Winterberry grabs my eye,
pulls the car to the shoulder.
Red has power against
the gray teeth of November.
Red fires the spirit as cold nears,
Calls up timeless memories of the cave
warmed by flames, the heat
and lick of blood,
its red gasp when it strikes oxygen.
The meadowlark does not care
where Earth rolls on its orbit,
the meadowlark warbles his song.
His black bib vibrates on a gold breast
as song pours from his red throat.
So grasses have gone dry,
so curly dock, seedheads lift ripe brown,
the meadowlark opens wide
to the sky and warbles his song.
This western meadowlark sings in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. In the absence of Spring, he sings anyway.
Soon after morning’s fog
a forest snail extends itself
along a twig,
so very long along the twig
I can’t imagine what
is left inside the shell.
Both eyes ride their stalks
out as far as they will stretch,
wet eyeballs perched upon the ends
like little drops of glue.
The snail skin though looks leathery,
but to that impulse should I yield,
all length would contract into the shell,
eyes would vanish into its soft head,
and the snail might drop to wet moss
without its lichen breakfast,
so I keep my fingers to myself,
proud once again
to obey Grandma’s admonitions.
This is the Pacific Sideband snail that lives in the coastal rainforest from Alaska down to northern California, where the air is moist and rarely sees a freeze.
Play a game of peek-a-boo
with a pelican peeking through
a screen of cormorants.
The brown pelican’s eye of blue
is forward rolled and primal,
knowing, not a how-dee-do.
Wise bird, do what you can do
to keep a screen
between my kind and you.
We pass a cormorant with big green eyes,
and in bright sun today, its head and back
glow iridescent green, its long neck purple-blue.
A green-eyed cormorant has me in thrall.
I must be whisked to Ireland’s cliffs.
Some silkie magic’s in the air,
with cormorant instead of seal folk, and to be sure,
with only eyes and raiment glowing green.
The creature perches lovely on an old I-beam
that Mother Sea has salt-scaled with
the colors of a driftwood fire, and soon,
In Sea time, this rust of man will dissolve into Her arms.
About the green of cormorant: A mystery
I do not care to solve, for Earth Mothers
keep their mysteries, especially those
that touch upon the act of beauty.
New cold is bare and still
at minus twenty degrees,
but sun and shadow on snow
carry the day.
Flags of tall grasses arrow
toward a weathered branch
angling toward sky
like stubborn Norwegian
bachelors who still winter
rough in the woods.
Should one such notice this branch,
whitened and cracked but smoothed,
lifting as if from this pale grass,
he might nod, kick snow off his boots
and go back inside.
Crow wants me to be sure I know
her eye pins me to her perception
though I am behind her. There is no
blind spot in the black eye
turned back on me.
I mean no harm--I am enchanted
by her shingled scapular feathers,
her stance, her cock of beak,
the long ribbed primaries,
the hint of mother in her
dark but knowing eye.
The flowers of salal,
pendant urns of pink-white wax
that toward sunfall glow
like lanterns near tideworn rocks.
They hang in rows, wait for small wings
or long tongues to tease them into berries
so birds and bears will spread their futures.
Barking of sea lions
hollows the crash of surf
the way a hound’s bay
can hollow woods at night.
They have scrabbled
up the unforgiving rock,
lions of all size and age,
pups and dams and bulls
that bawl so loud the sea
hurls their barks inshore.
How they arch their spines
and lift their muzzles to sky,
propped on clawed front fins
against the surging waves.
The mantis looks large and rigid
until a small fly lands.
Forelegs flash blink-quick,
and the praying mantis chews.
This is matter-of-fact, without drama,
no struggle or audible crunch,
but as the creature chews up the fly,
it rests on forelegs folded under,
on its mantid knees.
So suddenly I get the Praying part,
It Preys, but as it eats it Prays,
and I feel that frisson of pleasure
when a word makes new a world.
Today we have Swallowing:
Keep your eyes on me.
Throw the beak up
to let the water drain, then
throw your head way back
to slide the fish down your throat,
like this. Aaahh.
If something still wiggles
your pouch, add water and repeat.
Pelican school is show-and-no-tell.
No grades, no grading;
every chick takes Pass/Fail.
The Test is to survive Year One.
If you Pass, you receive bright feathers:
a pink beak, a gold head, blue eyes,
red pouch, and a neck crested white.
Chance was not blind this day.
Tides arrange castoff lives twice
a daily round in homage to Moon,
bleak and bleached in sky
as crab parts tossed into sand.
A mussel shell sits wide in sun,
flesh long cleaned, leaving blues
that play rainbows across pearl,
the arch of shell halves tense
in the seagrass blade before them.
Chance has eyes.
This tiny flower covers half a fingertip,
yet affects me beyond reason.
It grows from fire,
among charred trunks fallen,
a little plant whose seeds
sleep in soil until wakened by flames.
Reason does not care much for metaphor,
but minds go mad without it.
I cherish what turns fired trees into
a kind of resurrection,
Ash becomes flower, proving again
that form is illusion,
one iteration of Life that
refuses to give up seeking light.
The solstice is upon us in the North; Sol is about to be reborn.
Potassium and phosphorus and calcium that were oak are now inside the little flower rising from black soil. May you rise likewise from your fires.
Out past the pier a merganser
rushes like a fury toward
something I can’t see,
webbed feet swapping so fast
his breast planes inside
its own bow wave.
If this is aggression
I am impressed, but
this hurtling toward
the invisible, with all the grace
of blind conviction,
feels too familiar for my kind
in these times.
I should not implicate the merganser in humanity’s mad rush toward biocide and collapse, but association is how the mind works. Both furious rushes feel similarly self-involved, but the bird perhaps has good reason. Both also have humorous aspects, briefly.
Harbor seals float in the Elkhorn estuary
eyes closed, whiskers down, at ease with life.
The black seal floats casually on its back,
the brown bobs up like a tossed bottle,
the gray arches its spine into a U
and floats like a rubber swim toy, all
looking sleepily innocent
as only wild ones can.
Some days it’s a delight to anthropomorphize.
Selkies live. I suspect they benefit from having no concept of future. I wish we had retained ours.
The lilac bud swells beneath the snow.
Like all lives of the north, buds know
that ice will end
and light spread
through days that spring buds free
to release the greens
that call our eyes to sing.
As hope does indeed "spring eternal in the human breast," so do the images offered by nature recall us to the truths we know. Set the Yule log on the fire.
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