Skitterings

Winter morning, below freezing, ground covered with thick layer of frost like unto snow. Oyster-gray sky streaked with clouds aflame with sunrise. Breathtaking colors. I drive to work, looking for magisterial hawks perched on power lines. None to be seen. At the corner where the patch of woods has been cleared, old tobacco barns are melting into the stubble, overlaid with a thin veneer of crystal. So beautiful, I say aloud. Something pure remains in the devastation. I cannot think of what. I drive on, pondering destruction and human hunger for it.

In the new rose-light little birds skitter up from the wood-edged fields. What type of birds they are, I cannot determine, just upward movement and wings. A strange line plays in my head: This day your life will be required of you. I suppose it’s born of constant murder in the news and too much reading, this very morning the strange coincidence of Diana, Princess of Wales, attending the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash. Did the struggling Diana sense any foreshadowing?

Why am I even thinking of these things during such a glorious dawn?

A shape swoops from the right, directly in the path of my car…surely a bird. I hear no thunk. I see no skittering escape in my rearview mirror.

The bird—if in fact it was—must be caught in the grille of my car. This happened once, long ago, when I was driving a different vehicle: I discovered a dead cardinal hanging partway under the car. Why, why do they fly so low?

I will have to stop and check. There’s nowhere to pull over on these winding backroads frequented by too-fast drivers and farm equipment.

There’s a tiny church tucked in the woods up ahead, past the intersection. Steep driveway, deserted area, but I have to get out and look.

Nothing ensnared on the wide chrome grille of my old car. Beneath the grille, however, are unscreened compartments and there, on the dark, recessed shelf, is a bird.

Alive and moving around. Gray, orange, and cloud-white, like the morning.

Oh, bird.

I take off my heavy black cardigan, wrap it around my hands, and reach in.

Gently, gently… then a soft, warm weight is in my sweatered hands. I make sure to cover its wings to avoid panicked and possibly injurious flapping. Its head is gray. Small gray beak opens and closes without a sound. Its eye, turned toward me, has a faint purplish hue, slightly reminiscent of my pet parakeet when I was six. The gray back and pale-orange coloring on the breast had me thinking robin, but now I can see it’s not. I don’t know what kind of bird this is.

Oh, little bird. I am sorry. As if my speaking will help, somehow.

I cannot stand here gawking at it. The creature has survived the trauma of my car; I don’t want it to die from terror of me.

I think of being in the hands of God.

Please don’t let it die, I pray. Is this a selfish prayer? I don’t know how badly the bird is damaged.

And what am I going to do with it now.

The woods…I skim for a sheltered spot. I step in the leaves and a sudden sound startles me: a rabbit goes skittering away, its big white cottontail bobbing against the sepia scenery. I had no idea it was there. What else is here that I cannot see—? I am shivering. I find a small ridge of leaves and pine straw by a bit of barren brush and there I lay the bird.

The bird turns itself from side to breast, facedown. There’s a bit of white edging on its tail feathers. I wish for to something cover it. The morning is so cold. My sweater might entangle its legs; scraping pine straw over it might alarm it.

I will go. I will not stay to see the outcome. It will recover, or it won’t. I recall the woodpecker that flew smack into the glass wall of the school where I work; it landed on its back in the flowerbed mulch and lay so still I was sure its neck was broken. Within a moment, it managed to flip itself right side up, ruffled its feathers, and flew off—zip!—as if nothing had happened. The robin I extricated from the grille of my sister-in-law’s car, having traveled miles down the interstate at 70+ mph, hopped around my backyard for a day before it flew away. Birds are hardier than they look…at least robins and woodpeckers are.

Still.

Should this pretty little bird die or recoup…it will be in its own natural setting.

In the hands of God. Not a sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the Father...

It is hard, yes, to leave it there and walk away. But I have done so before. With people whom I loved very much.

It is Yours.

Back in the car, I circle the tiny church named for St. John, heading on toward crystal-coated fields and misty-mirror ponds and the work that lies ahead. The little bird will never know that I will remember it, that it’s now part of me, stuck to my soul as long as I live. I know it and that is enough on this cold, fiery-sky morning, orange and gray, breathtaking glory tinged with, but not diminished by, loss.

“If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”Psalm 139:9-10 (my favorite of the Psalms). This is the view leaving my neighborhood.

As best I can determine: My unexpected passenger was a female eastern bluebird.

DSC_3019e eastern bluebird–female. jjjj56cpCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Twenty years

September, When Grass Was Green

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow…

(T. Jones/H. Schmidt, 1960)

I remember
our last conversation
in September
twenty years ago

you said you’d
been cutting the grass
and that maybe
you’d overdone it
going back and forth
with your mower
making a pretty pattern
—you thought your chest muscles
were sore from the turning

it worried me

—you were worried
about other things

but happy to be retiring
in two weeks

the thing about last things
is that you don’t know
they’re the last

I remember promising
to come celebrate your retirement
and how we spoke of you
having more time to spend with
your grandchildren

I remember getting the news
a week later
as soon as I walked in from shopping
with the retirement card I just bought
still in my hand

I remember that September day:
so glorious, cloudless
sky so blue it hurt
all the trees still green, sharp-edged,
clinging hard to the light

never again will September
be as bright

or kind

I remember coming home
for the last time

to speak at your funeral

to thank you,
my duty-minded, dedicated
father

twenty years
come this twenty-fifth day
of September

don’t you know
the grass is still oh so green
and Daddy, you are still
in the scent
of its cutting

Yesterday’s sunrise

with thanks to Susan Ahlbrand for the Do You Remember prompt with musical inspiration on Ethical ELA’s Open Write earlier this week. Susan remembered her own father’s passing with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”. I chose “Try To Remember” as a frame instead. The song predates me; I recall hearing it on my father’s radio when I was very small.

