Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The robin is not chirping cheerily of cheeriness,

nor is the chestnut-sided warbler pleased to meet you.

The black-throated green warbler

does not croon of murmuring trees.

The song sparrow is not inviting you

to put on the kettle for tea.


Each tiny indignant property-rights advocate

sitting in his tree or straddling his fence

is hollering loud and clearly:


Out of here, quickly.

Flee, flee, or I’ll shoot you.

These are my trees.

If you know what’s good for you, you’ll skeedaddle.

The red-eyed vireo says it plain:

Here I am; where are you?

This is mine; go away.

MFCP, Spring 2009

Saturday, April 24, 2010


To hold the holy water, dig a well,

To keep the notes in check, compose a score.

Heaven’s for the good guys; send the rest to hell.

Pay out your tithe, but not a nickel more.

Iambic meter holds the words together

The way an iron stove holds in the flame.

The airs and seas contain the planet’s weather.

Wild things are known, we think, when called by name.

Bras and jockstraps mash the flesh in place

As locks and dams are built to stem the flood.

We like to sit refined, without a trace

Of sweat or piss or passion, shit or blood.

Then what will happen when it is our turn

To flow, to sing, to burst, to give, to burn?

MFCP--This was my first poem to be published, in Amelia: #27, 1995

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I wrote this years ago--it was published in "The Five Town News," that great little local monthly. I haven't heard woodcocks near our place for several years now, but I see them regularly in the woods, so they're still around.

The first time I heard about them was in early April, 1979. My husband came home from a sunset walk in a field near the house where we were living then, and said that he had heard a strange bird singing: first a repeated beeping from the bushes on the edge of the field, and then a wild twittering up into the sky, and then a chirping high overhead before the beeping started again. We looked it up, and discovered that it was a Woodcock, doing its Spring Dance. The male bird makes what the bird books call a “peenting” sound, then flies up about two or three hundred feet into the air, circling and twittering his wings. At the very peak of his flight, he sings a little song, and dives back to the ground. He does this dance at sunset and sunrise, presumably to mark his territory and to impress females.

The next evening, my husband and our small son and I went to the field together at dusk, and waited quietly, and heard the beep and the twitter, and saw the woodcock silhouetted against the last color of the sunset when he rose and then again when he plummeted to the ground. And the next night, fascinated, my son and I went back, determined to see the bird up close. After the dance had begun, we paid attention to where the beeps were coming from: this particular bird was beeping fairly consistently from a clump of shrubs in a low wet spot. As soon as he rose into the air, we moved as quickly as we could to that spot, freezing in place whenever we heard the twittering begin. It took us a long time to reach his little territory, and it was very wet where we sat down to wait. But either our presence or the increasing darkness had ended that evening’s performance.

Undaunted, we returned again the next evening. This time, we left home before sunset, and brought scraps of board to sit on, and settled ourselves in the place we had selected the night before. It was damp and cool in the bushes; we did not talk or move. I still marvel that a six year old child could sit still for as long as Henry did. What we heard and saw was well worth the half hour of cramped legs and wet feet. The woodcock beeped suddenly right behind us, and beeped again and again while we scarcely dared to breathe. When he took flight, his wings twittered close over my shoulder. We listened to him rise, heard the crazy circling chirping apex of the dance and the short silence of the descent, and then a soft plop not ten feet away. In the half-dark, Henry and I watched the woodcock walk around in little circles, beeping as he bobbed his strange long-billed head up and down.

I’ve seen many woodcocks since that night. On almost any evening in early spring we can hear them all around our house. We have startled them out of clumps of woods in the daytime. They nest directly on the ground, counting on camouflage for protection. I know now that nesting females will act wounded to draw predators away from their young; I know that woodcocks take earthworms out of the ground with those long bills. But no matter how many times I see them, no matter how much I learn about them, whenever I hear that unmistakable peent that marks for me the beginning of spring, I am carried back to a soggy twilit field where I sat for a long time with a little boy, waiting to see for the first time how the woodcocks dance.

Friday, April 16, 2010


in honor of ol’ Walt Kelly

We are dancing on a dingbat

in the fury of a gale

while a wiley alligator

winds a kitestring on his tail,

and we do not have to worry

if the fury can’t abate,

for the foolish old bassoon man

has a catfish on his plate

and the streamlined fancy foremast

casts a shadow on our fate.

O, the moral of the story

is the wellspring of the fool,

and the quarrel of the sorry

is the spinning of the spool.

