Last fall, poet Kathleen M. Heideman was an artist–in–residence at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. She grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Outagamie County, WI, and now lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She wrote these three poems during her Necedah Refuge residency.

What I Know About Whooping Cranes

What I know about Whooping Cranes
isn’t much,
wouldn’t fill a child’s tiny spiral–bound notebook. Eastern Whooping Cranes
– do they mate for life? Not even a blue–lined paragraph or two:
We pushed them to the margins; they dwindled to a few.
But we can learn; we can change. For I’ve heard wild cranes singing in sedges
where I walked a brim–filled drainage ditch’s edge
thigh–deep in dew–soaked bluestem. A crimson sunrise dawned
beyond Necedah Refuge, and burned the twin of every cloud into Rynearson Pond,
feathering the edges with gold–leaf, calm, bronze lilies, blood–red ripples, gilt
– an old Dutch Master’s painting of dikes and reeds. All sound was stilled.
Even scrub oak turned their brittle ears as deer will, listening with care.
Glass–silence as the whooping cranes began their psalm, but instantly the air
above Necedah writhed with fog! Mute fog–ghosts tossed diaphanous hair
and whirled in joy and dissipated—a cue for every mute beak in the marsh
to join the hymn in their own tongue: delicate wood–winds, harsh
reeds, trumpeting and croaking, O cacophony of praise!
Then wild cranes bugled once again, and a Great Blue Heron
thrummed the gold–streaked water with her wings to say amen.

Marsh: A Partial Menu *

Look long enough, the wetlands offer something
for every hunger: wild mint and walnuts a la carte,
a bowl of cattail tuber, pike roe, translucent minnows,
morels camouflaged in hardwood leaflitter,
spicy bee–balm and clover honey in a hollowed oak hive,
steamdried rosehip, sundried raspberry, smoky Labrador tea,
an epithelial sweetness secreted under jackpine bark
whose intricate galleries of bark beetles know no other planet;
bark beetle grubs for the cuckoo,
vast acres of rice–grass for acres of geese,
and groves of tick–grass for the nervous mallard
where whitetail deer leave haiku printed in the mud
– offers sedge wren for the eagle,
field mice for the weasel and owl,
venison for the arrow, while some as–yet–unapprehended
entre awaits the fox who licks his black lips and sniffs the mud,
who glows with hunger ruddy as an autumn oak,
who rolls to practice–pounce upon his own tail
but steps so softly even frogs don’t notice his approach,
as he slides his sharp nose like a letter opener
between stems of grass and parts them,
slipping through pages of sweet fern,
down to read the slough with his teeth.

The Odd Goose of Poetry

In nearly every sky–wide squadron of geese
there’s a straggler who falls behind,
who falls away to one side of the slough, alone,
or zigs when the others zag, maneuvering skyward.
That’s the odd goose, the poetry goose,
the black sheep with a gimpy wing
and a taste for adventure –
she’ll miss the way the other geese sing
but she might meet up with some wolves tonight!
Whatever comes, she won’t make it to the Gulf of Mexico –
some stranger fate awaits, some need to always know.
She might join a circus down in Baraboo,
let an old man tame her with cracked corn.
She might write a psalm or a screed or a song.
Tonight she waddles along the marsh’s edge,
scratching her thoughts into October mud.
Overhead, the sensible geese are taking their leave
as oak leaves abandon their oak trees—all
but that one little leaf, I mean, who hangs
by a stubborn, brittle stem, winging it.
Curious what January will bring.

*—“Marsh: A Partial Menu” was published in Fox Cry Review (University of Wisconsin–Fox Valley), May 2011.