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Category archive for: Poems

Behaviors of White-Throated Swifts

1. Chase without Contact

Sure, you can call me

Fast if it makes you feel

Better. Say it

As if it were a bad thing, as if

It weren’t part

Of the attraction.

It’s all right. Thrill

And insult live cheek by jowl

In this field. No ill-will,

No hard feelings. In these urban canyons’

Relentless gray,

Even a black and white bird stands

Out as a slash of color, and the color

Is speed, is swiftness.

You can call me what you like, look at the dashing

Figure I cut across these rooftops, call me

Metonymic; mimic

Me. Call me mimetic, call

Me trouble, call me what

You call what’s just beyond your reach, your fleet

Wings’ each beat—keep calling

Across the shrilling sky. I’m willing To listen.

Call me fast

And never stop calling.

Follow me, we are

Born for this, all-supple, all

Subtle, supremely responsive, rising

Into mist, into a metaphysics only we

Can understand, alas,

Alacrity, but how

Can you miss me

If I never go away?

2. Screaming Party

Odd birds. Nobody knows precisely why

We do these things. We only know that there

Are impulses, and there are rules. We fly

In flocks, big ones, a thousand sometimes, air

Made solid, air made feathered, air made noise,

Made boisterous laughter. Slowing down is not

An option. Yet one certainly enjoys

This fractal billowing, the social knot;

One’s lifted up by kinship. Foraging

Alone is not enough. A critical mass

Of aeronauts, of extroverts, we sing

Badly, but with exuberance, a brass

Ensemble with one mind and infinite

Voices. The sky is vast. We speak for it

3. Chase with Contact

Think fast. Think, think. Think speed, think elegant

Acceleration. Think ascension, think

Celerity, think feathered bullet, sent

From somewhere into somewhere. Who’s content

To settle, to give love unearned? Don’t blink

Or you might miss me. Oh, I’m fast all right,

You think you’ve got me: think again. Think no

Rest for the wicked.This could be a fight

For primacy, or a flirtation. Might

Be both. In either case, though, we both know

We’re thinking the same thing. The nip, the nape,

The aerial tumble and the rush of air

Our lives are. There’s a predetermined shape

To it: now I am yours. Now I escape.

It isn’t you, it’s me. It’s us. Not fair,

But there it is. No one can fly entwined

For long. We are committed to our speed.

We move fast, and think faster. Never mind

What doesn’t matter. Think about it: find

Yourself in seeking me. Find what you need.

4. Courtship Fall

The slowest thing we ever do

is fall. The terminal

velocity we’re sentenced to,

the pure celestial

celerity, means everything —

sex, sleep — must happen on the wing.

How likeably alike we are,

how elegantly limned:

the sailplane wing, the bright-white bar

flashing, the deftly slimmed

cylinder of the breast (cigare

volant), all engineered for far-

fetched speeds. They say if you don’t stand

for something, you will fall

for anything. But we, who land

seldom, and not at all

if we can help it, comprehend

things differently. What’s at the end

of five hundred vertical feet? Not just

the ground. Abandoning

volition is a kind of trust

we’re built for. Anything

worth doing is worth doing right.

Forget the world: fall. Forget flight:

fall. This is passion. Ekstasis.

Absorption. We’re beside

ourselves. Axis, mirror, the bliss

of parity, the wide

sky falling ever upward. We

are one bird, one identity.

But earth impends. It always does.

Part of the thrill to know

that we must separate. It was,

dear mate, great, if not slow,

still thrilling to the quick, a trick

of Tantra, and arithmetic.

