Everyone strives to learn what they don’t know;
few strive to learn what they already know.
– Zhuangzi

I stare at the keyboard as if willing the poems to come forth
& damn me if they don’t! Letter by letter
like the heads of grouse chicks popping up
through the dense grid of feathers
on their mother’s back.
Car & horse switch places back & forth –
a not uncommon thing to happen in a dream –
but what I remember in the shower is how,
when the bottom dropped away & the wheels
became swimming, circling hooves,
a raft of sea ducks lifted from the far shore.
Sure it’s corny to write about birds as angels
but May Swenson can, & gets away with it.
I think now of the sharpie that missed his prey
yesterday by the bird feeder & slammed
full force into the bow window. I ran out
onto the porch in time to see him drop
from a momentary perch in the cedar
& land head-down in the snow, tail twitching.
A half-hour later, dinner in the oven,
I look again: gone. The first juncos
are returning by twos & threes to
the strewn millet.
On snowshoes crossing the wind-
groomed field, sun at
my back, the hissing granules
in motion around my feet

now & again rise like
genies released from their lamps
to spin, veering off
across the field

or growing to sudden whiteout
that tempts me to turn, gaze full
into the sun’s
nimbus of wind! Then calm again,

the sharp silhouettes of spruce
take shape on the hill. I turn back,
under the trackless sky
resume my plodding, trailing behind

this long blue figure whose outlandish legs
lift high with every step,
deliberate as a heron stalking
shimmery fish.
Bill Stafford – rest in peace – was dead
wrong. Daily practice may make poems,
but to stop at one’s an impossibility – at least
for those of us, less given to gravity,
in whom enthusiasm rises almost
to the level of possession. Get thee hence,
old workshopper – I’m not buying.
I would trade a hundred inspired lines
for a half-dozen real evening grosbeaks
crowding into the feeder on any
January morning.

NOTES: The May Swenson poem referenced is “Angels at ‘Unsubdued.'”
William Stafford – in many ways the godfather of contemporary North American poetry – is famous for encouraging poets to write a poem every day. For one recent appreciation, see here.

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