A Confederacy of Flight

Maybe it’s middle age,

all the talk of joints

and life insurance, but

my envy has shifted

from the lovely

polished humans-

whatever it was that

once looked like success,

that tenuous beauty-

to the preposterous

hornbill, the beige

and ruffled mousebird,

all those flying things

with their sharp purpose,

those magnificent wings.

I dream of decomposing,

feeding my tired skin to

an earthworm, just

for the final hope of being

swallowed by a bird,

of joining the swooping

confederacy, the hope

of all that air

lifting me.

When the Time Comes

To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go. ~Mary Oliver

These daughters pressed against my side,
their hair smelling like the warm earth,
the one on my lap, all squirming limbs and softness,
they will die soon- maybe in one year or seventy-
there’s no use denying it, trying to forget.
Like the agapanthus,
all life and exuberance, pressing colour and
movement from every cell until the day when
life begins to wear out, the leaves start
to curl in on themselves, the petals loosen
their small grip, or the fine white butterfly-
how does a butterfly die?
I watched one being eaten this
morning by a swooping green bird,
it fought its sudden demise with fierce flapping,
holding on to life till the last dive
into darkness. But others must fall
silently in the trees, or lay
their tissue wings across warm stones
letting the sunlight swallow them, the wind
lift their papery bodies after they’re gone.
I press my mouth against my daughters’ hair,
the skulls that grew beneath my ribs,
I lean into their aliveness.

The Sacred Ibis

There was a time when the Egyptians worshiped Thoth,
the god who gave them writing, wisdom, words,
their god with the head of the ibis,
all beak and no forehead.
They worshiped the ibis itself, too,
not the loud squawky hadada,
but its silent cousin, the white sacred ibis,
collected their bodies for great burials,
painted, in faith, their avian portraits over temples.
Every morning I watch a flock of sacred ibis
float across the valley behind my house,
their black curved bills, their white bodies
drawn like thin gloves
against the grey fog of those early hours.
If I were writing my halting poems
in another time, an ancient place,
I suspect I would fall on my knees
each morning at this sight,
press my forehead into the damp grass,
thanking the benevolent Thoth
for considering me worthy
of this divine visitation.

These Great Sadnesses

Our bodies have evolved
so beautifully,
those miraculous thumbs,
that swaying spine,
but how is it
that in all that
adapting,
advancing,
surviving,
I am left with
no organ to bear
the great sadness
of being human?
Grief crawls through
my veins, searching
for the place it will be
digested,
held,
converted
into some other energy,
exhaled or absorbed.
It presses at my throat,
writhes through my skull,
slides around my lungs,
leaving me voiceless
unbalanced
suffocating.
My body has failed me,
left me with no
organic capacity
for these great
sadnesses.

The Housefly

There are bits of this world
I have not yet learned to love
(Let’s not speak of war
and rape and the garbage dumps
like writhing quilts spread over
fields of oceans.)
I mean even the wild citizens
of this earth, true to their
primordial calling,
who follow the vision
imprinted deep in their cells.

The simple housefly, say,
whose only harm is the tentative
way it lands on my cheek,
my ankle, while I rest
in the afternoon sun.
The feel of its pinprick
feet, tender on my skin,
draws unwarranted curses,
a childish contempt.

Dear sister fly, forgive
my petty disdain of your wise
and nimble nature.
Small harbinger of rain,
you who tread so lightly
as you weave through your
existence, I am ashamed
of my narrow, brutish love.

A Fine Beauty

Is there a finer beauty
than the morning sun
glancing off the turquoise
shimmer of the sunbird,
the dark yellow of its belly,
the perfect lines drawn by
feathers growing in careful
patterns from the recesses of
its small body?
Where do the feathers of a
sunbird acquire those startling
colours? Do they slide through
pigment arranged in tidy
sections in translucent
skin,or form in rainbow pools
gathered deep in the crevices
between avian organs?
I remember being a child at
a desk, counting out nickels,
memorizing prepositions,
but my education strikes me
as shoddy, devoid as it was
of the magical science of
tiny bird bodies
sprouting feathery
emerald
wings.

On the Feast Day of St. Francis (October 4)

Francis preached to the
birds, assumed they
understood his pious
convictions, felt enough
camaraderie with that
kingdom of creatures that
he stopped to include
them in his reverie, his
grand ideals.
What was it Francis
felt pressing in his peasant
heart that he couldn’t help
but share it with the
pigeons pecking
in the dust of Assissi’s
grey stones?
What truth have I
ever grasped that could
improve upon the
understanding of the
rufous sparrow,
watching me sidelong
from its branch,
content in its
leafy theology?

the river

i remember
grass pressed into knees
green and compliant
the empty november air
that turned our voices into water
our movements into lines
drawn across blank skies
a drunken reticle
incapable of focus.
you wrapped that peasant quilt
around us
promised it would hide us
guide us
through a labyrinth of limbs
shivering inside the watching winter
reverberating with the remembrance
of tenuous touch.
the wind
that meddling melding
alchemist of prairie
coaxed us closer
forced space into nonspace
breath into agate stone.
this was our fusing
fumbling incarnation
reincarnation of fusions
fostered centuries ago
by the smell of slate grey rivers
slowing
into
ice.

(Memories of a long ago poetry night. This poem had never yet found its way to this site…)

This Hour

If this hour
were the
only one,
the only hour
of all existence,
would it feel
like an elaborate
waste, a pointless
exercise in cells
and blood
and biology
and thought?
Or would it be
the greatest miracle
the divine mind
could conjure,
worth an eternity
of waiting for
this one brilliant
explosion of matter?
I move carefully
across the damp grass,
watch the wasp
weave through space,
feel giddy with
my body’s presence
in this beautiful,
brief experiment.

When Prayers Fall

When your prayer falls
weighted and dull
at your feet,
betraying all your
brave and fragile
hope,do you kick it
scuffed and dusty
to the tangled ditch
or do you kneel
beside it on
that sharp gravel,
breathe on it
the heartbroken
breath of a child
collecting, with
tenderness, the hollow
bones and feathers
of a dying bird?