Morning Earth Poems
The grass of choice to pull loose from the stem
and place between your teeth was timothy,
the grass with a bottlebrush on the sky end.
Timothy (we knew no names) released well,
tasted sweet, crunched, lasted.
The brush could still be in your mouth
a half-hour later, bouncing on its stem
with each footfall.
Did grass have flowers then? Now
they do. Now some catch white light
like stars in panicles. Some dance yellow
bright, and mouth-friend timothy
crowds mauve up and down the brush.
Where were my boy eyes?
Amazing what I didn’t notice as a child. I saw much that didn’t register. Maybe in my hometown then, boys couldn’t see things that required or evoked words like mauve.
They are always just about to take wing,
these iris golden wild and blue.
Say they do, sometimes, when no one sees
except the moon,
her long white eye. The petals move
but unlike feathers, for desire alone
lifts them into sky in the pale dark
of marsh and lake
when across water falls
the rippled path of moon.
This flower always seems ready to ignore gravity and lift from the moisture that engendered it, compressing all time into the space from wrapped bud to unfolded wings to wilt. But ah, then the seed, and another flight.
How cranes fly as day breaks
along the shallow Platte,
How their wingtip feathers
comb sky smooth,
How within great wings
they cup dawn sun,
How legs swing
gangly down and front,
prepare to meet water, mud
and take flesh again.
I took this photo in early April, but have had it toward the front of my mind ever since. The sandhill at the lower right cast a spell on me. He visited me last night.
Sitting wires between the poles
Fledgling barn swallows flutter their wings
begging for bugs, each time an adult swoops by
in its endless gathering of food with mouth open wide.
But the fledgling blue jay
rocks the feeder with loud lungs, demands more
and more as adults decide to cut the cord.
Flutter, flutter while you can, new birds.
You shot into yourselves so sudden and quick, so
expert in your nest gape that as sudden has lost power.
There is no escaping the rituals of coming of age. But bird parents are generally more clear about it than are humans.
Red osier dogwood now presents
berry clusters white
on reddish stems, favored
of the flicker who bobs
her ladder back
up and down the bush
for warm day food.
A fine being, red osier,
brings waxwings, never one,
and this flicker in and out of leaves,
and gives bright burgundy to warm
cold winter snow.
White berries seem unlikely somehow, like ‘dolls-eyes’ baneberries. Behind the birds feeding on white berries lift great umbels of white elderberry flowers.
Walking in the heat of day
the earth goes shimmery
with green on green on green,
shrub, dark bark and vine
and berries hard and green.
Milkweed flowers droop, prepare
to fall so pods can take their places.
Tansy opens golden on the hillside,
sweet clovers stand tall in white
Rose-breasted grossbeak father
feeds a fledgling in the feeder,
second brood. Every lady deerfly
hungers now for her blood meal
so she can put her hot insistence
into making baby deerflies.
Tall grass seedheads going brown,
but fields still filled with green graze
enough for nymphs of grasshoppers,
some tiny, most in late instars,
but still unwinged.
Along the tops of roadside grasses,
thistle blooms and late daisies,
newly wakened dragonflies make
flights from tip to leaftip,
practice hover-flight and backwards,
noon-sun rainbows in their wings.
Summer hot and muggy makes for curious walking. Every mammal, especially shorthairs like horse and deer and human, moves within a whirl of deerflies, looking like those old atom models with electrons zipping round. It tends one toward alertness, when all else hankers toward a nap.
It starts with symmetry, this inhalation
of the senses when they startle purity of form.
These five birdsfoot trefoil blossoms look
identical at first, each rich yellow, each
a pointed dome embraced by yellow skirts,
but then the eye in its delight looks twice
and sees the small asymmetries, petals just ajar
or insect sign, that gives the beauty breath.
Or find the ordinary cinquefoil
set with other perfect roadside weeds,
five petals each indented slightly as a heart, petals
palest butter on the edge, sliding down
a gradient toward a darker center, and mark the twenty
dots of anthers, tan with yellow edges, riding
on brief filaments, but some are blurred, not
quite pollen filled—here the simple cinquefoil
is synonymous with every life on Earth, all
that breathe, with vacuole or stoma, spiracle or lung,
all the slight mismatches that name beauty and are life.
