Looking for whip-poor-wills

whippoorwill
Image found on Illinois Raptor Center website.

Have you ever heard the whip-poor-will cry down the twilight? Years since I’ve heard the haunting chant, it still echoes in my mind. A chance glance recently reverberated melody and memories.

As a subscriber to Iowa Outdoors magazine, I receive its lovely DNR calendar each year. Each month features a gorgeous picture showcasing Iowa’s natural beauty. The dates are sprinkled with fascinating facts and timely reminders. May 2 tells us: 1890 Large meteorite strikes 11 miles northwest of Forest City, and Walleye season opens on Iowa’s Great Lakes.

A May 24 notation made my body pause and my mind reel backward: Look for return of whip-poor-wills.

Five years after my husband and I were married, we built our house on a wooded acreage. We would live in the basement and finish the hollow frame bit by bit. Soon after we moved, we discovered one of our location’s treasures: whip-poor-wills nested in the shrubbery along the fence line about fifty feet from our front porch. On summer evenings, we sat on the cement block serving as a temporary step and listened to the onomatopoetic call. (You can hear it at this link.) But we never saw the elusive and well-camouflaged nocturnal bird.

What a thrill to hear that rare call! And what piercing memories my mind associates with it. Little boys leaping to catch fireflies. A young husband’s strong arm cradling my shoulders. Stars sharpening in a darkening sky. Cool air. Warm hearts.

But one year the whip-poor-will was silent. The new neighbors on the other side of the fence had dogs. Whip-poor-wills don’t build nests, laying their eggs directly on the ground. We never again heard the whip-poor-will sing.

Some years ago, I wrote this poem, dedicated to my husband:

Vespers

 

When you and I

were in our prime,

we sat on the cool concrete step

with bare feet in dark grass

as dusk deepened.

 

Boys who had leaped

to snare random spurts of pale light—

squished into glowing rings on fingers—

quieted in beds.

 

Above our heads,

the Milky Way materialized

in a pointillistic arc

of bright blessing;

while the whippoorwill

sang vespers.

 

© Glenda Mathes, 2006; revised 2010

Standing and staring at the calendar created a melancholy feeling. If only I could look for whip-poor-wills with any expectation of seeing them return!

Thoughts and memories tumbled in my mind for a few days, until I wrote a new poem:

Look for return of whip-poor-wills

 

The tiny notation

On the calendar

Prepared by the conservation department

Puckers time as keenly as a pleat

Pressed by my mother’s hot iron

A quick stitch

Skips from childhood cotton

Past bridal satin

To parenting denim

 

And we two sit

On the front stoop

In evening’s cool

As the whip-poor-will

Sings its onomatopoetic song

Low tones bracketing

Rising trill

 

The melancholy notes soar

From earthy berth

Through honeysuckle blossoms

Past quivering cottonwood leaves

To echo in the deep blue

That turns black as a bruise

While the lonesome chords

Encircle my heart

And constrict

 

As I stare at the calendar

Alone

Waiting for whip-poor-wills

 

© Glenda Faye Mathes, May 2016

The poem’s persona is imaginary, but grows more real to me as I age. The whip-poor-will echoes in my mind may haunt me, but whatever losses in my life, I wait for a return far more significant. I look for the return of the King of whip-poor-wills and every other created being.

 

 

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What inspires creativity?

Photo copyright Glenda Mathes 2006
Photo copyright Glenda Mathes 2006

How does a writer fuel the creative muse? What role could poetry or music play? Could sermons or scripture generate creativity?

For years, I’ve believed poetry–or at least being familiar with good poetry–elevated prose. The instructor for my first creative writing course (more than 20 years ago) taught a unit on poetry before teaching prose, saying, “If you know how to write poetry, you’ll write better prose.” He was right.

Being able to recognize assonance, consonance, simile, metaphor, and a host of other literary techniques makes you a better reader. And being able to judiciously implement technique enlivens any writing. I’m not advocating going through your manuscript and thinking, “How can insert a literary technique here?” Rather, a literary mindset leads to fresh ways of expressing thoughts and techniques that tumble into the manuscript unsought.

My Word Weavers meeting this week discussed the place of poetry in prose writing. One of my fellow Weavers recalled advice to begin each day or work session by writing a poem. This reminded me of poets John Piper and Edward Taylor. Oh, you thought those guys were ministers? Yep.

Piper is a contemporary Christian minister of Desiring God fame, the ministry name drawn from his bestselling book. He often prepares for writing sermons by crafting poetry. His poems can be found on the ministry website. He gives some great advice for how to begin writing poetry here, recommending Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual and Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook for beginning poets. I’m not familiar with Ted Kooser, but the title intrigues me. And I’m very familiar with Mary Oliver’s poems, some of which are among my favorites, especially this one with its beautiful conclusion: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”

Edward Taylor may not be as familiar. He was a Puritan minister and poet and “one of the finest literary artists of Colonial America,” according to this biography. He became my friend many years ago, when I discovered him in this collection.

When I hear a vivid sermon by a passionate preacher, I often feel moved by my personal muse. Some of my best poems have been inspired by sermons. Reflecting on Scripture or other devotional material before beginning my work day can trigger creative energy.

