A cat is hunting a mouse
in the dark
just outside the squirrel’s hollow tree
hopes that noise is not an owl
who sees better at night than the cat
who sees better at night than the mouse
who sees better at night than he does
the squirrel is too afraid of the owl
to write a poem about it
instead, he will write a poem
about the cat, or perhaps
about the mouse, who will
when the sun is so bright
it would hurt his eyes if he went out)
and find himself unable
to write a poem
about the cat.
“Bête Noire” was first published in The Bicycle Review
TEARING OUT THE BLUE GIRLS
We dug the roses from their corner plot.
They’d done well there, but sadly we agreed
that we had erred severely in their placement
and thrown the yard’s design into imbalance.
We tore them out.
But rootstock spread and sprouted, its rough pedigree
exposed for all to see. The elegance
of what was grafted to it, long since gone,
has been replaced by something old and tough
in colors we’d not planned, in shapes unbidden,
with leaves unlike the ones we’d hoped to see,
with thin and arching stems, not solid stalks,
and, unlike the roses we had killed,
with simple blossoms―just five petals each.
They come up where they will, and when, and how.
They’ll still be there when all the rest is weeds,
wild grasses, asphalt rubble, stucco shards,
a barely recognizable foundation
and sun and dust
and wind and rain
“Tearing Out the Blue Girls” first appeared under the title “The Garden Evolves” in the anthology Yesterdays, Rock and Feather Publications, 2007, and was re-printed by Canary, A Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis.
ISLAND WEDDING SONG
Now that I have risked my life and won
your hand, it’s time for me to tell you
how it was I came to this sweet moment.
My great-great-great grandfather loved to sing.
He won the heart and hand of his beloved
with his song, as we all used to do.
But since that fly from North America,
the Ormia ochracea arrived,
we crickets on Kauai risk our lives
every time we rub our wings and chirp,
our courtship songs attracting not just lovers,
but also killer parasites whose larvae
infest and eat us if they get the chance.
So most of us engage in silent song,
all night long in quiet stridulation,
but pick a spot close by a noisy neighbor
who takes the risk by chirping right out loud.
I know you showed up looking for the one
whose song you heard, but I am very glad
that you allowed me to distract and court you
without my making sounds that could reveal
my presence to the parasite. You female
crickets of Hawaii are less choosey
(I mean no offense!) than Polynesian
and Australian crickets, who would never
show interest in a quiet guy like me.
Evolution does not yield what’s best;
no, natural selection picks the better
of the currently available alternatives,
a lurching drunkard’s walk, that if we’re lucky,
brings us to the present, where we meet.
Yet I can’t, though I know better, shake
this teleological sense about our love,
a certainty that this was meant to be —
inevitable, like death or entropy.
She melts into the tree that shares her color.
In this, my second line, I should begin
to speculate about the thoughts and moods
of the small green bird that flew away.
See? Already I’ve begun the assignation
of human traits to an animal
by referring to the bird as “she”
a word, though biologically correct,
that in my mind will always be connected
to every girl and woman I have ever
read about or spoken to or met
or made love to or drank milk from or sang
a springtime song to (while the small green bird
with thoughts that I can never hope to know
flutters at the corners of my vision).
A robin’s on the swaying topmost bud
that when it grows out later in the spring
will be appropriated by a mockingbird
who, since he must defend a larger territory,
believes his need to see to be the greater.
The robin planned to claim a lower branch
but when he happened to look toward the sky
one morning (just a routine check for hawks)
he noticed that the highest branch around
remained unclaimed. The thought of vistas greater
than his habit called for called to him
and that which I’d refer to as a whim
in you or me led him to the treetop
where I saw him, an unexpected
splash of orange through my binoculars.
Will he thank heaven for a glimpse of what
is possible? I’m sure I’ll never know.
He’s likely to survive about two years
but robins have occasionally been known
to live to be fourteen, which just might be
sufficient time to develop a philosophy
about how a robin’s life can be enriched
by seeing what’s familiar differently
as a whole instead of in a sequence
laid out in a line along his usual
route, the route he travels every day
where distance after distance becomes time
and time is something not to be escaped.
This summer he will take a robin’s perch
and he’ll sing a song that robins sing.
Will I notice if it varies slightly
as he tries to tell us of the sight
that he saw just once from a great height?
Gazelles can clear a ten-foot wall
jumping from a standing start
escaping from a pen before
the gate has finished closing.
Cuttlefish can change the color
of their skins to camouflage
themselves on almost any
surface you can think of.
Had I been as wary as gazelles,
you’d be a distant memory by now
but when I finally looked into a mirror
I saw nothing but the wall behind me.
Last year I built myself a treehouse in
a Manitoba Maple. In the fall
I saw its seeds go whirlybirding past
my platform, so I know the tree is female.
A sugar maple would have had both sexes
on one tree, but my tree is “dioecious”
from the Greek words for “two houses,”
the sexes always found on separate trees
Weak wood and many eager seeds are traits
that don’t endear my tree, Acer negundo,
to loggers or to lumber mills. It seems
that Europeans couldn’t think of any
uses for it, though the Anasazi,
Cheyenne and Ojibway used the wood
and sap to make flutes, bowls and medicine
I used it to support my home away
from home in our backyard since I could not
evict our Irish Setter from his doghouse
in clear conscience — his need’s as great as mine.
When my parents’ marriage started circling
the drain, my mother said to me one day,
“Married people shouldn’t live together —
they should live next door, in separate houses.”
I like to think our marriage turned out better
but to be fair I ought to build another
treehouse, one that’s just for you to use
when one tree hasn’t room enough for two
when you would like to get away from me
and everything that looks like home to you.
I could get to work on it today
There’s a willow tree across the yard—
I hope that will be far enough away.
Reproduced from Jeremy Cantor. Island Wedding Song Rampant Anthropomorphism Revelation Traps Two Houses. ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (2017) 24 (1): 161-164. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment online at https://academic.oup.com/isle/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/isle/isw085 For permissions please contact Journals.permissions@OUP.com
Poems at Other Sites
“BIOLOGICAL CONTROL,” “REVISITING,” “A FULL SET”
Convergence, Editor’s Choice (Cynthia Linville) 2014
“BIRD NETTING,” “WISTERIA FROM SEED”
Glassworks, Fall 2014, Issue 9, pages 26 and 27. About 3 inches to the right of the image of the journal cover there’s a right-arrow. Clicking on it will turn the pages.