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HARBINGER
by Sam McKay
Section I


The moon and a star
played hide and seek
among the branches of a great oak
that had spread a winter blanket
over its feet and gone to sleep.


Riding Tides

The red-tailed hawk, a high cliff-nesting bird,
seeks food on valleys far from home.. He glides
downwind to reach tremendous speed, then turns
on quiet wings to rise on skyward tides.

The red-tailed hawk is wisdom's child, instead
of flapping at the wind, he calmly rides its lift
to reach the goal he sets for each today.
Now with his quarry quest completed, thrift
of labor speaks with bold accent: relax,
to rise on tides of thought that come as gift.


Making Friends

We met while walking
the same country mile.
She stopped,
fearful eyes fixed on me,
body tense.

I smiled, spoke softly,
took a step toward her.
She backed off,
moved away slowly.

Two days later we met again.
The same ritual,
except she was less tense.

After several such meetings
she lost her fear of me,
even accepted my touch,
still unsmiling.

I didn't see her for a month,
thought she had moved away.
Then on the road ahead I saw her waiting for me.
As I approached, she ran toward me, smiling.

We communed with each other a long while,
then she turned and went back
the way she had come.
She stopped,
stood very still, looking at me.
Then waving her white-tipped
feathery tail,
she trotted out of sight.


Tempest Temper

Splashing swells wash the breakwater.
Whipped by a brisk wind, waves
break too soon, spilling surfers,
piling dirty foam on the beach.
Low dismal clouds scud across so swiftly
the land rushes toward the pier.
Rumbling thunder adds
to the distress of the sea.
Gray grows darker,
quick jagged lightning
italicizes the dusk.
Torrents distort the spitting surf,
tossing stones at white horses.
A voracious ocean swallows all,
grinning at the conniving wind.

Suddenly the elements tire of fighting
and the sun shines red
on the horizon.


Harbinger

The season's first red blackgum leaf
So soon portends the end of summer.
On ides of June it fosters unbelief,
The season's first red blackgum leaf,
A spot of bright in bold relief,
Shining fit to lure a hummer.
The season's first red blackgum leaf
So soon portends the end of summer.


Reverie

A tree frog predicts rain.
The rain crow agrees.
Also the poplar,
wearing its leaves
wrong-side-out in the breeze.
A murmuring stream moves slowly
below a cotton-puff sky
as sunlight dances with shadows
on the forest floor.
Butterflies color the creek's edge.
Dragonflies hover over water like helicopters.

I stand behind a veil of years and watch
two little boys run down the hill,
each with a straw hat full of hickory nuts.
Cracking their treasure,
they eat the kernels
and with the hulls
gleefully shoot dragonflies.
Suddenly a machine gun's "Rat-tat-tat-tat"
gives surprising voice to the "war."

A woodpecker retreats,
screaming his jest.


Weymouth Is Real

From the gray guards at the gate,
those sisyphean sentries,
to the shimmering fish in the pool;
from the historic conifers, scraping the sky,
to the fruitless cherries parading by the garden,
weeping as they go, tresses trembling mournfully,
to the tall white columns that blindly march
in line with the weeping cherries,
emphathizing with their gravity;
from the fields of green
and the flowers that border the walkways,
to the graceful Boyd House arches
whose bases grasp the earth and, as it were,
lift it to heaven
where their crowns always point.

From the Great Room where many friends meet
joyfully promoting the arts,
surrounded by archways and antiques
that speak of periods and persons past,
to rambling stairways and hallways that lead
to bedrooms, square rooms, long rooms
and even little surprise rooms,
just like flowers you didn't know were there
until they bloom.
And if, in this hallowed house,
conscious of the renowned writers
who lingered here a while,
you can be still, relax, and listen,
perhaps you will hear voices strange,
yet familiar because of what they say.

Soon your passing the gray guards at the gate
will be like the rushing of one born here.


Nature's Symphony

Come walk with me where yellow woodbine blooms,
Where honeysuckle fragrance scents the air,
Come stroll with me by pond where bullfrog booms
And oven bird calls, "Cher-teacher, teacher."

We'll sit mid mighty oaks while wood thrush rings
His cheery bell and squirrels bark at us,
A mourning disturbed takes to wing
And wary chipmunk stares incredulous.