My most creative thoughts arise from my daily early morning quiet time, lying in bed and communing with God in what I call “the votive silence” (you can read my 2006 reflections on how I came to adopt that phrase here). My joke, based on something a fellow participant said at a writer’s mentoring retreat several years ago, is referring to this morning time as being “sack-religious.”

Until this morning, I hadn’t considered music instrumental in fueling creativity. In fact, I thought it too distracting, believing I could accomplish more without jarring notes or someone else’s words drawing me out of my creative process. I even commented about this recently on a Facebook thread. Today I found this post on “Finding Your Way To ‘Other Time'” by Doug McKelvey over at The Rabbit Room website. McKelvey is a songwriter who also writes juvenile fiction, such as The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog (another intriguing title).
And the music clips he links into his post definitely intrigue me. I haven’t taken time to check all of them out, but I’ve listened to enough that I believe I may have to adjust my thinking about music fueling muse.
What do you think? What fuels contribute to your creativity?

Blue butterfly day

DSCN4227Yesterday was a day of blue butterflies. We visited Reiman Gardens in Ames, spending nearly all our time in the butterfly wing, taking pictures and reveling in the profusion of fluttering beauty.

About 800 butterflies spend their brief lives in this enclosure, delighting viewers who amble through. My husband excelled at catching the large blue butterflies on the fly, while I did better at close-ups.

Only it was nearly impossible to get a close-up of the large blue butterflies, which the hallway chart identified as Common Blue Morpho. Immediately on landing, the bright wings folded shut, revealing only the brown spotted bottoms.

We took  many pictures, trying to catch these blue beauties on the fly, and last evening enjoyed reviewing them and sharing our best captures.

The butterfly is often used as a symbol for new life and resurrection. It’s easy to see why. The humble (frequently homely) caterpillar crawls up a branch, appears to “die” inside a tomb-like chrysalis, and emerges to fly with beautiful wings.

CIMG4544

Walking into clouds of fluttering butterflies lifted my spirits and raised my praise. The palette of hues and the range of sizes reminded me how much God loves variety and beauty.

He created an amazing array of creatures for our enjoyment and his glory. What mind could have imagined the miraculous transformation of caterpillar to butterfly? Only the ultimate Creative.

Who doesn’t love the butterfly? Butterflies have inspired artwork, jewelry, story, and poetry. Poet Robert Frost painted effective word pictures, as he does in this poem about his own Blue-Butterfly Day:

It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,
And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry
There is more unmixed color on the wing
Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.

Frost’s poem ends on a sad note that evokes a sense of life’s transience, but that only reminds us of the resurrection symbolized by the blue butterflies he brilliantly describes as sky-flakes and flying flowers.
May you soon experience the delight of your own blue butterfly day!

Praise God! (Psalm 150)

The last psalm in the psalter rings with praise. It particularly emphasizes instrumental praise, and since it begins with a direct reference to God’s sanctuary, it seems a powerful argument for using all kinds of instruments in worship.

It begins with a call to praise God in worship and in the vast expanses of his creation (Psalm 150:1, ESV):

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty heavens!

The psalm continues with reasons why God deserves praise (2, ESV):

Praise him for his mighty deeds;
   praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Because God has done great and excellent things, he deserves great and excellent praise. Talented musicians are called to praise God with a variety of instruments, not in noisy cacophony but in beautiful and vibrant harmony (verses 3-5, ESV):

Praise him with trumpet sound;
   praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
   praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
   praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Every creature that breathes should praise the Lord (6, ESV):

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!

We are called to praise God in his sanctuary. We are called to praise God under his blue sky and starry heavens. God deserves great and excellent praise because he has done great and excellent things. Musicians and artists ought to praise God with all kinds of instruments or media. Every creature that lives and breathes on the face of the earth is called to use their talents and abilities to praise God.

At this time of year, when the leaves turn brilliant colors and farmer harvest plentiful crops, our hearts should overflow with praise to God for his abundant gifts.

Psalm 150 may have been singing in my mind some years ago when I wrote this poem:

Autumnal Psalm

Praise God

For gleaming star that crowns the gilded dawn
For frost that clings to shingled roof and lawn

For breath that fogs in air that’s crisp and clear
For flashing flags of startled antlered deer

For sunlight’s glint on frost-wrapped blades of grass
And even for the windshield’s frosted glass

Praise God

For warming sun in sky of sapphire blue
that glows through leaves in every varied hue

From flaming maple, russet oak, to gold
of elm’s frail pale and hickory’s brilliant bold

Above the clinging, crimson creeper vine
Beside the scarlet sumac and green pine

Praise God

For dry leaf crunch and dry leaf smell
While walking on the woodland trail

Praise God

For brunette bean field shaven clean
And blonde corn’s crooked stubble seen

For round bales, wrapped and stacked in rows
Rich fodder safe from winds and snows

For golden mountains of shelled corn
that suddenly in fall are born

And daily augered to new height
in dusty cloud from morn to night

Praise God

For geese in Vs that cleave the dusky sky
While purple clouds upon horizon lie

For rising amber harvest moon
like bulging shimmering balloon

Praise God

Let everything that hath breath
Praise the Lord

© Glenda Faye Mathes