The Great Birds, Kenneth Patchen ( American poet, 1911-1972)
A gentle wind blows from the water.
Along the bank great birds are majestically striding.
It is morning!
Far out there are boats. Far, far out on the crumbling blue shelf
… toy swans slowly, slowly moving their honey-clotted wings. It
is morning. Morning … and as every morning is, it is unstained
now … it is exactly like the very first morning ever to come to this
O the sparkling land, the sea, the heavens!
O hushed and clean in the wonder of it!
As slowly, slowly now the great birds appear … wheeling up,
up, up! And at last they are above the village, above the golden-
pink blur of houses and bridges — with our two hearts caught
in the lift of their great wings.
And now the boats … nearer, nearer they come! At last we can
see the glitter of fish on their decks. And yes, one of
the fisherman has glimpsed us — he waves, calls a greeting, above
him wheel the birds in giant spirals. Ah! suddenly one dives, then
another and another — their wings brush across the water like
fingers of a caressing hand.
A strand of your hair touches my cheek.
How much better for the world had
nothing else ever happened in it.
Kenneth Patchen was an American poet and novelist, part of the San Francisco Renaissance who influenced many of the Beat poets. A pacifist, he said “I speak for a generation born in one war and doomed to die in another.”
As I continue to shelter, cocoon, be locked in place, I will continue to post poems. I have always seen Patchen as a moral touchstone, and would have posted “The Character of love as seen as a search for the lost” but it is more raw than I can take right now. It is not the disaster as natural occurrence (and yes linked to climate crisis) but the human-made aspect of it, the venal response of so many who hold power.
Yesterday I turned 75. For the first time ever, I feel old. Maybe that’s okay. On stage, my mother used to say “It took me a long time to get here and I want credit for every year.”