5. Silent Dread

The funny thing is, the collective squawk,

the addled flapping, all the loopiest

maneuvers we perform, seem for the world

like mass hysteria. We are a shock

of noise, a panic button of unfurled

flight feathers. In this state, who’d see the jessed

hawk’s shadow cutting closer? Who would know

real danger from imagined? We are swifts,

so named because we travel at such speeds

we’ve been pared down to meet only the needs

of motion. In the dusk, we dine on drifts

of aerial plankton. We’re equipped to go

so long without a roost, our legs and feet

have dwindled to an afterthought. Perhaps

it’s an adaptive impulse, then, that makes

us feel this rash, unbidden urge to beat

a group retreat. The light shifts, and it fakes

us out. And there is silence then, a lapse

in vocalizing that is still a sort

of subtle speech. It is as if we’ve all

had the same thought at once. At once, the chatter

ceases. A rush of panic. And we scatter,

and reconvene elsewhere without one call

to set the spot. Perhaps the sharp report

of silence never correlates with real

peril. Call it irrational, a rush

to judgment. But admit you’ve felt it too:

words dying in your throat, a sudden hush,

a silent dread. We sense, and we construe

collectively. We are the things we feel.

from Poetry Northwest Spring & Summer 2011More by Amy Greacan from the library

Copyright © Amy Greacan, 2011.
Used with the permission of the author on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

The Cannonball Layer

My Tuscaloosa is coming to that time in its life.

It peels its peaches with a shotgun.

It sops its biscuits in the neighbors’ wisteria.

Here it is now, making unsolicited confessions into the trumpet flowers.

Painting itself haint-blue against the daubers, the spirits, the bill collectors.

My Tuscaloosa buries its hooch down by the creek, next to the historical record and the family silver.

Swallows it down deep, past the cannonball layer and the burning coal seam.

It has never sniffed defeat, though he rents a room in the carriage house.

It is forever digging out of the yard, climbing neckbreak high in the spit-shined magnolias.

If you see My Tuscaloosa, tell it: Come on home. The porches are off their rockers,and the scuppernongs are leaping from the vine.

from Poetry Northwest 11.1 Summer & Fall 2016More by Heather Hamilton from the library

Copyright © Heather Hamilton
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

The Earth Itself

To quantify the foolishness of the already long since failed

construction project, the famous German polymath

undertook to calculate the precise number of bricks

the Tower of Babel would have required had it ever been

finished. The figure he came up with ran an impressive

eighteen digits in length, climbing all the way up

to that rarely occupied hundred-quadrillionths place.

Looking at it now, between loads of laundry, the figure

calls to mind an American telephone number—area code first,

then the prefix, then the line number, followed in turn

by a trail of eight additional zeroes. I feel a little lost

through the hypnosis of those zeroes, but I still pick up

the phone and dial that number now. A recording says

the number I’ve dialed isn’t an actual telephone number

after all. Please try again. I do. Same result. I try dialing

that trail of zeroes instead. This time the recording says

that the call I’m making might itself be recorded. I hesitate a bit

at the thought of that, when all this crazy science, all

this poking into mysteries, panting for answers, always

harder, higher, my phone calls today and the recordings

during laundry, the laundry—it all comes crashing down.

I don’t have time to experiment. I’m hanging up the phone.

But wait, there’s more! On my rush back to the laundromat

I remembered I forgot a part. The polymath figured out, too,

that if the tower had reached its destination, it would have

taken over eight-hundred years to climb to the top.

What’s more, his calculations say the mass of all those bricks

would have outweighed, slightly, the earth’s own mass,

meaning the tower would have used up all the matter of

the planet it was built on, which is foolish enough, and then

a little more, which is ridiculous, unless the tower is secretly

just the earth itself, with the added weight of all the living on it.

from Poetry Northwest WEBMore by Timothy Donnelly from the library

Copyright © Timothy Donnelly
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

White Pine

All day clearing and stacking the woodpile.

Dragging the cold limbs. Packing the wedge

in the fault-lines and sap knots. Bringing

the sledge-hammer down. No job now. Alone

with the poplars and bald eagles drifting.

Living on savings and generous help from

the old couple further up shore. Sundays they

drive me to town to get groceries, sit for

the church service, make a few calls to my

friends. When the sun gets low on the pine trees

behind me, I walk down the deer-trail tracks

to the shore. Nothing but empty horizons

of white. The wide lake frozen. Mist rising up

from the cedar-tree swamp near the creek.

