Poem for the American Goldfinch

A goldfinch buzzed by us on our bikes,
dipping and lifting and hanging strong
in the air like a note from a trombone.
This must mean the end of summer.

There are so many noisy insects in the red river gorge. 
I face-planted a spider web at 6 am and heard an owl last night.

The goldfinch is not really gold,
in truth it is bright yellow.
Its beak is orange, its wings are black,
a sadly misnamed fellow.

It's very fond of films with gold,
and songs by Shirley Bassey.
It dreams of killing Bond's best girl,
in dreams, this bird is sassy!

When Lulu sang of golden guns
the goldfinch thought "like me!"
But the truth is all of Iowa knows
he'll never achieve true villainy.
One week after my uncle Piet died
suddenly on the screen of a window
I'd always kept closed, 
but was, on this day, open,
a goldfinch,
it's eye on me, staring, nodding
it's me, it's o.k., we're all right.


Very. Yellow.
Flit, flit.
Dive flit.
Empty feeder...

Tweet tweet
teewt teewt

I am the goldfinch. I am the walrus.

Goldfinches flutter in
Land on the feeder,
Soon gone to for other
Tasty treets.

Bird Watching in Summer

I love them, with just one rub.
I can't see a cardinal 
Without thinking "Go Cubs!"

Seen from the air, the “rich coast” is a rough-hewn jewel. On the ground, it is a busy rainbow: thin neck of the American hourglass through which all migratory species must pass. Hello, wood thrush! I saw you last in New Hampshire. Ruby-throat, did you visit me in Hadley last year? Oriole, I have never been to Baltimore, but maybe you’ve perched in Boston? Old friend red-tail, it’s so good to see you. I will look for you in May when I am back and you have also flown home to nest.

Cheeky little bird!
If I let you in, would you
know what to do next?

Found across North America, like beer, cheap motels, and Pokemon Go. People call them wild canaries, like some call the Roma gypsies, a thing that is ignorant and intolerant—they are in the finch family…as their name (duh) suggests. Those in northern regions are mostly migratory, while southern natives are mostly residential (like Jewish grandmas in Fort Lauderdale, you know, you have one). Also like Jewish grandmas in Fort Lauderdale, the female American Goldfinch likes it further south than the males in winter. Younger males like to winter further north than adults—they nobody’s fool, they know where the action at. Their flight call sounds something like po-ta-to-chip, po-ta-to-chip, po-ta-to-chip. Eating thistle and using thistledown to line their nests, they bed their mates in mid summer when thistle abounds, laying 5 pale-blue or greenish-blue eggs. In 12 days the eggs hatch and 12 days after that the nestlings fledge. Unlike many birds, American Goldfinches molt completely not just once but TWICE a year, in spring and fall. American Goldfinches will use almost any feeder, even one where they have to hang upside down to eat! They have been known to burrow under the snow to stay warm of a cold winter’s night.

When it sings, it sings something.
When it flies, it flies somewhere. 
When it coaches youth volleyball 
it focus on defense. "That's how to
win championships," it whistles. 

You sit at the feeder, as if you own the place. You daintily pick at the seeds, choosing the very best one. When finished, you are off, flying that dipsy doodle flight.

For hours, the flowers were enough. 
Before the flowers, Adam had been enough. 
Before Adam, just being a rib was enough. 
Just being inside Adam’s body, near his heart, enough. 
Enough to be so near his heart, enough 
to feel that sweet steady rhythm, enough 
to be a part of something bigger was enough. 
And before the rib, being clay was enough.
And before clay, just being earth was enough. 
And before earth, being nothing was enough. 
But then enough was no longer enough. 
The flowers bowed their heads, as if to say, enough, 
and so Eve, surrounded by peonies, and alone enough, 
wished very hard for something, and the wish was enough 
to make the pinecone grow wings; the wish was enough 
to point to the sky, say bird, and wait for something to sing.

Did I teach fire? Then why these
visits to my innards from the yellow
little birds? Brown-headed cowbirds
lay their eggs in goldfinch nests,
but as their hosts eat mostly seeds
and only several bugs, the cowbird
babies rarely thrive. Since that is
fair but brutal, I eat only seeds so as
to feed the ghost finch beaks that,
as eagles’ tiny henchmen, eat
my organs in the night. It’s worth
the truce with Zeus. It hurts but it is
not the worst. True my fire teaching
has grown old, my coals are cold,
but eating all this finch seed has
shaded me a glad and ghostly gold.

The Year of the Goldfinches 

There were two that hung and hovered
by the mud puddle and the musk thistle.
Flitting from one splintered fence post
to another, bathing in the rainwater’s glint like it was mirror to some other universe where things were easier
than the place I lived. I’d watch for them:
the bright peacocking male, the low-watt
female on each morning walk, days spent digging for some sort of elusive answer to the question my curving figure made. Later, I learned that they were a symbol for resurrection. Of course they were, my two yellow-winged twins teaching me to feast on thorns 
and like it. 

Rob Lowe fells goldfinch
in charity golf tourney
quits the game for good

Above fields of gold
the finch gains fortune
rarely seen by naked IA eye
As Iowa kids dutifully
We draw, paint sculpt the state bird
Hoping one day for the 
Serendipity of a glimpse
As our naked IA eyes wade through
Sparrows, robins, pigeons and
Eagles, hawks, cardinals, blue jays
In city or countryside. 
In the west we never see one.
In the east some dress to be one
An elegant Herky Hawk
Distinguished in its black fascinator
Come out, you living thing, and perform
For us.

Sporting-like TRUMP, a yellow head of shine, a plumage of black wings needed to win any election! Oh American Goldfinch-where is your greatness?Contrasting with bright yellow body, it’s hard to miss your mouth in the state bird of Iowa. Oh, American Goldfinch where is your greatness? Is this one, one of the last of Iowa’s racist birds? A bird to build its nest in the summer only for white feathers? I am waiting for thistle plants to produce seeds which are all different in color-the primary food for all of us! Oh, American Goldfinch- this stunning bird. (Borrowed Chirp!)

A black-winged goldfinch
flits from feeder to puddle.
Beak dips, lifts, dips, lifts.

Goldfinch fly
But you cannot hide

Handsome, feathered muse.
Bright acrobatic pilot 
who swallowed the sun.

This text is from a journal entry my late Grandmother, an avid bird owner and watcher, wrote twenty-one years ago today on September 13, 1995. 

"I got up at 5:00 am. I could not sleep. I loaded the dishwasher, washed some silverware, etc.

Went to Hyvee for supplies. I had cantaloupe, toast, and milk for breakfast also a sweet roll. I fed & watered the birds and Calico earlier."

Lessons from the American Goldfinch 

Mornings, when I rise, 
evenings, when I batten down the house like a tallship.

The bird swings a wide, 
golden arc around our home.

O what the goldfinch 
can teach us about transformation.

For example, dawn 
will open like a throat, 
sky swallows darkness.
becomes cotton candy colored, 
something to decorate 
with ribbons of song.

For example, winter 
is not a time to be bold. Molt. Travel 
far away from where you 
have moored your ship.

And when the fog settles,
lean into its blur. Likely, there will be another body
whose heart, buried in golden feathers, can warm you.

I have never seen a goldfinch. That's sad but true. He's never seen a purple cow. But I have seen goldfinches though. Several in fact. In flight in feather. I would like to be as naked as a bird. Who doesn't have something with the word naked in it. I asked our mayor to let me speak at the end of the meeting. I was sitting in the back and tried to take off my clothes. They put me in the Story County Jail. Were there any birds in there? I'm somewhat of a nudist. Coneflower seeds are a delicious treat for the goldfinch. Goldfinches are a lovely yellow. They are. Perfect. I don't understand why I've been all over the world and never seen them. Come to my backyard. Plant coneflowers. When I was a child I thought goldfinches were escaped canaries. Like canaries were born indoors. To escape. When they sing, they're outdoors.

99 problems and a finch is one.

The golden girl broods over all these flings of joy 
In nests we never see on eggs unrobinly drab
Painters and states claim the noisy garish male
But the leaps of joy the darts to the sky
knows no sex but yes yes yes 

The last noise to reverberate off her ear drum
Was the snap, crackle, and pop 
Of her neck bone 
As it broke against the pristine glass window

Nancy texted me a few months ago, on a late spring morning, "I've got something for you." 
When I arrived at her house for coffee,
she handed me a small bundle wrapped in paper towels.
"It hit the sun room window this morning. I heard the thud and found it on the deck. I thought you might like it."
I thanked her and when I got home, unsure about what to do with the small, still body, I zipped it into a sandwich baggie and put it in the freezer. 
I'm not a taxidermist myself.
Though I felt bad about it, I finally threw it away last week. 
I needed the space for my leftover roasted chicken. 

The spotted deer are given 
their marching orders from the more
dominant samba deer but
the goldfinch answers only
to the onyx jurassic
of her heart.

Finches flit, finches dart 
Finches, lightning swift,
Pretend seriousness
When I think their point
Is to make me smile

Up high birds shall fly 
Goldfinches light up the sky 
How's that for Haiku

The American Goldfinch, flits the edge of a prairie,
Singing as it gleans and does not tarry.

This wild canary of the thistledown,
Gold bird with barred-black wing and a darken crown.

A diminutive ambassador of our state,
Seen along roadside fields or a license plate.

Goldfinch poem pinch, 
running out of time
for a line, 
a sign devine, 
that makes September's sense

Among the thistles
Flash of yellow
A caller to be seen
When winter covers all
A light
A reminder
Our bird revives the serene

I love tiny yellow birds, no, birds of any color flitting around settling in the trees and bushes where they look like nests of sparkly, flashing jewels. I hope they're careful. Be sure to hide quietly. If killers come.

Poem for the Ring-Necked Pheasant

There aint too much to say bout that. 
I was only lonely once in my life.
I wrapped a ring around my neck and fell asleep pleasantly.

The patterns on my feathers contain every color in the spectrum: pumpkin, wood, snow, anthill, frosting, geode, disco ball, etc. My "Caw!" was a gift from Mongolia. The tips of my wings, like thin fingers zinging a harp.

