EXCERPTS : : West of Paradise
THE EMPEROR BREEDS ONLY ON THE ICE
after Robert Ardrey
When March comes, and that southern autumn
darkens into winter, pairs of emperor penguins
march inland across the Antarctic ice
to that place where they must breed.
On fathomless freeze, she lays their single egg
and he picks up the egg on his foot.
Then she and her friends go back to the sea --
their only source of food.
Close among the circle of males,
each with an egg on his foot, he remains.
They begin to move. Perpetual night encloses them.
The zero winter blows, shudders,
snaps, crushes, torments them now
as it has tormented every year.
Each stands with an egg on his foot.
Shoulder to shoulder, they preserve their heat.
There are no fights over property,
dominance, borders, ideologies.
Once, twice, the night clears.
They see the Southern Cross -- its crucifixion clear.
The southern aurora displays its veils --
faraway, shifting, impalpable,
More often, the storm whites them out.
Wind cuts cold beyond calculation.
For two months on that fathomless ice,
they live the terror of soft illumination
and they revolve there --
this fasting masculine mass --
each with an egg on his foot
presenting this one on the edge to hostility
giving that one at the center a moment of warmth.
Can we apprehend these nights?
In a mass of male emperor penguins?
Revolving? Each with an egg
on his foot?
In a dark, frozen, endless Antarctic?
Beneath withdrawn stars?
You do not know, I shall not know.
We must learn this kind of love.
(written November, 1986; Andres Berger Poetry Award,
Northwest Writers, Inc. 1995. Judge: Karen Swenson)
in memory of William Stafford (1914-1993)
Maybe every night a star wakes up
leaves your house and climbs
into the sky to be itself
among the galaxies of prayer.
Maybe when the sun is gold again
that star returns to sleep
somewhere inside your doors --
some blind spot you can never see.
Maybe this creature is with you
there-somehow-say as a mother
spider God made, her web so delicate
we're all caught -- shimmering.
Eternity is here sleeping–somewhere--
common and silent. When you dream no one
is looking, eternity escapes again --
subtle, quiet, awake–consumed by light.
Be like that star.
(written September, 1993)
love pacific rain, curve
wind, bear old storms, explode,
turn ice to glacier lily bloom.
Hear that first tick of melting
snow? Meadow blue with awe?
Hear springs seep, creeks clatter,
white water roar, falls pour
wet thunder, mist, rainbow
spray? Oh range so fragile, dangerous
your beauty washes every face
your flow redeems the stone. Thirsty
for the true, we take you in.
(written summer, 1998, Purchase Award,
New Oregon Zoo, Portland)