Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Solstice Poem

I wrote this poem a year ago, and I remembered it today while I picked strawberries at the farm down the street. Today is warm, dry, and sunny — quite the opposite of the damp berry-picking day I wrote about last summer. I don't have a picture of the strawberry patch, so I'm including one of my backyard roses.

Wish You Were Here

in the strawberry patch
under the mountain
on a dewy morning
getting in the last quart
of berries before the rain
just me and the slugs
looking for sweetness

in the downtown millpond
among the cattails
gliding a kayak
past red-winged blackbirds
snapping turtles lurking
somewhere below

in the front yard
near the silver maple
on a wide-open night
asking all the unanswered
questions of the stars
as the moon dips its ladle
into the last house

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Birds Playing Guitars

It's a double April Fool's—I'm posting to the blog for the first time in months, and birds are playing guitars. Actually, both of these are not tricks at all. Here's a piece I wrote in response to an amazing installation that I recently saw in Salem.

Birds playing guitars? That is something to see—and hear. When my friend told me about From Here to Ear at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, I didn’t really believe her. She said, “There are musical instruments, and birds, and they interact somehow.”

It was the “somehow” that perplexed me. How can you play a guitar without hands? I imagined a complicated set-up. Maybe the guitars were attached to something that reacted to the birds’ actions, like a cable or another apparatus. I couldn’t picture the interaction between bird and guitar happening without an intermediary of some kind in the system. But that’s exactly what we saw: birds playing guitars. When it was 10:20 a.m. and the guards let us into the gallery, we saw small, colorful zebra finches going about their normal bird business—eating, preening, flying, perching—and thereby playing guitar.

I’d made a lot of assumptions about what it means to “play” a guitar. The instruments weren’t oriented in a typical, vertical guitar-playing position. Instead, they were mounted horizontally on drum stands so they provided an ideal surface for the tiny birds to perch on. Expensive guitars doubled as tree branches and finch feet became guitar picks. The birds’ tiniest movements became sources of melody, electronic but peaceful. The guitars were tuned in harmony with each other, and there was nothing dissonant in the random, reverberating notes.

The effect was an odd but affecting combination of nature and industry. My friend pointed out how noisy it was in the gallery and that the finches didn’t seem to mind it. They also weren’t bothered by having a group of people gawking at them. They just flew around, ate, perched, and sang their own songs—much as I imagine they would amid ambient sounds in nature, especially if they lived near a particular source of noise, such as a waterfall or a highway.

I wanted to spend the whole day there. I wanted to live in there. I wanted to be tiny and have a finch’s eye view of the world. But soon our 15 minutes were up and we were ushered out of the gallery, birdsong and guitar chords reverberating in our minds. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Garden Man

I wrote this poem in response to the sculpture "Garden Man" by Bob Turan at Art in the Orchard. What I love about this piece is how the figure's body becomes whatever is behind him. He's solid yet transparent. He's static, but when something moves in him, he seems to move, too. He's also making an opposite gesture from Mount Tom (seen in the background), which makes him seem to me like another mountain watching over the valley.

The Garden Man

Today a dog and three people
passed through my heart.
The apples were ripe
and they’d come to pick.
They didn’t see me:
I am everything they already know
but I welcomed their motion
in my stasis of green.
I was made to shelter growing things,
not to move them.
And in the sheltering
I become them.
My arms are squash blossoms
and the apple-laden orchard.
My legs are the soil,
my shoulders the mountain.
The blue above is an opposing force
as I lean into the road, the grass.
My head is the sky.
Transparent to the valley, I breathe
green life. Yet even though
my muscles are made of air,
everything with wings
seems beyond my reach.
After sunset
I change completely,
become a bone—
starlight for marrow.
The moon crosses my mind
once in a while.
Fireflies and bats
keep their distance.
What we are made of defines us:
for me more than most.
Usually I’m a lens—a frame—a container.
But today a dog and three people
passed through my heart.
The dog ran, the people gathered fruit.
They didn’t see me
or know me
or need me
and in those moments
I was free.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I've been working on this poem for a few years, arranging and rearranging the stanzas, thinking about the fleeting nature of spring and flowers. I think I finally got it.

