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Sample Poems by Ingrid Wendt


 

The Thing to Do

Though what I did that day was right,
reporting the rattlesnakes coiled tightly
together--diamond-backed lovers
blind to my step within a breath of
leaves crackling under the bush;

Though he did what he had to,
hacking them dead with his long-handled
garden hoe, flinging the still-
convulsing whips of their passion into
the bed of his pickup--that scene,

bright vulture of memory, stays;
picks this conscience that won't
come clean: this wasn't
the way the story would go
those times I wondered if ever

I'd see my own rattlesnake out in the wild,
having listened through years of summer
hikes, in the likeliest places, without
once hearing that glittering warning
said to be unmistakable; knowing

since childhood, the thing to do is not
flicker a muscle, to stare the face of danger
down as though it didn't exist.
No rattlesnake ever had eyes for another.
And menace never multiplied, one season to next.


 

Blessed Among Birds

Blessed among birds, is how my husband
likes to put it, and maybe it's true: that flock of
six or eight kinglets too young for their ruby red crowns or even

those characteristic white eye rings, flicking through our backyard
apple-tree leaves around my head so close I could have reached out and
touched each one as it clung upside down to a leaf, picking the

undersides clean, or perched on a twig--tip of beak to
tip of tail the length of my own little finger--fearlessly
sizing up my mountainous form frozen, like lava,

mid-motion, but
shining (surely the feeling
was shining) like gold,

the true Midas touch of their chip
chip-chipping
pitched so high the human ear almost

can't take it in. I know
my husband hasn't
Saint Francis in mind, although

when he says what he says about blessings, suddenly
here I am, as Giotto never painted me, high on the east
cathedral wall in Assisi, the upper

cathedral, built on top of that other, more somber
nave and transepts we studied so long (craning our necks to find
Biblical scenes preserved in all their brilliance by almost-

darkness) we almost
didn't have time for the brightness above: blue and gold
and light streaming through space so

unexpected our souls
were flying, the birds
hovering over the head of Saint Francis,

perched on his shoulder,
hadn't a thing
over us. No,

what he's remembering, when I mention the kinglets, is how
two weeks ago over in Eastern Oregon,
walking together near Benson Pond at dusk, I was

whacked on the head by a great horned owl.
I know this sounds
funny, and that

was my reaction, too: I laughed
although the whole top of my scalp throbbed
from the force of the blow. It was hard.

It felt like someone had taken a board flat
to the top of me, someone had sneaked
up from behind in that mystical field of knee-high grass

we waded through in half
light, finding the path to the cottonwoods faint
but true, and all of that empty sky ours.

But no one had told us this was a hard hat area, who
would have imagined Danger, lured by the hoot, hoot, soft
lullaby deep in the trees? Athena,

my husband said later, hoping to comfort,
Athena has tapped you, marked you with wisdom.
But wisdom was not what I felt, hunched into my collar, my eyes

following giant wings to their perch in the branches ahead
. And blessings were not right then first in my mind (although
later I saw again those claws that were blessedly not

extended), gaining my
balance,
discovering just

off to our right in the crook of a tree the owlet
so fluffy grey and rounded we thought at first it must
be a raccoon without a mask.

All of us caught
off guard. Unmoving,
all of us stunned into place.


 

Columbus and Me

Coming fresh to this Oregon soil the greatest thing
was to hike far from any human demand and to sit
looking over land empty of human influence far
as the eye could see--Horse Lake
catching the first rays of sun brushing between the Three
Sisters, ridge after rolling green
ridge misted in silence--or to camp
at a bend in some river large and level enough
for a tent, the simpler, we said, the better, our red
nylon parachute roped under some branch overhead and staked,
giant columbine, wide to the ground.
Twenty-four, and an ocean away from my Illinois home,
more than twenty years away from tonight--learning at last
the names Kalapuya, Chinook, Takelma, rethinking counties
Clackamas, Tillamook, Clatsop, Wallowa--how easy it was to sail,
certain as morning, into a landscape no one
human could ever have witnessed before.
Not this rock, that riffle.
Not this bird song leading us on, such bounty
falling into our hands.