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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning Earth Poems
November 1999



The doe across the pond
dips her head to water,
and so delicately she sips
her mouth barely stirs
the morning mirror
of the birches.



Wind has put Montana in my nose,
North Dakota grassfires smudge the sky,
strong winds gust silver shapes upon the pond,
and the still of morning seems a dream.

Once upon a time I learned that scents
are actual molecules of what we smell,
so I’m surprised to know that now I truly do
have smoky grassfires in my nose, as
Ashes of grasses race the continent’s cross country air.


Read this aloud. It's for the fun of rhythm and sound.



Leaves & Bark

The willows on the shore
burn in stubborn gold,
will not let go—
nearer stands the burgundy weave
of red-osier bark,
and closest, honeysuckle gold.
Throughout the North,
red oak and white oak leaves
offer winter-apple brown to
whatever winds will blow.



Here I am in the lovely Ojai Valley, inland from Ventura, CA. The valley floor is punctuated with geometric orange groves hung with bright green fruits, while all around the valley bowl rise rolling foothills sharp-shadowed by morning. The hills roll up the sky to the Topa Topa Mountains, blues and dusty greens and browns. I am hearing magic words like chapparal and live oak and seeing little birds I’ve never seen. From last night:

Jupiter rides the Zodiac up the sky
while down on Earth in Ojai
California the round night songs
of grasshoppers proclaim their love all night
until the chill before the dawn.



Four soaring vultures V their wings
as they sculpt great circles into air
above the Topa canyons, nostrils tuned
to any chance to help
another fleshly life transform and help
its meat to briefly fly the vultures’ sky.

The lifting spiral of
these great wings’ floating
is the spiral built into every life
and every floating death.
Here the soil is orange-yellow desert dust.
Even in the shade of fallen leaves and eucalyptus bark,
there is no wet to help the dead transform,
no daily dew to activate the micro-mouths
of pale fungus roots and bacteria.
Transformation in this desert is a slow fire.
But Earth does promise in their season pouring rains. Imagine: Rains that start transforming fire.

Transformation of dead plants and animal bodies is where cycling transformation intersect. Decomposition simply means dis-assembly, taking apart, so life materials are freed from one life to take part in new lives. Our mortality is always a mystery, but ecology shows us that it has a point, a meaningful and necessary use.



Home to unexpected warmth, blue skies. No chaparral this morning, not a desert vulture in sight.

Glad to be home
among the shapes I know:
Yesterday I gazed out from the floor
of a blue-glazed bowl
of coastal mountains—
here today all my distances are sky.

Beyond the cattail marsh,
many trunks of leafless birch
slope white lines toward blue sky.
Each trunk fountains up into
a reddish haze of next spring's buds.


Yesterday/Today patterns of contrast are as old as words. People are often freed to write by these little syntax patterns which give them a frame to hang their words upon, like a coat upon a hanger. Also try: Near/ Far:
Close to me I see
In the distance are…

In our describing minds, space and time are much the same. Yesterday/Today is temporal space (Yesterday has 'distance'; Now is 'close').



A Little Dark Verse

Whiskers of my kittens,
furry tickles in the dark—
When I whine, disturbed,
They just lick my nose and purr.


Every poem has 'glue'—something that holds it together and makes it whole. In this entry, the glue is rhythm. To hear it you have to say it aloud. Rhythm is usually much more important to a poem than rhyme (furry/ disturb, purr AND tickle, lick ) and alliteration such as whiskers, when, whine. Play with words in your mouths to find a rhythm that pleases, then write it down so the rhythm can be repeated. If you relax and let it happen, your mouth and ears will help you write.



Necks bob up and down,
throats swell with dark laughter
as six peckish crows yell
from the dead elm by the pond.
Their joyful croaks
praise this morning's gray.
"It's a start," they say.


Tip: Crows have zero human concerns, of course, but we do talk to animals all the time, and we often pretend that they reply, or could. This entry is poor science but rich humanity. Encourage kids' empathy for other lives in as many ways you can.



Movement out the window
catches at my eye.
First a doe’s head lifts and bends to feed again
across the wind-chopped pond.

Then the cluster
of buckskin leaves behind
long Autumn-yellow grass just
back from shore
bows deep on its bush and rises.

