Morning Earth Poems
Turtle walked up to me today,
spoked eyes wet and spinning,
said, “Have you seen Muskrat?
We need her once again to dive .”
Turtle snaps her beak to end each word.
“No, I haven’t seen Muskrat for a long time.
“But I maybe saw her tracks.
Why does she need to dive?”
“Look at my shell!
Turtle Island is running out of mud!
The Four-Legs and Feathered
are running out of land, places
to call home, spaces to stay alive!”
On the far side of the pond,
on the wet verge before cattails,
a pair of sandhill cranes
tutor their golden pair of colts
in the art of foraging.
Bugs and worms and snails:
eat these and wiggly more.
Young beaks are brief,
young necks short. The colts
do try to stab the mud. Mostly
they stand upright to goggle at
the blooming, buzzing Earth.
Soon, as they grow tall, the colts will be taught a repertoire of Sandhill dances before they learn to fly.
A Lesser Yellowlegs probes the mudflats
with her long ecstatic beak
that sings to her of food invisible
with tactile nerves acute.
As the beak tip touches a wiggle,
her eyes close, and I fall in love.
In the clasp of touch we share
this closing of the eyes.
As a barn swallow preens,
he inspects his white-spotted tail.
The sublime form strikes me
with its metaphors of fin and sail,
but not him, he regards not his beauty,
only that of engulfing certain flies,
and perhaps that of his exquisite mate
perched close, intent on her own eyes.
Her several eyes shine
as she does not back off
nor shrink to the ground
but lifts boldly up
to my huge impertinence.
I can’t imagine what
those eight bright eyes see.
My two can see that
she can’t imagine me.
Raw courage at any scale can be admired.
For the tank-student at Tiananmen Square.
The four-spot skimmer
feels his wings vibrate
and his flight muscles warm,
and though a forewing
Has not quite filled full,
He flies, he flies, he flies!
Rests on a dry stem.
No swallow catches him.
As Sol tilts shadow a degree,
the dragonfly catches breath
on the same dry stem,
sparkling and adroit in flight.
No fly eludes him.
Sometimes the young get lucky.
Goslings swim after gander and goose,
faced front and paddling hard,
except for the one who turns her head
to look at me and cocks her head
as kids do when they try to perceive
a thing completely new.
Kids are kids. We are not alone.
We stubbornly persist in the belief that our cousins are not like us. Evidence to the contrary is sternly suppressed.
Our goal, apparently, is to be alone, and we are on our way.
The jester’s caps of wild columbine
dangle treats upside down
so only hoverers with long tongues
can reach the nectar held high in bell balls,
all this elegance contrived so low slung
anthers can powder with pollen
the feather breasts of hummingbirds,
and even longer styles receive.
Pollination is a wonder, but afterward no less.
Fool’s cap doffed, dangling ends.
The ovary lifts upright and grows
a goblet with four chambers, perfects
at the base of each a black pearl seed,
dries, to wait for wind to toss it to and fro
and arc black pearls toward soil.
A silverspot skipper ignores the landing pads
and bee guides the wild iris has arranged
to welcome bees and point them to the nectar
that will reward their pollination service.
But bees must thrust their way inside
to lap up nectar with their bristly tongues.
The pretty burglar butterfly slips
its long tube tongue into the nectar
through a side window left ajar for
clever fliers with extraordinary tongues.
What is a flower to do
when butterflies refuse
to play by floral rules?
After a long dry, wild rose roots
pump water up to swell a bud open
wide and welcome rainsplash,
and with it a heraldic syrphid fly
to transfer pollen rose to rose,
the joy in wet conveyed through time.
Yearling sandhill cranes flee my eyes,
they wintered south, flew north,
learned guns, now prove they are wise.
They were taught essential dances
before they learned to fly, this summer
hang out, sidle up and socialize.
As they fly from me they call out
from chambered throats, warning horns
mellowed by warm flesh, punctuated croons.
Sandhill cranes are the oldest living bird species, unchanged for ten million years, and humans shotgun them from the sky in several states along migration flyways the cranes must use, for meat the hunters do not need.
Blue-eyed grass shines open wide
from sand plain prairie grasses,
the iris of her eye pure gold.
Butterflies and bees visit her for nectar,
witness the eyeball seedpod.
A fresh dragonfly rests after first flight
since pulling itself from its larval skin,
now a back-split husk clinging to a stem.
The hunter rests revealed and secret still.
Lines of gold edge each wing,
its white face pure as archangels’,
an innocence as inscrutable as
the countenance of each natural predator.
You say I’m unlovely
but I know I’m fine.
I’m bristly and blue
with round yellow spots
in patches of black.
My long stripes of blue
are bordered in gold,
my skirt of orange bristles
is fit for a Chinatown dragon.
I hatch in my webs
by the thousands
and graze all the leaves I can find.
I am blessed in my beauty,
my manifold colors, I know I am chosen.
So how am I different from you?
Egrets have fledged and the fledglings
gather in wetlands to practice
feeding and flight, life-after-nest,
day care for egrets so new.
Today they try flying in flock.
What do I do with my legs?
They keep hanging straight down.
How do I carry my neck?
It sticks out too far. Elbow it how?
Old-growth forest light
sings to the eye and lifts it
aching with rue toward sky.
Fernlight wells from frond,
fissured barklight from shadow,
earth become pillars thrust into sun,
glint of their needles on high
above the sharp vine-maple green
lit like lamps that pull us toward was.
Shadow lies flat on the leaf
while its maker hangs in her silks,
her truths masked in color and shine.
Both shadow and spider are small
but shadow is larger than life,
old daughter of night, Atropos,
Morta, cutter of threads, Fate’s
shade that hangs whole
in the bright sheet-web of mind.
Vine maple’s twin seeds are brash,
do not hang hidden in leaves,
but thrust up into light
to spread their vanes, buttery flies
that carry small trees inside.
The seeds at the center grow green.
Red are the wind-vanes now, but soon
both will complete growth and dry dun
while fine reds transfer to leaves.
A fledgling blue heron leans away from harassing terns.
Three nests of black terns, most new as the heron,
Line up high and swoop down to skim the heron’s head.
Something in them knows that herons must be mobbed.
Like a cypress stormed, the heron leans,
but will not duck its head. Its long neck twists to see.
The great bird has no clue; it is magnificently new.
When one swoop of tern pecks hard the heron’s skull,
off it flies--it knows that much--escorted by mobbers.
It’s hard to be so entirely young and so tall.
Great blue herons do eat nestlings of marshland nesters. Black terns know this in their genes; the need to mob predators is strong in fledglings no older than this bewildered heron.
As a chalkfronted corporal dragonfly
rests on sunwashed wood, his wings
cast crisp shadows that rival the source,
repeating the network of veins
that flow and ebb responding to need
for stiffness or the strength of the reed,
but the shadows are dry and will not
be when the corporal flies.
Little wood-satyr dances slow
through woodland shade
and lights on low green leaves
where shafts of bright
wake the eyes upon his wings
and ring them gold.
A Douglas fir has dropped
a careless needle into the dark
of one trumpet fungi mouth that bends
a white rim up from forest duff.
Bells rise from long horizontal tubes
like alpenhorns of Switzerland.
White and dark, circle twins
alternating out and in
spun like yang and yin.
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