Joanne Allred teaches in the English Department of California State U, Chico, and won the 1993 Writers at Work Fellowship Award for poetry. Her poems have recently appeared in The Colorado Review, The Cream City Review, and Quarterly West.
Around dawn a blue heron scythes
great wings over our eaves
and lands edging the pond
to spear a free meal of blue gills.
It brings back lines from a poem
that caught the awkward blue-gray way
herons skitter into reeds,
the image skipping across years
like distant radio waves
whose signal tunes to this moment.
All words are anthropomorphic,
little human-shaped gods
who dream our immortality.
Like the black and white Ibis,
a name can conjure nights
thick with gardenia
or a silk curtained barge
cruising the luxuriant Nile.
A crimson crowned bird sings
in my garden, exotic as any
canary, with trills more expensive
than the trite penny tune my Field Guide
notes for the House Finch's warble.
Chirping from a picket fence,
what finch renders best is desire
to rise with the sun on blue-grey wings
and stroke past domestic scenes
whose terms circumscribe flight.
Driving Home Late on A Starry Night
Cedars crouch by the roadside as if waiting
for my headlights to fade before they cross.
High beams drill the silence as I speed on.
Van Gogh understood how predatory black flames
of trees snap at stars—how earth, not sky,
harbors the darkness. I see him armed
with brushes and paints, his hat brim stuffed
with a round of lit candles. Bound to earth
like the airy dead, with a stone weighting
each corner, his spread canvas dampens
on the dewy ground. Each smudge of breath
uncoils like a rope he climbs to blur
bright needle points stitching the night
sky into swirls. Village lights drown
in the windy blue waterfall of his passion.
I love the sweet and secret wildness of being
out alone where a snowy owl flares suddenly
from the roadside like the moon's
worn wing flapping up over the trees.
My heart bumps hard, as it did one midnight
when, up to get a drink, I caught in the night
glass crouched above the sink silver darkness
preying upon my own stunned reflection.
Every Story Rewrites Itself
Turkey vultures sail in on the early sun,
clatter lightly into the oaks
beside the pond changing everything.
Beneath their shuffling weight a limb
ready to snap in the next windstorm
cracks an alert.
In black robes they have come
to absolve the clump of fur
sprawled on the dry hillside
a body-length from the water—
a casualty of trespassing deer hunters
heard shooting days ago.
As I move nearer
the shape shifts, becomes a mountain
lion stretched in a last sprint nowhere.
A spice of crushed marigold drifting
in last night through my window sharpens
to the stench of rotting.
When I ruffle the tawny hide,
heave her onto a side, the bullet-hole
in the unscarred body knits
to snake bite. Then prying
the rimed muzzle, thumb-sized
incisors worn, one gone.
With her fierce power stilled, I see
we've moved in her mercy, the live lion's
invisibility the grace of her restraint—
the blond paws, wider
than my spread fingers,
retract their stilettos.
Woman-being tortured screams
I dreamed one night last week
fade to fly-buzzing quiet.
Blisters my husband's hands
will wear shoveling her grave
have already healed, star thistle
grown over the earth torn
to receive her. All summer my children
swim where death quenches.