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The Weather at Home

A Hummingbird Suite

 

I

. . . and their image was impressed

upon land the rain scarcely knew, in limestone

that endures the passing

of the sun, so they can be seen

by the gods of light

when their time comes to seek

refuge on Earth.

 

II

In the age before, an evil spirit

gambled against the sun

and lost,

               then in his anger spat

lava enough to burn all

the Earth. Where the tall and mighty

failed, a hummingbird

went out to gather clouds

from which

                     the rain extinguished

every fire. Daily now

the bird appears atop the sunrise

displaying on its throat

the colors it acquired

flying through the rainbow.

 

III

From any window, at any given time, one

may be seen to hover

by the desert willow, at the lantana in bloom,

in a tangle of mesquite,

                                           with a heart

that beats two hundred times

each second, and sixty seconds

in every minute of its life.

 

IV

The oldest story is

that people lived inside the ground

until they sent a hummingbird

up and out to see

what was above. The newer version

has us burdened with ourselves, all darkness

and anxiety,

                     but the fluorescent

reflection in a falling raindrop

says to live on.

 

V

The elders could not see beyond blue sky

to know what forces

gathered there for good

or evil, or

to keep the planet’s place

within the universe,

                                    so they freed

the hummingbird from the tendrils that bound it

to them and waited

for it to return and describe

the other side of existence.

So it came back

                             even brighter

than it had been, and hovered in air

to display itself as part

of the only world created.

 

VI

At two o’clock each afternoon

thunder breaks and the sky

pours down into

a forest where lightning

spears an errant leaf

from the tip of which a Violet Sabrewing

drinks green rain.

 

VII

Of lichens, down, and spider silk, the nests

can float on storms

and when the eggs have hatched

expand. After fledging time

it holds a while

to the branch like a purse whose only penny

bought redemption.

 

VIII

A Costa’s hummingbird, each afternoon,

rests on the slender inches

growing out from an ocotillo stem

and prints a silhouette

against the air, moving only

for preening as he lifts a wing to scratch

beneath it and briefly spread

his tail before he turns his beak a few degrees

to be a compass needle for the sun.

 

IX

Because we have no better explanation

we shall say

that fallen warriors ascend

to the sun, where they become

hummingbirds and return to Earth. We

shall say that each moment spent

watching their feathers glow

brings us more than a lifetime

in war.

 

X

We see

but do not hear

the Anna’s hummingbird until

it is close

and the wings vibrate in sympathy

with the red

gorget.

 

XI

While the larger birds enlisted

to defend the skies: the hawks

and eagles with their wings spanned wide

and talons unsheathed,

those who occupied the deserts and

leafy canyons called

                                      on hummingbirds

to dazzle any threat that came their way

with drops of color flashing. While condors rattled

in their armor

high above the world,

the Emerald and Woodstar

colluded with a Thorntail to reclaim with grace

what fate and force

had stolen.

 

XII

Then we shall say they bring rain.

For in a lasting drought we have

no other hope. And if rain does not come

we shall say we lived in beauty

to the end.

 

 

Citizen Rat

 

He’s a flash as fast as eyesight

running on the concrete rim

bordering the lawn

between Coral Bells and brushpile

where he waits before climbing

the pole to an orange

he gnaws to a shell in the dark.

Three million years in the making, he can balance

and can swim half a mile when he must;

he remembers where he’s been

so he can go back again. He sleeps

in a burrow by the window

with pine needles layered to hide it.

He stowed away on a ship

and arrived all over the world.

He’s every twelfth year in China:

intelligent, honest and generous, a symbol

for luck and success.

He can outlast a camel for thirst,

knows when plague’s on the way,

and can sniff out a snack

or a landmine.

We know he goes down

to the watery world underground,

where he fits by the grace

of his ribs folding back

through spaces so narrow

the human mind can’t pass.  He stops

for breath in the small

inverted U between the sewer

and the toilet. Rich Victorians enjoyed him

in pie, and he’s stew

in West Virginia, though nobody eats

the tail, stripped as it is

to essentials to regulate the temperature.

