WILDLIFE

The big male giraffe glides
across the savannah,
intent on shepherding
his pod of wives and calves.
The tourist’s camcorder
has caught the flow
of those pacing legs,
unhurried, steady as oiled
pistons. And the almost
comical dignity
of that crowned head.

The sound of the wind
is recorded too, and the low
excited murmur
of human voices. Missing
only are the smells–
of acacia, baobab, dust,
and the distant whiff of carrion.

Watching a friend’s safari
movies, I’m back with you
and Bea and me, that time–
stranded with a flat tire on a red-
dirt road somewhere in Kenya.
John had flagged down
a passing lorry, gone for help.
You smoke cigarette after
cigarette. Bea and I sip stale
water from a canteen.
Heat shimmers off the hood
of the car. The motor ticks
like a cricket as it cools.

Then out of nowhere a trio
of giraffes appears, just beyond
the roadside brush.
Peacefully pulling leaves
from the treetops with their
long, clever, purple tongues.
So near we can smell
their heat, hear their
steady chewing. So near
we can see their luminous eyes
and improbable girlish eyelashes.
Undisturbed by our human
presence–if indeed we
existed at all, for them.

A Fresh Egg
-For Becky & her hens

Spooning out the marigold-
yellow yolk, cutting up
the springy white—this egg
needs no salt or pepper,
and butter would be
sacrilege–the taste is
so homely, familiar,
and still fills me with wonder.

Who was it, I think, as I
scrape out the last morsels
–that first human being
to dare eat an egg?
I imagine some hungry
prehistoric mother foraging
on the wide savannah—
did downwards at the bird,
miss, then find her hands
coated with sticky golden
sap and translucent juice?
Grunting in dismay, she raises
her hands to her mouth, sniffs,
begins to lick the odd stuff off
each finger, one by one.
And runs back to tell the others.

Sated, I sit a while longer
at the breakfast table
peeling off with my fingernail
a few thin strips of eggwhite
still sticking to the shell’s inside
and putting them into my mouth–
remembering how Miss Bellamy
the young Science teacher
I had a crush on in 6th Grade
showed us the innermost
flexible skin of a hardboiled egg
and told us it was what’s called
a semi-permeable membrane.

hats of summer

hats of summer

hats of summer

MY PORTRAIT, BY CHAGALL

Mauve on blue
he makes me:
a woman wafting
moon-ward
among tribes of
floating goats,
planets and trees.
For ease he’s added
an upside-down
green kitchen chair;
for bliss
an ecstasy of violins.

INSERT RAIN

…into a poem, to soften its fabric,
let its colors run freely
this way and that, like a drift
of clouds unpacking
after a storm.

Insert rain into a story, to melt
the sharp edges, gentle the shapes,
let in ambiguity, and make
some room for what
might happen next.

The way, after a big Spring storm,
the creek takes on a deeper tone
the snow-melt waters
foaming ice-green
over the boulders.

And the willows stand soaking
up to their knees. And a kingfisher
comes to feast on the trout.
Now: insert the blue flash
of his dive.

MT. FUJI BETWEEN THE WAVES OFF THE COAST OF KANAGAWA:
(One of Thirty-Six Views by Hokusai)

That morning, Master, we hastened to the beach at dawn. It was very cold.
In winter, there is much sickness , so few of us are able to go forth.
Only three boats went out that day. Hunger however knows
nothing of these matters and the fish do not take note of the
fishermen. The air was so cold it cut like ice in the wash-bucket.
Each man who owned a quilted coat made haste to put it on.
Beyond the Holy Mountain the sky was dark grey; over the sea
it was pale as cold ash. The sea itself was inky black and oily,
and smooth.

We launched our longboats, eight men at oars and the captain on the
foredeck. For six hours we cast our nets. Never in all my days–
and I am the oldest man in out village–have I seen such a run of
fish! Nets were filled to breaking. Then the wind began to blow
from the North; the sea began to speak in a new voice. Captains
called back and forth between the boats, Should we turn back?
They could not agree.

