfly brief is beauty,
how nebulous, yet the mind
carries a version of such vision
complete with surge of heart.


The heart-lift hangs on, and when we see a similitude of what the mind stored, we are immersed in emotion evoked.
You could say that our responses grow richer each time, until our memories add whole symphonies of the heart to new experiences of transient beauty. And to think we fear aging!



When I faced Mama Raccoon at the feeder
she stood her ground.
She would have faced me down
had I not waved arms, hollered,
advanced two steps. She ran a few feet, turned,
stared me again with that female stare
all males learn early to fear.
Moms pass it on in all the mammal kin
and each of us milk swallowers try
to not make Mama share her eyes
in that cold stare that turns
grown bucks to fawns,
boars to squealing piglets,
knocks the high knees of giraffes,
transforms men into sweating boys
whose clothing suddenly bags.
What is more fierce than a mother? So,
being wise (and a dutiful son), I backed off,
allowed Mama Raccoon her imperative way.
She returned to sunflower seeds which
she would transform into milk for the kits
she claimed were still in the hollow oak.



Fledgling bluebirds stick with parents now,
who dart down into grasses and zip back
with wiggling bugs, blessed food,
so lovely swallowing. Each time a parent
flies back with food, the fledgling flutters
its wings to prompt the feeding. Life is good.
But watch well, little flutterwing, for
in a brief few days, flutter as you may,
no one will feed you but you.
you will be abandoned to your own hard beak.


Juveniles of all species never quite believe it’s time to go out on their own. Even as ‘abandoned’ fledglings, young birds still flutter their wings as they eat food of their own finding. One pictures young therapods vibrating in the same way some millions of years backalong.



I watch a redtailed hawk laze up a thermal,
climb spirals of clear air with small effort.
I envy this bird its climb. Spirals are not
simply gyres. They ascend, descend,
lift and fall. I’d rather climb the hawk’s spiral
than pull ribbons around an eternal Maypole.
I know we live in circles rutted with repeating feet,
but I want my circles to tilt up, somewhat like my mind
or lazing skull. I don’t want a spiral staircase
to a child’s heaven, gates and all,
just a sense now and then that I do climb.
The narwhal’s tusk twirls out and out
like a screwy unicorn. For what?
Spirals can twine round each other,
as vines do, embraced as braids woven tight in hair.
Constraint as embrace, yet each stronger for it.
Too tight hurts. I have seen ironwood trees
twist up toward light together, each
supporting each; watched
an autistic girl slowly twirl her hand and arm
up a thin invisible tree, bend back
her wrist and strike like a snake at
something hidden, over and over again.
The hawk has dwindled into a speck
which is lost. Imagine—to climb a spiral until
you lift beyond ordinary sight.


I admit to many well-rutted circles, but still aspire to ascend the spirals.



(Image by J. L. Castner, Dept. of Entomology U. Florida)

What absurd exalted vengeance I feel
for the deer fly in my palm
that I just slapped dead.
She tightened spirals around my head
and landed on my neck
which sings now with my slap.

Close, she is a marvel--delta-winged
and copper-eyed, banded wings and body.
She wanted only to ovulate.

But regrets vanish as her sister nails
me on the forehead. Blood lust
rises quick as her bite,
but oh, she gets away.
My forehead reddens, rings.


Deer flies and horse flies are close cousins. I remember well killing horse flies as a child in the water at the lake. These flies co-evolved with the large slow blood-filled mammals, so we mammals bear some responsibility for their existence. The male deer fly lives on nectar, pollen and plant juice. Why do so many females require a meal of blood? Why is our own blood lust so easily triggered?



A mole carcass lies
swollen on the deck, a cat gift
unnoticed for two warm days.
It moves.
Two huge beetles
clamber over the ripe mole.
They are new to me, a discovery.
Bright orange patches on black, like
pumpkins spotlighted against midnight.
Black and spiny legs rise and fall
in plush black fur. One beetle
crawls into the space between planks
and works on the mole from below.
A breeze steals the putrefaction.

When I Google these beetles on the web,
they become American Burying Beetles,
on the Federal Endangered Species list,
and become, as beetles go, marvels
as well as beauties. They bury
small dead birds or frogs,
or young moles like this,
lay one to three eggs in tunnels to the side.
The egg number depends on the carrion size.
They stay, live off the corpse
with their new larvae, and until
the kids pupate drive off
others who hunger toward death. They
then park the pupae in a safe tunnel
until they emerge in adult orange on black.
I am pleased that our cats are doing their part
to save the American Burying Beetle.


Gifts of beauty and intricacy are offered oddly at times. Parenting behavior is required when a couple of any species only lays one to three eggs. The insect norm is somewhere in the hundreds. Few make it to adult. We owe all scavengers a thank you.



Basswood trees are all ahum
with the buzzing of the bees
busy in the golden chalices
of flowers suddenly
open and hanging from
between broad leaves.
The flower clusters depend from
Their own narrow flower leaf. Each bell
trembles to the feeding of the bees.
Such feasting on new nectar
offered every year for
the making of such honey:
a drop upon the tongue
would thaw the very Queen of Ice.
If the basswood’s fragrance
ambushes your nose
and your eyes would seek its source,
look carefully within these flower bells
for a nectar-staggered humming bee.


Basswood flowers are known as linden flowers by the more arcane among us. They not only have a fine scent, but they make a lively tea, or should I say tisane, or should I say infusion? A basswood flower would by any other name smell as sweet.



Babies present everywhere.
Fledgling birds and toadlets
fresh from summer nest and pool.
Sudden lines of swallows fill the wires,
tiny treefrogs on night glass,
The post-disaster boomlets of our kind,
that sweeping urge, demand to live again.

Uprooted flowers insists on bloom
and making seed,
to hell with roots and leaves.
Death teaches sap to rise.

