Home PageArchivesVolume no. 4Issue 1Poetry: James Gurley

The Niche Hypothesis

James Gurley

—47° 51.959N, 123° 52.221W, 678 feet above sea level.
Olympic Peninsula, Washington State—

The small red stone, size of a wildflower
   atop a downed log. (mark the spot)
     One square inch of the earth noise-free.

(a three-mile walk into the Hoh Rain Forest)

Next to it, the “Jar of Quiet Thoughts,”
   (for messages, meditations) about snowberry,
salal, ferns, woodpeckers, the faraway Hoh River,
   the wind-creaking canopy.

Thank-you notes. (long intervals of silence
with no airplanes, no chainsaws, no RVs)

     Only: my breathing, my heartbeat.

(faint birdsong reaches the valley at 23.5 db)

I orient to John Muir’s glorious
   psalms, his words the quietude for solitary
beauties and mysteries. (celebrate

     this habitat)

Thoreau hews his Walden cabin.
Julia Butterfly perches aloft on a branch of Luna.
     Rachel Carson knee-deep in ocean surf.
Wordsworth rambles the paradoxical forest heart.

     (loners, revelators) Preserve a simple

idea: wilderness (quiet included)
      I ponder these cloud-soaked litanies.

(mark this wonder) Lao Tzu’s brushstrokes.
   Stones rub against each other in a creek.

     Elk traverse the ridgeline.
Red-tailed hawks nest in the gold-leafed alder.

Lush overgrown hillsides soak up sounds.

     Zen-crouched, chilly in parka and rain pants,
(pen poised above the torn notebook sheet)

I watch a salamander distractedly.
     (part grateful, part foolish)
Daylight riddles the old-growth firs.

I want to be (soothed, healed)

John Burroughs poling upriver. William Blake singing
   naked from his branch in a heaven-blazed tree,
Isaac Walton angling streams in Hampshire.
      Gerard Manley Hopkins gazing into the forest.

(the grandeur,
cedars charged with divinity)

Vigilant, I want (build a fire and unroll
   a sleeping bag where I am, wait)

to lie underneath the river of sounds
   a nomad

to this coastal forest, a waggoner navigating
      westward-bound prairie wheel-ruts,
aborigine gone walkabout in the Australian desert,
   Kalahari bushman trekking homeward.

I try. (belong here, absorb)
Bullfrog solos, owl calls, water drips off
   hemlocks piercing my consciousness.

(here and there the crackle of something)

      I listen, listen. (the red stone)
Glacier-meadow camp, river rocks, trees hollow.
Eloquent forest.
(here and there the crackle of something)

I listen, listen. (the red stone)
Glacier-meadow camp, river rocks, trees hollow.

   Eloquent forest. Cryptic Basho muses.
     Illegible scrawl. (get up, stiff-legged
fold this page with the others)
   I set the jar back in its mossy niche.


Laughing Thrush Duet

James Gurley

—Musician and Naturalist, David Rothenberg
   filmed at the National Aviary, Pittsburgh, PA—

Head cocked, the white-created thrush mimics
   a rapport with the geeky
clarinetist on the other side of the glass. A cleaning lady
   mopping the gallery floor
stops by this weird clarinetist. Says: that noisy
   bird, that unstoppable babbler
has a saxophone laugh. Chuckles just like Charlie Parker.

Then listens to the fool he thinks he’s jamming
   with that bird. Their song?
It’s all staged and uploaded to www.whybirdssing.com.

What nonsense. The cleaning lady tut-tuts, leaves.
   Her cart’s wonky wheels abet
the clarinetist who wants to match a caged bird in his riffs.
   What an improbable interplay.
Vocal bob and deceive. Pu depu de pu deep
   Their interspecies duet?
Forest call and response? The raucous thrush jives

an uninvited consort. His trills an uncharted
   flyway, a mocking
rejoinder he bends and weaves. Daring us: keep up.

James Gurley’s poetry has appeared most recently in Crab Orchard Review, Indiana Review, and Unsplendid. His first book, “Human Cartography,” won the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize and was published by Truman State University Press. These poems come from a recently completed manuscript called “Organic Radio.”

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