Three Poems from Native Species

My near neighbor Dave Bonta invited me to share some poems from my forthcoming collection Native Species—my sixth book of poetry, due out from Michigan State University Press on January 1, 2019.

The major question that structures Native Species is whether we humans, at this point in the 21st century, are native to any place, when we consider how we change and desecrate our landscapes, radically impacting other species because of our burgeoning population, rampant consumerism, and advancing technology.

This is not to say that Native Species is a book of despair. On the contrary, I think I offer much hope, even celebration, for and of the natural world, sometimes using magically real moments of species-to-species interaction and transformation to suggest new ways of thinking about humanity’s place on earth.

Native Species can be ordered online through Michigan State University Press, on Amazon, or at Barnes & Noble. Or better yet, ask your local independent bookseller to order it! And please visit my website for more information about my other books.

Almanac of Faithful Negotiations

Here, at the edge of heaven,
I inhabit my absence.

Tu Fu

On the first day, we find evidence of elk but not the elk themselves.

On the second, we see the charred and blackened sleeves fire leaves but not a single flame.

By the third day, the oldest trees have already ascended but the microbial mouths buried in the dirt remain.

After four days, our minds flood with rivers and creeks, and we find it hard to speak, except in mud and stone.

On the fifth, ravens decorate a white-oak snag, croaking in the voices of our drunk uncles, reminding us whose house we live in.

Six days gone, a fisher stands on hind legs, stares across the meadow’s expanse, dares us to approach the porcupine-corpse, muzzle red with the body’s sugar.

When the last day comes, only minutes before dawn, susurration of wind, stars moving back into the invisible, all of us wondering when we will join them.

Returning to Earth

…trust in the light that shines through earthly forms.
Czeslaw Milosz

At the bottom of an abandoned well
dug more than a century ago
the moon rises from the center
of the earth, a crust of ice
forming around its edges.

The stand of larch outside
our bedroom window
sways, golden needles
stirring the air
underneath its boughs.

I open the window to hear
the river sailing away, riding
the stone boat of the basin
carved by spring floods.

Beyond the faint light
of a candle, your voice asks
if we might touch and remember
how our children were made,
how the bodies of our parents
were returned to earth.

I want our children’s hands
to hold the river, to watch it spill
through their fingers, back to a source
older than our names
for God.

Beneath a waxing moon
we’ve witnessed animals
dragging their dead into the light.
Tonight we imagine some
suckling their young
who are born blind
in these coldest months.

Soon the river will freeze,
and come morning we’ll break
the ice in the well
so we may drink.

In dark’s shelter I place the words
of a prayer upon your tongue.
You are gracious, saying
the prayer back
into my waiting mouth.

Coltrane Eclogue

You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.
John Coltrane

Where the beak of a pileated opened a row
of holes down the length of a snag
wind blows across each notch,
angles of breathing, like Saint Coltrane
unfastening pearl and brass, exhalation
rushing through the neck of a saxophone,
bending into the sound that envelops
anyone with ears to hear. I’ve started to chant
a love supreme, although I’m alone,
more than four miles into the crease,
trying to pick up the rhythm, how each
lungful glides through hemlock needles,
kestrel slipping out onto the updraft,
with one wing-beat shifting the air
ever so slightly. And yet another woodpecker
drilling the side of a dying tree, a northern
flicker that stays just out of sight, laying down
a percussive line. I feel foolish for saying this,
but it’s like being reborn, a syncopation
that can call down rain, make the bud of a shadbush
unfurl, unwrap the slow, honest tongues
of beaver, and stamp a moose’s enormous
hind-quarter like a bass, all the others silenced,
fingers of that long-dead saint scaling gut-strings,
before a Blackburnian warbler joins in with its thin,
plaintive notes, and a goddamned bluebird,
which should seem trivial but is not, breast puffed,
raising its head toward a God that surrounds us,
who opens our stupid mouths and commands us
to play whatever instrument we’ve got.

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