Possessed of the gift

to sense disaster on the way

he’s ready when it happens

and built to resist radiation. Here comes

a storm, an eighteen wheeler

rolling through the clouds

carrying a cargo of anger and trash,

and the rat points his nose at the sky

with night’s tiny face

ready for the rain.

 

 

Truths and Lepidoptera

 

A hawk against the dawning clouds

moves high and dark

as the city underneath him

awakens. On this day the news

breaks with a louder

crack than usual, and even

the quail who spill out

from the neighbor’s bougainvillea

walk a nervous line.

The television screen lights up

with happiness and Earthly delights

before names

start to be named

and analysts dissect the crimes

they are suspected of. But it’s early

and the shadows of the palm trees

lie wet across the ground. It’s hard to believe

in such joy as advertisements show

while subterfuge and scheming are the order

of the day: also a day

in which lizards flash

across the back yard wall, hummingbirds

fly constantly

from bush to bush, and a Funereal Duskywing

trembles at  the Coral Bells

that silently ring the hours

rolling along the wash and up

the mountain to the ridge

where they rub their cheeks against

the timeless moon.

 

~

 

Another day: another cog

clicks in the universe. The sun rolls

into place. It’s hard to tell so early

whether that’s a Cabbage White or Southern

Dogface, but the nascent flowers on the milkweed

are a marker on the winged way

to truth.

 

~

 

The jasmine draws its power from the rain

recently fallen

and the air feels as though

it were smiling as we breathe it,

even in this tainted world

where sin remains popular

centuries past the age when heretics

were burned, although

defining it depends on which

side you’re on, and being accused

just generates more mystics

like Margery Kempe, who the more she was mocked

the more she believed she was right.

Some people believe

the sulfur floating on the scents just now

is someone’s soul; a proposition

kind enough to merit acceptance.

When in doubt

take beauty’s side, even

when the hawk marks its path

with a talon drawn across the midday sky.

 

 

The Ants

 

They come up through the cracks

in the concrete underneath

the swing seat

where time moves back and forth

between the present and the past.

They are tiny but determined

and they climb     

inside my shoes and up

above the socks, with one for every

old regret: a mother-ant, a father-

ant, an ant for unintended

consequences, and one

for the path not taken. There’s not

enough cinnamon

to keep them away

and salt doesn’t take back its words.

They sting now

like so many things I said, they said, we

said. Turn on the hose –

they won’t stay away; they’ve acclimatized

themselves to diatomaceous earth,

and even the flicker

on the grass can’t eat all

my sorrows. No ceremony with cornmeal

or scattering of coffee grounds

brings peace of mind. The ants just keep

on marching through

each barrier placed

before them, and goad me

into trying chalk or peppermint

to hold them at bay. When they appear

to be gone, there’s still one

holding to a seam or a fold

by its tarsal claws

feeling no guilt for the hurt

it induces, just trying to survive

as one among millions.

 

 

 

A Memorial

 

This is for the gecko
who climbed into a water dish
I’d set on the ground
and couldn’t get out. His white stomach faced
the broad blue sky
and morning’s light sparkled
around a floating drop of thirst.
As for other
losses, they just float in the air now
too late for words to rescue
them. Let’s say He was ordinary
in an exceptional age
, or The choices he made
made him
. Something short

and pithy to acknowledge the long
summer evenings the sun
wouldn’t set until he came home, maybe
a mention of work as bleak
necessity. There’s a line in a country song,
the kind he enjoyed,
that says I guess we’re all gonna be
what we’re gonna be, 
which is as good a way

as any to remember.
He would
have felt sorry for the gecko I think,
had he been there to see me
raise it on my index finger and place it
on the ground, trying not to imagine
how it feels to drown.

