God is carnal? Yes! God
has got to be flesh and blood. Bones too
like any one of us. A child
can’t go to sleep in a dark room
unless someone is right there beside her.
Someone with some skin.

Oregon grape

(Mahonia nervosa)

Oregon grape, what makes you so sour today—
or every day, for that matter? Your blue berries,
ripe to bursting, look delicious but they’re not.

Some native peoples would not eat them altogether.
Others, only intermixed with sweeter berries
from other plants—huckleberries, for example.

Are you jealous of your upland cousin,
thriving in subalpine meadows,
you stuck down here in the woods?

Listen: your little leaves in bending ladders,
dark green and shining like the holly,
lift me into holiday spirits. I’m serious.

With you it is Christmas in the gloom.
If you could just be happy about it,
I might forgive you for your flavor.

                                         —Ross Lake National Recreation Area

So much

At year’s end, when all is sad and done in,
we gasp as clouds of smoke appear.
But it’s only the yews spewing pollen, outdoing
chimneys as if it were spring. That
and speech about Mideast peace as juncos
reseed themselves, the Christmas rose
flops open to cold, and Barney the cat
perfects his new trick—he unbars our door.

He stares.
(He prefers indoors.)
But right there’s the morning star,
just like the chorale’s. And up close, trouble—
a pup hunting kibble and warmth. And there’s more. Mt. Rainier
shows up in pink and blue bunting. So clear. Such fresh-powder glory.
The sleepy volcano seems suddenly haloed, huge, and near. So much
for our little stable.

Comeback for snowy plover

Associated Press headline, October 15, 1914

O lesser flake of feathers, O downy
shore-winged picker of cockles

and mites, twig-legged runner through ripples,
who was it called you out of extinction

to life and flirt again with the waves?
Who missed you enough to amend

your habitation? Who restored you,
winging you back to the beaches of our lives?

What urgent impulse then spirited you—
you in your dappled egg—to break shell,

chick stirring in shallow sand-scrape,
lifting to fly the salt wind, rising in drifts

over wild surf, your pinions
riding the breath of God?

Free will in the late capitalist era

The long slow mills have no choice, the freeway has no choice.
The empty fields have no choice, when the snow falls they agree
to turn white and later muddy, when the sun burns they parch
and crack, learn to be tough. What choice do I have, wakened
at dawn, bleary and empty, except to stand up and totter on,
slowly gather the pieces of myself, the day ahead ordinary
or not, who will arrive and who depart, on the radio a new
calamity far away. Eat something, drink something, pull on
my shoes and coat and walk through the backyard of the brick
house whose owners moved out months ago, the knobby grass
soggy from the last rains, smelly gifts from the neighbors’ dogs
hiding in the hollows. I have no choice and I’m one of the lucky
ones, one of the last ones, who else will have such an easy
sweet time of it, tucked into this town like a child into bed,
free to leave any time I can afford it. What else can I do
but slide my card in the slot, pull open the door, trudge
up the stairs to the desk where the whole day is waiting?