Stream surrounded by green foliage

Four Poems by Kim Stafford

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Harp accompaniment by Bethany Lee.

Beautiful Redundancy

Every willow leaf, aching into green
from its crimson stem, offers another lovely
imperfection among these millions along
the round-stone bank dressing clear streams
that are built of rain-seeds, all of like mind,
flowing so the water knife
may cut through mountains and whittle
sand pebbles the ants raise into their
glittering pyramid studded with blue flowers so
microscopic they bring me stunned to my knees
to whisper holy, holy, holy.

Why this profligate redundancy of beauties
everywhere I turn—the old leaf gone to lace,
the new sprout small as a comma
each seed hurls toward the sky?

Birdsong, rain-glisten, snail-whirl, butterfly
unfurling her spiral tongue—it must be
a kind of merciless democracy of beauties
voting for our attention, every child
open-mouthed in wonder.

To not see this is to die a little.
To not hear, not touch is to be tyrannized.
To not defend this is to be complicit
with sorrow, with fear, in betrayal of earth.

I say send your pleasure hungry forth
to be stunned by every leaf
from the crimson wand of willow
aching green.



Light in Earth

The physiological and ecological function
of fungal bioluminescence has not been
established with certainty.

After dusk, when full dark descends,
step into the forest without your light
to seek the light you find: not
starlight high, no mechanical
shine by human cleverness, but
lit fungi firing up their green
glow from gloom.

From the lineage of Omphalotus,
from the lineage of Neonothopanus,
from Armillaria and Mycenoid, from
the newly named Lucentipes lineage,
begin to see fungi seeding light in darkness,
bioluminescent forest denizens with lit spores
ferrying their lanterns on the wind to spawn
tiny twinkling kingdoms, to send their filaments
illuminate into earth, carving darkness into lace.

Eager everywhere, tendrils dig their fire
into duff and down, fabric embroidered
with dusty luminescence deep in earth,
blunt tip of each thread probing darkness,
the miner’s lamp of life seeking to sip
mineral clay through all interstices
into collective resonance.

You’ll need the dark to see. You’ll need
humility. Without not knowing how it works,
how can you apprehend such silence,
such soft efficiency everywhere in earth,
your smudge-lit finger reaching down
to touch the fruiting body damp and cold
with ancient boundless vigor?



Puddle Jumper

From above, old Earth offers a cartography of troubles
for any long-flyer beating north or south—duck,
swan, swallow, hawk, owl or wren—
peering down to the red-lit blur of roads,
cities bristling with blinding light, freeway web,
tangle of wires tethered to slave trees, ancient
marsh gone to blacktop skin, the lacy skein
of the river’s former wanderings now bound
in a run of fast water—but there, in a glittering seam
somehow left beside the highway, two ducks
freighted with fatigue find a watery remnant
yet beckoning, and they veer down in a stall,
fall from the sky and splash a gash
into a patch of heaven.

Beside the frenzied roads, or left between fields,
or in some margin forgotten by human cleverness
two ducks in a ditch stitch one shred of Eden
to another, and another, and another,
seeking episodes of refuge for wild refugees.

In spite of all we’ve done wrong,
the beauty is this for duck and swan,
for fox and mouse, owl and butterfly—
there are these lands yet wild in coalition
that hold enough for all in knit thickets, meadows,
prairies, lazy streams and brimming earth,
nest of an acre, or a field, a grove, or a watershed.

Human wisdom shall be judged by two ducks
in a ditch lifting off and flying high
to look down on what we’ve left for them,
and for our own young kin.




Where the young river broke over stones
we stood captive to the small dun bird bobbing
and trilling, chanting, surging song inside
the booming bell where it gripped
a water hump sliding over a boulder
in a sheen, then peering under, splitting
the flow to know below the shine
what caddis crawled. It dipped
and sang, we stood statue, arrested
by the wild water song feathered in gray,
and I felt—enough, that’s enough this life
has been, coming to this.

But walking on along the frosted path
the wan sun made shine, I felt the old
greed come back—to feel more, to see
and savor more before I slip under
the lip of the visible to fly dark
waters into origin.




Kim StaffordKim Stafford has published a dozen books, including The Muses Among Us and Wild Honey, Tough SaltHis Singer Come from Afar, in which three of these poems appear, was published in April 2021 by Red Hen Press. He has taught writing in Scotland, Italy, Mexico, and Bhutan. 

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

Header photo Smileus, courtesy Shutterstock.

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