The Orchardist Considers the View
Divide a day like an apple—seeds, skin,
sweetness, denials and opportunities—
and what have you got? Pieces, hunger, diversity?
It never puts itself together or falls apart:
a failed experiment in clarity.
Well, you say. I mean, what of it?
A man may sit idly on a log with his feet in the sand
while the endless river deepens like a teacup
filling with tears: the fine lines in his face
the map of his life, drawn easily, effortlessly,
all as seamless and aloof and as whole as the marble,
yearning finally for voices, vague
and enduring, the music visible, fruitful.
The Butcher Bird
I don’t know which is worse, you said,
Catholicism or Science.
Better to be a marveller like Muir
who admired the world in a wild-ass storm
from the top of a reeling Douglas fir.
“I clung with muscles firm
braced, like a bobolink on a reed.”
The northern shrike is sleek and smart
and saves something for later.
He impales the mouse, hangs it like
a rosary from the hawthorn spine:
a sharp rack for a small
executioner in a tiny mask.
He picks at his meal, opens up
a bloody bit—clever, clever fellow
engineering his neat table, then
abandoning it for the pear tree
in the orchard beyond the barn.
This morning it is minus three
and half a mouse hangs frozen on
the hawthorn prong, its tail too long
for what’s left. Snow blows it sideways
and in circles. The bird book says on
lean days the shrike feeds from its larder,
its song a subdued warble though
the shrike is usually silent in winter.
I promise to save something—everything,
if I’m lucky—for later, except
my hyperbolic praise, my wild-ass grace
at the table in the eye of the storm.
Window on the Columbia: Landscape with Birds
It comes and goes, the way white borders,
then is, black on the magpie’s back. Or the way
the refrigerator runs unnoticed until silence
suddenly severs its illusion with itself
and your jaw ungrips, your teeth unclench.
The March river stirs, undoes December’s work,
carrying its cold luggage to an approaching shore,
its disappearing ground. Ice is water, then ice
This windy day the gorge goes unreflected, straining
for symmetry, its lost dimension. It is a reminder:
some days are faceless: the way an eagle could easily
be overhead, or a pair of ravens; as easily the sky
is empty, without omen either way.
Again, the refrigerator. Across the room another
window, south-facing. The snow retreats. You long
to be the grass gaining ground, the robin arriving.
Close-up the magpie’s feather is oily green, not
black, and you have been deceived again. It continues
in spite of you: this becoming, this unbecoming.
— previously published in The Louisville Review
Photo of magpie by Menno Schaefer, courtesy Shutterstock.