On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shades of Nature

In this post, I've included several of my poems, all reflections on the natural world.

(With apologies to Japanese masters)
An inviting perch
  Feisty ones vie for foothold
Hummingbirds dining

I brush off the webs
  But they always reappear
Spiders do their stuff

Brown soil, thrusting grass
Heat rising from the earth’s skin
Tennessee summer

And from the sky . . .

Far down our canal we spied a black cloud,
startling, ominous.
It grew nearer and shattered
into hundreds of cormorants
who skimmed along the calm surface
and settled in to take a look around
before they ducked and dived
to make their catch, tasty and alive.

Now we saw pelicans in their wake,
ponderous, huge amidst the churning water,
snatching fish too large for smaller gullets.
Soon egrets came in dazzling white array,
posing with regal grace on piers.
Choosy, we thought, until we saw one
die before our eyes with neck distended
from the greedy burden in its craw.

The great blue herons cruised in last
on the path of their heralds,
then sank down on grassy banks
to wait with the dignity of rank
for meals brought on a tray.
Above the fray, the seagulls
screamed and laughed
assured they’d soon have the scraps.

Three mornings this spectacle occurred,
then stopped, never that season to return.
Those in the know said these forays
stripped the waters of breeding fish
retreating from the chilling bay.
Guided by their instinctive need
they met their doom
on the quiet canal
while the birds shall live another day.

Seeing the Right Way                                                                                                                                                                        
Sitting in the shuttered room                                                                                          
I stare at the bright screen                                                                             
trying hard to commit
to memory the details
of head, leg, beak, and tail.
But colors swim in my brain,
blue throats, red heads, brown breasts,
throwing me off the form
I want so much to keep.
Colors don’t define, our leader claims;
essential shapes are the clue.

In the natural frame
of wetlands and woods
I look for flutters of wings,
shapes that will tell,
flashes of forms, bodies
that stand out so well
the experts claim.

Gripping glasses I scan
the very place my naked eye
had seen the shape.
But through lenses lost;
branches, grass, leaves
become a hiding place.
Too late, the others cry:
it’s gone away.
Focus on the twigs nearby
or other reference points
to find your visual prey.

Practice should help me sort
the shapes that I should see,
yet I don’t think it will.
I know my right brain needs
to always find the whole
and keep it in my head.
I see the larger scene                                                                                     
and fail in small details.                                                                                 
Is it wrong to liken this to that                                                                       
and so neglect the differences?          

Leyland Cypress

The thick clay soil resisted
and took an axe to deepen
enough to bed the saplings,
a spate of tender roots.

First planted,
the four looked lost
scattered across the lawn
betraying no purpose.

But as the years went on
they flourished and grew
spreading their arms
as guards from chuffing winds.

They stand tall now
trees for shade and secrets
defying passing, prying eyes
to get a glimpse into our lives.

Camps for birds to huddle in
safe from predators above or below
closets for birds on chill nights
who stream out with the morning light.

They drop no leaves or flying seeds
no pods or cones to stumble on
they groom themselves as if to say
we live for you and others to enjoy

The Sea
(Excerpted from my novel Murder at Toll House)

I sail before the wind
Spray lapping the gunnels
Licking my cheeks
Before me is a wilderness of waves
Clean and pure
Calling me home

If I would drown
Could that brine
Clean my heart
And clear my head
To perfect ease
Like it scrubs the bottom of the boat

I sail before the wind

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