I still have the retirement card I bought for my father on the day that he died, with three workdays left to go. The card mentions that it’s a great time to be alive.

Twenty years, and that remains the great dichotomy of late September.

The swallows

In a corner
of a window
sheltered by
the carport
at my son’s home

a pair of swallows
built a nest

not well

as my son realized
one morning
when he found
a hatchling
naked, new
and dead
on the concrete
floor

the others
seemed safe
in the faulty nest

until the next day
when my boy
found all
the swallow babies
naked, new
so tiny
so dinosauresque
splayed across
the concrete
floor

some still living

and their mother
fluttering over by
the recycling bin
in the corner
crying
trying
to gather
her broken babies

they couldn’t be saved
my boy told me
with a breaking
in his voice

so I buried them
around
the oak
tree

I cannot think
about the ring
of baby birds
there in the ground
among the roots
of the old live oak

instead I stand
under the carport
noting the stillness
of the air

the silence
naked, new
in the absence
of swallows

somewhere out there
a mama
knows how much
she’s lost

like a child
I wonder
if she grieves

I grieve
for her


Baby swallows singing to their mother. Brookhaven National LaboratoryCC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


Sand dollar etheree

Inspired by and dedicated to Margaret Simon, who shared the photo and who’s mourning the loss of her father.

Photo: Kim Douillard

Half
remains
afterward
it is enough
tangible beauty
even in mourning throes
to sense the infinite flows
of life undulating beyond
what the eye can see or hand can hold
where the spirit abides whole, unbroken

Retooled tanka poem

Today Cara Fortey invites teacher-poets to compose tankas for VerseLove on Ethical ELA. A tanka has thirty-one syllables and, in English, is usually arranged in five lines of 5/7/5/7/7. Cara offers the example of Harryette Mullin, who reduced the lines to three, for flexiblity of form. In honor of Mullin’s nature walks captured in tanka, Cara extends this invitation: “Write one or more of your own tankas in the style of Harryette Mullen. Take a walk, literally or imaginatively, and write what comes to you in three lines with 31 syllables.”

Mourning Walk

Last summer when I walked here 
the fallow field at the end of the lane opened up before me
an undulating sea of green

Long before I reached the shimmering expanse
I could feel the mystical, quivering aliveness
in the depths of the grasses

Infinitesimal orchestra, vast insect choir
assembled in its tabernacle, offering lifesong
to all the Earth

Today, I stand here in memoriam
for the field is no more, shorn of its green tresses
its body ravaged by bulldozers

An unseasonably cold wind
whips with knife-shivering emptiness
even doves, high on the power lines, bear silent witness

Collaboration poem

Day 3 of National Poetry Month: for VerseLove at Ethical ELA, Gae Polisner and Lori Landau share poetry they composed via collaboration in a Google Doc as a means of inspiring one another and keeping the poetry flowing. The invitation today is to lift a line, a few words, or theme from a fellow VerseLove poet to create something new.

I lifted the line “Creaking of floor, house settling” from my kindred-spirit-writer-friend, Kim Johnson. She wrote of morning sounds, which include the “tick tick tick” of dog nails on the floor… see how “tick” made its way into my title, not even a conscious connection on my part. I noticed it when I reread her poem.

Time Ticks On

Creaking of floor
house settling
sighing at the close
of another day
shaft of sunlight
on the oak floor
glimmers brightest
just before fading
away

Beyond the window
tree shadows lengthen
across green green grass

I think about walking there
in the cool of the day
pretending 
the shadows
are portals 
where I might fall through

to find you

Tree shadows over green lawn. Horia Varlan.  CC BY 2.0.

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I’ve also borrowed a line from Lori, “to find you” – I think the point of inspiration between Lori and Gae, “gone,” has fused to my own Muse this morning. The line intentionally borrowed from Genesis 3:8 is one of my favorites… only now, post-poem, am I realizing how it, too, is connected to “gone.”

Lament and celebration poem

with thanks to Andrew Moore, host of Sunday’s Open Write on Ethical ELA. Andrew challenged teacher-poets to compose around lament plus celebration (these don’t have to be related; this is meant to be exercise in writing freely, in any form). He writes: “My inspiration comes from a distinct lack of good sadness, grief, and lament beside a healthy laugh and looking forward to the changes the future may bring.” The poem can be as light-hearted, silly, or serious as the poet desires.

Here’s where I am today:

Remains

Today, I mourn 
the destruction of trees along my rural byways
the displacement of wildlife
the destruction of Ukraine
the displacement of her people
the systemic demoralization of teachers
the systemic misplacement of trust

Today, I celebrate
the remnants
of trees
wildlife
Ukraine
her people
teachers
trust

Today, I hope
for restoration
in revelation 
and reverence

before all
become revenants

“The Elephant – great destruction.” Public domain. Note the trees, the cities, the elephant all in stages of disappearing … elephants, by the way, symbolize wisdom, memory, prosperity

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with thanks also to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.