First day of vaction, third day of government shut down, fifth iteration


of our travel plans.  FYI – Black Mesa is reserved for the Star Party the first week of October, star meant lowercase.  FYI2 – Don’t believe everything you read. Example: ranches advertising wildlife watching should be immediately considered suspect, especially if ranch is located in west Texas, as “wildlife” is subject to interpretation.

“Reframing,” flexibility, creativity are terms we have become fond of. We have eight states worth of vacation plans, in reserve. Two days before our vacation with our final, final plan and the government shuts down, leaving a National Wildlife Refuge and a National Forest scratched off. And then…

we ask who is going to stop us? And, so, at an undisclosed NWR, primitive, no ranger station, no gift shop, no restroom. Access via small town and county road. A few rattling pickup trucks, birds and us.


Red wine, beans, chocolate and garlic

If I am to believe the blood work, I am suffering from kidney disease, though I don’t know how, precisely I am “suffering.” I will see a nephrologist next month to hone the definition and ascribe each ache or moment of fatigue each proper place.

While I wait, I seek a means of control. The numbers on the lab report combined with WebMD and GoogleMayoClinic overwhelm until I fasten on the one number I understand. Cholesterol! My levels, undesirable – Total, LDL, Triglycerides, too high, while desirable HDL, too low and there is a wealth of advice on what to do, with and without medication. I read, voraciously. This is what I learn. Diet:

Ten foods to lower cholesterol in six weeks, amounts and percentages:

Beans – 1 cup per day 5x per week lowers Total Cholesterol 10%

Benecol Margarine – three servings daily lowers Total Cholesterol 10%

Black Tea – One serving twice weekly lowers Total Cholesterol 10%

Walnuts and Almonds 3 to four times a week lowers Total Cholesterol 5.4% and so on. Garlic, Chocolate, Salmon, Soy, spinach and Avocado make the list, with no specific numbers, though I am told 2 to 4 cloves of garlic a day are beneficial while an ounce of dark chocolate raises HDL 24%. Salmon also raises HDL while red wine lowers LDL. Spiffy.

Though no math whiz, my rough calculations go something like this – Recommended weekly intake beans, tea, Benecol, nuts x2 = 68% reduction (rough estimate). Logic assumes chocolate, garlic, spinach, soy, avocado and salmon = 2.5% each x 6 = additional 15%+68% = 83% total reduction in overall cholesterol levels in six weeks if I adhere to a strict diet of mostly beans and nuts, effect on Greenhouse gases notwithstanding. If I triple my intake of garlic, my daughter assures we will be safe from vampires, and if I eat a bar of dark chocolate daily, my cholesterol will simultaneously drop below zero while my “good” cholesterol will rise above 60. Red wine, beans, chocolate and garlic. I can live with that.

When the string breaks

report967Photo by Mike Clemens

The tremolo of the Common Loon and fledgling Bald Eagles became tied to my mother. I wanted Great Blue Herons for my father.

We were looking for herons, Saturday, at a wildlife refuge and found a Kite perched in a dead tree. He canted forward, hooked beak, black inquisitive eyes, intent. I stood in the road, focused on him; he focused on what I couldn’t see, swooping down once, twice, three times, to my feet. Then he took to the air and proved his name. He rose, he hovered, he shivered in the currents, and, then his wings folded, plummeted like grief. And rose again.

I never leave my phone behind, except that day. When we returned home, there was a message from my sister, who never calls. Dad was unresponsive, though restless. He had quit eating  two days before, she said, told her the previous Saturday that he felt “changes” were coming, asked her not to leave town. One of his last requests was that I read a poem at his funeral.

Thursday, my sister called, again.
That afternoon, Kites appeared over my house, half a dozen or more against a bank of building thunderclouds in the East. They swooped low, but didn’t land. As time progressed, the birds moved further off, first south of the neighborhood, then east. I found myself driving through town, on various errands, looking up. Twice, I forgot where I was going or why.

Shortly before dusk, the clouds and birds were gone, leaving the sky bereft.

Napoem 30 – It Was a Horrlequin of Another Color

This, my final poem, was a combination response to one of several “challenges”  posted at pffa during  NaPo, a response to an exercise I’ve done before and a tribute to some of my fellow pffa Napo fools. And it is over.

It Was a Horrlequin of Another Color
-No Images Left Behind – Miko

It was three squirrels sipping lemon drop martinis
the color of goat hooves on the shaft of a gun
quivering slow dance.
Sandpaper scratching bigger than bees knocked
one down with a clink and a snort.
You may not scream, Marsha Kupp, you of the smell
from the heft of your pickle jars and canned corn
molding at the far side of Castle Anthrax.
Nay, sound soars from that bucking beak like thunder,
sweet conquest in the back row.
I’ll hold you like water, gray, in modest congregation
because that’s how this pome got in.
Besides, love is a pound cake.

