Words Made Flesh

Poems of Nature

I have been reading about one line poems, simple phrases that stand on their own. Each line is taut, tightened to the essential words. It is a strand floating on the  page, with no connection o either end, no need for other lines on which to balance. I sometimes regard elements of nature in this way. They exist in pure form, singular and holding meaning in their shapes. They may exist within a context, but they don’t need to; they have a delicate line of significance, standing alone. Ezra Pound’s wet black bough, with petals plastered to translucence against it, achieves this significance. A wadded scrap of dead leaf clinging tenaciously to the branch which conceived it is also a single line poem. A line of bark, grooved, wavering, curving its way vertically down a tree trunk, reconfiguring the line on the page, is another poem. A wisp of smoke is a grey pencil stroke scribbled into cold sky. Clear bird call chisels its notes into frozen space. The imagined rush of wind against wing as a V of geese slices through iced sky, or the whirr of insects whose sound travels from left to right across a dark ravine–these are poems, lines laid down, beautiful and spare and complete in themselves, lines that tether me to wonder and leave me groping for a language with which to hold them in memory.

Whippoorwill

The screen door creaked open; voices murmuring goodbyes mixed at the doorway when its call came wafting over the dark summer night. Three tones to its whistle, mournful, eerie, plaintive. Whippoorwill. Its call was so clear and big, etched into the black air, that as a child  I imagined the bird as owl-large and ghostly, swooping through dark skies, cloaked by night. Yet in reality, it is a diminutive bird, no larger than a robin, nondescript in appearance. Its variegated feathers look scaled and mildewed, flecked with greys and shades of brown. Its low, curved head nestles neckless into its body, forming a plump mound that camouflages seamlessly into the dry leaves in which it nests. Only its eyes–large, luminous, and almost blue–betray its sorrow, the sockets holes which pour out misery.

On those nights, though, only its voice existed. Crickets rasped a steady rhythm on which the notes suspended, hung in the air like something lost in those darkened woods beyond the edge that my grandma’s lighted porch could touch. I would shiver at the haunting sound, shrinking up against my mother’s side when I was a young girl, leaving grandma’s house those summer nights. Yet though a part of me cowered at my mother’s side, another part drifted out to meet that call, tremulous and thrilled. Who was this poor Will and what was the cause of his pain? Could his cry lure me from this circle of light into the dark hollow of his sorrow? Could we live together, reclusive in the woods, sharing nothing but pain?

Time threaded a long line between those early years and where I am now, and a whippoorwill’s call rarely balanced on that tenuous strand, though I often strained to listen for it, especially on moonlit summer nights that carried me back in memory to my grandma’s porch. Once, however, a few years ago, sitting on my bed reading, I was startled to hear those notes echoing from my woods, beyond my own lit windows. I sprang to open the sliding glass door–softly, so as not to frighten away that sad spirit–and stood there waiting for a second message from the darkness. The three notes repeated themselves, the last lilting up like a question for which there was no answer. Listening with my ear pressed against the screen, I groped for a response, something that would quell the hurt I heard in that call. Instead, I felt my own heart fill up with sadness, poured in with his liquid notes. Something in my soul seeped out through the screen and quavered in the space between me an poor Will; his audible cry met my silent one, and at the moment of confluence, the sudden spark of miracle occurred: the merging of sorrow lightened its weight, dissolved its heavy atoms into the porous night sky. Deep calls to deep, grief to grief. Pain poured out like water becomes new wine, a peace passing all understanding.

3 Responses to Words Made Flesh

  1. Jim Warren says:

    My dad also has good memories of listening to whippoorwills as he was going to sleep at night, as a boy growing up in southern Illinois. It’s interesting how many different sounds you can hear at night out in the country.

  2. Eric says:

    Wow i love that! The whippoorwill has always been a favorite bird of mine. Its tune always made me feel at peace. Summer nights..

  3. Duane Warren says:

    Great writing is a tremendous gift, provoking profound thought……thanks Colleen!!!!!

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