V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




All night, in the middle of winter,
the great horned owls call around our hill,
their who's awake, me too drifting
through the bare branches, soft as smoke,
soft as their loosely packed feathers engineered
to move through air without making a sound. 
Now, in the burnt down nub, in the raw beginning,
they are mating, the murmurous calls flung out
in lassos of liquid sound that seem to circle
our house as we lie awake, eavesdropping
on this primal call-and-response, this avian
love song.  As if it can tell us something
about ourselves as we curl, impossibly human
and other, in the nest of our bed, our green
flannel sheets splattered with Portuguese roses.

When we first moved here, I thought it seemed
a hard thing, mating as owls do, in the dead
of winter, their eggs laid in February or March
in a nest stolen from crows, great blue herons
or hawks.  I pitied the female, protecting
the brood as the wind tore through the oaks,
wondering how she kept warm, though I knew
the male fed her.  But now it makes sense, not
lonely at all but ferocious as they are,
and mated for life, winging through the dark blue
air, the country night powdered thick with stars
one cannot see in the city.  The owls can hear
a mouse moving beneath a foot of snow,
and their eyes close from the top down, like humans.
Though they are not like us at all.
Though it is our luck to lie here,
overhearing the way the male calls out
in his low voice and the female answers,
the I'm here, I'm here, I'm here not
so different than when we call Whoo-whoo,
I'm home; where are you? whenever we enter the house.

You doze, falling asleep so quietly
it is as if you are moving through the air
on the owl's soft wings.  I lie awake,
listening, straining to hear each whoo, whoo,
whoo-whoo in a way it seems I have not done
since I was a child, listening as the Perkioman
River purled outside my bedroom window.
That was before I knew sadness, before
anything I'd ever known had ended, before loss
piled up inside me, a mesh of fur and bone. 
And this is now, my life still large
with all that lies ahead, here, in the middle
of winter, in the middle of the country,
in the middle of the years I have been given,
all my wandering having brought me to this:
our warm bed and your breath, steady beside me,
the owls' beautiful and incomprehensible
music floating over our sleep.


© by Alison Townsend


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