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The Turning Sky

The first time I saw the red-tailed
      hawk rise from the floor
of the valley, I parked my car
      to watch him turn
the sky above. Late March, ’58.
      In my old Ford
for the first time, I wandered
      the back roads
finding orchards of plum and almond
      in blossom.
The passing clouds revised the light
      as it slipped down
the soft hillsides. To myself I said,
      “This is magical.”
The whites and greens deepened
      as colors under water
or oils do while the trees rose
      into a still sky
and stayed there. I closed my eyes
      to count slowly: one,
two, three, in the hope the scene
      would calm. When I
opened them a tiny ground squirrel
      crossed the road
to disappear in the thin shade
      of before noon.
The kit fox, hunched and frozen,
      the bob cat—with small
flattened ears—hunched inside
      the salted wind,
the tree rat groping from branch
      to branch, I hadn’t
found them yet. What had I found?
      Duck weeds rising
from the burned shoots and remnants
      of the great drought,
a hint of fire where the new grass
      descended toward
the river, broken into black pools,
      its drowned cargo
invisible as the noon light flooded
      everything.
Small quick birds dropped from nowhere
      to skim the orchards,
birds without names. I didn’t know
      my own world.
I still don’t. Today the hawk rose
      from the same field,
clouds blew in from the sea, the hills
      darkened slowly
into afternoon. If I looked I’d see
      the sky slowly turn
as always, once, twice, until I stopped
      looking and turned
for home, wherever that might be.