The sky is marbled gray, brightest
over the mouth of the lagoon,
silhouetting herons standing
in acres of swelling tide,
turning their heads this way and that.
In a row on the facing shore,
tousled eucalyptus dangle
strips of bark and leaves oozing gum,
with distinctive scent so strong
that its traces cross the water.
This late the gulls have quieted.
A curlew stops to probe the mud
with its curved bill every few steps.
A great white egret wading near shore
strikes to catch a fish and bolts it.
The overcast turns twilight blue
as one by one the big birds fly,
a few remaining through dusk
until it is too dark to see them
and even trees are indistinct.
steady steady steady
out on the silver lagoon
a saurian neck arched upwards
in the water
steps slowly, smoothly, silently
not to let the water
its feet are there
clamp tight unslippery grip
throws head up
to quickly gulp
vast stroke of turquoise
Just arrived, a snowy egret
fluffs its feathers, balanced on one
shivering leg, neck folded up.
black bill projecting into space.
Suddenly struck by sunlight when
the mountain’s shadow retreats to shore,
its plumage flashes brilliant white
as it takes a step, still shivering.
Then it strikes and walking quickly
without splashing strikes again,
more active than the larger birds
beginning to land farther out.
A willet, stepping and stopping
almost in rhythm with the egret,
probes the mud, nods its head to stab,
carefully withdraws a tidbit.
Before long the coots are cackling
and pecking with stubby white bills,
rushing together to the water
on an impulse of clapping feet.
The town where I’ve been
parking my van
has no new houses,
having voted down
the sewage plant.
After several weeks,
all the cashiers
at all the groceries
know my face.
I say hello to each one
and listen to them talk
the New Yorker magazine,
Gods From Outer Space,
and why one of them
doesn’t like South America.
skin feeling air
smooth gliding clench
eyes watching eyes
sliding in slow
we dance we dream
where we are one
slips into you
big blue Chevy van
slow around the curves
along the South Fork
hard to hear Mary
over the engine
hand in hand we walk
lush rolling carpets
of redwood sorrel
big trunks grayish pale
deep cracks split by growth
foliage dark green
beams of angled sun
I try to phrase the bubbling falls—
bulging masses, dark-green transparent,
bubbles up to three inches across.
Mary plays with Max the dog,
a sandy, soft-legged friendliness
left tied at a tent by his owner,
who comes to feed him once a day
but does not sleep at the campground,
an arrangement which puzzles us.
When it rains we talk in the van,
on clear days at a picnic table,
or Mary reads while I type variants
of unrhymed sonnets, variants
as meaninglessly different
from each other as so many bubbles.
“This fibrous water knots into
a macrame of waves,” I write.
Now I am getting somewhere (I think)
but Mary is tactfully unsure.
A presence demands our attention:
a black-eyed doe and her two yearling fawns,
with smoke-brown pelt and steady black hooves
not twenty feet away, encircle us.
Standing so close we see their nostrils
expand to take in air and savor scents,
they twist their ears to catch each sound,
the mother less than ten feet away now.
Though their bodies compare in size to ours,
the power inside them commands a space:
we are now deep inside this world.
We stand— as wild animals— unsure
of these glorious tentative hunters
who still approach in the tense twilight.
A few minutes after one of the deer
propped itself up on the picnic table,
wrapped its tongue around a half-eaten stick
of butter and swallowed wrapper and all,
Mary looked at the trees, tapped my shoulder.
“It’s okay for us to talk,” I said.
“Just use a low voice like this.”
A yearling blacktail was five feet away,
blinking, flapping an ear, and still closer.
At less than arm’s length, it was shivering
with tension. Mary and I spoke in
monotones, wondering when it would bolt.
“Baby,” she said, as if to a pet,
“you are just getting too close.”
It turned its head to sniff at both of us
while our rapid heartbeats distorted the time,
then began stepping back, still watching us
and moving as slowly as it had come
until we could no longer see or hear it.
copyright © 1975 - 2005 Carl Miller