Alan: My youngest brother’s was another April death, sudden, appalling. Even now, 13 years later, I want him back: there's so much to tell him, so much to learn.
Two For Don
I. Timber Cove Road
The Thursday after you died
I was driving home
through showers that burst
in gusts of sleet:
tall clouds broken
by clean hard sun.
A rainbow was building
as I entered the woods,
and then it was there
off my right fender
between me and the trees,
and the endless dark trees.
I went out
and the hair of the night
was standing on end
above the huge forehead
of pale shining.
In the still air
all the animal sounds and people
and place sounds mingled:
a distant truck, a foghorn,
the grumbling tides, a million
yips and yowls.
stood up on its hind legs
and everything on earth
was looking and
speaking in tongues.
Nancy: They aren't beautiful. They aren't beloved of poets as larks and nightingales are. And yet, we wait and we wait for the first magic night when the woodcock rise up, and we seek them out in the deepening dusk - "There, there," we say. THIS is spring.
The Dancing Grounds
Buddy ate a woodcock once;
his son shot it, “no bigger than a robin,
and it tasted like worms”.
Buddy’s no sportsman. He and his sons
hunt and fish for the pot.
The small bones I found in the baked beans
were pa’tridge, and I don’t ask whose
ribs and knuckles these are. I don’t ask
because Buddy and the boys hunt at night some,
quiet and careful. The woodcock, though,
was a legal shot, a boy’s quick prideful
reflex kill. Solemnly, they ate it.
It tasted the way alder swamps smell in the Spring.
Little thing, no bigger than a robin,
eight ounces maybe. An estimated one million
are killed each year by sportsmen, city hunters
like the ones who parked their car in my lane
without by your leave; arrogant, noisy
men who remind me that poachers make good neighbors.
What’s left come back to the dancing grounds;
it’s not the robin with his cheerup, cheerily
that says Spring, here, it’s the woodcock falling
at dusk out of Orion to the dancing grounds.
And we keep them open, the abandoned pastures
and haphazard slopes where the woodcock dance.
Here’s time and sweat we can ill afford
and yet we can’t see nature take its course here;
we burn and saw and scythe against some gentle
muddy dusk of falling song.
Buddy met me at the door, and we tipped our heads
back at the twittering. The woodcock are back
on the dancing grounds. It feels like Spring.
“The Dancing Grounds” first appeared in East of the Light (Stone Man Press & Slow Dancer Press, 1984).