Sh-h, listen! Cuckoo's soft call to his mate
Near drowned by Killdeer's noisy "Dee-dee-dee"
In meadow. Over there blue jays debate,
A thrasher scolds the busy chickadee.

So many wondrous things to see and hear
Announce a salient fact - that God is near.


Haiku

Summer cathedral,
tall pine chancel, green
kudzu draperies.


Herd of white-tailed deer
flowing over split-rail fence
splashing into woods.


Whip-poor-will choir,
screech owl obbligato,
katydid orchestra.


Mr. Tanager

What means this odd behavior, bird?
Flying round and round my house
and flapping hard against my window?
Is someone here you want to rouse?

You conceive yourself to be
a feathery Pheidippides
telling summer's victory,
holding off antipodes?

Or is it simply that you see
another redcoat in my window?
Ah, jealous lover, guarding yours,
careful; leave her not a widow!


Mallard Creek

At the foot of Hickory Hill, clear cool water bubbles
from sparkling springs and snakes through a meadow,
then dancing down a ravine mid ancient elms,
tumbling oak-laden hills it races,
rolling over rugged runways, singing softly to
the sleepy stones a tuneful harmony
with the easy waltz of the wind.

Spacious cattle-keeping meadows guard its
passage alternately with platoons of
sky-high corn during its quiet flow, while
listening to the oratory of the orb.

Then, like a frightened deer, it leaps a
cliff and hurries into a willow thicket
playing house with beaver and moccasin. Dodging
hills it briskly kisses rocks while wearing a
diamond crown, and spreads a queenly nurture
through the land, its fertile bosom holding
schools of bream and cat and other kinds of fish.

Grinning boys with canes, lines, hooks and
cans of worms were common on its banks in
summer after crops were laid by. Not many fish
were caught, but it was fun time, a lazy time;
with lines in the water, boyish tales were told,
ambitions were shared. Lying back, waiting for a bite,
we examined the sky; we saw faces in the clouds,
animals, soldiers, armies - always things grew bigger,
just like Mallard Creek as it flowed onů
After a while it was swallowed by Rocky River,
then by the Pee Dee, finally by the Atlantic.


Haiku

What calendar tells
the arctic tern that summer
nods her weary head?


Those stinging yellow jackets
built their nest in the very spot
I chose for the rose!


Varicolored skirt
swirling, autumn strip-teases
into winter's den.


Change

Where earlier the thrush's song,
like ringing bells, awakened the dogwood and
called forth the judas blush,
cicadas drone to one another
through leafy woods.
The tanager has gone.
The singers are silent,
growing winter coats.
Rusty grasshoppers skitter
as I tramp through the weeds.
A female praying mantis,
having devoured her lover,
sits like a holy intercessor.
In a corner of the woods
the trees are dressed with clinging
vines that hang heavy with
clusters of black muscadine,
mingled with acorns and green persimmons.
The sourwoods and wild huckleberries
are crimson, foretelling
a canvas of many colors.
I ponder the wide and sovereign
rule of time and wonder
what the mantis prays.


Cinquains

Hey, Duck!
The way you stand
and slant your head just so,
you seem to think you are the king
of fowls.
Your voice
gives weight of sound
to specter of your thoughts.
It's all a hoax - for you are just
a quack!

A herd
of buffalo
came thundering across
the hill toward me, and suddenly
I woke.


A Midnight Party

The fox was running for life and the dogs
were baying and hastening on.
The hunters were whooping and spurring the horses
to keep them galloping on.

The prey was escaping by trick and the hounds
confused, were scattered out.
The horses were halted and horn was sounded,
recalling the trackers about.

Sniffing again, they located the scent
of a trail in Hermitage.
The moon shone bright as encouragement came
by voice in the vale of a ridge.

The race ran close as sounds of the chase
echoed through the hollow of night.
The evening sport was stopped as the hunted
turned in a gulley to fight.

A blast of the horn instructed the hounds.
The quarry was spotted with a light.
Two glinting "mirrors" said the game
would recur another night.


