Certain things my mother knew
and she would not forget them:
like the scent magnolias take
when the sun has pressed
its full weight down inside
the cup of blossom long enough
to spring the hinges
of every creamy petal
and turn each one to chamois cloth,
beige and soft;
or the sunset glow
of tufted titmouse breast;
or mystery of kestrel’s flight
soaring to crescendo height when
still wings dangle dangerously
on the precipice of fickle breeze.
Mother lived to open up the world to us
in things that always closed
or hid or ebbed away:
like frothy lace the small waves
tool along the sand at turn of tide;
or caddis fly’s empty case
clinging to the smooth flat belly
of a stone in running shallows;
or tender young mimosa leaves curling
to put themselves to sleep
when we’d brush our tiny palms
across the smallest fronds.
These were the things, my mother said,
that nature always ordered
and on which we could depend.
Yesterday I wandered off
the well-marked trail
lured by the hope of hearing
low lamentations of the mourning dove
or distinct call of black-capped chickadee,
tones that float effortlessly
from small birds’ quivering throats.
Instead the clearest sound I heard
was one I’d thought endangered or extinct:
arduous and heavy-headed hammering
only a pileated woodpecker makes
when it has found the restive beetle
burrowing down inside a dying trunk.
This, of course, was part of what she knew:
some things open,
and certain things abide.
–first appeared in Buckle &