What is it about backlit leaves? Or
the halo about a child’s head
when she stands before the sun,
or what backlight does for colors
and for forms, how light lets the leaf
teach us: of branch and rebranch,
of flow and spread, of deltas
at the rivermouth, degrees
of inseparation, watersheds
and stream-dissection, networked nerves,
trunk to branch to twig,
of the marriage of burgundy to gold.
The burgundy bark is red osier dogwood, the pale red the petiole of maple leaf, the gold courtesy of Sol and red maple, Acer rubrum, and the whole of it courtesy of an inclination of the Earth.
It’s time to eat almost on the wing.
I watch a young broadwinged hawk
prove it will live through migration,
watch it dive to ground and rise
with food beak-dangling, which swings
as it flies to a dead birch’s broken top,
where the hawk pulls the prey apart
to swallow. The hooked beak.
Strong cold wind streams broadwing’s
feathers in a bright sky, call it into flight.
Like tall ships, hawks work wind.
Carved by fluids through all time,
sailing ship and hawk
Wind-glide water, wind-glide air.
Broadwinged hawks pass through now, on their way to Cental and South America. The immature birds are both beautiful and poingnant in their youth. Many will survive the migration, many won’t. Mice and voles had best now be nimble on their toes.
That look of startle,
mouth not chewing, eyes wide,
that muscle tense that primes
neuron fire, pink toes ready,
flight almost happening. But
the real chipmunk is already
the blur halfway up the trunk,
the stilled chipmunk the illusion
insisted by eyes slow as ours
that unwish chipmunk’s flight.
So we tell ourselves stories more distant from truth each time.
How does mountain lupine glow?
Say it’s from within—so light
lives inside the flower.
Say at altitude, so close to stars
they can be nearly touched,
and every color burns,
lupine buds absorb starlight
as they ripen every snowless night.
When bright eyes behold lupine’s open glow
they pull the gathered starlight
into mind, which grows.
The sight of alpine lupine does clarify and enlarge the mind. Try it.
no imagine, just
this entire now,
as she flexes
on scaled yellow feet,
and I am in her eye,
yellow around the black
pupil which swallows light
and stamps my
image on her brain,
where it does not fit.
I and you are mostly irrelevant to raptors. We are too new to recognize. But they do know, as only top predators know, that they own us. What a thing to own.
Even as the narrow leaves of willow
turn from yellow to gray-blue
and let go to spread on wind and soil,
new buds have sprung
from every willow stem and sprig,
clasped tight to bark against
the white and cold to come, but
abide they will to green the spring to come.
The season’s promises that will be kept.
A young roughleg makes wide
blue flawless sky just
by wearing it upon his wings.
Broad wings they are and warm with
buff and white and fingered black
to soar this meadow world
a few last times before the pull
demands he travel south.
Top predators are required for healthy ecosystems. It helps to have a four-foot wingspread and be beautiful. But harriers nest and feed in wetlands, which are over half under plow or filled for construction.
Along roadsides, ponds, and trails, everywhere
the Autumn eye discovers edge,
are windseeds caught and feathering
the stems of weeds and barks of trees
Small but bouyant seeds explore the autumn winds
until some surface rough or prickly
catches them by filaments and holds.
On some breezy days windseeds catch
upon others caught already
and grow a sculpture delicate
made of filaments and seeds.
For a time they dance there, sculpture
belled, until a gust or heavy dew
looses them to fly or fall.
Basswood branches rich with clustered seeds
etch future into November sky,
an early solstice fest in silhouette.
Each seed cluster dangles from a slim fruitleaf
that tans instead of yellowing to fall.
These living spheres enact
the promise of the whole
in which each part depends.
Basswood finds it wise to release its seeds slowly, all across the winter months, and drops the final few into spring winds.
through the end of Fall,
blue stars stretch up
toward cold night skies,
centered still with gold.
The sheer stubbornness of life gives me heart in this season.
Bittersweet presents itself now
that concealing leaves have fallen.
I haven’t crushed the berry in my mouth,
so I don’t know why this vine
wears the name “bittersweet,” but
these fruits affirm that names
are given, human, old Adam’s task.
Today I have a birthday, and I am seized
by the beauty of berries on a vine
I’ve never found, but know from wreaths.
I’ve found bittersweet enough,
as have we all, for years replayed
fire every bud on memory’s tongue.
Like the sight of these orange fruits:
with time’s wraiths in my throat
the aftertaste is mixed, but lingers sweet.