Well, it’s all the same.
Later or soon
the bush will be deer,
the doe will be bush.
They’ve been becoming each other
almost forever. And
with luck, I will be both.


Transformation in the sense of sharing life-materials over time teaches me today that a "mistake" I made really isn't, not in the long run. Give kids specific examples of the kinds of sharing that transformation implies.


Day is slowly swimming forward out of fog,
In the distance, just below
the gray tree of gray crows
a line of phantom turkeys walks away.


Observing is not about ideas. It's simply Noticing what is in front of you. The Fog entry is not about the idea of fog; I simply looked out the window and wrote. Don't write about ideas; write from directly observed moments. The gift from Earth in fog is transformation, the world turned strange. It's a gift of new eyes.



Earth gives me a redpoll
for my birthday, and I am glad.
She clambers and dangles
on a dry nettle stem, eating seeds.
Her red cap is bright as her eye
and her presence blesses mine.
Thank you.



Pileated woodpecker came today
and knocked upon my deck, chopped out
some chunks to let me know
his cupboard had gone bare.
When I put my face to glass to see
who knocked so loud,
he clung to wood
one foot from my nose and
we both stared in our surprise—
crest blood red, his black bill huge,
keen eye burning
through my guilty mind--before
he flashed his wings away,
now black, now white,
black white, black white.


Earth is filled with surprises, if you pay attention. Be willing to be surprised. Being open to surprise is being open to joy. Many worthy surprises do not knock your socks off; some dawn slowly in our senses. Be willing to have quiet surprises as well as loud.



This wide light shouts across earth.
My eyes could climb this blue
to the peaks of sky.
Every edge is sharp
and leaps into my eyes.
This light is split spectrum,
all focus, all clear—
nothing blurs.


When a quality of light stirs your spirit, pay attention, and practice seeing. Practice casting that seeing into words. Metaphor allows vision to be loud so light can shout, so eyes can climb, so what is seen can have tactile edges and can leap.



As the sun drops like a stone
from this November sky,
the half-moon sails
pale milk against blue, already high.


Finally getting cold here. Wild turkeys are flocking up, foraging in large skirmish lines that sweep the woods for acorns and berries.



The pond is skimmed with morning ice.
It shines, but not like water
that can dance with light.

Summer's waterdance is done,
no raindrops bounce upon the sheet of pond
the tops of waters skin hard
with ice as the winter of the world wins
once more, as it does and will again.

But the glory of the snow
will come to dance with ice,
flakes will twirl & whirl
or simply flow down sky, white
rivers of beauty even though cold.

And when winter in its turn grows old,
the pond will learn to softly dance with light
once more, as it does and will again.


This thought is as old as our human kind. New ideas are extremely rare. It is OK to notice in nature things that everybody 'knows'. The goal is to say it in a way that reflects your own voice.



After Night Showers

The measure of this slow dawn—
the calm glow of raindrops on twigs
as the light they capture grows.



Day swims gravely out of night
to paint the earth with wet white snow.
Showtime! This winter's first.
The kittens in the window watch intent
on every flake but sense
that this whitefall is not play.
From the windowsill two uneasy tails
hang down but do not jump and curl.


We have been observing animals' reactions to weather and other phenomena (tremors, fire, lightning, winds) as long as we've been human. When they are uneasy, we pay attention. We give them a credibility in our gut that we no longer give them in our surface minds.



On the maple outside my window
three mourning doves
tuck their heads under wings
and ignore the gentle snow.
On the chair inside the window,
two kittens sprawl oblivious in sleep,
each head covered with a paw.



Full Moon

The fallen shadows of oaks aim
in the direction we should go.
When moon reflects on snow,
into eyes with pupils wide,
night glows in ancient invitation
of the full white moon
to walk the snowbright ways
and wander paths that stretch into
the forests of the night.


It is important that we honor experiences that humans have been having forever, such as our connections to the moon and the feelings it evokes in us. Write about experiences we all share, and don’t worry about saying something new.



The birds are big today,
chickadees all fluffed
like kindergartners
in puffy snowsuits out to play
This morning glazed with frost:
When light arrives
the sweep of white shingles on roofs will glimmer with light,
crystals spark the bent blades of grasses,
crevices of bark on every trunk and twig
will carry diamonds where vapor dreamed of ice.


Simple earth magics like frost are worthy of our celebrations.
What are some of the simple earth magics where you live?

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