A California mantis stares me down,
easy with those bulbous eyes
and spiky Popeye arms.
Its binocular eyes glide side to side
to gauge the leap. Long legs, wings,
but power rides its striking arms
edged with chitin knives.
I am large, a tech-rich primate, so
I pluck its soul into my camera.
It turns its eyes away. But
mandibles begin silent chewing,
grind up and down its wedge of face
as goose-bumps ride my arms.
This mantis lives in Cottonwood Springs in Joshua Tree National Park, where it stares at other moving beings all day, eats some without a thought about their souls. Now its soul has entered you--it went in through your eyes. Do you think it knows?
Berries look mostly innocent, though
this cluster of pale yellow shares small kin
with sugarplums. Not red nor blue,
they fade toward pallid white.
All these berries invite
is winter birds when
what to pluck grows lean.
Pheasants will scratch snow for them,
woodpeckers take them too,
but do not you, for they will swell your tongue
and madden you too with itching.
They wait now for winter birds to hunger,
these fruits of poison ivy.
Digestive acids etch the hard seeds just enough that they will germinate after being dropped within fertilizer.
Cold night, scraps of snow,
a white-footed mouse out foraging.
She finds mushrooms,
poorly timed, welcome.
Her tiny tongue finds them tasty,
her teeth cut chunks else a waste, too cold
for mushroom ribs to mature spores.
Some man cut the tree this fungus fed.
Algae quickly greened the chainsaw grooves.
However they will, lives take and grow.
Ice owns every texture, silk to skin of shark.
Before the snows, ice too far from shore,
the textures speak to eyes. We sense
smooth where sun warmed stones
to melt a small round rink.
Around that circle stretches lake,
its surface wrought and wrinkled glass
the hand shies from but light does love,
photons sparking every ridge
and soothing every valley.
Air says, “Freeze!”
Stream cries “Flow!”
Air replies “Stop.”
Stream insists, “Got to Go!”
Air finds leaf stems poking up,
Begins to grow ice dollops
For Sun to glow.
Stream says, “Oh! Splendid show!.”
Where I touch Air, I will slow,”
So everywhere I go,
I will greet Sun and glow!”
A raven near Death Valley
croaks and mutters at near humans.
Power and Presence this bird owns.
Each feather shines in desert sun.
The raven is so entirely Here
we humans pale to shadow.
Boat beaked, jet eyed, the great bird
turns its head and stares at me
as I acquire its portrait. I am
but near human, I assert,
halfway natural, almost all Here,
not a pale shade.
The raven is unimpressed,
stares. Wants to see wings.
The black-bellied plover stands
among cobbles at low tide,
the only black her liquid eye.
Her beak’s been probing
bristle worms in sand.
She is young and shies
from my advance, flies
a quick survey circle
and behind me lands.
Here all is smoothed by sea,
round centuries of stones,
kelp floats, sand, my self,
soothed in the depth of plover’s eye.
Leopard Lizard cocks a baleful eye;
it shows that he is wise,
for what alive with legs or none
should trust in human smiles?
“But that’s not me!” I cry.
“I find you beautiful.
May I pick you up and take you home?”
“I am home, where I belong,”
Leopard Lizard’s eye replies.
A twig fell from the oak
into snow, where its color carried me.
I blew off the white
to see lichens orange and gold
and subtle grays fine as any
feather of the dove.
Flowers of the bark
stay bright when sky is wan,
continue breathing, slow,
and in their nooks and crannies
water bears sleep, wait like me
for warm and rain while
lichen colors carry me.
Water becomes Proteus
at the drop of degrees,
changes phase at whim all day,
vaporizes, flows, solidifies,
escapes all questioning.
enjoys each way sunlight etches ice
when every edge becomes hushed art.
Ice forms thin where river touches shore,
quick to loose itself and flow,
give up its sunward tilt, relax
its ridged and pierced topography.
Here an uplift, there rolling hills,
lakes of dark and bays, idle shapes
by virtuoso Proteus, water mind
wandering through forms and truths
of what will be, and the liquid at his root
to which he must return,
the only truth that holds him.
Sanderlings usually chase the ebbing flow
to catch their stranded meals,
but these two will not wait.
Standing in thin water
lets the beak probe for tiny prey
that find it safe to breathe
now that ocean has returned.
Beak tips tingle with rich nerves
that sense exquisite quivers
in soaked sand that cry out “Here!”
Each year this testing
in this valley we name Death,
on this creek we name Salt.
When the water dries, thirst
scrapes at clay along the bank.
These wan scrapes persist
for months after their makers fell,
or wound through a canyon
past the valley walls.
Minus ten degrees of cold,
cardinal faces a sunny wind,
feathers puffed up for warmth,
beak to bitter breeze.
His crest is stubborn grand,
his eye is clear and wide.
Winter’s winnowing of birds is old
and to the cardinal known
deep into the bone since the times
when smooth scales covered him
and feathers were inspired.
Inscribed in his cells he knows:
Breathe cold air through your nose,
face the sun, keep beak closed,
present yourself to winter
crest high, eyes clear and open wide.
Cardinals are tough. They slowly extend their range north since first nesting in Minnesota in the 1940s. They open with fire our half-closed winter eyes.
Color in the desert
laves the seeking eye
as water soothes the throat.
Long beyond flower
this hedgehog cactus
offers spines of red,
near as dark as fingertip blood
when it bites air
after trying to touch beauty.
Whimbrel leads the way
as ten sanderlings
race into flight.
Shape and thrust:
the arc of whimbrel’s wing,
her breast, foot lift splash.
White angle underwing
foot thrust, leap, downbeat.
Pure intent, pure act.
Except torn kelp,
into this rain light
bird wings etch the beach
in formal monochrome.
Where the rivulet nears the St. Croix,
the steep fall keeps flow free, but
raw cold frees ice to imagine filigrees
of infinite artistry, while splash grows
hills of crystal frost above
floating fantasies of ice pierced
by light and water both, smoothed
by flow into forms almost alive,
with blood of liquid silver
that surges clear down falls
to birth itself ice, becoming every
bright caprice of water’s shifting phase.
The eagle locks my eyes with his
from high above my cloud of breath.
I search for a bond beyond our stares.
There. One foot pulled up
into feathers, one talon
just exposed at ten degrees below.
I am absurdly pleased to see
we share the Way of the Freezing Toe.
Each feather of pheasant
flowers in patterned auburns and reds,
maroons deep and blues,
pale margins and sharp shingle-tips,
sometimes kisses of black.
All made to break up his outline,
make him unseen, or
more like to entice a hen--
bright beauty rejoices, for
Earth is a tapestry woven by life,
Life a tapestry woven by light.
Brown pelicans cross blue shallows
beyond surf where little fishes
wink the surface silver.
A trick of light hides the hunters’ eyes,
which are in truth bright with hopes
of a school thick enough
to fill a pelican pouch with wiggles.
Green grows in Death Valley sand,
leans upon bleached bones of elders.
Roots hold sands worn so fine by winds
they retain moisture if root hairs refuse
to let the surface slide downvalley.
Again, green kindles a haven for life
to cluster, an outpost ecology writ small,
bacteria to shelled soil amoebae
to springtails, leaf beetles and ants
to night lizards and whiptails
and the cryptic seeds of flowers,
waiting to burst forth in February rains.
For however long it takes, these seeds
are the desert’s buried `elan, always
prepared to christen their valley Life.
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