Chinese fireworks in feather explodes 
from the cornrows, craw full and dogs below. 
Hens are wiser and hang behind. 
Full choke Browning brays six point pellets. 
Mottled feathers pop from his chest, 
drift on the west wind as the bird’s plumes flatten, 
and he outraces them to the ground. 
A dappled pointer bitch intercepts him. 
Like a ground-bound MIG she mouths 
him softly and deposits him at her 
master's feet, adulation and triumph 
powering her tail.

By Steve Rose

There is not much I know about pheasant; except once I had it cooked in honest mustard, and it was quite pleasant.


The reporter stands in the hurricane chamber.
"This is...a category three," he wheezes, skin pulling from his face.
I am in Iowa where there are no hurricanes, but where a windstorm
brought us the Ring-necked Pheasant.
I'm waiting for a windfall of money;
I don't care where it blows in from.
Some of my neighbors say they'd never
take Illinois money, but how would they know.

Prairie pride stains cheeks red.
Indigo neck echoes the rich dyes reserved only for kings, only for queens. 
It shimmers in ultraviolet hues, a spectrum of color, and history, 
the human eye cannot see. 


sibling victory
spotting a pheasant from the
back seat of the Ford

in every letter you write your loneliness
to me obvious as color 
but i know better than to succumb 

you will find wing someday

Bird Song

Ring-necked, I ring with color
above and below my priestless collar,
green head, masked for your red death.
Don’t shoot, go home, cook up your meth.

Kill yourself, leave my wild speckled body alone;
Iowa, O Iowa, my accidental home.
Poisoned streams, rivers, lakes, ferti-laced fields,
Thanks, wind, for blowing me free, unconcealed.

What poor stewards we have been, uncaring curators 
while these beauties crossed our roads. 
I used to see them in the morning scurrying 
but when I see them now hardly ever but when I do 
I know they are numbered with numbers smaller than our numbered days.
We ringed their necks with our forks our guns our knives our greed.

See! from the brake the whirring pheasant springs,
And mounts exulting on triumphant wings:
Short is his joy; he feels the fiery wound,
Flutters in blood, and panting beats the ground.
Ah! what avail his glossy, varying dyes, 115
His purple crest, and scarlet-circled eyes,
The vivid green his shining plumes un-fold,
His painted wings, and breast that flames with gold?

Frosting feathers.
Spots and dots.
A glottal trill and
cocoa velvet thrills
the air where
electric blue sky
meets roots above
ground, one thousand
miles from the sea.

Two dimensional splots hand-
painted on a grandmama's dishware:
dishwater hands, somewhere;
brown and tiny. Like the frizzy under-
feathers that keep the bird 
warm, capable
of holding such a noble pose
long enough to be admired.

Pleasant pheasant put a ring on it
Not pheasant under glass
But Some Like It Hot is playing
In the background

Call the males "moose"—
the females, "butterclucks."
Call them with whistles
shaped like lips that imitate
the bullies of their childhoods.
They will never be free 
of the taunts and teasings.
They will never be four-season
free under the bubble.

Shanghaied by Americans 
more than 100 years ago,
Unwitting immigrants, 
Birds of many colors.
The intentions sound safe: 
pheasant under glass, 
pheasants forever. 
Instead we hunt them
And savor their crispy skin.

Pale green egg
Hidden nests on the ground
Inconspicuous in fields that have become home
Beware the season the intention is revealed

Poem for the American Crow

Emerging from the park's dark underpass, 
the banter of crows from far oaks
booms and bawks. So sure. So
emphatic. Each caw, a period. An 
end of story. A you got that right.
An I don't think so. Suddenly they 
explode in chase after a young bald eagle,
his feathers pale as a done-in corn field 
socked in with mist—fleeing big brains 
he mistook for his kind.

a sharp eyed wingnut//a shadow friend// followed me through a fog backyard//a one foot dance over purple play set sand//I tossed out a bread heel//shadow friend spied the writing on the basement wall first//we shared a telepathic moment// a metaphorical clink of glass//a warning, a prayer//a caw, a stare down//the furnace broke the next day.

like a postcoital nag
you express
the dark misgivings
of this moribund existence. 
THIS existence. Mine.
My moribundity.
And then you flock.
and the sands find a place
to settle in your cawing.

The singer sang: "Buzzards and dreadful crows, a necessary evil I suppose." But who else gonna clean up that mess behind B-Bop's?
If meat is murder, give me a murder of crows. Another singer sang: "The world's a can for your fresh garbage." Music to the crow who sez: "Roadkill don't eat itself, and French fries? Them things are heavenly!"
Yet another singer sang: "God's will, my thrill, roadkill." The crow sez: " A tad harsh but tru that!"

in perfect blackness
against a snowy relief
the crows hunt treasure

Do I hear a "hello" or a warning? The caw pierces the cold night air. His dark beady eyes pierce through the day. These are some of the smartest animals on the planet. Their circling masses hovering from above. Screeching shrews. Chatty Cathys. A battle-scarred beak, says the dentist. Toothless. A feeling of peace when I see them hovering above. "Is it an eagle?" I ask hopefully. "Aw, no." Oh, to fly effortlessly above the earth, says the pilot. Dark reflections of their cousins, the bluejays. Good thieves. Black magic. West Nile, says the pharmacist. Third time's a charm. Roadkill feast. Black phoenix. A black shining monarch surveying his kingdom.

When first we moved to Brooklyn town
and settled on this block 
we always woke at crack of dawn
without the aid of clock:
at earliest light, perhaps before,
we woke to raucous squawk
as sundry crows in residence
took up their morning talk.

Their accents were atrocious –
something even kids could mock.
To stuff my upward ear I kept 
a handy cotton sock,
but no amount of stuffing
helped in muffling the flock.
Then just as I became insane –
they moved to a different block.

It's black/ A crow caws/ It is annoying/ Eating corn/ They are night creatures/ Nocturnal/

Young single male crows 
often help out around 
the house, feeding the babies,
chasing off intruders. Family 
must feel good to them.

Crows bet the eagles:
if Trump wins, eagles 
must eat Trump. 
Trump won. Eagles
lost: had to eat it all, 
even the hair, even 
the suit. Crows know 
November's roadkill season. 
You can't fly 500 feet
without finding a dead
raccoon, paws frozen—
up and out—as if to say
"Wait!" to all the on-
coming cars, speeding 
to the nearest gas station.

Swan-lake white, Cardinal red, Blue-
Jay blue: the demagogue crushes
of birds; oh, you're sick of it--

red and blue like the flashing hands
of sirens. Your apologists jumped 
all over explaining your croaky finesse--

and I read about it, how you're clever:
how you drop shiny turds
in the path of bulldozers; the running-

over exposes their silver 
linings--but honestly, Crow
I don't think it'll be

enough. Evil doesn't dress itself
up in black; I trust
you now more than ever.

Handsome black bird
Soaring and Cawing
Feasting on carrion
Gliding with wings afloat
But connotations abound
Blustery human bragging
A bird for embarrassed eating
Lending its craw for grudges
By Don Ruhde

Completely black-head to toes 
Mimicking Parrot. 

Trickster, Totem Animal 
Stealing shining stuff 
Father Time is missing. 

Cousin to Raven
Intelligent, High I.Q.
How do we compare?!
By Darlene Hulbert

Shifting shapes to explore life's mysteries.
Tricking humans while it waits.
Cloaked in darkness, Corvus watches.

Now smaller birds mob
When flight is taken
For iridescent feathers glisten.
By Jamila Hulbert Kepple

Held in rapture 
Cauldron bubbling
Charmed about
Flinched and humming 

You call us Murder

The night watchman
Schemes nigh
Malfeasant party
Magic tide

See us Muster

Well-built rookery
Covering cots
Lasting deceit 
Swiftly flocks

Death Manner

Three crows flew herd on a broad-tailed hawk
east of Albert Lea, black beaks talking trash
then driven into the hawk’s grey back.

One flies point while the other two harass from
the wings. You’ve seen this in Korea, three MIG’s
shooting down our bomber; or coyotes on a sick cow.

Two hours later across the Iowa border,
a new pecking order: two redwinged blackbirds,
clever as card players, harassing a passing crow.

The crow’s wings, lumbering like sails on a dingy, 
drag against the current, while the blackbird 
sharks slice the breeze into splinters.

The crow tries a barrel roll to the blackbirds’ delight.
Tufts of coal feathers flutter from his belly. A lone
cedar offers comfort and into its arms the crow falls.

Black feathers, onyx beak and talons sheathed in royal green. 
This crow: terrorist, target, stowaway, scavenger, 
and for a moment, on that rough branch, King.
by Steve Rose

I speak to you the people 
whose bodies are drenched in midnight,
who hide inside these modest coats.

You are a tinted window
following me everywhere I go,
whether it’s to the mundanity
of a grimy lot or a place where 
steel buildings don’t grow,
I watch you conquer.

Some say you’re a tribe of demons
but if that were true you wouldn’t
be populating the heavens.

The absence of light, light
bent back and mirrored
in the tips of every feather.
Tura lura lural, tura lura lie.

Outside, after grieving for days,
I’m thinking of how we make stories,
pluck them like beetles out of the air,

collect them, pin their glossy backs
to the board like the rows of stolen
beauties, dead, displayed at Isla Negra,

where the waves broke over us
and I still loved the country, wanted
to suck the bones of the buried.

Now, I’m outside a normal house
while friends cook and please
and pour secrets into each other.

A crow pierces the sky, ominous,
clanging like an alarm, but there
is no ocean here, just tap water

rising in the sink, a sadness clean
of history only because it’s new,
a few weeks old, our national wound.

I don’t know how to hold this truth, 
so I kill it, pin its terrible wings down
in case, later, no one believes me.

The bipolar blackbird the crow 
Pathetically, fallaciously,
Shows us how to share our pride and joy 
and then, in shame, we bake it in a pie 
and eat it.

