Love or lust, she declared from the back
of the classroom, What difference does it make?
And, after all, isn’t it only words, parsing.
But that back road I often travel, that
fist of sparrows between the fields, their
sister or mate gliding too low, car-clipped,
stranded in the road’s middle, still singing
to her flock as they fretted around her,
scattering back to the bushes between
passing pickup trucks, then returning,
trying to levitate their love through song
that their urging might make miracle,
and I thought, maybe, that’s the difference.
Back before the wood across the road was cleared,
the fields bulldozed and housed over,
the last farm blinked out and disappeared
under pavement, lightning bugs roamed summer
nights. Back when the Milky Way pavilioned
the sky before street lights made us forget,
I would gaze in wonder
and some random dread.
Abandonment, absence of angels,
a sense we could not read the book of spells
the wind had splayed open before us
before our war against the weeds?
Today, paralyzed in summer
traffic, they come in legions, tiny parachutes,
Pretending to be some great explorer
I found the wreck alone, tilting between
sandbars, then showed her, the secret’s power
strong within us. The decaying boat seemed
possessed, a ghost ship that strayed each
night, to be found in different places
each time we strolled across the beach. The boat
became our haven, summer hideaway,
the helm intact, sea restless out the portholes.
Donna, where are you marooned,
or stranded by ocean that churns and rolls?
Did I imagine you those afternoons?
One day we wandered out to an empty beach,
the ship swept out to sea.
SWIFTS AT DUSK
Dog fighting the invisible, they appear
like the Lafayette Escadrille or Flying Circus.
More hive than flock, swarm of black angels,
out that old giant chimney the swifts pour
like bats out of hell then scatter to soar
off to who knows where.
Fastest of birds, a strict diet of flying insects,
they cannot perch, so all things but sleep
and brooding are done on the wing. Their return
is counter clockwise clockwork, hundreds of specks
crisscross lower and lower as though
they weave a transparent net
while the huge wheel they make turns into
a funnel and they freefall in for the night.
are moving farther south, some leaving for
our golf courses. They do not build nests
but pilfer crow and blue jay homes. These
little falcons, sky pirates do not stoop
to conquer, do not scavenge road kill,
but strike in flight, preying on small birds. They
have no fear of humans. The open vistas
of pristine green seem created
to hunt sparrow and starling. To be
a merlin for one day, to eat life raw,
soaring 100 miles per hour, never lighting
on earth. To sleep dreamless all night
in a stolen nest, or, if to dream, dream only
of morning, that appears unbidden each morning.
Each night the orb weaver spins a new web.
Each night stars arrive whether we see them
or not. When we fall into sleep our minds
weave the strands of our days into a world
where we wander into dramas unrehearsed.
Pluto’s mountains seem to be dreamt. The universe,
with its dark matter, dark energy is comprised
mostly of what we cannot see. Why
does the orb weaver toil so? Why
can’t she simply sleep and make repairs
as needed. The mind wends in restless orbits,
making phantoms out of hunger, ghosts from dread.
By morning, near my back porch, I’ll greet her,
move past carefully, and will not break a thread.
TEACHING TENNYSON AND YEATS TO VETERANS
They like The Charge, the doomed flash.
They get the tragic mess that’s made
from obeying bad orders. They understand
the communality of courage, know
accidents, chance, luck, perhaps the dreamish
sense that the world of peace is unreal,
suffer daily the ache of survivors.
To fight over a beautiful woman? For
them it’s not about a face that launched a thousand
ships to burn the topless towers of Troy.
It’s not about vanity or sex.
It’s battlefield blunder they’ve lived and lost.
It’s surviving the nightmare machine oiled
by old men; it’s about passing the test.
Watching citizen sparrows is like
watching humans in pure form flight,
without sorrow, open books without ego.
The sparrows always active in their world
so close to ours, in our eaves and other
places that go unnoticed, their minor dramas,
their falling providences, as they flit
outside the coffee shop for crumbs we drop.
It is much simpler to write about them,
the value of many sparrows who hop
table to table, between legs, who dart off
in gangs, then return on some whim or
because something happens we don’t see.