Black arrows of winter come in pairs, building a sooty patch in the
turning basin. I anchor out on the Delta, the sky the color of gauze bandages.
Kingfishers drill the flat water, the last wasp hangs heavy, stupefied in
the chill of autumn. The air, golden in days’ last light, catches their bodies
aflame as the swans arrive. The air quickens with birds, their movements,
their songs filling gaps between clouds. Steady and true, the water still. No
wind on the cusp of the tidal change.
Swans fill the air, necks stretched, their small black paddling feet
tucked against their rumps. By the hundreds … they swell to the thousands
on our wetlands. Our Delta flatlands nurture creatures mysterious and
primal. I don’t cry when I see them today. I want to fly.
Redwing-rubied cattails fringe the marsh. Native souls drift in the
winter fog, cold and heavy mantel. Poetry at midnight, a leash on a tiger.
Makes gasses boil in the belly and the body float. Makes the head weary of
words that sit down on the job and words that get away. I sort through them
like buttons on armies of uniforms.
Where is that last orange? Where did the sun in words glow? Did that
aching orgasm crush the poetry in this bunk? If I shake out the sheets, will
the words call you home? Where does endless waiting expire? When does
want die? When the last breath wheezes past the lips, do lies flee like bats
from a cave? Or does the last breath, hopeful, hunker down under the heart
Work continues — almost unstoppable — like the heavy flow in the
Calaveras River. Even when there is no rain on clear days, the ground water
finds its way to the river for salvage. The ground can hold no more.
Molecules separate firmament. Water claims us again. Hard to breathe. So
little oxygen, I grow gills.
The owl mollifies. Still swans’ world. Geese in the sky — sounding
their way. A calling card. The vibration lingers. Folding upon myself in
layers of loose flesh, needing migration. The geese pull out of their puddles.
The whales sing and stroke the ocean goodbye.
“First Cormorants” first appeared in “Manzanita: Wild Edges”.
Paula Sheil teaches English composition and poetry at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, where she also is a Distinguished Faculty Member. She is the founder of Tuleburg Press, a nonprofit publishing company and The Write Place, a creative writing and book arts center for all ages in downtown Stockton. In 1997, the Stockton Arts Commission awarded Sheil the STAR award for her long-time arts involvement in theater, dance and literature. She is past president of the Stockton Arts Commission and a member of the Stockton Arts Foundation. The San Joaquin County on the Status of Women honored her in the Creative Arts with the Susan B. Anthony Award in 2013.