Spying a black feather
beside the back step,
I speculate whether
one of the wandering cats
had feasted on grackle.
A wren nests in a weathered
condensed soup can in the shop.
She’s small and solitary.
Until the nestlings flit
we’ll prop the door a crack.
in plagues or cackles.
bird seed sackers,
they splatter the deck.
ad libs in the oak
a choir of warblers.
Grackles can mock
but mostly they squawk.
Their feathers refract
the sun blue-black,
an oil slick rainbow.
Bird-brainy, bully brash
they swagger and snatch
a worm from a robin’s beak,
nosh its eggs for a snack.
They see all with those yellow
eyes, you won’t keep a cache
of birdseed with a simple latch.
amaze as they rankle.
They bring it on up to the brag.
Is my opinion ungrounded?
Folks make heroes of hellions,
kids, killers, wild bunch gangs.
Grackles raise my hackles
but I won’t be too chagrinned
if the pinion’s merely shed.
tears at the mind
like a beagle that’s found
the winded rabbit gone to ground
in a rock pile. The killer, determined
the chase shall have its proper end
and rocks shall not withstand
bays lust to find
Out the North Window
A downy woodpecker spirals up the dogwood
like stripes spiraling up a barber pole.
A walnut, fallen into the hollow where
the trunk splits, has turned from green to black.
The bird taps here, taps there, exploring.
This is not the jackhammer of serious purpose.
The bird is looking but he has not found.
A sprout arches into the buttress of a branch,
the feral cat’s viaduct to the roof.
The woodpecker pays her no mind. A catbird clings
to the window frame, wing-beating its reflection.
Unable to hold onto the tenuous perch, it retreats
to a nearby twig. Cat, catbird, and the day
are gray. The tree sports a few red berries,
and the woodpecker is Harlequin with red cockade.
He flits away to the ash in pattering rain.
Feeding the Birds
I watch you fill the feeders — raveled threads
hanging from your out-at-elbows coat --
birds, squirrels, raccoons, the lame stray cat,
you brave the wind and rain to see them fed.
Hands dripping suds, I watch you, head and nape
swaddled in your shapeless black sock cap --
its weave a snarl of lathe shavings, chisel chips.
Coat and cap, your wing bars, your crown stripes.
When our wide-mawed nestlings squawked for nurture
I fancied I was caged by need. I fought --
a swift come down the flue and caught --
flinging against this window toward free air.
No cage, of course, but my own hungering
to stay, though I starved in the staying.
Homeplace with Birds and Trees ☊
The old black locusts that line the driveway drop
a few more limbs with every storm but honey the air
with bloom each spring — a bloom that covers the yard
like snow when the oriole’s an orange flicker
between sycamore and oak. The mourning doves
call out from the cedar every summer dusk and dawn.
The moon rises behind the sugar maple, June’s sun
sets behind the ash, December’s behind the sweet gum.
These periods of home I know as my tongue knows the map
of my teeth, but in the bite of winter’s wind, I‘ve been
on speaking terms with the serpent, scorned songbirds,
thought to try my wing beside the red-tailed hawk,
to haunt the owl’s desaturated light. My hold
is the catbird’s aria, the chickadee’s bobbing flight,
the rhythm of your step when you come in from the shop.
Stitches Out of Time
I feed the flimsy yarn through my fingers,
a thread soft as the infant who’ll wear
this vest. It takes slow form,
a single thread drawn loop
through loop in a running knot.
Newborn to creeper, the baby grows faster.
More efficient, then, and certainly cheaper,
to buy a cute, colorful, fire-retardant shirt
from a big box store. And I will.
But I want this meditative task,
to linger over every row.
The babe doesn’t care.
She has vital work to do.
A grandmother doesn’t count right now,
except these stitches from an older time.
An October Fable
The Harvest Moon lights
the morning kitchen,
silhouettes a spider
building in the window
like a cheap horror film.
Though she’s indifferent
to me, she makes me uneasy.
In her proper place I count
her an ally, but in my space,
she’s alien, chilling
as the growth in my friend’s lung.
What point crying out
life isn’t fair? Hummingbirds
steal spiders' webs to bind
their nests, a fact of life
gossamer as once upon a time.
Cochineal has charms,
but where is the referee to rule
evanescence can’t be caught?
Out the South Window
Although the bicycle’s programed hills scroll past
with calculated speed, I see through mirrored
knees a plane cleaved by the vertical thrust
of two venerable black locusts, bark
shaggy with Virginia creeper. Swags
droop from limbs overarching the line
of the driveway. All my domain is thus divided
into parts. No branches sway, no bird
flutters, nothing relieves this geometry,
but the slow fall of a leaf. I crane my neck.
The twilight at eye level is broken by glints
of sun on the locust crowns. A zephyr catches
a white pine needle caught by spider silk,
swings it in a slow arc across the window,
lets it go to float back out of sight.
Saturday Morning Cartoons
In this snap I took
the boys look
almost sad, snug
as they are, though
a hint of a grin.
Three in a row
on the old green couch --
you and the twins
wreak his mayhem
in solemn ritual.
They lounge on you,
you shelter them.
Even at five they’d learned
from you to discern
not just the artist’s name
but his style,
knew a Tex Avery
from a Chuck Jones,
knew the movies from tv,
a Looney Toons
from a Merry Melody.
I can’t put my finger
on a calendar square
when the ritual stopped.
Boys grow up --
blankets are spurned,
thumbs go dry --
they no longer linger
in their Pop’s
The rabbit hole,
the wrong turn at Albuquerque,
becomes a worm hole.
the all-American hare.