waft on every breeze.
wild lettuce seeds,
waft on every breeze.
seeds of salsify,
wild lettuce seeds,
waft on every breeze.
seeds of salsify,
wild lettuce seeds,
waft on every breeze.
are day by day
being laid. August
wind, wait for nestlings
who will eat the
thistle seeds and salsify,
lettuce wild and lion’s tooth
and grow strong beaks to pluck and nip
the seeds from parachutes.
Please read this little poem aloud for the rhythm fun of it. For the convergent evolution joy of it.
I kneel in an old place sun-bright,
focus on a pitcher plant’s
strange blood-net veins, when
a flying shadow crosses me,
startles my eyes up to a large dragonfly,
which sweeps me through time to when bog
is all and ferns rule, catch and store sun,
when two-foot dragonflies spark
between cycad trunks and shatter rainbow
scraps through the air between their wings
and the sun-grown shadows of those wings
chasing across dark waters.
Moments of time shift are more persuasive in age than in youth, and more common, almost as though one dips into ancient streams or dreams of memory.
They eat in elegance,
in the life-dance pool
inside a hollow leaf of pitcher plant,
these larvae of mosquito,
midge and flesh fly that allow
the plant insectivore
to set their table.
The pitcher invites its prey
to feast on honeydew
it exudes on the leaf’s outside, then
offers a drink after sweets—
Just climb up
to my rim,
climb down to
my pretty pool.
Now try to climb out—
Oops! My hairs point down.
Are we getting tired?
Don’t fall in. Oops!
Have a short swim.
The elegant worm of midge,
snappy mosquito larva,
thick white flesh fly maggot
All dine and disassemble bodies
for their own growth,
for the sustenance
of their host of gracious
dining in the pool.
So many plants, we are finally learning, tempt animals to serve them by giving them nectar from specialized organs called nectaries. Life on Earth is all about community and reciprocity.
Little blues now lollop everywhere
flowers bloom and scent
the air they flutter through.
Today tall Joe Pye
is haloed by a host
of little azure butterflies
that spiral up in pairs, break off
to light a second on a flower,
sip, fly into this mazy halo flight
all around the plants within
the radius of scent in quiet air.
Emergence from the chrysalis
seems all at sudden once,
a nimbus of August
for the Spring Azures.
The light of afternoon is what these small lives flutter through. Like most butterflies of this family (Lycaenidae), ants protect and tend their caterpillars, in return for honeydew from nectaries. Everything truly is a spiral of interlivings.
These days of scorching light
attune the old lizard inside
that scurries from sun to
shade pool in the brain-stem.
It stretches up on its front legs
to ease its belly from hot sand.
Outside shade, its toes race.
It bobs up and down
and inflates when a driver
cuts it off in traffic,
its second eyelids wink. Perhaps
it wonders where it has been,
what it has become. All
it asks is a pool of shade.
The reptile sleeps within us; sometimes it wakes.
Such tall knees has the leafwing,
antennae long, silk-fine,
so fanciful a front wing, netted and veined,
belled like a green sail in a treetop wind
so toothy a file to scrape
the edge of wing along all
of a summer night from the crown of an oak,
to stridulate its need insistently,
a thumbnail racing down a comb,
Lady Leafwing listens with a narrow ear
hidden where her front leg joins,
and if she likes his frequency,
slowly pulls her hind knees high
and considers a leap through night leaves.
Pterophyll, the genus name for our North American katydid, means “leaf wing,” of course. They usually spend their whole lives in the crown of a tree, a gentle herbivore that mimics a leaf.
A deer cropped the growing tip
of a Culver's root plant,
the tip that grows the flower,
so the plant grew six new tops
in a circle round the scar
which each became tall flower spires,
so this morning six spires hum
with bees who fill their legs
with pollen gold and suck sweets
from a white multitude of petaled tubes.
So. The deer satisfied its casual hunger; the plant provided sixfold food for bees, and sixfold seeds for itself. The deer intended to eat; the plant intended to make more seeds in the face of attack; the bees intend to eat, but pollinate as well. Disaster becomes increase. Within an ecosystem, we all help mutually, without intention.
When I brush a leaf
the red soldier beetle spills
from one milkweed leaf
to the next below, lands
on its back, and
for a moment, stills.
Its sculpted abdomen
is up, wings down, and in me
grows a sympathy.
We do fall. Off we all go into
the sphere of gravity.
The soldier beetle lives a month
and tumbles to
the crucible of soil…
But there! It rights itself
and walks about a new leaf.
I leave, and place my cane
A new leaf become literal. Fear of falling extends even to those with wings. Perhaps it’s even worse for them.
Fledgling bluebirds sprinkle
spruce tops, ride
the central leader, highest,
zip to ground to
catch a crispy snack
fly back to the leader.
Some leaders bend
with bluebird weight,
some stay stiff.
Which is stronger,
bend or stiffen?
