Thursday, November 16, 2017

American Pied-Billed Dabchick (Audubon), Sonnet #379

I once wrote a child’s fairy tale
About birds that didn’t have feet.
Because they could not rest on land
They beat the wind into a gale
Which they coasted, a sleeping fleet,
Coaxing rain from the clouds they’d fanned.
The dabchick can’t fly from firm ground.
Landing on concrete he mistakes
For water, he is trapped, earth bound.
His legs drag behind like branches.
He can rise triumphant from lakes,
Rivers and ponds — when he launches
From the earth, he only stumbles.
So nature exalts and humbles.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

General Sherman, Sonnet #378

The “scorched earth” general has his own tree,
The largest living thing on the planet.
(Enough of such obvious irony.)
A man may live to be eighty, ninety,
Be a beggar or a Plantagenet,
Become a name or a nonentity,
While one tree can live two millennia,
Which we claim ours with some insignia.
After surviving its first century
Of insect threat and impedimenta,
Prone to fall to elemental fury,
An imperturbable concentration 
On growing each circular striation
Inside, the tree (like me) does not hurry.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Hanshan and Shih-te (Sengai Gibon), Sonnet #377

Giggling Shih-te and the scribbler Hanshan
Scrub the scree and pebbles on Cold Mountain.
Shih-te moves them aside with his light broom,
Then brushes them back again to make room
For the emptiness between each small stone.
Dust rises like ghosts, silent and alone.
He laughs, delighted at the nothing he has done.
Hanshan washes each gem, rock, and boulder
With a brush dripping with sticky black ink.
If he can, he will make the mountain think
Thoughts not the oldest, but even older.
The work drives needles into his shoulder.
He calls to Shih-te, tells him of his pain.
Needles broomed, all is soon washed clean by rain.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse), Albert Pinkham Ryder, Sonnet #376

Here the devil Death exults
(Pale horse drums the circle),
Flays the exhausted beast
With the flat of a scythe.
The racetrack's bet results
A dusty miracle:
Riding from west to east
The new dead cry and writhe.
The race they run is bound
By broken wooden fence,
Gray, imperfectly round,
And guarded by serpents.
All search for the end sign,
But there’s no finish line.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

St. Michael (Raphael), Sonnet #375

St. George wounded his dragon with a lance
Then harnessed it with a lady’s girdle.
He slew the beast to force an alliance
Of the faithful; its blood did not curdle.
A spring of healing water spurt instead.
Some say death is evil, but evil’s dead —
Michael dispatched the devils with a sword,
Detachment in his face, without a word.
Today, evil walks this world with big eyes,
With boots of lambskin and silken drawers,
Laughing with untruths while telling no lies,
Without even a passion for lawyers.
Save us, Michael Archangel, from ourselves,
Haul back hiding Satan from where he delves.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Titan (NASA), Sonnet #374

Saturn’s moon is the mysterious one
Among the globes of gas and crusty orbs
That meander about our unfixed sun.
The elements earth has and will absorb
In infinite (call them) hours, from the lab
Of the solar system, have been stored up
In planets and moons, each drop in its cup,
No two the same, each its own unique tab.
Titan, though, would seem an alternate birth,
With oceans and sand, with mountains and rain,
(Even if what falls is only methane),
A negative of our radiant earth.
What swims in water seas under a sky
Of nitrogen? And, if something does — why?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Figure-Ground Illusion, Sonnet #373

Nothing is only one thing. Nothing.
An egg is both a womb and a prison,
A screech owl a hunter and great horns’ prey.
Funerals are gatherings and parting,
A thought both an act and a vision.
The sun is the start and the end of day.
In this shadowed bark we see a face,
Stern, discerning, a bit oblivious,
Contemptuous of all that’s obvious,
Stupid, loveless, cruel in the human race.
I see a bat fleeing a predator,
A cat or weasel nipping at its tail
(The eye being a restless editor) —
The man smiling because his cat will fail.