A date with poetry

In A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver opens with a chapter called “Getting Ready.” She writes of Romeo and Juliet making appointments to meet. If they keep those appointments, well, we know what happens. But if they didn’t show up, “there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them.”

She continues to say that “writing a poem is not so different – it is a kind of love affair between something like the heart and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen.” If they “fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.”

This is what I tell myself day after day as I walk to the creek and the dippers fail to appear in their usual places. As I lean way over the railing of the bridge to see if one is hidden underneath. I’m embarrassed to say I sometimes drop a stone to surprise one into flight. To no avail. I suspect they’re off building nests, perhaps already sitting on eggs. The jays are gone too, and the red-polls.

There are robins now and varied thrushes. I expect to see juncos any day and hope, as I hope every year about this time, to see gray-crowned rosy-finches rising and falling, chattering and buzzing in the seeds scattered under the feeders. Mountain bluebirds, warblers and Pacific wrens are all gathering, on the wing, coming this way. And the harlequins, the sandhill cranes!

Dan Shervill photo

Yes, everywhere things are stirring even though the creek is still a silent twist of snow, the openings sparse and quiet.

But still, I’m certain there are dippers on the creek, pairing up, keeping their lovers’ appointments. And here I am, back upstairs.



Outside the wind is doing its spring gusting, its seasonal swagger. In here, I’m listening for the squawk a dipper lets out when you startle it up from its feeding rituals. I might even be flipping a stone into the water. My pen is moving.

            A closeup from a Rick Howell photo

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