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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning Earth Poems
October 1999



A whole alfalfa field alive in shades of blue
today bounces in the sun with yellow butterflies,
mostly sulfurs sipping at the sweet,
but here and there a fresh-winged monarch
drinks intently from these rare late flowers.

In the dark
a small spirit
climbs my chest:
a kitten's purr
is velvet in my ear.

So many curled leaves
caught on the surface of the pond.
Small boats that sail themselves
to the whim of wind.


(1)Start with what you see. Use words that show action, like "bounces." An entry paints pictures with words; the colors flow out of a pencil instead of a brush or crayon or marker.

(2)Often a little poem happens with a comparison. Comparing is something we all do without knowing the names "metaphor" or "simile." This piece compares a sound, purring, with a tactile texture, velvet.


Along the roadside tall tight bouquets of blue asters,
the only flower color left in the roadside garden
of white thistlepuffs and goldenrod heads gone to gray.

But colors have leaked down into stems
now rich with burgundy,
and into leaves of oranges and reds.

Within the white puffs of thistledown
and the old gray heads of goldenrod
are brown seeds alive with next year's color dance.


Often in writing, we reflect on what things mean, just as we often focus on how we experience things with our senses and with our hearts. To reflect is to let experiences bounce around inside your head awhile, like an image bouncing around inside a head-shaped room of mirrors. To reflect is to ask personal questions: What did this experience mean to me? How did it affect me? To reflect is to ask larger questions: What did this thing I noticed mean to the Earth? How does that process work? What is the connection here to human life?

The last stanza of the poem above asks larger questions, and suggests that without death there is no new life (planet ecology), and that the seeds of our futures may be found in the gray hairs of experience (human ecology). It also hints at the color and joy ( "color dance") that is held invisibly within all aging lives.



As light ponders becoming day,
maple leaves begin as black shapes
that cut out pointed patterns of sky
I wonder, where is the color now?
Is it in the leaves?
Or is it in my mind?

I Drove to the city yesterday: one of those drives where dead animals are very noticeable along the road. Two stick in my throat:

A large dead opossum
lies on blacktop
as if asleep, one pink hand
over its face

Two black vultures hunch on the road,
peck at a road-killed muskrat.


Most writing begins in a brief moment of noticing. Most important human experiences are brief but intense. Those "little" moments are at the center of strong art-making. What is small becomes large. These brief moments of noticing are often accompanied by a question, a moment of wondering. As often, the question is asked but not answered. Questions are great things to ask in Entries.

Many entries are prose "raw material" for what may become future poems or future drawings or longer prose. The trick is to jot down the sense details that will later re-kindle the experience in your spirit when you read that entry.



What if a tail could chase a cat?
And what if the tip of the tail
caught the cat and threw it flat?
Would the tip of the tail go to jail
for abusing its very own cat?
Imagine that.


Doggerel is rudely or irregularly fashioned verse, often of a humorous nature. This Entry is doggerel verse—not good poetry, but corn can be fun. Here half the fun is in saying it aloud. Playfulness is important in writing. Kids are usually alert to the possibilities for fun in whatever they see, but we in the arts often insist on seriousness, which theyoung think means somberness, dullness, and not-fun, not-play. Letting the earth tickle our fancies is a survival skill.

Ask kids "Why do we delight in repeating sounds and rhythms? Have you listened to babies repeating sounds over and over?" Have kids say things aloud. Pick out one piece of rhythm, say, "What if a tail…" and find where the same rhythm piece repeats? Repeated "pieces of rhythm" glue a poem together.

And oh, that small beginning curl at the tip of the tail!



The butternuts are shorn of leaves
the birches almost bare
but as I walk beneath red oaks
I’m swallowed whole by golden light
which lifts me into reveries of loss
and joys of olden Autumns
that fill me with this cello light
that joins me to the whole.


Diction means "word choice." Generally, for strong writing keep the words simple and not consciously "poetic." Avoid words you do not use out loud. This is good advice, but it's general advice, and there are always exceptions. In the entry above, the word "shorn" is probably a bit poetic, but in this piece I love the way "shorn" shapes my mouth and ear. Love the sounds of words.



White and brown
from the tall birch
the barred owl drops,
flips her long wings open
and quietly rows
across the misty morning marsh.
Orange leaves fall
from where she dropped to fly.


The first gift of Earth is Life.
We receive the gift
While we are the gift.
This is strange.

The second gift is Joy of Beauty.
We receive the joy
While we are the joy.

we do not need to solve.



Far down the driveway, by the house
two scarecrows guard flowerbeds.
Close to the road,
waiting for the schoolbus,
a boy and his younger sister kneel
on either side of a large brown dog,
faces buried in its shoulders as if still asleep.
To one side Mom looks down on these three.
In the center is the bright-eyed dog, muzzle high.



Kittens at the Window, Fall

Two tails wave and curl
bodies taut but still—
Eyes alight with falling leaves.


The 'everydayness' of our gifts from Earth is important. They are commonly available things, but noticing them, noticing the beauty, the mystery, the intricacy, the fun, is what we have to recapture from our foolish willingness to be bored and classify common things as dull. Everything of earth, including you and me, is extra-ordinary and splendid, if we are open to it.



