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Against the black pines,

a great egret, so large, so white, wading, 

then freezing above its reflection.




Every Independence Day 

it returned to our pond where it pretended 

to be two reeds and a patch of sunlight,

until the splash, the snaky lunge,

the image shattered, rippled, coming back,

the beak pointing skyward,

the momentary swelling of the neck.

How I wanted to sneak in

for a closer look but had no cover,

so the alarmed bird would spring up,

laboring, beating the air,

circling, then heading over the horizon

to another pond, a quieter place.




And I imagined the minnows, frogs, salamanders

all relieved, all gathering in the dark 

to tell horror stories

of Snapping Turtle, Mr. Cottonmouth, Big Daddy Bass—

but saving a shuddering whisper for the Lightning Striker, 

Death’s Angel,

and proclaiming the name sacred, a secret.




But here, smelling the shore mud

and listening to the water, the wind as quiet as bird’s breath,

I pretend to be the plumed wonder,

and, solitary, I wade in deeper, one step,

then, another—wishing I were never distracted, 

never deceived by the radiant image

(a long beak, hidden wings)—

I concentrate, waiting for what’s moving below the surface,

a flicking shadow, breathing, moving toward my feet.


--John Thomas York

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