To a Whistling Teakettle

A steel dome that dominates the dorm
like water tanks rule country villages.
A reservoir, now overflowing, now dry.
An automobile that needs radiator care.
A diving jet that whines a downward plunge
forewarning earth to move or be undone.
Moon rocket only a mile above the Cape
and, dragon-like, disgorging angry fumes.
A screaming banshee striking hearts with fear.
A tuneful flute that lost its fluent tone
and spends its breath emitting wearisome wails.

What grand positions you have occupied!
But when you sit and scream so loud at me,
you risk the continuance of life -
if one may speak of your duration so.


The Mockingbird

From the tallest treetop
a torrent of song.
The gray baron's
peculiar sorcery
charms people and
tells other mockers that he
is king of the hill.

This pleonastic mimic's
masterful ego
unremittingly, repetitiously
deigns to teach other birds
how to sing their songs.
His endless repertoire
lampoons every neighbor
with arrogant mockery.
Nimble-tongued,
teasing, saucy, sarcastic,
melodic, lilting, cheerful -
a musical contradiction.


A Crab Tale

Eva crab enjoyed the warm
sunshine on her crusty frame.
Asa crab was sunning himself too
and glancing at bewitching Eva.
"Nice day for sunning," said Eva.
"Righto!" said Asa and took a step
forward toward fascinating Eva.
That was his big mistake, for
all creation knows that
proper crabs move, not forward,
backward, up or down, but sideways.
Stunning Eva was overmuch stunned
by this unconventional behavior.
She gasped and stepped aside.
Asa, with adult crab perspective,
said, "Life is not in how
but why you move."
At this the conventional-minded
Eva threw up her pink antenna
and skedaddled down the beach,
sideways, of course.


Sure Sign

I know it's time for spring,
Today I saw a daffodil.
The bees are on the wing,
I know it's time for spring,
The birds begin to sing.
The trees make chlorophyl.
I know it's time for spring,
Today I saw a daffodil.


Caught By A Fisherman's Net

White-tailed buck
pulled from the breakers too late,
lying on the sand
like a lifeless shell
washed up by the tide.
What drove you so far
out of your element?
Living on this isle of dunes,
surely you knew the danger.
Were you pushed into the deep
by fear? Startled by
some strange night noise
did you leap, like a cricket,
unknowingly into the waves
deeper than your six points?
There is a wooded dune
that will be forlorn,
needing your grace.


Haiku

Downspout drip,
land turtle slakes thirst,
red maple leaf falls.


Bluebird on the bush,
patches of snow in the woods,
peepers in the meadow.


Sunshine on the water,
beside the waving cattails
a coiled cottonmouth.


Interloper

The train whistle
quiets the birds.

Diesel rumbling swallows noises,
pin oak needles quiver and cry,
"Mercy me! What's to be?"

Giant post oak stands safe away,
spreads broad hands in benediction,
"Calm, sisters, stress will pass."

Coded cargo locked in boxes
riding steel on wheels that sing,
"We-need-rest-we-need-rest,"

sways greening canes on bank
that pull at their roots to say,
"We must go, let us go!"

The rover moves on and all's as was,
yet nothings the same, except what's dead.
More than air is stirred

by a passing
whir and whiffle.


The Charmer

Tufted titmouse calling, "Peter, Peter."
Let us wait and see if he will answer.
Is she asking him to come and feed her?
Tufted titmouse calling, "Peter, Peter."
Could be she's blind and needs a leader.
Chances are she wants him to romance her.
Tufted titmouse calling, "Peter, Peter."
Let us wait and see if he will answer.


Question

Spring leaf
so newly grown
to wave in the wind
feel the rain
absorb the sun
turn out oxygen
beautify the earth
Why are you here
alone
on the ground?


Two Kindnesses

She proudly brought her crippled prey to me,
my precious cat with calico fur.
She set a mourning dove upon my stoop,
pronouncing pleasure with a purr.

The docile dove, dark eyes alert with fear,
bleeding, hurt and very still,
was warmly bundled far from peril's claw.
The grinning cat sat on a sill.

Attending love and care restored the dove
to health and open field again.
My unreformed cat with calico fur
beheld the kindness with disdain.


Haiku


Plastic mulch
removed,
crickets skitter.


Mockingbird
pirouettes from
utility pole.


A fallow pasture,
an ancient temple ruin,
a daisy blooms.


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