Cardinal, Cardinal                                                                                           —Robert Gibb

That berry brightness against the snow
And green of the mountain laurel,

Against the juncos, their foraging squall
In the bare weeds just below—

The cardinal insisting on distance,
At least between the males set back

In the atrium heart of the branches.
On the ground, pecking seeds,

Is another thing, though even here
They never seem remnants of any flock

Or to remain long as one of a pair,
Even though they’re paired for life.

Unlike the juncos which are multiple
And burning black against the snow. 

And you, brightness, out on a limb,
The focal point again of the landscape.

You’re the first bird today at the feeder,
Perched in profile, plying seeds,

An eye to the structure of the light.
Cardinal,” the book says: “on which

something else hinges,” like the doors
Of the air about your flight—

The air you’ve gladdened all winter
With those note-perfect solos

Taken up, note-for-note, by your mate.
Cardinal flower, virtue, number, point ...

A bestower of gifts, the bird in the bush,
That in the hand would be the heartline.


Work Song

The gutter now emptied of its glut of leaves,
The storm door its cold panes of light,

While behind the house I’ve trimmed that pair
Of fallen, wind-sheared trees,
Their thicket grove of branches

Which more than once this winter,
Looking out, I mistook for a dark slanting rain.

I’ve picked up twigs and sheaths of bark,
Cut back the shocks of ornamental grasses
And barrowed them off.

Next, weather permitting, shovel and hoe,
I’ll be milting the garden with compost.

Down there last year, I looked up to see
One molten bead of metal after another

Scudding above me till the whole swarm
Was building like a cloud. The next morning
I found bees on the maple, a coat of mail

Welded about the base of the bole
Where they massed their layers all week.

And though for most of that time
They seemed asleep in the heavy veins of nectar,
They left the soft bark gouged in places

To the green underneath, the tree oozing sap
As if a furious chain had cinched it fast.

Getting to the lawnmower at last—back-
Lapping the reel against the cutting bar,

Abrading the blades with paste—
I can’t stop thinking about those humming,
Bristly little bodies, their terrific dream

Of smelting down the planet, summers,
Into the honeyed heart of its comb.

Or about honeywort, the yellow-flowered
bee-herb of Virgil
, which they source
For wax, walling the cells of the lattice.

I picture it blossoming beside the garden,
Bright with those dark molten beads. 



Water Garden: Lock & Dam

Past the paired, wooden flights of perrons
Rotting in Pinky’s now-woodlotted lawn,
The flotsam of the homemade dams
Ponding his inch-deep stream,

I’m surprised today by mallards: the ripple
Of the wakes which he’s made possible,
As though sponsoring their patterns.

Not consequence, I think, but dividend,
Watching the overlapping surface—
Current and birds—configure in a flux
That breasts against the lip of the brink.

Below it, the halberd tips of irises spring
From the last lock along his hillside,
Dark terraced water fathomless to the eye.

Robert Gibb's books include The Origins of Evening (1997), which was a National Poetry Series winner. Among his other awards are two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry, and a Pushcart Prize. A new book, After, winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize (Mark Doty, judge), will be published this coming spring.

ISSN 2472-338X
© 2016