Attempted Dialogue With Cicadas

Attempted Dialogue With Cicadas

Flinging this voice up
is futile I’ll never find them
singing in the tree tops
They seem to be everywhere like stars
but I am defeated
And if there be only two or three
each with continual notes
they pitch me out of my frame
into the sky’s dome
and my voice will never discover
what branches they call from
thriving while I fail to reach them
charging the air with their magical tremble
thrilling the forest as they did
when we were dream seeds

from Three Windows

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Mockingbirds Linda J. Clarke from Ravings

Sit, be still, and listen, For you are drunk,
And we are at the edge of the roof.

An eleven year old friend of mine

This spring, a beautiful striped gecko fell into the swimming pool. By the time I noticed, he had been under water quite a while and was beginning to turn over, never a good sign. When I fished him out with a net, he sprawled on the warm patio tiles as if dead, but life energy was still feebly pulsing in and out of his striped sides like a dying little machine. Surprisingly he soon scampered away full of his old confidence and energy. A few days later, he captured and tore apart an orange butterfly, proudly carrying its wing in his mouth while charging through the mimosa plants and scattering the bees who had been examining the fuzzy pink blossoms.
Usually, I prefer wolves, grizzlies, panthers, dolphins, whales, and huge sea turtles to anything smaller and less charismatic. But I am struck by how rare it is for the ordinary person to see any big mammal or fish these days, by how increasingly irrelevant we have made them, so I often watch familiar animals and birds who get on well in environments dominated by people.
A young mockingbird sings in our yard at one o’clock every day, standing at attention on the frond of a palm tree, his tail feathers straight up. He has a repertoire of twenty-two songs that he repeats twice, sometimes clearing his throat between one melody and the next and sometimes accidently coughing up a blue huckleberry scrounged earlier from the hedge beneath him, an indication of the intense effort he is making.
I know he is young because mature mockingbirds can sing up to 200 songs by the time they reach fourteen years or so, the upper limit of their biological age. This tremendous memory for songs that generations of evolution have supplied these remarkable birds has only just kicked in for this latest representative of mimus polyglottis.
Neighbors on the other side of the wooden fences around our yard have also noticed his punctual chorale and now and then a glass door slides open or a chair is pulled across a patio floor. The little bird gives joy to our neighborhood and not only to people. His songs are so varied and practiced, the inspiration in his tiny muscular throat so determined, that often his mate pauses in her chores to sit on the opposite frond and listen sympathetically. A pair of blue jays flies down and politely sits on the rim of the birdbath hoping to hear their musical queedle-queedle expertly performed or their harsh jay-jay, as well as some of their best whistles.
If the soloist is particularly lyrical, a black snake peeks her head out from under the riot of passion flowers to watch the goings on. Once, the snake recognized her buzzing hiss between two whistles. One cannot make this up, this exuberant even astonishing display of well-being on earth.
Our motivated resident is quite particular about exactly when he sings. It must not be raining for example, and the blue jay couple must not sit around the birdbath too long. The back yard must be private and empty for him to really get into his recital. Imagine a slender creature slightly thinner than a robin, with black and white feathers and short white wing bars, dignified, cheery, and curiously absorbed, entranced with the music of other birds, entranced with the sounds of insects and the noise of machines, trying to reproduce everything in a glorious living symphony, and there you have my young mockingbird.
There is no doubt this performance is his life and somehow his passion has made him a cultured mockingbird, more serious and responsible than the youngsters of the cardinal and sparrow families racing heedlessly over the hedges and fences in manic play.
Indeed, there is a sense about him that he knows the value of what he offers his audience. He understands that the innocent trills of a songbird like himself are priceless in the scheme of things, priceless against a future of grim scarcity and violent weather and endless woe.
After the concert, the exhausted virtuoso cleans his pretty feathers, takes a last look in all directions, and swoops down into the interior of a pear shaped tree in my neighbor’s yard for a well deserved afternoon nap with his spouse.
It is two o’clock and the tropical silence is oppressive. Lethargy creeps over everything like a suffocating blanket. The black snake coils up in the shade. The jays disappear into the hibiscus bushes. Unlike early morning, when the five escaped parakeets streak across the scorching sky side by side, and the three seagulls routinely explore their inland territories, and the adolescent squirrels race across the fence tops in search of adventure, there is nothing going on in the steamy afternoon. The sky is empty, the roofs are quiet, the trees still. The mourning doves drowse. Even the latest batch of nervous baby squirrels sleep. As the fans whirr, butterflies still float here and there, laying their last batches of tiny white eggs.
Later on, I see crows stealing precious eggs from families who live in the oak tree across the street. Fortunately, our gifted musician lives with own family in the interior of a well-chosen fortress and many babies have hatched safely. He is lucky and he knows it. Already, he has acquired a tragic sense of life which might be necessary to become a great artist. His first mate, after all, was murdered by a trespassing cat who caught her drinking from the gutter in the front yard. Minutes before the intruder snapped her neck, she had been musing on the edge of a flower pot, softly trying out an interesting new tune she had heard from a talented redheaded woodpecker.
The summer season sighs then meanders reluctantly into August as it always does, the heat grows even more stifling, huge thunderheads gather their strength and storms loom on the horizon. There are now three adolescent mockingbirds flitting in and out of the hedge, watched over unobtrusively by their parents. One scrawny male likes to sit on the palm frond which was his father’s favorite perch. The younger fellow, oblivious to threatening weather, practices one note over and over while his siblings fly delicately around him trying to appreciate a kind of hoarse whine resembling that of a baby squirrel, that he has picked up. The tone and inflection are perfect but he continues to practice and practice striving to attain just the right note of an abandoned squirrel’s anguish, while his proud father listens carefully, nodding his beak in a professorial way. A few days later, the rains come and the family moves away.


