Once more, in their dumb unknowing,
sandhill cranes are pulled to a place
they must again and again get back to.
I lean on a rake and scan the sky
for their small Chinese brush strokes arrowing blue.
But it's their wild, wondrous sound
that pierces me, their high trill
more thrilling than two young deer that at dawn
incised our lawn with their slender hooves,
lured by the dwarf apples' windfall.
Wherever the cranes' journey ends,
some shoreline probed by assiduous tides,
my garden's just another particular
and less important than the prairies, hills
or rivers the cranes clamor over,
all breath and bellow and creaking pinions,
their passage as compelled and unyielding
as the thump a ripe apple makes
falling. And quick
as that sound, the cranes are here, then not.
I'm left with dirt and rake.
As a child, I lay awake
in the colorless dark and waited for dawn's oncoming
freight, its whistle's single mournful whine.
How that last reverberating note,
especially when it was cold, hung
in the air of my room, our house,
above the river thick with ice, the hills beyond.
I didn't understand but knew.
Not the sound, but the ache of after.