“they swing over buildings, / dipping and rising; / they float like one stippled star / that opens, / becomes for a moment fragmented, / then closes again; / and you watch / and you try / but you simply can’t imagine / how they do it” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Starlings in Winter”

Kayama Matazo Frozen Forest 1960
“Frozen Forest” (1960)
by Kayama Matazo

                   

“Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Starlings in Winter”

The murmuring of starlings is foremost in my mind. Their beautiful blackness, the harmony of their dips and sways. To have that ability, to move like that. Untethered. Wheeling to and fro. Sky and air, and nothing in between. Someday, I will see this. Someday.

Julio Barello Swoop Installation 1007 mri film and steel
“Swoop” Installation (1007 mri film and steel)
by Julio Barello

And as it’s going

And as it’s going often at love’s breaking,
The ghost of first days came again to us,
The silver willow through window then stretched in,
The silver beauty of her gentle branches.
The bird began to sing the song of light and pleasure
To us, who fears to lift looks from the earth,
Who are so lofty, bitter and intense,
About days when we were saved together.

~ Anna Akhmatova

                   

Gertrude Hermes, Starlings 1965, woodcut on wove
“Starlings” (1965, woodcut on wove)
by Gertrude Hermes

Against Starlings

1
Their song is almost painful the way it
penetrates the air—above the haze and
level of the fields a thin line drawn. A
wire. Where the birdcall goes to ground. But I’d
stand anyway under the oaks lining
the road and whistle, tireless with chances,
tossing, by the handful, the crushed stone.
All of them answered, none of them came down.
By evening there’d be hundreds filling the
trees past hearing, black along the branches.
They’d go off with the guns like buckshot, black,
filling the sky, falling. I held my ears.
The holes in the air closed quickly, then healed.
Birds were bloodless, like smoke, wind in a fleld—

2
But not to be confused with the cowbird,
its brown head, its conical sparrow’s bill,
nor with the red-wing, which is obvious,
even showy, blood or birthmark, nor with
the boat-tailed grackle—though at dusk, when they
gathered from the north, they were all blackbirds.
They were what the night brought, and the blown leaves,
and the cloud come down in the rain. The ease
of it, the way summer could be ending.
When I found one one morning it was the
color of oil in a pool of water,
bronze, blue-green, still shining. The parts that were
missing were throwaway, breast and belly
and the small ink and eye-ring of the eye—

3
Not to be compared with the last native
wild pigeon, trap shot high in Pike County,
Ohio, the fourth day of spring, nineteen
hundred—thirty years after the harvest
of millions fllled the buffalo trains east.
They were, by report, “the most numerous
bird ever to exist on earth,” what the
Narragansett called Wuskowhan, the blue
dove, the wanderer, whose flight is silent.
Not to be compared with the smaller, wild
mourning dove, which haunted the afternoon,
which you heard all day till dark. They
were the sound in my sleep those long naps home,
the last train calling down the line in time—

4
Sometimes, at the far end of a pasture,
the burdock and buckwheat thick as the grass
along the hedgework, you could still find nests,
some fallen, some you had to climb to. They
were a kind of evidence, a kind of
science, sticks, straw, and brilliant bits of glass.
My mother had a hat like that, feathered
flawed—she’d bought it used. It was intricate
and jewelled, the feathers scuffed like a jay’s,
and so stiff you could’ve carried water.
The millinery species is over.
Those nests had nothing in them. Still, sometimes
I’d wait until the autumn light was gone,
the sky half eggshell, half a starling’s wing—

5
Not to be compared with the fluted voice,
the five phrases in different pitches
of the thrush, the one Whitman heard, and Keats.
Stumus vulgaris vulgaris—not to
be confused with the soft talk and music.
the voice that calls the spirit from the wood.
Those that stayed the winter sat the chimney
to keep warm, and cried down the snow to fly
against the cold. They were impossible.
They’d be dead before spring, or disappear
into the white air.—Not to be confused
with the black leaves whirling up the windward
side of the house, caught in the chimney smoke,
the higher the more invisible—

6
Black.
I saw them cover the sky over a
building once, and storm an alley. They were
a gathering, whole. Yet on the window
sill, individual, stealing the grain
I put there, they’d almost look at me through
the glass. Something magical, practical.
They’d even graze the ground for what had dropped.
I wished for one to come into the house,
and left the window open just enough.
None ever did. That was another year.
What is to be feared is emptiness and
nothing to fill it. I threw a stone or
I didn’t throw a stone is one language—
the vowel is a small leaf on the tongue.

