Tuesday, April 24, 2012

We Were Wrong!

The mother dove is still on her nest and her remaining chick seems to be just fine after all. After a couple of days of temperatures in the low 100s, we were back in the mid-90s today and it will get cooler over the next few days (keeping our fingers crossed that the chance of rain will actually materialize).
The saguaros are beginning to bloom!
And the quail eggs in the nest I wrote about (and posted a picture of) in my last post have now increased to twelve. I haven't seen the parents in a few days, but every day there seem to be more eggs. Guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

For the Birds?

Summer has arrived in Tucson with a vengeance, and although temperatures may get down to the 80s by the end of the week, it was 100 degrees when I checked a few minutes ago. Sadly, it's still spring to the birds and animals who are mating and nesting, etc. A couple of days ago I went out my front door and two quail flew out of the big hanging Boston fern in the entry ( http://morning-glory-garden.blogspot.com/search/label/ferns ) , a fern I'd been meaning to take down and repot, but I guess I'll have to wait on the repotting.
I asked Joe to take it down and he put it on a plant stand but we're going to have to set it on the ground until the eggs hatch and the babies are gone - now there are 7 eggs. Baby quail leave the nest well before they can fly and if it's too high up, well, that could be very sad.
     I'm not optimistic for their survival. I learned long ago not to count the adorable baby quail trailing behind their parents; there will be fewer every day as they fall prey to predators and other dangers. But some survive, and hopefully some of these will too. It's cool and shady in the entry, but if it's open to the parents, it's also open to other creatures like whatever got a family of house finches almost ready to fly away from that same pot a couple of years ago. That's why I don't want my home to become a nursery - it's impossible to protect the little things and it breaks my heart when "nature red in tooth and claw" claims them.
      That's what seems to have happened to the two baby doves that hatched a week ago today in the flimsy nest their mother built atop a 6-foot ladder leaning against the west side of the garage.
They were the oddest-looking little things, all wrinkly gray skin and enormous black eyes. When I came back with my camera, the mother was on the nest and I didn't see her off it for a week. She didn't mind us walking by and all seemed well, until this morning, when I looked out the window to see her gone and the two babies much bigger than last time I saw them.
They were so cute. But, it got up to 100 degrees today and their nest is in full sun. I looked out again and one was on the ground, dead. A friend and I went out for a few hours and when we returned the mother was back on the nest, but Joe said he was sure the second chick was dead too. I can't see how it could survive this heat in that location. Last year the baby doves in a nest in our pine tree both survived and grew into big, healthy birds, but they were in a shady, protected location.
     Maybe the quail in the fern will do better. I hope so.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Catching Up

I didn't quite have time to finish yesterday's poem, a dramatic monologue/persona poem (that was the prompt from http://www.napowrimo.net/2012/04/day-nine/ ) so it's leaked over into today. Presumably no one will confuse me with the speaker in this one.
     In my dissertation there's a chapter on Belle Starr and the various fictional and biographical representations of her--the biographies are mostly fiction as well, except for Glenn Shirley's Belle Starr and Her Times. As part of my research, I spoke with her granddaughter, who confirmed my sense that the outlaw queen was a highly intelligent and complex woman, one who was well aware of the differences between who she was and who people thought she was.


They printed my obituary right there on the front page 
of the New York Times and everything in it was wrong 
except the date of my death
and the spelling of my name.

The life I had was not the life I wanted.
But by the time I realized that, it was too late.

It would have been easier if I’d been a man. 
Men fight, and they may ride for the wrong side,
or say or do things in anger, but women forgive them,
and men forgive each other, at least sometimes. 
But men do not forgive women, not for what they do
nor for what people say they do, and women are even worse,
so if someone calls you a whore or a thief or a killer
—even if it’s not true, or only partly true—
then a whore or a thief or a killer is what you are
in the eyes of the world to your dying day and beyond.

It’s not as if I didn’t see it coming. My assassination.
People often remarked on how I sat up so straight in the saddle. 
You can see it, how alert I look
in that one photograph that’s in all the books.
Perhaps I was bracing myself all along for that blast from behind,
which, when it finally came, was no surprise.

But oh, it was such a long, slow fall to the ground
where I lay on my back in the mud, staring up into the sky.
I cannot begin to tell you the pain of those first moments,
but it lessened, and then I felt myself flowing out of myself
and into the earth, my blood into the mud.

