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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning Earth Poems
September 2001



Turtleheads just in bloom
I brush my hand through buds,
come back with a large treefrog
placid in my palm.
I have not felt her enter, but now
a light greenness vibrates in my skin,
her belly cool as last night's moon.
legs neatly tucked, she's in no rush,
lets me lift her to my sight,
her eyes incurious , gold and black.
On her sides she mimics lichen,
ragged green -gray patches ,white edged here,
there bright orange. On tree bark, she would turn all
lichen gray, but here on turtleheads
she is utter leaf, her skin a thousand
tiny beads, each gleaming green.
She shifts a cool leg, I lower her to leaves.


Cherish every moment when another life touches you without fear. This is a fundamental survival skill.



I look up from the coffeepot, a fawn
races across the yard through flower beds,
legs splaying like a gangly kid's.
The fawn is young and small and scared
as a first-day seventh grader.
Through brush his long legs crash
and spook the doe who runs in turn.
Fears and fawns are everywhere on morning earth,
we can't find our mothers, so we run so fast
we hope we'll catch up to what is past.


Watching young beings face fears like the ones we felt is hard, for there is small remedy. Fear does have its purposes, we know, and sometimes we do learn from it. We learn that parents fear for us. We learn that everyone is scared, that growing up is legs too long and feet that catch on stairs, and that the past has passed. With luck we learn that we can choose not to run scared.

Encourage kids to feel themselves in other lives, especially young lives. How else can we grasp one another?



Traveling hummingbirds made free
with my daughter's morning glories,
sipping in a buzzed delight,
but when later the trumpets closed
they were not well received.

All the sleepy swallows
leap white-breasted into sky
as I walk under the wires
they found after flight.

Pagoda dogwoods toss—
birds after berries
blue on red stems.


Travel and transformation are upon us once again. The birds moving south are packing in all the food they can find. Many fly all night, especially during these bright moons. I think especially of all the new birds born this summer, suddenly gripped by this biological imperative. All lives continually transform, the journey unfolds. Theodore Roethke said in a poem, "I learn by going where I have to go."

Ask kids to imagine flying all night in moonlight, knowing no destination, only knowing they have to go. Ask them if they've noticed people acting like this.



The wings of a sulfur butterfly glow
the shoulder of the road,
flat, distorted, lovely,
small eyespots bright.
All across the fields sulfurs
beguile red clovers
and flutter-dance each other
into making eggs, so
the wings that strew the roadside
can next year again surprise the sky.


So much death, so much life. These insects, like most, are prepared for high mortality. Sulfur caterpillars feed on legumes; preferred hosts are alfalfa and clovers, which are abundant. Their eggs are deposited one by one on several plants, minimizing damage. Cars don't mean fewer sulfur butterflies. But every hayfield lost to sprawl does.



Treefrogs cling to my night windows, bellies
white as moons, loading up on bugs
before the ancient dream, while

Turkey flocks all hens and endless young
advance across the woods en masse to pluck
green acorns from the duff, quiet, intent
on fat before the cold, while

Wood ducks graze the duckweed in the pond,
mostly, so far, hens and this year's young
turning duckweed into energy for flight, as

toads slowly contemplate
the digging of their holes.


The wheel turns and we all ride. It's all circles: the cycle of the seasons is the circle of the earth around the sun. The half-circle of summer reproduction when food is everywhere is the part we love, but the circles have no sentiment; the half-circle of winter is when half the young must die, in their circle flights south or in their hungry winters picking through the snow. Think about why plants produce so many seeds, why turkeys have twenty chicks, why wood ducks raise so many young.



Ducks on the green pond
swim along brief open water trails
as currents from deep springs
pull the trails toward new shapes
that seem familiar,
then abruptly zip them closed.

The distant traveling geese against blue sky
sketch black hieroglyphs
which shape-shift as they turn
into something I can almost read.


We are the creatures always searching for pattern and meaning. Observing natural life, we often sense meaning just about to arrive, to jell into understanding. Naturalists and artists sometimes experience this sense of imminent revelation that does not quite arrive, that stays on the tip of earth's tongue. So we tend to find meanings that are not there, created by our innate desire. Do not be quick to ascribe coherent meaning to what you see other lives doing. Try to simply experience the moments without, as Keats put it, "all this irritable searching after fact or reason."



The world blown so upside down
that numb with news
I walk into the woods
for the never-old
to fill my ears and eyes
and unstick my throat.

Under sumac I start a three-point buck
who coughs that loud deep cough
that somehow squeezes from my heart
the red of sumac berries
and darts it from my eyes.

We both stand a breath staring, dumb
as acorns plopping from the oaks,
dumb as oyster fungus
glowing from the mossy log,
and as wise.



When we turned in,
the nightsong of grasshoppers was benign.
When we woke our world had turned,
and song had grown insectile teeth.

When we turned in
we had forgotten that life on earth is pulsed with pain,
we were sacrosanct, immune.

When we woke, our world was dark,
waking in the dark was congruent,
We want to know no more.
Light hurts.

As we wake we learn again
how tough we are,
how tough all earth-life is
and how welcome every song
to bless our night
restore our sight.


Be aware of the spirit insisting that we begin to heal. Make sure they know there is no guilt in smiles again, that they know this healing after catastrophe is what all life on earth does when it must.



Walking the fallow field I push through
chest-high goldenrod and asters,
a buzz of bees and wasps on each tall bloom.
Here and there a night moth briefly flies
as I disturb its sunbright sleep
and settles folded on a grass stem.
Virginia creeper snares my shoe
at soil level, leaves already red.
I catch my breath at one goldenrod, look close.
Crab spider waits here for a meal with wings.
She sees me first, sits up, spreads legs to grab my nose.
I see her late, her color perfect goldenrod.
But my nose is safe, she shrinks back out of sight
to wait for prey small enough to eat.
Her moral: Don't bite off more than you can chew.
Mine: Keep your nose where it belongs,
Beauty can look too good to be true.

