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Cynthia Anderson

Questions in Spring

 

There’s a buzz

in my stomach 

 

exactly like the whir 

of a hummingbird, 

 

the one who follows me 

around the yard, 

 

who drops and waits 

at face level even 

 

when I’m inside. 

I don’t notice the nest 

 

until she shows me, 

hidden in a juniper, 

 

grey as the branch 

it’s attached to, 

 

wrapped in spider webs. 

She lets me watch 

 

her incubate—

later, hovers while 

 

two tiny beaks 

point straight up 

 

like thumbtacks, 

ready for nectar 

 

and insects, riding 

the wind in that 

 

miniature basket, 

safe as Moses 

 

in bulrushes. 

When the time 

 

of nurturing passes, 

will these new lives 

 

remember the tree 

and return? 

 

And will I be 

their witness?

 

Soloist

 

At twilight, 

a methodical cricket 

launches his sawing 

vibrato. I can’t quite say 

his rhythm is unvaried, 

because after awhile, 

there’s a slight skip, 

like an old scratched record, 

or a singer’s sharp breath 

after a long note—

but the song is the same, 

night after night,

a vow of the love 

he hopes to entice, 

the odds fueling 

his persistence. 

What I know I learn 

by listening. Every cell 

in my body wants

to tell what it means 

to be bereft—

not to live in a box, 

the lid locked, 

but to sing, 

sing that heartbreak 

into blackness, 

my territory, 

my sustenance—

calling, calling 

my love to me.

Roosting

 

When there’s hardly any light left,

and heat bends to a cooling breeze, 

the quail arrive, making their way 

to the stand of pines on the rise.

One by one, they flap and jump, 

sloppily, to the low branches, 

then walk the length of the limbs 

and hop upwards, until they cluster 

in the crown, defying the gravity 

of their days on the ground, 

swaying as the boughs sway, 

sorting their pecking order 

with a flurry of remonstrances.

Settled, they join in a quiet murmur, 

vespers that bring out the stars.

The quail are gone before sunup.

I wonder how they leave—

a gradual, stairway descent, 

or a fell swoop through the dark?

It’s their daily reckoning, 

forsaking the arms of safety 

when the time is right—a risk 

made ordinary by repetition, 

the peril of being alive.

Tableau Vivant

 

This high ledge with a view to the west 

holds a grinding stone like a fallen door—

 

rose-hued granite worn smooth from the work

of many hands. Just there, a flake of green jasper

 

on sand—traces of lives in the fullness 

of the land, before ceremony circles were 

 

scattered, before grasses and water retreated, 

before the boulders grew silent—no one calling 

 

to far-off companions by striking rocks 

or throwing an echo skyward. We scan 

 

the archipelago—stone outcrops in a sea 

of creosote and cholla, blackbrush and Joshua trees— 

 

and a cinder cone with its mask of serenity.

What the Hawk Said

 

Let fall a feather 

for someone who needs it.

 

Watch it spin the air 

like a shuttle of fate, 

 

and land among thorns—

frayed, yet decipherable.

 

Weave banded vanes 

to make flight possible

 

then shed, piece by piece, 

and grow new—

 

Mitered

between sky and earth, 

 

alert for the barest 

movement—

 

Reach out your hand—

I’ll spare you.

White Pelicans

It’s a radiant sky, 

and the pelicans ply it—

 

they soar as they go, 

unerring in flight. 

 

From a great height, 

the flock’s ebb and flow 

 

spins on an axis 

of farewell and return—

 

rising to crescendo, 

each wingspan greater 

 

than the height of a man, 

lofting over deserts toward 

 

landlocked waters to feed 

and raise their young. Above 

 

the haze of the Salton Sea, 

they open like envelopes 

 

edged in black—tidings 

of deaths and resurrections 

 

beyond reach. I look back 

while the highway bears me 

 

away, trace their whirl

through a portal in time.

Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her award-winning poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Askew, Dark Matter, Lummox, and Whale Road. She is the author of five collections—In the Mojave, Desert Dweller, Mythic Rockscapes, and Shared Visions I and II. She frequently collaborates with her husband, photographer Bill Dahl. Cynthia co-edited the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens.