Excerpts from The Heron Place by David Oates

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The following poems are excerpted from The Heron Place, by David Oates (Swan Scythe Press, 2016). They are reprinted with permission.

The Heron Place, by David Oates

Under the boot-soles of this gorgeous, paradoxical, wise, and intimate lyric of place, we find Whitman. But any pantheistic exuberance we might feel is tempered by a stride slowed by loss that is at once personal and inextricable from the ecological urgencies we now face. And as Oates leads us through a poignant inquiry of place, love, language, and memory—one infused with an erudite awareness of our history of exploration and conquest and, simultaneously, a sensual appreciation for the surfaces of soil, stone, flesh, and fur—the question arises: Can we find a narrative that will allow our species to live sustainably within the systems of this planet? The Heron Place embodies the answer we need, nothing short of a shift in spirit that will allow us to recognize and embrace our own biophilia and the sacredness of the many forms of life inseparable from ours.
   — Derek Sheffield, author of Through the Second Skin and Terrain.org poetry editor

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on the favored walk
along the river

the place
I once saw a heron

pleases me
as much
as the heron did

          ~  ~  ~

it will always have a name
the heron place

or sometimes
under green alders bending

or sometimes

          ~  ~  ~

and in the name
the story, a small one

I can turn it over stonewise
it fits a palm nicely
swings with a rhythm
while walking




and if I remember you, too,
O most beautiful man

your places
that comforted me

your rising on wings
of affectionate flesh

will memory heal me
as your touch did?

          ~  ~  ~

I pass over and over this ground

wondering how to make of it
a good story

a good story
one that swings

fitting the
wandering palm

needing to hold on to something
though not, perhaps,
to own it

          ~  ~  ~

the drift of a sentence uncovers one of your words
I hear myself say it
in just your voice




O muir american, seeking wilderness
where on earth no one has forerun you

(while from the next ridge
watch thousand-generation eyes
made of the earth of the place)

fantasied emptiness
to be filled one first time
by your tumescent pioneer

O muir american
as you imagined, it has become

for no-story is its own kind of tale
wherever you walk

          ~  ~  ~

yet leaves tread sunshine into soil
humans burn and village, vanish and reappear
animals exist their part of the burden
narratives of forest and brushland unfold
fallow and flower, footpad and wing
suffering and delight and darkness

the eldertale
this silly solo yarn of yearning
can only for a while unravel

          ~  ~  ~

and didn’t I muir smugly off your trail
a clattering emporium of aluminum and vanity

didn’t I think in your footsteps
maybe here no one has ever been
maybe here at last the virgin wilderness

never making the connection
where there is no past
why should there be a future

if everything can begin right now
it can end now too

deflowered, deforested,
merriwethered, booned,

          ~  ~  ~

the wilderness commodity rises and falls, unstable,
endangered, hoarded, almost used up
artifice thin as theory, a form of money

while the wild renews itself
            in every pulse
prolix as a poet
            incontinent as a teenager
            as the black interstellary god-space between us

the wild
            in batholith, beach sand, well-palmed cobble
the wild
            in ant-pinched bud and phloemy stem
            rising whole handsbreadths to the heavens
the wild
            in sky-float seedlet like a hopeful asterisk
            or bruised pome thudding groundward with the others
the wild
            in weedlot and forest and freeway median,
            sandy waste, peak-point, and salt-deep sea
            in dreams and three-part inventions, wasps nests, wrensongs,
            saintly or libertine excess or restraint

unhurried, unabated, mildly poisoned, buggy, tattered, unconcerned
the wild
            and weaves
            and waits

          ~  ~  ~

we ask
what will the world be
who will be making it

what will our babies grow into
who will be gnawing down the world around them

look: this supermarket of shoppers
every woman a queen of prophecy and song
each child a messiah, every man a Rama

look: forgetting has robbed you

look: the wild of the mind
where pattern and delight are always arising

look: you are the makers
you can give it away and be rich

see it growing silently beside the large pines
settling with unconscious sigh by lions where they rest
widening like vistas of shining river
distilling in that moment
you, O tender human
into everything that is beyond, too much, too big

into all that is immediate and small and necessary
O tender human
possessing and being possessed

ourselves the source
we pity the ones
who only acquire

ourselves the source
we give and let go

our children become creators
not mere consumers
and their world becomes more
than the leavings of locusts




heron lodge is a roam
and a still standing

if a bright creek blanket the deep blue rock
with a loam and a reach

the wing will content
to the body, shape

a stride, a watch,
a tip

the head a sloped slip
and a kill

and another stride standing
mudloam over placid
savage blueheart bedstone




David Oates writes about nature and urban life from Portland, Oregon. The Heron Place, from which these poems are excerpted, won the 2015 Poetry Award from Swan Scythe Press (San Francisco). Peace in Exile: Poems was published in 1992. He won the Dovid Heersche Badonnah award from Bitterroot Poetry and was a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Award from Nimrod International. His poetry has appeared in many other publications, including Yellow Silk, Poetry/LA, and Isle. He is also author of five books of nonfiction, including Paradise Wild: Reimagining American Nature. In 2014 he won the Northern Colorado Writers nonfiction essay award and received a Pushcart Prize nomination. His prose and poetry are currently being featured in the German literary journal Wortschau, in German and English. He leads the Wild Writers Seminars in Portland, and teaches workshops and graduate classes in the United States and Europe.

Photo of great blue heron in mist by Calin Tatu, courtesy Shutterstock.

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