It was draped over the fence,
a bridge for squirrels who
would otherwise would go through the chain.
There’s a sadness to its needles, many
burying themselves in the accumulated snow,
cast off by the great Spruce as extraneous,
an old coneless branch, “that is the reason”
the trunk whispers in the wind
“why I am rid of it, why now
you are free to take up lopping shears
and make of it what you will
or just haul it to the curb, it is of no matter to me.”
There is a cynicism in the old tree’s voice,
as if saying, “Look, I was here before you, long
before any of this,” knowing it will go unchallenged.
But I remind it of the fate of the Austrian Pine
that one stood two dozen yards away
and the Spruce sheds another cone
and lapses into silence.
In the hills
that rise gently
from the concrete valley
two hawks play
childlike, rising, falling
in gentle circles,
grazing the redwoods
that reach up
to stroke their breasts.
To a visitor
from the East
New York, Tokyo
there is awe
at the hawks’ grace,
slicing the sky
into cloudy ribbons
but there is no
wonder in the eyes
of the field mouse
and squirrel, only
of the executioner’s blade
and the deep eyes of death.
Autumn came on hard today
the drop in temperature not
unexpected in these climes, but still
unwanted, forcing the closing of windows.
Still, as the afternoon faded, I shouted
toward the window a reminder
not to go gently into night to fight
the soon approaching dark.
The squirrel on the lawn outside
the window stood, forepaws held
together as if deep in prayer and stared
back at me, seemingly incredulous,
so I loudly repeated my entreaty.
He shook both head and tail, then said,
“For God’s sake man, if you want
to be the next Dylan Thomas have
several more drinks, and please
next time try and get the lines right!”
He turned and headed up the old maple.
We are in the season of stasis
where nothing wants to move and nothing
should shed the mantle of snow
that has announced winter’s arrival
in terms we full understand, as do
the finches clinging to the feeder
casting nervous glances skyward.
The neighbor’s cat has decided
that the remote chance of catching
a bird or squirrel is easily outweighed
by the warmth of the house, and even
the dogs down the block have found
their own lawns much more to their liking.
We know our feet will thaw
after our morning walks, but suspect
this may happen only with the Spring
that seems impossibly far away, and so
we imagine ourselves bulbs, clinging
to what warmth the earth offers
knowing the bloom has infinite patience.
They cut neat incisions
across the slate blue sky.
The wounds they leave
slowly peel back
the white edges slowly spreading
until the sky hemorrhages
its cloud-like streaks.
The oak drops
yet another acorn
and the squirrel scampers
to gather it in
before the sky flees
under its gray-white blanket.
The hawk sits in one of the highest
branches of the tree, his red shoulders
blazing in the morning sun, both
staring down on those of us trapped
by gravity, by the weight of our thoughts,
as we pass by slowly below.
From time to time the hawk
will offer a short commentary, never
ceasing her stare, an amiable Goddess
who finds mere mortals pleasant
entertainment, but soon she
is more interested in a meal,
and as we depart, the squirrel
watching from the foot
of a nearby palm realizes
it is time to quickly practice
frolicking among the fronds.
Leaving the fields
of the countryside
for the city, it is the birds
that tell you when
the invisible boundary
has been crossed.
There are usually signs
along the roads
bolted to steel poles
but the birds know better.
In the country, birds
sing long arias to the day,
to cornstalks making
the slow green to gold transition,
of a cat chasing a field mouse
among the fruit burdened trees
of the late-summer orchard.
Crossing to the urban world
their songs grow shorter
a kirtan with a squirrel
cut off by a car horn,
the briefest prayer
to the morning sun
a tentative greeting
to a dog or cat sleeping
on a sidewalk.
We would do well
to listen to birds.