II. Flight Patterns
1. The Seeming Impossibility
slides through the lens of the sea
and takes a shape tunneled deep
in the gyre of Sargasso, supple vertebrae
roped in a line under muscle
open at the throat. Ocean flows
in and out the gap like a breath,
like an ancient tide crossing
a fortress of picket teeth.
The eye fixes to unyielding ends
past shallows evolved to bridges,
the crofter's fence and fatal ponds.
The eel knows silences
and wants no excess.
There is no play in the taut skin,
no speech or revelation. There is
no forgiveness to stray
in the return to the dark target of its birth.
Glassy sport of seeps and mud
rendered silver in the ocean: Something
in the creature confirms the beginning
of light over the waters, the void
before flesh filled the spiraled shell,
before the advent of feather and bone,
ornament and song
and the explosion
of the seeming impossibility of flight.
To take a walk on the meadow path before
I went to work at the bookstore that afternoon
endowed me with a memory that still swings
like an invisible medallion around my neck,
still perplexing me all these years later. The heat
climbing as the sun rose higher in the sky,
the dry burn of it beginning to swelter in
a building humidity beneath banks of low cumulus.
The two-lane meadow path winding onward
in its gritty tire tracks, split by its grassy tufts
of bent stalks of sedge and spike rush, roughed
by tractor undercarriage and sled. As I walked,
I could feel my sweat beading beneath my shirt,
and before I came upon open meadow on the edge
of the woods, I stopped and turned, only
to look up into the upper branches of the white
oaks, swinging their heavy brooms of leaves,
windswept and lush with their whisking music,
shushing the polyphony of cicadas that fills
the house of summer. When my eyes
spotted them, so unnatural, out of order,
among the swaying of the oaks, leading me
to think that the heat had induced a mirage,
a hallucinogenic vision of the flock
of wild turkeys balancing their unwieldy
bodies high in the trees to perch on the limbs.
I can still see them up there, somewhere
above ground and beyond reason, the heat
of the day hammering the air so that the birds
seemed to mirror themselves in a haze—
wild turkeys that had been able to raise
the heaviness of their bodies up on their pygmy
wings and to have flown into the oaks
along the path, their presence alerting me
to having seen something untoward, freakish,
even in their apparent hiding their seeming
unbidden, out of position, the uneasy but sheer
certainty of knowing their being out of place.
If bats were lone among the beasts that fly
If bats were lone among the beasts that fly,
And feathers never seen to course the sky
In V’s of honking geese, or shrieking flocks
Of herring gulls, or silent soaring hawks,
How then would poets sing of love on wing?
What images would writers use to fling
Our hearts aloft--without the mourning dove,
Without the lark and pinioned wings of love?
Oh, do not doubt that poets still would rhyme,
And lovers still would loose their hearts to climb
Like bats on wing, like bats on high, and sigh
"Now bat-like, lover, bat-like to me fly!”
For in a world bereft of grace like that,
Lovers would find beauty in a bat.
Tuesdays and Thursdays
I walk to school
on sidewalk boxes
past manicured lawns.
I cut behind the houses
and down the path
across the south fork of the Kinnikinnic.
Crossing the bridge, forgetting my watch,
I stop, dip my hand in,
the current pressing my palm coldly.
I close my fist, raise it up,
dripping jewels that slip away
to recover their source.
So easy at 7 a.m.
to imagine I am glimpsing
an ancient world alone:
clovis-pointed, a flock of geese
presses against the autumn morning,
black light honking behind the rising sun.
How many times
the same flight at the edge of a world?
Moving toward me now, the flock slices through
Indian corn sky. The clouds locked like hands
relax into a thousand fingers
while the sun slips between.
The nearer the geese
the less flock, the more birds,
each one forming in my eye,
some larger, some smaller,
the leader retiring its place to another.
Over my head, the wings hum
like power lines.
Cackling into the northwest,
peculiar shapes dimming,
they seem randomly splayed
against the sky, particles
with the same dark charge.
Small enough now
I could almost cover them
with my hand,
though I can never grasp them.
Ancient voices speak without words
and always fade too quickly.
I watch winter-grey clouds roll over
a snow-carpeted, frozen-framed lake
as a white-collared flying thing swoops
through the cold smell of snow.
With a feathered fleck of yellow, it hovers,
draws in the white, the grey and the movements
of all things below its wings –
perhaps searching out from a hunger?
But then it soars, without purpose,
releasing a fresh freedom of flight,
to anywhere at any time with that impulse of
what is ancient in things that want to live.
Is it speaking a silent cry to the gentle snow?
We are not the only ones who can cry
out to the what of what we cannot fathom.
Or is it despairing at solving a mystery,
elusive, unknown but only sensed through flight,
making substance of this encirclement of light?
Showing its competency in
wing-beat, flick and glide, Phoenix-like
it climbs towards the mountain.
Skill, speed and its own arc of flight
presents itself to me and gives comfort as
I shudder short, and then dream in that desire
to soar above a world of bewildering ruin and hope.
Winter has fled.
An angelic host of Trumpeter swans
glides the open river,
parts the gray waters
with the proud elegance of clouds
until a hidden enemy startles the flock.
In unison, their necks unfurl,
heads held inches above the surface
like silvery swords leading a charge.
Two dozen wings reach and punch
the water, a syncopated volley–
their thick bodies charge, strain,
then elevate just enough
to reveal windmilling feet,
small explosions of spray
providing enough lift for the wings
to beat open air:
the snap and whoof
of cavalry flags in a gale,
the swans’ necks still taut,
now like thick ropes pulling
until at last the feet retract,
and a single bark by their leader
a sharp wheel to the east
allows them a last look
at their ghostly reflections
sliding beneath them
along the river’s surface,
their wings still compressing air
like a thrumming heartbeat,
IN A WOOD ONCE IN ENGLAND
There is a faint panting of wings; a small cloud
Thirty yards away from me, across the darkness
of the wood, it swoops up to perch on the branch
of an oak.
