Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Poem for the Nenes

I have been remiss about posting. This is about to change. Up until now, posts have been limited to full-fledged essays, rather than any kind of regular chat or blog. This has lost its excitement for me and does not allow me the time to post with any kind of regularity. So, I figure it's time to start inserting more of me into the mix, although I plan to keep the essays coming for those who have been enjoying them. Thanks again to all who have been reading and sending me notes. It means so much to every writer, no matter how big or small, that someone is out there reading what they have to say. Anyway, it already feels like I will enjoy coming here and writing again now that I've allowed myself the freedom to be less structured, instead of imposing deadlines and making the whole thing into some kind of a job. Who wants to return to that? Life is sweeter when we can keep the feeling of work to a minimum and fan up the fun.

So in the interest of fun fanning, I have decided to share with you a little bit of my poetry today. Now, the subject matter is a bit sad, I admit, but it's poetry, the writing I do for fun. Poetry for me is that fabulous stuff I know will probably never make me the first dime, and I don't really care because I love doing it. Regardless of the tone of the work, the fun of this is in sharing it with you.

The poem I chose is a tribute to the Nene Goose, state bird of Hawaii, and one of the fabulous species I had the great honor to care for during my time at Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island, just outside of Hawaii Volcano National Park. These highly endangered geese now make their home at the tops of the volcanos. On the Big Island they stay mostly on the open rocks and grassy fields near the national park. You've already guessed that the top of an active volcano isn't really the best place for a goose, but alas, it's the home they are stuck with and they are making a slow but steady come back. The park rangers and conservationists have had quite a time in the ongoing effort to protect them from the introduced species of the islands (humans included). Anyway, an entry in one of my guide books to the island inspired this poem...

Nene Goose (Branta sandvicensis)
Volcano National Park, Big Island, Hawaii

She builds their nest under sparse scrubs, lines bare rock
with down, guards her mate while he incubates, moos soft
warning calls. Together, they hatch three chicks; survive
mongoose, black rats, dogs, cats, tourists, scientists. Together,
they find ohelo berries or dry fruits on stiff
pukiawes, always feeding
their young first.

The guidebook says: “This endangered goose has evolved;
prefers land to water.” Such strength in this state
bird, frame stunted like a miniature Canada,
only partial webbing between short, black toes.
Today, she stands beneath her own silhouette
on the yellow sign,

here on barren lava flows, along Chain of Craters Road
under pioneers; woody shrubs that first emerge from porous,
black rocks. Here, beside rerouted drives rebuilt each time lava
seeps out of fissures, buries asphalt. Here, where rain collects
in crevices heated by liquid rock, steams to scalding clouds,
miles above the sea.

Today, she guards his silent remains, hissing
with her three chicks in the middle of the desolate
road, under the Nene Crossing sign, goose
silhouette above, “Drive Slow”
in black letters below.


Barbara said...

That is beautiful. Sad and poignant.

I first learned of the Nene when I found a chart of states and their official birds, flowers, etc. It got me into trouble in 4th grade. The teacher was leading a game of naming something in the category and beginning with the letter she chose. When she asked for a bird beginning with N, I raised my hand and proudly answered Nene. She said there was no such thing. Apparently she was looking for Nightingale or Nuthatch. I brought my chart to school to show her that there is so a bird called a Nene. That's when I learned never to show up a teacher!

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