Robert Herrick said it better long ago:
“A sweet disorder in the dress
kindles in me a wantonness,”
Sulfur butterflies have split the hanging
chambers where they dissolved their caterpillars
into green soup complete with code that wrote it all
into a butterfly with yellow wings that spread and dry
and flutter up and down the roadsides just above sweet clovers
and the seeding grasses. They pause at times as if to land
but never seem to settle anywhere. I would capture one
up close to share, but every time the camera meets my eye
the butterflies dance away as if they do not care about
an old poet who lurches after them through weeds,
as if they know they are themselves the poems.
No, the photo above is not a sulfur butterfly. It is a Prairie Ringlet, both a more charming name and more willing subject.
Issa’s baby expressed my dilemma:
A garden butterfly;
the baby crawls, it flies…
she crawls, it flies…
July heat and glare return me to the desert
where all the Chaco sacred kivas round their circle walls
and almost intersect the straight lines walls of everyday.
where the many kivas are surrounded
by the worldly linear and the hammer sun.
But the kiva cannot be enclosed by these straight line walls
which only almost touch the sacred circle,
for the circle is another world below the sun,
Earth’s womb, darkness eternal before birth.
In the center of the kiva floor, the sipapu where
the Humans climbed out of the mother,
above it, the roof hole which sometimes
lets in rays of sunlight with dust sparks
as the people enter—Hey,
nothing’s perfect—and there were fires,
enough light to see the plaster walls
and the story murals painted all the way around
above the sitting bench filled
with the people all the way around.
Chaco Canyon in New Mexico is an amazing relict of the Ancestral Puebloans; it was a ceremonial center of an entire wide-flung culture. In each of their communities the centers were the kivas, always circular. Apartments and storage rooms were strictly rectangular with walls laid ruler-straight. It seems that the tension between the circle and the straight line is very old.
What absurd exalted vengeance I feel
for the deer fly in my palm
that I just slapped dead.
She tightened spirals around my head
and landed on my neck
which sings now with my slap.
Close, she is a marvel: delta-winged
and copper-eyed, patterned wings and body.
She just wanted to drop eggs into the pond.
But regrets vanish as her sister nails
me on the forehead. Blood lust
rises quick as she bit,
but oh, she got away.
My forehead reddens, rings.
These flies co-evolved with the large slow blood-filled mammals, so we mammals bear some responsibility for their existence. The male deer flies live on nectar, pollen and plant juice. Females require a meal of blood. And why is my own blood lust so easily triggered?
Song sparrow is a morning joy
from a weed top, on a mullein stalk,
from a rusty fencepost bare of wire.
He surveys his patch of Earth
and over and over pronounces it good.
It’s truly song he sings,
from a vibrant throat it trills,
and at the end of each recital
a buzzy double voice pushes through
a beak opened and closed so quickly
that his head dances up and back.
They wake me early, these little rusty caps. They rotate on their perches 360, for they have a territory to attend. For once the scientific name catches the species precisely: Melospiza melodia. Say it aloud. Melospiza captures perfectly the buzzy quality of part of the song. And melodia—what else? Music is the greatest gift.
Soft the touch of moth
as it stood upon my palm
and took three steps, touch soft
as the fur upon its back, fur a russet
rich, inviting touch. but I dared not.
It was dazzled by day’s bright, confused
upon a window screen, no brown leaves
to vanish in upon the forest floor, for
this moth is animated leaf, a mimic
perfect as epochs could create.
First trees with leaves
that fell in fall would have to rise
within that host of flowerings, then
gradually, the more tan one sort of moth became
the longer it would live and love
and blend into all the fallen leaves
upon the forest floor until eventually
time scalloped that moth’s wings, drew patterns
on the tan, and even drew the marks
of pretend insect bites, and after several
hundred million years toward this fine leafiness,
it landed last night on my porch screen
and walked softly as
a falling leaf upon this primate’s palm.
The goal of mimicry is to avoid being eaten, and creatures that might like to eat a fat protein-rich moth are unlikely to find a dry brown leaf all that appetizing. I am both charmed and puzzled by the patch of russet fur right behind its head. Perhaps the brightness and/or texture of this color patch signals a desirable moth mate.
Babies present everywhere.
Fledgling birds and toadlets
fresh from summer nest and pool.
