It’s stranger than you can account for,
being alive, a cold January morning and twenty
wild turkeys high up in white oaks,
their waking up stretches in half-light—
first unbending out of a hunched ball, then
unfurling a wing, the second, while the broad
tail sticks out, flares, judders up and down.
Everyone says how stupid they are, will drown
when it rains simply by gazing up. I can’t
call them beautiful—but I grudgingly give them
credit for the way they balance on brittle thin
branches seemingly without fear. How to have
poise, to nestle down to rest on a fragile thing?
~ Patricia Clark
Why We Climb Mountains
What we get from this adventure is just sheer
joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.
The ledge invites and frightens, loose gravel
scratching solid rock beneath your feet,
until the grating sound—the rasp and rattle—
is silenced as you step into complete
nothing, carabined between simple faith
and gravity. Will the tether hold?
There is a pull, a tension, in the fray
of scattered thoughts and fear of lost control
pressed against the weightlessness of free fall
on a stretch of braided rope. It takes skill,
and grit, to climb while clinging to sheer wall,
inching upward, pulled by strength and will;
but then, the descent offers you rebirth,
as you coil and push away from Earth.
~ Marti Noel
She goes out to hang the windchime
in her nightie and her work boots.
It’s six-thirty in the morning
and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest
tiptoe to reach the cross beam of the porch,
windchime in her left hand,
hammer in her right, the nail
gripped tight between her teeth
but nothing happens next because
she’s trying to figure out
how to switch #1 with #3.
She must have been standing in the kitchen,
coffee in her hand, asleep,
when she heard it—the wind blowing
through the sound the windchime
because it wasn’t there.
No one, including me, especially anymore believes
till death do us part,
but I can see what I would miss in leaving—
the way her ankles go into the work boots
as she stands on the ice chest;
the problem scrunched into her forehead;
the little kissable mouth
with the nail in it.
~ Tony Hoagland
The visible and the in-
Some people move through your life
like the perfume of peonies, heavy
and sensual and lingering.
Some people move through your life
like the sweet musky scent of cosmos
so delicate if you sniff twice, it’s gone.
Some people occupy your life
like moving men who cart off
couches, pianos and break dishes.
Some people touch you so lightly you
are not sure it happened. Others leave
you flat with footprints on your chest.
Some are like those fall warblers
you can’t tell from each other even
though you search Petersen’s.
Some come down hard on you like
a striking falcon and the scars remain
and you are forever wary of the sky.
We all are waiting rooms at bus
stations where hundreds have passed
through unnoticed and others
have almost burned us down
and others have left us clean and new
and others have just moved in.
~ Marge Piercy
Remnants still visible
Robins migrate, all schoolchildren
learn but here on the Cape, every
winter a flock forms and stays,
long frigid months after their
compatriots have flown south.
They live deep in the woods on
hips and berries wizened by cold.
Sometimes they appear here
among the feeder birds, one
or two almost outcasts.
Off Alaska when humpback whales
leave in fall as the waters freeze
and the world turns white, heading
for mating grounds off Hawaii
and Mexico, certain whales remain.
What makes a creature stay when
almost all of its kind have moved on?
In burned-out areas of Detroit,
you’ll notice one house still wears
curtains, a bike locked to the porch.
Sometimes in the suburbs among
tract houses with carpets of grass
one farmhouse lurks, maybe even
with a barn. I imagine its owner
grey and stubborn, still growing
the best tomatoes for miles, refusing
to plant inedible grass, fighting
neighbors about her chickens,
a rooster who crows at four,
her clothesline a flag of defiance.
~ Marge Piercy
The Poet’s Occasional Alternative
I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one
this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along
~ Grace Paley
Who knew that the sweetest pleasure of my fifty-eighth year
would turn out to be my friendship with the dog?
That his trembling, bowlegged bliss at seeing me stand there with the leash
would give me a feeling I had sought throughout my life?
Now I understand those old ladies walking
their Chihuahuas in the dusk, plastic bag wrapped around one hand,
content with a companionship that, whatever
else you think of it, is totally reliable.
And in the evening, at cocktail hour,
I think tenderly of them
in all of those apartments on the fourteenth floor
holding out a little hotdog on a toothpick
to bestow a luxury on a friend
who knows more about uncomplicated pleasure
than any famous lobbyist for the mortal condition.
These barricades and bulwarks against human loneliness,
they used to fill me with disdain,
but that was before I found out my metaphysical needs
could be so easily met
by the wet gaze of a brown-and-white retriever
with a slight infection of the outer ear
and a tail like a windshield wiper.
I did not guess that love would be returned to me
as simply as a stick returned when it was thrown
again and again and again—
in fact, I still don’t exactly comprehend.
What could that possibly have to teach me
about being human?
~ Tony Hoagland
Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
up to my neck in that most precious element of all,
I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather
floating on the tension of the water
at the very instant when a dragonfly,
like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,
hovered over it, then lit, and rested.
I mention this in the same way
that I fold the corner of a page
in certain library books,
so that the next reader will know
where to look for the good parts.
~ Tony Hoagland
A World of Singers
We live in a world of singers
and the song is loud or soft, sweet
or shrill, sometimes silent. But listen.
With a storm approaching someone
shelters a robin’s nest.
Another whistles to a black dog on the beach.
One laughs to herself, reading alone in the kitchen.
In the woodlot someone grunts as he swings the ax.
There’s the sound trees make
after the wind stops and there are those
who look into the eyes of nurses
coming off the night shift,
those greeting the undertaker when he arrives
with his unique instruments.
A man has just argued with his wife.
Now he stands alone on the dark porch,
watching the rain. One hums at the workbench,
carving a delicate bird (last night she
groaned with relief after a phone call).
One sighs as he imagines Odysseus
tied to the mast, and one
looks up when a bell rings
and a customer enters his shop.
One is astonished hearing the fox
bark its own peculiar song and one
just stands on the rocks,
listening to the sea.
~ Ralph Stevens
March. I am beginning
to anticipate a thaw. Early mornings
the earth, old unbeliever, is still crusted with frost
where the moles have nosed up their
cold castings, and the ground cover
in shadow under the cedars hasn’t softened
for months, fogs layering their slow, complicated ice
around foliage and stem
night by night,
but as the light lengthens, preacher
of good news, evangelizing leaves and branches,
his large gestures beckon green
out of gray. Pinpricks of coral bursting
from the cotoneasters. A single bee
finding the white heather. Eager lemon-yellow
aconites glowing, low to the ground like
little uplifted faces. A crocus shooting up
a purple hand here, there, as I stand
on my doorstep, my own face drinking in heat
and light like a bud welcoming resurrection,
and my hand up, too, ready to sign on
~ Luci Shaw