So much self-flagellation at the sting
of conviction, God in every thought,
what seems like demonic possession,
that friction, what feels like a trail
of tears, a forest so many get lost in,
that murder of crows’ foul-flocked
complaint in the branches, what we
imagine serenity upended, a time
to settle on the moment we travel
to some paradox, here and nowhere,
all that space like summer camp,
those Somalian children walking
toward another, less hostile home.


the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow

the snow;


a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

a crow

in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

a crow
in the snow

in Kansas.

Tip-toe v's in trail mud, deer have been here, 
snow stained with mixed success. Though largest
tracks unaccompanied by boots of men. 
We must understand that
to be proper stewards we must err
on the side of being producers. Chilled black waters, swirling 
slowly with winter contemplation, steeping
in the year's production and waste, lingering
fog of merciful temperatures, this hush of undisturbed
places still holding secret determined beauty 
and nourishment;glowing green plants flush with sugars
from the Sun. Crows call in the periphery,
make a few passes, dressed in their impeccable
black best, impress with aerobatics, spirits
impervious to the perceived darkness
of the day, the way their wisdom escapes
so many, the sky's muted layers
of moody blue-gray, meanwhile among deep
dark Firs, the wines, reds, fleshy plum barks
outstanding hue in a sleeping landscape, 
snow receding, a new bridge
into the forbidden forest, lean into Hemlocks
for heart medicine, Robins have stayed, 
company with Juncos, Doves, Sapsuckers,
Chickadees, and Nuthatches. 
Rose hips and berries of startling red, 
but even when sleeping wild roses will bite if we don't heed
their space in the season's quiet suspense.

Death became its history. 
Sinister an eerie. 
The feeling of obscurity, 
is followed too. 
Their wings inklike. 
Cobalt when in light. 
Becoming one, 
with darkness. 
They learn from us, 
intently and quietly. 
Small minded, 
but intelligent. 
and feared. 
But don’t judge, 
this bird in the park. 
it is the American Crow.

Idylls on Thanksgiving

Wanting to be sure,
the weathered farmer 
drove his tractor
to a corner of his land.

He and old John Deere idled,
surveyed the black soil,
a rectangular sheet waiting 
for another chapter to be written.

Reverie was broken
by a large black crow
startling the air cackling
laughter or a benediction.

Der Crowski and my kittykatski are liking each other.
Die Crow flies his big black beautiful self at my window, 
Cawing, caw, caw, caw.
My kitty shrieks who are you? 
You are very handsome!
I Love You!

The auger’s voice is hoarse
with disuse – no birds have flown
for forty days. There is a crow
in the south. It calls
there shall be no more rain.

Like the absence of a bird
or its memory, stygian 
against the arching leaves,
Apollo’s prophet keeps no promises
and has the singed feathers as proof. 

Poem for the Eastern Screech Owl


Not all owls hoot and hoo
Some owls screech and cackle too
The eastern screech in its eerie glory
Telling it's tale, the complete story
The haunting cry only screeches could adore
Other forest creatures listen, the source of which they are not sure
All know that with the mysterious distant call
It means that spring is coming after all

A brown wound-up knot 
In a wooden beam
Closes its eye to sleep. 
Bat knows: ballasts
Are illusions, skewing
Through at any second.
“Earthquakes,” bat explains.

Meanwhile, owl leans 
back into the bark: no owl! 
But mouse remembers: 
Owl’s always there. Any
Moment: owl: mouse’s feet 
Rising from the illusion 
Of shadows and ground.

Mouse says, “It’s called death,
Apparently.” Still buried
In the bark, with words 
Made of flashlight beams
Owl says, “I invented it.”

With raucous shout
the crows announce
your presence in the walnut tree
your tufted points
your piercing eyes
I see you looking down at me
Each day I come
you mutely sit
nestled high in quiet repose
first leaves unfurl
then flowers bloom
yet not a stir as new life grows
The weeks roll on
with ceaseless hum
yet time stands still in the walnut tree
the pile of twigs
you dare not leave
the center of life's mystery
One day I come
the nest is bare
no swiveling head peers down at me
the cord is cut
the clock ticks on
winging beyond the walnut tree.

small rapture in the fracture
That blessed Burr oak Ents and Baxoje, 
The prairie ghosts honor you.

In the middle of a branch
Perches a sleepy half pint of a bird
This fluffy holder of the tree
Her head tucks into her feathers
A light shines down from above the barn
Two marble saucers illumine the night sky
Right in the center is a sharp tiny beak
Out of the corner of her she sees a scurrying mouse
She flies in for her delicacy

Eastern screecher? More…
Shivering, quivering wisdom—
Ashen, eminently pint-sized, 
Imperial vessel—
Trilling…Sincere? Authentic?
The things you professors think to say!
But you are you and I am gray,
Vertically barred, your invisible bard, 
Here then:
Curl up tonight with your nice book 
Of warming poems and you may hear
Unfurling from my veiled nook 
A chilling tremolo for your ear.

Like blue ink dropped in water,
or a few grains of salt in a sugarbowl,
mottled feathers darken to bark
then—a bark—a yeep—a flash
revealing the red that lies within
cannot blend, is its own heat,
hum and thumping done.

Inside the cavities of trees
melodies echo during the night. 
From a bird the color of the moon
no smaller than a pint glass.

He sing lullabies to the stars 
and listens intently to 
secrets told at night. 
Patiently waiting for his prey
to pass below his nest,
ready to attack at dawn. 

He is hard to spot for his feathers
are also painted like tree trunks
but if you carefully search at dark
you might see his honey-colored eyes. 


Perched on a creaking branch,
it nestles its head into its animated feathers.
Its flared chest is an intricate pattern 
of brown dashes that form in tiny clusters.

Silver eyes gloss over,
reflecting sight of prey.
Its body quivers
in sync with its heartbeat.
Blinking softly with an eerie hoot.

I don't want to speak of you,
I want to speak through you,
see through your wordless eyes, 
opened to the light of math, time, 
and when you lock your talons,

Grey eyes squint as it focuses on the light of the moon.
Their wings cover their dangerous screams,
it vibrates through their body and stays in.
Beaks are small and curved just like a wave.
Tiny legs hide the fact that they are violent.
Scared and cold it stands as it craves the taste of raw meat.
The nocturnal silence rings 
as they guard their offspring, ready to eat whatever comes near.
The sun rises and their eyelids fall,
fast asleep while they stand tall.


I would’ve never expected you,
to come out looking the way you do,
your orange coat and bright eyes are delightful, 
but as a child, you were quite frightful. 

You’re bigger now, and you have more color,
in type of bird terms, you looked like another,
the way that you started, bug eyed and gray, 
is incomparable to what you look like today.

Pardon my sound, I don’t mean to be rude,
I don’t want to get you in an upset mood,
you now roam the wilderness, beautiful and wild, 
but I remember you as quite the frightful child.

Somehow it's comforting to know that night's lightless corners are filled with eyes, feet, feathers, the guts of mice, fluff, updraft... No shadow goes unscanned. No sound, unheard. Nothing is wasted. Everything is seen. Every sound, a song, if only a moment.

Good Jog

Memorial Day morning the dog and I
came upon a great horned owl drinking
from a puddle. He sickled his yellow 
beak sideways, then stretched his head
up, letting gravity have its way.

On a trail mowed through a stand 
of bluestem, we startled a rafter
of turkey polts, their flight as 
wild as quail, but without the trill.
One perched in a tree eye-high.

We then crossed the highway and
ran back to the town that hold our beds
and breakfast, our white house with
tamed maples and a woman who was
baking bread and singing with the radio.

Mysterious bird of my youth you stand with others who are less common now and whom I miss greatly--the bobwhite, the bobolink--but unlike them you have the mystique of a night creature, and the distinctively eery call that makes even other nocturnal animals seem tame by comparison


Who has put this egg on my pillow?
I place it on my lips' cradle
Was it the vice-stricken owl?
Her night call radiating in vinyl grooves
hatching my swollen orb head.

I have angered the river by being lost
and not knowing the trees' wild past
- maybe my face is an ear
- maybe my blood is thickening to milk
- my tongue a wing.

Look now - it is that fermented owl;
she claws open the river's back
plucks fish from the dream
we have all dreamt:
an egg pearling its yolk gold nectar
on lobes of self and horned headed self.


Since when does a whinny
sound like a screech?

Now I’m misnamed,
like calling birch a beech.

Red & Grey
Haunting in the nite
Portend death to come

Knot upon a tree
Turns its head to see
What meal may hide below

Mom sits with the kids
While Dad bring back meals
Kids squabble til the strong remain

Poem for the Bald Eagle

In 2004, there were 7 bald eagles spotted in the Lake Cumberland area. 

In 2014, there were 28 counted. 

This is the best news I have read all year. 

Mostly because I know now that you weren't lying.

"Just look at the white," you pointed.

Driving gravel on an arctic Sunday, 
we came up over a crest and saw blood 
smeared across the snow, gore 
lining the muddy road through the field,
and three young eagles tearing apart 
two deer they'd either found or killed.
Mom and dad hung back on the hill,
watching us slow to take pictures 
of their gigantic babies, bibs and beaks 
red as the partridge berries that popped 
from those ditches in March, spiked head 
feathers fanned out, lethal goofballs
babble and bawk-bawking. "Family day," 
you declared. "Better than a trip 
to Disneyland if you're an eagle," I said, 
squinting into the white horizon for more 
witnesses, more spring, more life.

She was almost gone at that point, 
enough so we could start to make plans.

Bright for a February near Fish Town,
Skagit Bay another sun on the earth 

shining upwards. On our way for groceries, 
we saw one eagle in a field, then another.

I had never seen two bald eagles together
like that, and it felt like I sign, something

that would shift things forever, but it wasn’t
really, it was just a moment, dad and daughter

pulled over in the car, silent and breathing 
for an singular instance before all we knew

took flight.


Ever so amazing
As chill as ice
Living to the fullest
Eye-sight of a telescope

Coming to eat
Getting food for babies

The beak is yellow

The birds name is Bald Eagle
They are really big

Birds are the streaks in the sky.
Their beauty is not a lie.
As they are good pets.
They always have no regrets.
And are never to be tied.

