Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Grassroots Of It

First, you hear the fetch

of his song. Long and slowly

swallowed by the dawn.


A spiked bird

in the  honey locust

pining for his partner.


A poignant psalm

until you learn his name

and the mind

wants to mock the thought:


an echo

for  the German clock


a symbol

for the lunatic,


a refrain

for the monk's song

that sounds like blithe nonsense.


Sing cuccu nu , Sing cuccu.


The desert cuckoo

calls in spring, commiserates

with the field thirsting for rain.


The wind shakes out the earth.

A rug spill of seeds, dust, feathers 

and wisps of thistle,


spider veins of  the soul,

the release of something

grown from ache and tenacity,


from a word we strain to use

in verse, call as mate  

or match with the image

of a bird.


So clichéd, the breath

of the sentimental;

but here it is - fibers  torn, 

uprooted to reveal -

we are spun from this


and it lasts forever. A  countless thing

but when the ground cock sings,

they say the number of times

(you hear him ) foretells


the amount of years

you will live, and perhaps

in the bittersweet throb

of his throat --

how often

you will forfeit your soul,

This poem's inspiration came from several sources. But the most significant was an essay I read on the purpose of our "soul" by poet Mary Oliver. I adore her work and she is so finely connected to nature and its reflection of the human condition. Basically, the soul is our vital sense of being, our compass, our composition. It connects us to nature and everything life-giving. It strives to keep us rooted in who we are and enable us to face the truth about ourselves. It has no specific definition but its functions are easy to grasp and witness. That is a paraphrasing of her thoughts on the subject. But in modern poetry/lit, we have diminished the presence of the soul, even mocked it. It has become a word we strain to voice, a word that is labeled as cliché. But it is intimate and complex. Its one syllable that has the entire echo of the universe reverberating in its sound, in its essence. To each individual, it means something different ;and each individual soul is as unique and definitive as a fingerprint or snowflake. So it cannot be, in my humble opinion, neglected or discarded or disregarded. It has presence, mortal, natural and divine.
 The second source was the ancient but ever present bird The cuckoo. He is even here in the high desert and has been of poetic, mythic an spiritual significance for centuries. The famous song in Middle English, written by an anonymous monk, tells of the bird calling for the arrival of Summer and celebrates the event with a joyous refrain , as emphasized in my poem. But the bird was also fabled to be a harbinger of life's expectancy. So depending on how many times you heard him call -- it conveyed to the listener, and each listener is different, how many years that person might live. Taking that concept one step further, I also imagined that he could foretell how often a person might abandon his or her soul in a life time. And as such  literary elitists relegate the soul to maudlin sentiment, they also associate the "cuckoo" with something silly, archaic and purposeless. But when we get back to the grass roots level of both the soul and the bird's essence, origin, purpose, habits, etc; we find there is something vital, spiritual and  inherent in our make-up as well as the landscape's. When I hear him here in the high desert, it is a beautiful call, a lamenting one, a poignant almost melodic plea. So fused together, these two concepts created this poem.


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