 

Mercury

 

The owl on the rooftop wears
a crown of stars. Mercury
is bright tonight: Wednesday’s god
of wisdom and speed,
flashing orange,
on and off in a code
only the universe can read. Some things
are not for us to know, and never were
for one old lady
who lived in a dark age
and kept her secrets to herself.
The owl
turns its head a few degrees
north, a few more
south, tilts its face to look down
at being looked at from the ground,
and returns its concentration
to the silence at the heart
of distant traffic noise. When
it flies, it’s a planet
blinking; when
a grandmother dies, it’s a library
burning.

 

Phototaxis

 

I
Everywhere’s a way station
on the path to the moon
for a moth
who spent its first millennia
on a planet with no fire.

 

II
A spot of crimson whispers
from between the grays
and the pale green of insomnia
passes by a street lamp
through a quiet evening’s scents
that draw the mottled halves apart
when moths trace routes
on the unfolding sky
in search of the nectar
that induces visions in the seeker
who can only dream
of weightless flight.

 

III
The smallest of them nibble shadows
to survive, beginning
at the edge and working
for a lifetime
to devour memories that, once inside
a person’s mind,
make theatre of old
realities. How to tell what happened
from what was desired? Cruelty
from care? Come, tiny moth,
to free this moment
from the past.

 

IV
We live at the dark end of the street
with a lamp glowing
either side of the front door
to which moths find their way
from wherever they rest
in our waking hours.
Seen close up
some are tapestries
in miniature, and some are painted
with a finer brush than any
used on Earth. Here they find a refuge
from their journeys through time,
letters mailed long ago
but never delivered, each with
a secret they are too polite
to disclose.
What’s the point
of bringing back old quarrels?
It’s so peaceful to watch
while the dim light bathes them
in discretion, stroking back the fur
between each pair of wings.

 

 

Tuned to Cicadas

 

Along the route we take to see

summer’s last cuckoo

a radio keeps company with the miles

of open country. There’s conflict

on the interstate, and arms

are being sold in all directions

even on the country road

that runs through hills made green

by August rains. The clouds today

are decoration, glowing at their edges

as they float without a care

that one country’s murderers

masquerade as a security force

and their trial has been staged to reassure

the people that they’re safe.

Ocotillo brush against

the sky, there’s a dip and a rise before

news of xenophobia

translated into yet

another language, and it makes us as sad

to hear it as glad somebody cares

enough to send reporters

to places that ceased

to be anyone’s home. Finally the trail

begins, away from traffic,

winding between mesquite

and Arizona sycamore

in dappled shade, vibrating

with the rattle from cicadas to a shrill

crescendo followed by

a sudden stop. There’s a woodpecker tap

in the quiet they leave

behind, and a towhee’s plaintive

note rising from

a rustle in the undergrowth.  Not a sound

can reach here from the war games

being played while half

a continent from them the real thing

continues every day.

She could be anywhere, the high limbs

or eye level, no longer calling now

the breeding season passed

and her work

is all preparing for migration. The body

is slender, the underbelly elegant,

and the tail won’t be mistaken

for any other bird’s. Another wave

of sound breaks from the cicadas, and it takes

only seconds for the years

to part and let the memory through

of seeing one the first time.

Then a long shape glides

in and out of sunlight, and takes hold

of the world by a slim branch

on an ash tree. And the cicadas send

another wave through the warm afternoon

of stained glass singing,

the kind of loud that’s peaceful.

 

 

Coyote Moments

 

I

The world wakes, one arroyo

at a time, from rocks to the mesquite

from which a chorus rises

above the bosque

of howls turning to light.

 

II

I’m invisible, walking among men,

a stranger in my own life

and everyone else’s. This kind

of freedom can’t be fought for: its

nature’s gift to me, and it asks

for nothing in return.

 

III

One alone has made his way

on liquid steps

from his world to

the human one

where he stops to look around

with the why-not gaze

of the eternal explorer.

 

IV

Nobody’s expecting me

when I show up beside them.  I’m so quiet

they think I’m their own breath

assuming shape and form. I like

the rough edged world,

with thorns and stony inclines, not places

bought and sold until all

that’s left of them is money. All surfaces

are polished there, and when

I look in any mirror

it is to disappear.

