A Gospel of Birds

“They mate for life, she’d say.”

 

My thanks to Dayna Patterson and the crew at Psaltery and Lyre for publishing my poem this morning.  Check out their beautiful website.

She wasn’t sure about heaven,
but she believed in birds.
On walks she’d stop to watch
a skein of geese, wondered
where they came from,
where they were heading.
They mate for life, she’d say.
Crows do too. And swans
and storks. She must have said that
a hundred times, with a kind of wonder
at the impossibility.

She kept five feeders on the deck,
had a book of backyard birds
to identify newcomers at the feast.
She cried when a neighbor’s cat
killed a mourning dove. They mate
for life too, she said. Listen,
her mate is sad. That’s just their call,
I told her. No, it’s different, she said.
You can tell when birds are sad.

She died a month ago.
I keep the feeders filled.

– Sarah Russell
Picture courtesy of The Spruce

 

Petrichor

Start with a kiln-dry summer day,
when the earth cracks with longing,
and sweat makes tracks between your breasts.

The air’s so still you hear a beetle scuttle
on the screen, the sun dims in a sullen sky,
and crickets stop chirping. Maybe they know
what’s coming, or they’re tired of asking.

Then it starts – the first lazy drops –
and when the wooden porch step’s dappled,
you go out and lift your face to the embrace
and breathe in the mix of dust and rain
like a lover’s musk.

– Sarah Russell
First published in The Houseboat
Painting by  Rafaelll90 Digital Art

Nesting

The finches are courting
outside our window, a warbled
discussion of real estate and love.
Like last year and the year before,
they want to lease the flower wreath
on our front door. It’s always a dilemma:
discourage their rapture or detour
through the garage?

The finches always win. So
for a month we’ll wake to overtures
at dawn – so cheerful, so loud –
show pictures of pin-feathered babies
to friends, recall demands
and pleasures of our own brood,
the bittersweet fledging.

– Sarah Russell
First published by Your Daily Poem
The photo is of their nest last year.

Thought this was apropos since Mr. and Mrs. Finch are back and are quite excited about our new wreath this year.  They were both tucked into a niche behind the blossoms, discussing the furnishings when I opened the door this morning.  The nest was almost complete this afternoon.  Can’t deny true love.

Hegira

Those dream-filled summer nights,
a wail, anguished as a banshee,
pierced the rusty screen.
Then the rhythmic clatter grew
until the bed and I would tremble.

Let me come too, I whispered,
but it never heard,
or didn’t understand,
or didn’t care about a little girl
and a gallant torn-eared bear.

The rumbling, shaking wraith
moved on, its cry waning to an echo,
my heartbeat clinging to the cadence
of away from here, away from
here, away

– Sarah Russell
First published in Black Poppy Review
Photo courtesy of Awsom Wallpapers

Montana Man

“. . .the sky’s wide and blue and bare. . .”

Another ekphrastic poem today, based on a photograph by Tom Klassy.

He squints from under a John Deere cap
even when there is no sun. It’s late fall now,
the hay — enough this year — baled
for January feeding if the pickup makes it
to the herd — huddled, wooly, steamy breath
to match his own, pitch fork separating clouds
of gold, strewing it like loaves and fishes —
that kind of pride, though pride’s a wobbly perch
when drought and blight’s the norm, when the pickup
needs a fuel pump, barn needs shingles.

But this morning, the sky’s wide and blue
and bare, and Waylon’s singing Ramblin’ Man
while he hums along. Bernice’ll have coffee
scalding hot at the cafe, and prices were up
on the farm report this morning. Folks and steers
ain’t so different, he reckons, herd gathering,
keeping with their kind.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Ekphrastic Review

At JCPenneys

“. . .a shared women’s intimacy.”

In honor of all us imperfect mothers…

IMG_1566

I back through the door of the ladies room
pulling stroller, wailing baby, all his gear
(not a graceful entrance) into the anteroom
adjacent to wash basins and toilet stalls.
I gather his indignant, thrashing form,
my impatience nearly matching his,
and perch on the cracked Naugahyde settee.

Dammit. What bad timing. This twenty minutes
means rush hour traffic going home.
I sling a receiving blanket over my shoulder,
and squalls turn to contented gurgles.

Only then do I notice the frail, ancient figure
in a chair nearby, her cane leaned carefully beside her.
I smile, apologetic for intrusion, her catching me
at not-my-best-mom self, my feeling
of nakedness under the scrap of flannel.

Her face is soft with wrinkles and surprise.
“Oh my, you’re nursing your baby,” she says.
“I didn’t think girls did that anymore.”
I tell her it’s become the norm,
that studies show it’s healthier.
“Do you mind if I sit here with you?” she asks.
I assure her it will be all right.

