My Mother Was No White Dove

- 1963-2008

no dove at all, coo-rooing through the dusk
and foraging for small seeds
My mother was the clouded-over night
a moon swims through, the dark against which stars
switch themselves on, so many already dead
by now (stars switch themselves off
and are my mother, she was never
so celestial, so clearly seen)

My mother was the murderous flight of crows
stilled, black plumage gleaming
among black branches, taken
for nocturnal leaves, the difference
between two darks:

a cacophony of needs
in the bare tree silhouette,
a flight of feathers, scattering
black. She was the night
streetlights oppose (perch
for the crows, their purchase on sight),
obscure bruise across the sky
making up names for rain

My mother always falling
was never snow, no kind
of bird, pigeon or crow

More by Reginald Shepherd

Roman Year

Martius

The corrugated iron gates are
rolling down storefronts 
in paradise, late light flecks windows,
rain's acid fingerprints. Motes 
float between iron and glass, sink
into sanded pavements, weather's
footprints, cracked mappa mundi: silk
tea roses with a fringe of plastic fern;
grapes, apples, and bananas ripened
to painted wax: your eyes 
blinking away pollen 
in wind that says spring's coming, wait
for me. Months sometimes it takes


Aprilis

lights scrolls across an unmade bed,
we were setting out for Aries
in paper planes (white dwarf stars
bright in a wilderness of wish scatter
white feathers among me, fistfuls
of light): bees busied themselves 
with the seen, moment's 
multiple tasks, for the pollen, honey
in the blood, bees would drown
each day: from a thicket of nos
to one sepaled blossoming, all
in an afternoon

you thought of bees as summer


Maius

This heliotrope gaze has fixed me
in its sights (the turning solar year suffers
in sudden rain, grazes my cold 
with vague waves, plashing 
particles, but lightly): lightly 
take this sky, bound up in so much
loose light, light wind brushes chapped
lips. Light-footed gods break open 
day to see what it contains: body
survives light's inquisitions. 


Junius

Beside the shale pigeons a dove 
color of old brick dust, the sound 
of brick dust settling: traffic noise 
rides heat-rise off wet streets, summer 
music echoes borrowed air: light 
centrifugal, sent scattering, lost later
every day:some gold
against bright water (handfuls
scattered over lake), unnecessary, true
candleland waning to wax 
and wick, silver water shattering
like backed glass 


Quintilis

When I was in Egypt, light fell 
instead of rain, congealed to grains of sand,
pyramidal, uninterred. Uninterrupted waves 
of palms departed for shuddering oases. Why was it
I spent centuries in that mirage, caravanserai 
of the sirocco stopped, pausing at 
reflection, also called the polished sky,
and still no fall of shade? The light hung
triangular, aslant, touched the colossus
to song.


Sextilis

Wanting to understand, not wanting
to understand, worried that 
by taking thought you lose it, by not 
taking, thought. Watching him run a hand
through thin blond hair, passing 
at arm's length on a lunch hour 
street. Wondering is it good now, am I
pleasure, and which part is it that I need,
while air migrates too slowly to be seen
and noon crawls groggy over August
skin. Then thinking No, it's too 
and turning back to look at traffic.


September

Sudden storm, then sudden sun. Give me, 
I almost said: and stopped, began again 
with your voice, what gets invented by the 
I-can't-say-that-here. The afternoon of after rain
dazzles with cloudlessness and a painful green 
set casually against blue: light 
mottled by fractal leaves 
freckles your outstretched arm, 
repeating apple, apple, apple, sour 
fruit and crabgrass. A damp T-shirt 
takes on that color, nothing 
will wash it out. I wear it for weeks. 


October

doorway, flutter, moth
or leaf in flight, in fall 
foyer, stammer of wind, a patter
hovering, dust hushed or 
pressed to trembling 
glass, smut, soot, mutter 
of moth or withered stem, 
late haze, gray stutter
crumpled, crushed, 
falter, fall, a tread ...


November

williwaw, brawl in air, 
shunt or sinew of wind shear
blown off course, pewter skew
vicinity, winnow and complicit 

sky preoccupied with grizzle,
winter feed of lawns' snared
weathervane, whey-faced day
brume all afternoon of it 

(lead reticence of five o'clock)
remnant slate all paucity and drift
salt splay, slur and matte brink
snow stammers against sidewalks


December

White light seen through 
the season's double window
clouding the room reveals the roses'
week-old gift of petals bruised purple-black.
Dry paper falling on white cloth 
seconds the white room's wonder 
at cold sun flurried, crumbling stars
compacted underfoot: lattice 
of fixed clarity, wintrish eidolon
half patience, half at prayer.

