Four Tao philosophers as cedar waxwings
chat on a February berry bush
in sun, and I am one.
Such merriment and such sobriety–
the small wild fruit on the tall stalk–
was this not always my true style?
Above an elegance of snow, beneath
a silk-blue sky a brotherhood of four
birds. Can you mistake us?
To sun, to feast, and to converse —
and all together — for this I have abandoned
all my other lives.
~ poem “Waxwings” by Robert Francis
American poet Robert Francis lived for most of his adult life in Amherst, Massachusetts. In 1940, he purchased a half-acre of wooded land on Market Hill Road and built a small, one-person house in the woods there. He named it “Fort Juniper“ in honor of the common pasture juniper (Juniperus communis); it served as his home until his death. (more…)
Roger King probably wouldn’t have stopped to untangle this coil of rusty barbed wire, but if a fellow had dragged it into his salvage yard and offered it up, I doubt he would have turned it down. A stroll through the buildings on his property suggested he rarely refused anything. Piles of sheet metal, ceramic insulators, lengths of angle iron and rebar, old appliances, and Mason jars filled with fasteners huddled everywhere. Occasional oddities showed up as well, helping to keep things interesting: an armadillo shell; a set of paisley chair cushions; a bird cage painted green and filled with red plastic geraniums.
What would you say to grief-torn birds,
anguished by life’s broken bonds?
Could you turn away, unmoved,
dismiss their cries as habit,
a bit of empty noise?
I saw it once, there on the spring grass–
not hidden in the human way
but public, painful as a slashing wound
that leaves the heart exposed.
The frantic male’s flapping,
his heav’n-tipped beak and sharp-edged trill
I thought no more than courtship
until I saw his mate, keening
near their babe —
its helpless form feathered but inert,
its life-song drained and pooling.
It was a kindness, I supposed,
to pluck the nestling, hold it close, and carry it away —
to claim the fallen home and end the desperate cries.
Nest in hand, I caught the signs
of growing resignation —
the folded wings, the fallen heads,
the shared and tender glances
more intimate than death.
Soothed at last, unfurling wings,
they lifted to the sky —
flying in silence against gathering clouds,
absorbed by the swift-rising sun.
In the clear, brittle light of that summer afternoon, the simple lines and time-worn stones of Presidio la Bahía seemed to exemplify the classic Spanish fort: strong; stalwart; impenetrable; beautiful.
Even softened by the glow of approaching evening, its limestone walls appeared equally secure: though warmer, and more inviting.
Curious, already warmed by the welcome I’d received from a fort volunteer, and eager to explore the place I’d call home for three days, I unlocked the door. Heavy and resistant, it required a second push before it fully opened. Cypress? I wondered. Not cedar. Maybe mesquite.
Stepping into the room, I stopped: surprised by streaks of sunlight spread across the floor. Seeing curtains drawn across the single, small window, I turned, seeking the light’s source. Much to my amusement, I found it: streaming through my fort’s strong, stalwart, impenetrable door.