Eagles are eagles not seagals or beagles.
Their big birds not wig birds, their cool birds not pool birds. Their awesome like a flower blossom. Faster than a plane faster then a crane, faster then a blimp and their not a wimp!

Eagles are swag, their internet doesn’t lag. They can watch a filthy prank, their internet is the top rank. Their internet is faster than light, if 20 people are on, their is no fight

Bald eagles are brown
bald eagles like to eat fish
bald eagle power!

Gliding across the river, looking for my prey,
Hoping for some dinner, on this hot summer day.

Looking at the water, looking for my dinner,
Wondering if I can eat, if I’ll be a winner.

Seeing a fish, diving down I go,
People look at how fast I am, but no one would really know.

Keeping my eye on it, diving towards the water, 
Waiting for the sound of it, waiting for the slaughter.

Into my mouth it goes, feeling its’ slimy gills, 
Wiggling in my beak, feeling all my thrills.

Silently dying in my mouth, death is coming soon,
I get dinner tonight, the first one in early June.

A snow capped mountain,
Perched high in a tree.
A pair of telescopes,
Adorned with feathers are thee.

A skydiver taking the plunge,
An ear deafening screech.
A murderer on the loose,
No barriers it must breach.

A kite soaring high,
With no tether to reel it in.
A father, a mother,
Providing for its kin.

Brown and white blur diving from the sky,
Majesticness is what they defy, 

Yellow beak ajar,
Falling like a shooting star,

About to forcefully hit the ground,
When, with a great swoop of his wings, he turns around,

Never to die,
Always to fly,

Bald Eagles, the great predator of all

black and white feathers
winter time they come around
very fierce they are


Birds matter

My feathers are the blood of the Shepherd, 
I His messenger. Hear the heralds praise and rejoice,
for wisdom is deposited onto earth

in a downpour with thunder 
or by the glaze of slow-melting dew, 
hammered like hail 
or through the soft caress of sheer mist

Droughts can blossom in spring
and so can hope in winter. 
Misery plights those as the locusts did in Egypt, 
yet we heal through death; 
grow through decay. 

Winds lift me through His grace 
and by His name
I sing psalms of great faith,
“Love does not abandon you.”

Piercing, raw wind
bites at cherry cheeks.
Fingers cold, numb, tingling.
Frozen teardrops.

Eagle flies into view.
Adrenalin rush.
Blood surges.
Breathing halts.

Camera clicks
to catch the moment 
as he soars, plunges
and grasps a fish
in his enormous talons

Spudge contemplates
the statuesque 
visage on a high limb
above the river.
The white hooded
gangster spies the Spudge
along the shore.
Trout dog, anyone?

Thermal hurtles up, 
a cork popped, then
fall like a slingshot-
flung stone on a fish. 
Claws caught in gills,
the lock down.

Dumb bird, sitting on a wire, my dad saw one get shocked.
Favorite bird, wings spread, my papa likes them too.
You say Eagle, I say no. No eagles. 
I don't know. They're birds. 
They make a nest in my yard. Every spring they have babies and you can hear them screeching.
I like the way they sound.
We see eagles everywhere. They are like flies around here.

Messenger to Father Skye
Magnificent creature
National emblem
Once endangered
Now common
Bald Eagle
Decorah cam
Power lines
Lead poisoning
Wildlife Rehab.
How sad!!!!

The duende here is that Donald Trump will never be as cool as a Mongolian Teen Eagle Trainer and Huntress who is somewhere in Mongolia, dreaming of Eagles and love as any young person does. She does not see her birds in the White House, ready to forcefully perform any nationalist duties. She sees the mark, and makes the call and everyone is set free.

Ben Franklin, how did you
know the imposter lurked
under the ignoble feathers 
of the “bird of bad moral character”
Was it the thin white comb-over?
Why not the turkey, cried Ben, “true original native”
a more fitting symbol of this great nation 
Instead we hail
a scavenger, opportunist, carrion eater, bully
Fact: the calories obtained from a deer carcass is
often lost from fighting over it
Fact: a hungry eagle can be dragged 
underwater by a fish it refuses to release
Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq
Eagles soar worldwide
Fact: only one out of eighteen attempts
at attacking prey is successful
Emblem of America
Ben, no question

When a metaphor hatches
from ether to the real world,
those who need poetry most
wake to a bird in their bed:
a mess, little sticks and strands
of ratty yarn everywhere.
The bird--let's say it's an Eagle--
squawks, beak opening and closing
like a machine that constantly needs
filling, its sole purpose
emptiness that empties
the rest of the world
into its dark belly. 
The irony here, of course, is that birds fly,
sometimes diving at the heads
of presidential candidates.
Heaviness flying: why, that is the metaphor
of our generation.
I mean literally: steel-bolted wings 
stenciled with DO NOT STEP
stole the blueprints from evolution--
those cathedral-boned birds--
and tossed themselves like stones
into the air, defying physics, as if to say
"ha--you, Nature, betrayed your magic
and now we'll harness it, soar
ever upward, converting fumes to gold."
Stones flying. You went to sleep
with a nest full of boulders, woke
to broken eggs--some hatched,
some yolks.
My great-grandmother, born in 1898,
saw Model-T's grow wings and carry
their heavy cargo
aloft over two World Wars.
We gulped up the fullness of the earth
(its worms, if you will--imagine, though
that you love worms) until it was empty
then burned it all
up over the wild blue yonder,
never once looking back
with our beady, beady eyes.

Still we
Did not expect it

Talons beat talent
By a long shot 
Or a small margin
Who cares when you're caught
In this coal mine 
With the canaries
And the bald eagle
Says deeper, deeper
Til we're all buried

Poem for the Northern Cardinal


Today, when the snow-laden trees
look like cherry trees in blossom,
and two crows and an eagle
fly over fourteen inches of fresh snow,
I think of you this 27th February, 
on the side of lengthening days,
but still frigid
as when mourners lined
bitter blocks to pay their respects. 

Your season—
ripe days between birth and death marks.
You could’ve easily done away with Sunday Mass and catechism—
your faith was written on your heart.

Claustrophobic, but you took the tiny
cramped cage to the top
of the Saint Louis arch.
Afeared of heights, yet there you stood
on the top rung of the ladder.

Neighborhood nurse, you answered calls in the middle of the night: 
fed the hungry,
cooled the febrile,
and counseled the distressed. 

I occasionally catch sight of you—
bright flash of cardinal red.


“They Call Me ‘Cardinalis cardinalis’
because I’m all cardinalis—heck!
I put the ALL cardinALis. That’s how
cardinally I am. First thing people notice 
about me? That’d have to be my bold red 
colour, which I spell like Brits do because 
I’m bold inside and out, and be honest: don’t 
forests in England seem more stereotypically
foresty, thereby making my flashy zip through it 
more Brothers Grimmish? ‘A red-coloured bird 
ripped by the Shropshire waif like a bullet!' 
Second thing they notice? My nose. My all-
cardinal face is all nose. I don’t mind as my 
mask sits above it. 'Gimme your money, punks!' 
Third? My awesome new wave haircut. Fourth? 
That I’m ADHD as all get-out. So’s my wife—
she’s the mottled dreamsickle one by the 
feeder—so much bigger than me.

From the trail head's parking lot,
we heard the 90s style dance music thump-thump-thumping deep inside the forest. "You can't stop the cardinal, the cardinal, the cardinal..." ad infinitum.
It was 2 in the afternoon. The bass 
was shaking the leaves on the trees. 
We wondered if other birds ever complained.

Once I saw the red flash in the trees I knew that I could survive the Midwest
Though the rains pounded and the blizzards howled and the clouds darkened 
Still outside in the trees was a song that cheered my heart and strengthened my resolve to go on

Pyooo! Peeyoo! Peeyoo!
Geeyip! Geeyip! Geeyip!

Away from home, many a miles,
Cardinal hopes, cardinal smiles,
Amidst the bitter cold, in a world wholly white,
Flies a mighty bird, a magnificent cy-ight!


When winter comes,
I dream in purple.
Purple formed colonies
close on purple chimneys
form the single breath
of a cemetery where all swallows’
purple songs freeze like dried blood
in the cracks of the prairie pond’s ice.

Across a stentorian sky,
I lift the blood from my wings
and feel the cold like a turn
of fabric from the crocus flower,
the daffodil flower,
the iris
with its purple tongues 
like a burning nest.

In the frost,
we wet red widows
stone the paused
and crooked fingers
of a world afraid of dying;
alone in flight
as single drops from 
a thorn.

On the gate’s pontic
I wake to the white room
of gloved hands white
on the pintucked throats
of fields at fallow.

Soon the days will tug
from their tombs
low-slung skies
and the colors to make them.
The wing I tuck
turning purple,
I will not sleep
in the colors I dream.


The day we arrived the birdfeeder swung violently empty. The swamps yawned with ice. The sky frowned grey and hurried upon us. 
The day we arrived the wind whispered small prayers or curses. The grass was lost beneath crust of snow. The geese departed in careful choreography, their voices echoing against the sky.
The day we arrived we rubbed our minds raw with sandpaper, afraid our belief would shine through. We bound our arms and legs in scraps of worry and shame, dreaming of winter melt, and blue skies.
But no matter how careful we were, no matter how bound, in the night, the starlight and the moonlight crept on tiny white feet into our room gathering our whispers. And every morning we would awaken to our own gossamer truths strung along the tops of the hemlock trees, jeweled with dew. We would awaken to a dawn chorus – a shock of red cardinals in the white doubt of snow -singing the truths we could never forget. 

Feathers are red like blood
Sticks as sharp as spears
Beak to peck the eyes of all who watch
So look closely 
For this picture is at a cost of life


Pyooo! Peeyoo! Peeyoo!
Geeyip! Geeyip! Geeyip!

In the pre-dawn light—
early song cheering me back
from my wine-dark dreams—
cardinal trill, sweet somewhere,
day’s rising rouge, life’s bright flash.

