Morning Earth Poems
The last of the float ice
has become a topography of wonder
in its slow melt.
Water flow across the surface has carved
myriad valleys and ravines.
Were this land it is as if a giant blowtorch
had melted mountains flat and gleaming,
but this is lake ice where an ordinary brown leaf lies
sunken in a harbor at the end of a fjord.
Tomorrow the new phase, shapes
Ripples will lap at stones.
Say that one time at the cabin
a small boy ran into the woods
to find a tree so he could pee.
It was only after when he looked up
that he saw the smile curving the bark
of that old tree. He was startled,
and returned the smile. Later,
when no one believed his story
of a smiling tree, he pretty much forgot.
But say that later in his growing,
when he heard about the matter of size,
he recalled that tree
and wondered why it so smiled.
Or had it smiled at all?
So he hitched out to the cabin
and looked and looked at trees, but never
found a one that wore a smile. Then
in those woods he needed to pee,
but realized he was not about to use a tree.
Say that when he turned away
to bless a blackberry bramble,
every tree around him curved up its bark.
In softly falling rain stand
paired sandhill cranes.
They seem to say
pay us no mind,
we are but painted cranes,
watercolors slow today to dry.
After flying a thousand miles or so to nest, this pair seem dejected after days of chilly rain, and then this old goof drives up with a camera.
We begin again.
A green thread of Siberian squill
lifts above mulch, its
seed coat still attached
like a nodding head.
An acorn lies close,
closer is the wan fragment
of a wintered leaf.
The seedling seems to bend
at the waist, as if animal, but
it simply tries to unfold
into light. Just
below soil line, the
white root already swells
toward bulb, storing
first food made by green
and sun. Air will
go cold. Snow and freeze.
But there is comfort
in the name: Squill, Siberian.
Skunk cabbage never blends
into background, always insists,
as if kidnapped from the tropics
and refusing to look temperate—
She is choleric, child of fire
who thrusts her speckled reds
into this temperate green,
who pumps into spring air
the fragrance of decay to lure
flies and beetles to her hooded
spadix where pale-gold pollen waits
to be carried off to another
maroon hood that advertises,
dead meat here to feed your maggot brood,
and by the way, a flower too.
Skunk cabbage is a first sign of spring. This strange plant
generates heat with its flower that hides inside the hood,
which creates a chimney effect within the hood
that wafts its smell upon the wind.
First fruits of spring
and the bright nodding ant heads
of sporangia that mosses hasten
to stem into the breeze
so spores will sail into the world.
Their nodding charms,
that it‘s time again
to make more mosses
lest Earth miss this
reliving of her first greening.
Mallards land on the pond,
find no liquid to feed in.
They look all around, then
the hen starts off walking ice,
the drake follows, hapless.
Four flat orange feet
slap the ice skin
a hundred steps.
She pauses, listens,
takes a slow step,
breaks through, sits.
Cranes her head back,
gives him a look, holds it.
He flops over to join her.
They paddle in place.
We share much with ducks. When it’s egg time, females are implacable. His orange feet reflect on ice like fluorescent flip-flops.
and shapes the beauty
that only water finds
as it shrinks to solid
and bears the seal
of bubbles burbling
this way that
on thin ice underside
as if searching
for the rest of air.
Meanwhile, actual organic forms shiver as ice far outstays its welcome.
Muskrat legs it down the stream
so fast his wake could rock canoes.
All Earth is on the move,
much beneath her surfaces,
of soil where wakened seeds
wind white root between grains,
where buried toads have turned
upon their heads to kick their ways to light,
where concertina worms venture
air to test a crumbly leaf, beneath
water where light sings deep again
and painted turtles start to blink,
where new cattail sprouts hover
white-blushed-green just below
the surface as if perfectly arranged
for strenuous muskrat’s repast.
A bud shoves up from dark
already green, growing tip
pushing from pale winter’s sheath.
Soil that embraced the root
is shouldered off,
come back to life in melt
as light trickles between
flocs of wet black soil,
countless mites and microbes
just begun to stir and think,
like this pushy monocot, about
where to find a meal.
The last snow caught the robins.
In cold they clustered crabapples,
hop-kicked snow for dropped fruit
like huge fox sparrows.
Third day of this they forage.
A dozen sit in a highbush cranberry,
feathers puffed round as perched pumpkins,
pluck at red berries on twigs
so thin they bend away as beaks clap air,
so they flutter interlaced branches meant
for little birds and pluck again.
