While marveling at the starry sky Where silver clouds scud and milky moon beams In a firmament swathed in navy blue—
While exhausted folk slumber and dream, Of fear or flight or of falling through space—
While the air smells of autumn, of trees, of smoke And sounds of crickets, cicadas, and bold toads Who sing in their want with chirps and hoarse croaks—
While descending the hill through low grasses That run to the feet of an oak tree stand Whose spectral aspect shadows the foot path, There comes a turn and vista of the land: There lies the distant village and spired church The quiet houses and earthy, quaint lanes Surrounded by arable pastures of wheat, Rolling hills topped with rippling grains—
While on a solitary night-time stroll Through rustling grass and the brisk, biting breeze, In view of an old, wild, gleaming river, There comes a worn, welcome feeling of ease.
Years past, the tented field was one of war With cloudbursts of bombs and grave, martial light. Though those times ever, unwelcome, appear They are not now here, and the field is bright Beneath a northern sky flashing colors Of electric shades in the weird gloaming. For these tents lie beneath a grand aurora Whose lights, like sailors, are ever roaming.
And what lights! Like nebulas brought near us, They make a great glow of serpentine greens, Blushing pinks, coronary golds, purples Whose hues before appeared only in dreams. Such wild and brawling hues that fly by dusk Make, like dread skies of war, mankind feel slight— But whereas war’s thunderheads bring horror, Nature’s aurora brings awe and delight.
When spring comes, the huddled bees clamber forth From their cold, vulnerable colonies, To feel the parting nip of late winter, Savor the freshness of the vernal breeze, And stretch their wings after the snowy cloister. It is a time for scouts to find new hives, A time for wild, swarming reproduction, For rearing young bees to replace old lives.
A long-dead tree, standing in a vale’s hollow With a deep cavity in its gnarled trunk— A tree surrounded by rich broadleaf forest That’s populated by boar, elk, and skunk— Makes a worthy home for the nesting bee Whose queen’s needs she must mindfully mark, Whose summer combs will ooze melliferous, And whose life is forfeit to the hive’s arc.
To make her claim, the bee must make her dance: A robust and energetic gyration That tells of her proud stake in the wooded chamber And coaxes others to its location. With zealous effort she wins the vote Of the hive’s fascinated queen and drones, Then, in glory, she leads a swarm of thousands, Through pale glens to her queen’s modest throne.
There the settling bees establish their hive. There is much to do, and no time to wait. Waxy, hexagonal combs must be built For the larvae and honey they’ll create. A resinous mix of saliva and wax (Used as a sealant and called “propolis”) Is applied to the cracks and crevices Of the bees’ growing metropolis.
And of course, the virgin must be mated, For she shall be the mother of all bees: Those to be born in the coming days, And who’ll be the life of the colony. Like in a dream, the queen’s mated in flight (Best on warm, sunny days with a blue sky) By drones who won’t gather pollen, or nurse, Or build, or anything—save mate, and die.
From these singular males, in but one flight, The newly mated queen keeps in her belly Fertile stores to last the rest of her life, Which consists of eating royal jelly And the vital task of reproduction: Egg-laying, fertilizing, sex control, For it’s the queen that manages the lists Of sexes that the working hive enrolls.
Summer comes and goes. The female workers Build, gather, nurse, clean, and make sweet honey. The male drones laze far from the busy hive On days that are hot, languid, and sunny. The world revolves. Trees start to lose leaves. Autumn’s chill winds come with a rustling sigh. In fall, the gluttonous, idle male drones Are expelled from the hive and left to die.
The hive’ll be a buzzing sphere of females When, once more, winter comes with ice and snow, And at that sphere’s center the queen shall rest: Heated by trembling bees in her hollow. In fallow days the bees live on their stores On honey that to their cells they did bring, As they shiver throughout the cold winter And keenly await the coming of spring.
Enlivening winter’s landscapes Whose snow and icy mists shroud grey tombs, Leave tables bare, and stop rushing rivers, Comes spring with fresh designs drawn with age-old plume. Spring’s first sketches seem earth-toned and modest: Skeleton drawings of green and brown twigs Among the lowing cattle’s bogged pastures On whose fenceposts yet hang a holly sprig.
And as early spring’s watery dawns break Over slushy ponds fringed with leafless trees— The long-held icicles melt drop-by drop, The soggy soils sprout mushroom colonies, And the craftsman with claw hammer and nails, Ruddy cheeks, long straight white beard, and clear eyes, Sets from his home to build a grape arbor: A springtime gift for his beloved wife—
As the sun shines on these longed-for changes (And others: plum trees with their nascent bloom, A promise of new fruit, elk waiting to calve The wondrous life that grows within their wombs), Spring avails herself of her soft pastels. Where wild ducks lay their creamy speckled eggs Amongst the tall reeds of moist, muddy marshes, Spring overpaints winter’s neutral-hued dregs,
And where banks were lately glazed with thin ice— And morning mist rose from the lake’s surface As bewitched smoke rises from a mirror— Spring washes the scene with lilac crocus, Canary yellows, and magnolia pinks. With different hues on each hair of her brush Spring lightens and colors sky, land, and beast, Rendering the cold, fallow land warm and lush.
