Strange bedfellows

All the little ponds here along the coast are frozen solid, mostly. Each has at least some open water and that’s where all the birds are congregating. Fletcher Lake between Ocean Grove and Bradley Beach had this Great Blue Heron (who looks scarily hungry for some Mallard flesh!), many Mallards, a couple white domestic ducks, a Pintail(!!!), a Wigeon and a Black-crowned night heron sleeping along the shoreline.

A couple blocks away in Spring Lake we found a single Snow Goose feeding on the postcard-sized lawn of a beach house with a small group of Canada Geese.


I find myself inclined to worry about wildlife when everything is frozen and snow-covered, but remind myself that wild things are good at surviving. They do much better than I ever could, for sure…

On learning that crossbills were still in the neighborhood

In Long Branch, we stand beside a maintenance shed
of the county park service,
with its four-wheel drive pickup trucks
its piles of road salt
and its border of Japanese black pines.
We spend frigid minutes
shivering in the wind,
the sun warming our faces
and the hint of a warbled song
drifting down in a shower of winged scales.

With tear-stained cheeks and icy fingers
we point past the chain-link fence
to a pile of dirty snow
and a small reddish bird with crossed bill,
quenching its thirst.

Beyond the small group of latecomers, I watch
the green expanse of the Atlantic,
the gray gull, small and perfect as a toy,
that glides across the horizon.
We head back to the warm car;
our pursuit complete,
the promise of cocoa
or an overpriced Windmill hotdog,
with chili and cheese.

– – – – – – – – – – –

I can’t say anything about the Red and White-Winged Crossbills here at the Jersey Shore that hasn’t already been said, other than that they’re still in their expected place at Seven President’s Park. For whatever reason, I waited until the coldest day ever to go see them. Neat birds… certainly worth the frigid temperatures.

Crossbills are the only family of birds that have crossed mandibles; what might look like a deformity is, in fact, an adaptation for the bird’s feeding habits. Crossbills insert their closed bill into the side of a pine cone and then open it, tearing out the scale and exposing the seed within, which is then scooped out by their odd-shaped tongue. Aside from the quiet trilling, it was the sound of pine cones being torn open that gave away the Crossbills’ presence and allowed us to spot them in the shadowed pine trees.

These birds have been present at the park for nearly a month and those of us that venture over to see them must present something of a curiosity to people in the neighborhood… enough that they drive by to ask what in the world we’re looking at.

: )

Crossbills wander widely in the winter months, as do birders looking for rarities.

The paranoid poet

Between the poet and the grimacing woman
on a beat-up blue bicycle,
lies a blurred wasteland.

She hasn’t always been this person.

Her squalid apartment
the letters scrawled in mad ink
that fizz by themselves in my in-basket

the dreamy smile
that makes her look, suddenly, young.

Walking the tightrope with her
ignoring the drop of the past,
avoiding looking down
to recognize the loss
and spinning, headfirst
into dizzying sadness.

The fear that I, too, might unravel
and spin off into nothing.

– – – – – – – – – – –

CM is a published poet, a librarian in a past life and a client of mine. She recently admitted that she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and fears that she’ll be evicted, now that her landlord knows the truth about her. She insists that her mental illness doesn’t affect her ability to write poetry.

I worry about her a lot, visit her often and get almost weekly letters from her. Once or twice a year, she’ll send me a poem. I treasure those.

The man with the “golden voice” has me thinking of such things… I imagine a government social worker, somewhere, cheering him on, knowing this was coming, all along.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Photo from the Howard Finster collection at the High Museum in Atlanta. I was there recently to see the DalĂ­ exhibit and… wow!