Monday, March 30, 2009

You can hear Spring coming

Returning late from the stables, a place filled with the quiet sounds of horses' chewing hay, I stopped to admire the stars, and was struck by the whisper in the woods. So I wrote this...

Winter: the lake snaps and booms,
Ice shoving the shores, pressure and cold combining.
Blue jays scream at feeders, chips of blue
With strident voices.
Chickadees, soft in demure grays, call their names.
The pines stretch their needles, fingering the wind
Like harp strings, a murmur in the air.
Cedars hold the sound of the wind within,
And hemlocks offer the deepest hush, where snow falls without sound
Into the deeply silent tracks of deer.

But then
A shift --
The skies begin to fill with song,
Robins reclaim their world,
Killdeer scud across the muddy snow
Swallows appear, writing their names on the clear air.

The sun taps winter on the shoulder
And with bad grace, begrudging, winter starts to move.
Lakes that gleam blue in summer, gray through the autumn rains
Sparkle in white all winter,
In spring, those lakes turn black.
Long crystals form, the ice no longer booms:
It chimes with the wind. It sings, piling along shores
Glittering silver needles of ice.
Ducks arrive, gleeful in open water,
their wings loud, their voices clear in the dark.
And geese -- they call for summer,
their V in the sky splits winter apart,
changes the weather.

In the night, with the wind asleep, when all the trees stand still --
Listen... you can hear spring coming:
water begins to move.
Snow melting in the woods, the creeks flooding into lakes
Rattling the chiming crystals
Rocking the ducks to sleep.

Once water starts to flow,
Creating its songs over rocks and ice,
Demanding its way
Past cheering porcupines, love struck in the trees
And the yap of young foxes,
Sap lifts through the trees, dreaming of leaves.
Smelt stir in the currents of turbulent creeks.
Bears stretch in their dens.

Once water starts to move,
Elbowing winter aside,
If you listen
You can hear spring coming.

Friday, March 27, 2009

the word for gray

I was astonished to discover that the Roman language contains no word for the colour gray. Almost as astonished as to learn the Masai in Africa have no word for please... but many words for thank you.

The Word for Gray

The Romans had no word for gray.
What must they have thought, then
of British skies and endless clouds
the dark Atlantic foaming at the shores
Browns for mud
and songs of green --
so many greens, beneath the raining skies.
Stonehenge and her cohorts
standing across Europe
in unlikely fields --
bluestones, yes, and white cliffs...

What did they call the horses
dappled in the fields, aging into white
but strong with their youth and galloping hooves,
no longer black, not yet white.

Romans had no word for gray.
Did they, like the Inuit, have
27 words for blue?
100 more for green?
a score of browns?

Or did they trail sentences
into layer upon layer of adjective,
Was ocean the colour of Caesar's eyes
where it lapped the English beach?
Dark seas rolling under stark white cliffs,
the colour of hair piled high on Caesar's wife?

Was justice always black or white?
Or were the skies in Rome such endless blue,
and all our grays turned silver?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nijinksy II

During a brilliant 13-race career this bay son of legendary Canadian stallion Northern Dancer became the first English Triple Crown winner (St. Leger, Two Thousand Guineas, Epsom Derby) in 35 years; set a European earning's record of $677,177; was Europe's Horse of the Year in 1970 and was syndicated for a then world-record $5.4 million, and entered into Racing's Hall of Fame. While I was later to own one of Nijinksy's own sons, and competed with him to a high level, this sonnet was written as an exercise for one of my professors. Who, doubtless, expected something all gushy about some sordid human love affair (as offered up by most of the class, evidently). Little did he know of the soaring love affairs of the heart that a truly elegant thoroughbred race horse might inspire...

For Nijinksy...
Quiet the thunder coiled and trapped within
that never louder England has heard roll
since anthems sang to this ancient Sport of Kings
woke hotly restless in your wilder soul.
You danced a dance your namesake never knew
while blazing truths of eagles filled your eyes;
worshipping speed -- and to that god still true --
urging your name together thousands rise.
Yet he who robs the wind of fame must learn
that other winds will join with blood and run.
That pressed too hard no hero can return
untarnished and commanding of the sun.
So fleet hooves sketch with faintest trace of lines
Brief victories on the shadow's of mens' minds.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Written following the death of my father...


some things, unholdable as breath
are all that is real.

the invisible pattern behind the skin,
silent, half-heard songs
of praise
warm as sunlight
in veins

radiance cannot be touched
behind the eyes, shining.

nor can the hand hold.
all the spirit leaves
in the palm
is absence.

some things cannot be held.

strange then
how others, equally untouchable –
a smile, a laugh,
voices long silent, words flown away
like autumns past.

secrets shared, unspoken.
a glance.
nothing one could touch, or grasp, or stay.


not in the palm.
heart held.

some things cannot be let go.

in this place,
means remembered.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jays nest in Winter

For nearly fourteen years, one of our Gray Jays living in the spruce bog forest seen in this photo was part of the study on these birds done by Dan Strickland, from Algonquin Park. I had no idea jays could live that long. Her name was Pool Toser (taken from the colour of the bands on her legs: purple over orange left... teal over standard right) I was priveleged to go into the woods with the naturalists, to see her nest, 60' up in a spruce. This poem is for Pool.

Jays Nest in Winter

Sitting close, against the snow, in branches
rocked on by wind with teeth in it.
Jays do not go south,
Aware that weather is fleeting:
Today’s storm
Tomorrow’s sun…
Heat and cold mingle in the depths of starlight and snow,
Receding forever, until the stars are too close for touching
And the silence is fit for dreaming.

This beauty, these uncertainties,
These trials set by ever changing days
Best prepares the jays for living

Their faith as deep as winters’ night
And bright as spring morning

We could do worse than nest in winter

Saturday, March 14, 2009

In Salem that Cat Would Burn

Achmed appeared in the house (through the cat flap door) in December 2007. He got his name because he was (and is) a little ginger furred terror, who in one year has entrenched himself in houses and hearts, and has a fan club following him on the Bondi Resort Blog.

In Salem, that Cat Would Burn...

In Salem, that cat would be burned

as a witch

The way he wraps around doors and appears
Where cats have no business

Leaping from the wall to snatch at swallows
Believing he can fly. Almost. With practice for sure.

The paw in the fish tank, hopeful.
Emerging still dry, the drops shed from slick fur.

Nesting on laps. This cat who was meant to live outside
Sleep in the stable
Curled instead on pillows

Jimmying windows and hearts with equal ease
Bedeviling the dog

Clawing the couch. Eyes all innocent

Casting spells.

In Salem, he would burn for sure.

Spring so very Far

Wind in trees
Snow sighing
What waits outside
In December
Canada’s north
Snow come early
Cats by fires
Dogs by feet
Chill in the house
Despite the fire

Since you are gone
There is little warmth
Windows darken
The fire burns without heat

And I am cold
And cannot feel the blood
Within my veins

What did you take
Thief of existence
When you left this place

Leaving all behind
Except yourself

Is that your voice
In the wind
Your fingers combing through the trees
Do you stir the snow against the gray of sky

Or is that hollow hearts cannot hold the heat

Is the truth that grief is frozen
That all my world is locked in ice

Moving on, like birds rising across white fields
The sky flown empty with your loss

And spring so very far