Starlings dress for Carnivale
to usher Spring and nesting.
Iridescence spectrum bold,
splay against dark feather sky.
The narrow bill inlaid with gold,
the whole bird sudden clothed
in flamenco edgy elegance.
So much is in the eye of the beholder, or the season. I don’t care for starlings most days, but when they offer a gift of such beauty, I cheerfully accept.
Earth is making lace of ice
on the forest floor,
ice above, then space,
then autumn leaves.
Sun rays, south slopes,
small snow, well met
upon the edge
between liquid flow
and lace of tenuous
but solid ice stretched
above a tapestry of oak
and ironwood leaves
that wait for thaw to sink
into the crucible again.
She dares, Earth boldly
suspends in air ice lace
so smoothly pierced, so thin
a mouse’s breath might
bring it crinkling down.
Earth is the original queen of the domestic arts. Water’s changes of phase during these moments of tension between winter and rebirth are many and mercurial. Yin to Yang to Yin again, and no doubt we were each part of it once or twice.
A year in one: two bud cones
near last year’s sun-glowed leaves
grace the sapling ironwood branch.
Sun plays through leafskin amber
to light the-tree-within-a-tree
of veins that is the signature
of life’s climb within connection--
a year in one eternity.
The tree-branch diagram is the fractal staple of much eco-thought. This shape caught in leaf, that helps our minds grasp the way things are, contains and demonstrates the network between branches that is life’s essential two-way flow.
A pod to ripen and refine seeds
stands dry in a winter field,
seeds spread, dance done, song sung,
yet Earth has more for this small pod
to give when I bend close:
her aloe shapes, her color
muted garnet like corals
fanned to strain the sea,
swings me round and round,
sings again to me her song,
plants deep in me her seed.
The gift of beauty heals what we were not aware was hurting.
Round and round It all returns
Pulled up from roots, spread green in sun,
the leaf turns brown and falls to earth
where tongues of snails scrape soft away,
leave lace of stem and veins
as round and round the leaves sink in.
Round and round It all returns
pulled up from roots to create tender twigs
and buds bit off by deer and swallowed into rumen,
passed up and chewed as cud,
digested by bacteria, passed on through
as pellets of black dung and fall to snow which sinks
it onto fallen leaves
where longer sun and wet awaken molds
that thread thin tubes throughout
and eat the deer dung once again,
paint it white with fruiting spores to
pass the mold through time.
as round and round It all sinks into
topsoil’s crucible of ten billion tiny mouths
that render leaf and dung to elements that
water percolates to thirsty roots
to be pumped up and build the tender stems
and tender greens that feed the deer, so
round and round It all returns.
We live within the cycle of rebirth, redeath at the elemental level. Our bodies and everything around us are 100% post-consumer content, in the most literal way.
A flat expanse of snow becomes
a fluffy cliff where flat
chops air down to a frozen stream.
Snow has no angle of repose,
the break is vertical,
edges looking melted in the way
of cotton candy when it’s torn
off by the mouth, or
peaks and valleys of meringue.
I want to touch it with my tongue.
I never thought I would salivate from looking at snow. Images are powerful in ways one can’t predict. Earth feeds our senses all.
A dead alder trunk stands,
with bright fungus fruits,
mouths of fuzzy little animals
reach out of bark
white against dark,
and some of these strange mouths
curve into smiles.
Alder must be tasty. I've never been smiled at by a fungus before, not that I've noticed. The variety of Earth is without end—every day something I’ve never before noticed.
This plant lives through sweep after sweep of tide,
lives almost buried in black sands.
A few thick leaves reach toward sun,
succulent to store rain water,
this seashore a salt desert. Dropped
feathers have blown to leaf tips and caught,
shiver there in changing winds. Twelve
pink tube-flowers have pushed up from sand
to seek pollination to set seed, for when
it comes down to it, this wet desert plant
has the same hope as do we all.
Every living being has this overwhelming urge toward resurrection. Plants express it so richly. Dum spiro, spero.
What power a shape holds,
nested in blue ice.
Only an oak leaf gall,
its small wasp loosed
a lifetime gone.
A shell, a skin, a sphere
its hollowed dark.
A simple shape that
echoes space, and speaks
below the mind
of time and stars and breaking grief.
