Escaping the vicious homeland winter
the gregarious geese crowd again have arrived
in desolate Southern Illinois swampy cornfields
routinely eaten by the river, the evidence
of a thousand floods layered in the dirt.
The land outside Olive Branch is no vacation spot,
as January overcast smears brown and gray bleak—
in filmy distant trees fog drifts in congealed stall.
Ten thousand honkers stalk stubble on haunted
ground as if they are happy squawking at
paltry un-harvested corn, just as ancestors have
lived ritual history since before the New Madrid
earthquake rang church bells in Boston,
and shifted the Mississippi from its channel,
leaving here a meandering primeval lake circled
by cypress, rippling with carp big as logs.
As a traveler fleeing also from the North, feeling
my ancient origins shrinking into cartoon, I do not
try to be the shadowy predator tiptoeing at the edges.
But immediately outlier geese see furtive motives,
and one hundred in unison lift in a whoosh
taking the air from my lungs as they fly together
over the lake. Then like a complicated wild
machine, the rest erupt with flapping wings.
Amazing how graceful they are as one, how
coordinated the awkward honks sounding
from above, carrying for a mile through murk—
the great mind breaking into clans—one line of fifty,
one gaggle of twenty collecting in a V, a family
of eighty bound together, unstoppable, curving,
sighting water, another field. Though soon
enough the goose will again settle into quiet,
for now honk and cry seem to wake winter
growing darker. Alone, I feel family sagas
speeding away, and laugh aloud for the liquid air,
sensing the rushing journey is nearly over.
Without sun or heat or adequate light, this morning
still moves, and cries aloud, and I know
for a fact that scaring ten thousand honkers
back to the sky may be the best I can do.