In the Rainforest

What silent sound

in the gray and green

of the path?

What breath beside

this waiting ear?

Which green dream

of walking palms

wild ginger

fingered ferns

trailing ficus?

Which memory

in the long bone

of this spine

plucked the harp string

of this neck

and, unthinking,

she turned her head

in time

to see.

No, not possible, he said,

maybe a bird.

No, she insists:

four legs, this tall,

white, sleek, elusive.

What does it mean, she wonders,

when someone crosses your path,

emerging from the untrod,

present just long enough

to appear

and melting, then, back

into formless memory?

White jaguar spirit

or pale deer

or trackless puma

of the forest

and its filtered light

its floor of rain-slick mud and crawling roots

its curtains of shadow

its warm wetness—

She walks on,

hopes the mystery remains unsolved,

holds the beast in her heart.

That Unrehearsed Melody

A crow on a branch

of that old Norway maple

and then another

a third alights

and off they fly to the backyard trees.

They are free to go

and return,

as is the lone gull

and the loon who passes

on his daily flight

from lake to bay

and the cardinal couple

always in tandem

and the robins in late winter

nipping at the wrinkled burgundy crab apples.

They range over our plots

and lots and garden fences

our tenderly tended slices

of the village pie.

Perhaps I’ll hang a house and a feeder

to lure these songsters

these blues and yellows, browns and reds

into my domesticity.

But really what I want is

that lift at my shoulder blades

that unfolding of wings

that unrehearsed melody

as I take to the air

through the open window.

In the Distance

In the distance

a blue heron

at large in flight

ungainly wing span

neck of necks

enigmatically looped

he lands at the edge

of reeds and mud

king of marshes

royal hunter of fishes

beak like a sword

he sights his prey

lengthens and thrusts

the elegant hose neck

majestic loner

of blue gray proportions.

Knowing full well

I am watching

he ignores me

on one leg

posed

for more important conquests.

As I approach

he fans his wings

lifts

and forgets me.

For a moment

I am lonelier

than I know,

receding,

my spirit unhooked

like a winded kite.

In the amnesia of insight

I write this

as if

you too

were hearing

the wings beat

the salt air

feeling the feathers

circle your throat

as the blue heron

leaves you

with this same unspeakable longing.

I suspect these words

are not enough,

slant and unstable as they are,

sodden with ink and overuse,

to thread my sight

through your eyes

to follow his flight

of hollow bones

and wet feathers.

All the same

I walk home

picking up words

like stones from a beach

placing them

in twos and threes

looking for a pattern

that speaks

this language.

Bones

Bones and bits

of bird flesh

wet feathers

sticking

to a body skeleton

long and leggy.

How unexpected

an encounter

death and a bird

at the turn

on a path

of berry bushes

of old trees

and wild irises.

I should have

walked on,

left dumb death

on the wet sand path

to stare forever

from a lidless round eye.

Instead I bent

and touched the wing tip

like a cat or a priestess

willing a sign.

But no.

The island air

was damp.

The great blue

was crooked and

broken but

perfectly proportioned

still.

Changed forever by a moment,

the body only slowly

catching up.

Nahual

Land I have lost.

Scars on my eyes.

A wounded deer

comes to my door.

The forest of her fate

is private property now.

Her hooves mark the woolly thyme

that edges the garden path,

her breath marks the coming of winter.

I remember, I tell her:

We dug a hole in the ground

we buried our treasures

and promised never to forget

the wordless knowledge

the bond from earth to flesh

the close fragrance of dampening leaves

the countless colors of brown and green

the circle of friends

offering ourselves

to the circle of pines

innocent in our rituals.

And now she comes

wandering wounded.

The rivers of her thirst are dust,

the old paths have been

carelessly renamed,

the pines of our sacred ground

felled.

I make a place for her

in my garden.

I stroke her fur,

look into her almond eyes.

I haven’t forgotten, I tell her:

You stood guard

over our innocence,

my nahual, animal spirit,

but the tables have turned

and now I must fight

for your life.

Grace

Two giraffes delicately circle

a eucalyptus tree

primordial necks

like swaying highways

running

they are the envy

of elephants.

Nothing is finer

than that place of grace

where each toad and tapir

meets its moment

of perfection:

the elegant sweep

of the extravagant-tailed quetzal

resplendent in the rain forest

the whiskered manatee

floating among the mangroves

like a perfect potato

the rhinoceros

wading weightless

in the watering hole

the lanky flamingo

pink in flight

in the blue Caribbean sky.

The Green Turtle

A green turtle

lies on her back

on the pink sand

of the turquoise beach.

The man’s eyes are dry

as he cuts

the beet red flesh

from her okra shell.

Tell her you love her,

I whisper.

Tell her:

that the soup

of her softness

will feed your children,

that you will wear her patterned shell

like jewelry on your wrist,

that you will make your wife

a dappled comb

for her thick black hair,

that when you sit on your doorstep

this evening,

having feasted on her flesh,

you will hear her

calling to her mate,

you will know her voice

in your bones

and when you turn

in the night

to reach for the soft flesh

beside you

only the tissue thin membrane

of your own survival

will shield you

from her revenge.

Kingfisher

A perfect pool

as red as blood

the round eye

of the kingfisher

searches

circles.

Wings,

then stillness.

A path beside the stream

traced through the forest.

Irresistible becomes the desire

to cross the moving water.

Plunge, then, into

autumn’s muted mystery.

Stir up layers of fallen leaves,

step into unseen currents.

On the other shore

rejoin the path

new to you

familiar though

it becomes you

this meandering

exploring.