Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Story Poems

TOWHEE #1

It’s a bird with many names, according to its range.
Eastern Towhee,
California Towhee,
Spotted Towhee,
Rufous-sided Towhee.
Through canny hunting, mother saw them all.

Towhee #1, on her handicapped license plate, her birdwatching merit badge.
A souvenir from a life long love affair with birds.
Swampy refuges to mountain meadows,
her spotting scope slung over one shoulder, binoculars over the other.
Bird book in one hand and life list in the other.

Later, more frail, looking out the car window for her flying friends.
“What do you see?
Is that crest orange or deep yellow?
Move the car an inch forward,now two inches back.
Perfect. Yes, it’s orange.”

Markers catalogued and another bird added to her life list.
She even keeps one for me, the most reluctant of birders.
Why can’t we smell the flowers and gossip like other mothers and daughters?

Her search for rare birds spans the world.
“That’s just a coot,” disappointed.
There’s a cinnamon teal sailing the water.
Nothing new here.

In Alaska’s inside passage she spots the Towhee.
Now she can die happy.
A life list expires when you do.

Writing from the heart, the form of the story poem found me. In Sightlines: A Poet's Diary I've included 90 poems in 5 sections for three people and two places I love. In some sense, the entire book is an extended story poem with each new piece fitting into the puzzle and the picture becoming that much clearer. There are all sorts of other names for a story poem, but that straightforward phrase feels in keeping with the work itself.

After the auto accident in 2004 that took my sister’s life, my mother was mistakenly put on life-support, although we had “Do Not Resuscitate” orders in place. We were not happy with the hospital at the time at this glitch, because we doubted the quality of life she might have.

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  1. When I talked, played, and sang of “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary” | Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century

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