When kittens fall asleep,
where do their bones go?
Their bodies sprawl, a heap
of fur, and flow
like rivers of warm over
edges of drawers or chairs
that will not hold these sweet
sleepers with no bones.

Three browned basswood leaves,
one above, two below,
perch on the ends of their twigs,
leaftips curled down to shape head and beak.
Three stubborn finches shivered in wind,
refusing to fly.

Most autumns, this maple by my window is crimson,
but this time around each leaf is a brilliant yellow
that in the sunlight now blazes.
But its leaves have begun to fall.
Red stems are letting go.
I wonder how that feels? A deja vu?
A dance again done, a song before sung?
But these leaves that spill burnt gold to earth
do not carry the tree’s glory down,
they promise more, and each autumn more
as they feed their light to earth,
to fire the crucible that harvests us all,
and stoke the fires of soil
As they feed their light to earth.


Journals are a great place to talk to yourself. And it's less embarrassing writing these chats down than being caught saying them aloud Writing is a way to discover what is inside you, often unaware. This entry is about the season circle, of course, but also about how living things change and enrich their environments.



Yesterday I planted bulbs
in garden beds awash with leaves,
pushed double-nosed narcissus deep into cold soil,
Repeated the names of Spring
as I emptied bags

glory of the snow

Each pale tip questing
from a smooth bulb
promises rebirth.


Arrange lists of names for sound and rhythm. It's excellent practice toward the love of language. Must be done with voice and ear. Have kids generate lists of words on Post-Its or scraps, one word on each, then arrange and rearrange until the ear is pleased. Prompts: Things you saw that made you smile inside. Things you heard/smelled/touched that made you smile inside. Things you see now outdoors that will change or dress-up for Spring. And so forth. Include human activity as part of Nature.



Twin fawns watch me clump up the road,
watch a long time, taking bites of branches
while they wait for me to arrive, until
I cross the safety line and they have to run.
White tails flash up and both fawns
wheel in synchrony and run up the hill,
where they stand. Below them I stand,
all three of us still, looking.
Both fawns look at me over their shoulders,
necks curved in the sweet arc of wonder.


How long have humans and the other natural beings have been quietly looking at each other when they meet? Develop a sense of Deep Time. See yourself as an observer stepping into an ancient stream of human experience with other life when you observe nature.


Air's Barbers

As the light grows into morning,
Juncos flash their tails--
scissors cutting cold morning air,
black/white, black/white.
A few days ago they clipped
the air of tundra.




A white splash in the dark mirror, then
the kingfisher rises to light with a minnow
lands on a leafless branch.

A large dark raggedy head,
bold stripe more white
than the birches behind him,
the body bluegray.

Changing perches, he hovers, hoping.
He will not miss a moment of his hunt for life.
A thousand miles to go this week,
he needs all the minnows he can dive.


When we observe nature, we usually regard what we see as isolated incidents. This is our cultural bias and our recent ignorance. With our disconnect from daily Earth, we have forgotten much.



Little brown birds and little brown leaves
dart and fall, sprawl across still morning air.
The little brown birds are big,
fluffed like kids in snowsuits,
feathers trapping heat in this freeze.
As dawn grows,
every tree branch, every twig white with crystal frost.
Brown birds fly down the great circle of Earth,
Brown leaves fly down another curve of Earth,
to follow life's circular flow.



Ewe with her black stilt legs,
her body a barrel of wool,
pokes her black face into browned weeds.
Magpie rides on her back,
long tail lolling, eyes bright,
all black and white and iridescent sheen.
Sheep is calm, doesn't seem to mind this ride. What's
Magpie up to? Looking for bugs?
Maybe hooking a ride, or maybe
just showing that he can.


Nature is filled with mysteries. That's good. Reflect on things you observe, and ask questions about them. But give yourself permission to let the mysteries remain. Mysteries that remain unsolved teach us something about our limits. Speculation is important, and so are answers, but not as important as recognizing mystery as a central ingredient of wonder.



North wind cascades cold ripples
across the pond,
but their sparkle
is thick with water
that is shrinking into ice
The rattle of leaves on glass
cascades ripples down
my shivered spine.


Most things we observe in nature are heritage, things humans have been observing for hundreds of thousands of years. Connect with that. When you watch water ripple you are stepping into an ancient stream of human experience. Imagine others in other times observing the same things you are seeing—perhaps in the same place. When water freezes, it does shrink a bit just before it expands. I use the word here because it's accurate both physically and emotionally. Comparing shivering with ripples makes perfect sense in the North.



On those huge golden cylinders of hay
this fall, I've seen a woman standing with a spade,
a dog digging furiously, and yesterday
a red-tailed hawk with
russet head, sharp white breast,
bright undersides to wings.
When I slowed down to look, he leaped
and flowed beating into air.
All three were on the edge.

Ordinary, everyday life is filled with strangeness for those who bother to see. John Keats said, "The world is full of magical things waiting for our eyes to grow sharper."



Prelude to Halloween

Strong moon paints sharp shadows on the night,
In the woods the whole net of branches
sprawls black on dry leaves,
the fretwork of oaks all elbows
and sharp angles above gnarled trunks
that lie as flat wide stripes
that all point one direction, deeper in.



All Hallow's Eve

Pumpkins have grown toothy faces,
The world is in disguise and begs for Treats
The moon is white
and spirits rise, the grave deny,
and fly with bats across bright sky.