Highwayman of the air, coal-headed, darting
Plunderer of gnat hordes, lasso with beak –
"Surely, that fellow creature on the wing,"
The phoebe thinks, "should fly like this."
His flight path in a wiry noose, takes wing
Like a cast line and hits the living fly,
Ripping it from the fluid of its life.
Shiners leap ahead of diving cormorants
And killdeer cry, alarming one another.
In an egret's beak, the catch flashes like shook foil.
How well these field glasses scope out the place—
A kestrel sky, serrations of the Madres,
And sand flats darkened by a rare rain shower.
Such an odd peace, as creatures stalk each other
Dispatch from Devereux Slough
The gulls have no idea.
The distant bark of sea lions gives nothing away.
The white-tailed kite flutters and hunts.
The pelicans perform their sloppy angling.
The ironbark eucalyptus dwells in ignorance and beauty.
And the night herons brood in their heronry like yoga masters, each balanced on a twig.
The world has changed. The news will take some time to get here.
From the Garden Toad
A cri de coeur of mud, a heartfelt groan
Of deep damp, mother rainfall and her sire;
A plea from underground, from drooping shade,
From memories of sunlight and clear water;
Reproach of an old grandparent half-forgotten –
All in that voice, announcing a desire
To have sex under the giant philodendron.
No one is out tonight, but just in case,
A tubaphone's deep echo, like a seine net,
Sweeps under darkness and pulls darkness in
The way a trellis shadow cages light.
To hear the foghorn is to hear your childhood,
If you were lucky to have lived near ocean,
Moving again into your neighborhood.
Overcast on Ellwood Mesa
Hawks like it. Wings cast no shadow, hovering,
And white crowned sparrows are easier to pick out
Among the foxtails, scurrying like mice.
Under the gray cloud cover, blue birds course
Like running water through the fennel stalks,
And the shrike, color of the sky, keeps watch
From the barbed wire of the startling green golf course.
Those phosphorescent shoulders of the night surf
Passing beneath the pier,
as we looked down,
Were an agitation in the falling water
Of creatures set to glowing,
By sudden apprehension, which we perceived
As incandescent wonder,
our eyes feasting,
Our hearts filled by the light of crashing down.
Shorebreak, 3 a.m.
At night the swell and crash, the swell and crash,
As waves rush forward, peak, and then collapse
Gasping and giving up a ghost of spray,
Sounds from a distance like a low-voiced hush.
Awake, alone, at the right hour to hear it,
That hush, for all the sleeplessness behind it,
Can lead one, walking wounded, back to sleep.
Waking at nightfall like the other monsters,
The vampire and the moonstruck wolfman, arson
Is hardly required to set your body burning,
Thirsting for dryness, dry brush, stucco houses.
Flame wind, ember wind, wind of moonlit smoke,
Rolling a fog of ash downhill to sea,
The sun's down is the harsh fur of your burning.
The egret is more patient than any watcher
And lances its incision when its stillness
Has made one look away.
Is stillness, and it numbs the water's skin.
The pelican takes a hatchet to the water,
The egret plies a scalpel.
They extract fish,
But one by smash and gulp, and one by stillness.
The Crystal Ship
Sands Beach, Goleta
The famous rock star thought up his famous rock song
While gazing out at the oil derrick offshore.
Lit up at night it might look, to stoned eyes,
Like a faceted galleon perfect for a song.
Tonight, as sunset gives off its green flash,
The derrick has that look.
And so does the oil barge
Docked to it, dead black, filling up with cargo.
To a Dead Sea Lion at Sands Beach
You had returned from dry land back to water,
Preferring it, and welcomed the new limbs,
Webbed to conceal your toe and finger bones.
You rolled along the surf, all memory
Of other motion swept back in your wake,
And ended here, among fly-buzzing kelp.
Sleek swimmer drowned,
and with your unwebbed bones.
When we are reunited after death,
The owls will call among the eucalyptus,
The white tailed kite will arc across the mesa,
And sunset cast orange light from the Pacific
Against the golden bush and eucalyptus
Where flowers and fruit and seeds appear all seasons
And our paired silhouettes are waiting for us.