In the Memphis Airport

- 1948-
Above the concourse, from a beam,
A little warbler pours forth song.
Beneath him, hurried humans stream:
Some draw wheeled suitcases along
Or from a beeping belt or purse
Apply a cell phone to an ear;
Some pause at banks of monitors
Where times and gates for flights appear.

Although by nature flight-endowed,
He seems too gentle to reproach
These souls who soon will climb through cloud
In first class, business class, and coach.
He may feel that it's his mistake
He’s here, but someone ought to bring
A net to catch and help him make
His own connections north to spring.

He cheeps and trills on, swift and sweet,
Though no one outside hears his strains.
There, telescopic tunnels greet
The cheeks of their arriving planes;
A ground crew welcomes and assists
Luggage that skycaps, treating bags
Like careful ornithologists,
Banded with destination tags.

More by Timothy Steele

April 27, 1937

General Ludendorff, two years before,
Had pushed the concept in his Total War,
And so it seemed a perfect time to see
If one could undermine an enemy
By striking its civilian population.
This proved a most effective innovation,
As the defenseless ancient Basque town learned:
Three quarters of its buildings bombed and burned,
Its children and young wives were blown to bits
Or gunned down, when they fled, by Messerschmitts.
Shocked condemnations poured forth from the press,
But Franco triumphed; and, buoyed by success,
The Luftwaffe would similarly slam
Warsaw and Coventry and Rotterdam.

Berlin cheered these developments; but two
Can play such games—and usually do—
No matter how repellent or how bloody.
And Churchill was, as always, a quick study
And would adopt the tactic as his own,
Sending the RAF to blitz Cologne.
Devising better ways to carpet-bomb				
 (Which later were employed in Vietnam),
The Allies, in a show of aerial might,
Incinerated Dresden in a night
That left the good and evil to their fates,
While back in the untorched United States
Others approved an even darker plan
To coax a prompt surrender from Japan.

That day in Spain has taught us, to our cost,
That there are lines that never should be crossed;
The ignorance of leaders is not bliss
If they’re intent on tempting Nemesis.
Each day we rise, and each day life goes on:
An author signs beneath a colophon;
Trucks carry freight through waves of desert heat;
A bat cracks, a crowd rises to its feet;
Huge jets lift to the sky, and, higher yet,
Float satellites that serve the Internet.
But still, despite our cleverness and love,
Regardless of the past, regardless of
The future on which all our hopes are pinned,
We’ll reap the whirlwind, who have sown the wind.

Herb Garden

"And these, small, unobserved . . . " —Janet Lewis

The lizard, an exemplar of the small,
Spreads fine, adhesive digits to perform
Vertical push-ups on a sunny wall;
Bees grapple spikes of lavender, or swarm
The dill's gold umbels and low clumps of thyme.
Bored with its trellis, a resourceful rose
Has found a nearby cedar tree to climb
And to festoon with floral furbelows.

Though the great, heat-stunned sunflower looks half-dead
The way it, shepherd's crook-like, hangs its head,
The herbs maintain their modest self-command:
Their fragrances and colors warmly mix
While, quarrying between the pathway’s bricks,
Ants build minute volcanoes out of sand.

Toward the Winter Solstice

Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
And call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
We all are conscious of the time of year;
We all enjoy its colorful displays
And keep some festival that mitigates
The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake;                          
The desert lifts a full moon from the east
And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
And valets at chic restaurants will soon
Be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
The fan palms scattered all across town stand
More calmly prominent, and this place seems
A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
And ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.