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John Caddy
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John Caddy's
Morning Earth Poems,
December 2005



His face is intent clown, his eye amazed.
Pound for pound the biggest beak
around, he chisels perfect acorn nests
in thick-barked ponderosa pine.
He cackles from the crowns of oaks,
wings out for flies as if a redcap phoebe.

He lives in commune but feeds alone,
defends the family larder trees,
winter store of acorn meat.
Cherishes most the summer chase
and formic taste of
winged ant queen or drone.


Warm-climate acorn woodpeckers live in groups, store acorns in granary trees every fall, eat them in winter when bugs are scarce. The clown in the photos lives in northern California, as does the larder pine. He is checking the condition of acorns stored in a dead oak branch.


On these short days I look at buds,
fondle their hard shells even now
colored differently from bark.
Every bare bush and tree:
red maple buds its flowers,
red osier its green leaves,
oak buds both.
Willow by the water
buds her furry catkins,
birch and aspen swell their own.
All these buds wait with us
through dark that swallows day,
all waiting to unfold.

No news here, but a glad story every time.


Big gentle snowflakes
Clump slowly tall on every twig and stem,
fur every surface white and pure,
and mound hummocks above cranberry
counterpoints in red,
as if maraschinos hung upside down
from white ice cream.

When the wild turkeys stroll by
on their eternal forage trek, their eyes
catch on this red against white
and flutter-leap to pluck the berries
while the perfect ice cream sifts to ground.


It is startling to be in a snowglobe/acceptance mindset and suddenly see great turkey beaks leap up and pluck the pretties. Beauty doesn’t fill the crop. Eye of the beholder and all that.




Year-weary ironwood leaves
glow with sun leaned low at noon.
Bounced from new snow these photons
hurtled 93 million miles to enter now
my eyes and memory so
this instant exists and will iterate
for a space beyond its truth
in this cold place tilted
away from the burning
for a space.

Zero degrees here. Fingertips are nipped but eyes are warmed by pure snow, bright sun.



The habit of this sparrow is
to leap, kick back,
leap and scratch until
appears some likely food,
bugs from under leaves,
seeds from beneath snow,
then peck until it’s gone.
Leap, kick back,
leap & scratch & peck again.
If no food appears
after several tries,
tree sparrow flutters
to a new site, leaps straight up
and comes down kicking
crystal snow through light,
the spark of this life’s heat
warm inside my eyes.

American tree sparrows migrate south to the northern US for winter, after breeding in the tundra. Life is not all leap & kick. In open fields they are also beat their wings against seed-heads so the seeds will fall to snow.


Do angels fly like midnight vultures
with fingers wide?
Do angels soar, climb thermals
into welkin blue?
And why should angels be
always painted white?

White signs death for many,
mourning black was first disguise
to hide from spirits of the dead.
Vultures wear no disguise,
say “See what is. See
the beauty fed by death.”

Their hook beaks are gateways
for the flesh, both openers
and openings toward the microbes’
rendering. Charons for the meat,
angels fly in black.


As if an exuberance of hoarfrost
were not gift enough,
this morning’s sun burned
into cold high air
crystal sundogs,
and not just bright
splashes against blue,
but full spectrum rainbow arcs
in a glory of parenthesis.


Sundogs are rare, and especially with full color. Cold air has great virtues. Hoarfrost grows long crystals in still cold air and transforms the mundane into jewels. It is so excellent a thing that it does not melt. True, it disappears, but it is sublimed into its parent air. It changes phase from solid to gas without a liquid phase between, and is lifted instantly to sky, which truly is sublime. Such wonders water makes: You are one, and so am I.



I glance up from the computer
and I’m confronted by the
windowed ghost of junior high past,
a young turkey tom, scrawny
and red-skinned, eyes and beak
out of all proportion, snood still
pin-feathered, big feet,
unkempt. The geek I was
a thousand years ago when
I would fall up the stairs.
I can’t recall—did we all wear that
look of black despair?
That sad twist of beak?
I am not Scrooge, nor
remotely Dickensian, so why
haunt me Adventitiously,
pale ghost of horrid past?


Adolescence lurks within us like memories of hard Christmases.
I wish the juvenile turkeys would stop looking in the windows.


In December snow, ferns have become doubtful
dreams of warm moist epochs gone, endless
greens of needle, frond, deep moss,
of garland lichens green and gray.
Light only dreams now it spills
from needles high to lichen down
to currant leaves above black fruit,
cascades down to splash deep shadows
on trails and fallen trunks.
To remember ferns now requires belief
held more in skin and scent than mind.

