Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Laguna continued - The Nature of a Place

For this week's poem, we were supposed to try and write a New Yorker poem.  We listened to the Poetry Podcasts and the buttery, smooth voice of Paul Muldoon introducing and speaking with such great poets as Sharon Olds and Phillip Levine.  I tried, but, I didn't write much of a New Yorker poem. Instead, I went back to the Laguna series and wrote about egrets.  I was inspired by the stories I'd read about the inception of the Audubon Society and how their first work was to save the egrets in the early 1900s.  I hope you enjoy this draft. I think the Laguna series is close to being done.  Just two or three more poem-sections to complete the cycle (I think!).

The Nature of a Place

"The nature of the place—whether high or low, moist or dry, whether sloping north or south, or bearing tall trees or low shrubs—generally gives hint as to its inhabitants."  --John James Audubon

Today, on the Laguna, one can still
see the shock of a white, plumed body mark
the space between a raw, golden field, and
the open question of sky because
somehow, the Great Egret, the Snowy Egret
and the Cattle Egret all survived their beauty. 

By late the eighteen hundreds the Laguna was
the heart of the Bay Area plume trade.
During breeding season when egrets grew
aigrettes, a waterfall of long thin feathers
cascading off their backs, hunters would raid
the giant stick nests built high in the air
in the eaves of oaks and willows to get
$32 –double the price of gold--
for an ounce of feathers used on women’s
fashionable hats.  Spotting an egret
became more and more rare until a man
who had spent his life watching birds, nest, and
eat and rise to flight, who had sat all day,
knee deep in brackish mud, and drawn what he
saw so vividly that it came to life,
was honored with the Audubon society
which was formed to eradicate plume hunting.

By the 1920s the egrets had
begun to return. But, the nature of
the place – the lack of steelhead and salmon
that swim in the deep, unseen waters, the felled
oaks and cleared willows, the waters gone thick
with sediment – tell the story of its
inhabitants.  When you walk smooth paths
of the Laguna today and sight the
white arrow of an egret remember
the quiet, unforeseen hunt that continues
and still threatens his beauty today.

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