African Crow

You call out “Ever! Ever!”
like your all-black cousin
tuxedoed for the formality of life
respected because of your dress.
You differ nothing from the thieving
death-eating character of crows,
but the beauty of your vest belies
your nastiness.
How long will we be fooled by
Sin in pretty wrappings?
And you answer “Ever! Ever!”

The Raven Flees

I saw my chance
and flew the coop
away from all those chickens
I’d been cooped up with
for far too long. 
Whatever led me into
that floating trap
I’ll never know. 
It’s a wonder
we weren’t all killed
in that big floating
log jam.

It looks like others
didn’t fare so well. 
It’s stone silent
out here. 
Nothing chirping,
just a pleasant wind
and some green things
in the distance,
in that valley to the left. 
But my, there’s still
a lot of water
pooled about. 
It’s a good thing we
found high ground
to sit the storm out.

This tree has sprouted
full and tender,
just the place
to meet my ladybird
when she breaks out. 
She’ll see this tree--
there’s not much else to see. 
And I’m not going back,
no way,
to live in that
dark, damp winter
any longer. 
Did the old fool
who took me to the window--
the one who left
the stale grain out
every day,
which I stole to stay alive--
really think I would return
when once I’d tasted
new air,

The Art of Introduction
In the Peristyle, John William Waterhouse, 1874

While waiting at the office for my boss,
I couldn’t help but notice a display
of prints by Waterhouse. A few of them
I’d seen before--the Lady of Shallott,
the mermaid, and Ophelia--but the one                                
that caught my eye was of a young girl with
a woven basket, feeding pigeons. She was
stopped mid-motion, height mature but face
still adolescent, fit and innocent,
her white chemise displaying subtle motion.
Her simplicity reminded me
of you, and of the day beside the tennis
courts when I first saw you in your tennis
whites.  Some swifts had gathered on the fence,
the way the doves atop the colonnade
look down into the court where Waterhouse’s
unnamed girl dispenses seed to half
a dozen brave and hungry souls. I was
the white one to her right, I think, just watching,
asking if I could be brave enough
to catch your gaze, or errant ball. Your eyes
were tracking boys off to your left--the way
this bird-enamored girl is--watchers and
participants appreciating form,
the way your arm swung wide, the grace embodied
in a natural gesture: much like tossing
seed to see which ones would venture nearer.
Love and match were on my mind from that day
on, but it took several weeks before
I turned your head and I sent every other
bird retreating to the frieze to watch.

Flamingos in Lake Nakuru

I had expected something . . . well . . .
pinker--you know, plastic-flamingo pink,
but in the hundreds of moving tufts
that mark this mobile community,
none approaches that
shocking pink
that Americans know so well.

I’m told the pinkness varies based on diet,
and right now the pink-producing nutrients are scant. 
Mixed in among the nearly white,
a few show pinker edges, ones who manage
still to find enough to make them stand out
pinker than the rest and draw the tourists’ click.

What if our diets colored us?
The green among us salad-lovers--
the orange, carrot connoisseurs.
Or what if color showed our reading habits?
Purple people passionate about their romances--
gray, the sturdy readers of how-to’s--
and what color would the Bible readers be?
Would people tank up Saturday nights
to get their color back
before Sunday morning church?

Perhaps flamingos are not the only creatures
that come in real and plastic.

The Sentinel

He saw me before I saw him
just a sound
his di-note backup warning
skimming across the cut corn
that yesterday stood tall.
I, the two-legged interloper
walking along the trees
in the brisk air after sunrise
something to be watched.
Keeping himself between me and
the feeding dozens,
the stout goose ratchets
left with my steps
until my back brings him satisfaction.

Patio Delusion

Drab cardinal perched
on the black world of the patio grill,
staring intently into the trees and grass,
obliquely lit by the morning sun,
reflected in the door--
you launch yourself
again and again
into the glass
to reach the world
you think is there,
each time defied,
crumpling to the concrete,
and back atop the grill. 

Why can’t you turn to face
the living trees, the tactile world,
instead of flinging yourself at an image,
a world you think is there
and wish were there,
but never will be?

How can I tell you
you can have that world
if you will only turn around?

Marabou Storks

Marabou storks peer dumbly
               gorget raw, sagging,
               eyes fiercely dull
aligned, purposeless
wondering vaguely
at the featherless eyesores
moved in beside.

Theirs is a world of black and white
along with crows and sacred ibis,
colored by orange peels in peptang
dug fresh from the landfill.
Hyena-bird, family blot,
finds others’ refuse simpler
than fishing or hunting
like the other cousins--
food once fresh and healthy
now buried to rot
taken out of purpose, out of time.

How often have I craved the same?
something once good
where I’ve arrived too late,
some benefit not meant for me
but taken,
good things at the wrong time.
It’s hard to see the world
is putting showlights on garbage.
And we’re eating it.
There is a time for all good things.
Why do we pick them out of season?

Little Swallows

The summer I was 8 at grandpa’s farm,
Louise, the girl next door, and I discovered
little swallows in a nook behind the barn.
They were too small to fly; we watched in awe,
content to wonder, happy as the swallows grew.

The summer I was 12 at grandpa’s farm,
Louise and I pursued the little swallows,
hiding when the mother bird would poke her beak
into the mouths of young ones, sliding far enough
to leave a morsel then back out. We watched them all.

The summer I was 16, grandpa’s farm was heaven
for me. Lou and I had studied little swallows,
seen the bigger swallows, and were budding
ornithologists. We spent our evenings
at the barn repeating little swallows’ lore.

This summer I turned 20. Grandpa’s farm was sold
and I asked Lou to live with me. A dairy cottage
gave us housing in return for farm work
and we found it didn’t matter where we lived,
joined as we were by love of little swallows.

Feeding Ducks

I dare not laugh,
but when I watch you throwing stale bread
to the mallards at the park,
it's obvious you didn't play much baseball as a kid--
your pitches wobble
like those ducklings trying out their wings
and plop like windfall
But the mallards never seem to care
because they come to every scrap you throw,
the way that I do
every time that you extend your hand.

Sacred Ibis

Older than us all,
Egyptian deity still with us,
in exile, or reigning elsewhere,
the common and obscure,
merging black and white
long before the New South Africa,
you probe the riverbank,
decurved and curious.

Unlike your counterparts,
you choose to listen
rather than to squawk your mind,
and when you speak,
it’s to the point.

Such godlike qualities
must be what named you
even in the fossil record,
fair and taciturn,
so like, and unlike,
god after god.

Backyard Psychology

Following the tree shade,
two young pigeons scrutinize the ground
for seeds and insects,
careful to reorient with every step
to face the neighbor's cat,
enormous bean bag
propped on hidden legs.
She doesn't eat them,
but their bird brains do not comprehend--
her steps towards them
slow and singular,
until they flap up
to the overhanging branch
and call back "Fool, fool,"
which the cat thinks
must be right.

Elephant and Egret

We can’t all be elephants--
the big, majestic ivory-laden
monoliths of Peace--
the ones who can’t but draw attention
by their stature in the world,
the Grahams, the Jeremiahs,
who are seen and heard by thousands.

White safari vans all line the road
where one lone bull strips leaves at sunrise
everyone excited just to hear him breathe
and snap the slender branches,
see his bulk bring definition to the plain.

Shadowed, an egret picks ticks
from dunged toes, grooms short hairs
around pillored knees unnoticed.
Six quick wingflaps lift it to the broad back
where irritants crawl, parasites leech the thick hide
until pecked loose, sting broken--
symbiosis by design.

God makes
elephant and egret,
mouth and spleen,
the preacher and the layman.