We are endlessly, irrevocably adaptable. We bend as reeds and willows. We abide.



At the coffee shop
a woman at the next table
waves a sheet of X-rays
at her friend,
“See? Right there. You
can see the eye.
I have a bird inside my heart.”

Maybe that’s the difference.
Or maybe we all have birds
inside our hearts, men
and women both, but
some don’t get to sing. Or
maybe there are many
lives inside the human heart.
I know a poet with
a woman for a heart, another
has a horse in his that kicks.

No, we must all have birds.
They start small, like us,
grow into difference, like us.
Some know many songs, and sing.
Some know only one, but
do sing, and sing it true.
Some heart birds are mute, can’t
sing and never fly, some leap up
and fly everywhere, for the heart
is vast inside and has a sky.



The arc of blackberry cane
snowdrawn white on dark
is direct about life’s shape,
the rising up, the bowing, the decline,
but the beauty hides below the snow.
The tip of the cane, bowed back
into earth, has taken root, so
this life will arc and arc
again as time orbits the sun.

Admire the chiaroscuro of snow. This delineated arc is a portion of an enormous circle. As snow. As cold. And beauty.


Cold is finally deep enough to sink
below the surfaces. Sifting snow
with brown leaves the paws
of squirrels feel for acorns, while
below the slowed lives of insect eggs,
frost sketches its way down through soil
as crystals grow ferns upon a windowpane.
Grain by grain bits of soil harden in
a net of filaments that would gleam in light
but burrow deeper into dark
to mark the sinking frost line.
At the bite of ice earthworms
unwind their tangled ball,
nose their way toward gravity,
and toads hunched in cold drowse
dig further down with spade feet
as routinely as we roll in blankets
in our hot mammal sleep.

Is the frost beautiful when it’s below sight? I don't know, but I do know the winter adaptations of northern creatures are marvels. How tempting to sleep away the winter, but mammal hearts beat too fast for that torpid luxury.




Snow tonight is all moon bright,
All white, but for sharp-edged
black that maps every tree, for moon
drops them in their tracks,
lays them out flat    trunk to twig
across the bright
                              as she knocks
me flat every time she lifts into the field
of ice clear stars when on Earth
the land is light with snow.
Behind trees, moon turns snow black . As she crosses the sky,
tree shadows pivot on their trunks west to east, the compass dance  of the ecliptic.



Two great hawks perch far across the pond high
in red oak branches and watch the songbird
flurry at the feeders. Day is cold and still,
no twig moves, even at the tips of trees.
Every bird is large beyond itself, feathers out.
The hawks have long white breasts,
big dark heads held, pale beaks.

Raptors have such presence they charge
eye and ear and what lives upon the nape of neck.
They are caught breaths, both.

We three sit and watch, quietly.
After a time one hawk unfolds great wings
and flaps west. A redtail’s scree! Soon
the second flies, echoes scree!
Mourning doves lined on branches
ignore both flights. No cardinal
or chickadee has flown
for fear of rabbit hunters.
Doves sit tucked in, no necks.
As have the hawks, I turn to my affairs.




Last summer’s nests are mounded full with snow,
the builder warblers warm in tropics,
but the winter birds are busy here.
Some flew south themselves, tough
juncos and tree sparrows.
Every stretch of bark on every tree
is pecked and probed for bugs
by the pry bar beaks of nuthatch and chickadee
and the chisels of small woodpeckers.
Sparrows chafe tall seedheads with their wings
to speckle snow with feed.
Beneath spruce boughs pheasants scratch and peck
while on field edges rosehips vanish into cardinals.
In these long December nights, every hole
in every living tree and snag
is filled with birds whose little hearts beat
so fast, so quick with life that paradox is pleased:
These hearts the size of thumbnails
are larger far than mine.

I am adapted for the tropics, of course, but I admire with all my oversized anthropoid heart these wonderfully tough little birds who are adapted to the North Wind and its snows.


On the solstice night , I hope for stars,
their distance, their cold fires,
old, for space is truly time.
We could use some ancient light
and distance
cast upon our clouds of monkey nonsense.
I will settle, though,
for longer daily light from the quick fires of Sol.


We do settle. Our heralded adaptability may be our downfall. But we will be warm.





Snow rests on a shoulder of red oak
that does not object. The oak is gnarled
and knows the winter snows.
Needle clusters of young red pines
almost touch oak bark on
both sides of the tree. From
whatever compass blows
the winter winds,
green pine will touch the oak,
young to old, young to old.

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