Lessons from a fledgling gull feather
curling like a comma, pausing the air.
The spine narrows towards the tip,
downy wisps bend to a wave.
These fledglings, soon yearlings, juveniles,
adult gulls – waken us, laugh with us,
lullaby us – They dream not of our grounded
bodies, though we may dream of their flight,
when we bed down at night as lovers, wrap
like feathers around each other’s spine,
turn our backs to the noise of day
the way a gull turns her back to the wind.
And when our skin radiates warmth,
we rest like a pair of gulls, nestling
our heads into each other’s necks,
closing our eyes to the surf’s sound,
dreaming not, yet, just being where we are,
both unmoored and tethered,
liberated and bound.
Looking for Horn Worms
Like danger that’s always present
but not noticed until some trace
of destruction, horn worms now reveal
themselves — foliage gnawed from tips
of tomato plants, fruit cratered and scarred.
The worms disguise themselves under leaves
like thieves, then emerge, an army
in camouflage after months of larval
preparation. Now they are battle ready
to dash the hopes of tomato salads,
jars of simmered sauce to warm us
on winter nights when the garden
is four feet under snow and ice.
Tenacious engorged caterpillars, they put
up a fight. With my gloved hands I pull
them, kicking their five pairs of legs
from my Early Girl, finally ripening.
They protest all the way into the jar
of kerosene waiting for their demise.
I know I should feel something for these
creatures, visually arresting at least,
iridescent green bodies, thin symmetrical
stripes, red horns. But I can’t. Sometimes
one needs to be the victor, one needs to feel
the triumph of good over evil, to feel proud
of protecting the innocent fruits of an insect war.
Or so I rationalize it, as I hum to my cherry
tomatoes, new leaves bending towards the sun.
Proud stalks of summer –
This one, radiant magenta
ebbing to pink; her crown
of petals flutter like silk.
Ornament of summer kitchens,
picket fences, back door steps,
this tribe of blossoms share
a sturdy stem, a family of foliage.
I once heard a painter talk
of “hollyhocking,” a verb
meaning the license to add
or remove from the landscape
any compositional need or perceived flaw:
to add an anchor of hostas,
remove a listing bench, move a birdbath
to the left. What joy in design’s recreation –
But this hollyhock changes nothing;
She’s a statue welcoming all
to the shores of my door, saying
“I’ve been waiting for you, come in.”
Ellen M. Taylor is a professor of English at the University of Maine at Augusta, Maine. Her most recent collection of poetry, Compass Rose, was just published by Moon Pie Press. Taylor is now a Fulbright Scholar in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In Maine, she makes her home in Appleton.