The dusk was very orange tonight A trick of the clouds and the light And as that same light slowly failed The gaudy orange sky quickly paled And turned into a starry sphere Like a face with comets ear to ear And an eyelike moon, clear and low. Seeing that, folk wonder, rightly, where the days go.
Orange pumpkins and golden grains ripen Beneath a horde of black ravens who circle fields Where a straw scarecrow stands with his pipe in To frighten the birds from their meals.
The sky is not yet blue; it is rosy this dawn. A tendril of mist twines around the fruitful hollow: It is a delicate white wreath, soon gone, That laces the amber-leafed larches and purling river below.
The air is thin and clear– A person could see here for miles, And sound carries to a listening ear: The rasp of ravens, the sacred, silent whiles.
Day comes; the mist creeps into low, dank holes, Then vanishes as the sun paints the rose sky blue, Leaving the moon in the east like a glowing coal And coloring night’s purples with daylight’s vivid hues.
Flying like a rushing cataract over the still hills, The ravens light in a dead and leafless oak, To preen their glossy feathers with their matte bills And caw and croak and cackle and laugh as if at a marvelous joke.
On oak branches hang frosted leaves– Brittle, icy, and walnut brown– Among stones, wolves, owls, swans, and geese, Where flakes of snow fall thickly down. Fragrant pines and gnarled cedars stand In a gorge by the frozen stream Where fog lies in a milky band, And the sun makes the clear ice gleam.
Through this cold, all solitary, Walks a man most melancholy. All he owns is all he carries: His bread, water, hopes, and follies. He recalls a girl from his past. He dreads the long, poor road ahead For darkness here is most unkind. He has no place to lay his head.
He treks across the snowy plains Past the scrub oak, the pines, and streams, His mind is hard, his body pained. His clothing is worn at the seams. The moon rises, new and dark. Stars are woven like fishing nets. The land lies daunting, grim, and stark.
The Arrival of Autumn is a nature poem with rhymes at the end of every other line. It was written in Washington state on September 7th, 2018.
At the end of summer when the honey drips from the comb,
when the tall grasses wave in the warm gentle breeze,
and the orchards that lie north of the farmsteader’s home
are rich with apples that hang heavy from the trees,
then the shadows begin to lengthen in the southern sun
which sets over a heartland of fields and rolling hills.
And folk feel in their bones that autumn has begun,
a time of black and scarlet leaves, brisker winds, and chills.
It is a time of fog. A time of mists among dells and valleys,
when gourds and pumpkins ripen among the pastures,
and streams flow swift, cold, and clear along the rocky alleys.
Then comes the time for hot tea, woolgathering, and a peaceful book.
Then comes the time when the black cat, its eyes like gold sparked jewels,
leaps from the wooden fencepost, and, with penetrating look,
pads across the tufted grass, past the penned up cows and mules,
on to some destination, secret or lazy or otherwise.
The days grow shorter and dimmer,
until the heavens are lit by starry orbs and the lush moonrise,
and all the earth is silvered by their fair shimmer.
The past few weeks, I’ve been quiet on my poetry website as I’ve been working on a murder mystery novel, The Murders in the Endicott Hotel. I’m happy to announce that it’s finished! It’s being reviewed by literary agents now, and I’ve started a new book too. I also now have some time to get back to my poetry! I’ve always loved nature poems–Keats’ “To Autumn” was one of my favorites when I was young–and I’ve loved paintings of nature. So here’s an imagist poem about nature and the upcoming fall weather.
A Rural Autumn
As the fall leaves start to scatter, Amongst the winds and raindrop’s patter, The cold gusts in from north and west, And the fields are fertile with the ripe harvest.
The strawberries turn red upon the vine The grapes grow ready to become a wine The pumpkins become both orange and round, While from the hollow, the song sparrows sound.
The mists of autumn blanket the moist mornings As the mushrooms grow in mud by springs The dells and the valleys are webbed by streams And the land glows golden in the sun’s banked beams.
Music in Winter is a rhyming poem that was written just after The Arrival of Autumn.
It’s written about a young couple who are in love and who are walking on a cold, dark beach. The stars are out. The clouds are scudding in front of the moon. The couple’s feet are bare. The rhyme scheme is abab.
In winter, along the grey and green northwestern shore,
the freezing ocean draws its briny waves and bubbling foam
over beach crabs, Nautilus shells, and the crow-combed floor
as the sun sets beyond the sea into her western home.
