Quirks and Quarks

No Ordinary Bird

As I sip coffee on the deck this frosty Christmas morning, chickadees and nuthatches call at once from every direction. A chickadee lands within my reach, calls chicka-dee-dee-dee, cocks its head when a partner in a spruce returns the call. Calling again, it hops onto the nesting box my daughter and I built and mounted just days ago. It perches in the opening, hops to the deck rail and calls again. Always the calling.

This tiny mouse of a bird survives when many birds don’t make it through winter. Shelter in a tree cavity is not enough. Each morning the birds leave their shelter and spread out to forage, but they must find each other before the sun sets on the short winter days. They call out regularly to maintain contact as they move about the trees. Visual contact is spotty in dense coniferous forests, their usual winter range. By calling the birds can keep within earshot of each other and still forage. And by making occasional visual contact throughout the afternoon, they can quickly assemble into a protective downy huddle for the night.

The chickadees I hear next spring survived the winter’s polar vortex without high tech parka, boots, or gloves. Other species escaped the cold by taking wing across the Gulf of Mexico to Central and South America. As I watch this wee feathered creature peer into my daughter’s nest box, I raise my mug in salute. Nothing ordinary has ever evolved on this little planet.


Villanelle: I Am Greater Than This Darkness


Life: Still Life

Life: Still Life

Have you seen the still life: a slice
served up by the masters, just so?
One rosy apple, one green pear,
golden round of cheese, knife, platter.

An empty chair, the table set
as if it could be for you.
Or are you in the pastoral?
Lakeside figure, dangling brown feet.

Are you dreaming? bamboo rod,
spade sleep on the bank,
rustic loaf peeks from the basket
lined with blue checked cloth.

Orchard melts to meadow,
sunflowers, sky.
Silent mill expects a breeze,
Inside the stone cottage, a still life
where nothing changes.

Yet, the pear blackens against the hard bowl,
the apple caves where it struck the dry ground,
mildew dusts the cheese,
more yellow than gold,
and lines trace the figure’s face.

You cannot see what came before.
You wonder who set the table,
baked the bread, picked the apples.
You ask what will come when the season goes.

Who will take the seat,
Who will sow and who will reap,
who will dream, who will weep.
You cannot change what came before;
you wonder what will come.


A Poet’s Resolution

Of means, none silent as the candle

greetings, none soft as dawn

causes, none grand as the moth

to weave moonlight each night.

Of words, make mine such steel

that I too would render

wonder from darkness.


October: When to Worry

October: When to Worry

Today you would not write lines
on October like the musings
from your teenage brain.
You said the rosy sky was afire
and the smoky air was sad.
You smelled leaf rot (deep in your soul).
You marveled at pearly dew sparkling in morning sunlight
because that’s what dew does,
and that’s what a boy writes
the day he knows October.
He’s learning to write October.

It’s time to worry
when you see brown.
When you hear “the terminal sound
of apples dropping on the dry ground.”
You’re going south the day you see geese flee, sunlight fail, green grind down.
You’ve got bigger problems
than gray wind and dry rosehips.

You’ve pulled out of your dive the day brown becomes cinnamon,
when October nods, slips into red, and Autumn creeps.
You’ve turned the corner the moment you see
Summer pause on sunlit hill,
weep, and move on.


Daydream: A Poem

I live in an era of stars
Long after their birth
Long before
The last dim red dwarf disappears

My home is a river of light
Bright pin-pricks
And pinwheels
Familiar figures of my night.

Even as I sleep I weave
Color-stained dreams
From threads of daylight.

But I am easily fooled.
The truth is I live in an era of darkness.

The truth is one moment
Of starlight in an infinite
And expanding black pool
And the blessing is this I forget

The Gift

Peonies remind me of June and my grandmother, whose garden was ruled by these grand blooms. Here’s a short poem I wrote during an early morning walk some years ago, and revised over the years.

The Gift

In my final hour
give me one June dawn,
the hour of leaf-light
candle glow,
of rising chorus,
heartbreak and promise.
At last I will know
the color of June,
by naming make it mine.
I will whisper its name
to another,
take my place
in the unbroken chain
of every gift
received and passed
linking the first dawn
to last.


March: Poem


gold blades slice
weeping bare limbs
pierce cold earth

ice water
bright tonic

sleeping roots
The pandemic. Keeping it real.

Pandemic America: Land of the Free and Home of the Toddler

The fitness center staff grimaced as I swiped my ID card. But it wasn’t me or my cracked card that caused her grief. In the gym I saw the unmasked meathead and his female companion lifting heavy weights, meathead with mask in his hand as he directed lifting tips at his gal pal, who wore her mask below her chin. The staff member called to them to mask up and they ignored her.

This staff is about 5 feet tall, 90 lbs, and has cerebral palsy. I like her and we talk whenever I visit the gym. She is quiet, unflappable, smart, and kind. A friendly face to meet me at the desk.

Next, she turned off the music and asked them to mask up over the speakers. They ignored her. After that she called them out by name. They ignored her. Now she pulled herself up from her chair behind the desk and began her laborious walk across the gym floor. Also exercising was a Black woman older than me, another old beardy White guy like me, and two college age men, all of whom looked annoyed and wary.

I ambled toward meathead, timing my amble to arrive beside the gym staff. The gal pal pulled on her mask and the guy covered only his mouth. I said you need to cover your nose. He said it’s kind of tough cause I’m working out. I said you need to cover your nose too. He said it’s hard to breathe. I said maybe you should leave if it’s too hard to breathe while wearing a mask at the gym. You need to cover your nose. What if I don’t want to? Ahh. A petulant toddler. I’ve raised four toddlers, so I knew what to do here. You need to cover your nose or maybe you should leave if it’s too hard to exercise.

He is a muscular large meathead 15-20 years younger. I was wearing my mask while lifting and cycling. The other people were also properly masked. I repeated, Maybe you should leave if you can’t wear a mask while exercising. Again. Maybe you should leave. He pulled it over his nose, making a big show of it. His gal mumbled something at him. He would have to admit he is feeble if he could not wear a mask properly when all others, most of them older people such as myself, can wear a mask properly during sweaty cardio/aerobic activities. Check-mate.

I exercised. They masked up, grunted, and left.


The Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness is not yours.
A guest in our home,
It arrives warm, bright, generous,
Leaves quietly before its time.
Happiness is not mine.
It lives untamed
In wilderness between our hands
But not in our hands.
A tide between our shores,
Happiness is not yours
To keep, not mine to give.
But it may be shared
As you swim beside me,
The wake trailing your body
Gently joining mine.