Four Poems by Kim Stafford

Four Poems by Kim Stafford

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Presidential Alert

of the National Wireless
Emergency Alert System
No action is needed

This is your President speaking
Please take no action
This is only a test
Please remain calm
and silent

The National Wireless
is invisible and everywhere
Please take no action
No need to be alert
Who says this is an Emergency?

Just because I have your number
No action is needed
This is only a test
of what I can do
if I choose

No action is needed
Please be silent
I am in favor of no action
No need to be alert



Wild Birds Teach Us

1. How Birds Die

Get caught by a kitty cat: 2.4 billion.
Collateral damage of industry: 700 million.
Hit a window: 600 million.
Hit by car: 214 million.
Get poisoned: 72 million.
Hit a powerline: 25 million.
Get electrocuted: 5 million.
Hit a turbine: 234 thousand.
Get blinded by city lights and stray.
Search in vain for starlight’s guide.
Get out of sync with climate change:
    depart too late, arrive too early.
Land in a lake of arsenic.
Get your wings fouled in oil.
Eat plastic. Eat foil. Eat lead shot.
Eat lead shot and have a seizure.
Eat poisoned insects and carry their doom.
Lose your acre of breeding ground, and so
circle the parking lot that was a marsh.
Circle and circle, cry and cry.
Be a snowy owl in the era of Harry Potter,
     caged by a reader, expected to prophesy.
Be the wild pet of seven billion mammals with hands.
Be the last one of your kind, singing and singing.



2. How Birds Live

Fence wire—a throne for singing and singing.
Thorns in the blackberry thicket—jewels of safety.
A vacant lot, rife with a chance mix—heaven.
Wing bars of crimson, mustard, moss—kinfolk.
A fat worm, a ripe seed, a caught beetle—enough.
Twig feet on a twig after a thousand miles—rest.
Bill tucked under a wing—spiral home.
Cast-off thread and thistledown—snug nest
A silence into which to put a few water notes—duet.
Breeding season, egg season, fledgling season—destiny.
Wings in the mist riding, gliding—no trace.
Heart-surge song rising from inside—beauty’s custodian.
A short, intense, breathless life—grace.



At Klamath Marsh

Say it: Klamath… Klamath Marsh.
Can you feel the ooze, the muddy ease, 
the seep and soft welcome and antiquity
of water? Can you follow the canoe trail

through grasses that part along a seam
your prow divides? Can you feel the tingle
of a thousand geese lifting off, beating
their wind-drum staccato hum of yearning?

Can you see how the sun layers color
up from the ripple skin into strata of the sky?
Can you apprehend through time’s mist how
the people heaped wocus root, dyed yellow

baskets with seed, lined pits with tule
to store a season of ripe survival? Can
you still hear the smoky story of children
leaving their spirit voices but burrowing

down through the fire to get away? Can
you stand by the water with a friend,
who tells what the tribe was, and will be?
Can you name the wocus, the cuicui,

lamprey, dace, the snubnose chub, 
willow, cattail, tule, beaked sedge, spikerush,
diatomaceous earth, hemic, sapric, limnic,
the algae, the eagle tree, pelicans skimming

flat reflections stern as glass? So say it,
Klamath… Klamath Marsh, and sag
into muck, loyal to old ways, deep beliefs, 
sturdy honor in concentric ooze, each

thud of your steps on hollow ground
learning from the wocus root how
to be home here, how to be woven in,
to be rooted deep in sacred mud.



The Apprentice

“How do you get away with it, sir—
you know, with all those accusations you…?”

“I think I’ll use a nine iron… I hate the rough…
Love the nine, hate the rough… do you ever notice
how the caddie… You have to train the caddie
to be a caddie….”

“Do you think I’ll be confirmed, sir?”

“It’s all in the backswing, really…
a good backswing, nothing can stop you.”

“But the FBI…”

“Just be glad I fired Comey! If he was…
Now, watch how I do this, with the nine…
Hey, nine justices! That’s a good number!
With nine, you can do anything. Anything!
You ever notice how… Now, just watch this….”




Kim StaffordKim Stafford is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College, author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, and Oregon’s ninth Poet Laureate.

Read “Dear America,” a Letter to America poem, as well as two poems by Kim Stafford, plus Derek Sheffield’s interview with Kim Stafford and family: “Talking Recklessly.”

Header photo by Free-Photos, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Kim Stafford by Rob Reynolds. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.