What the Blue Jay Says

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WHAT THE BLUE JAY SAYS

 

All morning snow—like

nothing but snow—

falling on snow.

 

The Blue Jay does not compare itself

to the Cardinal.

It sees red.

It sees blue.

 

It fears nothing—

not silence, not darkness, not even

nothing.

 

Feathers fallen on new snow

are buried in new snow. Snow

on the Blue Jay, alert

in the sleeping lilac.

 

Silence, like the water snow becomes,

evaporates into clouds.

In spring it falls between raindrops.

This is the sound of flowers.

 

The Blue Jay has always known this.

It keeps trying to tell you—

all day shouting and shouting.

Listen, it says. Listen.

Late November in a Field, by James Wright

This is one of my favorite poems and I always take it out this time of year to read a few times, so I am sharing it here. It is bleak but it is also a poem of Thanksgiving.

LATE NOVEMBER IN A FIELD

Today I am walking alone in a bare place,
And winter is here.
Two squirrels near a fence post
Are helping each other drag a branch
Toward a hiding place; it must be somewhere
Behind those ash trees.
They are still alive, they ought to save acorns
Against the cold.
Frail paws rifle the throughs between cornstalks when the moon
Is looking away.
The earth is hard now,
The soles of my shoes need repairs.
I have nothing to ask a blessing for,
Except these words.
I wish they were
Grass.

October Ice

My good friend Scott has a birthday today. Here is one for him.

 

OCTOBER ICE

 

I stepped off the train in Rock Springs

hours before we had planned to meet.

The air smelled of rain falling

but not reaching the ground. I wandered

among dust until dark, until everything

but the bars closed. Scott was late, then

hunched over the Volvo’s wheel as he drove

past me on the curb. When he stepped around

to the passenger seat I drove us into a night

already ripening into tomorrow.

We headed north, both of us taciturn.

Grass and sage stretched east and west.

Beyond them in the dark the Wind Rivers rose.

The predators–bears, wolves, coyotes–had been shot

or fenced out, so rabbits had the run of the place.

They dashed through our headlights, the pavement

bumpy with their crushed bodies. I sucked in my breath

at the smack and crunch of quick death.

We agreed to sleep under the stars

and the aspens at the Eden cemetery,

outside town. A warm wind blew

over tilted tombstones and the weathered

stockade fence. We cocooned ourselves

in sleeping bags on the dusty ground.

While we slept the air froze. Death

surrounded us all night, our trip

just beginning. Ahead of us

were scuffed boots and several pitches

before we reached any clear view.

We carried a list of adventures and futures

we couldn’t imagine. The ghosts of settlers and nomads

whispered lessons the dead learn when they leave

their bodies to the earth. The words stiffened

in the cold air, drifted with the scent of sage,

wrapped the fence, the stones with blankets of ice.

We lay in the moments before shadows,

reviewing frame by frame what might come,

then lifted our bags and scattered frost

into the dust. When wind rubbed smooth

our tracks, these fragile crystals would melt,

moisten grass and bits of fur

and the remnants of bones. These blades of ice,

pulled from October air, would rise, fall

again and settle in sedimentary cracks.

With the patience of ice they would push down

stone after stone from the peaks the morning light

had just begun to warm with the scent of day.

Triptych

Triptych

After Han-shan

1.

This farmhouse—my home at field’s edge.

Sometimes cars pass on the dusty road.

The woods so quiet, turkeys roost at night.

In the river’s shadowed pools, trout rising.

My daughter and I pick pears from a lonely tree.

My wife tugs carrots from the garden.

And in my house what would you see?

Walls of shelves filled with books.

2.

My father and mother taught me to be content;

I need not envy how others make their living.

Click, click—my wife knits by the window.

Zoom, zoom—my son with his trucks.

Apple blossoms swirl around my raised arms.

Hands in pockets, I listen to warblers high in the oak.

Who might notice how I pass my days?

Well, the mail carrier stops each afternoon.

3.

Walking, I pause at the collapsing barn.

The barn, slowly folding, fills the still mind—

Mornings milking despite drifting snow,

Afternoons stacking the loft with hay.

Where sumac tumbles from the window hole,

And gray walls tremble from swallows’ shadows.

In the old cemetery, the bones of those who built this place—

Their names fading, but written in stone.

Three Things

I recently discovered a Vermont blog that has some appeal to me. The View From the Last House in America claims to offer up “one life, lived in Vermont, and oddments.” Sounds good to me. That actually sounds about like what I’ve got here. Two posts on the site caught my attention.

One was called Who Cares What You Think? This seems a reasonable question to me. If you are going to write something that any random monkey can find, at least entertain the monkey. It is the question for anyone who cares to blog. I would love it if someone thought what I put down here interesting and worth musing over. Heck, I need affirmation as much as the next guy. But it ought to be interesting and not just pretend to be interesting. So that is my renewed challenge: to avoid proffering up tripe.

The second thing that I found interesting was a post about Seven Random Things. I like this idea. I was reading recently in Orion magazine an essay called Notes From a Very Small Island by Erik Reese. He talks about Nietzsche’s call for “an end of philosophy” and how we should really embrace art, especially poetry. He expounds on what this means to himself and I was struck by this sentence:

The true poem captures not just what is seen, but the experience of seeing. Poetry, we might say, is the aura thrown around an ordinary object to show that, in fact, it isn’t ordinary at all.

This captures well what I love about poetry. My favorite poems are about standing in line or shoveling snow or drinking beer on a porch. This idea of writing about seven random things really gets at the idea of poetry or, if one carries it back around, to philosophy. The question, if one takes on this challenge, is this: Can you find meaning in those objects and then share it in a way that has meaning to the reader? I like the idea. I’ll try it at some point.

And the third thing is this: it is snowing. The snow and rain and sleet and freezing rain (we may get all of them) might fall all night. Snow day tomorrow? I have mixed feelings about it. One one hand I get as excited as I did when I was ten when I think about school being canceled and a bonus day at home. On the other hand, it is a big old hassle to make up my meetings with students when school is closed. I don’t want to have to add a day, but I also would love to sit and watch the weather and drink some foamy coffee drink in my pajamas.

If tomorrow comes in with gray and slush and I don’t need to drive, then I will take on the seven random things challenge in the morning. If we have rain and school, then it will have to wait. In any case, even if you made it this far in this post you may still be wondering, enough to not at all consider reading the next one, Who Cares What You Think?