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.

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


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


for more important conquests.

As I approach

he fans his wings


and forgets me.

For a moment

I am lonelier

than I know,


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 and bits

of bird flesh

wet feathers


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


Changed forever by a moment,

the body only slowly

catching up.


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


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.


Two giraffes delicately circle

a eucalyptus tree

primordial necks

like swaying highways


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.

La montaña/The Mountain

La montaña

  “. . . y el pueblo parece enterrado

Pero el maíz vuelve a la tierra. . . “

                              —Pablo Neruda

 La montaña sigue

verde por nuestra mano

y por la sangre

que la ha regado

Las nubes siguen

escuchando nuestros cantos

con sus lluvias

Porque los abuelos no han muerto

De su mano está hecho todo

y nadie podrá borrar

la profecía del tabaco y las estrellas

Deslumbrados por dioses ajenos

los hombrecillos de palo abandonaron la vida

de los ancestros

y ahora lloran

como niños huérfanos

Pero los viejos

siguen soplándonos

su aliento por las noches

la montña sigue

verde por la mano de nuestros hijos

–“el maíz vuelve a la tierra”—

The Mountain 

“. . . and the people seem to have been buried

But the corn returns to the earth. . . “

                          –Pablo Neruda

The mountain is still green

by our hands

and from the blood

we have spilled

The clouds still answer

our songs

with their rain

Because the old ones have not died

All is made by their hands

and no one can erase

what tobacco and stars foretold

Blinded by foreign gods

the wooden men abandoned the ways

of the ancestors

and now they cry

like orphaned children

But the old ones still breathe

life into us at night

our children’s hands

keep the mountain green

    –“the corn returns to the earth”—

Amanda Castro (Honduras)

from Onironautas (2001)

Translation by Janet N. Gold