Two Poems: What Nature Can Learn and Teach


©1995 By Bob Litton


“The first land animal was probably looking for water.”
— from an old college first year biology textbook

The Flood subsides:  Its dropping sheet reveals
Islands, peaks, then a mass of steaming land;
Baked by the sun, thick mud cracks and peels,
While rivulets wind seaward through the sand.
A drenched palm, twitching in the heat, up-springs;
In the crux of its fronds two gills expand
Where a half-stuck sea beast half clings.

Dazed in the noontide broil, the lost one,
Bereft of water, lolls his tongue athwart
His jaw and blinks eyes red with exhaustion.

No longer can his dizzied brain impart
Commands to his limbs. In spasms they flap,
Like the witless muscles of his heart,
Until, sneezing by chance, he falls from the trap.

He stares, astonished at what he’s wrought.
Unused to freedom, scudding all about,
He bumps a rock and wonders what he’s caught.
The collision stuns him into reflective doubt.
At last, darting his tongue, he recalls the sea:
It’s not in sight, but as he turns his snout,
Delusion makes a wave of every tree.

While all sea and no sea on every hand appear,
Encroaching night compounds his rueful fix;
A pall of darkness, ignorance and fear
Hovers above, whichever way he picks.
Yet, so needful is conviction to evolving minds,
Forbidding that doubt with hope commix,
The certain pilgrim ever inland winds.

That’s not the only error he will make,
And, though the first, he’s not the last of fools;
For look! Some female’s made the same mistake!
Thinks she, “Though my pond’s dry, there’re deeper pools!”
And sets to work on her optimistic plan,
Unwitting how Chance their intentions over-rules,
She meets him on the dusty road to man.

                                                              * * * * * *


Old grey owl perched on a pole
Against the dark winter night
His blinking face moved from left to right
And back again, seeming more full of knowing

Than he had need to use.

In time a crow alighted nearby
On one of the pendent lines.
He critically eyed the owl,
Then preened his own sable wing and breast,
Much as humans will file their nails,
Not from any need of nature,
But rather in feigned indifference
To something too desirable or abstruse.

“Caw!” croaked the crow. “What a chump!
Haven’t you seen the boy with his gun?
He’s still out, though the hour’s late,
And he’d love to put pellets through a perching owl.
Could you but see yourself! Stark against the black’ning sky,
Like birch bark on lake water,
Such an easy mark you are!
You’d wisely hide among those poplar boughs
‘Cross field. Keep here and you’re a proper fool!”
After speaking thus, the crow bowed his head
And his eyes’ dark pupils leaned in their corners
Like landladies against doorjambs.

“Tu whit! Tu whoo!” the owl responded.
“You’re very clever, Crow, to detect
So smartly the youngster’s aim before he appears.
Thank you for your considerateness.”
Then, winking goodbye with one wide blink,
He swooshed into the air like little Miss Muffet.

“Caw! Caw!” guffawed the crow. “What a chump!
I wanted Owl’s place; Boy was my lever;
And slick, here I sit at the peak of the pole!”

It started to snow, slowly at first
Then faster and faster until it draped
The lines, the pole, and the crow.
The once black bird was now so white
He hardly looked like a crow at all…
But, mmmm, more like an owl, I’d say.
Still, the crow pridefully roosted on his pinnacle.

It just so happened (though the crow didn’t know)
Boy did come out that night to watch the falling flakes.
And, as always, for fun he carried his gun —
To shoot cans, signs, the neighbor’s cat, and birds.
Of course, he saw the crow, though he thought it was an owl.
Had he known it was a crow he would have let it go —
He’d shot so many of those already.
But an owl was rare and thus a prize.
Boy took aim; “ping” went gun; down dropped crow.

Next morning, Owl was hooting in a creviced poplar
When chattering Chickadee told him of Brother Crow
And what had befallen him over by the phone pole.
Owl blinked his left eye slowly and said,
“How odd he didn’t follow his own advice!”



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