Few lives are chartruese,
a good thing,
for the eye finds limits
quickly with this hue.
But wolf lichen does not wear.
On mountain firs and pines,
in that thinned air,
it fluoresces on standing wood
and fallen, splashes bright
on bark brown,
on snow-weathered gray.
Red squirrel has me in her eye
and I have her in mine.
This can’t last.
We are too different,
and both afraid.
She breaks it, hunkers down,
peers at me from bark.
Carpe diem not.
Small vines curl
around and curl about
in their hunt for sun
and a plant to steal it from.
We all live off each other,
but vines are clear,
do not hide their twists
and turns, and all they want
is what we all desire:
to give its seeds a place to thrive.
And such seeds. Four winged sheaths,
one seed in each halfmoon wing.
Virginia creeper climbs a spruce
and paints our holidays,
red on evergreen
as holly berries flame
against green holly leaves,
even to the textures, here
smooth and shine, there
needle sharp, so nature
does provide the images
to ease our passage through
the turning of the year.
Little Bluestem catches low sun
and breeze to glisten edges of fields,
where it persists beyond
the shortgrass prairie
it once reddened every fall.
The roots of little bluestem partner
with fungi in the soil, and have done so
almost for forever, and fed the bison herds.
Filaments of white crown the seed,
catch light, and feed it to the burrowers,
carry summer light through the cold
in granaries underground until changed
to milk by a hungry mother vole in spring
to spark the life in pups.
Winter food is all stored sunlight, and in the wild, summer sunlight stored.
With thin ice afloat in the pond
and November-early dark,
beavers work all night,
chisel young trees to the ground
for the sweetness of the inner bark
that carries life first to leaves
then to builder clan.
This is oak those teeth cut,
so hard that chiseled facets shine
with a sensual intimacy of mouth to prepare
the sharing sacrament of food.
But sometimes beavers just adult
take a dead tree almost down
until an expert tastes the chips.
They are working in the dark.
Some are new.
Night woods are alive lately with the crash and crackle of beavers wresting trees and branches through trunks and brush, then down the bank to pond and swum down to the submerged larder where they are woven into place, secure. Thanksgiving.
Wings flash black-white, black-white
when a mated pair flies in, heads
scarlet in November sun.
Both disappear into the tree
where they seek crunchy worker ants
and larvae white and sweet.
The huge red oak’s twice hollowed,
first by generations of ant carpenters
until the core is honeycombed, then
by pileated woodpeckers who love ants,
parent to chick, parent to fledgling,
each with a long barbed tongue
and a beak to split oak.
Ants ate the oak, bacteria digested the cellulose, woodpeckers ate the ants. The oak has grown wings, and a year-round red head.
Lake ice says, “V!”
long thin fingers cold
as numbed marrow
that we will feel
inch into us
for months as
ground frost delves
crystal by crystal
Turtles and frogs sleep already on the bottom. Tempting.
Near oak savanna I come upon a wing,
no head, no feet, no breast, just a bird’s
fresh severed wing. It lies on grass in sun,
more blue than black. No loose feathers near, no
tracks, a few small feathers twisted.
It fell from sky. Had to be struck so hard the wing
tore off and flailed in its death-instant.
A falcon hits that fast, talons swung forward for
impact, and other feathers did explode
and spread upon the wind. Loose breast feathers
gentled down slow, the wing spun fast.
We question. We look close. We answer with story. We hope we say the story right.
A goldenrod leaf spirals dry,
the midrib a ridge as
the blade shrinks away.
like scales on old skin.
Leaf edges catch light,
curl toward the rib.
This plant is alive,
sap pulled underground,
this dead leaf has grown root.
Cast into winter, this leaf
shapes the spiral
lives curl into
before birth and after death
As ponds and lakes grow ice-skin,
rivulets still wind their ways downhill
half clogged with fallen leaves.
Watercress and moss conspire to grow
through any cold as long as water’s wet
and moves, and delightful greens
bounce into my eyes. Just below the cress
an oakleaf point interrupts flow
like a shark’s dorsal fin. The water
has gone strange. In this gelid cold
with ice edging little eddies, the flow
seems oddly thick, as if begun to gel.
Water is hard to believe. It assumes topographies in the cold that are quite unreasonable. Water also assumes a topgraphy inside your skull that is unbelievable. (Your brain is 90% water; you think with a superbly fancy puddle.)
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