The Outdoor Poet: Lucille Lang Day

Wildflowers and Whales

Buttercups, cream cups, sun cups—
luscious as their names—
hug a meadow
high above the sea.

White and yellow clusters gleam
amid purple pussy ears,
wild hyacinths
and seaside daisies.

Far below, a gray whale cow
swims north, calf tucked
close to her shore side,
where killer-whale

sonar can't detect it.
Powerful muscles
squirt milk into snout;
the baby gains nine pounds

in one hour of nursing.
Together, cow and calf
dip beneath the surface,
their bodies forming

graceful arcs. They rise
again, fountains
fanning from blowholes
into salt-laced air.

And who can say
what impossible poppies
with satiny petals
unfold in a whale's brain,

what iris petals, etched
with nectar guides,
blow there? And what puny
human on the cliff

can prove this cow doesn't hear
a haunting song
in her inner ear and hum
it to her little one with love?

On the Coast of Northern California

Goose barnacles, crowded
on rocks at Shell Beach,
have cemented themselves into place
head down, long, scaly necks
and plated bodies rising
into the tide. Having both ovaries
and testes, releasing sperm
into waves, they don't care
who their mate is. Nearby,
an aggregating anemone—
with olive green tentacles,
like petals tipped in pink, forming
five rings around its oral disk—
hunkers down in sand, content
to replicate by dividing lengthwise.

On the hill above the beach,
a stalk-eyed banana slug—
with hidden ovaries, and a penis
on the right side of its head—
slides slowly over pine needles
toward its mate. When they meet,
they will decide who is male,
who female. Slimy bodies
will interlock all day,
while neighboring spittlebugs,
secreting honeydew
in the Western sweet cicely
with saw-toothed leaves
and pointed seeds, are oblivious.
Nymphs, too young for sex,
they whip their frass
to a froth—like an ice cream soda.

Come summer, spore-filled sori
will form on lacy fronds
of maidenhair ferns
growing in shade on the bluff.
Spores will drop to earth,
and when needles of rain
weave darkly through the soil,
tiny heart-shaped plants
will sprout, bearing gametes
that will fuse, creating a new
generation of ferns
under the redwoods,
whose globular cones open
when scales shrink,
sending flat, papery seeds
to the wind's destinations.

The pale blue forget-me-nots
are alien here, but must depend
on local bees for pollination.
Each calyx holding four ripe seeds
has hooked hairs that will cling
to anything passing by.
The male yellow warblers, high
in the trees, can't spread
their seed so easily. Each one
must sing the seven clear,
sweet notes of his song
just right to dazzle a female.

In truth, I am charmed
by the warbler's song
and by the male mule deer
with his five-tined antlers,
but I am built to receive the seed
of males of my own species,
in the rich, red fields
of my uterus, in desire
that will burn when the red
lobes of the firecracker flower
form on open grassy slopes,
and will flare in rain
when the dry season ends
and the slopes are barren and cold—
and this is the mystery.

—from the collection Infinities (Cedar Hill, 2002)

About The Author Lucille Lang Day is the author of eight poetry collections and chapbooks, including The Curvature of Blue, Infinities, and The Book of Answers. She has also published a children’s book, Chain Letter, and a memoir, Married at Fourteen, which was a finalist for the 2013 Northern California Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, and her work has received six Pushcart nominations. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband, writer Richard Michael Levine.

The Outdoor Poet is edited by Robert Sward, author of numerous books of poetry including, most recently, New and Selected Poems: 1957-2011 (Red Hen Press). He lives on the Westside with his wife, the artist Gloria Alford, and a poodle mix named Cosette. Participation in The Outdoor Poet is by invitation.

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