We are alone, the restroom quiet
on a Tuesday afternoon,
save for soothing baby sounds.
I relax, change sides, let the blanket slip
in a shared women’s intimacy.
Finally the baby breaks away, eyes closed,
still suckling in his sleep. “I nursed seven babies,”
she tells me then. “If I close my eyes,
I almost remember what it feels like,
having a baby at my breast.”

I can’t speak, overwhelmed
by the miracle of milk.

– Sarah Russell
First published in The Houseboat
Painting: “Baby Nursing, Mexico City,” by Tina Modotti

Ravens

“. . .an avian funeral cortège.”

The smartest man I know is dying –
cancer, spreading to his bones
and cruelly, to his brain.

“Come look back here,” he says when I visit.
“They knew even before I did.”
Six ravens walk – stately, slow, with purpose –
across his yard, an avian funeral cortège.
“They’ve been here since spring,” he adds.

He points to a corner near the fence.
“That one has a broken wing.
Got it robbing a blue jay’s nest.
Shouldn’t mess with jays, I told her.”

He feeds her raw chicken and steak but says he knows
that soon she’ll ask for death, and he’ll oblige.
“They won’t do the same for me,” he says.
“Fucking do-gooders.”
I don’t know what to say.

“When she’s gone, her fellows will have
a feast of her carcass,” he says without malice,
“just as they will with mine.”
I try to protest, but I know it’s true.
Already there’s talk that his research is passé.

At lunch, I see my own reflection in a soup spoon.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Misfit Magazine
Watercolor by Sarah Yeoman, SarahYeoman.com

P.S.  New prompts are up on the Prompts page.

Leaving

“. . .I know the contours of this room so well. . .”

First, thank you all!  In about 6 weeks, I have 107 followers.  Wow!  I don’t think my website had 107 views in the three years it was up.  Love this interactive format!

Now that Poetry Month is over, I’m going to start posting my own published poems, poems I run across that I admire, and reblogging other poems and flash fiction that I find.  Be sure to ask questions about the poems if you have them.  I won’t ever give my interpretation (that’s for you to decide) but I will tell you about the motivation for the poem (if I remember it…)

“Leaving” was published a few months ago in Poppy Road Review, one of my favorite  venues, edited by Sandy Benitez.  My previous post, “Family Photo, 1899” by Joan Colby was also published there.  Sandy is very kind to emerging poets as well as seasoned ones.  Follow the link at the bottom of the poem to see this beautiful site.

Leaving

The dimmer switch is canting down
and flowers on the table are in silhouette.
I know the contours of this room so well,
know the path across so I don’t stub my toe;
where one dining chair’s leg tangles
with another, mars in the untangling,
so I lift it up and over gently to sit down.
You want to push the toggle all the way
to dark, but let me have this twilight
’til my heart adjusts, OK?

– Sarah Russell
First published in Poppy Road Review
Photo by Niki Feijen for the Huffington Post

The Cottage

“. . . The smell of earth turned by a trowel.”

Since Poetry Breakfast was kind enough to publish another of my poems today, I’m going to take time out of the month of poets I admire to put it here on my blog too.  I hope you’ll stop by and take a look at the Poetry Breakfast site.  One of my favorites.

 

I’ve grown quiet here. My mind
has opened to woodsong
and the smell of earth turned
by a trowel.

I enjoy solitude, even when regrets
or the throb of an old lover happen by.
Sometimes I invite them in, make
a ritual of teacups on starched linen,
a silver server for the scones.
We reminisce ’til shadows trace
across the floor, call them away.

Afterwards, I tidy up, wipe away
drops spilled in the pouring. I save
the leftovers though they’re getting stale.
I may crumble them on the porch rail
tomorrow for sparrows
before I garden.

– Sarah Russell
 First published in Poetry Breakfast

I lost summer somewhere

Sorry.  Gotta take a “me” moment in this month of celebrating mostly other people’s poetry.  Poetry Breakfast is one of my favorite online journals, and they honored me by publishing one of my poems this morning.  You can read it on their site along with other fine poems (and follow their site to get a poem for breakfast every morning) or read it here.

I lost summer somewhere
in the wildflowers, woke
to trees blushing at my disregard,
wind hurrying the clouds along.
I should have seen the signs.
I watched geese abandon their twigged
April nests, pin-feathered goslings
ripple ponds listless with July. Now they rise
gray against the gray sky, skeining south
before first snows.

I’ll stay here, I tell them. I’ll air out
cedared cardigans, chop carrots
for the soup tonight, cross
the threshold of the equinox,
try not to stumble.

Sarah Russell
First published in Poetry Breakfast