~ Stanley Plumly

                     

Music by Agnes Obel, “Falling, Catching”

“their dark wings opening from their bright, yellow bodies; their tiny feet, all washed, clasping the air.” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Goldfinches”

Heron Reflection by NullSynapse FCC
Heron Reflecion by NullSynapse (FCC)

                   

Two for Tuesday: Wings

White Breasted Nuthatch by Amy Loves Yah FCC
White-breasted Nuthatch by Amy Loves Yah (FCC)

Nuthatch

What if a sleek, grey-feathered nuthatch
flew from a tree and offered to perch
on your left shoulder, accompany you

on all your journeys? Nowhere fancy,
just the brief everyday walks, from garage
to house, from house to mailbox, from
the store to your car in the parking lot.

The slight pressure of small claws
clasping your skin, a flutter of wings
every so often at the edge of vision.

And what if he never asked you to be
anything? Wouldn’t that be so much
nicer than being alone? So much easier
than trying to think of something to say?

~ Kirsten Dierking

                   

Great Blue Heron on Morro Strand State Beach mikebaird
Great Blue Heron on Morro Strand State Beach by mikebaird (FCC)

                   

The Heron

Whenever we noticed her
standing in the stream, still
as a branch in dead air, we
would grab our binoculars,
watch her watching,
her eye fixed on the water
slowly making its own way
around stumps, over a boulder,
under some leaves matted against
a fallen log. She seemed
to appear, stand, peer, then
lift one leg, stretch it, let
a foot quietly settle into the mud
then pull up her other foot, settle
it, and stare again, each step
tendered, an ideogram at the end
of a calligrapher’s brush.
Every time she arrived, we watched
until, as if she had suddenly heard
a call in the sky, she would bend
her knees, raise her wide wings,
and lift into the welcome grace
of the air, her legs extending
back behind her, wings rising
and falling elegant under the clouds:
For more than a week now
we have not seen her. We watch
the sky, hoping to catch her great
feathered cross moving above the trees.

~ Jack Ridl

                   

Music by Sleeping At Last, “Needles And Thread”

Two for Tuesday: November’s Innate Sadness

Luna Moth L Liwag
Luna Moth
by L. Liwag

                   

“Who can guess the luna’s sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original
clarity?”

~ Mary Oliver, from “The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers”

                   

Nicholas Roerich Sadness paren Two in a Boat 1939 tempera on canvas
“Sadness (Two in a Boat)” (1939, tempera on canvas)
by Nicholas Roerich

Majority

Now you’d be three,
I said to myself,
seeing a child born
the same summer as you.

Now you’d be six,
or seven, or ten.
I watched you grow
in foreign bodies.

Leaping into a pool, all laughter,
or frowning over a keyboard,
but mostly just standing,
taller each time.

How splendid your most
mundane action seemed
in these joyful proxies.
I often held back tears.

Now you are twenty-one.
Finally, it makes sense
that you have moved away
into your own afterlife.

~ Dana Gioia

                    

Akseli Gallen-Kallela Lake Keitele 1905
“Lake Keitele” (1905)
by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

My Friend Says

When my friend says he’s
Walking closer to sadness
I know he means his own
Yet I also know precisely

What he means & he means
The gods he once admired
Because for so long they
Seemed to admire him

Have emptied their quivers
Into his flesh his very flesh
& he says this to me
Because he knows I too stood

In this exact moonlight
Stripped of every possibility
& divine protection
Except for a silver medallion

Of St. Sebastian hanging
Like a noose around my neck
& if the night that night was
A mirror then I believe so too

Was I the plain reflection
Of the long sadness of my friend

~ David St. John

                   

Music by Jessy Greene, “In Crimson”

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