The sparrow hawk lurks in the dusk; in the true dusk,
in the dusk before dawn; in the dusty cobwebby
dusk of hazel and hornbeam; in the thick gloomy
dusk of firs and larches.
It will fold into a tree.
Looking through binoculars, my eyes
are almost at one
with the small head—rounded at the crown,
feathers sleeking up to a peak
at the back; curved beak
pushed deep into the face.
The gray and brown feathers
streaked and mottled with fawn:
camouflage against the dawn bark of trees,
dappled canopy of sunlit leaves.
It crouches slightly forward, stretching its neck;
flicks its head from side to side. The eyes
are large with small dark pupils rimmed
by yellow—a blazing darkness
that shines and seethes.
The glaring madness dies away.
The hawk unstiffens, preens.
Its eyes rekindle.
Swooping softly down,
it flits east, rising and falling,
following contours of the ground;
wingbeats quick, deep,
A wood pigeon, feeding on acorns
in the snow beneath, looks up
at the dark shape dilating down,
hears the hiss of wings.
—Constance Rowell Mastores
for Michael Jeneid
Circling upward in a blue sky
and having won the ascent, the falcon,
towering in its pride of place,
over harvest. The quarry trembles.
wings churn air to flight.
She rises, then is gone—whole,
without urgency—from sight,
to where dazzle rebuts
our stare, wonder our fright.
—Constance Rowell Mastores
Where waiting vultures wheel,
their closing rounds reveal
how the spiral path
of dying spins to death.
At times, the road below
One I heard
All around me was what I feared:
I almost surrendered to
Now I feel your careful fingers
I ascend to you, Father of heights.
I journeyed, dying,
Song Without a Border
As I tend to our orange grove,
this Golden Oriole lands on my shoulder.
I stop still in gentle astonishment.
It starts to sing its song of yearning.
That banal wall is just two hundred metres away.
Another, across that border, tends to her olive grove.
Now we both hear a back and forth of two:
feint, plaintive, urgent flute-whistlings that
makes more sonorous the scented breeze.
Can a sky-song dissolve all our shared tears?
Can a flight-song ignite Otherness?
Can symphónia be offered outside music?
As the sky leans against their lifting wings of desire
they instruct us on how to call on each other
and pre-figure a world without our dividing no.
Doing the Aubade
The Snow Owl folds her wings in the black air
and yields to the dawning of flight-song to elsewhere –
where the Sandpiper scurries along
Maine’s Atlantic tidal shore,.
the White-Tailed Eagle yaws over the Isle of Mull.
and the Artic Tern tears by drifting icebergs.
Where a Cape Petrel glides and wing-beats over Antarctica,
And a Whooper Swan honks sad near a Hokkaido wetland,
As Crows, in feathering rags of slate-black,
caw-cackle the air over Hampstead Heath.
Where a Scarlet Tanager triples half-notes in a Costa Rican forest
and a Red Cardinal wakes up a New York suburb.
When a Grey Heron squawks life into a seal bay on Inis Mór.
a Chiffchaff chirps in the gardens of Haddon Hall.
The dark Marsh Harrier cries in the Camargue
And a Hairy Woodpecker beats music into a Berkshire maple.
A Condor soars silent over an Andean cliff
and a Demoiselle Crane grieves in a Russian steppe.
A White-rumped Shama in an Indian forest
utters a life’s worth of song in one score.
A Golden Oriole makes the Levant air
sonorous which recognizes no borders.
All song-tapestry, throat-throbbing febrile-fuss,
and each dawn, each place, each feather asserts yes to
the light that lights their dawns of promise.
Will they remain in tune with their blae-blue globe,
in the magic of the beginning and the dying of notes,
their variable, incurable, fleeting slide in which
they will rise every day without a no to the now?
Driving home late on ice-bitten road,
They appeared from the abyss
Leaping in plumes of electricity,
Their eyes seemed to know me from long
When my son stirred, I could not tell
The unit of sky is the feather.
It flutters down
from the freshly wakened blue,
the inevitable result
of a new one growing in,
or a raptor striking in mid-flight,
or a collision with a tree
or maybe, one just yanked out by a beak
in a fit of soaring hubris.
But gliding through air, it's neutral.
Alighting on the ground,
it says nothing of what's come before.
Picked up, examined,
maybe worn in the hair,
pasted into a collage,
or slid between the pages of a book,
it begins a new life,
not its old one.
The unit of earth
is the feather,
for no earthly reason.
The line of cars files ahead
past the end of sight.
A fluttering, falling leaf
drifts across the road.
Resolves into a butterfly, floating,
then gently flexing wings.
It reaches a flowerbed, with roses,
bounded beside the road.
The light changes, the rank releases
squalling brakes, grinds on.
— Tony Reevy
Earth shudders. A thousand birds have flown up in one single
unlikelihood, a murmuration of starlings concerted, turning once,
as one, and again, with a bold knowing.
So patterned, like the iterations on an Amish quilt;
space enough between each to dodge the hawk and the eagle.
Appearances surmise a leader risen among them
who, like Moses, has been dawdling in an ordinary occupation
when suddenly called to serve, to teach
formation and the shimmer precisely as sheets drying on a line,
or have they slyly come untethered, come into their own
desire, to swoop and dive into spectacle? What is freedom if not
knowing one’s own body, moving on its own, and ecstatic,
in tandem with companions, casting sedition against a blank sky?