New bluebirds don’t care, for
sway or not sway, in beauty
Bending is often more useful than stiffness. Proverbs speak of reeds and willows, rarely of oaks. Balance is the beauty of the natural.
Admire this sculpted exo-skeleton,
each part carved and hardened
as if armor for a samurai
in gold and black, the wing
covers bright-painted as a medal
on a 19th century Prussian, back
when they named this perfect insect
Soldier Beetle, Goldenrod.
The results of Adam’s task—naming the beings of earth—often have less to do with the creature named than with those who named. Until recently, and still in some naïve hearts, a soldier was a romantic figure, the Miles Gloriosis of the Romans, who went around saying, “Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.” (It is sweet and fitting to die for the fatherland.) So this beetle that lives a month, eats only nectar, and lives to make love, gets to be a soldier. If it wondered at all, it might wonder how it got drafted.
A sulfur butterfly
lies on roadside gravel, road-kill.
I bend to take a close-up of its wings
and realize a living sulfur is there too,
antennae touching the killed one.
It steps onto the body shocked from life,
It smells right, looks right.
Why will it not respond?
And now another arrives.
They stay, testing, confused.
There is nowhere on Earth free of the attraction and confusion of mating. The result seems as often sad as joyful. Both male and female clouded sulfurs emit sex pheromones, here jarred loose. I think of Dickinson’s “Because I would not stop for Death…”
Shadows of the cranefly
through double window glass
reflecting cloudy sky
with rivulets of blue.
Clouds no more ephemeral
than this long-legged life
that has no mouth to eat,
so lives to mate and die.
Shadows no less substantial
than the lifespan of a fly—they
mark us, shadows, from the sky.
Cranefly larvae live in wetlands and eat heartily. That is the greatest length of their lives—most of a year. Adults simply insure the continuance of larvae.
Now toward dusk when wind falls
and insects fly near ground,
a great swim of swallows takes the sky,
whole barn swallow families
that have left the mud behind.
Swallows skim the tops of grasses
and soybeans, curve up
as if lifting to a wave, swing
around trees and back along the field.
Swallows arc through invisible fluid
like fish darting to invisible prey
above green reefs, jink left, jink right
for flies, mouths snap wide.
More than half are new-fledged. Imagine:
To first know sky within
a swim of swallows.
Just a few weeks ago these glories of the sky were eggs. Such a transformation. No doubt such exhausted parents. Soon we will see swallows all lined up on wires, resting from a night of flight toward South America, part of the great river of birds.
We are hot this afternoon, we bipeds,
feathered and with but skin.
Five goldfinch males peck about the shore.
One steps into shallows paved
with smooth and colored pebbles,
cocks his head at the water
and quick-flutters wings with just
wingtips touching water, throws
up drops to spark the light, steps
a little deeper and flutters as he slowly
pivots in a circle. Black feathers
spike upon his crown as sprinkler wings
wet him down, and there a rainbow gleam
as drops spray through air.
I am suddenly the skinny boy I was
splashing in the sandy shallows at the lake,
tossing water by the handscoop at my sister
sunning on the dock.
Circuit made, the goldfinch stops, leaps up
and flies to dry upon a bush.
I remember running up the path, afraid
of sisterly revenge, droplets drying on my skin.
It’s odd how other animals can trigger intimate memories in us. We are all connected in time as well as space, which we are told is all one thing.
Large and long and fine
this azure damselfly, she
of the electric blue enormous eyes,
she whose strong legs are spiked with hairs
to make a receiving basket for flies caught on the fly,
she whose nymph was water tiger
that captured fish fry and tadpoles, sucked them dry,
she whose beauty blue is terrible,
whose wings are pure caught rain,
who shed her childhood on a water lily pad,
whose wings unfolded, filled and dried,
who breathed her first-time air
who basked in newborn light until
the shadow of a fly on water
caught her eye and off she flew to try
her basket legs with spikes of hair.
This fierce Lady gives an impression very different from the early summer soft blue damselflies, which seem fragile, soft, and fly weakly by comparison. Azure is August, tough stemmed, nothing like first growth.
At sunset a green heron stands
on a branch of a dying tree.
Branches thin and knobbed
curve up about him without leaves.
Hazy sunset bleeds into
the heron’s ruddy bib.
Crouched at the neck he stands
contained, when of a sudden
one leg kicks up, toes spread,
head stretches up and beak points high.
I look up. Another heron
looks down from a higher perch.
The lower bird moves to a closer branch,
but still below. Something in me
ties this strange kick
this twilight pink, this unleafed tree
to the autumn rising within me.
But that has nothing to do with this
fine kick with a backbent knee
that’s put such a smile on me.
It’s easy to think too much when observing the cousins, and also easy to intrude your own ego into the pure experience of joy. Yes, at times Nature is a mirror, but most times she is quite entirely herself.
Chill nights begin the hummingbird wars.