I walk on the face of it, circling back to the ice-

mounds surrounding the spring. The water

runs red from the iron inside it. Colors

the border-ice orange. Patches of weird moss.

Icicles growing like mutated fingers of rust.

I fill up the milk-gallon jugs at the drainpipe,

stack them in rows on the little wood bridge.

Dry off my fingers. Blow on my bare hands.

The air is so clear I can hear my own voice

coming back from the opposite shore. Two

miles distance. A few little fish-huts and dock

posts emerging from wind-driven furrows

of snow. I lecture to no one. Laugh at the fact

of myself in the silence. The wind dies around me.

The stars start to stab out discernible dots

in the glow. Faintly, the sound of a pileated

woodpecker knocking its head on a limb.

I know he is probably starving, listening hard

to the bugs in the dead wood. I wait for the

moonlight, pick up the milk jugs and follow

my tracks to the warm empty cabin alone.

from Poetry Northwest Spring & Summer 2015More by Kai Carlson-Wee from the library

Copyright © Kai Carlson-Wee, 2015.
Used with the permission of the author on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

I Read the Signs

the universe says

I should trust

the moon

and scatter some faith

among the stars


my mother says

always be prepared

for the proximity of failure


she carries disappointment

like a tiny box

doling out wisdom

like an infinite gift




the city will shut off

our water supply

a paper notice announces

from 11 pm to 7 am


while we sleep

some rerouting

will siphon something

to somewhere



when you sleep

and I can’t

I trace the lines of your face

with my eyes

wondering about the ways

you might one day

break my heart




we are a people built for disappointment

for tragedy and pain


these are not lofty declarations


the ocean can attack an island from all sides

the volcano can break the earth beneath you

every single rooftop can be safe to walk upon

if your whole world is buried in lahar

from Poetry Northwest 11.1 Summer & Fall 2016More by from the library

Copyright ©
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Interior with Guitar

In his front bedroom, two kitchen chairs

scuffed their chrome on a sad rag-rug:

leatherette cracking, a shaky music-stand waiting

to teach the next pupil a lesson.

A shade of despair greeted me and the secondhand Gibson

that had thumped their way upstairs.

What did the man whose house it was do by day?

Even the plaid shirt he wore was mousy.

In that town of tumbleweed and nuclear engineers,

he barely spoke, that I remember.

There was nothing to say. I hadn’t practiced

enough to make my fingers bleed. I didn’t deserve

the way he’d lift a blond archtop Epiphone

inlaid with pearl to his knee and, unamplified—

lest the child napping a room away awaken—

play along. He played to some room lost along the way,

fingernails feral, feminine as a raccoon’s.

from Poetry Northwest 06.1 Spring & Summer 2011More by Debora Greger from the library

Copyright © Debora Greger
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Poet Wrestling with a Never-Ending Story

A horse sinks deep into a swamp of sadness

but {comes back from it}. We

didn’t. In open water,

altruism is a pod of orcas coming together

to separate baleen

calf from mother. Good faith

is the drowning {of that young whale}

for nearly six hours, for love

is exhaustion until she

has to swim away,

& commitment,

the first bite the first orca takes

while baby is still gasping.

Even non-true fish,

who lack jaws and swim blind at the bottom,

evolve by flesh. {The problem is}

you sink to the sea floor

until it crushes us.

Every day the wind steals

other wind from our sails & the horse

sinks deeper into a single grain of sand.

You say I have to keep my feet on the water.

That nothing can gift you flight,

that most ultra

-marine of belief,

no matter how unyielding

the nothingness might be.

& still the horse

breaks {through}. Because the horse has pinned me

alive & twisting

until we are winged

amulet. Call my

         name. There is no eternity

       where air is enough {to love

& commit}. Because grace is waiting

to pick the first fight & if we

are going to die anyway, wouldn’t you rather die giving

a new name. Speak now. You’ve already chosen it.

from Poetry Northwest Summer & Fall 2018 More by Rosebud Ben-Oni from the library

Copyright © Rosebud Ben-Oni
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.