Sudden lines of swallows fill the wires,
tiny treefrogs on night glass,
The postwar boomlets of our kind,
that sweeping urge, demand to live again.
Uprooted flowers insists on bloom
and making seed,
to hell with roots and leaves.
Death teaches sap to rise.
We see it and our cells cry Yes!
Continuance is all that every life demands,
more than food, water, more than memory.
It is an older need each being serves,
but none quite know it until seized.
Reproduction is exciting and an incredible amount of hard work. Free will remains an open question. Cardinals here just fledged their second broods, as have the phoebes. One thing I like about the passionflower is how clear it is about its purpose.
They call it field bindweed, and for true
its flower binds my eyes to this wild
morning glory, this pale trumpet
that climbed high enough toward light,
pushed its lance-leaves up
on grasses and the daisy fleabane
to open in the pollinator zone where
wasps and bees venture down
the throats of trumpets for nectar
and leave behind a pollen grain
on the center stigma white
that waits to grow a tube down the style
into the ovary where summer magic
grows old Earth toward new again.
One person’s glory of the morning is another’s vining bindweed. As the trumpet unrolls and opens, it recalls the crinolines of the early 50s, only soft.
my eye is caught
by an odd dark
at a flower’s heart, the white
trumpet of the bindweed, the center
black that should be gold.
A dead bee contorts
inside the trumpet, fur
wet with storm, wrenched legs
poignance hanging on.
Edges of the bloom
begin to darken in decay
quickened in humidity.
In sullen heat
summer seeds its end.
Lush growth rushes to fill
ovaries with seed
that futures will exist.
And toward that end,
death for bees
and annuals that
they begin again.
As July wanes, Fall beckons. Bee is to hive as leaf is to tree. Ah, well, the deer flies are dying too (having laid their eggs in ponds).
The downy woodpecker male
flaunts his red top
at the suet feeder.
When the hummingbird
all whir & green hovers over him,
intrigued by this odd flower,
then zooms by him once, twice,
the downy’s head plays owl
and turns all the way around, but
whirls back when the hummer
zooms by the other way,
so the downy blossom
wags his head and pecks at suet,
one thing in its moment world
that knows its place and stays.
Wear flower colors in the summer and hummingbirds will doppler past your ears. A red bandanna did it for me. I never before saw it be true of a woodpecker. Perhaps the hummingbird was young and learning.
The nymph creeps up from cradle pond
on reed or stem, clasps it with six claws
to dry out, to split its back
and shrug its skeleton away.
The imago emerges moist and pale,
back-arched, wing-wadded, six
thin legs trembling in dry light.
It breathes, swells its long abdomen,
leaves its clinging shell a few steps
behind, pumps fluid into moist wads
of wing, which in an hour will scintillate.
The great head tilts up, down, swivels
the compass of the earth as it learns sight.
A fly wanders by, and the dragon
is released to flight.
After days, the dragons are no longer pale.
The male is red and the female gold,
they make a jeweled mating wheel
these white-faced meadow hawks,
these small dragons of the summer sky.
Like most predators, dragonflies are beauty fierce and wild. Joined, their colors are astonishing. Like all true beauty, the closer you get the more you see.
As I walk near I see
a little caterpillar on a boneset leaf,
stretched out flat on green until
I brush a nearby plant.
The caterpillar lets go its mouth,
stiffens its length and
from its hind prolegs
into the angle of a twig
branching from a trunk.
It must not yet have found its host,
or the pink twig would not be
so visible on dark green.
But immobility is enough to take in
this old predator so willing to be fooled,
take him in and charm his reaching heart.
Mimicry is fascinating. It looks so intentional when there is no consciousness at all, only stretches of time the mind can’t grasp, and a gradual evolution of twig behavior that produced more reproducing butterflies. The intelligence here is real, but resides in the great, slow Biosphere, not in the insect. I cherish watching it take its pose.
Sudden welcome cool front.
Strong north wind.
A vulture flies the wind in circles,
tilts wings vertical, banks and turns tight,
rolls upright, curves wind into broad wing,
beats three strong beats, coasts behind oaks
and up again in sight, rides gusts,
falls up from woods into wind.
What grace a few moments of seeing bring. Such a fine gift, this wind, these eyes, this Earth.