Drawing from Life

Look: I am building absence 
out of this room's air, I'm reading suppositions into
summer's script snarled on a varnished floor. 
It looks like a man. That knot's his hand 
waving good-bye, that stippled stripe of grain's 
the stacked-up vertebrae of his turned back. 
Small birds (sparrows or finches, or perhaps) 
are cluttering the trees with blackened ornaments (burning
in the remnant light of August eight o'clock), and noises 
I can't hear. Chirring there, chittering. The window's closed.

I am assembling a lack of sound 
in this locked box, and dotting all the i's 
these floating motes present (my composition), I am not lonely
for the palpable world (midges I dap hands for 
and kill), shivering into darkness underwater outside glass:
what's left of light sinking from zero down to less, 
cobalt down to zaffer, deeper to purple-black 
where divers drown. The swimming landscape's 
all mistake (one world that shuts air into 
my submerged terrarium), and I am luck.

Occurrences across the Chromatic Scale

The way air is at the same time
intimate and out of reach

(a void with light inside it
turned on a wheel of wheres) 

Stars' lease on sky expires, breathes 
in leisures of sparrows, wrens

and casual trees, wet sidewalks
twittering with tattered news, old

leaves (hollow bones and branches)
wind of wish and which and boys

waiting for white kisses, rain 
of feathers, clouds saving their later 

Suppose this sunlight, day split open 
suppose these senses and the information

carried, thing and news of the thing
repeating place, location of position

Birds, for example, remembered
fluttering torn terms, congregations 

shimmer of hummingbirds 
but when does one see more than one

tumbling bright flesh (sky 
at hand) pleating afternoon, banking 

on mere atmosphere, primary
colors dividing white into 

three clean halves (red, green, 
blue-bitter berries rasp, crabapples

crush underfoot), the spectrum
says don't stop there

(smudged light a lapse of attention)
there's never enough world for you 

Related Poems

My Mother Would Be a Falconress

My mother would be a falconress,
And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,
would fly to bring back
from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize, 
where I dream in my little hood with many bells 
jangling when I'd turn my head.

My mother would be a falconress, 
and she sends me as far as her will goes. 
She lets me ride to the end of her curb 
where I fall back in anguish.
I dread that she will cast me away, 
for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.

She would bring down the little birds. 
And I would bring down the little birds. 
When will she let me bring down the little birds, 
pierced from their flight with their necks broken, 
their heads like flowers limp from the stem?

I tread my mother's wrist and would draw blood.
Behind the little hood my eyes are hooded.
I have gone back into my hooded silence,
talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.

For she has muffled my dreams in the hood she has made me, 
sewn round with bells, jangling when I move.
She rides with her little falcon upon her wrist. 
She uses a barb that brings me to cower. 
She sends me abroad to try my wings 
and I come back to her. I would bring down 
the little birds to her
I may not tear into, I must bring back perfectly.

I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood, 
and her eye holds me, anguisht, terrifying. 
She draws a limit to my flight.
Never beyond my sight, she says.
She trains me to fetch and to limit myself in fetching.
She rewards me with meat for my dinner.
But I must never eat what she sends me to bring her.

Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me, 
always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,
at her wrist, and her riding 
to the great falcon hunt, and me
flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart 
to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet, 
straining, and then released for the flight.

My mother would be a falconress, 
and I her gerfalcon raised at her will, 
from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own 
pride, as if her pride
knew no limits, as if her mind 
sought in me flight beyond the horizon.

Ah, but high, high in the air I flew. 
And far, far beyond the curb of her will, 
were the blue hills where the falcons nest. 
And then I saw west to the dying sun--
it seemd my human soul went down in flames.

I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me,
until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out,
far, far beyond the curb of her will

to horizons of stars beyond the ringing hills of the world where
   the falcons nest
I saw, and I tore at her wrist with my savage beak.
I flew, as if sight flew from the anguish in her eye beyond her sight,
sent from my striking loose, from the cruel strike at her wrist,
striking out from the blood to be free of her.

My mother would be a falconress,
and even now, years after this,
when the wounds I left her had surely heald,
and the woman is dead,
her fierce eyes closed, and if her heart 
were broken, it is stilld

I would be a falcon and go free.
I tread her wrist and wear the hood,
talking to myself, and would draw blood.