When the roses grow forgotten

in the gardens of the moon

and the chickens all fly skyward

on the string of the balloon,

when the demons do their darndest

to knock acorns from the tree

and the long-awaited pirate ship

comes sailing from the sea,

then we’ll know it’s time to cut the cake

and have a cup of tea.

O, the moral of the story

is the wellspring of the fool,

and the quarrel of the sorry

is the spinning of the spool.

MFCP--published in a Quatrain Chapbook: Beachbag Poems

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


All you want to do

is touch. It used to be easy,

while winnowing grain or stalking beasts.

Your bodies remember

the smell of sweat in the longhouse,

gossip by the well,

embraces under the trees.

Once you spoke while hanging wash

or mending nets or minding babies

or scything hay or boiling sap

or making shoes or spinning thread

or pounding nails or stitching quilts.


you are scattered like chaff,

dispersed as hunted game,

and so are we.

Oh, children, do not complain at us!

We are as exiled as you.

Like you we want to find our friends

and digging is so hard.


as you, we post lines

and flickers to our tornaway tribes.

Now the ether carries in bits

our sketchy sentences, our loneliness,

tears that this strange communication

without skin or breath can maybe begin to mend.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

DANCING ON--for Poetry Month


Orion is hunting woodcocks by the light of the moon.

He’s heading under for the summer;

soon he’ll rise at dawn, then at noon.

He’ll stalk only daytime prey, for awhile:

the hot sidewalk pigeons, sparrows,

dogs panting on steaming lawns.

The woodcock peents his pitiful twilight call,

nods his heavy head, whistles his wings,

chirps and spirals, falls like a shooting star.

Somewhere on the meadow edge his lady watches.

Once while he was dancing in the sky

I slogged through soggy mosquito ground

to see him bobbing in the last light, close enough to touch.

Tonight I sat with poets in a bookstore.

Together we chased our quarry around the rim,

tuned our hearts for all to hear.

One black-eyed boy took a fistful of poems from his wallet,

twittered his longing for a golden girl.

We old poets know our places in the quadrille,

but the floor slips away beneath our feet,

the orchestra shifts like seasons,

the music will never repeat.

Even in the silences between

there are voices in the street, under the lamps.

We can never know where the fire will descend;

when, precisely, the stars will come to ground.

MFCP--this was a runner-up for the 2001 Grolier Poetry Prize--now the Ellen LaForge prize.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


What is this life if busy as hell

We have no time to sit and smell?

No time to sit beside the bogs

And smell as long as cats or dogs,

No time to scent when fields we pass

Where some one stopped to drag his ass,

No time to find, as though alone,

Where someone chucked a chicken bone,

No time to ponder every track

Of every deer passing onward, back,

To use your nose to best avail

To search the neighbor’s garbage pail,

No time to sit and contemplate

What each and every neighbor ate.

A poor life this, if busy as hell

We have no time to sit and smell.

MFCP--This is obviously after the poem "Leisure" by W. H. Davies. It was inspired by our old dog.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


This is the Light surrounding the smallness of the engendering explosion

flashing in the lingering raindrop on the unfolding olive leaf carried swift through the clearing sky

glancing from the stone knife trembling over the heart of the bound and plighted child

pulling and driving the fretting dancing slaves through the desert and the sea.

This is the Light beckoning from the doorway of the stable in the rock

spilling red and warm and glistening from the cup he holds between trembling hands

dazzling and glittering around the tomb’s heavy seal in the deepest night of Earth

burning passageways in the dark:

one path for every soul.


This is a poetic version of the ancient hymn to the Light of Christ that has been sung by deacons since at least the third century. It was published in The Living Church, Easter 1999. That publication did not notify me that they were publishing it--in fact, I found out from someone else that they had. Meanwhile, the poem had been accepted by The Other Side, a now defunct Christian magazine that was all about peace-making, justice, compassion--the radical, liberating Gospel. When I called to tell them that the poem had already been published, the editor called The Living Church editor and he said it could not be reprinted without HIS permission. She decided to print it anyway. "It's a justice issue," she said. She was also appalled that I hadn't been paid for it--poor as they were, The Other Side editors paid poets.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Every now and then some good news--

almost too good in this twisting world to be true--

for example, the Western Tree Frogs surviving

Mount St. Helen’s fierce and deathly blow.

They crept out from their mud in the spring,

to Marscape desolation, moved across the ash

from gray puddle to gray puddle, laying

their tender little blobs of eggdots and slip,

and now on the greening slope they are singing,

still singing. What else might be possible?

MFCP--A really old one, but I still like it--July 19. 1999