Then the stars come out. One by one, they start to appear.
They are like lighthouses in the cold, black galaxies of space,
each with a message that says, Here, there are planets here,
circling round and round, far away, revolving round a fiery base.
And then, floating up from the water, comes the crescent moon,
scythe-like, Arabesque, swathed by scudding silver clouds,
and blinking behind a raven who flies, witchlike, through the woven gloom,
through winds whose warp and weft are the cloth of night’s dark shrouds.
In the midst of this a couple wander onto the sands.
They are lit by moonlight. Her hair is long; their feet are bare.
They walk like lovers and intertwine their hands.
They stop at sea’s edge and breathe the salty air.
It is a dark, cold night. A vagrant cloud covers the moon.
Not a light, not a lamp, not a glow can be seen.
The music of the ocean’s combers is an ancient tune.
The rustling of the firs lends woodwinds to the night’s song,
while the girl adds vocals to the primordial, ancient endeavor,
singing into the wind, into the wilderness, into the wild, high and strong,
a song that lasts a moment, with notes that last forever.
“The Bleak and Wild Desolate Shore” describes a beach along the Olympic Peninsula and tells of the indigenous Makah people whom I took an interest in during 2017. The free verse poem relies on imagery. I found the book The Sea Is My Country by Josh Reid and the Makah Cultural and Research Center to be good sources of information about Makah culture.
Along the very tip of the Olympic Peninsula—
harbored by sea stacks,
washed by the ablutions of frequent rain,
and scrutinized by the salmon-keen eyes of fierce eagles
who sit perched with feathers made wet and salty by ocean spray—
lies a beach spliced by piney evergreens and the wintry Pacific Ocean.
It wears as its mantle a cloak of becoming fog:
wide filaments of thick mist wreathe the beach’s shoulders,
narrow wisps tuck into the crevices of teeming pine,
and, like a stole, that pale brume softly embraces
the necks of the majesterial, protruding stones.
The beach’s curvaceous, serene form lies upon its side
with its back to the land, knees tucked up against the tide,
with its stone lips ever kissing the briny, icy waves.
Water is its heart. In the rain, in the sea and spume,
throbs the lifeforce that begets the beach’s growth and decay,
shapes its projecting stone fingers, and creates its austere beauty.
In the night, the wan moon with its grey craters
beams down on sword ferns glowing nearly phosphorescent
and flashes on the bottle-gold eyes of great horned owls.
The moon turns milky the evergreen forest that adorns
the beach’s hips, and the moon tints the bleached driftwood
from day’s ivory to an iridescent alabaster of night.
That moon casts upon the beach’s cliffs a lustre
that speaks of shining rock, and, with its hushing silence,
it seems to make the surf’s voice boom.
With wind, the beach’s trees move sinuously and with susurrant song.
In the moonlight, upon the beach’s damp and footless shore,
lie whips of bull kelp, washed up and drying,
with algae blades like Medusa’s chaotic hair, their origins
in the marine forests of stone mantlepieces and rocky shelves.
The crows cackle madly in their rookery, the wind whishes,
surf roars, eagles scream, seals honk and bark and cry,
clouds morph then rework their hues, tides ebb and rise,
marshy mushrooms rise and rot with the sun’s circling,
the fragrance of evergreen sap freshens the air, salmon run,
gulls bed their island colonies with bones, osprey preen and fish,
glossy baneberries bear fruit like murderous scarlet pearls,
and purple mountain saxifrage color the cliffs.
In antiquity, the Makah resided here
using yarrow for childbirth, red cedar for dugout canoes,
yellow cedar for clothing, spermaceti for candles,
stones buffed by water to high polish and wound
by withy willows for anchor stones, having halibut for dinner,
sea otter teeth and whale fins for art, cherry bark for basketry
which tightens as it dries, and bones for awls and adze handles.
They used tides and stones and fences to catch fish,
laid white clam shells on the tidal floor for better contrast
to see the fish in their traps. On a crisp, windy spring night
six hundred years ago, the tribe gathered on the damp beach
after partaking in a feast of salmon, octupus, and halibut
for a sacred ritual conducted to send its rowers and harpooners offshore
in a twelve-seater canoe to hunt whale. A chief chanted,
sang, worked the crowd into a frenzy before the night fire,
and when the throng felt most animated, the chief
poured whale oil onto the fire, so that it soared, crackling to
a crescendo, rose like the wave of a tsunami, and
in the dark night the bellowing and shrieking
of the Makah were swallowed up by the forest.
Over this desolate beach there is a kind of peacefulness:
gently lapping waves, the soft pattern of rain,
the rustle of a crow’s wings. It appears desolate, Shi Shi,
here in winter.