The earth turns and we celebrate our humble holidays. More birthdays. More anniversaries. The black snake slithers to the mimosa field where there is now better shade. Mourning doves waddle around the swimming pool looking for that reckless gecko who hides with his new mate behind the giant potted plant. Thanks to all the hard work of the orange butterflies over the spring and summer, fat orange caterpillars have begun to snack on the passion flower leaves. And the usually tireless bees flying over the pool suddenly suffer unutterable exhaustion and plop into the water, totally spent after their season of blissful work in the mimosa blossoms. Clouds of dragonflies hover aimlessly over the roofs, waiting. The season’s frantic rush to create new life is over. Huge black and yellow butterflies have replaced the orange ones.

Another Epilogue

One hundred and sixty-three light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, violent stellar explosions rock the galaxy. Of course, nobody in the yard hears a thing. Little black flies float dead on the surface of the pool. Whole star and planetary systems will burn up over the coming winter, but it doesn’t seem to matter much. This young mockingbird family will return next summer to sing their concerts and give delight and peace to our neighborhood, even as the large animals retreat toward the poles and the seas rise and the forests disappear.

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Two Poems October, 2013


It was a general conversation about finding 
and losing, climbing and falling,
dusking and dawning  Yet it was more
The air invisible to us
was replete with creatures
the flies could see
The hands of the clock were no longer there
a flashing and beeping surpassed the centuries
every once in a while

As the river flowed on we didn’t step in
watched from a millennial hill
unwilling to keep wheeling along

A Painting
For Sergio Garval

Don’t steal that bishop from the shopping cart
as he’s wheeled with a bevy of squatters
in the acrylic river Sergio creates
which is the beginning of water

All are grim in this grayness of time
luxury rampant in its cages
divas devoid of any smile
ready for a new round of business

Then a cloned fuehrer
raises a fist
and a goon in beauty shop drier trails behind
after which a brush stroke opens the sky
and dawn glimmers
having taken its sweet, certain time

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I slipped a tick
into a plastic bag
and watched it
seek escape
swaying to the top 
of the zip slide track
persistent a I
who with mighty thumb
and intelligence
tried to kill it

I failed  
It was
in the corner
of its transparent world
trapped by mighty me
queen for a day

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July 30, 2012


I used to get up at the crack of dawn
and do a tap dance
On the street the men were loading crates
or emptying garbage barrels
and I’d saunter along
with a song in my heart
voicing to the pavement
when no one could hear
I was shy

Sleep is interrupted these days
a cat jumps to my back
eager for attention
The radio never is on
to keep hell out
which it filters in when I drive
expecting music
or renouncing it

I’m not a slave
Though it’s noon and I slough along
as if time were infinite
That’s my gift to the god of waste
It’s my freedom
I even complain

Meanwhile, over there, I know
starvation proceeds
that Killer is King
that Nightmare is no longer a word
in the language..that it’s only background
the wall paper of existence
where some of us eat

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Mothers Day, 2012

May 13, 2012

Mother marveled
as she listened to Dad read the want ads
in the New York Review of Books,
someone in braces seeking
a mid-day rendez-vous on Wall Street,
another into good looks, money ,
with a knowledge of Turkish and
Buxtehuede’s Magnificat

What they want! mother exclaimed
raising her shoulders
with a gasp of amzement,
knowing compromise well
not married to a Hollywood star
or a saint

I’d picked up the publication on the subway
not knowing romance was advertised
on the back pages,
pondering with some measure of success
the meaning of its brilliant theories
and disquisitions
which followed the cover’s bright headlines

My friend Judy subscribed to it
but I was not focused as she
a bit nervous like my father
I gave it a try anyhow
Fnding it was a sign
I brought it home
not thinking Dad would read it,
he with just a grade school education
though fast with numbers like the Chinese with abacus

I’ll say no more about my parents
how their marriage was not made in heaven
with nothing exotic, forbidden , no pre-barroque music,
but how it got me here, I who am not an angel,
I who  brought laughter’s revelation into their home

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I Saw Them

I Saw Them
(L’Uomo che Verra… Director: Giorgio Diritti )

It was another massacre of the innocent
minding their business living,
they with peasant clothes
not neatly pressed like the Nazis’

who gunned them down near an empty building
and the church. all 700 of them.
I knew what they‘d do didn’t need another enactment
how the crime would enfold in the filmic telling

It wasn’t artistic curiosity that  held me
or the wonders of a new language
Bolognese which I barely understood
but the desire not to abandon them

to know and retell it  though they were only  actors
not the ones who were really murdered
the tots and the infants, the five year olds who were crying
the mothers holding them,  the panic and screaming


The MARZABOTTO massacre was a World War II mass murder of at least 770 civilians by Germans, which took place in the territory around the small village of Marzabotto, in the mountainous area south of Bologna. It was the worst massacre of civilians committed by the Waffen SS in Italy during the war.

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