Poems read at Member’s Night – January 2012 by Dawn Paul, Jay Moore, Claire Keyes

(Dawn Paul)

It’s all there: the path through the Audubon Sanctuary (where I would later write so much of my first book),

me standing next to my mother (who would be dead before I finished that book). 

It is autumn and the path is full of yellow beech leaves.

We stand close together, her shoulder against my arm,

but we do not hold each other, just the slight leaning in.

How alike we are: neatly built, straight-spined, those long Irish cheeks.

And the genuine smiles. We, who often look hunted in photos,

are happy in golden October, the leaves deep on the path.

We both look directly into the camera, which is held by my beloved,

about whom my mother once said, “She is so honest. I can’t imagine

her ever telling a lie.”

If I was as honest, I would say this photo does not tell the entire story.

But another part of me, equally honest, says, once again, it’s all there:

the path, the autumn woods, the warmth of her shoulder against my arm.

(Dawn Paul)

On the shore this morning, a north wind, end of summer. Low tide, mussel beds exposed, the wind riffling the shallow water. Further out, cormorants swim, snaky dark heads above the water. They move across the cove, the birds out ahead diving, those behind rising awkwardly from the water, flying to the front, diving.

I remember walking with my mother along Narragansett Bay. Before her troubles. When I enjoyed her company, her delight in the world. A delight that shone again in her last years, a child’s way with the world. 

Five or six cormorants stood on a rock across the bay. They were not so common then, their hunched stance a curiosity. “Look at them standing there,” I said, “like a bunch of undertakers.” We laughed and I was so pleased to have given her this, the cormorants and laughter at their grimness.

I do not know how to mourn. I carry gestures and laughter like stones lodged in the base of my skull. My eyes are trained to look forward. When words rise in my throat I clench my teeth to keep them in. 

Crickets call in the dry weeds by the jetty. I scrape a file across my flinty heart and sing with them. 

(Jay Moore)

A street-smart coastal bully,

the great black-backed gull

turns his switchblade bill

on an exhausted dovekie

blown inshore from a desolate oceanic home

by winds of a passing storm.

The tiny alcid is ill-equipped

for urban battle on foreign turf.

Shaken and tossed, he is a rag doll

succumbing, limp-feathered

on the water’s surface.

Too large to be swallowed whole,

the dovekie gags the gluttonous gull,

now mindful of a gathering crowd

of avian on-lookers looking for a rumble.

But, he can’t lift the soggy corpse

for the short flight to shore

for a plucked meal on firm turf.

Interest waning, he wanders off, nonchalant,

as patrolling gangs of stragglers

whet their scavenger skills,

all the while squabbling over dibs.

(Jay Moore)

This veery is very dead.

Minutes ago, confused,

he flew headlong into the picture window

and fell mute at the feet of my wife,

who was tending the garden.

The valiant troubadour

had just arrived from winter quarters

in the cool, forested mountains of Central America;

his annual mission, carved by eons of evolution,

suddenly cut short.

I shall miss the liquid song

cascading like champagne in a fountain:

this breezy Pan, bearing his flute pipes deep

into the old growth forest.

We mourn the squandering of precious habitat

at both ends of his journey,

but death by picture window

seems yet more needless.

(Jay Moore)

Tock-tock-tock-tock…..ten times,

slowing towards the end, then repeated.

A clown-faced yellow-bellied sapsucker has discovered

my newly hung bat house

whose thin plywood roof provides a hollow drum

of extraordinary tone.

His sonorous drumming permeates the still forest

like an urgent news broadcast, the avian code

to a mate remaining coyly out of sight.

The bats would tell this feathered Lothario

to go suck sap

and let them get some sleep.

But they haven’t yet moved in…

their realtor may have warned them of a problem.

(Claire Keyes)

I want to be a Life Bird

not the woman you take for granted.

I want to drive you to a fine frenzy

when I refuse to show my profile

or the patch beneath my chin.

The Life Bird simply beckons

and you follow. Anywhere.

Just north of the border, you pursue

a White-Tailed Hawk as it flares

into the sun and clips the edge off a cloud.

Binoculars lifted, you are entranced.

A Chachalaca roams the underbrush,

a marauder with subtle and nervous

companions. Little does it know.

I want to be a Life Bird: a Masked Duck

at King Ranch paddling across the pond.

King who? it seems to say

before nudging a black beak

into its wing feathers for a morning nap.

You know who rules the kingdom.

In a swampy refuge, the Life Bird invites you

to witness its luminous sheen, spreads

luxurious white wings or sleeps stiff and alert

on either leg. It could be a Whooping Crane,

Horned Lark or Bearded Tyrannulet.

Beardless, I want to be a Life Bird:

tiny, solitary and so rare you drive

thousands of miles for one sweet glimpse.

(Claire Keyes)

Better keep my eyes on the traffic

streaming towards Newburyport and resist

the scrappy drama of red-winged blackbirds

harassing a crow, that sacker of nests.

Yet how splendid the torment as they dart in

low above the marshes to peck his rump,

his mean beak. I slow down, shift to the right lane,

and follow the scuffling birds

as if they were an augury Homer would describe

in assiduous detail, introducing the seer

to render its meaning, the lives of the birds

foretelling his hero’s destiny, the clash

between peoples, the vicious conflict.

Blackbirds flash scarlet epaulets; the crow banks

and turns, flummoxed. Today the only seer available

is navigating the road, cursing a truck

that looms up, blocking my view. It is something

to witness the crow getting his due, something

to wonder at the news: an augury for us

in the Gulf of Mexico? From the depths of the earth

a maelstrom of oil so powerful

it blackens the ocean itself, coats the turtles

and pelicans in gummy sludge, seeps

into the Mississippi marshes,

fouling the beaches, invading ocean currents

and our worst nightmares

like a relentless curse, like revenge.

(Claire Keyes)

About a hundred miles south of Albuquerque, turn left

towards the Rio Grande and Bosque del Apache.

Bring your binoculars, not to view the Apaches—

were there any likely to be seen

from a polite distance, but to observe sand hill cranes

and snow geese wintering along the canals

in the world’s loveliest sanctuary, its mountain backdrop

drifting towards the sky. Don’t think about wily Geronimo,

captured at last, shipped away from his tribal lands

to Florida. If your mind must wander, remember him fierce.

Give thanks to our government for one thing done right,

these acres, this sanctuary open to nothing but sky

and birds: cormorants, pin-tail ducks, marsh hawks.

Their refuge is this fertile plain, its harvest remnants

of corn, wheat berries, alfalfa. You need do nothing

but sit quietly and watch snow geese preen and court.

Mainly they feed, feed, and feed some more, their trip

from the Arctic much longer than yours, more arduous

and wired into their brains for millennia. 

So eat your sandwiches, sip from your thermos and pay homage

to creatures whose patterns are deeper than the schemes

of men: the ranchers, developers. When a hawk ventures

too close, watch the snow geese lift off, the flock shaping

and reshaping as tagalongs enter, shifting spots of white

swinging out like strands of pearls, luminous.