Thank you for this picture of the rare flutist cardinal. Very kind. We mainly get pigeons and gulls here. Though we do occasionally get a collared dove, a fancy kind of pigeon, really, and flocks of bright green rogue parakeets!


across the sky faithfully like in school how we learned that we can only predict a day will come because since birth we have known days that come so we can say it will come but it is not certain it will come we can only be certain that the day has come not that it will come which is also like the spring and the cardinal a letter death of course we can say only that we believe that this will happen and then after the happening we can say we always knew

Around here, you're not just an itty 
dinosaur, you're a bit of lore
that the local community rallies 
around. Everyone has these 
crisp images of you blazoned on
baseball hats and sweatpants. Everyone
seems to say, Hey, you! Red birds 
are the absolute bomb!
And who would argue with that?
Bluebirds? But who cares about
bluebirds? Only those in communities where the bluebird is the local totem. 
I'm not talking about them! 
I'm talking about you, Northern Cardinal. You've got this striking vest 
of red and, as far as I know, whatever else you've got, that vest is the best. 
Who's got the best vest? You do! 
Who looks like a red pupil in the white
eye of winter? You do! Who questions
the world with feathers? Who could sit
on my head like a flaming fist? 

It's hard to talk about birds 
at a time like this. Still, I look 
for cardinals in the snowstorm, craving the red on white. Some say cardinals 
are lucky. I want to believe it, 
I see them all the time. Still, I have doubts.

Oh so Red,
How can I forget,
That you're wed.
Sun (Up)set, 
Fell to the ground
You picked it up 
As your Crown.

Do you believe in god I asked, watching
the cardinal perched in the snow.
Yes, you said I believe
in an intelligence greater than we can understand.
I don't I said, not exactly
but I just had the thought that if 
there is a god, it was nice 
of him to make cardinals
red. They're so cheerful 
in winter, so bright against the gray.
You said, I think god made cardinals
for their own purpose, not for us. I think
they have their own reason for being here.
I said, I think you know more about god
than I do.
I said, I'm still glad
that they're so red.

You were colored before Pope Innocent IV Ok'd red hats
Prince of the prairie and everywhere else you can be seen from the greatest
distances in a blizzard or bush
rock star of the bird scene refusing to
go South when the howling winds rush

in the cardinal's crest lie my words
etched on individual barbs
arranged in a plumulaceous microstructure
they are trapped there like the air between barbules in downy feathers

It's the male boid (Brooklyn accent). The mohawk, the mask, so something! It keeps fighting with the squirrel on the deck for seeds. It looks cold! But it's temper is hot (Take out the apostrophe). What are the rules about swearing? As in "bad a$$." I'm all aboot it, but we don't want anything disgusting (Canadian accent). This is...NO! This is begging to end with something about immigration! They don't migrate. They're stuck in America. No passports. Can't get a greencard for at least 4 years. Naw, two. Can they get a red-eye ticket out of this snowless midwestern winter?

My grandmother told me about the red birds, that they are signs of angels. Out the kitchen window I see one perched in the azalea. I smile and feel at peace because I know she is near.

Poem for the Red-Winged Blackbird

Isn't there a red-winged blackbird
in every poem, waiting, a blob 
of paint weighing the gray reeds down
then fluffing up its scarlet epaulettes? 
"Welcome to the gun show! Kapow!"

SHUT UP, and then, GET OVER IT,
I want to shout at every yap-happy dog
raving from behind its vertical slats of pressure-treated wood as I walk by
(actually the owners, not the dog, 
are stupid, but that's another poem--
another species) anyway 
I want to bark back,

"GET OVER IT!"--because
So I'm walking by your house. So what?! What are you, a Red-Winged Blackbird,
genetically incapable 
of anything other
than nest-twigging, egg-
laying, worm-procuring, and 
(above all) scolding?

On my gravel-road walks, one flies ahead, Okalee! Okalee! Sputter, sputter, sputter--
the manifestation of a Ms. Manners
who never received any childhood love or validation
and so must take it out on everyone else

Although really I know it's drawing me away from the nest,
showing the selflessest form of love
which by its essence I am not supposed 
to see. I tolerate its scolding 
as strategy. The dog, though--
seriously, get over it. I'm walking here.

Get over it. 
And same with all you others: So what if our hands touch when reaching at the plastic-divider for the grocery checkout belt; so what if my toe grazes your yoga mat. So my dog peed on the bush you planted 
two years ago and continue to prune 
into the shape you've allotted it
to occupy, but you--you can no longer 
name the species.

Where do red-winged blackbirds go
when March snow doubles back
and attacks?

Do they dig themselves deeper 
into dead leaves around the reeds' roots 
or do they hide behind barn beams,
puffed up like kitchen scrubbers?

Who knows where they go. A scientist,
maybe, but where is she to say? Where
does the scientist go, eh? The internet
is too vast for actual answers, unlike 
the territory of the are-dubyuh-bee-bee.

Hiding seems too cowardly for new-world 
passerine. Their pirate ships fly neon flags 
through storms that block out the sun.


Their gleaming raven strands 
foreshadow mercilessness entwined 
with chaotic red; a sign of spilled blood.

A screech of terror
resounds through the dread-
filled ears of suspecting prey.

These inky strands a resemblance 
to the soulless blacks of my father.
The red an equivalence to the fire
evident in his vexed glares. 

His thunderous wails indistinguishable 
from the bird’s murderous shrieks.
My delicate victim ears unsuspecting.

Born on this Earth
with the red of a devil
are the birds who bully.

Created by the people on this Earth
are the devils themselves.

When I was little I thought crows were old blackbirds that had outgrown their shirts.

CR Blackbird Facebook Song

I wear these bright epaulets, daring any kid with a BB.
I sing with a thrilling song to announce my patch of reeds!
I swoop, I dive, I cry and exalt.
You ask why my skin is the color of coal.
I tell you my shoulders are the heat of fire,
all puffed up, feeling confident, ready for the chance.
It’s evolutionary.
I’m no mere canary, ‘cause I flew to the sun
before dragon or phoenix
charred my feathers and stole two embers to show love.

I’ve flown to the sun and you’ve never heard my song.

(I sense this may be wildly autobiographical.)

Here our black bodies form musical notes on the wires and lines
so the wind can play through like strings as our coal black feathers
slice through air,
wings beating as drums under an orchestral score with
startling red shoulders like trumpets sounding.

The song of life and love and freedom. I’d share with you if only you took the time to hear.

We sit, strung on a telephone line, like beads of a noisy necklace;
we listen to your calls with our feet,
feel the words you meant to say
but couldn't.

The year was 1974, I swoop and dive-bomb the little girl on the pretty pink bike who's waving her caution flag in an attempt to keep me away...she fails and I peck her head, not once, not twice but 7 times.

Ever vigilant
standing your ground or cattail
German flag affixed to your wing
aggressively perched, letting punks know to keep off your lawn
so territorial you'll attack a cardboard
replica of yourself


It is the first sighting of red-winged blackbirds.
As a newcomer from another continent,
they were unfamiliar and curious to me then
with their broad-flamed shoulders and sturdy egos.
They dotted the route from town to Springville farmhouse,
commanded their post on the country lines,
those lines parallel to one another,
parallel to the gravel road--
the one that we barreled along,
ripped through, frayed with its own dust--
to meet a grandmother I did not yet know.

It is the dust spraying from 
the tail of the maroon Buick skylark
to offer a trail two miles long
down the highway, 
down the long stretch of highway,
from the thickness of here to thin to nothing again
as though we had not been, 
just now,
in that other place.

It is that other place
from where we’d come
(and which I remember only barely now).
It is where vendors lined the paved roads into town
selling okra, grilled corn, and suya.
Where, outside of Bamenda, Volkswagon vans shared the road 
with big-horned cattle herded along by farmers drunk on palm wine.
The scent of their palm wine I cannot recall
the way I can recall now
the red plumes of dust trailing behind us as we cleared from their herd,
from the thickness of us there to thin to nothing again,
as though we had not been, 
just then,
in that other place
with them.

There is, in all of this,
a recollection of the moving away 
and of the moving, too.

Divebomber! speaking of Iowa close encounters. In its space, in our face. Singular experience, not in a flock. Voices creak like a garden door. The hinge is electric. Raucous. Coveter of mile markers, always sitting by the roadside. We have a lot of birders here, so you're going to get a lot of yeses. That was just a comment. We need some verbs in his poems. Run! from the flapping! Duck! Dive! Duckdiving! I'm not a bully, I'm just bold.

Bloody shouldered ditch dweller
Rises and dives from the runoff 
Must we disturb even that piece 
Of the Ioway world we left him.

And the childhood drives in the country counting fence posts and singing redwing blackbirds. Longing to hear the song of the tilted head & stretched neck.

Rocked reeds swing
under squawking black flags
flying cherry-orange Icee crests, 
"Beware the black licorice" in Latin. They'll tell you straight up: there's no such thing as an open field.

i hear you, but you will kill me, won't you?

red-winged blackbirds sit
flashing red like matadors.
this time, spring charges


They were probably the first bird
I was taught, striking in flight, easy
to spot. I remember them most
the summer my parents finally split. 
They seemed to be in all the in-between
places: along the vineyard gates off 
Highway Twelve, near the turkey farm,
the dump, the cattle ranch by Middle
Two Rock Road. No matter whose 
car I was in, or where I was going,
the red-winged blackbird swerved 
and dove and showed off its mark
so much that I stopped pointing
them out, figured I’d be a bother
always saying the same bird thing 
from the backseat with my brother
while there was so much at stake.
Still I knew they were there, counted
on them as something steady 
to stare at while the horizon turned
all wobbly through the windshield.

Poem for the Trumpeter Swan

It's mean. I think it's mean because it doesn't have to be nice. It's so beautiful. Let's welcome it back to Iowa after near extinction. Nothing is the best part of the swan. I like to listen to the wings right above my head. It's awesome. They're just scary. Does it have down like ducks and geese? It doesn't get wet. It's like bullet-proof.

Write a poem
About swans
Not nice!

They're big and white.
We've seen them in the field this spring.

Black feet.
Black beak.
Black bleat.
Bleary trumpet.
One sounds
like a hundert.
Thunder down.
Buoyant wobble.
Robber's mask.
You're handsome
and welcome
and then some.