A few just sit in sun, eyes closed,
toes closed, black heads pulled in
above plush orange breasts.
Wild lives pay the price when snow comes late and it stays cold. Phoebe sang for days, now nothing.
Snowmelt sinks in twice-thawed soil.
Near a stream, hepatica springs from dark
carrying memory in one petal,
the bold petal that looked past the bud-shield
and met night truth of frost.
At first the petal tip was white
as its intention, but when
it opened with the other five,
that tip was withered brown.
Blemish is a concoct of the eye
recalled to its mortality.
Bee guides are intact, and this petal
does its UV glow to welcome
pollen dancers to the center.
I wake to the cries of Canada geese
bowing in the pond, each to each,
and plunging heads deep
to end each ritual bow.
These are mates,
probably for life, although
each spring they must renew.
Suddenly from a next-door pond
another pair lift bugling
and loudly splash down here.
Waters roil, and great geese
contest these waters. Mad chases,
head out and low
and loud combative flights
roil the waters, spread bubbles
over waves and ripples wide.
One of each pair attacks.
When I look close
red tongues bawl from wide beaks
at waterline, but they do not bite
today, they do not touch.
I think they do this carefully.
That is how they are not us.
Wild goose passions run high as ours, but they are blessed with behavioral inhibitions, or good sense, which our kind are not.
But geese do again prove that enemies are of one’s own kind.
How can hepatica be so suddenly blue?
The others are white, pale pink , or blue pastel.
But this blue, deep as ocean just
above the twilight zone, is an ultramarine bowl
where white anthers bob like droplets of milk
splashed in a crown from a falling drop.
Under brown leaves some mineral
turned soil water a bit acid, which
pulled into fine hair-roots, ascended
stem to bud, where it painted this twilit sea
where a radiant of white stars
trail white from a center glowing gold.
Little grass has greened,
few buds full spread,
lake ice just fell into itself,
and here little thirteen-lined squirrel
carries two cheeks plump with seeds
worth taking home to cache,
so heavy cheeks hang low.
I am glad she’s not hungry
in this season almost afire
with rebirth, almost ready
for young of every kind and more:
pollen to the bee, young mice
to the fledgling owl, snipe
winnowing dusk sky and dawn,
eager new ant workers carry in their jaws
aphids off to pastures fresh, and perhaps
a squiggle of pink ground squirrel kits
waiting for mom’s milk.
We all are fed and are eaten. That bargain is a sacrament never more alive than Spring.
A spring gift at day’s end,
Great Heron, Great Egret, together,
tall fishers unseen since fall,
alighted from sky
hungry from flight,
watch water whole
for what stirs,
give me the grace
to remain while I see.
Bittern is invisible,
vanished from all ken.
she has become a shape
that held, will not
say life, will not say
blood heat, eye
keen for fish for frog.
She is but a shape
a reed that reaches up
and may sway.
Bittern is a wetland heron usually silent, yet in mating it earns the old folkname, “swamp pump,” for its throatwet basso boom.
In pure beauty bloodroot opens
to the small wasps who love her
for her sweet nectar
as she requires them
to carry missives from her lovers
through spring light
and touch them to her center,
again, again, again.
Stubborn grain that stands,
a visible life history
that can be read with fingertips.
Not a simple series of concentric rings
like turtle scutes, nothing
so placid at the core of this life
as ripples plunked from Basho’s frog.
Instead a swirl, an embedded whirling
aimed back at beginnings.
These curved ridges
carry in them effort-smiles
and eyebrows arched, as if
oh yes understanding.
From Ralph Waldo Emerson, Circles:
Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.
For a long winter
I watched maple buds
slowly swell, tinge pink,
grow red, almost open
tight against cold
to sequester pollen
to spread on cold winds.
Now warm returned,
and maple trees throw wide
flowers, assert beauty
blushed red, and long
for warm breeze
to complete their love.
Sunday morning a great blessing,
enough to wake eyes moist,
three enchantments for the ears
and for mating with the Spring.
Tom turkey gobbles as he struts
close by, wattles flamed,
wobbling with each planted foot.
The sound floats into my ear
like the greens of opening leaves.
Wild geese paired
and bowing heads into the pond,
trumpet loud completion of the bond.
Sandhill cranes stand out back
in the marsh, stand close, heads
on long necks tilt to sky,
cry unison for this nesting,
an uncanny double trill
that enfolds my spirit whole
this morning Sunday.