That was the autumn everything turned to love. One adolescent buck broke with his skittish rituals and stood in bald-faced daylight helping himself to what was left of the tomatoes and basil.
The tall grass on the prairie became so many bonfires. The crabapples had grown so full they could not sustain their swinging and plopped one by one onto the flattened path where four deer and one fox had passed that very morning.
Downtown, across the ravine, stone towers half hid among leaves— which burst into waves of color. If we could hear red it would resound like the bells of St. Mary’s.
Estuary expert, elegant fisherman, head turning within feathered armor. His claws reverse to carry a fish headfirst. Lethal specialist, brilliant with splash and fin. How did he come to rest in this fishless pasture?
He let me look, careful as a lover, at his ruffled neck, hooked beak, specks and fleas. Probably he was on his way to Panama when the magnet in his pigeon head blinked forgetting how the air should feel— where to turn safely south. Now water, the diving rush for cool food is nowhere and he is homesick with hunger. No, he is his hunger. Yellow eyes scan the grass for a small mouse, a blind vole. Anything this pasture offers will not be right.
A Monarch sat, wings clasped back, in the middle of Shake Rag Road. I tried to help, turned him upside down so he had to wing himself upright. Maybe I should have left him mining nectar from asphalt, the way cool lips part offering the surprise of warm, welcoming dark.
I remember kissing. Clear and cold Lake Cain lapped old wooden posts beneath us. The man’s hands home under my shirt. His neck smelled like leftover sun. We were each other’s wrong place to rest.
It was October then, as it is now. The sun has only made it to the horizon. It spills gold sideways over rusty fields. Dried stalks of summer corn rustle like ghosts. This time of year we know night licks the world clean and the sun is not strong enough to fill it up again.
When the osprey left, he leapt down swooping low over ragged weeds before his shoulders shrugged him straight up as if air were solid like water, something he could push against.
Sandhill Crane Migration
Southern Arizona, February 2015
Birdwatchers blow through tinny towns with one good ice cream shop and no public bathroom halting at Border Patrol Checkpoints to answer men whose guns ride level with drivers’ chins and speed past rest stops hatched into dust to gather at the far shore of Whitewater Draw. Binoculars beak out under sun hats over a sea of khaki shorts and knobby knees as watchers mutter soto voce in German, in Spanish, in English, in French, a discreet cacophony of wonder. Wave after wave of cranes appear in perfect formation in the sun-exhausted sky, tough to spot at first with eyes dry from squinting, but unmistakable later, and relentless, circling to light
among the Sandhill clan. Elegant fowl, sleek and grey, they’re tall as Victorian ladies. Feathery bustles tucked under, they hobnob on the far bank of the draw, each crane topped with a crimson cap. They’re back for a wet dapple after feasting in trampled fields. Back for the comfort of Sandhill roaring cries. The cranes know where they’ve been. They know where they’re going. The birders came here seeking. They leave with photographs and sketches, recordings on their phones. They will get lost on their way home.
for Liz Healy
Jan Wallace is a poet and essayist. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, Field, Fine Madness, and other journals. Her essay, “How We Are Remembered: Denise Levertov,” is forthcoming in Off Paper, the Project Room’s online journal.
Photograph of cranes at Whitewater Draw by Simmons B. Buntin.