Robert Haight, Feeding Wild Birds, Mayapple Press, 2013
by David Gross
These are quiet, evocative poems that come from a man tuned into both self and the natural world. Poems drawn from the constant cycles of existence: birth and death, seasons, the slow progression and interconnectedness of all things. They are grounded in the earth. Their structure and vision are informed by ancient Chinese and Japanese poets, Ch'an and Taoist masters and the inquiring eye of a field biologist, but they are not imitations, they are the poems of a mature, contemporary and accomplished poet, a man living within the moment:
You might take this as a metaphor
for our lives, those few moments of radiance,
the months of drab routine but I am washing dishes,
smelling rain on the breeze.
Each plate sparkles,
the suds leave white blossoms on my hands.
Haight was born in Detroit and still makes Michigan his home, immersing himself in its nature and landscape. He teaches writing, literature and meditation at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. He is an environmentalist, peace activist, fly fisherman, Zen practicioner and very fine poet:
This morning, heavy snow, limb-
bending snow, bough-breaking
The pines are tired old women
carrying their laundry
hauling the folded and stacked
months of winter toward the March thaw
white sheets and towels
that the wind spills into the fields.
The clear imagery and spare, simple language combine to recreate the briskness of a winter morning in the woods and Haight with his painter's eye creates a picture like a Rothko; big white canvas, broad black strokes, red spatters:
Now even the cardinals
those blood spatters
and only the crows are left
solemn in their black suits
pulling a shroud
over the field's stiff face.
Even if we've never taken the time to stand in a snowy field observing crows, Haight transports us there with his precise language and concise lines. In another poem Haight introduces himself in this way:
Call me the servant of small things,
of the mongrel dog lying in cherry shade,
bone and bone and stick and mole
lined up before him as he tastes the wind,
watches lilac fade, sun seeping into fur
through the sashes of leaves
("The Servant of Small Things")
and he certainly reveres small things, mourning doves, crickets, walnuts, even the dead mouse starting to smell above his daughter's bedroom ceiling but Haight's observations are not only of nature but also human nature as demonstrated in these lines taken from a poem about his mother:
Your thoughts have become butterflies
that light for a moment to twitch their wings
then lift off into air again
("Mother After the Stroke")
I've become as quiet as this darkness,
silent as the sunlight pouring over the field.
The weed and I understand each other.
The lone tree in the middle of the eighty acres,
Feeding Wild Birds is a beautiful collection of seamless, meditative poetry, arranged by seasons, spring through winter. Sometimes you might find yourself stopping mid-line to think over a new insight Haight has given us. There is a strong spiritual current that runs throughout these poems from a poet who knows that enlightenment is already ours if we simply open our eyes.
David Gross lives on a small farm in the foothills of the Illinois Ozarks. His most recent collection of poems Pilgrimage is available from Finishing Line Press or at Amazon.