Simple things can go right to the core. This little leaf gall rested in the cup it had melted into softening snow. It floated in air just above the surface of the ice.
The virtue of arcs is how
they glimpse for us the shapes lives make,
of action, plot, love, a fawn’s inquiring neck.
All in this essential curve
that concedes to gravity, that soars sundog
and rainbow beyond the split of light.
The cattail leaf points to its source, thin
grass stems etch arcs on snow,
tips buried or free in air, the very shapes
of our strange human careers.
We squeeze meaning out of images of shape. An older meaning of career is cognate with careen.
From a freed moss forest reach hundreds of fine spears
that will grow capsules filled with spores.
They grow red-green, translucent bright,
push past a sagged catkin
that answered the impulse one spring gone,
but from a tree. Moss is the forest of beneath.
Spears push up past an aspen twig
that thinks it is a thigh bone.
Spears push tall to catch the wind for spores.
In this greenwood an inch is Jack’s beanstalk.
Below the spore stalks
a canopy of green moss leaves.
In the microclimate an inch above the moss leaves, air is released to move. This little height gain will spread spores
much farther than without. Some will find the sky.
A goldfinch flies across the snow-pure pond:
Quick beats, fold-wing pause, quick beats, pause
as she draws scallops in air.
With every fold of wing she falls.
As she falls, beneath this bright still sun,
her shadow on snow waxes like
a sharp black moon with tail. Then wings,
and the black moon wanes. Like much,
I see this only after flight when
bird shadow pops up on snow
in photos of pond tracks. How
wonderfully strange, this Earth,
where birds do fly with folded wings.
Many birds find the rollercoaster path efficient; it’s a way of turning the engine off and coasting a bit. Small birds fold their wings in a controlled fall; large birds beat a few slower strokes, then leave wings outstretched and soar. Happy accidents spur much of my thinking.
All the edges slide together now,
seasons' bounds--tensions melt
winter into spring, ice toward water,
red turns into green, all
thresholds to move out from.
Endings open doors.
Red is at the root now in the peat bog.
Snow covers it again,
but bright red pitcher plants hold melt
and leatherleaf spreads more subtle red
while at their roots moss mounds
send green up from fall’s dark flames.
The interface of seasons tilts back and forth each day now. But all know that longer days and taller sun will prevail. The incredible red of pitcher plants protects the plant from UV light and also signal insects to come hither. The anthocyanin compounds leap bright in insects’ eyes. Leatherleaf is the most common heath in muskeg bogs. I have no idea why old growth on bog mosses is so deep a red.
Above snow lifts a gooseberry stem
rich with thorns, many small all around
the circle of the stem, but at each leaf axil,
each juicy bud, grow thorns thick and
long, strong defense for feeding leaves.
But a little vine has dared, pretended
there are no thorns, has twined the stem
right down at thorn roots, let the stem
carry its small weight toward light.
Like a circle dance this vine twirls
its way up the line of stem, introduces
curve to well-defended straight.
Where grows a barb, vine spirals round.
The metaphor is multiple and pure.
It is a delight to receive Earth’s images when they pull the mind in all directions. Ambiguity has great virtue.
A flicker sits in flying snow,
toes curled on the feeder’s edge.
He has pulled deep inside himself.
Spring waits, large bird offering
his smallest self to wind and snow,
feathers fluffed to hold heat.
He is migrant, come to offer to a mate,
endures every trick of March he must.
The season is within him, colors rapturous.
He will not know his beauty until she
hears his drum and song and chooses him.
Today is the first full day of Spring. Redwing blackbird males have arrived, looking confused at 15” of new snow. Robins are making merry with frozen crabapples. Flickers were courting in the oaks when I drove home this afternoon.
The aspen makes a mandala of loss.
A branch here shed a twig,
we can’t know why. It’s done,
and parent branch has gown a scar
of lines that radiate to a center raised
and canyoned like a miniature volcano.
Beneath the radials wheel circle lines of growth,
an edge of corky bark rims all.
This loss is not new; lichens sprinkle
gold against the old wood gray.
This circle scar is memory of
no consequence but to twig and tree.
Living organisms share the experience of loss, but few can afford to dwell on it.
Paired bluebirds near the nest box
I have not cleaned. I open it
to see one blue egg that wintered here.
It is whole, pale blue, rattles
when I shake it--yolk or embryo.
