the house finches

the house finches have
changed their song again –
to one of fierce joy,
of emphatic nest-lust

it seems almost too soon
for such passion,
with snow still gathered,
blue in the shadows
of the north-facing stones

then again, some songs exist
simply to remind us
it may never be too soon,
yet sometimes it is
quite plainly too late

© Sarah Whiteley

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advice to the weary

when air grows heavy and tired
from too long falling,

day’s last birds will dive down
and in rising, shake it out before them

something, at least, is vibrant
is the message beaten out by wings

when you are lost, find stone that will
hold sun with radiant stubbornness

and if you lose your voice,
seek out wide swathes of grass –

for it’s grass that sings when
all other songs have gone

© Sarah Whiteley

what matter what light

what is there left to make
of this diminished light?

is this benediction? or a requiem
rung from empty throats?

what use in evading
the day’s extinction?

it is vespers, and the cantor
marks an inescapable terminus

what matter what light
is left to us?

for while there is any light at all,
benedicimus! benedicimus te! –

how wondrous the consummation,
how beautiful the end!

© Sarah Whiteley

Sweet Jenny

oh laddie, why d’ye wander
when the hearthlight’s waitin’ by
and yer Jenny’s at the window
wi’ a bright and hopeful eye

ye’ve a fair and gentle lady
attendin’ to yer care
oh laddie, how ye’ll ken her loss
when yer Jenny isna there

the goats are in the sweet hay
and the geese are in the pen
and Jenny’s waitin’ at the door
’til her laddie’s back again
’til her man comes back again

oh laddie, why d’ye ramble
so far from yer lassie’s side
for ye’ll ne’er find sweeter kisses
nor a more beguilin’ bride

yer feet are set to amblin’
a path ye canna keep
while yer Jenny’s left to pinin’
and wonderin’ where ye sleep

the trees are turned to russet
and the frost lies in the glen
and Jenny’s waitin’ by the door
’til her laddie’s back again
’til her man comes back again

oh Jenny, wait no longer
by window or by door
for yer laddie’s gone to strayin’
and ye’ll ne’er see him more

sweet lassie, tend yer garden
and mind yer baby fair
forget the lad who’s scorned ye
there’s none but sorrow there

the barley’s newly greenin’
and spring lies in the glen
sweet Jenny’s left the dooryard
and she’ll ne’er come back again
she’ll ne’er come back again

© Sarah Whiteley

poetry in her walk

she has poetry in her walk
not of bright stars
nor of translucent dawn
but of deep earth
from which all things grow
and to which all things go
when they cease to be
this brown-hipped mother
not bowed by man,
not bowed by change
knows when to bend
all the same
carries her inherited wisdom
as her great-greats carried
their songs through
fields afire with the sounds
of cicadas in summer
and bullfrogs in spring
carries it upon broad
momma-can-I-lay-my-head shoulders
with pride in the midst of
other men’s shame
she sways with the words
of the long-remembered hymns
that carried them home
walks with the richness
of ramshackle rhythms
from ramshackle huts
the frayed burlap of lullabies
her momma’s momma’s momma’s
dust-coated throat crooned
at the end of the day
she is not fine
in the way of china
but in the way the scent
of the magnolia rises
and hangs in the garden at dusk
there is poetry in her walk
and in her gait the echoes
of deep continuous earth

© Sarah Whiteley

the flame tree

bide not, beloved,
tarry not long,
for the sweetgrass is calling
and the light is nigh gone

here in the hollow
where first you kissed me
I will wait, my beloved,
beside the flame tree

I will cut me a branch
as red as my heart
and whittle you home
where we’ll ne’er be apart

“oh!” cries the sparrow
“ah!” calls the crow
the hills will not tell me
where my dearest did go

stay not, my lover,
away from my hand,
for the blackbirds are crying
low o’er the land

they winnow and plummet
away from their rest
their song e’er repeating
is the same in my breast

oh, bide not, beloved,
leave me not by,
alone in the hollow
to wait and to sigh

“oh!” cries the sparrow
“ah!” calls the crow
the stars will not tell me
where my dearest did go

the wind’s in the rushes
the moon’s in the pine
the sweetgrass now whispers
you never were mine

consign me not, dearest,
behind the church gates,
but bury me gently
where for you I did wait

there in the hollow
where first you kissed me
I will wait, my beloved,
beside the flame tree

“oh!” cries the sparrow
“ah!” calls the crow
the flame tree will tell you
where your dearest did go

© Sarah Whiteley