Steve Fay: Guarding Plovers

One posts old women in the marsh to tend plovers; they cry into the wind with rusty voices and eventually get lost.
                                                                           — Sarah Kirsch, from Irrstern

Ill in pregnancy, what landscapes
fill her dreams, what searching?
She wanders barefoot through cordgrass
through sedges, through snarled
and rotting stems of errant lotus now
died out.  Here and there a sandbar,
an island of pebbles.  And hiding out
among the colored stones the plover eggs.

                                                In America, the killdeer was the plover
                                                she knew well.  She knew its cry, its broken-
                                                winged dance to lure the predator
                                                from its nest.  But this is some European
                                                cousin, living here, with eggs sought
                                                by collectors, or so she’s heard.
                                                Not knowing its dance or what it cries,
                                                she dreams herself its sole protector.

She is older by a decade in her dreams,
or sometimes two, and it has always been
And so. And she dresses like her mother’s
friends: dull-colored gingham aprons
and bright scarves to keep her hair from
flying in the wind.  No one asks her dream-
self where she goes, as she walks along
damp gravel toward nowhere they can see.

                                                On much higher ground to the south,
                                                drained by windmills, sits a peach
                                                orchard.  Once she met a love there,
                                                a woman with peach juice dripping from
                                                her chin.  She wanted, oh, how she
                                                wanted to walk through the tour group
                                                to lick it off.  She took that tour four times,
                                                just to get near enough to speak with her.

In some dreams she walks, in others
she becomes amphibian, swimming
deftly between the slick strands of plants,
ever beneath the surface of dark waters,
her red scarf becoming her billowing gills,
her apron, her cool white abdomen
filled with luminous eggs, her legs
shortened, her toes so delicately webbed.

                                                Some nights she wanders aimlessly,
                                                a traveler stitching her way northward
                                                across the trembling soils.  Each
                                                sheep flock parting into crescents as she
                                                passes through.  Orion hanging like
                                                a sword in the sky.  She tries to escape,
                                                waking late to sun munching hoarfrost
                                                in the meadow outside her window.

She drives to the grassy seawall holding
back the tides, to watch the Holstein
cows kneeling down to rest.  An old-timer
totters slowly behind his beagle.  A gardener
collects dark earth from molehills, for
pot-starting her vegetables.  The marshes begin
there, only meters from the source of the
saltwater mists always spilling over them.

                                               And what of the gulls and stolid crows,
                                               which circle in her dreams?  She
                                               forgets to bring a stick to wave in threat
                                               against them.  And so she shrieks
                                               like a red-tailed hawk, what should be
                                               a fright to these old-world birds.  Whirl
                                               away or die, you egg-pilferers, she cries,
                                               human egg-shell collectors, too!

And so she dreams of giving birth beneath
marsh waters, but not a string of salamander
eggs as might have been.  Instead, a half-
grown, sparrow-voiced child, she clothes in
pondweeds to hide its discrepancy.  What
am I, Mother? it asks in pidgin-Danish.
Call yourself Immigrant, her hawk-voice
cries.  You are a newcomer to this land.

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