Once again a child asks me suddenly What is a poem?,
And once again I find myself riffing freely and happily
Without the slightest scholarly expertise or knowledge;
But I am entranced by how poems can hint and suggest
And point toward things deeper than words. A poem is
An owl feather, I say. It’s not the owl—but it intimates
Owlness, see what I mean? You imagine the owl, owls,
Silent flight, razors for fingers, a wriggle of mouse tail
Slurped up right quick like the last strand of angel hair,
A startle of moonlight, a fox watching from the thicket,
All that from a feather. It’s like an owl is in the feather.
A poem is a small thing with all manner of bigger in it.
Poor poems only have a writer in them, but better ones
Have way more in them than the writer knew or knows
About. This poem, for example, amazingly has owls in
It—who knew we’d see a flurry of owls this afternoon?
~Brian Doyle, “A Flurry of Owls”
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
~Billy Collins “Introduction to Poetry” from from The Apple that Astonished Paris.
I walked into our big hay barn this week,
finding scattered atop the few remaining bales from last summer
these few owl feathers…
they were waiting for a poem to hide within,
just as the barn owls are tucked invisibly in the rafters
until the cool air of dusk and hunger lures them to the hunt,
swooping outside to capture both moonlight and mice
to be coughed up in pellets of fur and bones.
These feathers, dropped like so many random snowflakes,
carry within them the glint and glow of the moon, a reminder
what we leave behind matters,
whether it be feather or fur
or a wee dry skeleton,
a shell of who we once were
yet are no longer.
A new book from Barnstorming, available to order here:
2 thoughts on “All That From a Feather”
Loved the feather photos.
I have a collection of feathers found here and there
through the last 20 years on the farm.
My father fell and broke his femur in 2001.
I decided to put bird feeders outside the living room window.
Watching birds would be fun and ease his boredom during his recovery.
Ever since then, I have fed the birds year round.
A friend of mine works for the Game Commission.
Several years ago he and others were going to measure
and tag baby barn owls in the barn of a neighbor.
Mark asked the farmer if he would mind me coming along to observe.
That was a special moment in time.
I have been blessed with so many wonderful moments in time
shared with birds at my feeders and in the spaces beyond.
Recently, cardinals have become messengers of comfort.
As I go for my morning walk,
I hear and then find the cardinal on a high treetop or rooftop nearby.
Their calls remind me of my morning phone calls
with my dad these last 2 years.
Oh the wonder of it all.
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What a great legacy you have, Linda, the birds reminding you of wonderful memories! We feed the wild birds too (when we aren’t unintentionally feeding squirrels) and I love seeing them come and go during the seasons.