Orange trumpets aglow, the jewelweed
down by the pond
is watched by a perched rubythroat male
that attacks all comers.
Territory is the word, defense of the food
when life depends on doubling weight
for migration. Fly only to chase bandits away.
Another male perches all day
next the hummingbird feeder,
zooms in when others try long tongues
in sugarbeet nectar. The others may be
his mate or his offspring. This is now.
The male that defends the honeysuckle vine
flies the amplitude loop with another male,
the same dance they use on each other while
females watch them to choose a mate. Once
they couple, she’s on her own, builds a nest,
lays two tiny eggs, raises the chicks,
feeds them and herself while he
accepts admiration for beauty.
Five times I watch a female try to eat.
She twice gets a taste before the male
drives her off. When a second female joins
them, the male ratchets up to continuous buzz,
attacking both. Frantic, burning fat, he fails.
The ladies keep him humming
until both have fed and fed well.
Supersonic screams and shrill chitterings accompany these chases and debates. The birds without gorgets are either female or juvenile--I don't know. These birds weigh 3 grams and fly over the Gulf of Mexico in one night.
This treefrog is well mimicryed
but for startling eyes which
leap into mine from leaf or stem.
Traceries of gold on black surround
the receiving pupil, which will not
see you until you move. After that
it’s a matter of size: small, eat;
large, be leaf, not here, hide;
large and closing, leap!
Younger treefrogs of the species Hyla versicolor stay green. Elder Hylidae are most often gray. Pretty much like us. But those beautiful eyes! Those toes!
Chicory blue is one of the great earth gifts,
Chicory anthers take me for a spin,
curled at tip into monocles
for tiny pollinators with small eyes.
Blue sailors is a name chicory shares
with a jellyfish. Sea anemones, sea lilies.
Hard to keep our kindoms straight.
In the Depression, my grandparents dug
the taproot, scrubbed it,
roasted it for precious coffee.
How the eyes peeled for chicory blue,
blue sailors blue. Mine still do.
Chicory flowers last a day. Plants with that habit are teachers. But Carpe diem is not the lesson. Turns out that chicory is also a high-protein forage for grazers. In some places, it is planted by the acre for deer. I want to see an acre of chicory in bloom.
Early morning under oaks.
Sun-dappled leaves glow green,
soft breezes shift branches
to gleam spider silks between leaves,
little fliers spark bright
as they break sunspill, vanish.
In a maple, a blue jay just fledged
flutters for food. The parent leaves.
On the pond, young woodducks
cut brief dark swathes in duckweed
as they feed, dark water briefly finds light.
Still in juvenile feathers
the males’ eyes already burn red.
Chill nights have sent phoebes south.
Yellowthroats pass through.
Inch-long new toads find themselves cold,
burrow old leaves at night, test
their hind feet against soil.
Leaf pat, rattle, plunk.
Acorns slip from high in oaks.
When I stumble close
how strange is the familiar,
how new is all I think I know.
I kneel, look close at a stem of timothy,
the ordinary grass for holding in your tooth-gap
or between your lips.
Perched atop the ‘bottle-brush’ fruit
is a tiny insect with long green translucent legs.
It waves its antennae as if it feels my eyes.
The green fruit releases seeds that want to stay,
they cling confused, looking active,
small creatures tan and grooved.
The scene is marine, a moment on a reef,
a cleaner shrimp on a green lip
beckoning a little wrasse.
I am not where I think I am,
probably I’ve never been.
There is little more jarring than the sensory betrayal felt when the familiar is seen new, in this case through a 5X magnifying loupe. Such limits we place on our mundane perceptions. How exciting when the filter is torn away.
Great White Pelicans in the sky circle wide
and decide to join the fishers
and fill the pouch with minnows
or join the group oiling feathers in the reeds.
Some look long, on nine foot wings spiral high,
some splash down by the fish herders.
The group afloat makes a circle, loose,
in the geometry of hunger. They open wings,
huge white wings edged with black, cast
shadows to scare fish toward the center.
Together long yellow beaks plunge down, and down
until some upend like dabbling geese.
As heads emerge, the pouch has become a long
yellow water balloon that quickly drains,
and the head tilts to swallow the catch.
Tomorrow or tonight these little fish
will burn inside the bird and beat its wings
a hundred miles or two, and what’s left
will fertilize the fields or the next pool south.
Minnows grow a pelican and fly it too.
How the matter we are all made of does travel around Earth. Minnows in the pelicans, berries in the robins, dragonflies in the swallows, all this northern matter traveling south. But this morning I ate two bananas.
Sunny noon in a prairie patch,
blazing star spikes in full flower
so everywhere monarchs hang
foldwing on the purple spikes,
sway on red clover heads,
uncurl spiral tongues
to dip into late season’s nectar.
So many butterflies flying
their shadows glance as if I walk
beneath a wind-tossed tree.
Such an unexpected joy in these latter days of few butterflies to see dozens of monarchs gathered in the flowers.