Ducking Out

Mad mallards dabble on the Ijsselmeer.
I do not mind them doing so, for I
am on the Beach Atlantic, where the clear
wish wash of waves unites the dunes and sky.
When winter calls me (sunburn makes me old)
my soul will fly on memories sun braised
from when, together, we fought off the cold:
You, sun, and I, the zest we raised!
‘Ephemeral are us’ and leathered skin
are pittances (our taxidermist clucks!)
when set against the profit that rolled in
when we took sea and left the marsh to ducks.
A moment, Summer. One long moment, please,
till Autumn falls and glorious pleasures freeze.

Morning Glory

The blackbird sings instructions for his son
on how and when and where and why to fly.
His wife looks on and when she thinks he’s done
she shows their son the birdbath. Later, dry
enough for summer, Pa sings of frost and cats,
and Ma chants rhymes of when the berries ripen.
All three birds practise blackbird riffs and scats
as if they’re horns for music God pipes in
to underscore the beauties of this world.
The score extends and galaxies unwind
and hang half out of sight like flags unfurled
on misty moors at dawn while I, half blind
to what they sketch, smile as song fades away
for here birds sing the world alive each day.

The Duck’s Version

Wild ducks compete with children for the shade
in the shallow water underneath this tree.
Tan toddlers pelt their siblings with wet sand.
Few other places the Creator made
compare well with this shallow inland sea
for pretty pleasures. Children understand.

Here they are quiet and happy, and they play
at finding pirate treasure till they swim
into the sunshine. One beached duck eats bread
from a sandwich dropped off earlier today
by a duck-god, he says, daily feeding him.
His story grabs my heart if not my head.

Bar San Francisco

The parrot, green except for where it moults,
butts beak against the barmaid’s well formed back
as she tots another tab up for the dolts
who line the zinc-topped bar while she leans slack
against the register. The parrot rolls
his eyes and lifts his shoulders, which I ape
while Caroline ignores us both and strolls
to Captain Hook who mouths some jape
about ‘the thrill is gone,’ not saying whose.
The parrot says it must be Robert Cray.
I cannot care and let the lady choose
the next song but she answers ‘No lo sé
and Pink Floyd hammers more bricks in the wall
and the night comes down and finds me glad to fall.

The late sun makes the whiter people sick
and tour groups shelter in the noisy bar
appalled, enthralled by Caroline, her slick
appearance, skin — the limbic way ‘ajar’
amounts to ‘making way’ so near her blouse
when she and the green parrot dip for drinks.
The uncaged parrot’s ancient pupils house
an admiration an old tourist thinks
no animal should have for Caroline
but she leans forward and we punters smile,
me and the parrot, and the evening’s fine.
The tourists take their bus another mile
and the green bird and the lady ladle beer
into my glass like it required more cheer.

Bar music really underscores alone
and lounges full of losers don’t add up
to more than busy signals on a phone,
to more than travelling salesmen who come sup
on distant dreams, expense accounts and time
like they’re not losing hair, waistlines, and hope.
Turn up the music, Caroline, and rhyme
what you believe the words must be, and grope
for notes you know but when you’re dressed can’t reach.
The parrots, watching, goes back in his cage
as we ignore the lessons he can teach
and I ask you to dance, and primal rage
propels us and our dreams across the floor
until the music stops, us at the door.

I like me in the mirror of this bar,
dark glasses, tanned, the parrot taking note.
I flash keys from a newly stolen car
and think that any day now I’ll emote.
The rock ban pushes for a Beach Boy beat
and two girls dance together, and a man
as old as both their fathers, kind of neat,
attempts to cut in, doesn’t understand.
And She turns up the volume, and the bird,
the ancient parrot, shows the secret red
beneath his green and clipped wings while absurd
bus tourists, like they mattered, jump and shed
their inhibitions, grin and try to dance
while I and my reflection hold our trance.

(published in November 2001 issue of MÖBIUS)

Range Finders

El Búho’s head swings left, front, right.
His eyes note field and house.
His brain enjoys the moonlit night.
His stomach growls for mouse.

A haggard mouse shakes out the kilt
he wears to every ball
and little haggis scraps get spilt
which causes him to bawl.

El Búho’s ears hark rodent rue.
He feathers his great wings
and flings himself (without a clue
whereof the fey mouse sings)

from blue-spruce limb through summer air
in search of rodent ham,
of brain of rodent, rodent hair,
and deboned rodent jam.

Up in the air, his great wings spread,
El Búho gives a hoot
which makes a drunken cowboy, Red,
point his gun and shoot.

Dum-dums, blanks and hollow points
(the normal late-night shooters)
answer, firing from cheap joints
named Bubba, Scum, and Hooters.

Rounds of grape and double-ought
violate curfew
as boys untouched by what they’re taught
drag Von Braun’s V-2

out and fire it down the road
to break El Búho’s head,
but he drops down to scarf a toad,
escaping cowboy lead.

El Búho’s now dispatched the toad
and feels the sicker for it.
Later, lightened of this load,
he hunkers for some porrit

and thinks again of kilted mouse
and fancies Highlands hoatching
with mice in every dell and house.
El Búho plans some poaching.

From Sometimes in Balance

Morning Menagerie

Sitting still enough that the mosquitoes cannot see me,
I watch dark birds commuting to the shore.
Consoled by Feynman’s father as to bird names,
I dub their species Mini-Nevermore
and think, had I the Latin and were first,
there would be many mini-nevermores in books.
The more I see of them, the more like jackdaws
my mini-nevermores appear, or rooks.
Ignored by bird and bug, I cogitate
which species I address compiling stats,
suspecting it’s the one that cannot fly
but does name dogs not knowing names of cats.

Consoled by Feynman’s father as to bird names alludes to my favourite Richard Feynman story, as he told it:
‘The next Monday, when the fathers were all back at work, we kids were playing in a field. One kid says to me, “See that bird? What kind of bird is that?” I said, “I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of a bird it is.” He says, “It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn’t teach you anything!” But it was the opposite. He had already taught me: “See that bird?” he says. “It’s a Spencer’s warbler.” (I knew he didn’t know the real name.) “Well, in Italian, it’s a Chutto Lapittida. In Portuguese, it’s a Bom da Peida. In Chinese, it’s a Chung-long-tah, and in Japanese, it’s a Katano Tekeda. You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts.” (I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.)’