A Poem About Herons

A couple of months ago, I stood on the bank of a small lake in western Pennsylvania as night descended. Across the lake was a heron. She stood still in the brown waters beneath a steep bank surrounded by an antumbra of fireflies. I watched her for some time, wondering about her as a creature unto herself, free from of human care, thought, and concerns but still somehow something like a human. She was a person, capable of being a poem, and much more than a poem, a poem to poems. This poem is nearing completion.

“A Poem About Herons”

When a heron stands
in the gloaming’s envelope
reading dusk’s script
on the rippling waters
by the steep clay bank,
what do you see?

A poem in the palm
is a worn wooden cup
your uncle whittled
from a fallen black oak
that fell in the gales
of an August storm
when you were an infant.
Your mother and her sisters
called it ”the noble tree,”
declaring its death
“sad, tragic even.”

With that cup, you pull
a draught through the world.
Sip or gulp, the cup won’t mind,
and let your lusty mouth spill
the world’s wine from
your stained lips’ corners and
down your chin and chest
where your lover kissesd
with mischief in her eyes.

The heron, see, is a heron.
Ancestry and force,
bluegills and snails,
accident and fortune,
foxes and frostbite,
and brine-driving wind over the marshes
crafted this bird who knows
what it knows.
To say it reads,
to say it deciphers scripts
or considers a rippling page
for solemn intonation
at vespers or compline
would make it an avian monk
at the lake’s cathedral pews
or some such rubbish.
That means nothing to the heron
I watched across the lake.
That means nothing to any other heron.
The heron, see, is a bird
without our affections
or pathological imaginations.
What does it care for a boy
who thinks himself a man?
Who plays games with hope?
Who hopes in his forest play
that roots will reach into the labyrinth,
crack the sandstone ceiling
and show those wild gods who play and care
nothing for his plight
that he has cared for
roots full of hope.

A poem, once drunk,
makes you question
while you rub your thumb
on the black mark,
the burn on the burl
you still think smells like lightning.
The heat in your fingers
forces doubt about divorce’s bile,
pleasure in children playing in the glade,
reverie in lavender-scented flesh and hungry lips,
or the ache of a bending string beneath your finger while you practice your life.
Will it come in words
as delicious as the smell of her musk
that stays sweet?
Or will it yet spoil?
Will it die as all things

When the heron stands at noon,
with its knees skirted
in lilies by the reeds in the cove
where the leopard frogs hide,
what will you see?


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