Mimicry. Camouflage. Hiding in plain sight. These interest us. Everyone wants to be able to disappear. We pretend, we play roles, we wear the masks. Such transformations are brief versions of larger realities: All lives continually transform. Often this is hard; often we don't like change, but change we must, for every life on earth transforms. It can help to know that we are not alone in having to transform, that continual change is a required of every life, grasshopper to oak to coyote to fifth-grader. Being is becoming.



Three crows chase the barred owl
beneath the lowering sky.
The crows are for once silent and darkly intent
As the owl flies over the pond,
his russet wingtips glow in spite of gray.
Crows above, owl hugging cattails
the quiet chase revolves above the marsh
like time, same old, same old.


Some hatreds will not end, crows and owls both forever righteous to themselves. Good thing they don't have flags to wrap themselves in. I am afraid of the way the old men wet their lips when they speak of long wars.



Morning mist suspends this place in time,
shapes will not resolve. Air and sky are one. Or
is it clear, and it's my eyes?
I can make out broken circles
in the duckweed on the pond
from the slow churn of deep springs.
Those dark shapes must be ducks
fattening for flight. What else?
I know that this will lift.


Earth offers us the images we need. Artists of all sorts know this to be true. Today, we are not sure what we're seeing. Perceptions are confused. We know this mist will change, but will it be burned away by light, or will it meld with gray? Look into nature for the images that can help you grasp what's going on inside.



Cicada song is belly-drummed.
Since birth and burrowing
nymphs buried long years
breathe and nibble roots and hear,
while hormones counsel patience,
the drumpulse of the earth.

At last en masse one night
huge nymphs dig out and hook to bark
and climb, then shudder from
the nymphal husks which pile up below
while freed adults caress new wings
into nets of cellophane.
What was buried is twice-born.

The males fly a few feet to a branch
where they amplify the song
they learned from earth, they shrill it strong
from the tymbals in their bellies.
The females on their branches listen,
and when the song is overwhelming, fly to mate.

Cicadas listen to the song of earth.
Things rise out of earth and time
twice-born, but not all sing,
not all have learned to hear the song.


Our cat Beau knocked something off my desk which fell slowly, light and dry. It was the cast husk of a cicada I picked up at two-three years ago. Picking it up gave me this beginning of a poem. Why it is today's entry I'm not clear. I'm trying to get back to expressing my joy in earth, but my heart's still skewed. Encourage kids to know that all words pass through the prism of the human heart, where colors change from day to day.



The white horse lets me caress his face,
enormous bone behind his skin,
this great round of jaw.
I rub between his ears,
slide down and stroke his nose.
He whuffs out at me:
Hot air from a bellows wide.


It is a time to touch other lives, get out of our minds so we don't go out of them. When cousins of any species allow me touch, I am honored. How different from me is horse, yet how much we share. One way to keep your humanity is to caress lives that are not themselves human.




Light breeze
A greengold curled leaf falls,
catches on a twig, becomes
a sudden warbler.

A pale woodfrog hops the trail.
I stop to help puffballs
spread their spores.

blue asters in a surround of asters daisy white
as blue stars would gleam from the sky of night

An emerald cabochon of moss
fills an oval knothole
on the cedar deck.


Earth presents us images continually. The small single-image poem is the root of poetry. Experiencing the images is the beginning of a process. Translating the image into words (or sketch or painting) requires you to express their personal impact, their subtle influence on you. The end of the process is a shareable healing.



I saw this morning
the perfect mushroom swelled
from roadside grass,
broad and domed, a stool
for royalty of toad.
It's color fawn,
its texture suede,
its temperature amphibian,
it is the autumn apple of
its mother's hidden streams, soon ripe-ribbed
with spores below its parasol
opened to the fine rain
that sent perfection swelling out of soil.


As you know, mushrooms are the fruits of fungi, ephemeral as mayflies, but most notably they are sudden. Overnight they push out of earth, pushing obstacles aside. They are clammy to our overheated mammal touch, which makes them spooky, like any cool-blooded life. They are ambiguous, amphibious, living in two realms, spawned by rain. Celebrate your ambiguities, as I celebrate today the lovely, lowly, toadstool. In “Song of Myself”, Walt Whitman says, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes)"



Acorns fall loudly now from oaks,
rattle leaves like hard brown hail,
plop on ground with that cool bounce.

Squirrels start, deer lift heads
And snort, bluejays fly,
circle back in curiosity.
Oak tree laughs: OK, small lives,
eat what you need
then plant my seeds.


The biosphere is at root cooperative. Trees and shrubs provide food for many birds and mammals in the form of nuts (seeds) and fruit (seeds). These animals in turn disperse and plant the seeds, as they bury (cache) them for winter fuel. The great oak forests of North America were planted by squirrels and jays. This cooperation has co-evolved over a long time for mutual benefit, a kind of symbiosis. The biosphere is intelligent, and we are one of its processes.



Through leaves the sky creates itself,
even in this dawnlight moment washed with blue.
leaves are turning yet unfallen,
still frost whispers soon.

This is crisp apple time,
pumpkins rolling out of roadside stands,
when we look and wonder where it went,
our summer innocence.

Too soon we will shiver once again
as earth wheels around the sun,
and we will mourn our loss
by visiting death.


Nature is the great mirror of human affairs, the most ancient font of metaphor. This change of season coincides with a change in us. Words are charged with meanings that keep changing. One antique text says that God visited the sins of the fathers upon the children. In that sense, we are about to avenge our dead by killing--the broken old dance. Who will give blood for the innocent? The innocent.


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