The Holy Mountain watches us , lifting her white brow above a cloak
of blue. One boat turns back and makes for shore. Waves cover it
from our sight; we do not see it again. The sky is a shining
mirror, the wind speaks in a hundred tongues. Great claws of foam
reach out from the peak of each wave. Our boats carve through the
enormous swells. Leaning over the oars, we labor like ants that
try to move a leaf through tall grass. We groan like women in
childbirth. The steersmen cry out as each wave approaches. Their
cries are lost in the howl of the seas.

A giant wave appears from the West. It reaches for us with a
thousand arms, a thousand hands, a thousand mouths. The sea
roars with hunger. Gobbets of foam as big as summer hailstones
pelt down on our backs. Our lungs are breaking. The nets wash
overboard.

Only for a moment did I stop to wipe the foam and salt from my eyes.
In the distance, beneath the sky patterned rose and pale-grey
like the kimono of a maiden, I beheld Mt. Fuji, small as the
little hill where the children go for firewood.

Master Hokusai, this is what I remember. I have told you all.

FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS

That morning in Westport–
our first Spring at the new house
–you went out one time at dawn
with your new binoculars
and Peterson’s Guide in your pocket–
you who grew up in a city apartment
in the Bronx, where birds were either
pigeons or sparrows. Learning by the book
the way you’d already taught yourself
to make a cheese soufflé, mend
the window-screens, sail a boat.

And came back to wake me
apologetic, urgent: You’ve got
to come–there’s a tree
full of the most amazing birds–
they’re not in the book…
Leaning over me, you smelled
of grass clippings and morning,
your chinos soaking wet with dew.

I got up, threw on my clothes
and we ran together up Main Road
afraid they might have flown.
But there they were–a big elm
alive with them, glittering
like a school of fish. Diving
and jostling and whistling
by the hundreds, their bodies brilliant
with iridescent spots–a great flock
of Common Starlings…
Our legion of promises, shining
green and silver in the morning sun.

In memory of Arthur

FIRST FLAGS OF MARCH

This is for you, oh shopping bags,
translucent beige and pearl-green,
caught up, netted like fish
in the bare treetops. Heralds
of Spring in the city–you survive
like those other harbingers,
the dandelions, soon to burst
from every sidewalk crevice.

I know you’re a defilement
and long to climb up and weed you
out, yet there’s something in me
joys at your homeliness, your
wayward beauty. Tribe of truants,
someday soon may you float
free over the gray snow, black ice
and the hungry sparrows.

Geraldine Zetzel

SNOW, AGAIN…

Like a spoiled brat, she tries to
takes over the party—Look !
—I can twirl, shake my curls
like Shirley Temple, and sing!

Ignore her, she will throw
a tantrum, howling Me! Me! Me!
Yet, how charming she can be
when she chooses—garlanding
the fence in white rermine–
giving the garden statue
a splendid Cossack hat —
transforming the terrace table
into a giant wedding cake.
Watch me, she whispers all night,
by morning I will have conquered
the forsythia and the firethorn,
and lo, even the pine-trees
will bow down before me.

Geraldine Zetzel

Oh little heart on my wrist
where are we going?

-After Susan Becker

Where lightfoot lads
and girls all
no matter how
golden they danced
under a green hill
gone every last
one

one thinks (each one)
not me no
who rode the bay mare
full tilt over plowed fields
clods flying galloped
straight into October
woods ablaze
a-flame with brilliant
leaves

believe it
(who can) this always
going slow & faster
into that good night
downwards

down-gyring
like so many used-up
dry leaves
their one season
done?

Red russet gold
must dance now
to the leaf-blower’s
rough mercy & the
grave trees
bow bare

un-leaved
oh yet
not yet for me
that naked falling

Fall I will but before
that still let me
delve this narrow
road to the far music
old Time soon enough
will tap my shoulder
it’s time to leave
the party

but oh the cellos
tell me no
not yet so long
as longing stays

Stay with me
say the French horns
and the timpani’s
softly
beating heart
agrees

Geraldine Zetzel