The Darkest Night

On the longest, darkest night of the year

a noble deer appears

at the northern edge

of the starless sky,

her antlers branched

like the brown limbs

of brooding oaks.

Through winter’s frozen curtain

shines a pale light

and then another

and another growing brighter

as Mother Deer carries aloft

the life of the new sun

like candles on the tree of life.

Watch as she flies over the sleeping houses

leaving the gift of warmth,

the blessings of light,

the promise of the sun’s return.

Solstice, 2016

Hibiscus

I pick one flower

a perfectly red hibiscus

place the plucked end in water

hoping it will drink and

stay with me for a while

stay alive though I know

the picking will shorten its time

has already changed its fate

from coquette to languid beauty.

Longevity is hardly the question now.

Perhaps there is no question.

There is only this looking, looking

this small remorse that I have interfered

this sigh for my clumsy human flesh

that steps on grasslings

leaves footprints in pink sand

in mud

picks a hibiscus

and only then remembers

that fate surprises us

picks us from our bush

our limb

so I place this perfect blossom

behind my ear

its bawdy pollen-laden stamen

observing me

from the corner of my eye:

here we go together

stepping out

to see what we can see.

Amaryllis

Sleeping bulbousness

round-hipped and heavy-lidded

layers of elephantine skin and promise

you are the India of flora

a subcontinent unto yourself

silk-red as a sari.

 

Having chosen a pot as round

and windowless as your soul

the gardener

in the dark basement

of winter

tucks you into pillows of earth

and waits

and watches

the invisible egg

of gestation

nestled in dirt

a singular

self-satisfied womb

taking all the time you need

and more

no questions asked.

 

And then

with the attitude of royalty

you present yourself.

 

How could we not

long for you?

 

Comes the carpet

long, slow, green

five runners firm

and impervious.

 

Each scarlet bell

a new surprise:

that such majesty

would visit this windowsill

that such nectar and velvet

of carmine and sap

would know from black

to answer to its name

and lift,

open its arms

and bow

to the applauding sun.

Potter’s Morning

First, the smell of red-brown

clay moist of earth

a column

thick so thick

we want no air to penetrate

this heft and dense

no bubble forming

undermining.

Knead, then,

ask this clay elastic

to know your hands

the dough and stone of them

pushing back and together

the palms cradling

the whole hand lifting

and sinking pressing

repeating the song

the bowl of your body

quietly forming.

April in Maine

Sometimes I want nothing

but to stand boot-deep in spring mud,

to poke around the flower beds

in the chill April air,

to listen to

this heaving subterranean

gardener at work

on the seasonal meanings

of seeds and bulbs and roots

and the wordless awakenings

and the perfect beginnings of things.

I cry easily these days,

sleep lightly.

Has life always been this sweet?

Or is it because it is barely spring

and through the cold rain and salt,

in the most improbable

and in some of the desired

places hard green shoots

the tough bulbs of April in Maine

are finding their way back?

I remember, watching them,

the long nights spent waiting,

the despair that comes

from living

where things really die,

where one need not feign surprise

that tender-lipped violets

are resurrected

from the frozen land.

The garden is ragged with

crumpled leaf heaps

and straw mulch pushed aside by

the rubber knights of tulips

the spongey knives of narcissus.

The accumulation of cycles

looks in April like unmeshed gears

and broken bones.

In May it seems to work as if effortlessly,

like things that are never resolved

because they work,

work together,

have never stopped working.

Waves Like Glass

The sea calls out her name.

 

We answer,

trying to repeat the miracle

with a thousand hungry syllables

that scatter

on the pages of the tide

like undigested fish.

 

Again she calls and

a wild breaching

cracks the fragile bone

of the inner ear.

 

We mouth hollow sounds

to fill the dry space

between us.

 

We and the sea.

Relentless and reflective.

 

She is unmoved by our

literal bouts of naming,

yet we cannot stop calling out

while waves like glass

smash on the rocks

and are made whole

again and again.

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.