Outside the box, two bluebirds flash
strong color as they hunt
pale grass the snow has left.
Inside,an intact nest, one spring sky egg
abandoned. If I shake I’ll rattle,
so I empty out last year.
Mysteries are easier when they are not about abandonment. But mating beings needs be optimists.
Read the life of tree,
how branches reach out from
the sapling at the core
like wakes in deep water.
Read the split of trunk,
cleft fibers smoothing now
in time’s softening.
Fungi wash their palettes
across the broken surfaces,
pale pink and taupe, black and gray
on fracture lines. Ripple grain
catches light where wood
wrestled gravity to a draw
for almost a century.
It lies in woodland duff, debris,
and slowly tree will become duff
itself, and more slowly still
will re-birth fragrant soil.
After snow covers our eyes white,
our retinas embrace color found.
Cone cells spin in pleasure when
they catch a lichen green or gold,
or a yellow bud atop a seedling tree
with gold hints down the stem.
“More!” cries the eye. Mind smiles, knows
that spring will soon be happy to oblige.
The beauty of nature has such deep texture—the closer you get, the more astonishing it becomes.
I found a bud becoming bird
as it swells from the tip of branch.
The beak curves slightly down,
grooved between the mandibles.
The eye, though, is a puzzle prime—
the orbit’s huge, but the eye has not yet filled,
or a membrane shields the eye
from sky as if for bird of night.
Earth is endlessly creative, and still
spontaneous, but this is novelty supreme—
a bush has sprouted bird. But I worry
just a bit: Has she forgotten wings?
Earth is filled with novelty, surprises day by day. Not so long ago, spontaneous generation was generally accepted, for it stood to reason, unless one carefully observed through time, as did Maria Sibylla Merian some three hundred years ago, and first described insect metamorphosis. Read about her here:
Fresh from melting snow,
perched upon a mildewed leaf in sun,
a grasshopper that slept the winter through.
Half-grown. Youth, freed from ice time,
as is all spirit now, color drunk we are.
Grasshopper green, antennae blush,
abdomen rose above, green below,
hind knees rose.
It rests, I said, on a mildewed leaf, a beggarly
description. The leaf is mildewed a faint
powder blue on all except the veins edged in relief
which map it in on a rust brown I can’t name.
When I bend my camera close, the grasshopper
shifts but does not leap, to my pleasure
and surprise. I look again and see.
The shadow of its thigh is strong but partial.
The ridges to make song are sharp,
but the lower halves of both hind legs
are winter gone. So much for the pleasure bond.
I notice now its eyes are white
and can’t recall what color they rightly are
and wonder if winter’s left the creature blind.
Something leaps from leaf to the grasshopper’s
left thigh. It is mildew pale, this arrival. It leaps
again from leg to leaf and into dead grass.
I see its pattern and its name: leafhopper, lively
though it wintered over and intact.
A kind of blessing here for watchers of the wild:
Look once, look twice, and try to see.
My pretty broken grasshopper will help
a returned bluebird shell its growing eggs. Such
griefs are brief and part of our becoming, while
tiny leafhopper takes on winter and has won.
I don’t really care to be instructed by the wild, or much by poems, but that’s just habit & hubris. I do find if I look longer than a glance, I will always perceive more than I first saw.
I could spend lifetimes learning how to see.
Spring snow melts in obliging ways.
If you stick up from the surface, say,
of field or woodlot, snow will circle you
with emptiness, within a hole will center you.
It works two ways: what of you sticks up
will get more attention from the sun,
and what of you sticks up
will catch the interest of winds,
move you to and fro, make wiggle room.
Do not fear snow that wants to swallow you.
Stick up, expect wind and hope for sunny days.
This is my first use of the phrase “wiggle room,” and I hope the last. I do enjoy the physics of this holey process. Circular volumes are universal.
Last week’s foot of snow is gone,
soil begins to thaw. The eye craves green.
Here! The green double sword of a bulb
thrusts through a huge translucent leaf,
hosta pale wet, almost again soil.
Oak leaves surround. One hides
a feather, its shaft visible. A feather shed,
a year’s growth dead, green pushes through,
again-- all we know, all we need.
The craving is answered once again. Field grasses are just spearing up. Suppose all this hinges on the horns of geese these mornings as they check for open water in the breeding ponds. It could.
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