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Tuesday’s Poet: Two From Richard Beban

Immature Black Crowned Night Heron @ Ballona Freshwater Marsh. Photo (c) 2010 Richard Beban


Great-Grandmother in Her
 Sunday Plumed Hat

In the time before Starlings spread
their iridescent shadow across the homes
of Eastern Bluebirds & Great Crested
Flycatchers, & the Passenger
Pigeon still flew, great-grandmother rolled
her head from side to side, cried out, sweating,
knees high, water broken, & pushed grandfather
into this abundant world. Birds covered the
sky like a comforter. Ladies then did not
lust, but they coveted magnificent
plumes from Great & Snowy Egrets
& adorned their hats with feathers of terns
& grebes, White Pelicans & Albatross. In this
picture, circa 1905, great-grandmother’s head
is an avian adventure while grandfather itches
in short wool pants. Her face itself, bone white
& sharp-edged as English china, has an egret’s
profile, a steady, measured, hunter’s gaze allowing
nothing to escape.


Talking To Birds

Newscaster said last night
a woman in Arizona was teaching
birds to talk. Really talk, she says,
not mimic human speech.


I would prefer to speak the language
of birds, than to have them know mine.
Listen as eagles express exhilaration
at hovering for hours on thermal currents.
How many words they have for “soar.”


Speak to sparrows about nesting,
intricate interlacing
of string & twig,
the warmth of the young,
their incessant mouths.


Hear geese describe the holy longing
we call migration, how it starts in the soul
spreads through thorax to wingtips
until flight is only a matter of rising
& following. Hear owls recount the crunch
of tiny bones, the joy of slicing talon
through fur striking
in soft silence, feeling the final
shudder before the food
relaxes into surrender.


Hear roseate flamingos relate,
so matter-of-fact,
the miracle of turning & weaving
by the thousands
in flocks so large
they sunder earth from sun, yet
they never touch in flight.


I suspect birds have different dialects,
but that their words for war
& love may surprise us
in their similarity.


Richard Beban is presently traveling, on leave from his position as Co-Executive Director of the Friends. He is a Playa del Rey-based poet with two books to his credit, What The Heart Weighs (Red Hen Press, Los Angeles, 2004) and Young Girl Eating a Bird (Red Hen Press, Los Angeles, 2006). Both of the poems above are from What The Heart Weighs. Since coming to poetry in 1993, he has performed more than 150 featured readings, from Paris, to Seattle, to Nashville, to Los Angeles, and has more than 100 major publication credits, from local journals, to more than two dozen national and international anthologies.


He has taught one-day or weekend Ecopoetry workshops in three different states, poetry classes at levels from K-12 to graduate school, and workshops in mythology (“Living Mythically”) with his wife, Kaaren Kitchell, at various California venues.


Richard provided the Friends with this “place bio” about his formative estuary:


Between the ages of ten and fourteen, I discovered the joy of mudflats at Richardson Bay in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. They were stinky and smelly, and sucked your at feet like quicksand, and by the gods, they teemed with life. I walked to junior high school from one end of Mill Valley to the other, along the abandoned railroad right-of-way that crossed the bay at that point, and kept company with visiting herons, egrets, and such. For a city kid, the mudflats were a revelation, and an open space worth cherishing.


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