Napoem 29 – The Love of a Wife and Mother

The Love of a Wife and Mother

Cleave unto me.
Flesh of my flesh.
I give my life to them
as the Lord decrees, ask little,
only a pound or two
each night for dinner.
A slice of my husband’s gluteus muscle,
a daughter’s shinbone or son’s shoulder
fed through my meat grinder,
patted to hamburger, perhaps,
served at table with grace
and fresh flowers, according to season.
Such is the love of a wife and mother,
only to be left, little by little
until all that is left – the memories,
which are, undeniably, delicious.

Napoem 28 – The Pet Crow – umpteenth revision


Yeah, I know I’m cheating now. So sue me. Bob loves this poem and I want to get it right for him. Course, he loves it because it is about him and Aislinn.

The Pet Crow

She’s told You have a fungal infection in your ears
and asks Stepdad What’s that? He peers,
Mushrooms! rare as truffles and he spills stories
full and biting as a thirty-gallon crawfish boil
poured over torn newsprint.
Maybe he’ll pull a mushroom or small corn cob;
each one will burn and taste so good
she’ll ask for just one more and he’ll tell
until the sky runs Pepto Bismol pink poured
over the Super Dome and this – she’ll remember
how she melted over the hood of her Daddy’s car
before away was the only place he drove
until she learned even memories break clean,
washed away like a fever.
Now is time to suck the juice
of the crawfish head and Stepdad speaks
of Cousin Al’s pet crow who could defeat every dog
in a game of pull the straw and came to his shoulder
when he called. Stepdad wanted one of his own.
Al knew of a nest fifty feet up cradling one baby crow.
He pulled the short straw,
says the bird is ready to fledge, tosses it out.
Stepdad pauses as they watch the crow in its glide,
she leans forward to note his cupped hands,
the sudden fall in his voice, and as she looks
a few inches to his left, an imaginary dent in the floor.

Napoem 27 – Oklahoma – State With Lowest Consumption of Produce, Highest Rate of Infidelity

Oklahoma – State With Lowest Consumption of Produce, Highest Rate of Infidelity

They marry, Joe and Anne, buy a house, small plot.
She plants a peach tree out back.
He holds her with tenderness when she cries,
delighted, at first flowering.
Late Spring, frost threatens. Joe stands,
silent, Anne covers and warms
the white flowers and tiny fruit.

Joe buys a heifer, names her Annie,
keeps her out back in a stable, built special.
Anne pretends not to notice
the smiles when he curry-combs,
runs his fingers over the velvet of her nose, murmurs
about the percentage of marbling
as he pats his hand, thoughtfully, along her tender loins.

The peaches flush a gentle rose
over yellow, the scent intoxicates their mornings.
Anne invites Joe to test her fruit,
shows him how to squeeze for ripeness,
how a peach ready will fall away
from its stone, begging to be eaten,
promises him it will be the same season after season,
repeating the cycle of joy
from first opening to repletion.

Joe turns away, bored. He sold Annie for prime,
wants Anne to serve her, tonight, straight up,
no adornments. Anne sighs, gives him steak
topped with her peaches in a salsa spiced with jalapenos.
He levels her with a look – Henderson’s cow is calving
next week. I have a yearning for veal.

Napoem 26 – The Psychologist Breaks the Rules

The Psychologist Ignores the Rules

I despise I.Q. testing.
Every time –
it may be the simplest thing –

In what direction does the sun rise?

She answers “up”
and cries.

I can’t teach my grandson to read.
I can’t even grow flowers.
My daughter says I plant them too deep.

Just one time
I’d like to break
protocol, give out
daffodil bulbs,
grab her hand,
circle her wrist
with thumb and forefinger,

dig a hole,
this deep
one for each bulb.
Throw it in,
any which way.
Like you,
it’ll know,
where the sun rises.

Napoem – 23, 24, 25 – Red Slough Field Notes, cont.



Again, in the spirit of NaPo, and in the haze of exhaustion, I am looking at these as notes for what may be a poem later, with a good deal of pruning, cutting, pasting….

April 20, 11:25 A.M.

The Washington couple’s heads are tilted perpendicular to the sky, comparing Black and Turkey Vultures. She asserts the Turkey is more buoyant, he that the Black has better dihedrals. I am torn between faking a look of bored comprehension and suggesting both are best roasted, rubbed with a little lemon and sage.

I am saved by the sight of a Moorhen, which I am told is the first of the season. Chevy says I  must follow till he radios it in. Bob says they taste just like chicken. The bird, possibly suspicious of our intentions, hides under some dead stuff overhanging the marsh, her red beak, a flame igniting the brush.

April 20, 3:00 P.M.

Mervin(?) says we’ll mosey over to “this other lake” where someone shot a trumpeter swan. Off refuge, on highway, fumbling for my seatbelt, Chevy mentions he spent time in the hospital, is still recovering from Wernicke’s, it’s a vitamin deficiency, you know. Bob and I look at each other, think, trifecta – ataxia, ophthalmoplegia, confusion, (alcohol), where are the damn seatbelts?