I was so afraid of never seeing the sky again,
of never seeing another person, not even my killer,
who had not even stayed to gloat. 
I would have welcomed even him, then,
just so I didn’t have to lie there in the mud alone.

The neighbor women washed me up and tried
to make me look respectable. Me. Respectable.
How those women must have wondered,
when they saw it naked, what sorcery of lust
had drawn men to that tired, sagging body.
I had wondered that myself.

It was a strange funeral. 
Nobody preached, nobody prayed, nobody sang.
It’s true I was not religious, but lord knows
I could have used some prayers. My Cherokee neighbors
dropped cornbread in my casket and some of them cried.
Maybe that was prayer enough.

It was the music I missed most. I loved music,
chose my name for the music of it, and I’d had lessons as a girl.
Back when I was respectable.
Jim Starr got me a piano, had it hauled all the way out
to Younger’s Bend during those few years when we were happy.

If just one of the mourners had started off a hymn while they stood there,
others would surely have joined in after a few notes,
even without a piano.
I wish there had been music when they laid me in the ground.
  --draft by Victoria Stefani

Sunday, April 8, 2012

An Easter Poem

Three days in a row! This poem could be a response to the prompt at National Poetry Writing Month, http://www.napowrimo.net/2012/04/day-eight/ to simply go outside, take a walk, take a drive, see what inspires you and where the inspiration takes you, though in my case (since I read the prompt after the fact) it was a response to going outside to do things that needed to be done, and in the process finding, well, whatever there was to be found, which is always a little different and at the same time always somehow familiar, but no less remarkable or wondrous for its familiarity.


Bells ring out from Holy Trinity down the hill.
I am watering my vegetables, and when I finish that
I’ll hang another load of laundry.

Yesterday you turned on the sprinkler in the back.
Hummingbirds hovered in place on opposite sides of the yard,
waiting for the spray to circle back to them.

When you turned it off they dived simultaneously
for the feeder and then dueled in mid-air, each with his rapier
flashing, thrusting, trying to drive the other off.

The grackle who had sat on the fence, enjoying the intermittent
shower, protested loudly when it ended, his squawking
oddly melodious. Very odd, only slightly melodious.

The pomegranate has one blossom, but it’s still early.
Last year there were none. I make an oath to Persephone
to protect the fruit from insects if she gives us even a few.

The sunflowers aren’t a foot high yet and have no flowers,
but the goldfinches have returned.
I guess they find something else to eat while they wait.

The folks at Holy Trinity are celebrating resurrection
and I wish them joy. Out of despair and death, triumph.
It is that way every spring. Even when we don’t expect it,

Even when we forget, the goldfinches and grackles return,
cactus and cassia burst into sudden bloom,
and the ocotillo lifts its red flames toward heaven.

     --Draft by Victoria Stefani

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Another April Poem

Here's a double feature of poems about squirrels, as promised. Yes, I know, one would have done, but it seems squirrels play a larger part in my inner life than I'd imagined - there's actually a third one in progress - what can I say? There were a lot of squirrels where I grew up. I may even write more about these little guys in the future.

I realize as I look at these two efforts that they sort of correspond to Robert Lee Brewer's prompt for yesterday, which you can find at http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/poetic-asides/poetry-prompts/2012-april-pad-challenge-day-6 in that both have to do with hiding something - and of course we all hide things, all the time, in various ways.



The big black walnut tree in my grandparents’ front yard
was unclimbable past the first branching, at least for us,
my brother and my friends and me. The squirrels
found its stubborn verticality no impediment.

Grandma loved those nuts, gathered them from the ground
into the wheelbarrow, pushed that wheelbarrow
around back to the garage, loaded those nuts
into an old boiler where the squirrels couldn’t get them.

She’d wait for the husks to rot into thick black muck,
put on her rubber gloves and rub it off, the black,
hose off the nuts, spread them out on an old sheet,
and let them dry. The next day or week or month,

we’d crack them, in the kitchen, warmed by the wood stove.
She said black walnuts were superior to English,
more work to get at, but worth it. She told me how
gypsies stole children, dyed their skins with walnut husks.

(When I was bad my mother threatened to sell
me to the gypsies, so I got worse.
But she lied. There were no gypsies.
Or she just didn’t know where to find them.)