My name is Juan
I am a Swan
I met Sam,
how we swam,
Sam and Juan,
Swam and swam.

White wings. Webbed feet. Flight
feathers folded.
These are the birds of my dreams,
German dreams of childhood--nightmares
of brothers who become beasts, turn again, again return 
to a moat
around some mountain castle.

In Yupik culture
The Swan represents 
A true heart

"So trumpeter swans have down?" 
we asked the guide with his little tan
shorts and binoculars. 

"Like geese, trumpeter swans are downy 
for days under their whipped peaks 
of white princess feathers," he explained.

"Then why aren't our pillows
packed with it, sir?" Margie asked, 
already seeming miffed. Swan down 
did sound more deluxe than goose. 
Were we getting the short end 
of the down? 

"Maybe it's too hard to take it away
from them!" I offered.

The guide blew a whistle, and all the swans 
on the lake aligned their jet black beaks 
straight at Margie, like compass needles. 

"Nah, it's a breeze," said the guide. 
"Knock yourself out." 
He lit a cigarette and walked away. 

We couldn't see their swimming because 
their feet were under the water which mirrored 
their bodies, and ours, too, but they were 
definitely getting closer, making 
excellent time.

It’s spring, and the peacocks
are in heat, again.
The male chases peahens
as quickly as he can dragging
his fan of fanciful feathers 
with eyes of gold, blue and green.
He screams, he rages down the street
after the peahens who seek
refuge in my neighbor’s lawn
and, sometimes, our doorway.
For as loud as its call can be, 
for as singular and solitary, 
it’s surprising this bird isn’t named
for its high-pitched honk, its moo,
its mewl like a ball deflating,
like an old car horn. Some birds
are named for their symphonic
parts. Take the trumpeter swan,
its sound is a muted trumpet 
call, a thing of beauty, Dizzy
Gillespie at the mouthpiece,
its beauty, obvious — a graceful
long neck, shadowed eyes, 
a sleek, snow-white coat 
worthy muse of ballets and fairytales.
Like all the pretty birds — peacocks,
flamingoes, snowy egrets, roseate
spoonbills, great herons — 
the trumpeter swan was once
hunted for its plumage to adorn,
to decorate women’s hats and quills.
Shot in springtime, rookeries robbed.
In the Everglades, nesting birds
were hunted almost to extinction.
It’s easy for humans to mythologize,
to control what they cannot ever
fully understand. Take women. Take Eve.
Once endangered, today the birds 
are thriving. Once adorned, now adored — 
one letter makes all the difference.

Why so loud? Bleeping swan. Neck like a column. I've been thinking about socks on hands. Thick and ropey. Beautiful white feathers. Submerged, emerged. Throaty. That's what I'd name a swan. Thank you for living with us.

Swanky swan
swam with glam
from around midnight
to the break of dawn

April’s Grace

Built from the craters of the moon, 
swim with me, your highness. 
Warrior goddess, I’m fond of your power.

Your elegant wings mimic mine,
Our necks curving like a sweet candy cane
noel feathers and midnight maquillage eyes.
I’ll die of heartbreak the day you decay.

You are the only affection I acquire,
meet face to face, and love me eternally. 
Singing Swan Lake Symphony, we waltz together. 
You’re a heated white seraph, so pure and divine.

Your luring music has my attention.
Do you hold a weight, vexed creature?
Your fiery ash eyes say it all. 


No intruder you
lumbering in and out of our waters
Whose brush with death now pushes you to new boundaries
Staying true to your roots 
unclipped and wild
You give voice to your elegant cousin
Reminding us that true beauty is bestowed not owned

My Way or the Highway

Big, strong, loud!
One who is not outspoken.
You see its white feathers just like a cloud.
If you see my big white feathers, get outta my way!
You better listen to what I say.
If you make me mad, get away.
I know it's repetitive, but I blow my own horn.
I'm the only one in my band.
I am literally called the trumpeter swan.
My trumpet doesn't need a mute.
I use my neck to call you, "Pay attention!" with.
I know it's crazy, but trust me, it's not a myth.
If you see me, I'm not someone you wanna mess with.
My horns sounds in its own riff.
Forget red and black. Black and white are my colors.
I am an anarchist swan. No queen owns me.
When I honk, I make the other side panicky.
I am beautiful my own way, no matter what other people say.
I am the trumpeter swan so get outta my way!
If you don't, I'll make you pay, because at the end of the day, it's my way, or the highway.

I am the Trumpeter Swan

If you don't like the way I honk

Well then get out of my way

Swan knees
I don't see'em 
I don't see'em
Where are the swan knees?

To think all loss is merely the way 
it flies—
Rescind such assumption when
agency’s to blame.
Under the feather, the shadow of a
feather, here and gone.
Make of the beauty of mating for life
what you will?
Penned subject through the ages,
swan’s beak a quill dipped in ink—
Evening also teaches us to glide if we
can into night,
To see the malice in careless loss and
to curate return.
Eternity’s estate knows no gated gaze. 
Rescue, yes, the water, the reeds, 
the clouded spirit floating free of your
shivering image.

Poem for the American Robin

Cheer up cheer up cheer up cheerily!

The male and female have white around their eyes. It looks like a raccoon or a mask. They have rusty red chests. Their feathers on their belly look more like fur than feathers. The male's belly is kind of the color of dirt. Usually they're building a nest for their eggs. Most people don't know how easy it is to tell the difference between a male and female robin. They eat various fruits and worms. EEEW! DELICIOUS! SLIMY! DISGUSTING! When they're poking their heads, they're looking from the side. 
"Build a nest!" 
"Gather food!" 
"I'm starving!" 
"Can I please have some berries?" 
The females have white under their chin like a little white beard. 
"Please don't mess up my mom's yard." "Can you please stop eating my berries?" 
"Can you be my friend?" 
This is a mean robin. Get off my property! 
"Caw caw caw!" 
Hey you robins, get off my property! Can you NOT ram into our windows? 
"Caaaw!" "Cheer up!" 
Syrup or cheer up?

Beak that's yellow.
Black and orange body.
A familiar bird to all picking at worms.
They have 4-7 pale blue eggs.
They sit on a tree and build their nests.
They eat insects, fruit, berries and worms.
Worms taste bad, icky bad, but good to a bird.
A female is similar to a male but has a gray head and duller chest.
Black eyes.
Black streaks on white chin.
Speckled chest.
The robin is calling my cats to the window.
"You can't get me!"
It sings really beautiful songs.
"Hello! What are you doing? What kind of person are you?"
"Stop mimicking me."
"What do you like?"
"Worms, berries, chirp chirp chirp!"
"Talk talk talk! Hey hey hey! I can't stop talking! My favorite song is 'Chirp'!"

Searching for worms, it has a red belly.
It has a sharp beak, sticking through the dirt 
to the worm tunnel. They were looking for 
tree seeds. They plant trees. They're also
MURDERERS!!! They murder worms, insects
and anything!! There's an old saying:
"What is coming in is going out." Food 
and seeds are coming into the robin. 
They sing when they are in danger 
or talking to each other. Their eggs are 
blue. "Cheeryup! Cheeryup! Cheerily!
My name is Robin. I'm Batman's sidekick.
I'm Teen Titans Go! I love Penguin!"
What if he doesn't love Penguin?
"I'm a cat's feast! A dog saved me from
this cat." "If you see me, I'm the first one
and that means spring is coming."
"I love tigers. I like unicorns." "I eat
worms, insects and seeds." "Basketball
is awesome." "I like to dance on a tree."
"I hate dogs." "C'mon! Dogs are cool!"
"I wish I could visit Olympus and Pegasus."
"I wear tiny socks everyday!"

Oh Robin, Robin
Red of breast
Deemed by some 
The very best
In myth and tale
We invest
You with the grace
In our quest
To see in us
Your pure blessed
Simple beauty
And request
To show mercy
More (not less)
You took the crown
At his behest
From Him in pain
Leaving dressed
In His blood
On your breast
Oh Robin, Robin 
Red of breast.

The robin hops across the lawn
shimmering green 
under new light of the sun
after the storm has passed.
The robin’s sweet notes fill the air
with promises of summer,
while the passing ghost moon fades.
The robin takes worms to fledglings
with chirps and open beaks
and songs of love.
Children on the ground watch
young minds filled with heavenly 
and touched by flights of fancy.

Birds eat worms. I like how birds are, especially the bluejay. Jay jay jay jay jay. But this poem is about the robin. What does the robin say again? Cheeryup! Cheeryup! Cheerily! I don't like cats. I love birds better!

The sea serpent in Big Spirit Lake
was like a giant underwater worm
being tugged from water by an even 
bigger invisible robin.

I am so Famous they made a restaurant for me! :)

All robins are one
robin: shooting
like popped corks
from the grass,
wresting writhing
worms from just 
below the surface.
"Worms are every-
where, just like 
robins," say the robins 
that are one robin.
Not like a broken 
mirror, but like a giant
mushroom choosing
in its endlessness 
to assemble as
an orange cap here, 

Dreaming of robin means 
travel. Dreaming of robin means
neighbors may stop talking to you 
but neighbors are not angry with you 
they just can't see you there, in the invisible space of the robin.
Dreaming of robin means 
hard work and cash money.
Dreaming of robin means, 
"Yes, I'm sure."
Dreaming of robin means 
babies getting fat on worms.
Dreaming of robin means
the end of dreams and fairy tales too.
Dreaming of robins means 
you don't have to say a word.
Dreaming of robin means
[tea kettle sound].

All About Robins

The robin was dressed in red and brown. It was pretty the way he ate. They have their beaks to eat insects. They use their beaks to give babies food. It takes a day or two to build their nests. They have sharp beaks. They can fly high. If you come near their nests, the robin might poke your eye out! Ouch! They have blue eggs. The song they make is wonderful. The sound that robins sing when they tweet sounds so sweet. It takes their eggs to hatch a week. It takes three days to build a nest in a tree. The egg is blue. They use sticks to build a nest. They also use lots of mud. "My baby is hatching!"
"Danger! Danger! Danger!" They rest in a nest.