Barbed wire bars us from the lake. Merlin(?) says this place belongs to Joe Ward, keep low, last time he came out with a gun and shot a few rounds.

Mom was a Ward; I recall what Gramps said – all Wards in this land descend from five brothers. I contemplate inviting old Joe to dig in the dirt among the roots of our mutual tree when his door bangs open and out shoots a little red heeler. Chevy – don’t worry, he’s just looking for food – the dog bypasses the group, launches himself, bounces off my thighs and spies the open door of the Jeep, where Bob is rooting around. The two of them find energy bars.

April 20, 3:05 P.M.

Two men, young, skinny, few teeth, drive up in a red, dented pickup truck. Chevy gives us coordinates – Texas 4 miles due S., Louisiana 14 SE, Arkansas 20 due E. The men ask if we have pics of the trumpeter swans, eye the camera around my neck, triggering – Me: Evidence? Bob: Deliverance? Chevy: Don’t worry they just want meth, slips behind the wheel of his jeep.

They have dead baby chicks, mention nesting owls under a bridge. Irresistible to Washington couple. Harvey(?) says he doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Chevy won’t get out of his jeep. The younger man says he’s a Ward and chicken farmer. Creds in order – a relative! Good to go!

Don’t know what he does under the bridge, but an owl wings it to a low branch, glowers.

Chevy’s parting shot is an image on his digital – marsh covered in storks, ibis and heron. Hands us his card – come back in June for the exotic tour.

NaPoems – 19, 20, 21, 22 (and will continue) Red Slough Field Notes


Red Slough – Field Notes

April 19 – 5:45 P.M.

The trees, a mix of pine and hardwoods, lean over the highway, touch in spots, close in behind us.

Pretty is the adjective we repeat. Pretty green. Pretty lush. Pretty dense. Pretty remote. Pretty abandoned. There are movies of which this place reminds us.

I look for palmettos, though Bob claims we are too high and still too far north, agrees there is a sense of displacement, neither Oklahoma nor Louisiana nor Texas nor Arkansas.

We disconnect with the loss of internet and cell, will hear no news from home or from Boston, no anniversary of terrorist bombings, none of terrorism on the loose.

Weather report looks reliable. Car thermostat reads mid fifties. Rising. We are filled with hope and bird checklists.

Will set alarm for 6:30 for best photography.

April 19 – 6:30 P.M.

Illumination –
Wedged between two pines
a dogwood tree blossoms.

April 20 – 7:30 A.M.

Off Mudline Rd. Not far from Bittern Lake. Sun shines. 41 degrees. That’s Fahrenheit. Wind from the West and goddamn brisk. Thin jackets and what we wouldn’t give for gloves.

Came to see Neotropic Cormorants, Wood Storks, Soras and Roseate Spoonbills, that other pink bird. What we see – Greater and Lesser Yellow Legs and Northern Shovelers. All should be in Canada now. We feel a sense of camaraderie with these birds who have also been fooled, a sense that we are all a little askew of axis, lost in a wetlands – cum – rice paddy – cum – restoration project.

I shoot until I can’t feel my hands and lose my relationship with the camera.  Mostly, I document what’s there and shouldn’t be, think I get off one decent shot of a tree swallow.
What’s next, we discuss, maybe look for a ranger’s station, warm up, see if we can find facilities and water bottles, maybe some snacks. Head back to the car and there’s some guy, hands knotted with rheumatoid arthritis, window rolled down, in a beat-up Jeep Cherokee. He introduces himself as Chevy, Master Naturalist and Guide to Red Slough.

April 20, 11:15 A.M.

Chevy waits for a party -Vernon(?), who seems to be a retired manager of wildlife, and a couple who has traveled from Washington to see the same things we aren’t seeing but with considerably more equipment and enthusiasm. She will give ANYTHING, she tells us, to see an alligator.

Somehow we end up in Chevy’s backseat, part of the party. Chevy has the keys to the gates and we bounce along previously forbidden levies, Martin(?) and the Washington couple follow.

At seemingly random intervals, Chevy spins a donut, waits for Harlan(?) who promptly jumps out, waves his hand vaguely in the air at three or two or one barely discernible dots flapping overhead and shouts Neotropical Cormorants! or Black Vultures! or Fish Crow! The Washington couple grab their checklists. I, perhaps a little skeptical, ask, How can you tell? I am rewarded with a snarl, Behavior! Subdued, I beg to know why a Grebe is not a Duck. Read the book! Said book is flung in my general direction.

Mid-morning and we abandon the vehicles for no reason I can tell and walk. We are looking for an alligator nest. Washington woman pulsates, nearly incoherent. We aren’t sure if it is excitement or the fact that Marlin(?) is negotiating terms – not quite sure, but sounds like he is bargaining an alligator for her big toe. He sounds eerily like a Circus Big Top ring leader. In the end she gets sight of five eight-inch alligators, at no cost. Seems ANYTHING was nothing at all. After the build-up, we feel a little cheated.