 

 V

A shadow stands up on its edge

and slides through a space

where only a pickpocket’s hand could fit.

 

VI

There’s never really anywhere

I need to be. One place

is as good as another when the sun shines.

When the bones melt

and the body keeps moving without them.

 

VII

Their voices peel away

from the mountain as the sun

slides into a crevice and persuades them

it’s time to go down

to the washes and streets

that lead to the pond filled with stars

 

 

Dragonfly Days

 

There’s a thin skin of air

lying over the pond

where dragonflies float

in September.

                       A Common Green Darner,

light as a wish,

with one wing for minutes

and one for the hours,

marks time as it crosses the water.

Summer goes slowly

                                    down to the carp;

a year drifts away

to the mountain. The heat’s lost

its edge, shadows

have teeth, while

                              two hawks in place

for the cool time of year

are quotation marks

for a silence as wide

as the sky,

                  and a vulture

hangs on a thread

down from the lingering sun.

 

 

Dawn

 

A kestrel on a street lamp overlooks

the day beginning. On each horizon

there’s a glow, breaking through

the doubts the night

leaves behind. The animals who made their claim

to the city

return to mountain lairs

with the taste of darkness on their tongues

while traffic,

burdened with responsibilities,

moves more slowly today than it did

the day before. Sunrise coaxes birdsong

from trees along the street, a nerve

tightens in the kestrel’s

claw, and the sun as it rises

touches each strip of cloud

with the light touch of the hammer

on a vibraphone.

 

 

Noontime

 

The time with no secrets is now,

beneath a cloudless sky and a hawk

who watches whatever moves

and where it’s moving to. Light soaks

into the pavement and

the soil alike, while traffic hums a lazy tune

along the roads from

work to lunch. The poorest of the poor

are begging when the signal turns

from green to red, and desperation has no place

to hide. But the Earth sways

gently, the oleanders smile, and the clock’s hands

meet in prayer

precisely at the hour

the sun sees more than any other

time, when every lie meets up

with its accuser,

eye to golden eye.

 

 

Afternoon

 

A long train hauls a beam of sunlight

through the desert on

a Sunday afternoon, when the land

bathes quietly in the heat

of day. Above it, flying

in the opposite direction,

are Turkey vultures on their way

to pick the tropics clean

and leave their bones

to shine. They all

have far to go before the eye

of Heaven winks to tell them

it is time to rest. The iron heartbeat slows,

and a kettle circles down

to sleep. Mountains slip farther toward

the edges of the Earth,

each one now a sigh

that glows on its foundations.

 

 

 

Dusk

 

The sky puts its lips to the Earth

and sips the last

light from the horizon. Now the constellations

rustle into view

and it’s all the same which year

shows on the calendar: the ancients

cannot sleep. They sit

around their fires and tell the story

of how they came to be, a different account

on every continent

with floods receding to reveal their ancestors,

improbable conceptions, prayer sticks

and thunder. There is still

far to go: the metals

deep inside the earth have yet

to be turned into trains

who learn their high and lonely cries

from hearing wolves at prayer.

 

 

Midnight

 

Above the patch of grass beside which

is a garden swing seat

and a frame with feeders hanging

for the birds who come by day,

the full moon absorbs warm light

from the sun and sends

cold light down to Earth where moths

spread their intoxicated wings

and feel the pull

toward it. The clock shows self destruction,

drunken driving, and insomnia.

There’s nothing to be done

but listen

for the shot that breaks

the silence, and meanwhile watch

how palm fronds are sharpened

to a point so sharp

they cut the air and make it bleed.

 

 

Dinner Music

 

The hearings started early western time.

The quail had hardly stirred

from the bougainvillea next door

and the rabbits made

their nervous way through the fence.