The photo I took last Sunday at Smith College. The line to get into their flower show went down the block, so instead of waiting I walked around the grounds and admired the snowdrops and crocuses.

Here's an ode to those tiny white flowers, the first to appear at this time of year.

Galanthus nivalis

If I believed in time,
stones and perfection

I would not worship
your petals’ curl—

the loss that begins
as soon as you appear.

But it’s been a hard year.
As the season breaks open

like always, I kneel
to see your face unfurl.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Feathers from Home

In Costa Rica, we saw many birds, insects, reptiles, and mammals that were colorful, exciting, and exotic. But there was also something special about seeing species that live in New England for part of the year. This prose poem is about a few of them. The "hourglass" refers to the shape of the Central American isthmus that all migratory species funnel through if they travel between North America and South America. Since I don't have photos of any of these birds, I've included one of the boots that are so helpful for walking along muddy rainforest paths.


Seen from the air, the “rich coast” is a rough-hewn jewel. On the ground, it is a busy  rainbow: thin neck of the American hourglass through which all migratory species must pass. Hello, wood thrush! I saw you last in New Hampshire. Ruby-throat, did you visit me in Hadley last year? Oriole, I have never been to Baltimore, but maybe you’ve perched in Boston? Old friend red-tail, it’s so good to see you. I will look for you in May when I am back and you have also flown home to nest.

Boots at Tirimbina Biological Reserve

Monday, January 28, 2013

Creatures and Wonder

In January, I was lucky to spend 2 weeks in Costa Rica with a biology class from Westfield State University. We visited 4 distinct ecosystems with vastly different flora and fauna, and saw an incredible amount of wildlife thanks to our fabulous guides and the immense biological diversity in Costa Rica.

This is one of a few poems that I wrote during and after the trip. It's in blank verse, my favorite form for narrative. Also, this is the first time that I've included a link in a poem before, but the lizard mentioned is so cool I think you should know about it. All the other creatures you can look up on your own to learn more if you want. Enjoy!

Red Eyes and Pink Eye

After the third day in the rainforest
your eye swells up. You have been touching frogs,
stroking smooth green or speckled backs after
your guide disappeared to the midnight pond,
then returned with a jewel. He showed you the blue
streaked sides, the red webs between tiny toes.
He knows how to hold so they won’t struggle.
That morning he caught butterflies in nets,
held them in his hands, showed you their secrets.
The curled antennae. Front legs that can taste.
The wing where a bird took a beak-shaped bite.
The next day another guide explained birds:
Iridescent hummingbirds’ hide and shine,
woodpeckers tapping trees as a message.
By the pond you heard slap slap slap as the
Jesus Christ lizard ran upright across.
At night she took you to a field, turned off
the flashlights. You saw lightning bugs and stars.
She told you about pheromone ant trails,
owls’ faces shaped like satellite dishes
for better hearing, extra eye membranes.
You went to bed full of caiman eyeshine,
tadpoles, black-and-blue-striped skippers. You woke
eager for papaya, coffee, put in
your artificial eyes without washing.
So after the river float—the howling
monkey monsters guarding trees, iguanas
sunning themselves pleased as rocks, the toucans
flapping red, yellow and black through green leaves—
your beloved eyes ached pink, oozed yellow.
At la pharmacia a young woman
tells you to apply ointment twice a day
and chamomile teabags for swelling.
You are not a creature of the forest:
you’re a creature of grace and gratitude.

Rufus-eyed stream frog

Monday, November 19, 2012

Flowers in November

This is one of the poems I wrote for the 30 Poems in 30 Days fundraiser. It's also included in the event anthology published by Center for New Americans. When I sent this poem out as a thank you to my sponsors for that event, my dad wrote back and asked if witch hazel blooming in November is a sign of climate change. Nope — there's no need to worry about this particular plant. This variety normally blooms in the fall.

Hamamelis virginiana

In November
you can still find dandelions
blooming, half buried
in dirt and gravel by the road.
In the woods, witch hazel
waves gnarled petals
every cockeyed way at the sky.
Bare, gray or brown is everywhere
you look, except for these
tiny yellow messages.