When robins hop it doesn't go that far. 
Robins have beautiful voices.
Cheery up! Cheery up! Cheerily!
Robins make nests in trees. When they hop, they don't go far, but when they fly, they go VERY far! Robins have wings to fly. Robins fly fast. Robins are beautiful and they're beautiful when they are building their nests and singing. Robins have red on their BELLIES! When they do the danger song, it's warning all the robins. Robins sing songs and they're pretty. Robins can also make nests on the roof of porches. Robins can make a nest on the ground. Robins are black and red. They lay blue eggs. They keep their eggs warm. Robins can see far. Robins are protective of their babies. Robins like to stand in trees. Robins live outside. If a robin lived inside, it would go crazy. Robins eat worms. Do they taste good? Yes! No! Yes to robins. No to humans. The eggs of the robins have dark blue spots and they are small. Robins have short necks. Robins have yellow beaks.


ever exploiting 
first to notice newly tilled black dirt
easy bug feasting 
abundant nest material provided by
last year's green bean vines
common as a cold
gleaning our yards and gardens


Surely, the robin is the sacred bird of spring.
Surely, the robin is the sacred bird of spring.
Abundant bellied, a little red stove of life.
Abundant bellied, a little red stove of life.
A stove of spring, the little bellied-of-red bird.
Abundant life, surely, is the sacred robin.

Awkwardly hopping across half-melted lawns. 
Awkwardly hopping across half-melted lawns.
The way we hobble forth from winter, almost broken.
The way we hobble forth from winter, almost broken.
Hobble awkwardly across the broken, hopping lawns.
Half way forth from winter, we almost melted.

Taking, as we do, to the humble ground, stock-still sentries.
Taking, as we do, to the humble ground, stock-still sentries.
Foraging small selves into the empty, cold spaces of morning.
Foraging small selves into the empty, cold spaces of morning.
Taking stock of selves as empty, we do humble foraging 
into the cold. Small ground sentries to the still, morning spaces.

Still-bellied, is the cold stove of life, 
broken spring taking of the small bird sentries.
Surely, little hopping robin, we do hobble awkwardly, 
as humble, half-of selves, across the empty winter ground 
to melted spaces. We stock almost abundant lawns, 
foraging a way forth from the red, into the sacred morning.

I’d rather be vulture than human
eat dead flesh 
feast on the dead 
prod the living to death because
it’s dinnertime in the always-open cafe
but if my givens and given my if and 
wishes aching in nature
give me ochre red streaks 
feathering my belly
make me robin 
a robin the robin your robin my robin
like a pigeon but in every way not
plump and purposeful am I
will I be me, robin

Written from a hospital bed of Tabassam Shah 31 May....
4 am robin chorus, a surgical song of 
healing disrupts my sleep 
energy wanes yet the melodies pile on 
high to lift me
the uncertainty of outcomes is remedied 
by your persistent song
it massages my mind and bathes my 
soul in sweetness 
the redstart warbles with an infectious 
rapid-fire cheer
in an effort to drown out the robin's 
there will be plenty of time for the red-
start's antics and his tail swishing
for it is the robin's forest floor foraging 
and the rustling of leaf litter which give 
me the hope that healing is underneath...

Poem for the Eastern Bluebird

Slippery Tin
—A Malay Pantoum—

I built a bluebird house from scrap cedar;
the house was hung in my backyard.
My father called last year and told me
he’d lost his job; he’s got no retirement. 

The house was hung in my backyard.
I forgot to wrap the post with slippery tin.
He’d lost his job; he’s got no retirement.
Years before, he’d driven us both to school.

I forgot to wrap the post with slippery tin.
The bluebirds wove a nest and laid eggs.
Years before, he’d driven us both to school;
He was a teacher and coach; I was his pupil.

The bluebirds wove a nest and laid eggs.
Soon, the eggs were loud, hungry mouths.
He was a teacher and coach; I was his pupil.
Now I’m a professor with my own students.

Soon, the eggs were loud, hungry mouths.
and the raccoon shimmied up the post.
Now I’m a professor with my own students,
and I can’t tell my father I’m not ashamed.

And the raccoon shimmied up the post,
destroying the nest and the fledglings.
And I can’t tell my father I’m not ashamed,
I can’t tell him I regard him with pride.

he leaves for boot camp
baby bird
falls from the nest

"We get a lot of bluebirds around here."
"They're real jerks."
"Naw, you're thinking of blueJAYS."
"Riiiight, blueJAYS are the jerks."
"A real buncha jerks."

orange-breasted Eastern Bluebird
no, rust-breasted
no, tan
well, the blue is blue
no, cornflower
on a hot June day
hot for early June
at least 'round here
in the humid fuming city
where you perch
on that leaning post at the edge 
of mind’s wide shimmering field


Bluebirds are blue, 
just like the sky
and they aren't shy.
They like to soar in the sky.
Don't blink because 
you might miss 'em.
Bluebirds are the best 
because one day you're gonna have to
take a test to see who's 
the best bird out there.
Bluebirds eat seeds and worms
to feed their babies.
Make sure you have some 
around your house!
Bluebirds are beautiful!
Any bird can show you who you are.
And that's the word.
Bird is the word.
Mic drop.

Bluebirds are 
beautiful teach a
bluebird how
to teach a little
math and a 
little science

Bluebirds are pretty and smart.
Booooooooo birds booooooooo
Can you hear me!!!
Bluebirds eat worms.
Worms taste like worms.
"Would you ever eat a worm, Sina?"
Bluebirds eat watermelon.
They eat seeds. 
Bluebirds are smart.
Bluebirds are cool.
Bluebirds eat blueberries!! :)
I only eat three blueberries.
Bluebirds like to eat.
Bluebirds like to play.


Bluebirds are still here because we make boxes for them, which they call home. How nice of us! What about humans who do not have boxes because they are too poor? Let’s make them boxes to call home. Perhaps out of giant gourds, hung from giant limbs. Bluebirds can spot a worm from 50 away, though it’s estimated 70% of bluebirds die before their first birthday. Why, with their homes and good eyes, so much death for the bird of happiness? A male bluebird can sing as many as 1,000 songs in one hour. With 8760 hours in a year, that’s 8,760,000 songs sung in the short life of the beloved bluebird.


There's no signature Beatles song
With an Eastern Bluebird
If there was it'd be sung by John
With lots of made-up words

Bloo Chappie Chirp Wing sings all day
Sad as Edith Piaf
Grateful to not be a blue jay
With a half-full carafe

La beauté de l'oiseau bleu 
Est moins dans sa chanson 
Et plus dans l'insouciance de Dieu
Et son uniforme mignon


Bluebirds looks like barn swallows
from the neck up. I want to rhyme 
here—like how the royal blue feathers 
of the bluebird and the barn swallow
rhyme in the eye, same as the sunset 
umber feathers on their chests.

They both build nests in holes they find.
Imagine finding your home like car keys
or a ring—does it sparkle or hum or 
whisper or echo with yips of your not-yet babies. You've darted through this field 
so many times, inhaling bugs, and home's been here the whole time.
There's another rhyme: home 
is in the bones. Their tails, though, 
are watches telling different times.


I buy mealworms (live--
they live in the fridge behind the counter 
at the bird-food store) for my mother
because she's helping out a family of five.
Each morning she dumps the segmented, cold-dulled offerings
into a stainless steel bowl propped up near the bluebirds' house,
retreats to the driveway (her nightgown
poofed up in the cool morning air) and rings the bell
hard--a racket--a demand, really,
that the mother and father attend
not only to the beaks--open, up and hungry
in the nest they wove--but to her own:
that each spring, the bluebirds come
lay their eggs where she can see
and allow her to wriggle her invisible hand
into the fledglings' first flight.


Science tells us that you aren’t really blue
that red and yellow birds get their pigments
from the foods they eat.
But no bird, says science,
can make blue pigment
even on a diet of blueberries juniper berries huckleberries Logan berries.
Instead, science says,
blue is simply the result of the arrangement of protein molecules in your feathers
and the way light waves interact with them.
If you think about it
a blue bird that isn’t really blue is something of a miracle
a magic trick of the light
something mysterious and wonderful.
A Gift.
Perhaps this is one of those times that
science and nature part ways
amicably, of course,
and agree to disagree.
Because whatever science says to the contrary
You’ll always be blue to me.


Flash of blue
streaks through the leaves
a recycler of used nests
and foe to berry and bug
sturdy enough to endure a prairie winter
or a Mexican migration


The a$$holes of the bird world? Or is that the blue jay? I think it's the blue jay I'm thinking of. Poor guy...getting confused for an a$$hole like the good one of my two ex-boyfriends named John.


While bluejays are frequently mistaken for a$$holes, in reality...nah, they're total a$$holes. Visit the bluebird's Go Fund Me page where you can contribute to the "Not All Blue Birds are Bluebirds" campaign.


the stream babbled as I walked on the moss-covered path
wood thrushes popped out in view
their competitive flute solos echoed in my chest and stirred my loneliness away
the path gave way to sand and gravel
grasslands surrounded me on all sides

for two years I attempted to entice a pair of eastern bluebirds with a strategically placed nestbox
fitted with a guard to deter predators
I left the insect population to thrive uninhibited
today I was rewarded with an uninterrupted serenade of striped ground crickets
the heat of the summer’s day quickened the pace of their song and heightened their pitch

I turned to follow the subtle shadow flying over the grasses
the rusty breast and cobalt blue jacket were unmistakable
the male bluebird landed on the box’s roof, his beak full of chartreuse inchworms
my heart grew heavy, as I knew I had to keep watch on the nestbox all season
to guard against vicious house sparrows and starlings
in the past these colonizers smashed bluebird nestlings and built their nests atop them
as I enabled this massacre, I was dismayed with my lack of hindsight

it has taken a bluebird family to make me realize
that we all think we are helping at one time or another
in the absence of forethought

fastidiously the male bluebird deposited the inchworm meal in the nestbox hole
and swooped upwards to rest on a utility wire pole
his sighs blanketed the grasslands
as he soulfully paused between phrases
and the receding evening summer sun softened its golden rays 

Poem for the Eastern Meadowlark

I woke up this morning
with a little tiny hangover & thought, oh
it's meadowlark day.