Watching seemed an obligation

despite the steamy details

and having no advertisements to interrupt

the way that questioning unfolded

aided concentration

although the cats demanded their usual share

of attention. The Costa’s hummingbird

came and went, came

and went, and the House finches

clung to the feeders

as the sun rose to its zenith

around the time the official lunch break

ended. We still had enchiladas

to eat, and a Bartlett’s pear

each. It was difficult to reconcile

the calm mood here

with the anger onscreen, but there was

laundry to fold away

and dishes to wash, so a lot of it didn’t

register. For once

a commentary was superfluous. The picture

showed a very public private moment

while outside the window

a Say’s phoebe appeared. He flew

to the water shining with sky.

The proceedings took an operatic turn: cry

a little, rage a little, talk

about God. There was chili

for dinner, and a vinyl disc with Monteverdi.

Such music was a fitting end

to the day: passion

rolling its eyes and clutching at the heart

without inhibition, secure

in the knowledge that music would restore

the dignity that evil took away.

 

 

A Sunday

 

A thrasher flies out of darkness

trailing a thread of cloud

from its beak. This early

it’s anyone’s world; rabbits

stake a claim to the grass

and the rat

who took what he needs from the night

has returned to his burrow.

The trees toss scraps

of birdsong back

and forth between them. Later,

the wind kicks up, and there’s driving

to and from the downtown, via

underpass and overpass,

with all the usual sightings of the homeless

sleeping through the afternoon

on courthouse steps. There’s some justice

and space for them, it being Sunday

and a day of rest

for discord. Soon enough

it will be Monday and the forecast

is for further arguments

with a black Heaven versus

a white Hell, though for now

the grey areas between them

have turned into sky.

 

 

 A Day’s Rain

 

The owl’s voice rubbed against the clouds

last night, and now

it rains a steady rain that washed

away the mountain and chimes as it falls

on the pine and lantana and

pavement all the way

down the street to the hazy turn

where two red rear lights

look back at where they’ve been:

through a long, dry summer

whose light came daily to sand the desert

down to its foundations

and whose darkness was a trail

coyotes followed to drink

from the stillest of still ponds, which can’t

be still today with all

the water flowing through the washes

quick to carry summer off. There go

the devils who fanned

the sun’s flames at noon. It’s the time

of starlings and Purple sage. And raindrops

hang in the melancholy air

while hummingbirds learn

to fly between them.

 

 

 

The Weather at Home

 

The mountain wriggles free

of shadow from a cloud

after rain. Alyssa keeps calling about the warranty

but won’t say what it’s for. The mysteries

weigh more today than the day before:

did the cathedral builders believe

in a patient God? why does an owl call

when watching for prey?

is it possible to fly

to the twelfth century? The plane

departs at noon. Pilgrims are gathering

to journey on the Milky Way.

When the computer

swallows a file, does the file

have a soul to grant

eternal life? The mail arrives

with hands reaching out from every envelope

for money, but the problems

that sent them are too big

to be solved.  This is a watercolor

kind of day. A wet brush sweeps

across the deckle-edged sky: the evening birds

shake water from their wings.

 

~

 

A bowling ball of thunder rolls

down the street at 5 am

and rain, on little feet, runs along

behind it.  Flashes fill the window

like electric milk

splashing on the glass. This is the Earth

photographing itself: dawn,

the Mourning doves all

in a row, perched

on a streak of lightning.

 

~

 

Police cars cruise the quiet streets on Sunday

leaving us to wonder

what we’ve done. A kestrel owns

the sky today, tracing

easy arcs against the storm’s last clouds.

 

~

 

A slow breeze skates

across water in an upturned lid; it can’t tell

what was left in place

from what just fell by circumstance,

the same way Sunday

doesn’t know whether it’s for football

or for prayer. The choice lies

between an inner life and becoming one

of the exuberant crowd. It’s the fourth

quarter, a two point difference,

winter’s sparrows just arrived,

and the referee’s decision on a foul

is announced with a Last Judgment kind

of severity. Four minutes left

for a touchdown, or

eternity calling. There’s the ring now,

and it’s always hard to tell

a live voice from

a recording.