Finally the squirrels won. Either Grandpa
didn’t get the cover on right or time
or the squirrels’ teeth had worn a hole in the boiler.
The nuts were gone. Every last one.

They must have made off with them one at a time
Grandma said, shaking her head in wonder.
Persistent little bastards, Grandpa said.
In their tones I detected admiration.

That was the last year Grandma gathered walnuts.
Years later, when I moved to a house with two English
walnut trees in the yard, she congratulated me on my luck.
But, she reminded me, black walnuts were better.


Our town was known for its albino squirrels.
One lived in our neighborhood,
another in the gargantuan red maple
behind the Congregational church.
People from nearby towns drove by in autumn,
marveling at that tree, at its foliage
bleeding from palest rosé to claret,
straining for even the quickest sight of white  
flashing through that wine-dark sea of leaves.

A few more lived in the parks: the one by the river,
the one in the middle of town, with the library
where I told stories on Saturday mornings.
Every mile or half mile or so someone would say
oh yes, there’s one in my yard, or in my neighbor’s yard.

Even the worst of the worst boys with BB guns
seemed to leave them alone, our pride, our totem,
fat and healthy with acorns and walnuts,
quick muscles bunching, relaxing, flowing
under the pink skin under the white fur,
pink eyes darting, staring, thin pink fingers
sparsely furred, with quick sharp claws.

But there was one boy, as there always is,
and one day he rode his bike down our street
flying a white pennant. The next day
I followed the ditchbank gathering asparagus
and found what he’d discarded,
mutilated, tossed aside in the weeds,
and I did nothing, or rather, the only thing that I could do.
Look, I said to my child, pointing at something
across the road, and while she looked
I yanked more weeds to cover the small white corpse.
And we went on.

This, I think, is what we do so often.
We put away small gods that brought us joy,
and then go on.

--draft by Victoria Stefani

Given yesterday's poem you might think me morbid, but I assure you, I really don't spend all my time thinking about dead animals. I promise.

Friday, April 6, 2012

It's Poetry Month Again!

I'm getting off to a slow start with the poem-a-day for April, but I read my friend Vince Gotera's poem for today on his blog, http://vincegotera.blogspot.com/, written in response to a suggestion from Maureen Thorson at http://www.napowrimo.net/2012/04/day-six/ to write a poem about an animal. You should definitely check out Vince's poem! He's inspired me to write a poem about a squirrel too, but for now, here's one about a bird, and other things associated with this time of year:


Imagine this: you kneel in dirt
littered with yellow blossoms,
a delicate carpet fallen from heaven
and high in that heaven of palo verde branches
cactus wrens have built their nests, two kinds,
those they use and those that serve as decoys,
built to trick the eaters of their young.  
You’ve watched them bring food to their young
as you hung your laundry and weeded your lettuce.

Today you are thinning beets,
your sensitive fingers move among the thin red stems,
easing the crowding with gentle tugs, wasting nothing.
Today’s thinnings will be on tonight’s table.
It is a peaceful, meditative occupation.
A few yellow blossoms drift down
onto your shoulders, into your hair.

Then suddenly you find, between the rows of baby beets,
 a baby cactus wren,
round and soft and dead, fallen from heaven,
and again you think, why do they build up there?
It is so high. The babies fall so far.
Every spring you find some in the garden
and wonder how any survive.
But of course they do.
The mornings are filled with their squawking.
This one’s feathers already show
the characteristic markings.           
Your fingers move around it, continuing their work,
and you who are not really thinking at all—
that’s why you come to the garden partly, to not think—
you muse on flesh enriching the soil,
and let it lie there. 

You forget, until one foot with thin exquisite claws
catches around your smallest finger
and you lift your hand amazed. 
The bird hangs like a pendant,
round and soft on one side,
eaten away to bones on the other.
The tiny decomposers have been busy.
It is dry and weightless, with bones like thin silver wire.
You shake it loose from your finger,
drop it a few feet away, onto bare ground.

Finished with the beets, you take the thinnings—
their fine red stems like veins,
their threadlike roots, their small and tender leaves, 
into the kitchen, then go back out to plant herbs.
You dig one hole deeper than the rest,
in good dirt, enriched with manure and compost,
and bury the little bird under the parsley.

The big palo verde tree that towers over our house and part of the garden.