I'm on my way
and already late.
The latter is for me
a not unusual condition.
I'm too hooked into the present
I think
to give any of it up
to the next event on the schedule.
The car skates along the gravel road
leaving a cloud of dust
to settle over the early July fields
and the ditches rich with day lilies.
I come to an intersection
and actually stop for once.
An eastern meadowlark
perched atop the stop sign
not ten feet from my car
draws my attention.
I sit there
engine idling
one minute, two,
waiting with the bird
as the car's dusty wake
catches up to us.
And then
the bird lifts its beak
and stretches toward the sky
to release its song.
Its yellow throat and breast
as it unleashes a line
of pure liquidy prairie melody –
that's my cue to continue
on my way, late again.

Alone on a telephone wire
the meadowlark sings a song
of grasslands along the road.
On a fence post it sings
at the edge of a family farm
of the land it knows.
This yellow-breasted beauty
perched on a wire in the morning
bears the light of the sun.

I’d like to touch your bright, yellow feathers but that might scare you.

So I’ll tickle you from afar —
from my NYC perch.

All this time I thought I was 
hearing a meadowlark sing 
I was really hearing a starling 
imitating a robot 
imitating a meadowlark.

(Postcard from an Eastern Meadowlark)

you find my beak too sharp 
my song too sad and slow

you keep your acres neat 
those grasses have to go

they love me in Brazil 
they covet yellow so

along the verge there’s grass
they let the edges grow

“discover, discover, perform” —Walt Whitman

I think of the farmer
who feels the sun in his hands
and goes to his wife,
and of all the things he has learned.

How he might hear a bird
at the edge of a field
and go there and become 
the meadowlark.

North side, east side,
Meadowlark wears the crown,
Yeah, he's the king around town.
Struts and feeds, livin’ large, got his
Star-shoe shimmy/shuffle down.

On buttes, pinnacles, prairies and trees
Meadowlark sings
His volatile history.
Who remembers
Kangaroo Emu?
Sunshine Duck?
Purple Monkey Seagull?
Laugh, Meadowlark, laugh.
You don’t care at all.

Meadowlark drives ‘em wild,
His star-shine shimmy/shuffle smile.
Flippin’ the bird and
Flapping a passel of flatland flatworms,
He’s tough with no gun,
Unruled, curly-tongued,
Unfurling a swirl of
Smooth veronicas.

Meadow lark..:-) oh meadow lark..sing me your song..I love it as much as Summer's day is long.....

How must i live to be happy as a lark? 
Not walking on fences
Perhaps a sharper nose
Rising early to score the fattest grubs
Or, really, instinctively, throwing back my head to trumpet my earthsong in full blazing yellow throated glory, happy as a lark.

went to the meadow
on a lark
perched on a post
pretending to play the flute
yellow eye browed songstress
warning grasshoppers to lay low
or get got

when we returned to the prairie 
we wrapped the grasses around our 
to scent our skin with their sweetness
the earth’s heady dampness grounded 
us and de-saccharinized our senses

the meadowlark posted up and sang its 
soul on high
beak unhinged to its maximum
his black V necklace imprinted upon our 
minds like an implicit memory
the prairie chickens resumed their martial 
sidestepping in quick bursts of height
clashing claws locked up in the fight to 
father new generations

in the hedges sparrows bounced from 
branch to branch
trying to frustrate the kestrel’s plan for an 
easy dinner
the wind--always the wind—rustling and 
didn’t fluster the meadow vole
who swam with ease through
tunnels and trenches
elaborate as worm holes
the pond, busy with geese and ducks, 
the swans trumpeting and debating 
when to push south
the muskrat fortified his hut with freshly 
torn branches
I watched him engineer calculations and 

I forgot where I was standing
as I sank calf deep into cold mud
rising above my boot cuffs

it matters not at all
to be stuck in prairie earth 
it’s all I can hope for
to bottle up the scents and sounds
and carry them with me
wherever I go

hip flask of prairie
to drink
on slow lonely nights of winter

Poem for the Great Blue Heron

I see you.
Lifting from the marshy area,
wings outstretched
pumping the air to lift your body
to the sky.
I pause to watch.
It's simply another moment in time.
A moment to lose myself in your beauty.


silently strokes the air
swims above the river
then fixes his wings 
like a giant kite

upon a supple branch
floats down

a single feather
to equilibrium
still life 
a Japanese print

While it was still winter, the day warmed like a memory of a crisp spring day. I found myself searching for the gathering of bald eagles at Lake Red Rock, on a back road below the dam. To my surprise out the corner of my eye I spot a hint of color in a cove not many dared to go that time of year. A long neck, attentive eyes seeking fish along the melted Waters edge. Time stood still as I watched him. He was smaller than I knew them to be. He struggled near the edge finding his meal. Out of a pile of tiny limbs two larger herons swiftly padded around him, almost, as if to say.... enough of people watching, we have what you need behind the shelter, come with us. The larger herons glanced my way and paused briefly as if they too had not seen humans in months. I was awe struck by their color on a day in that cove with little other color around other than the winters harsh remains. As I watched them all pad off to get out of the chilly wind I wondered how their tiny thin legs were not as icy as mine. Their posture so erect and willingness to brave the lakes mean breeze. Thus grew my interest to seek them out and capture that eye contact again. I'll never forget how striking they looked on that cove, basking in the sun and utlizing winters remains happily.

Bike ride with a Heron

I was on I-80
In Wiota, Iowa
I thought I ought to
Stop in Wiota
And stretch my legs
With a ride on my bike.

So I went for a ride
Right beside 
Turkey creek
But no turkeys 
As I stretched my legs
With a ride on my bike.

But then there beside me
Right along biding me
Was a Great Blue Heron
Flying down Turkey on
as I stretched my legs 
with a ride on my bike.

We went the same pace
Neither losing face
By slowing or gaining
But both retaining
as I stretched my legs 
with a ride on my bike.

It was synchronicity
It was serendipity
It was fluid and grace
It was time and space
as I stretched my legs
with a ride on my bike.

I’ll never forget
I was an egret
When I was here on
Wiota’s Blue Heron
as I stretched my legs 
with a ride on my bike.


the heron bends low
waiting for a frog to call
to have the last word

Caught the train in Croton-on-Hudson
always by the stretch of my long legs
in those days before life shattered, 
a split second before the doors slid shut. 

On a good day, a window seat. 
Headphones on, New Yorker open, knitting in hands
as soon as we moved
I kept my eyes
on the river’s edge
as if I stared at the space where a lover had been.

Great blue heron, like a gorgeous umbrella
feet in the earth, legs stroked by water, wings ready for air
A good day, I thought, even before
I needed lucky omens
to survive collapse.


blue sliver 
now wide-winging in—
gangly spread swirl—
settling to stand, wade,
lake ripples quieting…
surely we would have missed you,
would have thought you…
a shoreline branch?
had we not witnessed 
your evening arrival
in the fading light…
shadowy blue 

Skinny old man in a shaggy cape
unhinged his bobbly elbows,
wobbled up on knobby knees
and blew his blue underneath
as we passed his marsh stump
on I-80. "Get a load of this!" 
he trumpeted. We said: "A heron! 
But what's in his mouth...?" 
A squirrel's tail twirled
like a sputtering propeller.

Cover over the sun and moon
with your blue wings and return
to us for good. Nothing to see 
here, folks, but the heron lifting
like a fog, the heron perched
on a log, the heron's empty nest,
the heron's head tucked rest.

In memory of Wayne Norman, Sr.

Dipping and stretching on limbs
thin as reeds,
blue in the endless
green, yellow of the river’s inlet;
great herons
search the sky for 
a companion – gone
with a sweep of the artist’s hand –
a bird ghost, a line left
under pastel rubbings.

Alone in the endless landscape
between four, square edges
of gold frame;
their silver steps 
forever stilled circles

on the surface 
of a silent stage.

stick legged in mud
blue fish spear on wispy pegs
lonesome angler waits


Maybe one of these days I will 
pronounce your name right (HAIR-en)
instead of like the Great Lake
but until then I will amble
unembarrassedly forward
like I did with facade, irrecoverable,
and all those other words (or non-words) 

whose hands I first shook
in books, in print, in my head
where I was free to characterize them,
O Great Heron, like you:
a winged thing sprouted from
serifed feet, something
grounded but vaguely capable
of flying into the wrong sort 
of nesting box

where it will sit all night, warming a stone and wondering
why it won't listen, peck its way
into the light 
of reason.

When all that surrounds is anything
but still
the heron
a reflection. Here on the edge of D.C.
on the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia,
the water struggles
towards clarity, and the recent flood
has built a trash sculpture
of a sideways shopping cart,
a lone car tire and ribbons
of plastic bags, trailing so like
water-weed. This heron
so still
we almost walk by. Ensorcelled
we wait. Sharp dart, silver gleam
and swallow. A swift unfurling
of wings, cloak of every
river I’ve ever walked.

Savage! Noble! Terrifying! 
Predatory! If only Bill Murray
Had a heron for the gopher in Caddyshack. When did you start eating meat? I thought you only ate veggies. 
Don't you know about climate change?
You should be a vegan. You get why
People hate millennials now? Will you snatch them up too?

Tinkertoy spine winds up to spear fish at its feet
He bends with grace and ease of a yogi....
Just two lines like kneeless legs
Legless knees, fish-head punctuation. 
Or is that a pelican? 
Drop it my way.







Iowa Bird of Mouth (IBOM) was a crowd-sourced poem honoring twelve Iowa birds. With support from the Iowa Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, the project ran from September 2016 through August 2017. The goal of IBOM was to increase our sense of collective connection to the environment. Over 750 people shared their words, from Guggenheim Fellows and National Book Award nominees to Brownie troops and kindergarten classrooms. The text is open source for non-commercial projects. Contact developer and curator, Jennifer L. Knox.