 

 

Discarded

 

The morning is swollen with clouds

above the 48th Street stop south of Elliot

where a carton rests on the seat

with its lid raised to reveal

cake and shrink-wrapped produce

while a carry-all bag

rests on the ground, full with notebooks,

folders, and hygiene aids.

A pack of chicken filets stands alone,

fresh and sweating in the sunlight.

The evidence suggests

the owner ran. Or else bought a ticket

to oblivion. Or else, or

else . . . Who knows? Not I, says the asphalt

where traffic goes by without a care;

Not I, says the traffic light

flashing red-green-red; Not I, says

the trash bin overflowing. And not I,

says the sky which sees everything

although it masks discomfort

above day’s last horizon

with peaches and a rose.

 

 

Memory Stick

 

Surprises fall from the sky. Today it’s rain,

another time

a sequined purse came down

and sparkled with cheap gold on the sidewalk.

Right now a dark hawk

passes smoothly overhead, an invisible hand

makes ripples in standing water

and a moth that darkness left behind

is clinging to the window screen.

A book describing

seven Chakras fluttered down

beside the road and lay there for weeks,

a piece of corrugated cardboard inked

to plead for help

rests on the ground close to

a freeway ramp, and Heaven help us

someone lost their

toothpaste and a bracelet

on a quiet suburban street. The wind

can’t tell a summons from

a shopping list when

it blows them across an intersection

already littered with the glass

from a headlight and a buckled length of chrome

from when two cars collided on their way

between the stars. And almost imperceptible

is the tiny flash drive

that landed in a parking lot, which,

when plugged into a personal computer,

reveals the history it has carried

through the universe

of how everything began, but refuses

to disclose from which

of many gods it came.

 

 

Daybreak

 

The owl’s call floats on a bed of distant

traffic noise. Still dark:

the trees hold on

to the secrets they harbored all night

and the grass

whispers to the trace of wind

passing over it. Slowly, the Earth

settles into position: the mountain

grows back to where it stood

yesterday and washes run down

between the waking houses.

The early riser stirs sugar and anxiety

into his coffee, and listens

for a claw to tear open

the sky. Daylight

spills out.  Goldfinches spill

from the daylight. It’s bright enough

to see the flicker’s gilded wing

as he flies across the space

between now and the Hohokam

who once upon a time

walked toward the sun, setting out

when it was low

and all the air was singing.

 

 

Four Peaks

 

Every morning, right on time, the sky

drops the four peaks back

where they had been the day before, out

beyond the end of the street

with first light climbing

breathless up the side invisible

from here. They chafe

a red-tail’s wings

as he flies over them. It must be possible

to see, from their highest

points, the crooked path that runs

through a life

and keeps on going in pursuit

of the great and unassailable

truths. Foxes live there. Bears. Some

bobcats and the mice

that owls hunt after dark. It’s cold there

now, all stars and silence.

It’s where wishes go

to be considered before being granted

or not. You want a better world?

Climb and keep climbing,

then look down. The one you started out

from is the only one

there is.

 

 

 

 

 

Contents & credits:

 

A Hummingbird Suite                 Amethyst Review

Citizen Rat                                Nature Writing

Truths and Lepidoptera              The New Verse News

The Ants                                   Dissident Voice

A Memorial                               Mohave Heart Review

Mercury                                    Mohave Heart Review

Phototaxis                                Mohave Heart Review

Tuned to Cicadas                      I am not a silent poet

Coyote Moments                       Dissident Voice

Dragonfly Days                         Plum Tree Tavern

Dawn                                       The Blue Guitar

Noontime                                 The Blue Guitar

Afternoon                                 The Blue Guitar

Dusk                                        The Blue Guitar

Midnight                                   The Blue Guitar

Dinner Music                             The New Verse News

A Sunday                                  Verse-Virtual

A Day’s Rain                              Verse-Virtual

The Weather at Home                Dissident Voice

Discarded                                  Third Wednesday

Memory Stick                             Poppy Road Review

Daybreak                                  The Cactus Wren-dition

Four Peaks                                International Times