A favorite pond breeds the world’s smallest flowering plants and Iowa’s smallest frogs. Duckweeds (family Lemnoideae) look like wee lily pads and it takes a whole bunch of them to hold a baby frog of the family Hylidae. Blanchard’s cricket frog, Acris blanchardii (photo above) is listed as endangered in surrounding states, but we are blessed with plenty right here. Tiny hylids and the diminutive duckweeds that support them enliven our waters and are vital to our ecosystems. And of course to mindful pond-seers as they bring us closer, grow our little devotion.
Unaware of living she simply lives and lusting only for fragrance and the vagrancy of desire, arches her back.
We love to write flash poetry — sometimes called micropoems — because they carry the rawness of a hungry bee on a blurry thistle, a brief breeze on a humid morning. When you write one it sharpens the moment and when you read it later it takes you back. You can share it like a photo on your phone and maybe next time your friends will join us in a wet meadow.
After three days of mycologizing and botanizing with our visiting scientist Kathleen Thompson (UW-Madison) and an occasional break to read Rilke, we arranged ourselves on early morning logs to write poetry under a canopy of tanagers and buntings. Our Sunday poet Joelle Sandfort prompted us to write with speechless awe. In these Iowa sugar-clay woods, how could we do otherwise?
We are devoted to Hylidae even in winter the family we belong to in dreams their trills and crikkity-tik-tik webbing our brains with sweet oozing or maybe just me. Frigid releases of greenish meter duckweed lines jumps and syllables froggishly comes the blank page, vernal murmurs fixed underfoot an equinox prelude, pond-ice tunes the chorus soon to come.
This could be the weekend. Get to a muddy place, still your soul, listen for winter tree frogs.
Blanchard’s cricket frog (Acris blanchardi) in late winter, Fremont County, Iowa — one of the earliest spring singers. Photo by Robert Smith. Top: Wild poets listening to tuning-ice during the March thaw. Photo: Billie Shelton.
The Hunger Moon. Some poets prefer Snow Moon to better wrap emptiness in a happy blanket but winter before dawn fills love with longing a thousand glassy eyes keep watch, hands open stiffly for promised blessings grayscale earth awaits her blush, desperately grateful to answer their stirring bellies. Hunger is more reliable.
But I want a better name for the opening of fleshy passions the blazing spores of longering days for the fires of fatter mornings, colors of fungal elfen cups impatiently bathing faeries earthen rubies to meet her luny gaze, by virtue of poetic vagrancy, the Sarcoscypha Moon.
However they come to us, the passions and pulses arriving in advance of dawn, our animal selves by virtue of matter and breath feel the weight of being. Sure, you might call it gravity, but an earthbound love makes a better poem. When our rising finds a way into ink or a breathy blessing, when we affirm the creaturely life that binds us to the cosmos, we give our bodies to the making of a morning. No one needs to read your verses or hear your incantation – just offer it up to the day.
That’s what the sparrows do.
Weight of a Winter Poem
The moon in heat plays with mating foxes and when they call it a night she throws cinders mostly ashen juncos flinty titmouses pyrite chickadees and cardinal sparks, finches. Passions fall on this maiden dawn when gravity proves an earthly lust the lyric physics of desire, pinkish lingua on paper in ink, the weight of devotion on snow.
*Photos by Troy Soderberg, February in Saunders County, Nebraska. Prose poem by Jack.
Last Thursday was oddly mild for an Iowa January. When I caught up with some poets in a high ridgetop meadow I found them lying in bluestem and switchgrass in the midmorning sun, reposing in meadow-grasses pupils of the blue. Still a little dozy, we together wove a poem. Bright sun fresh lines warm friends, sometimes winter makes the best day.
– Jack Phillips
*A moment-poem expresses the experience of a single moment in a way that draws us in. The most well-known form is haiku with strict rules in the traditional sense, but for us the honest, bodily, direct and unmediated encounter with a native place is what we’re after. A spontaneous poem becomes part of that place and brings us deeper still; weaving them together binds us to a cosmic community. Photos by Billie Shelton (top) and Katie Sutko Twit, Harrison County, Iowa.
Even on this sharp dawn eleven days into the solar year a thousand eyes shine images, creaturely windows into waking being. We can deny our true bodyselves but here in cold wildnesses not so, stirring earth into bluey-black comes orange her original skin and ours.
Those who live by daylength measure time a little differently – the turn of the Solstice stretches the days and us – but is not every dawn a new awakening? And as it happened our last full moon landed on the Solstice or close enough with the new lunar year landing with her. Whenever it comes to each of us; that is, the feeling of hope and stretch and aborning of something wild and new, we can see the coming days opening before us. And our souls as well.
*Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) on the eve of Solstice, Washington County, Nebraska by Troy Soderberg. You can find them in the woodlands of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska right now, accompanied by their white-breasted cousins (S. carolinensis). For best results, wear good socks. **January 1st 2022 morning prose poem by Jack.