We see it and our cells cry Yes!
Continuance is all that every life demands,
more than food, water, more than memory.
It is an older need each being serves,
but none quite know it until seized.


Every now and then Earth reminds us of the meaning of priority.


Many birds stay perched in shade, beaks agape
to cool their over-heat. Meanwhile
goldfinch males about to breed are in hot
pursuit of, not females, but other males
to test fitness to breed. Trees suddenly
blaze with gold streaks that zip through limp
leaves in acrobatic chase. Not the usual
undulating flight, the males keep wings beating,
flying flat, flat out. And the high air
hosts flutter fights. Just
watching breaks a sweat. Why such
displays now as landscape bakes?
For in this heat thistles wave blue
through field and roadside. Even as goldfinches
contest the right, thistle seeds begin to set.
For this seed will feed nestlings
conceived soon, for goldfinch beaks
exactly fit the feat: pull out a tufted seed
from a gray-white August thistlehead, snip
the plume into the wind and cram the crop full
with seed the fluff was meant to carry wide on air.
For these fires of thorn and beak were forged as one.


The natural community co-evolves in a marvelous reciprocal dance, each creating each in a root cooperation. No species evolves without changing others; interlocked communities result. These golden dominance-fights stimulate the females to prepare for eggs.


The young crow perched
atop a light standard
thrusts and opens its beak
as it is skimmed
by an endless series
of young swallows
playing dive bomber.
But they do not play.
Their minds are not ours.
The young of swallow and crow
fly through time forever enemies.
Are their minds ours?


These tree swallows puzzle me, for they are cavity nesters whose eggs should be safe from hungry crows. But they must know what I cannot. In any case, we all manage to pass our hates along through time, and believe them to be necessary.



Turkscap lilies are wanton girls,
all flirty skirts flown up overhead
in a sweep of petaled wind
and naught left to imagine.
No long trumpets for the pollinator’s probe
like the tricksy Regal lily—we all know
she narrows like a cornucopia, so her target
can’t be missed--no clever platforms
like those strumpet orchid girls’
holding pollen high to brush against,
as if accidentally, the pollinator’s fur
in their perennial romance, no,
our turkscap is the boldest and most honest
lily with her wares—here wasp, here bee,
what you get is what you see, and free.


Honeysuckle flowers have been at the sun again.
They sip it up through trumpets clustered rose,
flare it out as golden music for the eye,
pistils bold beyond the pollen-painted anthers
as if notation for songs to be yet sung.
Heady nectar builds within the throat.
The fruit of sun-sip and sun song is
the ruby-throat hummingbird.


In this season synesthesias abound, my ears and eyes are wide, but I am continually struck dumb by concentrated beauty.



The little black cat trots down the path,
sees the deer wandering his yard,
freezes crouched behind blackberries,
shoulders out and head.
The deer’s hindquarters bunch and poise,
ready to leap from this still little being
with such bright fixed eyes.
The deer does a little leg dance
between wonder and flight,
left foot lifts, stamps lightly, lifts, stamps.
The deer lowers her head to catch scent,
lifts and lowers again, begins to relax.


Encounters between mammals are always interesting to other mammals, especially primates—monkey curiousity. Deer and antelope everywhere have the curiosity bump as well, as do felines.

The cat suddenly races lickety-split straight across the yard to the screenhouse deck, and watches from there. The deer continues exploring the yard, a bite of bush here, a dandelion there. All’s well that ends well.



Meadowhawk poses patiently again,
freshly freed from water life.
His larval husk still clasps a cattail stem
With a force untenanted.
I know the meadowhawk sees me well
and multiply, a thousand tiny images
of me bouncing in the facets of
the great domed eyes that cover his head
like the neocortex shrouds our older brains.
Unless I am sudden, all those iterated
school pictures of me never swing wide
the dragonfly doors of perception, so
I am not danger. I am not food.
I am not here.


Can we ever be certain of our presence? Even repeated 10,000 times by the multiple ‘simple’ eyes of the dragonfly, the vision is not recorded. Issa wrote a poem about the dragonfly’s eye. As best I recall,

in the dragonfly’s eye

And here’s Tennyson:

To-day I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew:
Thro' crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.




Sister Yarrow cools heat,
though plant of Venus, takes fever down.
Love charm beneath maiden’s pillow:
Thou pretty herb of Venus' tree,
Thy true name is Yarrow.
Now who my bosom-friend must be,
Pray tell to me tomorrow.

Strewn at weddings, stepped on, inhaled,
seven constant years.

Sister Yarrow, vulnerary
learned by Achilles from Chiron Centaur,
clotted blood on the plains of Troy,
Achillea millefolium,
Soldiers’ woundwort,
staunches moonblood too.
Her fragrance opens
nostrils, clears sinus,
Her tea heals the ailing kidney,
looses sweat.

Sister Yarrow, Knight’s Milfoil,
grown near battlegrounds,
harvested by squires before sword-clang.
Soldier’s Woundwort
clotted blood through Britain,
staunched the flow on Russian steppes,
saved riders of the Golden Horde,
sanguinary poultice,
love charm, astringent tea.

Sister Yarrow, soreheal
to Anishinabe, inhaled for headache.
She is Aztec’s ‘feather of the land,’
Navajo’s simple, ‘chipmunk tail.’
I Ching, once
Yarrow Stalk Oracle--
Book of Changes--
hexagrams and fortune found
casting yarrow flower stalks.


Forgive my wordiness. Yarrow has been with us forever, worldwide. She has blessed both body and spirit. They thought her blooms were buried with Neanderthals in Shanidar, Iraq, 30,000 years back, but turns out it may have been a much later gerbil cache. Give her gifts a thought next time you pluck a yarrow leaf to crush and inhale.